New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: jazz improvisation

Satoko Fujii Just Keeps Reinventing Herself

From this blog’s perspective, one of the great things about pianist Satoko Fujii coming to town more frequently these days is that it’s an excuse to listen to another one of her records: she puts them out at an astonishing pace matched only by the astonishingly consistent quality of the music. Her next New York gig is at 8 PM this Feb 11 at Roulette with her Kaze quartet; advance tix are $18 and available there on shownights.

Of the new albums, what’s a good one to spin in advance of the show? There are so many: she put out an album a month in 2018. Why not try Triad, her trio record with bassist Joe Fonda and soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo, streaming at Bandcamp

This is Fujii at her most outside-the-box: there doesn’t even seem to be a piano on the record until a couple of minutes into the airy opening number, when it becomes clear that she’s getting the strings inside it to resonate with a few deft punches as Mimmo floats and Fonda goes way up the scale for harmonics you hardly expect from a bass.

The album’s centerpiece is the forty-plus minute improvisation Birthday Girl (the album was recorded on her birthday in 2018). Mimmo gives her a lively shout-out; Fujii’s own entrance is much more austere, echoed by Fonda. With his chords and steady pulse, he holds the center as she clusters tightly, Mimmo in imperturbable good-cop role. Fujii’s icy, Messiaenic insistence, grim low-register riffage, lingering unease and momentary divergences into chaos are typical and classic for her. The hazy sax/bass duet midway through is an unexpected departure.

The remaining three tracks seem like miniatures by comparison. Accidental Partner has a similar carefree/foreboding contrast between sax and piano. No More Bugs is amusingly picturesque and aptly titled. The three close with Joe Melts the Water Boiler, Mimmo finally picking up on Fonda’s sly boogie hints as Fujii plays kitten on the keys.

A Darkly Picturesque Double Album and a Carnegie Hall Debut by Cutting-Edge Bassist Sigurd Hole

Sigurd Hole gets more sound out of his instrument than virtually any other bassist alive. He’s made a name for himself as a purveyor of brooding, envelopingly minimalist themes, but he also uses the entirety of what his instrument can produce. He has a picturesque, vastly dynamic solo album, Lys/Morke, recorded outdoors on a desolate island off the coast of his native Norway. He’s making his Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Hall on Feb 3 at 8 PM, performing many of these pieces. Cover is $25; the record hasn’t hit his Bandcamp page yet.

The first disc begins with the epic Lys. Over sounds of wind and water, Hole employs his bow for harmonics from across the audible spectrum, steady, hypnotic microtonal arpeggios, shivery shards, steady, peacefully minimalist washes and cautious, low-register footfalls.

That template describes much of what Hole does throughout the rest of the record, with frequent, bracing close harmonies, percussive moments and a pensive sketch or two. There’s a breathtaking display of extended technique that would make Charles Mingus proud, where Hole plays what’s essentially a bagpipe dance using high harmonics.

A lively, hypnotically circling theme evokes West African mbira music. In one of the album’s lighter moments, a lumberjack meets considerable resistance in the forest, or so it would seem. The most amusing vignette sounds like a reel of tape winding. Behind Hole, there are moments where the waves or the wind seem to pick up, adding to the general sense of desolation.

That really comes to the forefront as the second record coalesces. Increasingly otherworldly, eerily reverberating, pulsing variations on a stygian drone lead to more discernible, suspenseful melody, beginning with an unexpectedly catchy, gloomy chromatic theme. Hole goes down to his tailpiece for keening, scraping, brushy textures. Hypnotic echoes give way to slowly shifting cloudbanks, low/high contrasts, and a dirge of sorts that morphs into what could be Philip Glass.

Increasingly agitated, sawing phrases grow calmer and more enveloping. The slowly crescendoing vastness of the disc’s title track leads to a spare, spacious conclusion. This isn’t just a showcase for Hole’s fellow bassists to admire: fans of metal, the dark side of psychedelia and jazz improvisation ought to check out these strange and unique creations.

