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Tag: free jazz

Great Wit, Surprises, and Outside-the-Box Instrumentation on Baritone Sax Titan Dave Sewelson’s Latest Album

As far as penchant for storytelling, economy of notes and sense of humor are concerned, Dave Sewelson is unsurpassed among baritone saxophonists. It wouldn’t be overhype to count him as one of the greatest and certainly most distinctive voices on that instrument in free jazz. This calmly sagacious elder statesman with a perpetual twinkle in his eye and his reed has put out a ton of albums over the years. It’s a pleasure to report that his latest, The Gate – streaming at Bandcamp – with William Parker on bass and flutes, and Steve Hirsh on drums, is one of his most delightful and energetic. Imagine the jazz band in David Lynch’s Lost Highway, but with a wink instead of a shriek, and you get this.

Sewelson’s next gig is in the middle of an auspicious night of improvisation on Dec 13 at Downtown Music Gallery that starts at 6:30 PM with guitarist Ben Tyree with drummer Sameer Gupta, followed by Abacoa with bassist Kenneth Jimenez, Hery Paz on sax and Willy Rodriguez on drums. Then at 8:30 Sewelson plays with the the Mahakala trio with Hirsch and saxophonist Chad Fowler. At 9:30 noir-inspired low-register reedman Ben Goldberg headlines with a trio.

This a long record, yet it testifies to how interesting improvisation can be when good listeners are creating it. Sewelson is full of surprises starting with a rare appearance on bass in What’s Left, over sixteen minutes of jagged overtones and drony bowing, puffing fujara flute from Parker and a slightly restrained ice-storm attack from Hirsch. Parker’s dexterous, biting solo on the gralla – a Catalan reed oboe – may also come as a surprise, as does Sewelson’s entry on his usual axe, and the duel that ensues.

The 23-minute title track opens with a ridiculous Sewelson joke and a little devious response from Parker as Hirsch edges them toward a slow sway. The bassist pulls toward swing, Sewelson guffly punching and working tireless variations on a simple chromatic riff as Hirsch spins the perimeter. After a tiptoeing Parker solo, the smoky variations return along with a steady upward trajectory toward a flashpoint, and more jokes too good to give away: jazz is seldom this hilarious. And Sewelson just won’t quit, right through the ending.

He wafts his way into Where We Left It, Parker adding rustic fujara atmosphere, Parker sticks with the flute as Sewelson takes over on bass to max out the keening overtones in Another Time. In a bit over thirteen minutes, Slipping has rat-a-tats and shimmers from Hirsch, shivers from Parker and tightly controlled squall that Sewelson takes to a muted shriek before flipping the script and playing around with a couple of garrulously riffy themes over a bubbling, floating swing. Once again, the ending is pretty irresistible.

The duet between Parker’s flute and Sewelson’s sax in So Hum reaches toward Asian mysticism over Hirsch’s spare accents. The trio wind up the album with eight minutes of Paths, a study in contrasts between otherworldly fujara and Sewelson’s characteristically down-to-earth, spacious approach as Hirsch mists the space and prowls around. This is one of the most enjoyable free jazz records this blog has come across in the last several years, no joke.

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A Colorful, Frequently Rapturous Brooklyn Celebration of Yuko Fujiyama’s Music

Last night at Roulette an innovative, inspired cast of Japanese and Americana musicians played a fascinating salute to Yuko Fujiyama, concluding a two-night stand in celebration of the composer and pianist’s individualistic work. The dynamic shifts from animated, incisive, typically somewhat minimalist melodies, to hushed rapture and occasional controlled pandemonium, mirrored a distinctly Japanese sensibility more than the tonalities did.

Solo behind the drumkit, Tetsu Nagasawa opened the evening with an elegant hailstorm on the cymbals. Slowly moving to a coyly noirish rattle, he reached toward gale force, lashing the shoreline before descending to a muted rain on the roof that eventually drifted away. Following a steady, rather hypnotic upward trajectory, he then brought the ambience down to a hushed, shamanic ambience spiced with majestic cymbal washes.

