pfMENTUM Selected Reviews


pfMENTUM Selected Reviews

Here is a partial list of pfMENTUM selected reviews. We are still adding to it, please help out by submitting missing reviews with the contact form at the top of the page.





In a way, Quentin Tolimieri may appear as an enigma. A pianist/composer who has published his music on labels such as Edition Wandelweiser and Creative Sources could generate in the (silly) reviewer a certain kind of expectation, grounded on the commonplace according to which those imprints privilege acoustic environments often close to stillness. I never listened to the recordings anyway – will definitely do – therefore this is a first meeting for me. In opposition to the aforesaid expectations, Piano consists of a fair number of tracks (including two variations on famous jazz standards) where the dosage of notes played is, in general, rather high. But, above all, it’s the artist’s lucidity that convinces in full. For all this, the listener grows the feeling of sitting in front of a special act.

Tolimieri knows – and masterfully exploits – the value of the relationship between a given temporal fragment and the almost implausible independence of his fingers, each one seemingly looking to find a different rhythmic illumination, or a plurality of answers to as many technically advanced riddles. Besides, when relaxed atmospheres are evoked (see the version of “On Green Dolphin Street”), even the more spacious chords get studded with intriguing shades and small clusters, the harmony “tarnished” via a sensible use of dissonant resolutions, so to speak. In essence, nothing ever remains genuinely suspended in the sound of this awesome performer, except perhaps in the last episode “Fin”, a cascade of wonderfully oblique arpeggios. The sense of complex geometries in perpetual motion, the instinctively efficient translation of the improvisational intuition, and Tolimieri’s highly developed inner ear amount to an assurance of excellence. The record was released in 2017, but it will ring in your darling reporter’s memory for countless years to come. Hopefully many of you, dear readers, will try to share the experience.



ICE: Party Pack

by George W. Harris • January 11, 2018

Consisting of Adam Hopkins/b, Dustin Carlson/g, Nathan Ellman-Bell/dr and the two tenor team of Patrick Breiner & Eric Trudel, the band ICE specializes in free form material supplied by Hopkins’ pen. The band is recorded in concert at the iBeam in Brooklyn, 2016, with seven wild and whooley originals. The show is bookended by two short pieces, “39.6432N” and “76.7408W” which are reed workouts for effects and mouthpieces. Other tunes such as “ Duckpin” come off like a tenor sax traffic jam, while chirps and thundering rock drumming takes place on “Little Mathletes” while Hopkins gets salient with jarring reeds on the brisk paced “The Stephanies.” A mix of mayhem and cacophony dominate this album that is reminiscent of Naples’ Via Nazionale with a street full of honking horns.


Quentin Tolimieri: Piano

by George W. Harris • February 9, 2017

Yes, there is a piano being played by Quentin Tolimieri on this solo album of 8 pieces, 6 of which are originals. All eight are free form explorations with tension and assertiveness. For 16 minutes, “Changing/Time” is a relentless run of rapid finger contortions, while “Shorty” prances for a minute and a half.” His fingers chop up the ivories on ”Fours and Ones” he jumps on shattered glass on “Fin.” Of the covers, “On Green Dolphin Street” is almost unidentifiable with dark, stark and short bursts, and “Well, You Needn’t” has two coexisting pairs of hands arms wrestling. Complex and dexterous, but can’t there also be some exhaling along with inhalation?


BillieJoe 3/30/2016

Recorded in Sebastopol. Walton on piano and Isbin on guitar. Short stringy songs featuring an eight course lute. It gets freer towards the end of the album such as the grabby screechy bass on track 7. One track is named Terpsichore which is the muse of dance from Greek mythology. Some of it is rather classical and chambery.

— Billie Joe Tolliver


Saturn’s Rival: Saturn’s Rival

by George W. Harris January 8, 2015

I’ve come to the conclusion that free jazz is a lot like Nascar races. It’s exciting to see live for the energy and danger, but just listening to the sounds takes away too much. Here, you have a perfect example, with the dexterous team of Maxwell Gualtieri/g, Susan Allen/harp, Richard Valitutto/p, Ryan Parrish/woodwinds and Anjilla Piazza/perc. You’ve got 4 compositions, three between 5-9 minutes and one clocking in at 22. The tunes have no names, on Super Bowl Roman Numerals, so I has 7 minutes of guitar scratches, percussive musings and eerie tenor blowings, III is just under 9 minutes of electronic noodlings that sound like something from the movie Forbidden Planet, IV starts out sounding like the Rinse Cycle from your washing machine setting before delving into Sci Fi scratches, and II is 21:58 of flute cheerings, percussive flutters, harp and electronic effects, a cacophony of violin and harps and finally something that sounds like a group of chipmunks gathering their nuts for the winter. Very geographical-had to be there.


Jeff Kaiser and Phil Skaller: Endless Pie

Posted by eskaton

Feb 05 2014

Artist: Jeff Kaiser and Phil Skaller

Title: Endless Pie

This is a collaboration between Jeff Kaiser (trumpet, flugelhorn, voice, and electronics) and Phil Skaller (prepared piano). I was unfamiliar with their work, and the artwork looked pretty cheesy, so I didn't really expect a whole lot. And then I put in disc 1 (blueberry pie), pressed play, and was assaulted by 'Unchangeable Fundament,' a 13 minute opus of spastic improvisation and demented scat singing. It was amazing. But few can keep up that kind of intensity, and the next few tracks were not as engaging. 'People from the Machinations' was really minimal, and by the time it redeemed itself with more weird vocals, I had almost lost interest. But then 'Two Unknowns, The One Being' shows that they can still be minimal and engaging, with a lot of dissonance. This gets more interesting as it progresses, and reminded me a bit of Bob Ostertag's 'Attention Span.' And then we are on to two more standout tracks. 'Galileo Uses Propaganda' comes out of the gate fighting, with distorted screams over machine gun piano. This is noisy and awesome. 'Anticipated By Bacon' continues its crunchy, reeling ride, which also moves into rapid fire horn and piano. The rest of the disc continues with a decent mix of chill elements and speed. Moving on to disc 2 (cherry pie), we once again begin with my favorite kind of jazz ' crazy. 'The Puppet Does Not Have A Soul' is almost 15 minutes of crazy improv, noisy and chaotic with lots of feedback. Unfortunately, disc 2 is not nearly as engaging as disc 1, since it seems that this is where they decide to showcase their minimal side. For example, 'Behave Very Much Like After-Images' is really sparse and minimal. There is a lot of clicks and not a lot else. 'The Problem of Telescopic Vision' is almost like listening in on a recording of a warm up, with a few notes and some scratching that never really goes anywhere. 'As Some Relics' started off promising, with some scratching, bottles rattling, slow trumpet, and some piano string plucking which then moves into what sounds like a didgeridoo, but it's kind of all over the place and doesn't seem to have anything keeping it together. We finish off the disc with some noisy jazz. Perhaps the best analogy I could give is that if the blueberry disc were a solid, then the cherry disc would be a gas. It's almost like two very different albums in the same container, so this is a mixed bag. When I have pie, I like it to have some weight to it. Those whose tastes tend toward the minimalist may prefer the sugar-free diet pie. This album weighs in at around 109 minutes.