Surreal, Occasionally Assaultive Epics and a Bushwick Brewery Gig from Bassist James Ilgenfritz

You’re going to want to turn down the volume on your device for the first track on bassist James Ilgenfritz‘s wildly uncategorizable new album You Scream a Rapid Language – streaming at Bandcamp – especially if you’re wearing earbuds. Some of this is assaultive, abrasive music, but it can be a treat for people who gravitate toward those kinds of sounds. The bassist’s next gig is a two-night stand with multimedia artist and playwright Sarah Krasnow at Honey’s, a mead brewery at 93 Scott Ave. in Bushwick on Jan 4 and 5 at 8 PM. Cover is $10; since this is happening over another L-pocalypse weekend, if you’re not in the neighborhood, it’s going to be a bitch to get to. The closest train that’s running is the M to Myrtle Ave; you could take your chances with the bus after.

Muted, pummeling beats anchor violinist Pauline Kim Harris’ sharp, shrieking, slashing upper-register riffage in the album’s first track, Terminal Affirmative. As usual, Ilgenfritz writes for every fraction of the available sonics, from nails-down-the-blackboard upper-register harmonics, to cello-like low-midrange washes, to pings and thuds from Alex Cohen’s double bass drum. .And just when you think this might be all shards and fragments, it turns into a witchy tarantella.

The second number, Apophenia III: The Index is a twistedly disjointed electroacoustic epic with lots of sardonic wah-wah, a talkbox, creepy, minimalist piano from Kathleen Supove, sepulchral wisps from James Moore’s guitar and Jennifer Choi’s violin, and a bit of a strolling stalker theme. How to Talk to Your Children About Not Looking at the Eclipse, a chattering solo tableau for Margaret Lancaster’s solo flute, is as ridiculously picturesque as the title suggests.

Freaky faux-operatic spoken word, fragmentary Joseph Kubera piano, flickering bass and lingering vibes from William Winant blend uneasily, sometimes edging toward horror, in Apophenia IV: A Bell in Every Finger. It could be a performance art parody, or maybe everybody just got really stoned before improvising it. Either way, it runs out of gas short of the twelve-minute mark. The album winds up with the five-part suite Fanfares For Modest Accomplishments, played by violin duo String Noise and spanning from chirpy, minimalistic acerbity, to wry conversationality, playfully adrenalizing rollercoaster interludes and a coy false ending.

Haunting Gravitas and Playful Beats with the Karuna Trio at Lincoln Center

This past evening at Lincoln Center, the Karuna Trio shifted between nocturnes and space jams. The nocturnes were intense and brooding, sometimes bordering on the macabre; the space jams ranged from starry effervescence to deep-nebula murk. Considering how many Euro-tourists pass through Jazz at Lincoln Center on any given night, free jazz like this would go over well at a space that so rarely programs it.

But it was great to see the trio of percussionist Adam Rudolph, drummer Hamid Drake and pianist Alexis Marcelo spinning all those sounds out of thin air, a couple of blocks to the north. Creative music tends to be all or nothing: when it’s good, there’s really nothing better. But free jazz also attracts some of the most annoyingly self-indulgent, pretentious players around. You know the type: they only play free jazz because if, perish the thought, they might actually have to say something meaningful, or acknowlege, let alone converse with their bandmates, that might limit their precious self-expression. So watching these three pros teaming up to build a majestic series of waves, and then ride them, was redemptive to say the least. Not to mention a lot of fun.

This was a leisurely, thoughtful performance, the three players leaving plenty of space for each other to think out where they’d go next, or respond to an idea that someone had thrown into the mix, and that empowered the audience just as much. Which made sense, considering Drake’s opening remarks that the spectators are just as integral to a concert as the musicians.

