Posts Tagged review

The Inner poetics of Tord Gustavsen

Coming out of the shower a bunch of components, nothing exotic but combined in a ratio that would be impossible to intentionally replicate, created an ambient perfume. It called forth not specific memories but more an emotional abstract which was familiar. The futility of memories, smoke that briefly takes on the shape of something else, blowing back apart as one tries to hold it in their hands. This is yesterday’s tomorrows, now already spent up.

The city of light, she was everything to me and too soon I would once again be temporarily leaving her. Perhaps that was one of the reasons for my unending desire to always return; I never got to gorge myself to the extent that I thought that I was capable.

Once I was down to a day or two before leaving I could not sit still as my body was caught up in contrary motions, not wanting to leave but also with an encroaching time of departure looming, wishing I could just get it over with. I had been invited over to Margeaux’s for a last dinner. Under the best conditions I was a finicky eater with home cooked meals made by others and that was not taking into account my current nerves. I actually liked cooking as I found it meditative but I did not want to offer up that idea as I was trying to use up what was left in the refrigerator and a dinner guest would mean more food shopping. The logistics of the whole thing was beginning to feel an inconvenience to me, especially as when not taking my final turn as a flâneur, all I wanted to do was sit around in my bathrobe eating eggs and listening to some Jelly Roll Morton while devouring every inch of my arrondissement with my eyes as to have total recall of even the smallest brick when away from it all. I tried to beg off, offering up vague promises of a drink somewhere.

Knowing   the way I operated she insisted that we meet for dinner as otherwise she could miss me until my eventual return or find me surrounded by too many other well-wishers at one of my favorite watering holes. What could I say?

She liked to wear the little hat that she had bought in Italy with the dark green veil as she felt this gave her the gift of prophecy. Too late to warn Icarus to change his flight she headed to Saint Michelle, bringing her smaller pocketbook since she need only carry her keys and some money for drinks.

I had grumbled to myself all day about our dinner date but on the way there, the lights spilling out into the streets, the plaques which I now knew so well, each denoting which artist had lived in a building, worked to remind me of how wonderful even the commonplace in this city is. Aside from the obvious of one last long walk all around the neighborhoods that go from mine down to the Seine I now wanted an act of communion and valentine with the city. The only solution was to order everything on the menu and hope that she saw the sensuality of it. We talked and ate, one act spurring the other on. I helped her on with her jacket, she turned around and held me in an embrace as we kissed goodbye. There was now an undertone of the gastronomic in her perfume. Of course we would write or at the very least mean to.

I take my walk. I pass a small bar, it is crowded but I feel compelled to go in. Once inside there is just enough room to blink. At the far end of the room is a kid standing on a spot of floor playing an alto saxophone. He is accompanied by an upright bassists who must dip his instrument like a tango partner anytime someone needing to use the restroom or the waitress goes by.

They are young but play with feeling and a clear understanding of the bop genre. All the people crowded into the place generate a heat yet there is none of that rude aggression as can be found in such situations elsewhere. The front of the bar has two sort of bay window alcoves that normally house small café tables which had earlier been moved to the side of the bar to serve as a staging area for the dirty glasses accumulating. These empty alcoves allowed more people to come in and stand in the tables spot. I stay for a few songs, Bud Powell and Bird. I could not have left even if I had wanted to as there was a score of people now behind be. All the heat and bodies, the windows begin to bulge outwards a ship catching the wind and about to set sail. More people come in; one girl by the door thinks she sees some friends ahead and to the left of me. As the people try to part to make way for her I swim towards the door before the small tributary closes.

The cool air revives me. Tendrils of music make their way out onto the street, lingering over the crowd smoking by the door waiting their chance to squeeze in. I begin one of my last walks back, taking the long way that brings me by one of the edges of the Luxembourg Gardens. I know I will not be around for it but I stop to look at the concert schedule for Le Petite Journal anyways. It is mostly Dixieland bordering on hot, jazz.

The small program taped to the door gets me to thinking. From what F. Scott Fitzgerald tapped his toes to, all the way into the late 70’s fusion which some wish had never happened, jazz in all its incarnations is alive and well in Paris. A few blocks away were the kids listening to bop who tomorrow may be here listening to some Bechet or over in Montmartre to dance music under the flashing neon in a club. Of course distinctions are made between the myriad of genres but the fans here seem to have more open ears, not limiting their listening habits to any one specific style.

The musical choices available and the dichotomy of people’s listening habits here get me to thinking. When writing about jazz, just as a point of reference labels must be attached to a work/musician. As practical as this practice is, there is a certain level of stagnation about it as once something is labeled, the verbiage creates a specific set of expectations and artistic limitations.

Musically there are some interesting things going on stateside which one could call underground, not necessarily because of musical obscurity but from lack of interest or promotion by major labels and more importantly, the availability (exposure) to the more casual listeners who do not often seek out what is not right in front of them.

The term mainstream now carries a pejorative connotation as it conjures up all things plebian, fare for the lowest common denominator not in the know. Founded in 1969 by Manfred Eicher, the label ECM has always had a roster of artists whose work not only straddles genre boundaries but often ignores them. ECM is mainstream not for lacking substance in what they offer but in that works on the label are readily available almost anywhere. The music and the distinguished cover art often receive awards worldwide. Talent aside, part of the labels success is in the diversity of work offered up which renders irrelevant the question and the importance of asking “is it jazz”. Much of what is on the label could comfortably be considered world or modern classical.

Extended Circle is the new offering from the Tord Gustavsen Quartet. Often if an album is not comprised of standards or covers, I like to listen to it the first time without having read the liner notes. A measure of artistic success is if one listens to a work and the emotions and inner visions experienced while listening match up to the artist’s intent. Extended Circle is a programmatic work which incorporates aspects of Scandinavian folk art, gospel and choral works. Immediately even when the source material of folk songs such as the traditional Norwegian song “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg” is transmuted into Tord’s own vernacular the overall sense of emotional unity for the album comes clearly through.

“Right There” is a personal favorite. Stripped of any mysticism, déjà vu is said to be the recognition of an emotional response one has had before, usually triggered on subconscious level by stimulus of a similar nature to the original thought or reaction. There is something vaguely familiar about the chord progression and the lyrical way in which the music quietly undulates. This could be some of the components of source material which Tord drew from, many choral and spiritual pieces sharing at least some sonic commonalities. There is a sense of tension achieved in how the music builds organically and slowly akin to the sun starting a new day. There is a lyricism prevalent throughout the entire album and of which this song perhaps is the most indicative of.

The piece begins with the piano gently stating the theme but not so delicate as to make it ever lapse into muted abstractions. It is bolstered by the pulse of brushed drums which serve to underscore the melody. The introduction of the double bass which plays the theme but not the exact melody in sync with the piano is akin to a dialogue between the two. Not so much as duet but as two people talking about the same thing as they comment on different aspects of it. The song ends on an ethereal note with the fading out of the final ringing notes of the piano.

The album is all original songs predominantly written by Tord with the exceptions being   “Entrance” and its variation which was a collective effort, “Bass Transition” by bassist Mats Eilersten and the previously mentioned “Eg Veit..” which is a traditional song , here arranged by Tords. As always with any ECM release, the sound is pristine.

“Silent Space” with its soft (solo) tinkling piano has a contemplative spirituality. With its circular pattern, it feels a reflection about what one may occasionally muse upon, the soul and that which feeds and inspires it, which are forever locked into a similar circular pattern of give and take. This piece really shows off the richness of the production. The fullness of sound achieved by the lone piano is timeless not in regards to the era it belongs to but in the space it occupies from a clock’s point of view.

“The Prodigal Song” has a similar cadence to the first piece, both nicely bookending the album to further an overall suite like feel to the songs. There is an encompassing spiritual aspect to this album whose power is non dogmatic, the importance being not on a specific place or recitation of words but one of contemplation. Spirituality, different for us all but arising from the commonalty within each of us, to let our thoughts wander to the infinite.

