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The Dude Abides


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To paraphrase Jeffrey Lebowski, aka The Dude (or El Dudarino, if you are not into the brevity thing), "I've had a rough night, and I hate the fucking Grateful Dead, man." Actually, The Dude said the "Eagles" (and I guess I'm obliged to agree with him), but for me the Dead seem to always get under my skin.

Someone is always saying to me, "you dig jazz, check out this Dead concert from..." and then they name some date and muddy field somewhere. I usually listen out of courtesy, or because I'm sitting on their sofa, and I try to like the Dead. I really do.

It is just not possible.

The answer to this dilemma might just be Sun Ra. You see, back in the 1980s I heard Sun Ra's Arkestra live in a small club in Columbus, Ohio. It was a life changing experience and one of the most memorable nights of music I've ever witnessed. I soon began accumulating Sun Ra recordings to recapture that magic. Two hundred or so discs later and I never have. Recordings just cannot capture the communal experience of a live show. So, maybe it's the same thing for Dead fans. The recordings cannot replicate the event, but they might just trigger some dopamine center in their brains.

So what does that leave us with? I'm certainly not ready to chuck my CD and LP collection and roam the earth like David Carradine from that 1970s TV show Kung Fu in search of live music. I will, and maybe you should also, pledge to get out of the house and catch a live show every chance you can.

Keefe Jackson's Likely So
A Round Goal
Delmark Records

The Chicago saxophonist, via Fayetteville, Keefe Jackson delivers an 'old soul' recording with A Round Goal, a live 2013 date from the Jazzwerkstatt Festival in Berne, Switzerland. The old soul referred to is that of AACM composers and saxophonists Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill. Jackson, a principal of the new breed of Chicago improvisers assembled a 7-piece all-reed ensemble to perform his compositions. His music consists of highly structured parts and wildly free improvisational passages.

Like Braxton and Threadgill, Jackson encourages his band, Likely So, to extend the range of their instruments, pushing the limits of sound while maintaining a discipline to the various structures he constructs. Likely So is made up of fellow Chicagoans Mars Williams and Dave Rempis, Polish Clarinetist Waclaw Zimplel and the Swiss players Thomas K.J. Mejer, Peter Schmid, and Marc Stucki.

Like a saxophone quartet or a doo-wop band, Jackson arranges intricate, sometimes bluesy passages, for improvisors to glide over. His "Overture" opens the disc with a Braxton-like collage of sound, stacking marches, Gershwin parts, and cartoon songs into a rich garden of sound. The combination of reeds and their varying tones, from sopranino to contrabass saxophones and alto clarinet to bass clarinets elevates and enlivens the music, making the music sound like a saxophone quartet on steroids.

Jonah Parzen-Johnson
Look Like You're Not Looking
Primary Records

Baritone saxophonist Jonah Parzen-Johnson follows up his solo disc Michiana (Primary Records, 2012) with Look Like You're Not Looking, a 7" vinyl EP pressed as a limited edition of 350 (also available as a download). The two tracks, both clocking in at 4:16, showcase his baritone saxophone experimentations. Like Mats Gustafsson and Colin Stetson, Parzen-Johnson is a master of the big horn, the baritone saxophone. He opens the title track with an a cappella blues riff that expands via electronics and his own overblowing into a chorus of sound before returning to his initial theme. His music, more traditional than avant, expresses an organic mushrooming of sound. He expresses a folk music for a new tribe of people, one that has access to new technologies and uses them as opposed to being used by them. The flip side delivers "Stay There, I'll Come To You" another simple song that gets layered with overblown multiphonics and layered electronic manipulation. His vocalizations and breath maintain the story here, a small treasure of a recording.

August Rosenbaum

Misidentifying the latest solo recording by Danish pianist August Rosenbaum as an ECM Records release is both a blessing and a curse. Heights, his second solo record, follows Beholder (Hiatus, 2010) and expands his sound adding instruments and electronics into the mix. The opener "Bloomer," a cinematic vision begins with some electronic noodles that give way to a meditative composition that is revealed by way of piano, some dark and woody bass and the interlaced guitar streams of Joel Gjærbøl and Jakob Bro. Rosenbaum's pieces grow organically from his simple conceptions. Maybe it is the Nordic element that calls to mind the sounds favored by Manfred Eicher, but the ECM vibe is strong here.