Marcelo played both the role of anchor and outlier. Opening with flickering, light-dappled phrases, then shifting to ominously resonant, vampy chromatic themes often enhanced by or echoing from a synthesizer perched above the keys, he was the dark knight of this soul. Other times, it was clear that the two drummer buds were going to lock in on a long series of subtly interwoven polyrhythms, with Marcelo adding color and texture, and after knocking at the door with one long hammering phrase, finally pulled the two percussionists back out of the sun and into the shadows.

There was also a playful, salsa-tinged interlude initiated by Marcelo; rippling echoes of Satie and the neoromantics; a pause for trinket noisemakers, an unselfconsciously funny one for singing bowls; hints of birdsong and deep-forest wildlife; and a final gnawa-influenced interlude with Rudolph on sintir and Drake on daf frame drum that was beside the point. Anyone in the house who was at this same space a couple of years ago to witness some of Morocco’s great maalems of gnawa music would have recognized that for the ersatz groove that it was. But the depth, and rapture, and generous interplay of the first four-fifths of the show lingered after the trio had left the stage.

Rudolph and his Go Organic Orchestra team up with the Brooklyn Raga Massive to create a monstrous, improvisational forty-person raga orchestra tomorrow night, Dec 13 at 7 PM at CUNY’s Elebash Hall at 365 5th Ave. just north of 34th St.; cover is $25. This year’s final free concert at Lincoln Center’s atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is on Dec 19 at 7:30 PM with Los Rumberos del Callejón bringing their oldschool salsa dura sound out of the alley. The salsa dance concerts here are insanely popular; showing up a half hour early wouldn’t be a bad idea

Irresistible Avant Garde Punk Cello Fun with Okkyung Lee

Over the past year, impresarios Blank Forms have been booking some of the most interesting, individualistic improvisationally-inclined performers in town into some serendipitously unlikely spaces. One of the most entertaining ones, a solo performance by cellist Okkyung Lee, took place last week, late in the series they’d staged at the James Cohan Gallery in Chinatown,  She tends to push the limits of tonality and uses a lot of extended technique, and this brief set – over in twenty-two minutes – was typical.

And especially funny. Setting up in the back of the gallery, she adjusted her chair. It was a heavy chair, and its metal coasters squeaked and shrieked on the stone floor. Was she going to make that part of her performance? Most definitely – but for just a playful twenty seconds or so, midway through.

She began with a furtive, muted, rustling exchange, a conversation that grew more animated and agitated and then gave way to calm, spacious, flitting motives. The only discernible melody was when she played subtly baroque-tinged if defiantly microtonal variations on a series of fifth intervals on open strings. Otherwise, the show was more about timbre and attack and rhythm – and playful narrative – rather than pitch.

She ended it with a very amusing, extended series of call-and-response riffs, pushing her cello on its stand directly into the crowd. By now, the gallery’s rear room was full, and everybody in the middle of the floor was sitting. Was she going to move around anyone? No way. She took her time, firing off bursts and snippets of sound in various audience members’ faces; a few people found this irresistibly funny, but if anyone else was in on the joke, they didn’t give anything away..

Lee didn’t stop going when she’d made her way all the way through the audience, continuing to the front door, then retracing her steps, walking backwards. She didn’t look over her shoulder once, completely deadpan, Moses in reverse as the crowd on the floor parted once more. And then she was done.

Blank Forms’ next concert, on Nov 23 at 7 PM features trumpeter Nate Wooley and ensemble playing his new suite Seven Storey Mountain at St Peter’s Church, 346 W 20th St.; cover is $10

Rapturous, Eclectic Creative Music This Fall in an Unexpected Chinatown Space

One of this year’s most fascinating and eclectic ongoing free concert series is happening right now at the James Cohan Gallery at 48 Walker St, west of Broadway, in Chinatown. Through mid-October, a parade of improvisers, from Middle Eastern and Indian music to postbop and the furthest reaches of free jazz, are playing solo shows in the midst of Josiah McElheny’s futuristic, outer space-themed exhibit Observations at Night. There’s not much seating but there is plenty of standing room.