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier then joined him, adding a few judicious plucks over a distant rustle before introducing a staggered, minimalist pedalpoint. Eerie clusters alternated with simple, emphatic rhythmic gestures. Nagasawa signaled a detour into a flickering jungle; a good cop/bad cop high-lo dynamic ensued over a circular rumble. Courvoisier pounced and threw elbows, then she coalesced into a climb that mirrored the opening drum solo as it decayed to silence.

After the intermission, a cross-pollinated ensemble of Do Yeon Kim on gayageum (the magical, warptoned Korean zither), Satoshi Takeishi on drums, Ned Rothenberg on reeds and Shoko Nagai on piano took over with an improvisation that began with a little furtive prowling around and grew more agitated, Kim’s circling riffs leading the way up to an insistent, pansori-like vocal attack.

A bit of a blizzard gave way to rapturous deep-space washes fueled by Rothenberg’s desolate clarinet, Nagai adding icily spacious glimmer. Gently skipping piano anchored crystalline clarinet curlicues, Rothenberg and Nagai converging in dark circles as the other two musicians looked on but eventually edged their way in. Trails of sparks flickered off; Nagai, who’d moved to a small synth, hit a backwards loop pedal; the spaceship reappeared and everyone got in but chaos ensued anyway.

Rothenberg’s eventual decision to pick up his shakuhachi brought a return to woodsy mysticism, from which Nagai, back on piano, led the ensemble on a long scramble. A cantering forward drive and an unexpected turn into neoromantic rivulets grew grittier as Nagai brought the music to a forceful coda.

For the night’s concluding number, Fujiyama took over on piano, bolstered by additional flute and trumpet, with Nagai moving to accordion. Yuma Uesaka conducted. A brief, lustrous introduction set up Fujiyama’s judicious, otherworldly, Messiaenic ripples: mournful late 50s Miles Davis came to mind.

Pensive trumpet amid gingerly romping piano and an uneasy haze were followed by Kim’s graceful bends. which introduced an interlude that quickly grew squirrelly and eventually frantic.

Rothenberg’s emergence as voice of reason was temporary. Uesaka stopped the works, then restarted them as more of a proper upward vector, with flutters from the flutes and two drummers. The allusive charge down to a final drift through the clouds made a fittingly magical conclusion.

The next concert at Roulette is November 27 at 8 PM with John Zorn’s New Masada Quintet; you can get in for $35 in advance.

Zoh Amba Brings Her Thoughtful Intensity to Brooklyn Next Week

Tenor saxophonist Zoh Amba draws comparisons to Albert Ayler, but ultimately she’s her own animal, more influenced by the blues in a JD Allen vein. Isaiah Collier is also a reference point, but where he goes completely feral, Amba is more likely to reach for biting, sometimes acidic Jackie McLean incisions. Amba is leading a quintet with Matt Hollenberg on guitar, Micah Thomas on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass and Marc Edwards on drums at Roulette on Sept 27 at 8 PM. You can get in for $25 in advance.

You can hear a little more than half of her latest album O Life, O Light at Bandcamp – unfortunately, the vinyl of this killer trio session with bassist William Parker and drummer Francisco Mela is sold out. The opening number is Mother’s Hymn: variations on a somber, Birmingham-era Coltrane style theme stripped to its broodingly rustic oldtime gospel roots. Parker bows plaintive responses to Amba’s slow blues riffs as she rises to increasingly imploring intonations. Almost imperceptibly, she takes her blue notes further down toward calm as Mela raises the energy with hypnotic waves of echo effects while Parker fills a familiar role as rock-solid anchor. The interlude where he joins Mela’s vivid splashes against the shoreline is over way too soon The trio bring it full circle in almost fourteen understatedly intense minutes.

The second number, the title track, begins sort of a reverse image with hints of calypso and New Orleans echoes, but it isn’t long before Amba starts with the insistent, trilling motives as Mela builds concentric circles and Parker artfully expands his own modal terrain. Again, Amba brings the ambience back around to a solemn rusticity.

She switches to flute for Mountains in the Predawn Light, pulling back on the attack atop the rhythm section’s slinky chassis. With Mela’s judiciously colorful accents around the kit and every piece of hardware within reach, this is a GREAT drum-and-bass record. There’s also a brief bonus track, Satya reprising the initial theme where Amba cuts loose right off the bat. Finding the perfect balance between melody and squall is always daunting, but these three celebrate that here with purpose and cool triumph.

