Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’

Sê-lo Net Label – 12th May 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

This isn’t an album that’s easy to position, but I’m not about to labour any hyperbolic proclamation that it’s genre-defying or even unique in its hybridity. The press blurb pitches Stars are a Harem as a modern day answer to Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’, where the music is steeped in the avant-garde tradition while being accessible to the public ear thanks to “pop” recording techniques and a softening of the harsh sounds associated with the 1960s avant-garde amidst American jazz music.

I’d actually go so far as to say that aside from some unconventional structure as some unusual and incongruously explosive percussion – and perhaps a tendency to incorporate unexpected stops and starts to stutter the flow of the subtle, mellow and overtly jazz-inspired instrumentation – Stars Are A Harem is a raw and soulful work which has mass appeal.

Gaugh has one of those voices that wows people: you just know that casual listeners catching him perform a low-key club show (and I rather suspect that’s the kind of show Gaugh tends to perform) would absolutely melt and rush to the merch stall once they’d done clapping their hands off, even if they hadn’t quaffed a quart of prosecco. Yes, he has soul: deep, deep soul. And however wayward or experimental some of the songs are in their conception, and however ‘jazz’ the pieces are stylistically, the execution is smooth.

Alongside urgent, arrhythmic drumming, not to mention segments of deftly created and technically impressive drumming, strolling soothing and strolling basslines, pegged back and considerate (even when they build to the calamity of thunder) are a consistent feature of Stars Are A Harem.

While Stars Are A Harem clearly and explicitly exploits the wilder tendencies of avant-garde jazz stylings, it also does a while lot more. Moreover, while Stars Are A Harem excitingly finds Micah Gaugh mine an avant-garde seam, the more experimental tendencies are kept rigorously in check. And herein lies the album’s greatest achievement, in that it’s an overtly accessible and enjoyable album, but one with unconventional undercurrents, pitching to the underground and the overground at the same time.




Micah Gaugh – Stars Are A Harem


ti-Records – TIRECS004

Christopher Nosnibor

What do you need to know about this album? Well, GIW is the solo project of trumpeter & performer Pablo Giw. He hails from Cologne, Germany, and Never is Always is his debut album.

‘Morning Machine’ finds Pablo spin some rhythmically-intoned spoken word that’s archetypally beat in its style and delivery. Slow, subsonic trip-hop beats glitch beneath warping free jazz parps which cut their way across spaced-out drones.

A nagging looped motif provides the core of the framework of ‘What’s Outside Isn’t There’, and it’s around this that changes in tempo and tonality, force and spirit that the atmosphere and mood of the piece shift over its duration. The blurb describes GIW as ‘having electronic music in mind, but creating it by acoustic and instrumental means’, and while there are times when his plays the trumpet like a trumpet, over the course of the album’s eight tracks, he demonstrates a stylistic eclecticism and inventiveness that’s hard not to admire.

Never is Always finds GIW striving to ‘redefine his role as a trumpet player and us[ing] his instrument as sound generator for complex harmonic layers, a drum machine or as a filter for his voice. It’s when GIW pushes his boundaries the furthest that he’s most impressive and successful compositionally, and while the more obviously trumpet-led, jazz-flavoured compositions like ‘The Golden Calf’ aren’t short on late-night hot city isolation tension and atmosphere, even with the swaying rhythms which underpin its loose groove. Far more interesting are the swelling cathedrals of unsettling noise which form the fabric of the short but intense cracking blast of ‘Right Endeavour,’ which forges a dense noise which is both electro and other-wordly in its manifestation.

If the dreamy soul which occupies the first half of ‘I Saw You – Trouble’ is unremarkable s of and in itself, the fact it sounds like it’s a synth tune is indicative of Pablo’s technical abilities, and when it skips into darker, glitchier terrain around the mid-point, the context is rendered even more impressive.

‘Hain’ barrels into avant-garde technoindustrial territory, with clattering, clanking percussion and blasts of white noise that calls to mind the experimentalism of early Cabaret Voltaire or Foetus.

Never is Always is nothing if not varied in its approach and style, and in being something of a mixed bag isn’t wholly consistent. However, it would be wrong to be overly critical, and not only because it’s GIW’s first effort but because it’s the work of an artist willing to explore, to experiment, and to throw it all out there. It’s less a matter of variable quality as a matter of taste, and while I abhor anything that whiffs of ersatz Beatnick bollocks, that’s just me, and what really matters is that Never is Always is an ambitious and eclectic effort which shows that we’re looking at an artist with substantial and possibly unique potential.