Last week’s performance by pedal steel legend Susan Alcorn was rapturous, and haunting, and revealingly intimate. Although she used plenty of extended technique – plucking out flickers of harmonics up by the bridge, generating smudgy whirs by rubbing the strings and, for a couple of crescendos, getting the whole rig resonating like at the end of A Day in the Life – she didn’t use a lot of effects, just a touch of reverb from her amp.

She opened the show like a sitar player, building subtle shades off a dark blues phrase, finally flitting and pinging across the strings to contrast with the stygian buildup. Throughout the night, she talked to the crowd more than usual. She explained that the first of many epiphanies that drew her from her original style, country music, to more harmonically complex styles was when, on the way to a gig, she heard Messiaen’s requiem for war victims and was so blown away that she had to pull off the road to listen to it. She was late to that gig, and it took her over a year to tackle the mail-ordered sheet music for the piece, but it was a life-changing event.

Then she played her own original, which she’d written as a requiem in a more general sense for victims of fascism. The Messiaen influence was striking, right from the stern, chillingly chromatic series of opening chords, but from there she went from eerie close-harmonied minimalism to sudden, horrified leaps and bounds, back to mournful stillness.

She explained that she’d always tried to keep music and politics separate, but that the current climate has made that impossible. From there, she shared her horror at how the ugliness of past decades has returned, on a global scale, particularly in Trumpie xenophobia and anti-refugee hostility here at home. With that, she segued from an austere, unexpectedly rhythmic take of Victor Jara song made famous by Violeta Parra, to a brief, longing coda of Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom.

On a similarly outside-the-box if less harrowing note, she made her way methodically from the old countrypolitan ballad I’m Your Toy – which Elvis Costello covered on his Almost Blue album – and then couldn’t resist a verse or two of Almost Blue itself. The man himself couldn’t have been more clever. From there she built reflecting-pool Monk echoes, reveling in the lingering tritones. She closed with an austere, guardedly hopeful take of Song  of the Birds, the moody Catalon folk tune that Pablo Casals would close his infrequent concerts with after he’d gone into exile.

The next show at the gallery is on Sept 25 at 6:30 PM with intense free jazz alto saxophonist Makoto Kawashima.

String Jazz Magic at This Year’s Art in Gardens Series

This year’s free outdoor summer concert series are pretty much over at this point, but there’s another going on in three Lower East Side community gardens through the first weekend of October. The organizers call it Art in Gardens. What’s most exciting is that it’s dedicated to jazz improvisation: right now, it’s the only series of its kind anywhere in town. As you’ll see from the schedule, the lineup is a mix of veterans – some of them admittedly on the self-indulgent/Vision Fest side – but there’s plenty of new blood, and new reasons to chill with neighborhood greenery.

The centerpiece of Sunday’s lineup in the garden on 6th Street between Avenues A and B was Sarah Bernstein‘s mesmerizing Veer Quartet with violinist Sana Nagano, violist Leonor Falcón and cellist Nick Jozwiak. While Bernstein never allows herself to be fenced in by the western scale, it seemed that about eighty percent of her compositions on this particular bill were in those familiar tones.

The music was so fresh that it seemed largely improvised, although the group were all reading from scores. The first number featured a series of exchanges of short, punchy, leaping phrases between individual voices. As the show went on, there was considerable contrast between restless, slowly shifting sustained notes and what has become Bernstein’s signature catchy, rhythmic riffage. As evening drew closer, the tonalties drifted further outside: the most recognizable microtonal piece also managed to have the catchiest twelve-tone phrases bouncing around over achingly tense, often rapturously suspenseful washes of harmony.