Musically, there is no longer any wars, one need not take sides, bop versus the moldy figs or the free jazz(ers). No longer do any musical adherents of a specific genre care if one strays in their listening habits. This combined with the far easier availability of diverse and obscure works via the internet should free everybody up to explore. Load up your MP3 player or tablet with unknown works and become sonic Magellan.

The morning of my departure, instead of the gentle singing of the bird in my window box which I had grown accustomed to and which along with the sound of the bakeries grates sliding up served to herald the start of a new day, there was a crow perched atop the utmost corner of a building screaming at the dawn. A pagan ritual for leaving to replace that of the daily start.

Maxwell Chandler


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Earl MacDonald; Mirror of the Mind

Earl MacDonald is a music educator (Jazz Studies; University of Connecticut), composer/arranger and musician (piano). Mirror of The Mind is his fifth album as leader, in which he continues his exploration of combining a diversity of outside influences and inspiration while still feeding off of jazz’s rich history.

The ensemble is a quartet comprised of piano, multi reedist Kris Allen, Christopher Hoffman on cello and Rogerio Boccato on percussion. It is a little bit of a different line up for a quartet but not overly so. The sonorities achieved by the group as a whole always remain interesting but never at the risk of alienating the more casual listeners.

“A Thousand Memories” begins with Earl’s piano in a see-saw pattern and brushed drums whose stuttered beat is perhaps someone’s pulse caught up in a reverie of memory. Opting to go for a cello instead of the standard upright bass is a great idea. Here, it enters the song initially emulating the piano pattern in a rich singing tone. For his solo statement Earl’s piano offers up a cascading run of percussive, clear ringing notes whose pattern is then taken up by the tenor saxophone. The horn’s solo is a long flurry of notes bereft of any discordance and so logically connected to both the piece and the piano solo which had preceded it that it serves to organically move the piece forward. Throughout the piece are two motifs, the see-saw pattern and occurring under that by cello and horn one that is a sort of diagonally upward thrusting pulse point pattern. Towards the end of the song the cello reiterates both themes. The finish is an exhale of the horns breath, softly and the final plink of the piano; the dream over but not forgotten and only for now.

The album is comprised of mostly original compositions with the exception of two covers (“Blackbird” and “I Never told you”). “Blackbird” is refreshingly executed as a fairly straight ahead read. In modern jazz a cover tune or musical quote initially would have some sort of humorous, intellectual or political raison d’etre. As jazz expanded past being music just for the outsiders (artists, intellectuals et al) a cover or musical quote became the starting point for each artist to build their own thing off of. For the past decade or so covers are often deconstructed or reimagined, sometimes distractingly so. The listener metamorphosed into an audience member at a magic show, waiting for the source material to be revealed. The “I” of the artist more often than not taking precedence over the material, what it means to them and not what makes the piece in itself great. In lieu of vocals the soprano saxophone declaims the main melody. It is a relaxed affair without ever lapsing into sounding like a jam band. The ensemble shows great interplay which is harder to organically do on material that is not comprised primarily of virtuosic turns. There is a beautifully buoyant plucked cello solo midway through the piece. The sonics for the entire album are pristine and immediate, lacking that digital coldness which can threaten to remove the humanity from a work.

“Miles Apart” is my favorite piece on the album. It has a laconic, bluesy feel. It is a nicely layered piece. There is a great opening line which has the soprano taking the lead under which a bowed cello can be heard, it being bolstered in turn by the subtle poly rhythmic murmurings of the percussion. The cello has some compelling moments, conjuring up the feel of someone with a stately mien admitting to having the blues without losing their composure as they do so. The long lines of the soprano which end the piece underscoring the point. In some bar or club, the protagonist dressed to the nines, happy to be going home not on account of having had a bad time but because that is the natural order of things. As is to lament what we lost or do not yet possess.

Maxwell Chandler  -Midtown-

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Jason Mile’s Global Noize: A Prayer for The Planet

I decide to take a walk in the opposite direction from all that I have learned geographically of my newly adopted city. I walk under a freeway ramp whose concrete columns are cracked and for some reason make me think of an old time taxi dancer now bereft of music. There are some barbeque places and alike, several tiny dive bars dark which seem to be siblings. All being kept propped up by the regulars who in turn are held erect by the cheap vinyl of their stools, stiffened with age and the work week need to eventually get back to it. The side of one of the places had chain link fence whose bottom did not quite reach the ground or perhaps the earth had retreated from its touch. There are the skeletons of several cars with concrete block feet, a graveyard of stilled motion. Objects and their myths. I decide to go in and let myself briefly be anesthetized by whisky hopes and carnival dreams.

The juke box is no good, contrary silence which is what the regulars want as they have heard it all before and are intent upon studying the diminishing returns of their perpetual last rounds. It is all right, I truly am only here for one. I leave without having been offered a word by anyone but I trust they knew I was, as always simpatico.

Walking back I hum to myself, the music lulling me into contemplation. Lately I have been reading the Russians, not just the immortals but the newer greats too (Babel, Solzhenitsyn, Olesha). It has made me contemplate a stoicism which tries to see a little good even in a bad situation without lapsing into any sort of Panglossian blind optimism.

Music no longer has the steadfast genre classifications and while this in itself may not be viewed as a bad thing, there have been some definite negative side effects. Although proper usages for genre terms are more often than not now made vague and irrelevant, a common point of reference is needed for any kind of interaction. Speaking in the broadest sense, for there will always be exceptions to every rule; this has quelled the casual listener’s ability to see and hear things which fall under the mainstream’s radar. With the bottom line almost always winning out, to find anything different one must now make an effort to search, which means it stays largely unknown to people who like music but do not live for it.

As I now strive to see the positive, the good thing to come from this is that those artists following their muse outside of the mainstream are now freed up to draw upon diverse influences differing from what their work may end up as. The freedom caries over too into their ability to incorporate myriad stylistic turns within their own work.

Jason Miles is a Grammy winning producer/composer/musician. From the very start of his career his pedigree shows diversity in the spirit of which he continues to create with today. Within his large and varied palette can be found some pop elements. Pop, not in the pejorative term as used to describe the vapid state of the genre now but harkening back to producers and arrangers like Van Dyke Parks, Quincy Jones and George Martin. He has also introduced components of world music and electronica into the realm of pop and fusion.

A Prayer for the Planet is Global Noize’s second album. As with some of his other projects, here Jason brings in some guest stars: world vocalist Falu and turnbulists/efx maestro DJ Logic among others.

The sound throughout the entire album is pristine. “Tokyo Sunrise” starts with softly ascending electro-washes over which a soprano saxophone played not in the nasal mid-eastern cadence as is so often utilized but with more legato gentle breathy notes, slowly unfurls. There is the percussion of drums intermittently peppered with finger snaps. The piece has the ambience of when one is initially arriving back from the land of slumber. Those first golden ambassadors of the early morning sun waking one as projected fingertips gently caress still closed lids, the soft growing heat signaling an end to the night. There is a churning of bass and vintage sounding synthesizer washes which add richness to the piece from its halfway point. The piece finishes with the sax trailing off, the sun moving down the street to wake the rest of the city, heralding the start of the new day.

“Charisma Love” has world music vocalese by Falu. Although I do not know what she is singing I greatly enjoy the song, which emphasizes the universal aspect of all music and underscores the general philosophy of Jason’s project. There is a compelling mélange of world music meets funk, led by a transistor toned guitar which serves as contrast to the plucked string section swells and soprano saxophone runs. The whole song in general seems to exist within a series of pulses as could be created by seeing a beautiful woman or something as equally enjoyable and perhaps nocturnal.