East First Street Is Positively the Place to Be For Jazz This Sunday

The series of free jazz concerts in Lower East Side parks this fall is an especially good one, and continues into the second week of October. One of the best of the bunch is this Sunday, Sept 25, starting at 1:30 PM with alto saxophonist Aakash Mittal – who’s also scheduled to take a rare turn on clarinet – joined by vocalist Jasmine Wilson and drummer Lesley Mok. Mittal is a beast, a ferociously dynamic improviser who’s immersed himself in both Indian and Middle Eastern music and is not to be missed. At 2:30 bassist William Parker takes a rare turn on sintir, percussion and double reeds alongside Hamid Drake on percussion, which promises to be a good, North African-inspired segue. Alexis Marcelo closes out the night on keys with Adam Lane on bass and Michael Wimberly on drums in the garden at 33 East 1st St.

As you might guess, the artist on the bill who’s most recently appeared on album is Parker: his discography is longer than some books. This could be wrong, but it looks like the latest addition to that body of work is Welcome Adventure Vol. 2, sixty percent of which is streaming at Bandcamp.

The generally august and terse bassist gets off to an unusual racewalking start in the opening number, Sunverified, in tandem with Matthew Shipp’s scampering, sunsplashed piano over drummer Gerald Cleaver’s tumbles and bright cymbals. Daniel Carter’s sax slowly expands from a balmy, anchoring role to biting modalities: lots of outside-the-box playing here.

Track two is Blinking Dawn, Carter blasting through the blinds by himself and having fun with harmonics before Cleaver comes knocking at the door. Shipp punches in hard as Carter’s clarinet floats sepulchrally in Mask Production – a reference to CDC pre-plandemic stockpiling, maybe? Parker’s fluttering and then tiptoeing approach signals Shipp’s equally phantasmagorical stroll. These guys have worked together since forever and this is one of the best things they’ve ever put on cassette (still available at the Bandcamp page!).

The first of the tracks you can only hear on that cassette, at least for now, is Wordwide, which the quartet begin as a lingering nocturnal tableau with Carter on sax, but Shipp is restless and that spreads to Cleaver. The contrast between Carter’s floating sax and Shipp’s elegantly sharp-teethed gearwheels is one of the album’s high points.

The closing number is Da Rest Is Story (good titles here, dudes), Cleaver’s slinky and increasingly animated groove underpinning Carter’s defiant microtonalities as Shipp mines his signature icy, starry modalities. The saxophonist’s mournful circles over the piano’s eerily insistent chime are another of this record’s many attractions – all of which would probably sell more cassettes if everyone could hear them.

The Motive Force Behind One of This Past Year’s Best Jazz Albums Plays His Home Turf

One of the great things about the ongoing free jazz series happening on the Lower East Side into the first week of October is that it’s an excuse to give a listen to some of the parade of artists passing through. One particularly good lineup is this Sept 17 in the community garden at 129 Stanton St just east of Essex, starting at 1:30 PM with Steve Swell on trombone, Kirk Knuffke on cornet and TA Thompson on drums. At 2:30 trumpeter Jaimie Branch brings her enveloping sound, followed at 3:30 by bassist Larry Roland’s Urban Project with keyboardist Kiyoko Layne, trumpeter Waldron Ricks and Thompson back on drums. Drummer Whit Dickey and alto saxophonist Rob Brown wind up the afternoon at 4:30.

Dickey also figures prominently in one of the most lustrously gorgeous jazz albums of the past year, Village Mothership – streaming at Spotify – with bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp. It’s a shout-out to the three’s East Village home turf via a methodical, often rather dark series of longscale pieces topping out at about the eleven minute mark.

The bandleader throws off playful cymbal flickers as Parker spaciously holds the center and Shipp quickly grows to his usual Loch Ness glimmer as the first tune, A Thing and Nothing takes shape, rising resolutely and steadily, then falling away to the stygian depths Shipp mines so well. A wry but disquieting descent ensues into a Twilight Zone of the piano. You could call much of the rest of this ten-minute joint Webernian swing.

Whirling in the Void is less a spin than a stern, emphatic, occasionally crushing modal exploration, Dickey and Shipp chopping the weeds in an abandoned East Village tenement foundation of the mind. When Shipp starts spiraling, Dickey’s judicious half-tumbles are there to catch anything that might fall.

