|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Ramon Lopez
By Ken Waxman
As much as anything else, the birth of Maya Recordings, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, was born from impatience. Swiss violinist Maya Homburger, who operates the boutique label with her husband, British bassist/composer Barry Guy, recalls that since at that time another label was slow in putting out Arcus, a recording by Guy and bassist Barre Phillips, they decided to do so themselves. By 2012 29 Maya CDs have been released, improvised as well as baroque music.
The two were already veteran musician when Maya was created. Zürich-born Homburger, for instance, has worked with ensembles such as Trio Virtuoso and Camerata Kilkenny; while London-born Guy is part of many free jazz aggregations and is the founder/artistic director of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LCJO). Maya was envisioned as a different sort of imprint, Homburger recalls. “We wanted to create a label where music, cover art and writing were all related and on the highest level. We wanted to have control over the look as well as the sound.”
As examples she points to Fizzles, Guy’s solo session, which not only benefitted from great care being taken with the sound recorded in a Swiss church, but was coupled with informative text f plus what she calls “an amazing cover painting by Fred Hellier”. More recently, The Musical Offering (J.S. Bach) by Camerata Kilkenny was the culmination of excellent recording and editing of the ensemble’s performance, a distinctive cover by Irish artist George Vaughan, text by David Ledbetter plus a specially commissioned poem by Fergal Gaynor. The label’s logo, based on a Maya Indian sculpture references both the Mayan people and Homburger.
Shortly after Arcus, Elsie Jo, a live concert by a sextet from the LJCO become the first CD specifically recorded for Maya. Since then at a rate of one to three a year, Maya has put out already recorded or newly created sessions by of baroque music plus combos featuring Guy. The bassist’s playing partners have ranged from Spanish pianist Agustí Fernández to saxophonists Parker and Swede Mats Gustafsson; while Homburger on baroque violin and in ensembles has recorded compositions by so-called classical composers and Guy. Dakryon is she, Guy and Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre interpreting work by17th Century composers H.I.F. Biber and Dario Castello. “My interpretation of Bach and Biber is very much influenced by the freedom I have experienced from and learned in the improvising scene,” Homburger explains.
Maya’s 20th anniversary celebration in September 2011 presented three days of concerts in the Swiss city of Winterthur. Among the perfumers were the Camerata; Homburger with Malcolm Proud on cembalo harpsichord; plus various trios, solos and duos featuring Guy, Parker, Gustafsson, Fernández, percussionists Lytton and Raymond Strid..
“I love the process of making a record, a real album; not just the iTunes adopted ‘one-track sensation’ bullshit,” affirms Gustafsson. “There’s recording the music properly, mixing, mastering, sequencing, cover art, design, liner notes etc., as well as dealing with the post-production issues such as selling the album and marketing it in a proper way. Maya Recordings has this level of quality all over the releases. The variety and flexibility of Maya Recording is also very unique, if you ask me, because it releases top-notch free jazz, contemporary music and out-of-control, fantastic baroque music. Biber’s Mystery Sonatas, in Maya Hombuger’s version, is one of the most amazing recorded music documents of the past 30 years ... I kid you not. And, of course, Barry Guy´s Fizzles is one of the most creative solo recordings in the history of improvised music. It’s totally DNA-changing. I’m very proud to be part of this, and that’s why I choose to work with them … as long as they want to work with me.”
Releasing CDs from two genres of music has never been a problem, Homburger affirms. “The mixture mirrors our touring and concerts. So everybody appreciates the label for exactly this. We know well in advance what we love, like Bach, Biber and the Parker/Guy/Lytton or the Tarfala trio, so there is never a shortage of projects for the label. We wanted to release the trios, quartets, duos and solos which were important at the time. And of course putting out discs of Bach, Bibber etc. has nothing to do with ‘vanity’.”
“Smaller labels are always nicer to work with, since you have a direct communication about all the details,” adds Gustafsson. “With larger labels too many people have opinions so it easily gets quite confused and non-creative.”
Unlike many boutique imprints Maya, based in Oberstammheim, Switzerland has a distribution agreement with Intakt, an established Swiss label. “I can’t remember when this started exactly,” Homburger admits. “Perhaps it was when we moved to Switzerland [in 2006] or partially in 2004. Now we have collaboration with Intakt on many levels, not just on distribution. One can see us as a sister company.”
Intakt and Maya are involved in many co-productions. For instance Harmos - Live at Schaffhausen, an Intakt DVD featuring the LJCO was co-produced and co-financed by Maya, as were the three CDs pianist Marilyn Crispell recorded for Intakt with Guy. “Hexentrio, the brand-new trio CD with Guy, Plimley and Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli is a co-production in every sense: organizing, editing, financing etc,” she adds.
Maya CDs are financed in different fashions. In the main, funds needed to pay for releasing live concerts of improvised music, comes from CD sales. “However studio recordings like Aurora, [with Guy, Fernández and percussionist Ramón López], and, of course, the baroque recordings are financed with the help of specific sponsors and also from our concert fees, our savings, and sometimes from sales of musical instruments,” Hombuger notes. As for the musicians themselves, the average form of compensation is mostly with CDs they can sell at gigs.
“The history of musician-owned labels is a proud one,” notes Parker who was involved with the launch of Incus in the 1970s and now runs his own psi imprint. “Barry and Maya have a specific musical agenda which relates baroque music to current music, especially improvised music. This gives their label a unique place in the overall scheme. Because they are practitioners, they’re sympathetic to the needs of their fellow musicians. Each [musician-owned] label allows the expression of an aesthetic that supports and perhaps illuminates aspects of the particular emphasis that each brings to the job.”
Switzerland, where Homburger and Guy moved to in 2006 after nine years in Ireland, has been beneficial both for the musicians and Maya Recordings. Besides giving the two more scope for concert and touring activities, the Swiss violinist states “as far as any business goes like designing, printing, distributing etc. this was a bit more complicated in Ireland. Basically loads of things in Ireland are not handled in the so-called Swiss efficient way.”