“Viva La Femme” is my favorite track on the album. It starts off with voice coming as if from a long ways away via a radio. There are layers of percussion and electro flourishes as signal flares that something is about to happen. The melody created by a chant is mirrored by harmonica; some local in a café in Marseilles who plays for change and cannot but help have the ambient surroundings enter into his own music. Bolstered by a dark oscillating ambient churning a rhythmic panting can be heard before a more song-like and melodic vocalese enters. There are some Gitane like scales upon which the melody is built. I can taste Pastis in my mouth as my feet feel the cobblestones of the street. The song successfully creates a layered mélange of electro and acoustic elements. It is a joy derived from music with the music generating an organic near on eroticism. It is all beauty which sets the mind to wandering and toes to tapping.

“Walking On Air” has a great relaxed vibe combining a down-tempo feel with elements of jazz in the soft flute lead voice. Over the entire album, even with guests coming and going, there is cohesiveness to the playing. It never feels like anyone is merely playing a part which will be jig sawed into the rest of the song. Even though there are electronic elements to the songs it is never at the cost of emotion.

With his Global Noize project Jason has set out to create works with various collaborators which ignores any kind of stylistic restrictions in execution or from where they pull in their influences. Subtler and left unsaid is the shown example within this album of how music can be fun, groove and still be art.

Maxwell Chandler


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Global Noize: Sly Reimagined

Driving down the night, thinking in broken rhymes, the city sings out in a soulful falsetto that does not match up to its darker ambitions. Not all appetites are the same nor is the way in which we seek to satiate them but there is a commonality in that we all want. There are bound to be similarities, many facets of what we all have or want that is the same. Two things which transcend cultural differences of language and social mores are food and music. It can serve as a sort of shorthand to convey one’s intentions or overall identity. Offering up a sweet to someone who does not speak your language; humming “Ode to Joy” or “Take the A Train” shows that when all the subtle differences are stripped away, humanity as a whole is all in the same boat. Connected to this phenomenon of commonality is dancing, if not outright then at least moving to the groove. Dancing can encompass a sort of communal celebration or when reduced down to an individual, a ritual of and for one. Either way it is a narrative told by bodies all in motion to a beat but proclaiming themselves individually by the nature of their movement, the Saturday night dichotomy of being together yet apart.

Global Noize is a collaboration of turnbulist/composer DJ Logic and Keyboard/Composer Jason Miles. Both artists have never limited themselves in regards to who they will collaborate with, the diversity transcends not just genre but style (jazz/electronic/pop/world). DJ Logic’s music impresses because no matter who he has performed with, he keeps his voice while simultaneously making it mesh with that of his collaborators regardless of their genre. YouTube is loaded with videos of DJ Logic jamming with artists that when listed on paper seem it would not work but always do so in a compelling way.

One of the powers of traditional jazz was that it was ever in flux, new genres shooting Juno like up out of the head of established ones. Traditional jazz has stagnated, there is still plenty of joy to be had from seeing some of the surviving masters do their thing or a young up and comer adeptly serve up an offering from jazz’s lexicon but the effect is not dissimilar to seeing one of the great paintings by the masters in a museum. This album is their third together and like the previous works utilizes a cast of musicians from wide ranging backgrounds. Both Jason and DJ Logic have helped the downtown sound further evolve in the way traditional jazz used to. The downtown sound for the longest while was a sort of off branching of free jazz sometimes encompassing aspects of modern Western classical component (Varese, Lighetti, Webern et al). Organically, through their efforts both together and separately, new elements have entered into the downtown sound. DJ Logic has cross pollinated with the jam band crowd, hip-hop and rockers while Jason has brought in later day fusion, the aural perfections of pop productions and electronica. Further added to this mix are elements of world music.

There is a whole new generation of musicians and composers of world music who grew up practicing the traditional works of their culture while also embracing what was au current elsewhere. This has allowed for the creation of work which rather than forsaking what came before it, builds off of it combined with outside elements to create something new. These musicians’ attitude of freedom from the restrictions of rigid tradition fits in perfectly with Global Noize’s artistic mission which is to serve as a sort of all-embracing cultural ambassadors, creating works and performances which draw upon whatever turns them on regardless of its source.

The music of Sly Stone offers the perfect template for this project. In attitude his was among one of the first multi-racial groups in rock for which he took much heat. Among the messages in his music was a strength through unity. Stylistically, Sly’s music was highly original and encompassed several genres, from the doo-wop he sang in his youth (Start of “Dance to the Music”) to the Fender Rhodes drenched funk and straight out guitar solo crescendo of rock and roll. Sly has remained a steady influence on current music, more so than a lot of his peers whose work is pleasurable and important to the canon of what came out of his era. With Sly, some of each generation of artists continues drawing directly from if not aspects of what he did then possibilities which he freed up.

This album is highly listenable and gives a surprisingly straight ahead read on the source material. The program is made up of all Sly penned songs except the last piece “Dreams’ written in homage by Jason. The sound is pristine as is to be expected given Jason’s pedigree. The album eschews the luminescent from sheens of sweat funk for the more laid back soul groove parts of Sly’s work.

“In Time” starts with some beat boxing and an infectious world music version of scat singing by Malika Zarra which is sexy and fun. Along with Jason Miles and DJ Logic there is a rotating cast of musicians that vary from track to track including original Sly drummer Greg Errico. The musicians all come from different backgrounds but their enmeshment is perfectly organic which is fittingly appropriate given Global Noize’s mission statement and the scope of Sly’s music too. Throughout the album different guest vocalists are brought in, Nona Hendryx taking lead on this song. With each song the spirit of the original is maintained without ever sounding like mere parroting. The different vocalists do not fracture the overall cohesiveness of the project but underscore how some aspects of works of art effect people the same regardless of whatever other totems we make of them.

There is such a full sound on this track where every instrument is clearly heard, deftly layered but never overly busy nor muddied. It also underscores how this part of Sly’s oeuvre was as compelling in its intricacies as some of his more dramatic harder edged funk which is probably better known to the more casual listener. While new sonic elements such as scratching/beat boxing are introduced into this track it does not forgo the traditional brass section as Sly would have used which sonically adds a warmth and further layers that would be missing had it all been midi(d).

The album has two different versions (mixes) of “It’s a Family Affair” and “The Same Thing” on it. “It’s a Family Affair-Falu Mumbai Mix”is named after the singer Falu whose chant-like vocalese entwines itself around the songs traditional vocals as done by Roberta Flack. The song has a bubbling bass whose mood is mirrored by the occasional wah-wah of guitar. The song is all subtle contrasts coming together, from the two different style vocals to the old soul declamations of saxophone and late night organ mixing with slow electro washes of synth. In some ways this piece is emblematic if not of the ensemble itself then this current project.

The album facilitates the urge to dance, whether just with friends, a potential romance or just by one’s self. We are all just the creature of Prometheus and must occasionally honor that gift by getting out on the dance floor to shake our asses.

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Moscow Does Not Believe in Monkeys: Karl 2000

The record playing era is, aside from a sub culture of aficionados, largely over. The mainstream & casual listener now mostly purchases their music via digital downloads. This trend is also making extinct two interconnected aspects of what often made a great record even better, the art of the album cover and that of the liner notes. Of course there is still some image, usually in thumbnail, of the album cover when purchasing a download but it is not the same as having one of those old Blue Note Francis Wolf cardboard sleeves in hand. There was that tactile pleasure to it, a similar phenomenon as with the actual browsing without purpose in a record shop, which is how I have made some of my favorite artist discoveries. One can buy some obscure albums digitally but you must know in advance what you are looking for.  There is none of that magic of happenstance in coming upon a previously unknown gem. As for liner notes…some labels will digitally include them but it seems only the truly geeky, such as myself will bother with the extra mouse clicks to read them and getting someone to write something who is not in the band is becoming the rare exception to the rule.

Ironically when CDs first came out I had not been happy about the shrunk down image done to fit the packaging. I receive in the mail rather a lot of CDs each week which I still prefer over digital downloads even with their smaller than record covers. It seems like a lot of new acts, or people for whom making art is only one part of their lives, eschew the digital download album opting for the older CD format. It could be too that they do both and send critics and columnists the CDs as to avoid making us take up valuable space on our computer’s hard drive where the words should go.