Jeff Denson & Claudio Puntin: Two

by George W. Harris

July 3, 2014

Bassist Jeff Denson has a pair of duet discs that are as diverse as you can desire.

On Two, Denson teams up with Claudio Puntin, who mixes clarinet, bass clarinet, analog preparations (read “electronic doodles”) and tarcas with Denson’s bowing and plucks. Some of the pieces, such as “You Don’t Say,” “First Take-Scanning Souls” and “A Sunday Afternoon…” have a bluesy and gentle lyricism that is most alluring. Others such as “Frozen Oscillations” and “Black Lilies” mix electronic and eerie musings/wizardry to moody reed sounds, with “Un Sueno Distante” sounding like Peruvian pan pipes. A mix of sublime with jagged edges.

CD reviews: It takes two for Bay Area bassist Jeff Denson

By: David Becker Sep 4, 2014

The mood is strikingly different on Two, a collection of pure improvisations with European reeds player Claudio Puntin. Denson has made extensive studies in classical music, and his New Music leanings are evident here as he and Puntin navigate constructions that rely less on formal structure than tone and nuance.

"Black Lilies" lurches from Puntin's airy clarinet swirls to hypnotic minimalism, a theme that continues with Denson's driving rhythmic pattern on "Variation on a Point of View." Bracing stuff, but edgy enough to make you grateful when the pair settle into a more traditional jazz groove, as with Denson's gracefully sauntering bass lines and Puntin's New Orleans-y clarinet curlicues on "A Sunday Afternoon and Still Surprising" and the lighthearted, samba-flavored "Un Sueno Distante."

Fauna: Fauna


July 10, 2014

BoSS è l'acronimo di "bonsai sound sculpture," uno strumento modulare portatile composto da un giradischi riciclato, elettronica DIY (fai da te), percussioni metalliche amplificate e corde varie. Ideatore del marchingegno è Paul Stapleton, sound artist originario della California meridionale attualmente residente a Belfast, Irlanda del Nord.

Frequentatore assiduo della sperimentazione anche estrema attraverso la ricerca e l'assemblaggio di ogni tipo di oggetti, Stapleton vanta diverse collaborazioni in vari ambiti musicali e tra queste quella con il sassofonista Simon Rose ben testimoniata dall'album Fauna.

Rose fa ampio uso della respirazione circolare e di altre tecniche non ortodosse ma non è mera esibizione tecnica quanto profonda ricerca sul suono e sulle potenzialità espressive dello strumento. L'interazione tra i due è assai stimolante anche perché BoSS funziona come un generatore continuo di impulsi differenziati.

Quando a prevalere sono i metalli e gli effetti risonanti prende corpo una sorta di meditazione zen nella quale il baritono evoca il corno tibetano e l'atmosfera diventa rarefatta e meditativa. Se gli sfrigolii elettrici lanciano segnali che sembrano provenire dallo spazio allora il sassofono rimanda le scosse ricevute sotto forma di vibrazioni in cui si accumula tensione ed il flusso diventa più scorbutico e nervoso.

Paul Stapleton & Simon Rose


review by Dave Madden


It's the greatest story Hollywood can muster: "differences find a way to make it work", such as , Fools Rush In (Matthew Perry actually has a hard time loving Salma Hayek?), Enemy Mine and the episode of (vintage) Battlestar Galactica where Starbuck and a Cylon, stranded on a planet together, get in adventures and eventually recognize the good in each other ("Cy" eventually dies in the lieutenant's arms). I guess a whole movie about two cultures / a romantic couple sans tension, celebrating dissimilarity and getting along really welldoesn't make for an engaging two-hour ride.

But this theme does translate really well when applied to fifty minutes of improvised music.

Fauna is a wonderful mixture of two disparate instruments, self-compelled to find a bond. Simon Rose on baritone and alto sax meets Paul Stapleton and his Bonsai Sound Sculpture (BoSS), a contraption that melds a turntable with metallic surfaces (homemade mbiras, a three-stringed harp, etc.), manipulation and amplification. They have almost nothing in common, but the fervent, alien textures created from a reed and a box of tricks are ear-prickingly inviting. For the opener, "Borealis", the duo comes out swinging with Rose's staccato hiccups and Stapleton actively rattling his machine (think prepared piano sounds). They swap melodies, ranges, attitudes and occasionally bisect points of interdependence with Rose carrying the last few minutes in a rapid, vibrating, pulsing murmur. On "Felt", Stapleton demonstrates his ability to deconstruct the notion of turntablism which he takes from mere abstract scratching to mechanical purrs to mouse song to dog whistle to electrical misfires; Rose is patient, fading a warbling ostinato in and out of tempi and dynamic swells. The duo is deft at keeping a tense bubble of intrigue on "Deep" and "Zwischenfall", where space and pause are incorporated to enjoy the whisper and spittle, resonance of bells and strings and rumble of thumps. Stapleton and Rose blend these techniques, incongruous colors and shapes throughout the disc, eventually closing out the finale, "Vertreiben", with a bulbous, static drone cloud.