Nothingness is not a John Cage piece but a defragged version of the previous number, clusters juxtaposed with gentle scrambles and hints of a famous Steely Dan theme, Parker dexterously maintaining various central pulses and finally percolating to the surface.

Dickey opens the album’s title track with a spare, nuanced, suspenseful solo before Shipp’s modalities drive it further into the obsidian; this time bass and drums switch roles, more or less sparingly, midway through. The album’s biggest thrill ride is Down Void Way, Parker’s frantic bowing above Shipp’s murky turbulence and variations on the album’s most memorably unsettled theme.

The closing number, Nothing and a Thing, is the most loosely tethered piece here, infused with a solemn bluesiness but also sardonic humor. It’s a clinic in the kind of enigmatic moodiness these three can conjure.

Free Jazz Luminaries on the Loose on the Lower East Side Today

Trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tcheser Holmes are the core of protest jazz improvisers Irreversible Entanglements, who are opening a great afternoon of free jazz at 1:30 PM today, Sept 11 in the community garden at 33 E 1st St. just east of Second Ave. The show continues at 2:30 with violinist  Jason Kao Hwang‘s trio, then at 3:30 there’s vocalist Ellen Christi with bassist William Parker on other strings (sintir, most likely) and Jackson Krall on water phone and drums! East Village stalwart and baritone sax maven Dave Sewelson and his trio with Parker and drummer Bobby Kapp wind it up starting at 4:30.

Navarro and Holmes’ album Heritage of the Invisible II – streaming at Bandcamp – is yet another of the seemingly endless vault of recordings that were on track for a 2020 release but derailed by the plandemic. It’s a kitchen-sink record, peppered with spoken word, electronics, keyboard overdubs and a few cameos. In general, Navarro is the good cop with his terse, incisive themes while Holmes chews the scenery.

The opening and closing numbers are ambient, loopy things that could be termed helicoptering rainscapes. Navarro fires off darkly jubilant riffs into the reverb over Holmes’ driving cymbals in the second track, Plaintains. He hits a loose-limbed clave beneath Navarro’s incisive, flamenco-flavored lines in Pueblo, which is over way too soon. Next, he runs frenetic circles around Navarro’s resonance and Brigitte Zozula’s contrastingly silky vocals.

The rest of the record includes a jaunty piano blues interlude by Nick Sanders; hailstorms of press rolls contrasting with playful, loopy trumpet minimalism; and a couple of frenetic improvisations with Navarro on piano.

Adam Rudolph Brings an Improvisational Army to Central Park on the 10th

Drummer Adam Rudolph takes the title for his new live album Resonant Bodies – streaming at Bandcamp – from the premise that the greater the space, the greater the resonance. He astutely observes that the principle applies as much to our minds as our physical location. Rudolph is bringing an especially mind-expanding version of his largescale improvisational ensemble the Go Organic Orchestra to an outdoor show at the Rumsey Playfield, south of the 72nd St. entrance on the east side of Central Park on Sept 10 at around 9. A pickup band of Moroccan trance and American jazz players who call themselves Gift of Gnawa open the night at 7 with a Don Cherry tribute, followed by what promises to be an especially massive set by many of the rotating cast in the Brooklyn Raga Massive, who push the envelope with traditional Indian sounds.

Rudolph’s new record, recorded in concert at Roulette in November 2015, reveals what was a completely new direction for him since it’s so guitar-centric. The eight-guitar frontline – Nels Cline, Liberty Ellman, Joel Harrison, Jerome Harris, Miles Okazaki, Marco Cappelli, David Gilmore and Kenny Wessel – approaches Glenn Branca scope. Beyond Harrison’s occasional contributions on National steel guitar, Cappelli is the lone acoustic player here. Damon Banks plays bass, sparingly, with Harris contributing on the four strings as well. Rudolph – who also conducts the ensemble – goes behind the kit to rustle around on the final cut.