My junk scientific method of taking CDs from my slush pile varies. I know that at least to the artist, every one of them is important. Usually if there is a form letter or no note specifically addressed to me I do not bother. And just as a mall glamour shots looking cover can instantly turn me off from its cheese factor, once in a while a cover can compel me to pick up the CD and give a listen.

Despite decades of a steady stream of technical innovations, space still smells like dirty pennies and seared steak *. The cold war was largely the progenitor behind the space race, the propaganda value of “winning” being worth more for a theological way of life than, with the technologies then available, any real practical applications of a space station or moon base.  The former Soviet Union launched monkeys and dogs into out of space, probably more than will ever be officially owned up to, not that they were by any means alone In this practice.

The eponymous album cover by Karl 2000 has the striking color scheme of red and gold. The aesthetics are reminiscent of old soviet propaganda posters if they had been done by one of today’s street artists, featuring a monkey wearing a soviet starred beret. Before even listening to the CD, I decided that this Soviet simian had somehow made his way back from space. This was Karl, cosmonaut hero. On the strength of the cover alone I grabbed this album from the pile with no idea what to expect.

The band is a New York based trio comprised of saxophone, bass and drums. The band goes for emotion over technique. That is not to say that they are not good, they are. One would have to be to have such tight but loose interplay as this trio. Overall they awe and please with how they play, not what. There is a punk(y) energy to them but not in a self-conscious hipster way of a jazz trio covering Nirvana or Radiohead. There is energy to the trio but they let it burst forth in just the right discordant amount which keeps the listener from becoming desensitized to it.

Drawing inspiration from a Russian folk melody, “Meadowlands” starts off with a sort of martial march bass and drum beat; comrades going out for morning maneuvers over which the bleary eyed saxophone staggers into formation line after a night of leave. The cadence of the song has a sort of late night downtown sound meets klezmer feel to it. The song is quick but how much must one say if they really mean it?

“A Cliff on the Volga” is also inspired by a Russian folk melody. It starts with an exclamation by Daniel Rovin’s saxophone, the dramatic declamation as can sometimes be heard in processional music (such as the Spanish Saeta).  The bass soon takes over in a deep rich solo statement until the saxophone comes back, softer this time.  It would be a misnomer to call this a ballad but it is slower and softer, yet they manage to keep their edge. Throughout this album one is reminded how gentile jazz has become. In all its myriad forms it is still enjoyable but the anything can happen, in the moment, component has been sort of pushed into the background. Of course I speak in broad generalities but people going to supper clubs drinking their top shelf cocktails as a band play really do not want to witness an artist experimenting or stretching out. They are willing to accept just the right amount of extra choruses in a song because it is live but the pieces should be a close approximation to what they are used to. The turn off to current jazz audiences with the in the moment aspect is that it could make for a bad show, an off night and the bottom line must win out. This trio brings back the discordance and chance elements that can make for memorable shows. The album has a live feel; live in the way jazz should be by a band making their bones.

The album is made up of originals and covers. There is the seemingly odd choice of covering The Partridge Family “I Think I Love You”. Here it is done with no irony but a straight read in the bands voice sans gimmick. Toward the end the horn gives a higher register almost vocalese of the song’s melody as drums and bass trade off propulsive bursts. Dave Miller’s drumming shows a hard bop muscle while also creating complex polyrhythms which are in line with some of the free/progressive elements hardwired into the bands DNA. In performance the band does allow space which they utilize for tension and coloration within their interplay. The sound of the album is pristine but with an ambient warmth so this works to great effect.

“Chocolate Wonderfall” starts off a frenzied piece serving up slabs of speaking in tongues funk. A club in Brighton Beach, it is the dance floor and stage slick with perspiration and whatever has dripped down the sides of everyone’s glasses. The saxophone squawks, a call to revelry as the drums and bass boil over.

“Derrrrr” Has a strolling bass. Austin White has a great tone light but not delicate. There is brightness along with a bit of bar surface dark woodiness. There is no flagging of intensity which can occur by musically trying to be all things to all people. The band is not repetitious in execution. Their influences and likes are diverse but they have a definite sonic identity and stick with it. There are Russian elements to some of their melodies but they are not seeking to fuse ethno-world music to jazz. It is one of many things they like, it is a part of them and it is authentic in that way without seeking out or the proclaiming of a formalized structure.

The album closes with “We’ll Meet Again” taken at a brisk pace. It has a sort of vintage sound to it with the percussion being produced by toy drums. It is the bitter sweetness of saying goodbye to a friend who then does something silly yet endearing as you turn around for one last look. The whole album is free of gimmick and engaging. There is no dichotomy between the organically occurring energy of the band and the studio. One could almost imagine friends and well-wishers in the booth, drinks in hand watching and cheering them on. I look forward to hearing more from them.

The tiles were black and white making the floor look like a chess board. I should have gone out but instead spent the day sitting on the couch contemplating the game. Finally I was shamed by the sounds down below of people coming and going swimming in the stream of an urban tide. I would run out at least for a drink.

It was not too busy and I managed to get the stool right next to my favorite one. I made some small talk but mostly listened as I wished they would either turn the music up or off. Looking out the window a monkey wearing an ushanka walks by a paper bag from which a bottle protrudes tucked under his arm. The monkey’s paws are gimp from the cold but they hang loose ready for action all the same. He no longer dreams of the glory days but will now settle for an afternoon of shadows and fur.

* A recent scientific journal article interviewed astronauts from several different eras who all commented on the fact that space had a distinctive scent. I am guessing at its bouquet.

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Elephants on Parade

The Japonize Elephants is more an ensemble than a group. There is a subtle but important difference between the two. With an ensemble the roles and evolution of creation tend to be less static, facilitating an ongoing freedom. One could almost categorize them as an orchestra except that some of the meat of the body of the ensemble encompasses ethno/world/root instruments, forgoing those of the formalized Western orchestral tradition. The ensemble’s name, like their latest album Mélodie Fantastique, embodies  a sort of chance logic akin to the word game created by Andre Breton and Paul Eluard “Exquisite Corpse”.

“Eye Wrote This” has a frenzied Gitane (gypsy) & klezmer feel to it. Structurally, the song is made up of a series of fast runs carried out but several smaller groups within the group. A bolero beat makes an appearance before the vocalese chorus that ends the song. There is the urge to drink and then dance like an inelegant bird unsure of whether it wants to fly. To some extent this song may serve as the ensemble’s calling card in that it seamlessly melds several genres’ music utilizing a full, unique sonic palette to do so. There is some definite quirk to this group but never to the point of distraction nor as any kind of crutch. I am all for humor in music whether in its execution or composition but too often it lapses into gimmick or novelty. The ‘Elephants completely sidestep such dangers with top notch musicianship and compositions which embrace the occasional quirk but never rely upon it.

“Melodie Fantastique” initially has the slurred tongue of the violin which a song earlier had been urging on some kind of dance, playing over a sort of pulsed beat. It takes on a nasal-mid eastern cadence, the temptation of Faust as embodied by the hypnotic gyrations of a belly dancer. Then with the entry of banjo the song morphs; it is an Appalachian get together or the fireside entertainment of a roving band of travelers. The song again morphs (2:30) becoming the sort of aural fanfare that could have been birthed from the head of Nino Rota. Plucked strings singing out as a diverse cast of characters each most likely speaking a different language, cross their arms over each other each hand clasping that of the person on either side of them, the long line snaking out the door of the nightclub heading down the cobblestone street in black and white as the band is left playing to itself and a lone balloon which has fallen at the foot of the stage. The various percussion and vocalese propel the piece forward; the song gets softer, hushed plucked strings and spoons as the line moves further down the street and out of sight.

If Esquivel had been asked to score a Connery era James Bond film it would sound like “End Times, The Theme From Bat Boy”. Vibraphone lays down that cooler than cool pattern over which muted horns pop up before another central figure is introduced by a trebled guitar, the frenzy of someone making love to one of Leo Fender’s Strats. There is not a care in the world as he will get the girl, and dispatch the baddies with a terrible pun. All while being indifferent to the fact that his number, red thirteen, has come up on the wheel.