Stapleton and Rose successfully smooth out the seams and stiches of this Frankenstein with a sensitivity to their craft and each other while exploring an uncharted android aesthetic. One thinks about musical inventor Harry Partch who tried to find an almost more refined musical dialect, or replace Latin with Sanskrit as a baseline for his and his client's endeavors; however — and no insult to Partch — whereas he sought an extension, this duo looks for what's on the other side.


McNalley plays past the musical standard


NOV 29, 2013

If at first you don't relate what 31-year-old Tom McNalley plays to what you know of the guitar, don't be put off. He's not approaching either the instrument or his music in a conventional way.

Distorted effects, clean picking, ferocious fusillades, crystalline confessional reveries, angular melodies, unexpected lyricism and well-placed accompanying chords are all part of the improvisational mix.

“Tom's all the things you'd want in a musician,” says trumpeter and San Diego State teacher Jeff Kaiser. “His musical sensibility transcends the instrument. He's known for his free-form electric guitar playing but I've had him demonstrate classic slide and traditional blues techniques to my blues classes.”

Trombonist Mike Vlatkovich first ran across the teenage McNalley in Portland. “He was studying with trumpeter Rob Blakeslee and saxophonist Dave Gross,” Vlatkovich notes. “It was unusual for me to find someone so incredibly passionate about this music; he was like a sponge. And he was certainly not playing like a standard guitarist — you wouldn't hear Tom playing tunes in a lounge.”

McNalley would later be invited to improvise with the trombonist and the late poet Dorothea Grossman in their Call and Response duo. “He figured out what I was doing immediately,” says Vlatkovich. “Soloing is one of his strong points, so he worked to compliment the words and create pictures with sound.”

Portland saxophonist Rich Halley has also tracked McNalley since the latter's teen years. “Playing with Michael has helped Tom develop his own stuff further,” says Halley. “Call and Response got him into subtle sound shadings. But his involvement with Caribbean music has added more depth and aliveness to Tom's playing.”

Shortly after McNalley moved to Los Angeles in 2005, he met the displaced Haitian musicians who congregated around TiGeorge's Chicken in Echo Park and began playing with them. “They taught me the Kompa style,” McNalley relates from his L.A. home. “It's a little more rhythmically and harmonically intricate than Soka. The chord progressions are longer and the rhythms are very funky — more African. That led me to Rasim, which is Creole for ‘roots.' That's harmonically simpler but rhythmically very rich and extremely intense. It's basically voodoo music.”

By then McNalley had begun traveling to New York and spending quality time with Harmolodic avatar Ornette Coleman. “I played with the Haitians right after I got back from New York one time, and when I took it further out they went bonkers, yelling ‘Heat it up!' The melodies are strong in both kinds of music.”

Coleman is not known for being either forthcoming or outgoing, yet the guitarist has been granted unusual access to the enigmatic alto saxophonist. “There were no barriers to him explaining the nuts-and-bolts of his music,” McNalley reveals. “He taught me specific things like certain pivot notes that can modulate from key to key. He's quite brilliant.”

Of all the situations he plays in, McNalley is particularly fond of his trio with bassist Scott Walton and drummer Alex Cline. That configuration opens for saxophonist Peter Kuhn at Cline's Open Gate Theatre offering Sunday at Eagle Rock's Center for the Arts.

“I love playing with them,” McNalley exults. “They're both very sensitive and very fast. They're such great musicians that I barely have to do anything at all — the music just plays itself. And they're both pretty devilish; you never know what's going to happen with them. They can add something subtle or explosive and it will immediately take the music to a new place.”

The goal for his music relates to McNalley's formative days. “I used to listen to Rob Blakeslee and drummer Billy Mintz play duets,” McNalley muses. “I must have heard them 20 or 30 times and they just knocked me out every time. It put me in a dreamlike state and afterwards I just felt cleansed. Ornette does the same thing to me when he plays. That's what I want to do — make the strongest, most beautiful music possible.”



Most of today’s jazz/rock/fusion releases fall widely off the target of bringing back the genre to its ancient laurels, rather tending to become corporate wallpaper for supermarket managers; on the contrary, this live recording of organist Wayne Peet, here flanked by G.E.Stinson and Nels Cline on guitars plus Russell Bizzett on drums really kicks some ass, imbued as it is of raw energy, streetfight creativity and electric wisdom. One could get a good point comparing this stuff to a miniature replica of various incarnations of Miles Davis bands – think a cross of “Jack Johnson” and “You’re under arrest”; other references could be found in the music of another “famous Wayne” (Horvitz) during his most acid expressions. Nevertheless, Peet and his friends play ambitiously loud, their contracted fury articulating in sinuously scorching guitar parts, propulsive drumming and massive Hammond turbulence; what finally emerges is a collective personality born from a roaring heart which alone is able to keep you on the ropes for the whole duration of the disc.

FEBRUARY 13, 2013




The sketches contained by this exquisite record are rooted in a friendship that has been going on since the 90s, when Andrew Pask (soprano sax, bass clarinet and live processing) and Jonathan Besser (piano) both lived and played in New Zealand. Over the years the couple has undergone a nice share of significant (or less) musical experiences, from Ed Ware to Hong Kong hotels, bars and Cantopop (is this a karaoke thing?). The reedist reports that when they took advantage of a suddenly available stretch in Wayne Peet’s studio, the feeling was one of restart of an amicable conversation after a long time. Indeed there’s a sense of intimacy in many of these improvisations, which the unobtrusive treatment of Pask’s reeds modifies just that bit to render things a little more slanted, if always totally gratifying. “Cloud formation microscope” is a jewel of deformed multiphonic restraint over a cycle of secludedly pensive chords that comes much appreciated in an era where slapdash banging is often the menu du jour. In“Wellington Harbour”, the bass clarinet seems to gently wipe the dust off a forgotten old piano to elicit memories that are willing to be retrieved but, on a second thought, are better left where they are. In the most complicated yet ever enjoyable interconnections atonal flights, nightmarish marches and compressed dynamism translate the listening experience into an exercise in sensitive unconcern, Pask and Besser’s impressive technique at the service of a music that shines bright in repeated circumstances, without any sort of uncertainty.