The esthetic here is more 70s spacerock: the gleefully psychedelic roman-candle reverb-tank pings echoing out into the nebula that opens the record is straight out of the Nektar playbook circa 1970 – or the Grateful Dead in deep, deep space mode, 1983. It’s pretty much impossible to tell who’s playing electric here. Cappelli engages one of the plugged-in crew in a wryly squiggly conversation early on; otherwise, there are echoes of everything from fleeting Eddie Van Halen grotesquerie, to Jim Campilongo noir, Taylor Levine avant-garde grit and Dave Tronzo slither as well as Branca cyclotron swirl.

The second interlude seems based on Caravan, stripped to its most skeletal frame. As the night goes on, delicate picking contrasts with vast, nebulous washes; eerie; lingering modalities give way to a brief southern-fried lapsteel break from Harris. Much of this seems a gentle tug-of-war between clean, uncluttered traditionalism and a disquieting atmosphere that borders on the dystopic. Little did Rudolph or anyone else realize how that dynamic would play out in the years to come.

Free Jazz Icon Daniel Carter Releases a Surreal Virginia Woolf-Inspired Album

Daniel Carter‘s latest addition to his epic discography is The Uproar in Bursts of Sound and Silence. It’s yet another one of those albums whose production was wrapped up in 2019, but which are just now seeing the light of day. It’s a highlight among Carter’s hundreds of releases because it features him mostly on vocals. The New York free jazz multi-wind legend has gone on record as saying that he wants to be a rapper by the time he hits ninety. This album – which is mostly up at Bandcamp – validates that objective.

Two numbers feature Carter doing spoken word excerpts from Virginia Woolf’s iconic, haunting novel The Waves. Carter delivers his own lyrics on another, and there are also two extended instrumentals where he plays flute, clarinet, soprano and alto sax.

The brief first track, Hands, at the Bonfire is all foreshadowing: you have to listen closely to catch the creepy ending as the loopy backdrop from Evan Strauss’ synth and Sheridan Riley’s staggered drums fades out. The second number, Gemini Rising is the the real jazz odyssey here. A guitarist who goes by “5-Track” plays icy chorus-box flares and washes as Strauss’ bass moves slowly and judiciously, matched by Riley’s cymbals while Carter’s overdubs float calmly amid the slowly diverging web recorded in Seattle in 2018. It’s sort of the missing link between Metal Box-era Public Image Ltd., Bill Laswell and Dave Fiuczynski’s eerily starry microtonal work.

Strauss – credited as composer on all the tunes here and drawing on his own transcriptions of birdsong – plays bass plus bass clarinets and tenor sax over a skittish, increasingly quavery forward drive on Examination Exanimation, behind Carter’s fragmentary, metaphorically loaded imagery. The final cut is Aquarian Mars, a jaggedly swaying, creepy ba-bump tune spiced with soaring slide guitar.

Carter’s next gig is at 1:30 PM tomorrow, Sept 5 at that afternoon free jazz extravaganza at the community garden at 129 Stanton St near Essex with soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome and flutist Laura Cocks. Drummer TA Thompson’s Sonic Matters with bassist Ken Filiano and brilliant jazz bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck follows on the bill; the similar and potentially haunting Andrew Lamb Trio close out the afternoon starting at 4.

A Dusky Jewel and a Lower East Side Park Gig From Bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck

Bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck has pushed the envelope with what can be done on one of the world’s most soulful, expressive instruments for more than two decades. She loves extended technique, writes terse and translucent melodies and has no fear of darkness. Her latest, self-titled album – streaming at youtube – dates from the dark days of the 2021 lockdown, a series of rapturous and often plaintive duets with like-minded performers. Schoenbeck’s next show is a prime opportunity to watch her work a similarly intimate magic on Sept 5 at around 2:30 PM in the community garden at 129 Stanton St near Essex, where she’s playing as part of a trio with drummer TA Thompson and bassist Ken Filiano. Soprano sax wizard Sam Newsome opens the afternoon at 1:30 with flutist Laura Cocks and multi-wind icon Daniel Carter; reedman Andrew Lamb and his trio close out the afternoon starting at 4. Take the F or J/M to Delancey St.

The album’s opening track is O’Saris, Schoenbeck building distorted duotones and then a fond nocturne over drummer Harris Eisenstadt’s distant, mystical rumbles and what could be a gong, She provides a solid foundation, playing good cop to Nicole Mitchell’s rather coy responses until the flutist lures her into an increasingly dynamic conversation in the ten-minute Sand Dune Trilogy. Although there are moments of wry humor in places, the duo focus on creating a steely, modal poignancy as they move along.