While pressing LPs for the collectors’ market remain one avenue left for Maya to explore, downloads of all the imprint’s CDs can be accessed through Proper Music, its United Kingdom distributor. Plus it isn’t standing still. Maya’s next release will be another major project: A live recording by the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra of Guy’s composition “Schweben.”
When it comes to the administrative side, Homburger admits that sometimes the temptation to turn the whole company over to Intakt exists. “But when we receive personal reactions via e-mails from wonderful fans of the music or label in many countries or when we have very special encounters after concerts during the stage sales of our CDs, we know once again that it’s worth all the effort,” she avers.
--For New York City Jazz Record May 2012
May 6, 2012
Météo Music Festival August 23 to August 27 2011
By Ken Waxman
Météo means weather in French, and one notable aspect of this year’s Météo Music Festival which takes place in Mulhouse, France, was the weather. It’s a testament to the high quality of the creative music there that audiences throughout the five days were without exception quiet and attentive despite temperatures in non air-conditioned concert spaces that hovered around the high 90sF. More dramatically, one afternoon a sudden freak thunderstorm created an unexpected crescendo to a hushed, spatial performance, by the Greek-Welsh Cranc trio of cellist Nikos Veliotis, harpist Rhodri Davies and violinist Angharad Davies, when winds violently blew ajar the immense wooden front door of Friche DMC, a former thread factory, causing glass to shatter and fall nosily.
Luckily other Météo highlights were strictly of the musical variety, some taking place in first-time festival venues. Two mammoth churches hosted improvised pipe organ concerts; a library presented brief children’s concerts; the city’s Belle Époque theatre showcased formal concerts by vocal-oriented trios; a soon-to-be demolished parking garage showcased a reunion of two British free music pioneers; and major documentaries about Germany’s tenor saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and France’s baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro were screened at the Cinéma Le Palace.
Lazro performed in person one noon hour in the 12th Century Chapelle Saint-Jean. Here his unique reed projections which move from juddering altissimo cries to percussive tongue slaps and dark, echoing renal growls met the shrilling reed quivers and vocal retches, pants and cackles of French clarinetist/vocalist Isabelle Duthoit for a magnificent display of in-the-moment conceptualism. Besides this chapel, the other regular Météo site was the Noumatrouff. This funky space is mostly for rock shows, a role it seemed to revert to one night when Dutch punk-jazzers The Ex unrolled an enthusiastic set, featuring a vamping horn section. With chairs removed that one time to create a dance floor, enthusiastic fans swayed or pogoed, with the vibe contrasting markedly with the cerebral solemnity of other pure improv shows.
That’s seriousness, not humourlessness though. French bassist Joëlle Léandre for instance, in a premier meeting with cellist Vincent Courtois at the Noumatrouff, added episodes of near-vaudeville to the duo’s profound and classically-tinged improvising. While his timbres often resulted from stentorian plucks, strumming the instrument horizontally strumming like a blues guitarist, or creating spiccato pulses by rubbing two bows on the strings, Léandre’s inimitable improvising encompassed more the string sleight-of-hands. Sometimes miming as she loudly popped the strings or vocalizing both basso and bel canto as she played, Léandre rubbed her bow all over the bass, kicked it the odd time, kissed it in supplication, eventually lowering the bass and herself downwards as she played, ending the set with both she and the instrument lying on the stage.
If Léandre’s performance was the most theatrical, she wasn’t the only bassist to make an impact. Rappelling and leaping jack-in-the-box-like over his strings to prod florid double stops or striking them resolutely with a stick, Briton Barry Guy consolidated the approaches a trio with Catalan pianist Agusti Fernandez and Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez evolved during its set at the Noumatrouff. Splattering rhythms from his cymbals, bongo and conga plus shaking wooden rattles, the drummer wasn’t overly assertive, but went his own way. So did the pianist, whose internal string plucks showed up as often as elbow and forearm keyboard rhythms or in a turnaround, romantic glissandi. The three were sequentially chamber music players performing a sonata, sound explorers or a hot jazz band trading fours
Muscularly buzzing rhythms, plucking above and below the bridge, British bassist John Edwards joined drummer Steve Noble and guitarist Alex Ward as N.E.W., an improv version of a rock power trio during Météo’s concluding concert. As Noble slapped mallets full force on his snares or broke-up the beat by vibrating Chinese cymbals and a gong on drum tops, Ward ripped out staccato slide-guitar flanges. What jazz-rock could have been if it hadn’t degenerated into 1970s formula, N.E.W. earned two tumultuous encores. Just as powerful in execution was French bassist David Chiesa’s methodical plucks in a chamber-music-like situation with violinist Mathieu Werchowski at Chapelle Saint-Jean. Chiesa not only plucked thickly to back the fliddler’s spacious spiccato angling, but displayed cunning pumps and stops himself.
Low-string double duty was the role of Sydney-resident-turned Berliner, Clayton Thomas, who elsewhere assayed a children’s concert. During different night at Noumatrouff, his pressured bow and object string-sawing and chunky plucks not only anchored the sound pictures invoked by the Berlin Sound Connective of alto saxophonist Thomas Ankersmit, turntablist Ignaz Schick and percussionist Burkhard Beins plus off-stage mixing by France’s Jérôme Noetinger; but also made tremolo pops as the solid centre of The Ames Room, an obdurate free-jazz ensemble with bass-drum pounding fellow Aussie, Will Guthrie and Parisian Jean-Luc Guionnet. Guionnet’s tension-laden alto saxophone multiphonics only vaguely related to the sputtering but distant timbre washes he showcased at an afternoon church pipe-organ performance.
Unlike Guionnet’s blaring reed expression, Ankersmit’s irregular vibratos were eclipsed by Beins’ Styrofoam rubs and cymbal thrusts and Schick platter scraping and radio-static mixes. Other saxophonists were more upfront. Like Lazro, except using a soprano, French saxophonist Michel Doneda distilled an ever-shifting collection of flat-line air, gruff vibratos, flattement and piercing multiphonics into a timbral foil to Japanese-American Tatsuya Nakatani’s peerless percussion moves that involved rattles, cymbal slams, gong reverberation, soft mallet smacks and using his lips and mouth on drum tops to produce ratcheting timbres.
