Complete Communion: Jazz For August Reviewed By Stewart Smith

Stewart Smith returns with all of this month's crucial jazz releases including a new LP by Roscoe Mitchell and a collaboration between Hieroglyphic Being, Sarathay Korwar and Shabaka Hutchings

Complete Communion returns with stunning new music from Roscoe Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey, and some very fine releases from Eric Revis, Brandon Seabrook, the trio of Rachel Musson, Steven Beresford and Mike Caratti, and Hieroglyphic Being, Sarathy Korwar and Shabaka Hutchings. But first, a few live recommendations. The great William Parker returns to Café Oto on Friday 25 August in a trio with the Amsterdam-based sax and drums team of John Dikeman and Onno Govaert. Austrialian legends The Necks return to Oto for a residency from August 28 – 30, while man of the moment Shabaka Hutchings enjoys his own experimental showcase at the Dalston venue from September 11 – 13. Fresh from his extraordinary residency at Café Oto, singular piano maestro Pat Thomas crosses the Kingsland Road to play the Vortex on Wednesday August 30 in a trio with bassist Dominic Lash and drummer Tony Orrell. Of course, it’s not all about London. The first Newcastle International Festival of Jazz and Improvised music kicks off at the end of September, with local improvisers such as Culver and Richard Dawson collaborator Dawn Bothwell appearing alongside the likes of Mette Rasmussen, Julie Kjaer and Mercury nominated Laura Jurd. It looks great: click here for more info.

Roscoe Mitchell – Bells For The South Side


My admiration for Roscoe Mitchell knows no bounds. A virtuoso multi-reedist and composer of genius, the Art Ensemble of Chicago mainstay is also the hippest septuagenarian around, as underlined by the amazing Gucci tiger sweater he sported at the recent Tectonics festival in Glasgow. Bells For The South Side is his homage to Chicago and the AACM – Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the collective he was an early member of. Featuring four trios, ‘contrasted and combined’ at the Windy City’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the double CD is a head-spinning showcase of Mitchell’s compositional interests, incorporating the percussion instruments of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago on display in the exhibition space.

Even at its most minimal and abstract, Bells For The South Side is awash with percussion and rhythm. The opening ‘Spatial Aspects Of Sound’ – as seen in the video below – begins as a pensive, slightly stilted conversation between two pianos and tubular bells. As it progresses, the language the group is communicating in becomes less inscrutable, as single notes and clusters hang in the air, their resonances overlapping. In the final minutes, a percussionist enters, dancing across the stage with bells on his ankles and in his hands – a gesture that teems with rhythmic life and makes the listener reconsider the spatial relationship between the instruments. Those rhythmic elements come full force on the percussion workout ‘Panoply’ and the avant-jazz of ‘Dancing In The Canyon’, where Mitchell’s soprano saxophone skirls around Craig Taborn’s dabs of electronics and piano, as Kikanju Baku gallivants around the drum kit.

‘EP 7849’ wouldn’t sound out of place in the sound design of Twin Peaks: The Return, with the ensemble taking the famous ECM reverb into darker regions. Distorted double bass lows and growls, complimented by electric fuzz bass and resonant percussion. The title track is a beauty, with Hugh Ragin’s Last Post-like trumpet melody over sleigh bells. A gong is struck and the piece takes on a darker hue, with the glimmering metallic tones of Mitchell’s percussion cage (as played by Tyshawn Sorey) illuminating a dark canvas of bowed bass and electronics. The trumpet returns for the final few minutes, mapping a clear course through thickets of tuned percussion. A stunning piece of music.

Mitchell takes two allusions to Duke Ellington’s ‘Prelude To A Kiss’, exploring ballad form on the beautiful horn-led ‘Prelude To A Rose’ and the first part of ‘Prelude To The Card Game, Cards For Drums, And The Final Hand’ (it subsequently moves into a dialogue between percussionists Jaribu Shahid and Tani Tabbal). The album closes on the 25 minute ‘Red Moon In The Sky/Odwalla’ which takes his reconfigured trios on a night walk through swamps, open fields and industrial spaces before finally resolving in a warm reprise of one of the Art Ensemble’s signature themes. It’s an extraordinary performance, moving from otherworldly stillness and raging storms to elegant modal jazz. Bells For The South Side is a total knockout: a major work.