FEBRUARY 13, 2013


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gilbert Isbin & Scott Walton, Recall

Gilbert Isbin and Scott Walton give us that most rare of duo combinations, and a whole disk's worth at that: the meeting of lute and contrabass. Recall (pfMentum 073) is the title, and it has resonance, since there is a deja vu quality to the music.

Isbin is at the lute, Walton on the bass. Together they traverse a sort of free/composed territory that combines avant improv with echoes of early music lute sounds. Not just echoes, but not direct quotations mostly, with one medieval Welsh folksong being the exception.

It's a pretty magical combination and a provocative, very well played program. Both are impressive exponents of their instruments and they work together closely and quite productively.

It's a CD you might not expect. Once you hear it a few times it starts getting to you in nice ways.

There may be nothing else like it out there. And it's good. Happy listening!

Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 7:04 AM

January 2013

Gilbert Isbin & Scott Walton - Recall (CD, pfMENTUM, Progressive/instrumental)

We can't recall having ever received a submission from a duo playing lute and this album immediately made an impression on us. Gilbert Isbin is a composer, improviser, guitarist, and lutenist. Scott Walton is a bassist and pianist who plays jazz, free improvisation, and classical avant-garde. Recall joins the worlds of both artists...and the resulting tracks are much more smooth and listenable than you might expect. This fifteen tracks on Recall are unorthodox and contain plenty of unsupervised spontaneity...but because of the stark nature of the recordings these compositions have strange inviting qualities that make them sound like the soundtrack to an underground art film. This could probably best be described as modern classical music...but it should actually appeal to a broad range of listeners. Just over 42 minutes worth of cool music here. Our favorites include "Solace," "Oblique," "Werving," and "Recall."


Vital Weekly 864


Isbin is a well-known name to me, as I know my way in the Belgian scene quite well. But I must admit I never crossed ways with him earlier. He is a composer, improviser, guitarist and lutenist, from Brugge, Belgium. He started as a lute player of baroque music, but his love for composing directed him towards contemporary music for guitar. This led to many collaborations over the years (Fred van Hove, Jaap Blonk, Joe Fonda, etc). His music shows many sides: raga, blues, jazz, Brazilian music, etc. This new release with Scott Walton combines his love for old and new music. As it has Isbin playing lute again with Walton on bass. Because of the lute, one may think of Jozef van Wissem who also plays this instrument. But his very conceptual work has nothing to do with what Isbin is aiming at. Isbin and Walton play a music that is inspired on music of the renaissance as well as jazz. A perfect, and in any case, an unusual and surprising blend. Scott Walton is a bassist and pianist from the States, who played and recorded with people like George Lewis, Leo Smith, John Carter, etc. Performer, as a pianist of work by Ives for example. In 2005 he played in a trio with Isbin and Jeff Gauthier. Since this date Walton and Isbin started to develop their unique crossover that is presented here on this new disc, that was recorded in october 2011. Six tracks are composed by Isbin. They are melodic and close to jazz. Eight pieces are by Isbin and Walton. These pieces sound as the result of improvisation. Then there is one old – Flemish medieval – song, called ‘Soedansdochter’. Their music is of an eclectic nature, but far from a superficial meeting of different musical idioms. The results work wonderfully. The music dwells in pastoral and melancholy moods and atmospheres. There is fine interplay and dueling to be enjoyed. A very satisfying and convincing work. (DM)

Recall - Gilbert Isbin; Scott Walton

Written by Daniel Moore

Category: Jazz and Improvised

Published: 29 March 2013

Gilbert Isbin; Scott Walton

Very little contemporary music has been written for the lute. While the guitar has been featured prominently throughout the 20th century, the lute can often feel like it belongs to another era entirely. Gilbert Isbin seeks to remedy this with his latest disc. Recorded in October of 2011, Recall features Isbin on lute and Scott Walton on bass.

The disc contains a series of short compositions and improvisations. Although much of the material is thematically linked, each piece begins to feel like its own short story. Interplay is emphasized here with both performers skilfully manoeuvring between composed sections and more freely improvised passages. This is evident on the track Pensive, with Isbin laying down a harmonic foundation for Walton’s extended bowing techniques. The result is akin to a short piece by Morton Feldman. Timbre is important throughout the set and delicate unison passages can often give way to more turbulent textures. Flutter is a good example of this, with the duo settling into a groove before evolving naturally into a section of free improvisation. This configuration allows for a great deal of space in the music that each performer seems comfortable exploring. Overall, this is a very engaging set from two creative musicians.


Improvijazzation Nation

Issue 130 reviews

Gilbert Isbin/Scott Walton – RECALL: Gilbert’s lute and Scott’s bass are absolutely perfect together… it’s almost like they’re having a private conversation in your speakers (that they’ve invited you to listen in on), no doubt about it… as I listen to “Flutter“, I’m more than just “pleasantly surprised”… this is the stuff jazz dreams (no, not nightmares) are made of – if you have even a partial sense of adventure in your listening habits, you will love this one! My absolute personal favorite, though, is the 2:09 “Unhinged“… if you weren’t when you started, listening – you will be by the end… lol! 15 keepers on this CD – I give it a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98. Rotcod Zzaj


Skaller/Holt Duo – “Music of Mark Dresser” – [Pfmentum]



Hampshire College, a unique place featuring majors such as magic and juggling, was the common point for the artists who put this release together. Composer Mark Dresser taught improvisation at Hampshire, Phil Skaller was his teaching assistant, and Phil knew Danny Holt. Dresser’s excellent liner notes to this CD detail the intricacies of how Skaller and Holt teamed up to reinvent Dresser’s compositions using pianos, celeste, toy piano, melodica, and percussion. The result is a delightful combination of traditional and improvised piano ventures into virtuosity and jangle jam rhythms. Track 3 is a minimal piece of sweet bells tinkling and plinking, while 4 is noteworthy for its ability to morph from a slow pace to a more jazzy andante piece that showcases the musicians’ talents nicely.