Another rewarding sax exposition came from Paris altoist Christine Abdelnour in an afternoon duo with Berlin pianist Magda Mayas, following a sweaty climb of four sets of stairs leading to the top floor of the abandoned Garage Sax. As spatially oriented as Cranc’s concert, but warmer (musically) in execution, the two slapped and clattered a series of minimalist timbres into an undulating whole. As Abdelnour alternated between sounding juddering squeaks, trouser-leg-muted textures, horizontally blown, mouthpiece suckles and undulating split tones, Mayas industriously applied a mallet to the piano strings, snaked a fish line through them stopped keyboard vibrations manually and used friction for distinctive scrapped note clusters.
Mayas was proving her take on the sort of inventive prepared and standard piano lines John Tilbury pioneered. His performance with pioneering table-top guitarist Keith Rowe, following the Mayas-Abdelnour’s set was another instance of the prototypical sonic textures Rowe and Tilbury have weaved and together for more than four decades. With the pianist’s distinct leitmotif of knife-edge patterns, key stopping and tremolo chording melded with the guitarist’s measured, flat-key plucks, constant electronic drone and bursts of radio-tuned voices and static, Tilbury and Rowe made it appear that outside bird songs and church bell-tolling were an expected part of their mesmerizing, strategy. When the open-ended sounds faded away, everyone was convinced that the duo had rendered a matchless performance, although no one could detail just how it had been done.
Something similar could be said about the Météo Music Festival. Year after year artistic prescience and organizational smarts combine for a smooth-running and musically sophisticated sound feast with evolves seamlessly.
--For New York City Jazz Record October 2011
October 10, 2011
Christine Wodrascka/Ramon Lopez
Leo Records CD LR 542
Fully conversant with free improvisation involving a single pianist and a single drummer perfected by the likes of Ulrich Gumpert and Baby Sommer; Borah Bergman and Hamid Drake; plus Cecil Taylor and just about everyone; Christine Wodrascka and Ramon Lopez advance a personalized game plan.
These dozen tracks by the French pianist and the Spanish, Paris-based percussionist are completely aleatory and auto-responsive. Limiting themselves to the perimeters of the Alfortville-Paris recording studio, any intonation heard apparently has no affiliated history. Instead each sound is positioned and animated as foundation of, or reaction to, another created by the other improvising partner.
Obviously the danger implicit in constructing bordered improvisations is sequences that are overly sterile and coldly isolated. Luckily both players possess enough assurance and technique to give the often abrasive, frequently staccato duos a certain geniality. Self-taught, Alicante native Lopez’s history encompasses l’Orchestre National de Jazz and formations ranging from those with pianist Agustí Fernández to ones with reedist Charles Gayle. Classically trained, Toulouse-based Wodrascka has worked in large ensembles as well as in smaller groups with percussionist Lê Quan Ninh and bassist Joëlle Léandre. A few instances of this duo’s strategy demonstrates that tones, rhythms, harmonies and pitches don’t have to be set to a predetermined set of rules, especially with two instruments that have volumes of effects at each player’s disposal.
“Delante del fuego” for instance, deals with rhythmical dislocation. With the pianist’s low-frequency key pumping and chord strums reflected by snare smacks and gong reverberation, a gradual move from andante to presto on Wodrascka’s part brings out further dissimilarities. She adds pedal pressure to her note clusters as Lopez counters with dynamic runs and rebounds. Contrast that track with “Con la lluvia”, which is formalized and faux-baroque. Smacked small bells and beaten snares are met with treble-pitched feints and key clips, as cross timbres appear from both the pianist’s hands. Before a climax of repeated string vibrations, Lopez confirms the counterpoint with drum top scuffs and what could be knitting-needle clicks.
Elsewhere, tracks such as “Pelea” and “Ensemble la Joie” confirm that Wodrascka, who is just as capable of lyrical expression, can with the same aplomb slap the piano keys as well as pull, stroke and saw on its internal strings with knife-like thrusts. Lopez’s response to those methodical attacks is to rattle his cymbals, create steel-drum-like echoes with his mallets, and use friction to stretch the drum tops enough to outline new tones. Between the percussionist rotating bell trees and pulsing gong-like kinetics, and the pianist spanking keys for wide-ranging tremolo runs, the two create a polyphonic interface that has rondo-like elements as well as stretches of individual expression.
Abstraction and experimentation can be as fully flavored as conventional harmonies in the right hands. And four of them – plus a quartet of feet – are memorably in use to create these Momentos.
Track Listing: 1. Au debut to chemin 2. Ikkyu 3. Es Verdad 4. Les Enfants 5. Delante del fuego 6. Ensemble la Joie 7. Recuerdos de la luna 8. Entournés d’abeilles 9. Con la lluvia 10. Là-bas 11. Pelea 12. Resistiendo
Personnel: Christine Wodrascka (piano) and Ramon Lopez (drums and percussion)
August 11, 2011
Augustí Fernández/Barry Guy/Ramón López
Maya Records MCD 1001
Agustí Fernández & Joan Saura
Multikulti Project MP 1013
Joe Morris/Agustí Fernández
By Ken Waxman
Over the past 15 years Catalan pianist Augustí Fernández has become the most celebrated pianist – if not complete improviser – from his part of the world. In many ways he’s the successor to pianist Tete Montoliu (1933-1997). But while Montoliu was a bopper, Fernández doesn’t limit himself to one style, as this quatrtet of memorable discs makes evident.
A frequent associate of experimental improvisers from Parker (William) to Parker (Evan), the pianist also has a neo-traditional side, reflected by Morning Glory. Recorded in Spain and New York, this two-CD set is a spiky take on the jazz piano trio, with Fernández’s partners British bassist Barry Guy and Spanish percussionist Ramón López. More atonal is Kopros Lithos, whose experimental textures arrive courtesy of the pianist, American trumpeter Peter Evans and the baritone saxophone and alto fluteophone of Swede Mats Gustafsson. As founders of the Improvisadors de Barcelona Orchestra, Fernández has often worked with live electronics and sampler player Joan Saura. Vents is a rare duo session from the two.