The hex conjured by an ECM reference, that the pristine sounds are of a certain emotional timbre, can also be a limiting factor. Rosenbaum restricts himself to a narrow demonstrative range here. His use of saturnine passages and snail-paced songs require a certain attention. In the hands of a lesser musician, this would be problematic. Rosenbaum's cinematic scoring experience comes into play here. His piece "Calm," a ballad is about as melancholy as they come. The music is coated with Gjærbøl's electric guitar and a textured ambiance that pours as slow as thick blackstrap molasses syrup. This is music to lower the room lights and ease back into an overstuffed chair.

Matana Roberts
COIN COIN Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile

Back in the day, long before music videos, artists made music to tell stories. Their sounds were not just the background for paparazzi seeking celebrities to twerk to. Sure, it's hard to believe, but the music of saxophonist Matana Roberts found on COIN COIN Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile returns to the African-American tradition of storytelling and musical narrative.

Chapter Two was recorded with a pared down version of her 16-piece band assembled for COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres (Constellation, 2011). This edition continues Roberts' family history from slavery to freedom with a traditional jazz quintet composed of Shoko Nagai (piano), Jason Palmer (trumpet), Thomson Kneeland (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), and Roberts conduction, spoken word, and alto saxophone. This edition adds the operatic tenor voice of Jeremiah Abiah to add sanctified texture to the story told in 18 parts that flow seamlessly from the lissome free opening to the Gospel-tinged revival and the cruel segregationist passages. The music is a sung/spoken testimony to endurance and survival, and the family bonds that play a role in overcoming intolerable barriers. If Wadada Leo Smith's Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform, 2012) was the macro chronicle, this is the micro. The music begs to be heard from start to finish. Hopefully,this chapter is just the middle part to an ongoing saga.

Wacław Zimpel Quartet
Stone Fog
For Tune

By now, enough introductions have been made to Polish clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel that his name as a leader is of consequence. His horn has been favored by Ken Vandermark in The Resonance Ensemble—What Country Is This? (Not Two Records, 2012) and Kafka In Flight (Not Two Records, 2011) and The Reed Trio—Last Train To The First Station (Kilogram, 2011). He can be heard in duo with Tim Daisy (plus Dave Rempis) Four Walls (Multikulti, 2008), with Joe McPhee in Mikołaj Trzaska's IRCHA Clarinet Quintet Lark Rising (Multikulti, 2011), and in Keefe Jackson's Likely So (reviewed above).

His own projects, HERA, Undivided (with Bobby Few) and now, this Quartet mark him as a prominent leader. Stone Fog is a chamber-meets-free jazz session that bookends Zimpel compositions with group improvisations. His band of fellow countrymen are adroit collaborators seasoning the music as they maintain the animation. The quartet has no need for labels, genres, or styles. They eschew the pigeonhole by working improvised pieces with classical language on a track like "Hundred Of Wings Steel The Sun," all titles are borrowed lines from Laura Winter's poems. The improvisational component, Zimpel's deep throaty reed floats over the ruminating cymbal work of Klaus Kugel, bowed bass of Christian Ramond, and wind chime-sounds of Krzysztof Dys' piano. The effect of this expansive view of classical and improvisational music making is to render a special 'beyond category' recording.

John Stevens Away At Home
At The Plough Stockwell
Loose Torque

Most of the attention given to drummer John Stevens (1940-1994) centers on the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. From it's inception in the mid-1960s, SME, which Stevens co-founded with Trevor Watts defined the language of British free improvisation. The various and changing members of SME from Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, {Barry Guy}}, Kenny Wheeler, to John Butcher became the who's who of the British creative music scene.

Then there is the other side of Stevens' career. Where SME favored so-called 'insect improv' or quiet listening and atonal group interaction, his explorations into jazz-rock in the groups the Splinters, John Stevens Dance Orchestra, Away, Free-bop, Folkus, Fast Colour, PRS, and his Quintet and Quartets pushed electric and rock envelope. At The Plough Stockwell is a cassette recording (and very high quality at that) of Stevens' band Away playing a gig at The Plough in 1978. The music is plugged-in, amped up and could easily be mistaken for an electric Miles Davis concert. Two guitars, Nigel Moyse and Martin Holder compete for space with Robert Calvert (saxophone) and John Corbett (trumpet). Stevens and Nick Stephens, who thumps a powerful electric bass, are collaborators in maintaining a thunderous pulse throughout and competing for decibel dominance. The music, bookended by lengthy jazz-rock explorations finds a gem with the New Orleans inspired version of "Whoops A Daisy." Otherwise, the music delivers all the energy of jazz-rock before the failures of jazz-rock-fusion.