Ideologic Organ – SOMA025 – 10th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The accompanying press release is instructive and informative as to the premise of the latest offering from The Necks. Entering their thirtieth year of their existence, the trio continue to innovate and to create music which expands the parameters of jazz music:

The latest document from this long-running ensemble, Unfold, presents itself as a double LP, with four side-length tracks. A deliberate absence of numbered sides hands a substantial swatch of participation over to the listener, allowing her to navigate his own path through the soundscape at hand. The shorter length of the vinyl format, far from being a constraint upon the members of the ensemble, instead offers them a more compact horizon to contemplate, wherein the distance travelled is recalibrated to more immediate and dynamic textural concerns.

The title is appropriate, in that it gives a fitting indication of the nature of the compositions. Although the vinyl format is pitched as being a ‘shorter’ format, the fact that each track occupies a full side of this double album means that each piece still has a running time of between fifteen and twenty-one minutes. And unfold is what they do: gradual evolutions, slow unfurlings and near-imperceptible outspreadings which creep from sparse to near-overwhelming.

‘Blue Mountain’ begins with a delicate piano, but over time builds in depth, tension and pace to a sustained crescendo that never quite breaks. It simmers long and leisurely, cymbal crashes rising in intensity, resembling an intro to a track on a recent Swans album. I mean this as a compliment: it’s a lengthy piece, but there’s movement, there are dynamics, there’s a tangible sense of trajectory.

Noodling Hammond keys wander over a slow, pulsating undulation on ‘Overhear’, and it’s hypnotic and mellow. Perhaps the most overtly ‘jazz’ composition, it also encapsulates perfectly the wide-ranging elements The Necks incorporate within their music. Bongos bubble up jittery rhythms while the trilling organ notes meander and weave, intersecting time signature s forging an increasing sense of spatial disorientation over time.

The tribal rhythms which dominate ‘Ride’ slowly but surely increase in pace, raising the tension as the elongated, barely perceptible notes hang in slow suspense. Ultimately, the pace reaches a frenetic peak, before collapsing into arrhythmia , a conglomeration of discord and distempo, and the fourth track, ‘Timepiece’ is nothing short of a bewildering chaos of percussion, discord and orchestrated dissonance. Against the clattering rattle of drums and more, bass notes resonate and xylophone notes ring out in different directions, and over time, it becomes increasingly unsettling disorientating, difficult.

Unfold is by no means an easy album. It’s by no means a ‘jazz’ album in conventional terms. But in terms of an album which bounces off the wall in myriad unexpected directions freeforming and freewheeling as the musicians explore interpersonal musical boundaries, it’s the epitome of jazz. It’s also really rather good. Well, it is a Necks album, after all.

The Necks - Unfold

6th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Some reviews are seemingly fated. This is one such review: I was slow to get started, and then, having spent several evenings working on a detailed critical analysis, exploring the album’s wild eclectism on a more or less track-by-track basis in a discourse of some eight hundred words, my laptop crashed and most of the work was lost, with the only available version being a collection of notes which were days old. How it happened, when my word processor is set to autosave every five minutes, I have no idea. Thanks Microsoft.

Still, this is an Ashley Reaks album, and a man who can produce three albums in a year – and continue to produce art, and to gig relentlessly, under difficult personal circumstances – deserves the same kind of unbowing attitude from a reviewer.

Because it’s an Ashley Reaks album, anything can happen. And it will. And it does. Following on from Reaks’ ‘punk album’ This is Planet Grot (and a remarkable credible and impressive punk album at that), Growth Spurts, on the one hand, could be considered a return to more familiar territories. But then, on the other, it could justifiably be tagged his ‘jazz album’. The familiar elements of reggae and post-punk inspired dub are present and correct, but this collaboration-based collection of tunes also brings in some wild jazz stylings. The collaborative element is also key here, not only to appreciating Growth Spurts, but to understanding Reaks as an artist, at least as much as it’s possible to grasp such an idiosyncratic and singular individual.

Like his collage artwork, his music is a mish-mash of elements drawn from here, there and everywhere, often bolted together at weird angles and demonstrating incompatible proportions and lines of perspective. He has very much his own slant on things, and his approach is also very much his own: Reaks is one of the few artists who consistently produces work which has the capacity to surprise, to confound, and, occasionally, confuse – which is a healthy response to something which is so staunchly unconventional. You get the impression that Reaks’ raison d’être is to produce art which surprises and confounds himself, as much as any notional audience. His mindset appears to be that if it’s not fresh, unexpected, and if it’s not sincere, then it’s worthless. Collaboration, when done right, yields an output which is greater than the sum of its parts, and draws out facets of each contributor which may not otherwise be known.