Created in studio over an eight month period, Vents’ tracks are so much a part of the electro-acoustic world that it’s difficult to remember that Fernández is playing acoustic piano. Then again the keyboardist is a master of the timbres that can be bowed, plucked and strummed from internal strings, usually prepared with vibrating objects, and his expressions mate perfectly with the austere flanges and oscillations shrilled, reverberated or crunched by Saura’s electric implements. Throughout the performances onomatopoeically reflect both meaning of vent: an expression of pent-up emotion and an opening for the escape of gas to release pressure.
Although reductionist and disconnected, most of the tracks are remarkable in the way that Fernández’s tough keyboard pressure and popping internal strings add a needed humanity to Saura’s radiator-like hisses, motor-driven grinding and crackling sound patches. This is easily demonstrated on a track such as “Llevant”, with its shifting tonal centres.
On the other hand, Ambrosia is not your parents’ guitar-piano duo. It put a post-modern cast on the proceedings as Fernández matches wits with guitarist Joe Morris. Morris, who now often works as a bassist, at times manages to translate the low timbre of the four-string to his six-string. That means that echoes of double bass accompaniment is present while the guitarist showcases spiky, single-string action. On a tune such as “Ambrosia 1”, the two languidly complement one another even while distending the theme. Morris’ frails speed up to the point that they’re eventually bouncing from strings below the bridge and on the neck, while Fernández concentrated in swirling and contrasting dynamics à la Cecil Taylor.
Even though legato passages and harmonies are at a minimum, some of the tracks on this magisterial six-part suite don’t turn away from unintentional delicacy. “Ambrosia 3”, for instance, is built on gentle single-note clicking from the pianist, amplified by palm-pumps which create vibes-like tones from the guitarist. However, if some tracks come across as a discordant aural version of greyhound racing with Fernández chord-spraying as quickly as Morris string snaps, the two are able to intermingle such tactics as soundboard echoes from the pianist and slurred fingering from the guitarist to promote sophisticated parallel improvising.
Morning Glory is also wedded to acoustic expression. The CD’s 19 tracks, especially those recorded live at Jazz Standard, could be an updating of Bill Evans’ celebrated Village Vanguard sets. With his perfectly formed notes, Fernández makes his composition “David M” a piano showcase with deep ruminations in the instrument’s middle register. A swinging, near lullaby, it’s also notable for Guy’s slippery modulations that are unabashedly tonic. Barely there, with understated bounces on this track, López further exhibits his sensitive touch throughout. He confirms it on a tune such as “Don Miquel”, where his nervy tom-tom pulse and cymbal scrapes unite with the pianist’s methodical keyboard strumming to gorgeously frame Guy’s solo. Almost so-called classical in execution, the bassist manages to create two different sounds with his bow, before exciting with hand-pinched lines.
There’s a faint Latin tinge to “Don Miquel”, carried over from Fernández’s “Aurora” on the other CD. An Iberian take on Hispanic rhythms, the tremolo patterns reveal many notes in rapid succession, yet the line stretches enough to keep the impressionistic theme chromatic. Guy’s retort features scrapped and stropped strings, while the percussion undertow is mostly rim shots and what sounds like the hand-crushing of crisp paper.
Other pieces expose more abrasive back-and-forth group impov, often at lightning-quick speeds. At points Fernández’s choruses echo from the piano’s lower quadrant or he jabs at the keys while Guy bows. A perfect example of this strategy occurs on “Pepetuum Mobile” as the pianist’s chording evolves in double counterpoint with either Guy’s dobro-like twangs or bow taps against his instrument’s wood. As in most other instances, the drummer’s accompaniment is understated.
There’s no percussion on Kopros Lithos, but that doesn’t stop it from being the most stentorian of the three sets. Between Evans’ flighty squeals and wide-bore grace notes plus Gustafsson’s verbal shouts, tongue slaps and growls from his baritone sax, there’s enough discordance to go around. On a track such as “You displaced me by your singing”, Fernández adds to the general din by continuously rubbing and plucking his piano strings as well as clattering various objects placed upon them. At the same time it’s his methodical key-stopping which guides the trumpeter’s tongue fluttering and the saxophonist’s metal-scrapping honks to a more melodic interface.
Perhaps those connective timbres from the keyboard also define the message behind another track title: “My fingers were glue”. Certainly Fernández’s pressure firmly shapes the parallel improvising from the horns. Here Evans buzzes and whinnies as if a metal sheet is pressed against his horn’s bell, while Gustafsson contributes high velocity snorts and brays.
Fernández’s pianistic control while improvising in a non-conventional manner is a tribute to his skill. It’s also another indication why any and all of these discs are satisfying listens.
Tracks: Tramuntana; Gregal; Garbí; Migjorn; Xaloc; Mestral; Ponent; Llevant
Personnel: Agustí Fernández: piano; Joan Saura: sampling keyboard and live electronics
Tracks: You displaced me by your singing; My ears were ringing!; My fingers were glue; As each note rang true
Personnel: Peter Evans: trumpet; Mats Gustafsson: baritone saxophone and alto fluteophone; Agustí Fernández: piano
Tracks: CD1: Morning Glory: La niña de la calle Ibiza; Morning Glory; Unfinished Letter; Zahorí; An Anonymous Soul; Perpetuum Mobile; Benito (Jordi Benito in absentia); The Magical Chorus; Glade; Mourning; A Sudden Appearance; Belvedere; CD2: Live in New York: Don Miquel; Odyssey; Can Ram; David M; Aurora; No ni Nó; Rounds
Personnel: Agustí Fernández: piano; Barry Guy: bass; Ramón López: drums and percussion
Tracks: Ambrosia 1; Ambrosia 2; Ambrosia3; Ambrosia 4; Ambrosia 5; Ambrosia 6
Personnel: Augusti Fernandez: piano; Joe Morris: guitar
--For New York City Jazz Record July 2011
July 7, 2011
Augustí Fernández/Barry Guy/Ramón López
Maya Records MCD 1001
Multikulti MPI 011
Ozone featuring Miklós Lukács
This is C'est la Vie
BMC Records BMCCD163
Nils Ostendorf/Philip Zoubek/Philippe Lauzier
Schraum Records 11
Something in the Air: Global Combos
By Ken Waxman
Globalization, mass communication and travel have actually created certain situations where the standardization of everything from hamburger patties to drum beats can be experienced no matter where in the world a person is situated. Increased mobility also, for instance, allows like-minded musicians in different locations to exchange thoughts and ideas. Because of this, the 21st Century has seen the instigation of literal global ensembles; musicians who work together regularly but live in different cities, countries or even continents.