Schoenbeck’s cover of Lullaby, by Low, with Nels Cline on guitar, is a dystopic dirge: the instant where his acidic spirals launch Schoenbeck’s introductory phrasing will take your breath away. Rising from from minimalist arpeggios, the du0 give you danger before any promise of a new dawn fades to a mechanical chill. It’s impossible to think of a more poignant or spot-on musical reflection of the past thirty months than this.

Then Schoenbeck pairs with Roscoe Mitchell for Chordata, a spacious moment of comic revelry. If you make videos, this makes a great soundtrack for the goofiest meme you can find.

She picks up the pace with pianist Matt Mitchell in Augur Strokes, exchanging enigmatic clusters equally informed by Messiaen and the baroque, punctuated by judicious use of space (a major theme in Schoenbeck’s work). Exploring brooding portents and puckish poltergeist motives, the duo rise to turbulence and then bring everything full circle.

She pairs with Mark Dresser for the aptly titled Absence, a warily expanding, distantly blues-tinged tableau, shadowed by the bassist’s sparse, broodingly bowed washes and flickers. Anaphoria, with Wayne Horvitz, never breaks free from a moody, Armenian-tinged undercurrent despite the pianist’s leaps and bounds.

Cellist Peggy Lee’s muted slashes contrast with Schoenbeck’s haunted explorations, then the two coalesce with their keening, resonant harmonics in Suspend a Bridge. Pianist/songwriter Robin Holcomb sings the allusively portentous final cut, Sugar as Schoenbeck floats elegically overhead:

What’s for certain no one can tell
It’s a low day
Sniper raven in the air
Stealing silver from my hair
Carve initials on the stairs
Then fly away
Your shadow feels the same as you
I wear it as you want me to
Now there’s so much more to do
Until it’s over .

Count this as one of the half-dozen most darkly gorgeous albums of the past year.

Uneasily Enveloping Sonics in a Midtown Park With Rafiq Bhatia and His Trio

“I want to give you permission to just lie down if you want,” guitarist Rafiq Bhatia said to the crowd who’d gathered on the lawn at Bryant Park for his show yesterday evening with trumpeter Riley Mulherkar and drummer Ian Chang. The latter had just opened with a mildly diverting set of solo loopmusic utilizing a variety of electronic patches.

Bhatia has been a prime mover in electroacoustic music in New York for several years. He, too, had plenty of ghosts in his machines, although it was generally easy to tell what he was actually playing and what was just microcircuitry.

His opening number evoked whalesong and birdsong, spiced with gentle volume-knob washes and harmonic plucks, in a Bill Frisell Jr. mode. Chang, having emerged from the metaverse, iced the sonic sculpture with his cymbals as Mulherkar peeked his way in. Bhatia continued to build a brooding, lingering pastorale as the loops behind him flitted further into white noise.

As the night went on, each player left plenty of room for the other, from acidic clouds of overtones, to echoes of noirish Bob Belden-style post-Miles improvisation when Mulherkar would run variations on his own judiciously circling phrases. Bhatia hit his octave pedal (or octave patch, more likely) for minimalistic bass punches as Chang flitted around gracefully: the chemistry between the two was clear, considering their time together in Son Lux.

Swooshy electronic clouds unleashed a gentle quasi-shower from which Mulherkar goodnaturedly emerged into a gently comedic interlude while Bhatia remained attentive, bent over his mixer. But it wasn’t long before the sci-fi noir ambience returned and the trio built to a cold industrial stomp. As the music rose and then Bhatia brought the show full circle, it was all too easy to imagine that this was just another muggy August evening in Manhattan circa 2019, when dystopia was just a theoretical construct that musicians and writers could have fun with since there was a comforting reality to return to when the show was over.

The next free concert at Bryant Park, on August 26 at 7 PM, could be one of this year’s best. Billed as a “habibi festival,” it features three artists and their groups exploring cutting-edge Middle Eastern sounds: North African dancer Esraa Warda & the Châab Lab, eclectic kanun virtuoso Firas Zreik, and haunting French-Tunisian saxophonist Yacine Boulares’ Ajoyo trio.