Tyshawn Sorey – Verisimilitude

(Pi Recordings)

At 37, Tyshawn Sorey is set to take over from the retiring Anthony Braxton as professor of music at Wesleyan University. Such credentials give an indication of the percussionist and composer’s mining of the interstices between jazz and contemporary composition. Last year’s The Inner Spectrum Of Variables was a dazzling double set for large ensemble. The switch to trio format might suggest that Verisimilitude is a more straightforward jazz record than its predecessor is. Indeed, on the opening ‘Cascade In Slow Motion’, Sorey explores a stately ballad form that references the tradition while rendering it slightly askew. Pianist Corey Smythe walks delicately through ascending chromatic figures, before Sorey’s distant storm tom rolls push him into considered abstraction. The piece resolves with a few moments of tender reflection, which morph seamlessly into ‘Flowers For Prashant’, a solo piano piece inflected with Arabic tonalities.

By the time the 18 minute ‘Obsidian’ looms into view, we’re far from the jazz tradition, as Sorey layers echoing feedback tones over Chris Tordini’s whale song bowed bass. After a few minutes, Smythe’s piano enters, bringing some definition to the music with patient gestures, before moving into a passage where piano and percussion discombobulate the listener by creating a space in which they imitate the glitches and micro-edits of electronic music while having their playing processed live. The final half of the piece moves into a purely acoustic realm of dark piano clusters that build over Tordini’s busy bass figures while Sorey clatters around his rack toms and crash cymbals. It’s utterly compelling and gorgeously strange. Sorey stretches the language of that piece even further on the 30 minute ‘Algid November’, occasionally pulling it back towards jazz via the rhythm section, before drifting away in a haze of impressionistic piano and gong that extends into the finely balanced finale ‘Contemplating Tranquility’. A challenging work that opens up new paths between composition and improvisation.

Brandon Seabrook – Die Trommel Fatale

(New Atlantic)

‘An exploration of everything serene and abhorrent’ says the blurb for this large ensemble project from New York guitar maestro Brandon Seabrook. Sounds pretty good to me! There are plenty of hot shot young musician-composers making tricksy post-Zorn assemblages of free jazz, new music and avant-rock right now, but Seabrook stands out thanks to his sensitivity and inventiveness. His musical language brings to mind all kinds of fiendery, from Xenakis and Braxton, to Orthrelm and free improv rascal Alex Ward. Seabrook delights in making horrible sounds, as he shreds his way through complex riffs and solos in a processed tone that is all brittle shards of glass and metal. His collaborators contribute some hideous sonics of their own, not least vocalist Chuck Bettis, who feeds his gasps, slobbers and howls through pedals for maximum unpleasantness. The twin drum barrage of Sam Ospovat and Dave Treut is often more textural than rhythmic, moving through closing track ‘Beautiful Flowers’ like a swarm of locusts. Yet this is far more than some juvenile exercise in musical discomfort (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that). The ten pieces here aren’t exactly what I’d call serene, but Seabrook makes deft use of consonance and space, clearing the way for cellist Marika Hughes and bassist Eivind Opsvik to introduce elegant neo-classical figures and hard-bop perambulations between the eruptions of jagged prog and astringent noise. When they’re not going full pelt, Ospovat and Treut take on the role of orchestral percussionists, punctuating the quieter passages with dramatic tom fills. I often find the mathier end of creative music to be rather unappealing, but Seabrook is no smirking dudebro virtuoso. Die Trommel Fatale is the work of a brilliant freak, with a sophistication and musicality to its extremity.