This situation is particularly pronounced among improvised musicians, since many players already travel far to find like-minded associates. One top-flight instance of this captured on Morning Glory Maya Records MCD 1001 by the trio of Augustí Fernández Barry Guy Ramón López. Although listening to the sensitive cooperation exhibited on the two CDS which make up this outstanding essay in the trio form would suggest that the three are inseparable, it’s not so. Pianist Fernández lives in Barcelona, bassist Guy in Switzerland and drummer López in Paris. The trio functions among other commitments. Here material is divided among group compositions and those written by the pianist or the bassist. Prime example of López’s sensitive accompaniment occurs on Pepetuum Mobile where his press rolls back the pianist’s kinetic pitter-patter and tremolo chording which evolves in double counterpoint with Guy’s dobro-like twangs or bow taps against his instrument’s wood. Tracks such as A Sudden Appearance confirm the trio’s atonality, encompassing Fernández’s outlined single notes, the bassist’s screeching sul ponticello sprawls and López’s rat-tat-tats. Other pieces such as The Magical Chorus and most of the second CD, recorded live in a New York club reflect the standard piano trio, with splashes of pianistic color perfectly matched with vibrating cymbals, bowed strings or staccato plucks that presage cascading keyboard runs. A tune such as Fernández’s “Aurora”, suggests an Iberian take on Hispanic rhythms, with the tremolo patterns revealing many keyboard notes in rapid succession, yet with the line stretched enough to keep the impressionistic narrative chromatic. Guy’s contrapuntal retort features scrapped and stropped strings while the percussion undertow is mostly rim shots and the timbres involved with crushing crisp paper.
A similarly impressive global quartet is made up of Polish woodwind player Waclaw Zimpel, Ukrainian bassist Mark Tokar, German drummer Klaus Kugel and American expatriate in France, pianist Bobby Few. Undivided The Passion Multikulti MPI 011 is literally that, a modern reimaging of Christ’s suffering and death. Lacking vocals or religious motifs, the seven-part suite is not so much overtly spiritual as musically superlative. A veteran of playing in churches, nightclubs and with spiritual jazz avatar Albert Ayler, Few takes naturally to the theme and throughout lets his frenetic chording and dynamic voicing create fantasias of their own, as clustered notes cascade like waterfalls or singular timbres are starkly outlined. Kugel’s steady clanks and cogwheel ratcheting is added to regular cymbal splashes as well as drum drags and ruffs for versatile percussion backup. Tokar’s perfectly balanced string slaps are mostly in the background, except when used to mark theme variations and transitions. Each, whether it’s with two-fisted piano clusters, spiccato runs or door-knocking thumps cleanly intersects with Zimpel, who is equally expressive on clarinet, bass clarinet and tarogato. Appropriately intense, Way of the Cross/Crucifixion/Death finds the reedist involved with pressurized glossolalia, reed bites and emotional split tones as his solo varies from stopped silences to squeakily speaking in tongues. Around him in a broken-octave concord are buzzing bass lines, vibrating drum tops and gospel-inflected processional chords from the pianist.
One important ingredient in Zimpel’s woodwind cornocopia is the unique timbres of the tarogato, Hungarian-invented saxiophone cousin. Although French reedist Christophe Monniott doesn’t play it on This is C’est La Vie, the newest CD by his Paris-Budapest band Ozone BMCCD163, includes sounds from the equally indigenous cimbalom or multi-string hammered board zither, played by Miklós Lukács to those created by fellow Hungarians, keyboardist Emil Spányi and percussionist Joe Quitzke. Ozone’s CD is notable in its mixture of electronics and inclusion of jazz standards such as Poinciana and Sophisticated Lady. With Monniott on low-pitched baritone saxophone then latter is treatyed uniquely as his smeary split tones and squeals brush up against the reverberating arpeggios and string pops from Lukács. In contrast, Poinciana is backed into with keyboard splatters and signal-processed lines as the double-time treatment eventually encompasses Spányi’s multi-fingered syncopated runs and Monniott’s tongue vibrato on alto saxophone, ending with vocoder modulations from the saxman and portamento runs from the piano. More intriguingly, tracks such as the title tune welcome all influences. Here Monniott’s high-pitched, corkscrew-like vibrations operate alongside Lukács’ twanging harp-like arpeggios played andante and staccato, backed by cymbal splashes and superfast piano comping.
Canadians are also involved in trans-border cooperation as demonstrated by Subsurface Schraum Records 11, by the trio of Montreal-based bass clarinetist and alto saxophonist Philippe Lauzier, and two Germans, Berlin trumpeter Nils Ostendorf and Philip Zoubek from Köln on prepared piano. Here instrumentalist’s extended textures create a soundscape of buzzed and granular modulations as if electronics are involved. They aren’t. Instead multiphonics arise from the piano’s stopped and striated strings, the reedist’s flat-line or pressurized vibrato and grace note flourishes from the trumpeter. On a track such as Spectral Radiance, Zoubek’s clipped and clanking chords are mixed with string pops that add wooden tones from then piano’s action, building up to a rough, broken-chord concordance with bubbling and buzzing staccato lines from the horns. In comparison, an interlude like Calm City lives up to its name as the pianist’s barely audible key strummed accompanies Ostendorf’s carefully shaped grace notes, as Lauzier’s extended puffs gradually swell in volume.