As such, Growth Spurts is a world away from his previous collaborative effort, Cultural Thrift (2015) with poet Joe Hakim, on which Reaks stepped toward the rear portion of the stage to provide a background accompaniment (which in itself was a departure given Reaks’ propensity for dizzying soundclashes). Five of the ten pieces – it would be wrong to refer to this as a collection of songs, given that they feature spoken word and poetry – feature writers and poets from a broad and diverse range of backgrounds. They’re disparate characters, as varied as Reaks’ own sources of input, hand-picked to contribute to the album.

The result is dizzying, a rollercoaster journey through a vast swathe of cultural terrain. Each of the collaborative pieces is distinct and different, and finds Reaks attentive to the style of the different speakers. And as the strange, strangles vocal cacophony which introduces the album’s first track, the oddly ominous prog-dub drum‘n’bass neoclassical jazz mixup that is ‘Divorced from the Body’ shows, he’s digging deep to locate new and unexpected hybrids. And yet, amidst the chaos, he still whips up some killer hooks – something so many experimental / genre-smashing artists completely overlook in their quest to innovate, to dazzle with their imagination and technical prowess.

‘The Gentle Art of Ignoring’ with Sylvie Hill is the most outright jazz track on the album, and her sassy vocal delivery and confident Canadian accent brings another sharp dimension to an album which displays almost infinite dimensions, but there’s just so much to take in. But if you need a pointer for where to start, start with the basslines. The crashing jazz-influenced drum ‘n’ bass drumming, the wild brass, the myriad perspectives of the different vocalists all slot into place over those low-down basslines that stroll and groove and leap and boogie. Get on down.


Ashley Reaks - Growth Spurts

Skipstone Records – SKPST023

James Wells

Although Rings is credited to Erik Friedlander, it’s the first release from a new trio, Black Phebe, consisting of Friedlander (cello and composition), Shoko Nagai (piano, accordion and electronics) and Satoshi Takeshi (percussion) ‘with live looping as a compositional tool and featuring multiple trios within one’.

Rings is certainly a diverse album, and the trio’s multi-instrumentalism means there are a vast array of permutations for arrangements, and, in turn, styles. At times playful and whimsical, at others theatrical and dramatic and at others still mellow, Rings explores a host of different sonic experiences. With the accordion accompanied by plucked cello and tribal drumming, ‘The Seducer’ is a world/folk music crossover. Elsewhere, hints of jazz inform ‘Black Phebe’ and ‘Fracture’, the latter with a wandering bassline that sashays seductively hither and thither. Some of it’s really quite nice, and while some of it’s perhaps not so nice in the light and fluffy sense, the quality of the musicianship and the vigour of the diverse compositional styles is impressive.



Karlrecords – KR025 – 23rd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

If you though that free jazz couldn’t be brutal and punishingly aggressive, you clearly haven’t heard Painkiller. A three-way collaboration between three legends in their own rights – namely Bill Laswell, John Zorn and Napalm Death’s Mick Harris, the three albums they released in the early 90s represent the work of a true supergroup: not just a coming together of names, but creative powers combining convergent forces to forge something exceptional. Guts of a Virgin and Buried Secrets, both released on Earache Records, melded grindcore and free jazz to devastating effect, but it was their final album, the double-CD sign-off that was Execution Ground (1994) that saw them take things to another towering level.

That 1994 is now 22 years ago is hard to digest: not only are there kids listening to Nirvana who weren’t born when Kurt Cobain ended it, but adults too. Nevertheless, it’s 22 years since Execution Ground was released, and only now is it receiving a vinyl pressing, in a limited run of 500 (with the obligatory download code). And yes, an album of such sonic depth more than warrants a vinyl edition, and Karlrecords have done themselves proud, with the 180g double vinyl mastered and cut by Rashad Becker in Berlin. There’s a slight change to the original running order here, with ‘Pashupatinath’ being cut from the vinyl and tacked on at the end of the download, but nevertheless it works, and the key point to note is that this doesn’t sound like an album from 22 years ago. But then, it doesn’t sound like an album from any time.

Zorn’s alto sax playing in the opening minutes is beyond wild, and it’s underpinned by a thudding, gut-rumbling bass. Everything about the album is immense: ‘Parish of Tama (Ossuary Dub)’ works the full sonic spectrum and distils the most potent elements of grindcore and jazz, while bringing down the pace to a glacial grind. Simultaneously frantic and pulverizing, it pulls the listener in two different directions, and possesses a dark turbulence powerful enough to tear you in half.