Dennis González Yells At Eels
Colorado At Clinton
Ayler Records

The Dennis Gonzalez family records, aka his Yells At Eels trio, is a fine working trio led by father, Dennis, a recognized leader in avant-garde trumpet since the 1970s. His 1980s records for the Swedish Silkheart label are valued gems (and worth the treasure hunt). His sons, Stefan González (drums) and Aaron González (bass) have performed and recorded in multiple settings. Their inclusion of guest stars add an additional layer to each release. Prior discs have found them collaborating with Louis Moholo-MoholoCape Of Storms (Ayler Records, 2010), Alvin FielderResurrection Of Life (Ayler Records, 2011), Rodrigo AmadoThe Great Bydgoszcz Concert (Ayler Records, 2009), and the unofficial Yells At Eels disc Renegade Spirits (Furthermore, 2008) with Aakash Mittal, a gifted Indian-American saxophonist, who like Rudresh Mahanthappa has incorporated South Indian into his jazz lexicon.

The attractive sounds here are the interplay of the Eels open rhythmic orientation and Mittal's Eastern accent. He penned two tracks, "Shadows" and "Shades Of India." Both meditative pieces, the latter an epic, heroic composition that quotes John Coltrane's "India." The family González is an empathetic partner to all, capable of absorbing varying styles and approaches to deliver inspirational music. Gonzalez' "Dokonori Shīīto" is presented as a high energy speed workout that Mittal is game for. He is chased, then chases the melody and the trio into a boiling cauldron of sound.

Paul Stapleton / Simon Rose

Extended saxophone technique is just another term for deep space exploration and indeed, saxophonist Simon Rose is a musical cosmonaut. As a space traveler, he has released a couple of solitary saxophone expeditions on alto Procession (FMR, 2007) and a stunning baritone recording Schmetterling (Not Two, 2011). He provides a diverse and intriguing menu of tone manipulation, multiphonics and circular breathing.

With Fauna he shares the voyage with sound artist Paul Stapleton and his bonsai sound sculpture. Described as a portable modular musical instrument that combines a repurposed turntable, electronics, amplified metallic percussion and strings, the BoSS is part Blade Runner and part Plan 9 From Outer Space. Like Rose's serpentine routs, Stapleton's BoSS is a spluttering, droning, pitch-altering generator that is as otherworldly as a Simon's baritone. The pairs' improvisations could be the migratory songs of android whales or the piezoelectric abrasions that develop inside an old timepiece. Without the visuals, the sounds constructed are chimeric fantasies.

Albey Balgochian / Jane Grenier B.
Tragically Hip

The CD (and accompanying book) titled Tragically Hip is not as much an oxymoron as it is a curse. As long as the world has had poets (meaning language) there have been those who have a transparent vision of our existence. Some of those poets have collaborated with musicians to illuminate our times. It may have started with Kenneth Patchen, whose pacifist poetry fought imperialism, then Jack Kerouac and his beat immersion into bebop, that hipped kids to jazz. The collaboration is a natural one, like the roots of hip-hop, words unsung are great liberators.

Bassist Albey Balgochian has presented jazz and poetry in multiple groups. Here he invites poet Jane Grenier B. to read her poems to his musical accompaniment. The pair draw from both improvised jazz and hipster spoken tradition. They trod an updated version of Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" with "The Revolution," a tome that now includes our sanitized Mid-East wars and corporate greed. The war comes home with "Cerial Killer Moms." 'Cerial' being a mashup of cereal and serial. The Death does not come from bombs here, but high fructose corn syrup IEDs. Balgochian's bass is as expressive as a poet's voice. Their marriage of tone and poetry in this EP is timely, yet not quite of the times.

ZZ Quartet
Beyond The Lines
In And Out Records

The answer to the question: what does one do with an accordion?, is not beat it with a club until it is silenced. At least that is not the case when the accordion is utilized in the context of a jazz quartet like this ZZ Quartet. The 'Z' stands for Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca and Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini. Their quartet is rounded out by the Macedonian bassist Martin Gjakonovski and American drummer Adam Nussbaum. Beyond the Lines follows The Way We Talk (In And Out Records, 2010) and, while eschewing the traditional (or avant) aspects of the accordion, makes some innovative and what is more important, some swinging jazz.

Their music is difficult to pigeonhole. They draw from modern jazz, Italian film, and folk music as influences. The disc opens with the weighty bass line of "Voglio Una Donna" that unwraps into a complex and destabilizing sound. The band can hit hard and switch gears instantly ("Freak in Freak Out"), deliver a whistling pop song ("The Easy Whistler") with actual whistling, and negotiate the coolness of a lush blues ("River Spirit") all by meshing the ying/yang of Zjaca's guitar and Zanchini's accordion. The music is engaging and instantly agreeable.