Unlike economic or political globalization, musical globalization is more benign. These sessions demonstrate the outstanding results when free-thinking musicians based in different locations are able to regularly create together.
-- For Whole Note Vol. 16 #5
February 7, 2011
October 2-October 5, 2008
Pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach’s German quartet rolled through a set of Thelonious Monk compositions; Sardinians, saxophonist Sandro Satta and keyboardist Antonello Salis liberally quoted Charles Mingus lines during their incendiary set; Berlin-based pianist Aki Takase and saxophonist Silke Eberhard recast Ornette Coleman’s tunes; and the French Trio de Clarinettes ended its set with harmonies reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s writing for his reed section.
All these sounds and many more were highlighted during the fourth edition of Jazz Brugge, which takes place every second year in this tourist-favored Belgium city, about 88 kilometres from Brussels. But sonic homage and musical interpolations were only notable when part of a broader interpretation of improvised music. Other players in this four-day festival came from Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Poland and Belgium. With strains of rock, New music and folklore informing the jazz presented at the festival’s three sonically impressive venues, music at the most notable concerts was completely unique or added to the tradition. The less-than-memorable sets were mired in past achievements or unworkable formulae
Aided by its intimate surroundings, noon-time concerts in the Groening Museum were a model of realized inspiration. Satta and Salis’ duo was particularly remarkable, especially when Salis attacked the piano keys and strings, partially answering the question: What would Cecil Taylor sound like if he was Sardinian?
Salis was no more Taylor, then Satta was Taylor’s saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, but this longstanding partnership created an individual sound. Conveyed on waves of pedal-pressure and low-slung glissandi from the pianist and the saxophonist’s open tone, which melded the delicacy of Paul Desmond and Earl Bostic’s wide vibrato with the split tones, altissimo squeaks and key slaps associated with Free Jazz, selections were as dense as they were lyrical. Salis’ piano produced minuet-reminiscent arpeggios as well as staccato honky-tonk striding. With Satta often cunningly manipulating blues nuances, both abstracted further timbres from their island heritage. Stretching the accordion bellows or hammering at its keypad, Salis foot-stamped and vocalized pseudo-Mediterranean shanties to emphasize further individuality.
Sicilian percussionist Francesco Branciamore showcased his version of tradition- extension a two days later with trombonist and tubaist Giancarlo Schiaffini and France’s Jean-Luc Cappozzo on trumpet and flugelhorn. Cappozzo, whose capabilities range from producing Gabriel-like triplets to breathing hand-muted mellow lines, worked in unison or contrapuntally with Schiaffini. Meantime the low-brass playing Roman moved beyond pedal-point accompaniment to unleash with the same facility, tailgate trombone braying gurgling, vocalized tuba lowing and shrill mouthpiece-only tootles. Branciamore advanced rhythm with wet finger tips slid across drum tops, hand-stopped cymbals, and wrapped up the performance with a Second Line-like backbeat. But that was after the percussionist shifted to the vibraharp for a four-mallet display of repetitive boppish beats, cushioned by Schiaffini’s feather-light tuba blares.
The reeds missing from this performance were present in earlier museum concerts from France’s Le Trio de Clarinettes and the duo of France’s Louis Sclavis on clarinets and soprano saxophone and Italian Francesco Bearzatti on tenor saxophone and clarinet.
Between them, Sylvain Kassap, Armand Angster and Jean-Marc Foltz played clarinets, bass clarinets and contrabass clarinets, frequently in triple counterpoint, other times with one producing a slurping ostinato as the others decorated his lines in lower-case accompaniment. Using circular breathing Foltz, for instance, created dual counter tones with himself. Meanwhile Kassap turned coughing and wheezing into his bass clarinet into shimmering echoes separated by chromatic honks. By the finale, the three moved from key-tapping and microtonal inferences to a replication – lead by Angster’s bass clarinet – of the sort of trio harmonies Ellington favored.
Similarly expressive, Bearzatti and Sclavis maintained a rhythmic cohesiveness as they introduced any number of ornamentations, running from jerky spittle-encrusted vibrations to blaring flutter-tonguing. On soprano saxophone Sclavis favored a flashy Sidney Bechet-style lyricism, while Bearzatti’s clarinet solos included jazzy, mid-range glissandi. Most impressive was a duet which joined shaky mouthpiece quacks as if from a chanter and basso pedal-point drones as if from bellows, to suggest insistent bagpipe-like undulations.
The duo’s performance was better realized than that of Sclavis’ Big Slam Napoli in the Concertgebouw, which matched the two reedists with a rhythm section and rapper Dgiz, who, despite hip-hopping from one side of the stage to the other, easily confirmed that rap-jazz admixtures are best left to performers from North America.
Similarly, French bassist Henri Texier’s sextet, while pumped full of Jazz Messengers-like energy resulting from a front line of trombone, baritone and alto saxophone, mired itself in crunching funk. Relatively faceless in execution, except for the profoundly resonating solos of the leader, the presentation lost its mooring when the band’s drummer was given free rein to unleash the sort of showy pounding firmly moored in Hard Rock.
Branciamore’s percussion facility was more germane to improvised music as were the work of three drummers associated with both bands involving British bassist Barry Guy. Swede Raymond Strid and Briton Paul Lytton guided the 10-piece Barry Guy New Orchestra (BGNO) without beat bluster, while earlier in the evening in the Concertgebouw’s Kamermuziekzaal, Spaniard Ramón López unveiled a similar low-key strategy playing with Agusti Fernández, BGNO’s Barcelona-based pianist, and Guy. Turning the classic jazz piano trio on its head, López’s Iberian rhythms, often expressed with vibrated bells, a sound tree, a triangle and ratchets, defined the tunes. Meanwhile Guy used a short stick plus his bow to hew unexpected stressed chords from his strings as well as plucking animated arpeggios. With Catalan-styled voicing periodically demanding he stretch crab-like across the keys, Fernández outlined clipped and insistent chording to steer the pieces astride the jazz tradition.