“Breusters” changes things up with country twang and vocals. The ensemble are all actually very good musicians and on some of the slower more acoustic pieces this really rises to the fore. There is a beautiful lap steel solo in the middle of the song. The vocals are well done; there is that lone star desolation in the two entwined voices that manages to be beautifully blue. It is Tom Joad now a member of a live in the van indie band witnessing a vanishing Americana of honky tonk bars where hipsters are not allowed to order mixed drinks or check their iPhones and every midnight is the start of a new day.

Being a short but sweet track; “An Evening With A thumbtack” is a lone piano murmuring a bluesy minor chord cakewalk which ends with the sound of libations being poured out and sipped. One could almost imagine a small stage with the rest of the band about to take a quick five or return to continue the show. The sound throughout the album is pristine. On the tracks with vocals, when one listens with headphones there is a sonic intimacy as if the artists are standing in the same room.

I highly recommend this CD it is fun; it is art; it is an orgy of sound.

I am in my cranberry colored bathrobe, the sleeve bleached a bubblegum pink from the time I helped Chili dye her hair, I am painting in the garage in an olive green jump suit like Picasso wore during his Ripolin phase, I draw three concentric circles at the bottom of the paper then let all the extra words burn off in the atmosphere. There is a fecundity of ideas to be found in this album, a lopsided joy carried out via excellent musicianship. Three circles upon the paper, through an open window one could almost imagine hearing the Japonize Elephants music playing as they parade down the street, stumping for the circus come to town that escaped E.E Cummings condemnation*.

*“Damn everything except the circus.” E.E Cummings

This article is not to be used or reprinted without the expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler (

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The Definitive Charley Patton (Catfish Records)

The late 1800’s/early 1900’s, the term “redneck” had drastically different connotation than that which it carries today. Initially it was a verbal short hand to describe the Irish and Scottish immigrant farmers down south. After a day in the fields their necks burnt a lobster red. Like all who joined the great melting pot with dreams and hopes of something better, they brought their songs to sing with them. Folk melodies, murder ballads, played with a lot of the instruments which would be used for the early country music. This mixed with the sung laments of plantation slaves birthed the blues.

The earliest blues was a complex amalgam of these three seemingly divergent sources, country, folk and plain song brought over by the slaves. In the far future practitioners may have more chops, but the construction and influences would never again be as open minded, nor as organically mixed.

The embodiment of this first great wave of bluesmen was Charlie Patton. The exact date of his birth is often debated. Given sometimes as April 1887 or 1891. He himself was never sure, the later date being supplied by his parents for a 1900 census poll. He could not read or write except his name which he always slowly spelled out loud C-h-a-r-l-i-e. Ironically throughout his oeuvre it is spelled Charley.

Charlie was descended of mixed blood which included white, Native American and African American. The oddly pejorative term “good hair” (Caucasian-like) was often used to describe him when not talking about his music.

His family was religious and disapproved of his music and his casual teachers. The music was referred to as “Devil’s music” and his romance with it often earned him beatings from his father. Eventually, for whatever reason his father eased up, even buying Charlie a guitar. It was shortly after this he hit the road never again to return home for any real length of time.

Charlie’s main recorded output was the blues, but this was far more a financial decision on the part of the record company than a personal artistic choice on Charlie’s part. It was the same commercial consideration which largely kept Charlie’s less blues like pieces from ever seeing wax.

He did not seem to mind. Often to give an audience their money’s worth, when performing Charlie would toss and catch his guitar, play the underside percussively, drum like or when the mood struck him, behind his head. Considering what was resonating from him, all far from necessary.

Although he never liked to complain, like many artists of his day (and sadly, in ensuing decades) Charlie was taken advantage of by record companies. He and other artists would have to commute to Northern cities to record or in makeshift studios set up in barns or flop houses.

These early blues men were pursued by record companies not out respect for their artistic merits but in hope of creating an African American record buying (phonographs too) public. With few exceptions this was driving vision behind these small companies.

Pony Blues was successful, Charlie’s biggest seller (Paramount Records). In keeping with the times only the smallest trickle of money went to him. From his point of view, while never becoming rich, he was kept in sandwiches, whiskey and smokes. Always happy enough to not have to do manual labor as often.

Pea Vine Blues used a new gimmick thought up by the record company. The record was released with a contest. The singer was listed as “The Masked Marvel” its cover depicting an illustration which looked like Charlie donning a Lone Ranger styled mask. Contestants were asked to guess his identity. The winner received a Paramount Record of their choice. The contest entry forms accompanied the record all 10,000 sold out. Staggering when you consider that this was well before the age of mass media or quick communication. Paramount Records hedged their bets by also doing up 7000 promo posters and ads in The Chicago Defender, the premier paper for the other side of segregated America.

The initial pressing quickly sold out creating the market for a second pressing, a then rarity for such a specialized market.

Interestingly enough, Charlie had recorded (briefly) some religious hymns under the pseudonym J.J Hadley. Either name was an accepted answer for the contest.

Charlie was of average height and slight build (135lbs) but some of his material was musical boasts concerning his prowess and potency. (Charlie as a proto rapper?). Mostly though, he and other blues forefathers would recite topical verse over often simple but hypnotic beats. Charlie is believed to be the first one to use the now standard twelve bar blues pattern.

Initially, before the lexicon of blues standards was born, the tales in Charlie and his peers songs were intricate, image rich American Gothic. Flannery O’Connor meets the juke joint.

In Charlie’s lyrics, depending upon your point of view, God or the devil was ever present, not as an incarnation, but as natural calamities. Floods, the taste of one’s mortality, even boweevils. Despite the commercial considerations of what Charlie recorded, there was always more than just some woman having done him wrong. Deeper themes whose narrative complexity still retain their power in this modern age when Charlie’s way of life has long since vanished.

Another key appeal of Charlie’s work was his vocals. The lyrics were often obscured. The cadence of his voice being used as a second instrument. There is something about the sound of those simple, yet hypnotic beats mixing with that voice. It reaches deep down into you, a primal twitch. I like to listen to this in the dark. You should listen to this in the dark, listen anywhere desolation and appetite can be poetry.

It was said that Charlie had, had eight wives. At the very least he had eight roommates. With a hair trigger temper he had fought with all of them.

When not in jail, sick or recording, this American troubadour was out living the life he would represent in his art. Reporting on what he saw and interjecting his own opinions. One of the strongest tracks off of CD #2 is “High Water Everywhere”. This was based off of the 1927 Mississippi flood and its after effects as he witnessed them. It is from the episodic growl as much as the cabaret theater world of Brecht/Weil that Tom Waits would build his initial musical foundation  off of.

Long time brother in arms Willie Brown spent years observing and playing with Charlie. From the practical application of this apprenticeship Willie became a great blues man in his own right. It was from Willie in the 1920’s a teenage Robert Johnson attempted to learn.

With the onslaught of the depression, many small record labels folded, times were tough all around and Charlie made due the best he could. By the mid 1930’s, Charlie, in his mid forties began to feel the effects of his lifestyle. A fight one night ended with Charlie having his throat slit and living to sing about it. Bad woman, good cocaine and strong whiskey with an endless supply of cigarettes to mark the time in between each.

1934 saw the depression finally beginning to bottom out. People no longer needed to be tunnel-visioned on how to eat, where to find work. It would be several more years until it was done with completely. The theory that affordable distractions will always make money in times of trouble has been proven again and again.

W.R Calaway of The American Record Corporation wanted to record Charlie. For what would be Charlie’s last sessions he tracked the artist and his wife Bertha Lee who would share vocal duties, down to a Mississippi jail where they were both serving time for having had one of their knock down drag outs at a house party. W.R Calaway made bail and brought the pair to New York.