A&A #335 reviews

March 2012

Skaller/Holt Duo Music of Mark Dresser (pfMENTUM)

Mark Dresser is a well-traveled double-bassist who is also a highly-regarded avant garde composer. He doesn't have much use for traditional forms, but he still binds his songs together with powerful ideas. Philip Skaller and Danny Holt do a fine job of presenting minimalist, two-piano versions of five Dresser pieces. This is a whole new way to hear Dresser's work, and the album is most impressive.

Dick Wood: Not Far From Here


January 5, 2012

California reed man Dck Wood's heterogeneous union of influences from New Orleans, Louis Armstrong, John Cage and a consortium of other luminaries are rather subliminally packaged throughout this audacious studio date. Here, the artist gives the always-thriving West Coast progressive-jazz scene yet another jolt, as his semi-structured arrangements are fashioned with shadowy song-forms, peppered with dissonant tonal swashes, electronics and bizarre interludes. Wood also infuses humor and pathos into the fluid story lines, often proposing interpretations of social pandemonium.

There are many highlights and enthralling aspects, largely concerning Wood's interweaving and layered horns parts, embracing swing, free-bop, free-jazz and more. "No Known Knowns" is a hybrid of avant-garde jazz and free-chamber composition, featuring Mark Trayle's live electronics and bassist Hal Onserud's bowed lines. It's an eerie piece that includes onetime USA Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's voice, filtered through delay processes.

The band introduces a gyrating plot, including the hornists' discombobulated snippets of sound. Portraitures of an unsettled world comes to mind, abetted by the artists' scraping, tugging and spiraling treatments, shaded by cornetist Dan Clucas's terse breakouts and Trayle's streaming electronics. Yet Wood's whispery flute phrasings bring the finale to an ambiguous note, perhaps suggesting that dire circumstances remain intact. Wood's vivid imagery provides added depth to an intensely invigorating program, teeming with fascinating arrangements and the ensemble's manifold scope of attack.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jeff Kaiser, Tom McNalley, Ted Byrnes, "External Logic Machine"

External Logic Machine (pfMENTUM 066) is the provocative product of the trio collective of Jeff Kaiser (Bb trumpet, quartertone trumpet, flugel), Tom McNalley (acoustic and resonator guitars), and Ted Byrnes (percussion). This is free, abstract fare, with all three players playing top-tier outside music in the contrapuntally dense and noise-encompassing manner of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, to take an example.

They have their own way of going about it and they do it well. Jeff K. plays muted and open horn with inventiveness, occasionally evoking an earlier time in jazz via the cup mute, but mostly contributing his brass sounds to the dense mix. Tom M. plays in a complementary mode with irregular abstractions of notes sometimes sounding like Delta blues off in space (his handling of the resonator must give me that impression in part), other times sounding nicely out and irregular. Ted Byrnes has an appealing all-encompassing junkstra sort of percussion style, with metallic, skin and wood tones setting up a wide spectrum of sound colors that lay out well and give the other two improvisers a carpet to work off of.

There are a few occasions that seem less inspired (though not less intense). Nevertheless this is an excellent set of avant improv overall. All three realize personal voices; together they have a supra-personal sound.

Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 9:21 AM

monday, may 21, 2012

Michael Vlatkovich Ensemblio, An Autobiography of a Pronoun

Trombonist-composer Michael Vlatkovich has been responsible for some excellent avant music in the past. His latest may well be his most ambitious, and perhaps his most original. I speak of his An Autobiography of a Pronoun(pf MENTUM 067). It's been out for a little while but I am just getting to it (hey it's just me here, covering 500-1000 recordings per year on the three blogs).

I'm certainly glad of it because this one is very worthwhile. It's a fairly large ensemble, eleven musicians to be exact, doing Michael's compositions. Besides Vlakovitch there's Jeff Kaiser, William Roper, Brian Walsh, Harry Scorzo, Jonathan Golove, Tom McNalley, Wayne Peet, Anders Swanson, Mark Burdon, Ellington Peet. Brass, wind, strings, piano, bass, drums/percussion is how it breaks down.

The music strikes a good balance between the composed elements and the loose improvisational/spontaneous stance. When there's pulsation it is made more complicated and unique when Ellington Peet does the ride cymbal work and Mark Burdon the rest of the drum functions. The freetime passages gain something via this division of labor as well.

There is good use of the coloristic and textural possibilities of the ensemble, good use of the players' approaches to their instruments and sustained, flowing moods for each piece that have foundations in the writing and sequencing of the parts and are carried over into the improvisations.

It's a fascinating set, well worth hearing. Support small labels and this excellent ensemble by BUYING a copy.

posted by grego applegate edwards at 5:29 am

Idea-Packed Big Band Improvisation from Michael Vlatkovich’s Ensemblio

Trombonist Michael Vlatkovich’s Ensemblio has an intriguingly original album, Autobiography of a Pronoun, out now: the concept is improvisational big band jazz. This isn’t the waves of tunefulness followed by controlled chaos that Butch Morris champions, nor is it slowly shifting Greg Tate-style long-tone improvisation. What fuels this is a good sense of humor and artful orchestration: there are times when the whole ten-piece ensemble is cooking, but more often than not it’s a series of subgroups exploring a particular idea, so when the entire band gets in on it, the upward dynamics pack more of a punch. Most of this music is defiantly atonal, alluding to but seldom hitting a catchy hook head-on, the sixth track’s hypnotically syncopated Ethiopiques being the most memorable melody here in the conventional sense of the word. The presence of both Harry Scorzo’s violin and Jonathan Golove’s cello along with Anders Swanson’s frequently bowed bass add sonics that range from austere to occasionally lush and sweeping. It pretty much goes without saying that those who need a catchy tune to sing along to, or a steady beat to follow, will need to look elsewhere. But for jazz fans with an ear for the unconventional, this can be as much fun as it obviously was for the band to record.

Sample song title: Leg Belly Neon Kill Climb Unaware Pride, the ten-minute opening track. Surrealism reigns, from the pensive third-stream string ensemble introduction, a clave theme with vivid murky/airy contrasts between violin and ambience behind it, wry microtonalisms from Vlatkovich and a tasty Twin Peaks-ian interlude with legato piano leading spacious bass accents. It ends on an ominously agitated note.