Filled out with a EU impov whose’s who – baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and tubaist Per Åke Holmlander from Sweden, German trombonist Johannes Bauer, British saxophonist Evan Parker, Swiss clarinetist Hans Koch and one American – trumpeter Herb Robertson – the BGNO was an object lesson in showcasing individual improvisations within a notated score. Conducting as he played, Guy sometimes directed the reed and horn sections to cross pollinate each other’s cumulative vamps in canon fashion. Then it was his own forceful string twangs, Fernández’s targeted slides and pumps plus vibrating cymbal color and unexpected tutti crescendos that provided the performance’s bonding musical glue.
Interjecting individual theme variations were, among others, Parker’s flutter tonguing and chirping tenor saxophone, Koch’s wispy scene-setting bass clarinet puffs and blistering triplets from Robertson. Throbbing on top of a configuration of bass clarinet, tuba and baritone saxophone, the piece reached its climax following diminishing drum beats and hunting-horn-like yodels from the trombone. Heraldic trumpet tattoos and low-pitched piano lines signaled tension release and conclusion.
One reason the BGNO performance was satisfying was because players created variations on a previously recorded Guy orchestration. Mutating familiarized themes in another fashion was less notably expressed by Von Schlippenbach’s Monk’s Casino band and Takase and Eberhard’s Ornette Coleman Anthology set. Although bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall fused exuberant altissimo and split tone playing with the ability to duck walk across the stage; and trumpeter Axel Dörner fused triplest and a blues tonality in his solos impresssiverly, overall the Von Schlippenbach four crammed too many 78-rpm-length Monk themes into the set that would have lost focus if not for the powerful walking bass of Jan Roder. Similarly the Takase/Eberhard duo substituted Coleman’s innate quirkiness for readings that straightjacketed the alto man’s tunes into standard head-variation-solo-recap formula. It felt as if the two bands presented the Classic Comics or Reader’s Digest version of advanced jazz.
All and all though, Jazz Brugge’s pluses overwhelmed its minuses, setting up high expectations for 2010’s fest.
-- Ken Waxman
-- MusicWorks Issue #103
March 28, 2009
Joëlle Léandre & Akosh S.
Ramon Lopez Flowers Trio
Flowers of Peace
By Ken Waxman
November 21, 2005
One, two, three
Parisian Joëlle Léandre is the prime example of a schooled musician who utilizes her expertise in another genre to move into the first ranks of improvisation. Always insistent that she loves ands appreciates jazz, but cant and doesnt play it, the French double bassist came to improv in the late 1970s, after establishing herself as on of the paramount interpreters of contemporary classical compositions by the likes of John Cage and Giacinto Scelsi.
Since her embrace of Free Music, however, the Aix-en-Provence native has worked and recorded in a variety of contexts with groups ranging from duos to ensembles, and held her own and then some with such distinctive stylists as the late American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and British guitarist Derek Bailey.
One, two, three
This set of releases showcases the bull fiddler in trio, duo and solo sessions. Concerto Grosso is a very recent January 2005 two-disc tour-de-force, featuring only Léandre, her bass and her bow. Conversely, Györ pairs her with Hungarian-French reedist Akosh S. and is titled with the name of the Magyar city in which it was recorded. Flowers of Peace is the anomaly of the bunch, one of the bassists rare outings as a sideperson. Ostensible leader is drummer Ramon Lopez, another Paris resident, originally from Alicante, Spain, who works in a duo with pianist Christine Wodrascka, and from 1997 to 2000 was the drummer for the Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ). Third participant is French pianist Sophia Domancich, who has created exceptional work on her own CDs and in the company of veterans like British saxophonist Elton Dean.
Recorded in Györs ancient, and one would assume unused, synagogue, the duo CD is a first-time, two track match-up between Léandre and the reedist whose real name is Szelevényi Ákos. A Paris resident since 1986, the Debrecen-born woodwind specialist plays tenor and soprano saxophones, metal clarinet, tarogato and flute here. His experience encompasses bands with bassist Didier Levallet and alto saxophonist Quentin Rollet. Meanwhile, the six tracks on Flowers of Peace were recorded in Paris for Radio France, while Concerto Grosso captures 14 solo improvisations live in Heidelberg, Germany.
Even a cursory listen to Concerto Grosso proves that the bull fiddler is easily able to carry a performance on her own and enrapture an audience. With her breakneck pizzicato runs as flexible as her sonorous bow work, Léandres comfortable manually manipulating every part of the double bass, not just the strings. As selected expressions are extended with unexpected finger finesse, she sometimes appears to be two complementary double bassists, and adding occasional quasi-scat vocalizations can transform herself into the Léandre trio.
Le Sommeil dHercule loose translation: the sleepiness of Hercules for instance starts with counter tones that, despite her non-jazz background, still resonate with Mingus-like inferences. Encompassing ricocheted pizzicato accents, hearty guitar-like strums, buzzing string vibrations and echoes, she then moves to darker and deeper tonal explorations. However, as she digs further into these sonic textures, she ensures that the output doesnt neglect the andante and legato qualities of the bass. Modulating to other quadrants, timbres surface, first high-pitched, then droney in mid-range, finally intermingled as a polyphonic showcase. Col-legno shuffle bowing and wood reflecting accents dissipate into bottom-of-the-bridge drones, with a single strum serving as the tunes coda
For Tony, on the other hand is a multi-tempo display of such extensive spiccato that at points, it seems as if Léandres cutting through the bass wood into the vibrations themselves. Double-timed, staccato expressions in different pitches fly by so swiftly that at points youre not sure whether youre hearing a Bluegrass fiddler or some descendent of Nicolò Paganini. Historically, however, its doubtful that 19th century father of the modern violin ever harmonized vocally while he soloed, or appeared to be extracting harmonies from inside the instrument for a finale, both of which are part of Léandres talents.