Mike Caratti, Rachel Musson, Steve Beresford – Hesitantly Pleasant


A splendid set of free improvisation recorded live at London’s Vortex jazz club in January this year. Pianist Steve Beresford needs little introduction: a veteran improviser, he’s played with Derek Bailey, David Toop and The Slits, and hit the pop charts as a member of the Flying Lizards. Rachel Musson is one of the most exciting voices on the UK scene, a saxophone player with a distinctive tone and a thoughtful approach to extended technique. I’m less familiar with Caratti, but he makes his mark with a style that is quite busy, but not lacking in sensitivity.

On the eponymous opening track Musson squawks and pops, as Beresford reaches inside the piano, dropping objects on the strings and scraping them. Caratti drags a shaker across the drum skins, before ramping things up with a polyrhythmic attack. Musson’s sax bursts into full voice, while Beresford slashes at the piano strings with bits of plastic and hammers the ivories. It’s pulled back from the brink with a delicate piano figure that Musson responds to with a lovely lyrical statement. ‘Complex Footwork And Violent Movement’ is aptly titled, with Caratti firing off tight, intricate drum salvos while Musson ducks and jabs. Beresford toys with chordal figures and romantic filigree, with Musson occasionally tracing a melody between the pops and squeaks. The trio explore quieter territory on ‘A Unique Haircut’ with Musson delicately sketching out a tune over Beresford’s Satie-like clusters. ‘Still Horrible’ is actually rather delightful, while ‘Nunc Pro Trunc’ dives deep into reduced abstraction, all bowed cymbals, electronic scrapes, and altissimo whistles. This trio has a real rapport: more please!

Eric Revis – Sing Me Some Cry

(Clean Feed)

On his latest set as leader, bassist Eric Revis finds a balance between his outré tendencies and the mainstream idiom he’s mastered in Branford Marsalis’ quartet. The title track, where processed vocals float wraith-like around Revis’s deep, authoritative bass and the flighty abstractions of saxophonist Ken Vandermark, pianist Kris Davis, and drummer Chad Taylor, is a striking excursion into electro-acoustic free jazz. ‘Good Company’ is a hearty slice of free-bop, while ‘PT 44’ deconstructs Latin jazz without losing its staggered sense of swing. ‘Solstice… The Girls (Max & Xixi)’ has a Japanese folk feel, with Davis plucking the piano strings to create a koto-like tone, while Revis holds a steady bass pulse over Taylor’s tuned toms. ‘Rye Eclipse’ is a weird nocturnal march, with Vandermark blowing raw, gutsy licks over thumping piano and tempestuous bowed bass effects, while the closing ‘Glyph’ teases a tender ballad out of a cracked improvisation. A characterful synthesis of styles, held together by Revis’s commanding bass and compositional voice.

Hieroglyphic Being, Sarathy Korwar, Shabaka Hutchings – A.R.E. Project 12”

(Technicolor/Ninja Tune)

A beautiful meeting on the astral plane between electronic outlier Hieroglyphic Being and contemporary UK jazz champs Sarathy Korwar and Shabaka Hutchings. Edited down from two epic live improvisations, the four tracks on this EP aren’t really jazz, but who cares when they sound this luscious? The three musicians integrate elements of spiritual jazz, Indian classical and acid into a blissed out cosmic flow, as if Jon Hassell had wandered into his Fourth World with a bag of pills and a clutch of Balearic mixes. Hutchings mostly sits out ‘The Doctrines Of Swedenborg’, as Jamal Moss lays down an electronic heartbeat and twinkling tuned percussion under Korwar’s dhol drum accents. There’s a great wonky keyboard solo halfway through, with Moss working the pitch wheel to conjure unlikely visions of Kraftwerkian raga. On ‘Dimensions of Frequency And Vibrations’ Moss dials back the kick drum pulse to let Korwar wax polyrhythmic as Hutchings takes a graceful flight into the stars, while ‘Ashrams’ sees Hutchings trace a melodic path through an extra-terrestrial rainforest of glassy synths and 808 handclaps. While less abstract than Moss’ collaboration with Orphy Robinson and Mark Sanders, A.R.E. Project is a shining example of the Chicagoan producer’s interest in renewing house and techno through improvisation and cosmic jazz fusion.

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