The second track is more overtly improvisational, like early ELO on acid, anchored by drummer Michael Burdon’s funky shuffle, with tense strings-versus-horns contrasts, a free interlude that weaves from comedic to apprehensive and a lively, dancing bass solo out. Like the first cut, it has a persistent sense of unease. A three-part suite titled JMZ follows: its first section a rather chilling, twilit conversation between the bass and Wayne Peet’s piano, the second a blues ballad in heavy disguise contrasting rumbling, tumbling rhythms with terse piano and trombone motifs and the final an unexpectedly comic, increasingly rhythmic interlude led by William Roper’s tuba.

A jaggedly swinging large-ensemble piece, the wry Explain Why I Can’t Drive Faster Than the Car in Front of Me builds tension right from the big, lush opening chart, through a jarringly dissonant trombone/violin passage, to Peet’s piano going agitatedly off the edge into biting bop. Brian Walsh’s clarinet holds the funky Queen Dynamo together as the violin swirls and dips acidically before passing off to Jeff Kaiser’smuted trumpet and the trombone. The final piece, Memories Hold My Hand, is a sad, stately, Russian-flavored baroque requiem driven by somber tuba/trombone harmonies over flickering percussion. Those are just the highlights: other elements that are no less interesting emerge with repeated listening. Kick back with this if you’re up for getting swept into what can be an intense, inspiring, entertaining ride.

March 12, 2012 Posted by delarue



number 827


A new release from the Pfmentum label run by Jeff Kaiser. Vlatkovich is a trombonist, composer and arranger and a key figure in improvised music scene of Los Angeles. He settled here as a musician in 1973 and built up experience in performing jazz, improvised music and world music. Played with Gerry Hemingway, Peggy Lee, and many others. More recent Vlatkovitch is regular member of Vinny Golia Large Ensemble and performing with his own ensembles. Michael Vlatkovich Ensemblio is one of these projects. A line up of eleven musicians give flesh and blood to the ‘An Autobiography of a Pronoun’ suite, composed by Vlatkovich. This work is the 15th release. It was recorded in 2010 during a period of a few months. Afterwards it has been edited and mixed before it ended on cd. It is a good solid work albeit not earthshaking. Some of the compositions that make up this suite have not much to offer. But this is compensated by the fresh and engaged playing, and fine arrangements. Also because there is enough room for improvisation. Some parts are close to chamber music, like the opening piece ‘Leg Belly Neon Kill Climb Unaware Pride’, that has nice violin playing by Harry Scorzo. Other parts are bluesy or jazzy (‘Queen Dynamo’) . Some are up tempo and spontaneous, others develop slow and are reflective. Interesting and enjoyable elements can be pointed at in each of the building stones of this work. Although I remain a bit ambivalent about this one, one can easily pick up that this suite is an excellent vehicle and opportunity for these musicians to show their best sides. (DM)

friday, november 23, 2012

Zen Widow featuring Wadada Leo Smith, Screaming in Daytime (Makes Men Forget)

Wadada Leo Smith has been on a roll lately, there is no doubt. His recordings as leader, composer, trumpet master have been some of the most important releases of the last several years. And now he makes a rare appearance as sideman, in great form, with the group Zen Widow.

Screaming in Daytime (Make Men Forget) (pfMENTUM 069) is a very productive meeting between Wadada and the members of Zen Widow (Gianni Gebbia, alto, Matthew Goodheart, piano and electro-acoustic gongs and cymbals, and Garth Powell, drums and percussion).

It's a varied offering of adventuresome new music-avant jazz that gives plenty of opportunity for all to express themselves freely, yet has a compositional and interactional program that keeps the music moving in the best ways. The members of Zen Widow make their kinetic improvisations speak, as does Wadada, as one comes to expect of course.

This is carefully conjured, serious new music. It works on all levels. Highly recommended.

posted by grego applegate edwards at 6:10 am

Vlatkovich Tryyo: Pershing Woman


December 25, 2012

Southern California-based trombonist Michael Vlatkovich leads a power-packed trio, captured live at a Michigan venue. The trombonist is firmly entrenched in the region's avant-garde and progressive jazz loop, alongside cohorts such as multi-reedman Vinny Golia, pfMentum Records proprietor and trumpeter Jeff Kaiser and other notables. Here, the trio generates a lot of positive hoopla and excitement as the live recorded sound contains a slight echo that hovers like an aura and summons an analog sense of purity.

The compact trio format is exploited to the hilt, the musicians exercising quite a bit of give-and-take and push-and-pull with impacting contours, awash with spunky unison choruses, odd-metered time signatures and introspective passages. As a whole, it's a frothy concoction, abetted by drummer Damon Short's furiously sweeping polyrhythmic fills, Jonathan Golove's booming electric cello parts and the leader's hard-hitting lines. The unit abides by a shake, rattle and roll, progressive jazz manifesto via scrappy dialogues and solemn and softly melodic choruses, witnessed by Golove's gentle arco-phrasings on "With Whom Each Dance."

With "Once in a Blue Moon a Decent Wolf Comes Along/Hostages of Romance (Medley)," the musicians throttle the various flows and dish out an assortment of blustery solo spots and alternating pulses. They sport a big sound, but diversity is a key factor, supported by a string of moody improvisational segments and perky bop choruses.

The big picture is illuminated by the musicians' perpetual motion, offset by diagonal contrasts and snazzy exchanges. At times they breakout into lone wolves amid mini-solo spots and merge a wholesome blues vibe with a marching band foray during "The Imponderable Hiding in Extra Large Clothing." The band transcends the norm throughout this very hip and buoyantly executed program that sustains interest from start to finish.

Good Times with Michael Vlatkovich’s Tryyo

Trombonist Michael Vlatkovich has an entertaining new live album, Pershing Woman, out with his “Tryyo,” Jonathan Golove on electric cello and Damon Short on drums. For jazz improvisation, it’s exceptionally tuneful, and funky, and fun, in an energetic post-AACM, Roscoe Mitchell way. Good humor and good times abound throughout this set, and it’s contagious. It’s all about interplay: conversations, pitch-and-follow, shadowing and dynamics. Vlatkovich’s sensibility is borne out in his titles: for example, the jaunty, swinging opening track, Our Costumes Should Tell Us Who We Are and What We Think. Obviously, this could be sarcastic…or is he saying that what we wear should illustrate who we are, and inspire us to ponder certain things?