Her characteristic vocalizing gets even more of a showcase on Parlotte, as she begins chanting in between her sharp slides and plucks. Although Léandres probably using the unconnected verbal syllables for the onomatopoeia-like attachment they have to the tones shes producing from her axe, recognizable words such as fou and chic are audible. Again emphasizing the cured wood attributes of her instrument, the tracks exit strategy is designed with col legno multiphonics.
Earth throbbing bass lines, flamenco finger picking and staccato pitchsliding are other techniques on show, with glissandi often used to express the roughness and hardness of the strings texture as well as their music-making attributes. With cascading double, triple and quadruple stopping plus agitato bowing that emphasize the upper partials of the notes rather than their fundamentals, her experimentation continues even in a concert situation.
One summation of these techniques arises in the bizarrely titled Love. Emphasizing, one would think, the heartbreak and pain that the emotion engenders, this nearly 10-minute piece is sul ponticello from its beginning, with the bassists approach more high-pitched and robotic than usual. As the jarring, discordant tones pierce the air like the proverbial nails dragged across a blackboard, she seems to be reveling in dissonance. Battering on the waist, ribs and belly of the bass, the tunes climax is reached with such staccato pitchsliding that it sounds as if Léandre, grunting with exertion, is almost literally sawing the instrument apart.
Naturally, many strategies pursued solo, can be as satisfying done in pairs. The extended mutual improvisations on Györ prove the veracity of this statement.
Initially the sonic intermingling is such that it sounds as if Léandre and S could be playing different components of the same instrument, but soon the bassist advances to tremolo vibrations and the saxophonist to smeared and echoing timbres. As her bass lines fatten and become lower-pitched, he roughens his tenor tone with tongue slaps and trills, and she responds with double and triple staccato swelling.
Unleashing his metal clarinet, S shrills irregularly-pitched contralto chirps until Léandres encircling continuo leads to a sul tasto solo section. Taking up the challenge, he reappears with intense, sonorous obbligatos that uptick to tongue slaps, glottal punctuation and bell-muting episodes. Finally his textures splinter into shards of trilled and popped notes in ghost registers and she continues strumming, setting up a proper backdrop on which variations can be displayed. The finale involves crooked reed whines on his part and stropped, jagged perambulating string jettes on hers.
Even more spectacular, the nearly 25-minute Györ part 2 weaves Jewish Magyar intonation into the performance through Ss a cappella ululation of sustained shofar-like timbres from his taragoto. After about a minute, Léandre joins in with darker, sustained double stopping behind his ethic-styled double tonguing.
Changing positions, the double bassist moves to the forefront, exposing andante variations on choked spiccato patterns that are struck near the peg box as well as the bridge. Protracted col legno thumps then intermingle with flute tones from S, which in context sound positively bird-like and melodious. At this point, panting verbal interjections appear along with slapped and stopped plucks from Léandre. With the metal clarinet back in use, S chokes out strangled yelps in between Herculean gusts, matching the bass womans stentorian sweeps and conspirational, whispered asides.
Not that all the notes are discordant, however. Slightly after the mid-point, S plays mellow, unaccompanied variations on the theme, with his clarinet tone as legato here as it was atonal earlier on. As trills, slurs and ghost notes bubble through his instruments body tube, and before he reenters with wiggling tongue stopping cadences, the bassist ratchets up her harmonic intensity, toughness and atonality. Conclusively, the climatic crescendo reveals choked, bellowing note piles, each rougher than the next. Beginning the postlude, Léandre gentles the reedists grainy growls and irregular pitch vibrations with a soothing continuum. These sweeping harmonies dissolve into single notes, pure sounds and finally silence.
Although Flowers of Peace, is under drummer Lopezs name, theres no sense of the six tracks being anything other than a group effort. With such powerful musical personalities as Domancich and Léandre involved, in fact, the drummers contributions must often be specifically highlighted within these instant compositions.
Almost as soon as Aparajita, begins, for instance, his slap cymbal resonation is buried underneath near-the-peg-box scratches from the bassist, who subsequently maneuvers her way in powerful pulses down the strings. Impressionistic piano harmonies quickly turn to accompaniment behind Léandres sul ponticello runs and the occasional ruffs and bounce from Lopez. During the almost 10 minutes of the tune, its as if the three have mutated into a Bizzaro version of the classic Bill Evans trio, with the piano arpeggios rougher than the original played, the bass strokes more abstract and the drumming more self-effacing.
When the bass shuffle bowing become even more abstract, Lopez unexpectedly trigger a series of tabla-like tones which are then joined by strummed low-pitched tremolo patterns from the bassist. Here, the versatile percussionist is able to express more than Carnatic cross rhythms, however. In tandem with tabla strokes, he seems to be using his sticks to sound European style percussion accents from his bass and snare drums. Meanwhile Domancich is building up metronomic accents after stabbing lower-pitched notes from the keys, as Léandre cuts across both these lines with double stopping bowing.
Cantilevering is noticeable on other tracks as well. Broken chords unite the pianist and the bassist in Chevrefeuille, for example, when Domancichs quick syncopated cadenzas unroll on top of shuffle-bowed bass chords first slowly then faster. Shortly afterwards, Lopez strikes claves together, with the pitter-patter beat presaging the pianists treble clef trills and the bassists tremolo glissandi. When Domancichs accents space out even more, Léandre collates her strings into a rhythmic continuo and Lopez rattles his ride and sizzle cymbals. Staccato piano pulses bring forth characteristic verbal yelps from the bassist.
Distended keyboard pressures, smacks on the bull fiddles wooden body plus inventive stick work resulting in nerve beats, cymbal rumbles and the suggestion of glass armonica friction, enliven other tracks. With each trio member supplementing his or her thematic work with percussive asides, the resulting voicing involves as many vibrations and overtones as possible.
Perhaps thats the clue as to why Léandre is so effective in such small groupings. She and by extension those with whom she improvises expose so many textures that the results imply timbres from more players. Performance may begin solo, in duo or in trio, but bring in musical multiples of one, two or three before the finale.
November 21, 2005