Brass Mask
Spy Boy

Tom Challenger's Brass Mask is not so much a 'band on the run,' but it is on the move. His octet is built like a New Orleans street band. Each member, seven horns and a percussionist, sound (and maybe even play) portable.

This update on the New Orleans carnival draws from the African-American tradition and is part blues, part jazz, and infused with the evangelizing church. What make this configuration stand out is Challenger's refinements. He pulls not only from N.O., but modern composition. The opening track, "Onnellinen" (a Finnish word meaning "happy") played with saxophones, clarinets, trombone, tuba and percussion mixes Philip Glass' minimal classicism with Gil Evans orchestration. Played by the 'street band' setup the formalism obtains soul.

The octet with Challenger (saxophone, clarinet), Theon Cross (tuba), and Nathaniel Cross (trombone); George Crowley (saxophone & clarinet), Dan Nicholls (bass clarinet & saxophone), trumpeters Rory Simmons and Alex Bonney; and percussionist John Blease do exercise their New Orleans (say Nawlins) funk with tracks like "Shallow Water," "I Thank You Jesus," and "Wizards." The updates here also draw from a Henry Threadgill influence. "Francis P" and "Israfil" play off that Threadgill fractured song structure and improvisation. The music is more than just a moveable party, it is a musical feast.

Go: Organic Orchetra
Sonic Mandala
Meta Records

No, this is not a musical instruments garage sale. It's the 33-piece Go: Organic Orchestra and their 100-plus instruments under the direction of master percussionist Adam Rudolph. His self-described ensemble can be "assembled anywhere, anytime," and has had many lineups. Here he is working with New York-based players, and this recording is the orchestra's first studio session after six prior live recordings. The last release being Sound Of A Dream (Meta Records, 2011).

The music is an orchestral improvisation that is built upon Rudolph's interval matrices and cosmograms, the figurative form being mandalas utilized for meditation. The rhythms are intoxicating and mostly nonwestern. Rudolph's conduction brings to mind Butch Morris' work and that of John Zorn's Cobra, the difference here is Rudolph's background in African drumming, North Indian tabla, and Western classical composition. Let's say the Go: Organic Orchestra is a large (very large) version of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

The remarkable aspect of this recording is just how intimate this recording is for such a large gathering. The music flows from one part to the other with an intoxication of rhythm. Horn or string sections enter, broadcasting their message, but always there is the heartbeat of percussion making this a very obliging session.

Tracks and Personnel

A Round Goal

Tracks: Overture; Bridge Solo—Keefe; Was Ist Kultur?; My TIme Is My Own; Pasturale; There Is No Language Without Deceit; Hierarchy Follies; Round Goal; Bridege Solo—Dave; Neither Spin Nor Weave; Roses.

Personnel: Wacław Zimpel: clarinet, alto clarinet; Peter A. Schmid: bass clarinet, e flat clarinet, sopranino saxophone, baritone saxophone, bass saxophone; Marc Stucki: bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, harmonium); Keefe Jackson: bass clarinet, tenor saxophone; Mars Williams: sopranino saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Thomas K.J. Mejer: sopranino saxophone; Dave Rempis: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone.

Look Like You're Not Looking

Tracks: Look Like You're Not Looking; Stay Here, I'll Come To You.

Personnel: Jonah Parzen-Johnson: baritone saxophone, vocals, analog synthesizer.


Tracks: Bloomer; Sea Urchin; Heights; Calm; Kimono; Fluid.

Personnel: August Rosenbaum: piano; Thomas Morgan: bass; Mads Forsby: drums; Joel Gjærsbøl: guitar, effects layering; Jakob Bro: guitar; Lars Greve: saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Otis Sandsjö: saxophone; Victor Dybbroe: percussion.

Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile

Tracks: Invocation; Humility Draws Down Blue; All Nations; Twelve Sighed; Spares Of The World; Secret Coven; River Ruby Dues; Confessor Haste; Amma Jerusalem School; For This Is; Responsory; The Labor Of Their Lips; Was The Sacred Day; Lesson; Woman Red Racked; Thanks Be You; Humility Draws Down New; Benediction.

Personnel: Matana Roberts: alto saxophone, vocals, conduction, wordspeak; Shoko Nagai: piano, vocals; Jason Palmer: trumpet, vocals; Jeremiah Abiah: operatic tenor vocals; Thomson Kneeland: double bass, vocals; Tomas Fujiwara: drums, vocals.

Stone Fog

Tracks: Cold Blue Sky; Old Feet Feet Out The Path; A Sudden Shift Missed; As The Moon Dips In Nettles; Hundred Of Wings Steel the Sun; River Willows Sway; One Side Of My Face Is Colder Than The Other; Stone Fog.