There wasn’t much soloing until Jozwiak cut loose with a sizzling downward cadenza and then a fleeting rise afterward, an unexpected jolt of very high voltage. Toward the end of the set, there was finally a furious thicket of bowing and a slowly ascending firestorm in its wake. Otherwise, elegance and sheer tunefulness were the order of the day. There were many moments where only one or two individual instruments were playing, and when the whole group were engaged, Jozwiak would often be plucking out a bassline while one or more of the violins offered keening, sepulchral harmonics far overhead.

Pretty much everything seemed through-composed: verses and choruses didn’t come around a second time, except in later numbers: much of the material would have made sense as a suite. Bernstein’s next gig with this crew is Sept 15 at 7 PM at Spectrum; cover is $15. The next Art in Gardens show features poetry and dance in addition to music: the lineup starts at 1:30 this Saturday afternoon, Sept 14 with Rob Brown on alto sax and Juan Pablo Carletti on drums. At 3:30 Val Jeanty plays percussion, backing dancer Patricia Nicholson and at 4:30 drummer Michael Wimberly teams up with trumpeter Waldron Ricks and bassist Larry Roland at the Children’s Magical Garden, 129 Stanton St, just east of Essex. Can’t vouch for the insect factor at this spot, but on an overcast day the bugs were out in full effect on 6th St.; you might want to slather on some Deep Woods Off or the equivalent.

An Acerbic, Darkly Allusive New String Quartet Album and an Upper East Side Gig from Viola Titan Jessica Pavone

Jessica Pavone is one of this city’s most formidable violists. Her work as a bandleader spans from moody, allusive art-rock – her 2012 album Hope Dawson Is Missing is a classic of its kind – to the scary reaches of improvisation. Her latest release, Brick and Mortar, with her two-violin, two-viola String Ensemble is streaming at Bandcamp and arguably her most rapturously minimalist release yet. Her next New York gig is a solo set on Sept 15 at 7 PM with two other intense improvisers: pianist Cat Toren,and saxophonist Catherine Sikora at the ground-floor El Barrio Art Space at 215 E. 99th St (between Second and Third Ave.). It’s not clear what the order of the musicians is, but each is worth hearing; cover is $20.

The new album opens wth Hurtle and Hurdle, a catchy, hypnotic, acerbic tableau with long, resonant notes soaring and eventually hitting a series of wary cadenzas over a Philip Glass-like backdrop of echo phrases. The group are seamless to the point where it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what – Pavone and Joanna Mattrey on violas, Erica Dicker and Angela Morris on violins. They take it out with a strolling pizzicato riff.

With simple, acidically harmonic sustained tones over a pulsing, repetitive G note and a keening forest of variations, Lullaby and Goodnight is the album’s most minimalistic track. The players’ slow attack and subtly shaded echo effects are a cool enhancement: Glenn Branca’s symphonic work seems to be an influence. The drone picks up without the rhythm in the title cut, its layered shadings creating an effect like a parking lot full of cars with their horns all more or less stuck, combining to play a seventh chord. The punchline is too good to give away.

Sooner or Later is a diptych: a series of hypnotic, cell-like variations like Caroline Shaw through a funhouse mirror at halfspeed, then a surreal reel. The final number is By and Large, its fleeting echoes and doppler effects growing lusher and more disquieting as the individual voices close harmonies branch out. Play loud to max out the increasingly rich wash of overtones.

Elegantly Riveting Intensity in Brooklyn with Luisa Muhr and C. Lavender

Last night at Spectrum dancer Luisa Muhr and sound sculptor C. Lavender improvised a literally mesmerizing, often haunting multimedia sonata of sorts, complete with variations on a series of recurrent tropes and gestures. It had all the intensity of butoh, but none of the brutality.