New York was having one of its bad winters. Charlie was already frail and sick. Both in lyrical content and in his haunted performance Charlie seems to have felt the ebb and flow of his mortality.

One of Charlie’s last recorded songs was 34 Blues, 34 being slang for “go away”. Three months after his final sessions while living on a plantation with another woman Charlie died of a heart condition brought on by an attack of rheumatic fever. As he lay dying, in delirium, it was to the reciting of one of the religious hymns he recorded as J.J Hadley he occupied his last days until death finally took him.

The sound on these three CDs is good, it has been cleaned up, but not sanitized to the point of loosing its soul in studio artificiality. At times there is the ambient presence of a 78’s hiss. It works, it belongs. The effect is akin to listening to some of the great prewar Edith Piaf recordings which contain the same hiss. It furthers the effect of being spoken to from another time, without ever distracting or lessening the art. So well does it work, it almost seems as if these two artists, so different, both incorporate the hiss and technological limitations into their deliveries and technique.

The songs are all presented in chronological order which I always think is a nice touch. Aside from the aforementioned “High Water Everywhere” another personal favorite (CD #2) is “Mean Black Moan” which features a trance inducing guitar pattern, with the singing violin sounding almost like an upper register clarinet all occurring while the tale is told.

Henry Sims on violin is perfect. He had a touch which managed to be both raw and subtle. He would go on to work with later day blues man Muddy Waters. It offers a glimpse of what might have been if Charlie had had opportunity for more instrumentation or at least further sympathetic accompaniment.

The packaging is nice. The three CDs are packaged in hard cardboard sleeves to look like old  78’s which are housed in a good looking little box with an eighteen page informative booklet.

This compares nicely with “The Best of Charlie Patton” (1 CD Yazoo). Yazoo was one of foremost revivalist of early American music chroniclers. This is one CD and not really that much less than this three CD set.

The crown jewel for any serious collector is “Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues:The Worlds of Charley Patton” (7 CDs Revenant Records) This is literally functional art. Designed to look like a large 78’s record box, it includes lots of reading material including the long out of print thesis on Charlie by John Fahey, stickers interviews and other Charlie related literature. An investment to be sure, but worth it.

It was not until 1980 Charlie was actually induced into The Blues Foundation’s hall of fame. In 1990 singer John Fogerty paid for a proper funerary monument to be erected. Other Mississippi blues men are talked about and sited more often. Charlie’s stuff, because of its deeply personal delivery would be far harder to emulate. This is the king. From the roots of this musical tree would flow far reaching and diverse branches.

Charley Patton-guitar/vocals

          On some tracks:

                 Willie Brown-second guitar

                  Henry Sims-violin

                  Bertha Lee-vocals





*This article is not to be used or reprinted without the expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler (

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FFEAR Agents: Mirage by Forum For Electro-Acoustic Research

There has always been a cross pollination between classical music and jazz. From the more obvious examples of Igor Stravinsky writing a piece for Woody Herman to various jazz components finding their way into some of the compositions of Le Six member Darius Milhaud (who Dave Brubeck would study under) to the not as apparent modern classical leanings of musician/composers whose work was genre defying but definitely with its complexity, has one foot in the modern classical world (Ornette Coleman, George Russell et al).

Jazz has sometimes been called “American Classical”. It has long since branched out, now being found in almost every country in one form or another. Initially, like a lot of classical genres though it mirrored some of aspects of the nation which birthed it. Just as we associate Bach with Germany and Haydn with Austria could hot jazz have come from anywhere but Storyville, bop from NYC? Jazz was modern classical in that it was a nascent art form springing up out of a young nation, aurally capturing an encroaching modernist zeitgeist. It was the towering steel and glass pagan totem poles of the skyscrapers; it was crackling with energy and the potential to artistically go off in a tangent of directions. It mirrored the diversity of the nation in regards to the styles of its top players whose individuality helped spawn a myriad of genres. The scope of the complexity of the compositions of some of the more forward thinking composers who easily kept up with their European counterparts showed that like the nation itself there was still a connection of having sprung from the old world even as new sensibilities where grafted on.

There are artists whose oeuvre contains plenty of examples of a classical/ jazz hybrid usually nestled within a body of work which also includes songs that more often than not achieved a higher degree of popularity than that of their weightier stuff. So in describing an Ellington or Mingus we split the difference and often apply the moniker of song writer but they are along with people like Gershwin and a handful of others, our cannon of composers.

As the soundtrack to youth, bohemians and outsiders, jazz has been supplanted first by rock and now by a sort of lowest common denominator aural bread and circus.  Speaking in the broadest sense of the term jazz has become marginalized and if jazz has become a sort of second class citizen then modern classical even more so. The only upside to this attitude is that with commercial considerations taking a backseat it allows for artistic bravery combined with the easier to use, less expensive recording technology which has enabled pockets of artist throughout the country to bring forth their explorations for the rest of us to hear.

There is music which defies genre. It contains improvisatory elements layered within a complex composition. Although not necessarily accurate, a point of reference is needed for critics, journalists and the record buying public when discussing it. With improvisation in its DNA this music is more often than not put in the jazz category.  Although often lumped in with free-jazz/nu jazz/downtown sound et al modern classical would be a more apropos moniker. This loose knit confederation of composers and compositions have some common denominators, such as improvisation but as it is not a proper movement nor genre unto itself,  there is no static formula to the amount of improvising or soloing found in any given piece. This keeps it interesting and allows for much sonic individuality even from piece to piece within one composers oeuvre.

Mirage is an album whose classification straddles not just genres but musical fences, at times leaning more towards jazz at others modern classical.  FFEAR is quartet co-led by Ole Mathisen and Chris Washburne. For the non-musician or more casual listener, the quartet seeks to break the traditional restrictions of a smaller ensemble by utilizing rhythmic complexity and overall layered sonic denseness. In the brief liner notes by Chris Washburne the group clearly recognizes both the jazz and modern classical in their DNA.

The album is comprised of two suites “Mirage” and “Frederick Sommer Suite” along with three original standalone pieces.

“Mirage” was written by Mathisen. It is a suite in five pieces. It is unified not as programmatic nor tone poem subject of person place or thing but by technique. Shifting emotions and sonic expansions make the mere four voices unite into dense ever changing aural kaleidoscope growing larger than their numerical reality.

A perfect symmetry, the suite begins and ends with sections titled “Haze”.  All the rest of the sections’ titles allude to visual perceptions which could also be associated to some extent with sounds. ”Haze” starts out as a heated conversation carried out by compadres in a friendly tone. There is somewhat of an ascending/descending feel to it similar to components of a Monk song. Throughout the section Per Mathisen’s bass has a bright tone which is never weighed down so much as to prevent an organic buoyancy which is inherent in a lot of his playing. He brings a nice low end weight to the ensembles’ sound which is not the heaviness of concrete but of forethought. Weaving in and out of the first theme is Ole Mathisen’s sax. He plays flurries of notes which in rhythm and tempo depart, breaking the section’s orbit, to return to the theme just as quickly. Despite the ability to fire off quick salvos of notes, it never feels the discordance in his soloing is reduced to mere noise.

The second section “Shimmer’s” start features Tony Moreno’s subtle cymbal pulses which serve to offer up the abstracted mystery of the section. The first part is slow but not melancholy. It is the change from night to day, from clear skies to overcast. Chris Washburne’s trombone playing shows him to be forward thinking but not locked into one type of tone. He offers up a lament here which serves as both a small duet and contrast to what is going on with the sax.

The final section is my personal favorite of the suite. The trombone initially alternates between a sort of dream dog bark and something large bubbling or seeping upwards, an expanse of clouds blotting out the sun seeming all the more dramatic as it is already dusk. There are tempo changes punctuated by declamations of the sax. Cymbal and snare work in a sort of distorted waltz-march  help suggest the image Mobius strip like of a thing attempting something which involves motion, Sisyphus forsaking his jazz  for a new sonic hybrid. The last half of the section eschews its initial rhythm for a sped up climax, the dream done, for now.

