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Complete Communion

Complete Communion: Jazz Reviews For February With Stewart Smith
Stewart Smith , February 12th, 2016 08:50

Stewart Smith bestrides the globe like a damn honking colossus, this month bringing us the best of Nordic jazz and deep cuts from other fine locales

The Shape Of Nordic Jazz To Come?

The first Complete Communion of 2016 finds swarthy Swedish sax warrior Mats Gustafsson as busy as ever. October saw him wail on Pole Axe (Rare Noise), the second album from Slobber Pup, a group also featuring guitarist Joe Morris, Jamie Saft on organ and Zu and Venetian Snares collaborator Balazs Pandi on drums. Contemporary free-jazz organ trios are few and far between and while Pole Axe isn't on a par with Joe McPhee and Decoy's sublime 2013 release Spontaneous Combustion it's a satisfyingly vigorous affair, with Gustafsson's saxophone burning through the sickly neon auras of Morris's guitar and Saft's organ. January saw Gustafsson return with a new Fire! album, which my esteemed colleague Euan Andrews has already reviewed for tQ. As much as I admire the ambition of Fire! Orchestra, their second album suffered from the pitfalls of prog excess. She Sleeps, She Sleeps (Rune Grammofon) pares things back to the core trio of Gustafsson, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin. Regular foil Oren Ambarchi guests on the opening track, laying Leslie toned guitar swirl under the trio's brooding psychedelic rock. As exciting as their big band incarnation can be, Fire! are at their best in this mesmeric, minimalist mode.

Fire! Orchestra's greatest legacy may well be its role in nurturing of a new generation of adventurous Swedish musicians. The brilliant vocalist Sofia Jernberg is the most prominent of these, and now alto saxophonist Anna Högberg is fast emerging as one of the most exciting voices in contemporary jazz. The Swedish imprint Omlott released an album from her punky trio Doglife in 2014, and now it issues the debut from her sextet Attack! Improvising around themes suggested by Högberg, Attack! construct cubist scaffolding under graceful Ellingtonian themes on 'Familjen', creep around haunted mansions in 'Lisa Med Kniven', and conjure geothermal atmospherics on 'Regnet'. Högberg's writing and playing is superb, and tenorists Malin Wättring and Elin Larsson, pianist Lisa Ullén, and the rhythm section of Elsa Bergman and Anna Lund, realise her concepts with tremendous imagination and verve. This is a terrific debut and its performers are all ones to watch.

Norwegian saxophonist Mette Henriette is another impressive young Scandinavian, whose debut release on ECM comprises two suites, one for trio, the other for a 13-piece ensemble. Henriette has forged an original take on Nordic minimalism, bringing a subtle free-jazz fire to a series of graceful and poised miniatures.

Warriors Of The Road

As anyone who has endured a grey and stormy British February will tell you, TS Eliot was talking out of his high modernist arse when he claimed April was the cruellest month. Shored against winter's ruins are three hugely exciting tours by heavyweight jazz and improv artists, including Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh, Joe McPhee and Chris Corsano, and Linda Sharrock.

Brötzmann and Leigh first played as a duo at last year's Tectonics Glasgow, her high-voltage pedal steel attack a worthy match for his tenor saxophone and tarogato. Leigh's stunning song-based I Abused Animal was one of the albums of 2015, and her unique pedal steel playing has reached incendiary new heights following recent ensemble performances with Brötzmann, William Parker and others in Poland last October. This electrifying duo play London, Scandinavia and the European mainland in February, and Brighton, Manchester and Glasgow in March. Click here for details.

McPhee and Corsano are one of the great free jazz duos, capable of great beauty as well as mind-boggling invention. Their shows are always a joy to witness. Full tour details are on Corsano's website. Linda Sharrock is best known for her contributions to her late guitarist husband Sonny's devastating free jazz classics Black Woman and Monkey-Pockie-Boo. She's a fascinating artist in her own right, however, having worked with electronic artists such as Wolfgang Puschnig since moving to Austria in the 1980s. Having suffered a debilitating stroke in 2009, she returned to music in 2014 with the righteous 7", 'No Is No (Don't Fuck Around With Your Women)'. As Linda Sharrock/(In) The Abyssity of The Grounds, she has just released Gods, a triple album on Manchester's excellent Golden Lab recordings. She plays London's Café Oto on Friday 19 February, Manchester's St Margaret Church on Sunday 21 and Glasgow's Poetry Club on Monday 22.