The second track, Pursued By More Past Than Future picks up the funky riffage and continues a series of variations, Golove alternating between resonant pizzicato basslines, sostenuto ambience, the occasional keening overtone or staccato flurry as Short shuffles and romps around the perimeter. His cymbal work throughout the album, whether creating nebulous, misty atmospherics or lithely accenting the quieter moments, is especially choice. Vlatkovich is the good cop here, playfully nudging the group upwards out of the lulls, firing off clusters of bluesy riffage, often adding a droll edge with a mute, or a quote, or the occasional woozy slidestep.

The best track here is Black Triangles Yellow Corn and Pink Medicine Drops – chips and salsa requiring a hit of Pepto Bismol afterward, maybe? Golove opens it with a catchy funk bassline, Vlatkovich exploring tersely overhead, Short artfully building to a crescendo that he caps off with a triumphant flourish as they take it doublespeed and then back down again.

The bouncy, syncopated Once in a Blue Moon a Decent Wolf Comes Along rides an unexpected Powerglide shift from Short into Hostages of Romance and its steady staccato. The Imponderable Hiding in Extra Large Clothing goes on for almost thirteen minutes and as expected, finally develops some menace as Golove goes up the scale with tritones – but after a point there’s nowhere to go but into comedic territory on the wings of Vlatkovich’s smirking, muted squonks. There are also a couple of warped ballads here with vividly pensive, lyrical harmonies between trombone and cello, the weirdly edgy funk of Neighborhood Beasts Let Down Their Hair and the closing track, I Let My Magic Tortoise Go, where Vlatkovich draws a quick sketch of the reptile leaping over the garden gate with a grin, dancing across the lawn, so glad to be out in the sunlight again.

December 22, 2012 Posted by delarue

friday, october 12, 2012

Vlatkovich Tryyo, Pershing Woman

Trombone avantist Michael Vlatkovich comes through with a sterling live trio set on the recent Pershing Woman (pfMentum 071). Michael teams up with two game players for lots of kinetic fireworks on this one. Jonathan Golove's electric cello gives the band a lighter-than-air foundation that seems to free the band for a lofty flight path. He can bow with Michael's bone in heads for an interesting sound or of course pizz away like a tenor bassist. He forms a good part of the melodic-harmonic motion of the band and does it well. Damon Short swings along quite nicely throughout on drums. He engages Jonathan for rhythm propulsion and spurs on Michael and Jonathan for their forward moving solo spots.

And Michael Vlatkovich! Through his well-positioned outbopping compositions and rough and tumble trombone anarchy he maintains his stature on Pershing Woman as one of the outstanding trombonists and bandleaders active today in the new jazz.

It's an album that captures a lively gig and shows the trio in full flower. Lend an ear.

posted by grego applegate edwards at 6:33 am

Vlatkovich Tryyo

Pershing Woman


A&A #339 reviews

August 2012

The trombone is an almost criminally overlooked instrument in jazz. And Michael Vlatkovich sure knows his way around a jazz trombone. Also, the idea of teaming up said trombone with a cello (listed as an "electric cello") and drums is truly curious.

The cello is the trombone of the string section, the instrument that expected to carry the mid-range bass clef lines. It plays in much the same range as the trombone, though with a completely different feel.

These inventive pieces don't stray much from the lower ranges (though Jonathan Golove pushes his cello into the treble clef now and again), but Golove and Vlatkovich have an amazing rapport, and Damon Short is masterful in his use of the drums as glue. The sum is almost always greater than the parts, as this generally sounds more like a quintet than a trio.

Exceptionally creative and easily accessible for any jazz fan. Vlatkovich's trombone is tender and forceful, and he makes the most of his most malleable instrument. Likewise with these songs, which give the players plenty of room. These boys like playing with each other, and the combination is explosive. Mind-throttling.

A&A #343 reviews

December 2012

Gilbert Isbin, Scott Walton Recall (pfMENTUM)

Isbin takes the lute, and Walton the bass (bowed and plucked). These compositions sound vaguely improvised, but the structure is easy to identify. These two stringed instruments are rarely paired like this, and after hearing this album, I have to wonder why. Isbin and Walton make the combo sound like a natural.


wednesday, march 2, 2011

Dottie Grossman and Michael Vlatkovich Collaborate on Word and Music Project

Dottie Grossman puts together short prosaic poems dealing with Zen-like slices of everyday life, friendships and day-to-day reflections on it all. Michael Vlatkovich is a noted trombonist-bandleader in the avant improvisation realm. The two have collaborated on a CD project that alternates Dottie's short poems with equally short improvisations by Michael's quintet. Call and Response and Friends (pfMentum 060) is the intriguing result.

Each segment lasts from one to two minutes, Dottie then quintet in alternation. The constantly refocused, straightforward yet cognitively labyrinthine prose-poetry recitations set up an expectation that is realized in equally varied musical comments by the group. There is freedom; there is focus.

It works completely because Ms. Grossman and the Vlatkovich conflagration are well attuned to one another. Something like this could quickly become pretentious, over-reaching, self-affirming in a kind of conceited aren't-we-artists sort of way. The fact that it all is most certainly NOT has to do with the unprepossessing and almost casual (deceptively perhaps) image-weaving that takes place between the two creative forces.

It is NOT an uneasy melding of prose-poem and jazz. It is an EASY one. Very much recommended.

posted by grego applegate edwards at 4:44 am

Kronomorfic: Kronomorfic: Micro Temporal Infundibula


May 5, 2011


Micro Temporal Infundibula

Kronomorfic, based in Southern California, is a group of virtuoso improvisers, all blending their individual talents toward a greater ensemble aesthetic. Co-led by Los Angeles drummer/hand percussionist Paul Pellegrin and San Diego saxophonist David Borgo, Kronomorfic synthesizes the ancient with the future—using very complex rhythmic strategies as the unifier.