Personnel: Wacław Zimpel: bass clarinet, alto clarinet, Bb clarinet, tarogato, overtone flute; Krzysztof Dys: piano; Christian Ramond: double bass; Klaus Kugel: drums, percussion.

At The Plough Stockwell

Tracks: Free Blow Segue / Ann; Just A Matter Of Time; Relative Space / What's That; Whoops A Daisy: Home / What's That.

Personnel: Robert Calvert: saxophones; Jon Corbett: trumpet; Nick Stephens: electric bass; Nigel Moyse: guitar; Martin Holder: guitar; John Stevens: drum.

Colorado At Clinton

Tracks: Devil's Side (for Javier Chavez); Shadows; Wind Streaks In Syrtis Major; Shades Of India; Constellations On The Ground (for Chris Whitley); Dokonori Shīīto.

Personnel: Dennis González: C trumpet, Bb trumpet; Aakash Mittal: alto saxophone; Aaron González: bass; Stefan González: drums;


Tracks: Borealis; Felt; Deep; Zwischenfall; Shift; Zeiteinheit; Set; Vetreiben.

Personnel: Paul Stapleton: bonsai sound sculpture; Simon Rose: baritone saxophone, alto saxophone.

Tragically Hip

Tracks: DragonFlys; Cerial Killer Moms; Solitary; The Art Of Poetry; Black Leather & Connies; The Revolution; Flux.

Personnel: Albey Balgochian: bass, vocals; Jane Grenier B.: spoken word.

Beyond The Lines

Tracks: Vogio Una Donna; Celtico; River Spirit; Freak In Freak Out; The Clockwork; Bale Con La Uno; The Judge Says You Are Not Innocent; Days of Old; The Lost Call; The South Song; The Easy Whistler.

Personnel: Personnel: Ratko Zjaca: guitars; Simone Zanchini: accordion; Martin Gjakonovski: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.

Spy Boy

Tracks: Onnellinen; Shallow Water; I Thank You Jesus; Nighty Night; Francis P; Indian Red; Rain Rain Rain; Meniscus; Wizards; Israfil; Indians; Don't Stand Up; Zubr Dubr.

Personnel: Tom Challenger: saxophone, clarinet; George Crowley: saxophone, clarinet; Dan Nicholls: bass clarinet, saxophone; Rory Simmons: trumpet; Alex Bonney: trumpet; Nathaniel Cross: trombone; Theon Cross: tuba; John Blease: drums, percussion.

Sonic Mandala

Tracks: Part One (Invitation); Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven (slow); Part Seven (medium); Part Seven (fast); Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve (Universal Mother).

Personnel: Ralph M. Jones: alto flute, c flute, hulusi, bamboo flutes; Kaoru Watanabe: noh kan, fue, c flute; Zé Luis Oliveira: c flute, alto flute, bamboo flutes; Michel Gentile: c flute, alto flute, bamboo flutes; Sylvain Leroux: tambin fulani flute, c flute, sheng, bamboo flutes; Ralph M. Jones: altoflute, c flute, hulusi, bamboo flutes; Kaoru Watanabe: noh kan, fue, c flute; Batya Sobel: oboe, ocarina; Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon, sona; Ned Rothenberg: b flat clarinet, bass clarinet, shakuhachi; J D Parran: contra alto clarinet, kalimbas, ewart bamboo flute; Avram Fefer: b flat clarinet, bass clarinet, bamboo flutes; Ivan Barenboim: b flat clarinet, bamboo flutes; Graham Haynes: cornet, flugelhorn, ewart bamboo horn; Stephen Haynes: trumpet, flugelhorn, alto horn, conch; Peter Zummo: trombone, conch, didgeridoo, zithers; Elektra Kurtis: violin; Rosemarie Hertlein: violin; Gwen Laster: violin; Sarah Bernstein: violin; Skye Steele: violin; Curtis Stewart: violin; Jason Kao Hwang: viola; Stephanie Griffin: viola; Marika Hughes: cello; Janie Cowan: double bass; James Hurt: sogo, kidi, igbo bell, udu, percussion; Matt Kilmer: frame drum, djembe, kanjira, udu, percussion; Brahim Fribgane: cajon, tarija, udu, percussion; Tim Kieper: dusun'goni, pandiero, caxixi, udu, percussionKeita Ogawa: earthtone drum, frame drum, hadjira, pandeiro, udu, percussion; Tripp Dudley: kanjira, cajon, bayan, frame drum, udu, percussion; Adam Rudolph: bata, slit drum, rebolo, gankogoui, udu, percussion.

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