McPhee/Corsano and Linda Sharrock are among the acts headlining WildLife, a new bi-monthly avant-garde club from Glasgow independent promoters Ideal Mexico and Trembling Bells/Death Shanties drummer Alex Neilson. Held at artist Jim Lambie's pop-art venue The Poetry Club, WildLife is a fantastic addition to the city's vibrant underground scene. McPhee/Corsano play on Tuesday 16 February, with support from the best new band in Glasgow, jazz-damaged DIY art-pop group Still House Plants. Sharrock follows on Monday 22 February, with support from Neilson and Sybren Renema's tQ approved free jazz duo Death Shanties. To declare an interest, I'm DJ-ing the latter night, but don't let that put you off.

Scottish free music buffs can have their Tunnocks Teacake and eat it, thanks to the inauguration of another regular event in Glasgow. The great UK bass and soprano saxophone maestro Tony Bevan has recently moved to the city and is hosting a fortnightly series of informal shows on Saturdays at 2pm at The Old Hairdressers. Things got off to a fine start last week with an eventful set from Bevan, Moog player Matthew Bourne and drummer Phillip Marks. Bevan returns on Saturday 20 February, playing with Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra members Neil Davidson on guitar, and Adam Linson and Una McGlone on double bass.

For Londoners, there are, as ever, too many great gigs to mention, but I'll offer a few highlights. Danish saxophonist Julie Kjær is one of the most impressive young players on the London avant-jazz scene. Her trio with the mighty rhythm section of Steve Noble and John Edwards launch their debut album at Café Oto on 28 March. Other Oto highlights include the return of Mats Gustafsson's trios The Thing and Fire!, the superb Alexander Hawkins Trio, and Evan Parker in a duo with the adventurous young saxophonist Seymour Wright. For further details click here.

I'm well aware that these listings tend to be somewhat London/Glasgow centric, so I'd be keen to hear from independent promoters of jazz and creative music across the UK. If you run a club or venue which supports this music, feel free to use the comments section below to list your February and March events. I'd also be interested in highlighting local scenes, clubs and festivals in future columns, so get in touch via The Quietus email if you've knowledge to impart.

New Releases

Dikeman, Lisle, Serries, Webster – Apparitions
Kodian Trio – I
(Tonefloat presents A New Wave Of Jazz)

Inspired by Sun Ra's Saturn and the underground cassette scene, A New Wave Of Jazz is a new limited edition vinyl venture from the Rotterdam label Tonefloat. Guided by the hand of composer and guitarist Dirk Serries, the label focuses on the new wave of free jazz inspired music coming out of Belgium and the Netherlands, a scene which has drawn adventurous young players from the UK and Norway into its orbit. Serries, who first emerged as an electronic and isolationist ambient artist in the 1980s, has reinvented himself as one of the most interesting free guitarists around. As his background suggests, Serries has an interest in texture, favouring controlled feedback, shimmering metal slide tension and percussive zither-like techniques over wiggy virtuosity or noise-rock neck throttling. He appears on both of these new releases alongside the British duo of baritone saxophonist Colin Webster and drummer Andrew Lisles. On Apparitions the trio is joined by the excellent John Dikeman, an American tenor saxophonist based in Amsterdam.

Recorded the day after their riotous Live At Café Oto set (released last year on Webster's own DIY label, Raw Tonk), Apparitions reflects its studio origins by taking a calmer approach to outer-limits exploration. While hardly an excursion into furrow-browed reductionism, it is notable for the subtlety of its execution, not least on the fourth side, where Serries takes several minutes to establish a soundscape of tempered feedback drones and loops of metallic twinkle and ping, before the horns gracefully enter with long, low tones and tonic cycles which gently unravel into freedom. Lisles, who at 27 is already one of the most original drummers in the UK, deepens the texture with muted detonations across the toms, before ramping up the tension with stumbling bass-snare-cymbal patterns and broomstick snare slaps which sound like the handclap sample on a DMX drum machine. While on the previous tracks the group gradually work themselves into a lean noise-jazz froth, the climax here is weirdly mangled, the individual parts crumbling before they can reach critical mass. This quartet subverts the listener's expectations in a most compelling way.

On I the same players reconvene, minus Dikeman, for their debut as Kodiak Trio. While on Apparitions, Serries eschewed conventional right hand technique for metal bars and sticks, here he's all finger, plectrum and palm, jabbing and thumbing the strings while his left hand makes truncated sliding motions and forms muted harmonics. Lisles busies himself with snare flurries, cymbal scrapes and dragged objects, while Webster, as the sole horn player, explores the physicality of his instrument, delicately rimming the mouthpiece with tongue and lips before breaking out a series of terse, high-register phrases in which his pinched tone becomes increasingly fiery and frayed. The second track opens with the sound of Serries revving his guitar into overdrive, as he engages Webster and Lisles in a fierce skirmish. These musicians are far too talented to simply go hell for leather or indulge in macho noise grandstanding. Instead, their noise-making has an intricacy and control while still sounding spontaneous and raw. Webster tends to avoid the obvious low end raunch of the baritone, using its sheer physicality to lend force to high register squalls and breath effects. His introduction of the alto sax halfway through the third side is an unexpected delight, as he embarks on a bright, Eastern European tinged solo over some of Lisles's most energetic and inventive drumming. The long drones and deconstructed funk of the final side bring further evidence of this trio's resourcefulness and imagination.