Muhr, dressed in a stark, loosely fitting black cotton top and pants, her hair back, typically moved in sync with Lavender’s electroacoustically-enhanced drumming –  even if that rhythm was often implied. Her timing was striking to witness. For much of the performance, Muhr swayed, turned, rose and fell at halfspeed, as if underwater. Much of her time onstage was spent contending with an invisible tether:, which seemed to encircle her, encumber her feet, hung in front of her face where she could analyze it, then became a sudden threat. But just when it seemed that it had finally sent her into a fetal position, and then a crumpled form at the very edge of the stage, she rose from the depths, slowly but ineluctably, in an understatedly steely display of athletic command.

Muhr’s green eyes are profoundly expressive: like a young Liv Ullmann, she excels at channeling very subtle or conflicted emotions. At times, Muhr’s features were undeterred yet shadowed with unease, especially toward the end of the show where she dealt with what could have been an unseen mirror, a hostile presence lurking beyond the stage, or both. Likewise, during the tether sequence, she fixed her gaze with an unwavering composure but also a profound sadness. This may have been a job she had to finish, but it was ripping her up inside. What exactly was responsible for that, we never found out, although any woman in the current political climate faces an uphill struggle with no comfortable conclusion in sight.

Lavender played a set of syndrums and also a dulcimer, which she hit gently with mallets. She ran the sometimes murky, sometimes much more pointillistic torrents of beats through a mixer for effects that diminished from turbulence to a trickle; then the river rose again. Meanwhile, even while the sound looped back through the mix, she doubled the rhythm, adding a layer of arid, blippy textures above the thump and throb. There were also moments when the sound subsided where she’d get the dulcimer quietly humming, or would build austere blocks of close harmonies and spin then them back through the vortex. Seated centerstage, there was as much elegance as restlessness in her performance, something drummers rarely get to channel: often, she was just as fascinating to watch as Muhr.

Contrasting Styles at an Intriguing Prospect Lefferts Gardens Jazz Twinbill This Week

There’s an especially intriguing jazz twinbill this August 15 starting at around 8 at the Owl. Multi-reedman Mike McGinnis – who excels at both pastoral jazz and large-ensemble pieces – leads a quartet with the perennially tuneful Jacob Sacks on piano. They’re followed by alto player Jonathon Crompton – whose methodically drifting compositions blur the line between indie classical and free improvisation – doing the album release show for his new one, Intuit with Ingrid Laubrock, Patrick Booth and Patrick Breiner on tenor sax, plus bassist Adam Hopkins and drummer Kate Gentile.

On this album – streaming at Bandcamp – Crompton and the group focus closely on echo effects and shadowing. Tempos, when they coalesce, are on the slow side: there’s a very baroque feel to much of this. They open with the title track, which is trippy to the extreme. A three-way conversation in birdsong-like figures develops into a shadow of a boisterous New Orleans march, shifting in and out (mostly out) of focus, sustain punctuated by squonk. From there, the group provide a hazy, flickering backdrop for Crompton’s forlorn, Mike Maneri-style microtonal wisps and cries before everyone joins in a surrealistic exchange of echoes. A backward masking pedal seems to be involved.

Courage, the pensive, drummerless fugue after that, is closer to indie classical than jazz. Breiner’s enigmatically balletesque bass clarinet and Hopkins’ peppy bass join in a duet to open Apathy; then the band come in and sway sardonically through a hangdog theme and squirrelly variations. In Dreaming, the group come together out of a quasi-classical hint of a round into a jaunty strut that the bandleader pokes at, but can’t quite derail.

The gently triangulated fugue Primacy of Gesture and Catherine (for Cathlene) make an increasingly lively diptych, increasingly cartoonish humor pushing the tightlipped, Bach-like riffs out of the picture. Crompton’s Suite in A Major first traces the deconstruction of a carefree second-line tune, everybody taking turns holding the center and then breaking free. The second part, with its brooding, muted, plaintively funereal harmonies, is the high point of the album. The concluding number, December makes a return to the neo-baroque: it’s deceptively simple, thoughtfully executed and speaks well to Crompton’s uncluttered, moody sensibility,