‘Morning of Balachaturdasi’ begins with a slow, heavy drum beat, joined next by a dolorous chime of a repeated bass chord. Half Swans, half Shellac… and then the sax. Fuck, the sax! Its shrill, it has attack, and while the rhythm sections gradually dissolves into a sea of echo, quintessentially jazzy grooves rise up and the playing really wigs out. Over the course of its quarter-hour running time, it builds to punishing crescendos, drops back down to almost nothing, with extended semi-ambient passages which in turn yield to shrieking sonic assaults with the brutal rhythm section producing some deep, dark dub vibes.

The ‘ambient’ versions are darkly menacing, and swampy echoes drift and swirl, offering little by way of comfort. In the distance, sax honks parp and bray like a wild beast begging for mercy from within the belly of a whale. Drum breaks erupt and vanish into think, murky air, while tortured voices howl in agony from the depths. The bass is so low and edgy it’s positively stealthy and almost subliminal in its attack. But attack it does, as it nags away, strumming and thrumming and skipping and dipping. Thirteen minutes into ‘Parish of Tama (Ambient)’, a crescendo of crashing drums and satanic thrashing and gnashing offer a view into the black heart of purgatory.

It’s certainly not ‘ambient’ in any conventional sense, and nor do these epic sonic expanses conform strictly to the tropes of ‘dark ambient’, instead making for something altogether dense, more oppressive and more sinister.

It’s a brain-frying and utterly monumental work of epic scope, depth and dimensionality. However far genes cross, you’d be hard-pressed to find a work which pushes forward across seemingly incompatible genres, and even more hard-pressed to find one which succeeds like Execution Ground.



Immedata – IMM006 – 4th July 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Instruments that sound like instruments!’ boasts the sticker on the cellophane in which North of North is shrinkwrapped. It’s a good selling point, and I’m not being sarcastic. It’s not a matter of selling tradition, but what could reasonably be described as the album’s manifesto: ‘this is no random grimprov get together or free jazz blowout, this is a serious engagement with compositional parameters combined with instrumental virtuosity from a working band’, announced the press release. It’s a bold statement which is likely to rankle with a fair few in avant-jazz circles, but fuck ‘em. Isn’t that what avant-gardism is all about?

As it happens, there’s a lot of fucking going on with this release. The interior of the lurid pink gatefold cover contains the following uncredited quotation, impressed in silver text:

It doesn’t come from fucking somewhere else,

It comes from your fucking brain.

Your brain tells you what to do, and you fucking do it.

If your brains are fucked, then the music will be fucked.

And the music is a little fucked, but in a good way. In the way that this album is all about what the title states: ‘The Moment In and Of Itself’. It’s immediate. It’s real. The moment is the only thing that matters. The moment is history in the making. It’ a moment in time, captured, distilling the coming together of three musicians to create something – to create music. Nothing more, nothing less.

Featuring the talents of Anthony Pateras (piano), Scott Tinkler (trumpet) and Erkki Veltheim (violin), the album’s five tracks represent spirited, free-flowing improvisation – a subject they discuss at length in the three-way conversation (it’s not strictly an interview) in the 16-page booklet which accompanies the album. It’s all in the moment. It’s not pre-planned improvisation, guided, ordered, conducted. Naturally, just because the instruments sound like instruments doesn’t mean that this is a perfectly accessible work. At times in perfect accord and at others creating tempestuous discord, there are jazz elements in the compositions, such as they are. And of course, the range of sounds three instruments can name, individually and in combination, while still sounding like instruments, is immense, and at times brain-bending.

There’s certainly a strong element of playfulness which runs throughout the project as a whole. What lies North of North? It’s like the question posted in Spinal Tap when discussing the cover to their Black Album. And just as there’s none more black so there is none more North than North, unless you’re going to leave the planet completely. Which could well be the aim of these fellows, as they explore what it means to participate in ‘real-time composition’. I’m also reminded of the Bukowski book, South Of No North. Which is presumably nowhere or also off the planet. Whatever: location is a state of mind.

Leaping between brooding drama and fleeting, skittering leaps and transitioning from moody to frantically busy, with scratches and scribbly scrapes, fast fingerwork and mindboggling intuition are what make this album happen. And in the moment, they eke out extended crescendos and embark on wild detours and impromptu romps in myriad directions. It’s challenging, at times manic and eye-popping. But this is the real deal. It happened. And this album is a document of a moment, as it happened.

North of North