Travis LaPlante & Peter Evans - Secret Meeting
(NNA Tapes)

As arguably the foremost trumpet innovator of his generation, Peter Evans needs little introduction. For the benefit of those who might not have heard of him, I direct you to his various collaborations with Evan Parker, his febrile exchanges with Mary Halvorson and Weasel Walter, and the dementedly funky power trio Pulverize The Sound. Fellow New Yorker Travis LaPlante is a less familiar name, but a quick glance at his CV reminds me that I've heard him in the excellent free-jazz/noise/post-punk outfit Little Women with Darius Jones and Andrew Smiley, and in the tenor saxophone quartet Battle Trance.

Both men are hugely inventive players, developing extreme extended techniques to reimagine their instruments as sound generators. The strange, almost electronic tones they get out of their acoustic instruments are quite remarkable, while potentially wacky tricks are rendered uncanny in their hands.

At 17 minutes, opening track 'After The End' is by far the longest piece on the album, but LaPlante and Evans maintain interest with a masterful development of ideas. From hushed beginnings, muted trumpet and submerged saxophone chords emerge. Evans puffs, spits and squeals, while LaPlante coaxes beautiful sustained feedback tones from his tenor. Circular breathing exchanges, where the pair tie knots around looping phrases, are alternated with textural drones and farmyard chatter. At a later point Evans' trumpet flutters like a dragonfly as LaPlante's impossibly elongated tone gracefully dips over the horizon. Towards the end, LaPLante plays as if he's swaying from foot-to-foot, his tenor see-sawing from flatulent honks to macaw squawks, before removing the mouthpiece and blowing straight down the neck in imitation of the speeding sounds kids make when playing with toy cars.

Following that epic, 'Nothing Is What It Seems' offers some levity, with Evans landing Warner Brothers cartoon kisses on his mouthpiece, while LaPlante dashes around the kitchen, grinding coffee and rewinding a cassette on an old Grundig radio. The lyrical Americana of 'Secret Meeting' soon spins off its axis, with LaPlante and Evans' lines becoming increasingly stumbling and deflated. What could be a rather snide exercise in satire is in fact oddly touching, with the musicians finding an off-kilter humanity in their mining of the 'wrong' notes. In its second half, the piece sees the duo achieving an intense simultaneity as Evans fires rapid trills against LaPlante's warbling circular breath lines. In the coda, smeared tenor tones flit across the stereo spectrum, while the trumpet sounds a sweet 'lalalala'. On the final track, 'Sand', grainy high-end tones morph into a corrosive acid shower, before the pair settle on an extended harmolodic exchange.

Thomas Borgmann Trio - One For Cisco

One For Cisco is a fine live recording from the New York Tenor Sax Festival 2015, teaming regular sparring partners Thomas Borgmann and Willi Kellers with the New York bassist Max Johnson, whose The Prisoner inspired suite was a highlight of 2014. The opening moments of this limited edition LP make the listener feel as if they've just walked into a club, as the band starts up a mid-tempo free blues and someone gives instructions in German. Johnson's youthful energy and invention brings out the best in these veteran German players. A solo feature some ten minutes in highlights the sturm und drang of his arco playing, where deep, grinding tones are strafed with harmonics. Kellers gives him space, keeping free time with ride cymbal taps and irregular bass pulses. An increase in drum pressure gives Borgmann the cue to come back in, but he resists the temptation to go full pelt, instead picking up his soprano for an angular improvisation that gradually turns into a brisk free-bop dash. The second side proceeds from understated, abstract beginnings, with Borgmann coaxing shrill whistle-like tones from his soprano. Tumbling tom patterns soon emerge, with Johnson essaying a plaintive melody for bowed bass that turns increasingly stormy. As the rhythm section pulls back from the brink, Borgmann returns with some exploratory tenor phrases that gradually develop into expressive lines. After another mini-climax, it all falls away to a whisper, before Borgmann begins a lyrical improvisation built around echoes of Charles Mingus's 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat'. Johnson channels his inner Charlie Haden with a vigorous avant-blues strut while Kellers whips up a small storm of controlled tom detonations and splashing cymbals, bringing a final bout of measured free blowing and boppish licks from Borgmann. For the final moments, Borgmann breaks out a melodica, playing a wistful chordal motif while the rhythm section gives it their best Sly & Robbie. A lovely set, artfully presented by treasured Lithuanian label NoBusiness.