The second suite, “Frederick Sommer Suite” was named for the selfsame multi medium artist (1905-1999). Frederick was born in Angri, Italy. While very young the entire family moved to Rio di Janero, Brazil. His father, who was a city planner, recognized a similar talent in his son who began his architectural studies very early on apprenticing with the architects Archimedes Memoria and Francisco Cuchet whose firm Escritorio Tecnico Heiter de Mello was one of Brazil’s most important. Even as a teenager he had such visual chops that his drawings received gallery showings and after only being with the firm for two years he began getting private landscaping commissions. A meeting with American businessman and amateur Horticulturalist William Gratwick Sr. served as inspiration for Frederick to go to America (1925).

After making the acquaintance of the Chairman of the Landscape department at Cornell University, Edward Gorton Davis, William served as his assistant for a year before enrolling as a graduate student. While at Cornell he met his future wife Frances Elisabeth Watson and delved deeper into various modernist theories. By 1927 he received his Master of Arts degree in landscape architecture. He returned to Rio alone to form a firm with his father receiving many consultant commissions for various parks in Rio, Curitiba, Parana and Salvador. Now with reputation and pedigree cemented in, he returned stateside to marry Frances after which they both moved back to Brazil.

A lung hemorrhage lead to the discovery of tuberculosis (1930) and a trip to a sanatorium in Switzerland. It is while taking his rest cure he first begins to experiment with photography not to capture the end result of a commission but as an artistic medium unto itself.

After treatment first his wife, then a few months later, Frederick would go to Tuscon, Arizona whose dry steady weather would be ideal for his condition. Unlike some of his European artistic peers who emigrated or visited America, Frederick traveled the country extensively. The state of Arizona hired Frances as a social worker and she did her training at The University of Southern California which enabled them to move to Los Angeles. It was while in Los Angeles that Frederick saw composer drawn musical scores in a library. He felt that there was a direct correlation between the visual patterns and their appeal to the music contained within the body of a written out score. Although he himself had no musical training, he began writing his own scores based only on his invented theory of visual score logic. It is said that utilizing his theory he could look at a written score and know who the composer was.

He is primarily known now for his photography but he never stopped drawing and aside from his watercolors and illustrations did many of what he dubbed “drawings in the manner of musical scores”. Often Frederick is lumped in with the surrealists but this tag is somewhat of a misnomer. He socialized with some of surrealists and there are some commonalities of theme and cross pollination of ideas as exemplified by some similarities of Hans Bellmer’s “Doll Project” and his own “Chicken” photograph, his later collages and those done by his acquaintance Max Ernst or his bordering on abstract landscape photographs and some of those of fellow photographer Man Ray. Frederick was far less dogmatic in his surrealism and also forgoes the satirical darkness so often a part of other surrealists’ work. His work was well represented in galleries, museums and universities something that was anathema to surrealist’s pope Andre Breton, whose chief rule to the canon had always been that the surrealists were not allowed to publish or show except for in the very few sanctioned venues. A rule which he obsessively upheld and which would serve to facilitate every member of the group eventually quitting or being drummed out for the infraction. What Frederick seemed to get out of surrealism was permission and inspiration to break established modes of technique and even sometimes subject matter in service of his creative process.

It was not until 1968 that some of his scores saw their first public performance by Stephen Aldrich (piano) and Walton Mendelson (flute) both of whom had met him as students and moved into his circle. It would not be until 1990 that the two would again perform some of the pieces at a Prescott College reunion. The pieces available to listen to online are compelling, showing like some of his visual work, commonalities that were in the modernist air while equally displaying his individuality.

FFEAR’s “Frederick Sommer Suite” is the same in that the ensemble is not seeking to parrot his aural aesthetics but to tip their collective hat to the artist who would have enjoyed the complexity of the piece that sacrifices none their identity in service of the tribute which is drawn from their interpretation of some of his scores.

Frederick never titled any of his scores, which the band does for each section of the suite inspired by the sonics. “Borrowed Time” (No.1) has an elliptical feel to it. There is the steady bass and hi-hat work over which trombone and sax declaim. One of the successes of this ensemble overall is the warm sound they are able to maintain in their playing throughout the album. Every instrument is heard no matter how much it drops back in a piece yet there is none of that digital perfection coldness that can mar an otherwise good album.

“Circle Back” (No 2) features the two horns starting out playing in unison to great effect, so perfect is their synchronicity there is an almost fat synth like cadence to their sound. The percussion is a churning polyrhythmic cloud whose form is constantly changing. There is a break where only bass plays with light cymbal work;   the effective starkness maintained until the two horns rejoin, this time not in unison, two thoughts connected but separated by the room they must fly across when said out loud.

The album ends with three more originals and they are just as enjoyable as the first two suites, not giving off the feeling of being mere filler as can occasionally happen when an album’s main program is a piece which is long but not long enough to utilize all the space.

This is a worthwhile album which easily stands up to repeated listenings. It serves as a reminder too that artistic boundaries need not be obeyed or even considered during a piece’s inception and execution.

Links of interest:

“Life is the most durable fiction that matter has yet to come up with, and art is the structure of matter as life’s most durable fiction.” Frederick Sommers


*This article is not to be used or reprinted without the expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler (

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Happening Now & Yesterday: Daniel McBrearty

To the casual listener and in the broadest sense, the different eras of jazz always seem to have had an instrument or two which served as a sort of “face” for it. Hot Jazz called to mind the raucous trumpet dynamism of people like Louis Armstrong, Bunny Berigan, Bunk Johnson and Bix Beiderbecke. Hot Jazz gave way to swing, which fed many of its star improvisers into it while morphing into big band. These two closely linked genres also had their share of star soloists playing s diversity of instruments but with not necessarily an instrument but instead the musician/bandleader’s persona coming immediately to mind (Cab Calloway, Chick Webb, Jimmy Lucenford et al). The 1950’s & 60’s when jazz was perhaps showing exactly how protean a medium it was, saw the emergence of the saxophone hero and keyboard virtuoso both of which had previously existed in past eras but never to such a high degree. From when jazz was still spelled with double “s” there was always the presence of the clarinet.

This instrument whether immediately up front or as part of a (big) band makes a perfect marriage with an art form one of whose appeal is that it is ever in flux. One reason is how close to a voice having a conversation it can sound. It sets the mood with if not the cadence of the teller than the atmosphere of the place. It can be bluesy, offering up indigos of “might have been” or loss of what was. It can be more cerebral giving avant-garde complexity or discordance. Or it can be outright beautiful, making one smile at both what is being said and in what a tone. Of course all of this can be said about many of the instruments which have been with jazz from day one. With some though, their roles changed, became more important than merely supplying a beat or bottom. Others did not begin to sing their own song outside of the body of the group until the music was well on its way. Clarinet has been there since day one with great soloists not dominating any specific era but always included in it.

Now based in Belgium, Welsh Clarinetist Daniel McBrearty has a new album out titled Clarinet Swing. Overall the album has some of the warmest sonics I have heard in a long time akin to a listening on vinyl effect. The album features a trio which eschews a drummer in favor of the subtly percussive effects of the piano.

“Poor Butterfly” (1917) is a standard which has been covered memorably many times. It was inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly (1904) and even briefly quotes the duet in the vocal version’s verses from act twos duet “Tutti I Fior”. One of the song’s reasons for remaining endearing to musicians is its inherent ability to be done in varying ways and not have an interpretation sound emotionally “off”. Here the song’s tempo is taken at a comfortable stroll. In Daniel’s hands it is bluesy but more in the vein of a missed last call connection than the fatality of silk blindfolds and cherry blossoms. Daniel’s playing is precise but loose which prevents this from ever feeling like a studied exercise in yesteryear nostalgia.

“Jitterbug Waltz” the perennial waltz timed standard by Fats Waller, is done beautifully casual. Made up of pre-bop standards and some originals, the album overall is inspired by another time but never gets bogged down in being merely an exacting recreation. Jazz is about the songs but even those when done by their authors varied in performance according to how they felt and where they were playing and with whom. This fluidity allowed for a piece to not lose its identity while still giving forth fresh enjoyments.  This album offers a glimpse at another age but never lets a feeling of detachment enter in; as can happen when listening to an older recording or one that strives to be too meticulously mirroring its ancestors. Pianist Dirk Van der Linden is a perfect fit for this project. Even when one listens to a great such as Teddy Wilson playing with clarinetist Benny Goodman, there was, despite his immense abilities never the distraction of always filling in the empty spaces with virtuosic notes or runs. One of the things which made someone like Teddy Wilson great was his overall tastefulness in what he played. There are plenty of great pianists playing older standards and even in the same cadence as they originally appeared but the temptation for a pianist to relentlessly show what they are made of sometimes proves too great. Throughout the album Dirk takes solos which show what a great ivory tickler he is but as enjoyable as his solos are it is his overall tastefulness, knowing exactly the right amount to add to each piece which bolsters many of the pieces.

“Vikanda” is one of the album’s original tunes. It was named for a friend of Daniels who passed away. The song has a bittersweet air but is never overly maudlin. Jean Van Lint’s bass is all contemplative richness in this piece. He has a nice solo break in the piece which exudes an air of nostalgia not for a time or place but a person, vividly remembered and with a different face for each of us. The bass is the burnished richness of the perfect bar to which one would always desire to return to while the tone most often of the clarinet has a woodiness that is the perfect pour of bourbon to rest upon it.

“Body and Soul” is tackled, as some connoisseurs may feel that this song is owned by Coleman Hawkins or Billy Holiday it is a bold move to attempt. Smartly, Daniel notes in the liner notes;

“With such a known tune it is hard to say something new…”

And here it is offered up, a straight reading of the song which shows the great interplay among the trio. It is the equivalent of getting a familiar dish at a restaurant, not deconstructed or reimagined but just as it was initially conceived and spot on.

The CD comes in standard packaging with brief liner notes describing each song. Just as a good chef knows the mantra that one eats with one’s eyes first so too can it be with CDs. The cover art is fun with graphics and font the recall the heyday of jazz’s cultural pre-rock importance.

For More information on Daniel:

*This article is not to be used or reprinted without the expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler (

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A Mosaic of Daydreams: Alexander Berne & The Abandoned Orchestra

For the approaching New Year, a friend of mine was cleaning her home office. She had books which she had read but were not worth keeping and there was also one entire shelf of them from her last job that a boss who thought he was wired into some sort of business Rosetta Stone required his team to read; hokey titles which claimed to offer leadership secrets of everybody from Attila The Hun to Napoleon. It was all very much the zeitgeist of the mid 90’s to early 2000’s. It conjures up remembrances of bosses who were pricks and conference rooms with foosball tables. Equally as prevalent at this time was the myth of multi-tasking, management excitedly piling “to do” things atop their staff while bug eyed and chanting the mantra of “just multi-task it”. The method has long since proven faulty, several things being done at once, none of them well or necessarily right but from those times of the myth of multi-tasking remains a sort of shortened attention span.

Speaking in broad generalities for there are exceptions to every rule, this has spilled over into the arts, with films which emphasize technological flash over substance, popular novels entirely about (semi) classic characters created by other authors and sadly, music. With music the manifestation of short attention span is there but subtler. There are still the aficionados and enthusiasts but gone are the days of people or individuals just sitting and listening to music. Now music is in the background for dinner parties, driving et al; always in the movie of our lives but negated to merely a soundtrack far ever from the main focus.

Multi-instrumentalist Alexander Berne sprang up in the New York scene working with a diverse cross section of musicians including Cecil Taylor, Victor Lewis to Albert “Tootie” Heath. His new double album Flickers of Mime & Death of Memes is a throwback to the golden age of the headphone albums. It is a densely layered work of art which demands one’s full attention to be fully appreciated and understood; on the same levels both viscerally and cerebrally as works by The Second Viennese School (Arnold Schoenberg 1874-1951, Anton Webern 1883-1945, Alban Berg 1885-1935) and other artists whose works have encompassed the dichotomy of electrically charged jump of sparks between mind and emotion; though with the comparisons that is not to say that he has utilized their method of compositions.

From his jazz beginnings Alexander would go on to study Tabla and Indian classical music with Misha Masud and others. He would also embrace multi sources of inspiration from more than just musical genres. From the mid 1990’s until 2008 he would work on film production and visual arts even inventing a new form of painting that combined photo emulsion and acrylics. This has leant his work a cinematic air in the truest sense of the word. Often a descriptive shorthand for not a change of emotional cadence but merely in a work’s volume or number of voices being heard at any given time. Alexander’s latest, with its emotional gears ever in flux, is an example of true aural cinematics, a journey not necessarily of distance but atmosphere.

On New Years of 2007 while in Italy, Alexander decided to free the music in his head, executing every aspect of it himself, following his own rules which allowed for greater possibilities as there were none of the confines of music/studio orthodoxy.

As I sat to give my first listen I purposely held off on reading the liner notes and anything about the work. It can be an interesting exercise, seeing if an artist’s intent matches up to how it makes one feel, especially with music. The work (s) form a sort of programmatic tone poem for the 21st century loosely revolving around a mime (in my mind closer to Pierrot and the classic European Commedia dell’Arte) working his magic in a small theater. One can enjoy the work while having no idea of the program, not necessarily the subject but the sense of mystery comes clearly through.

The very start of the piece, there is the sense of something emerging from the primordial ooze or a thick curtain of fog, out from behind this curtain steps the entertainer. Alexander has invented new instruments, utilized for this album which draw from the DNA of Asian, Arabic and American reed instruments. There are parts where the voice of a specific instrument can be heard but even as it seems to offer a recognizable cadence it morphs into something else, perfect kinship to the voices and sounds one may hear in dreams, sometimes familiar but then changing as its source moves about the dreamscape. There are at the beginning bass organ like pulses and electro tendrils of random thoughts, perhaps birthed from the collective unconscious of the audience. While no synthesizers were used, some sounds were treated, a tinkling piano descends, kissed electronically, it stoops even lower, Dali’s dripping clocks hanging off of the branches. The Electro washes of sound which occur throughout the work avoid the mindless repetition and rise above being mere sonic filler. They show some of the intellectual potential inherent but not often utilized in the Electro-Ambient genre.

The snap of snare drums are as if the ringmaster calls attention to the next section of mystery. There is a slow undulating sense of tension, the things of reveries grafted onto the stagescape of Cirque Medrano. The music is unabashedly dense but never self-indulgent as can happen with such intricate slow shifting patterns of sound. The sound of the CDs throughout is pristine. A flute of butterflies turns sharper, its now nasal in cadence emerging from the shadows of a recessed doorway in a Tangiers marketplace. One follows these exotic strains into the zocalo. The butterflies turn into wasps, shiny black jewels dotting the various pyramids of fruit and honeyed pastries.

The snare drum brings you back to the theater, the darkness a relief from the sun and conscious thought. The silence is the razor’s edge of the crowds’ quietude, the mime conjuring up his invisible world and the tension of seeing a trick well done. It is entertainment, under the surface of which one can sense mystery and the camaraderie shared with magic and all of the other silent things of the stage.

The set comes with liner notes by Lawrence Cosentino. The CDs slip into the cardboard sleeves, a design I am not a fan of as eventually they could scratch. The sleeve itself opens photo album fashion is black with silver lettering, it feels solid and looks good. The cover image is reminiscent of a Jean Cocteau or some other Montparnassian’s drawing of someone casting a spell. This music is challenging but well worth one’s while. It is the score for daydreams tinted in dark colors and feeling like smoke in one’s hand.

For more information about Alexander Berne you can go to his website at:

*This article is not to be used or reprinted without the expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler (

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