Pellegrin and Borgo met some years back when both were students at UCLA's ethnomusicolgy department. That's where the ancient comes from: their group reflects a solid understanding of the folk music of Africa, South America and Eastern Europe. They take some of the unusual metric devices of those areas and fuse them with the thoroughly modern concept of creating structures from hybrid rhythmic phrases in polymetric time ( such as 5/3/4, 6/7/9 or 8/12/15).

Pellegrin usually constructs these ideas into forms which the melodic counterpart, key centers and improvisations are layered over. Layering is another key component of the group dynamic: one piece, "Repolarization" has the vibraphone playing in 7, the horns in 6, over a bass line in 9.

The drummer has got some serious chops. His fluid command of the trap-set is similar to Jack DeJohnette's maddeningly casual sleight-of-hand, and his hand drumming on the 7 against 5 "Jeannot's Knife" is close to hypnotic.

Borgo seems to have absorbed the history of modern saxophone into his c.v.—on tenor, he can go from a throaty Archie Shepp-type rasp to a warm honey-toned hush; on soprano, there are shades of Steve Lacy, Wayne Shorter and Dave Liebman. Most of all, the man sounds like himself—his solos on this disc are riveting—prime examples of impeccable technique serving a very creative improvising mind.

Sharing the melodic frontline is chromatic harmonica master Bill Barrett, a veteran the L.A. blues and free jazz scene. The pairing of saxophone with the harmonica is one of the factors that make Micro Temporal Infundibula such an unqualified success. Borgo and Barrett blend together so well, it's a wonder this hasn't been done more often.

Barrett is a gifted soloist who answers the question of what Toots Thielemans might have sounded like if he had apprenticed in the Art Ensemble Of Chicago. He plays a specially tuned harp that gives him access to three tri-tones—an ability he exploits to maximum effect with his frequent use of double and triple stops.

The rest of the members of Kronomorfic are just as vital to the superior ensemble sound that abounds on this disc. Vibraphonist Nathan Hubbard is often given the role of building haunting ostinatos that shift constantly, providing a modal backdrop as well as legitimate melodic generators in and of themselves. His marimba work is intricate and spell-binding, and his occasional solos are creative gems.

The young San Diego (he's since moved to New York) doublebass phenomenon Danny Weller has the extremely difficult task of performing the often staggered, loping vamps that lash the interlocking poly-meters together, and it's a task he pulls off very well. He's got a huge, woody sound, both with the bow and his fingers.

Rounding out the group is the hyper-inventive guitar/electronics specialist, Paul "Junior" Garrison, whose mission is to "never sound like a guitar." He's pretty successful in this quest. Using an arsenal of pedal and rack-mounted signal processing gear, Garrison mostly creates waves of ambience and orchestral type washes, and except for one song stays in the background. As a colorist, his thing is very effective, and Kronomorphic would sound completely different without his contributions.

The first piece, "Deprong Mori," is a strong opener. Pellegrin starts it off with a short, smart drum solo, which then yields to a haunting vibes repetition from Hubbard. After a complex melody, Borgo explodes out of the gates with a gritty tenor solo—followed by a truly inspired spot from Barrett, who utilizes bent double stops and dizzying vibrato. The out-melody builds in volume and ends on an exclamation.

"Tehuantepec" follows, with Hubbard's marimba groove reflecting a strange, off- centered, Caribbean island motif. The horns enter, layering a melody that weaves around the marimba, and coil around each other. Mallet-specialist Hubbard takes a short, intricate solo while Garrison conjures up electronic clouds of voodoo that hover in the background.

Weller's full-toned ostinato opens up "Perambulate" with a 3 against 4 feel, setting up the melancholic theme, then Barrett unleashes a wicked solo filled with wide vibrato leaps and distorted chording. Hubbard comps in a Bobby Hutcherson vein and turns in another excellent, harmonically oblique contribution. Borgo follows on soprano, first with cries and sighs, and gradually morphs into gritty, grainy vocalizations.

Garrison finally gets a short feature to open "Dendochrone Currents," and he makes the most of it, using volume pedal swells and delay units to create gauzy layers of sound not unlike the old Bill Frisell used to excel at. Barrett takes another adventurous solo, enough cannot be said of his superb musicianship.

Special guests Jeff Kaiser (on trumpet and live electronics), and Evan Adams on oboe, take things to another level on the cuts on which they appear, ( "Jeannot's Knife," and "Gnomon"). Kaiser, especially, is coming from a similar midset, (he and Borgo have their own duet). He contributes a searing trumpet solo that hones "Jeannot's Knife" to an even sharper edge.

Despite the inherent complexity of the music on this release, all of the layered polymetric claves and interlocking melodies are performed so seamlessly that the listener is left only to ponder the incredible beauty on Micro Temporal Infundibula. Highly recommended.


Micro Temporal Infundibula


A&A #326 reviews

April 2011

Let's see. David Borgo on sax(es), Nathan Hubbard on mallets, Paul Pellegrin on drums and three equally accomplished friends throwing in on bass, guitar and harp. Goodness me, this ought to be good.

Yep. The friends, in order, are Danny Weller, Paul "Junior" Garrison and Bill Barrett. And it's Barrett's harp blowing that really drives this otherwordly fusion of blues and jazz.

The lines get very blurry, indeed, and I like it that way. Barrett is generally restrained in his playing, but he can wring out emotion when he needs it. His interplay with Borgo is simply stunning.

Weller and Pellegrin hold up the rhythms section with aplomb, and Garrison and Hubbard spin spells of their own. This sextet could have been an unwieldy mess, but the players mesh amazingly. Easy to get into, and impossible to leave.

wednesday, march 2, 2011

Dottie Grossman and Michael Vlatkovich Collaborate on Word and Music Project

Dottie Grossman puts together short prosaic poems dealing with Zen-like slices of everyday life, friendships and day-to-day reflections on it all. Michael Vlatkovich is a noted trombonist-bandleader in the avant improvisation realm. The two have collaborated on a CD project that alternates Dottie's short poems with equally short improvisations by Michael's quintet. Call and Response and Friends (pfMentum 060) is the intriguing result.

Each segment lasts from one to two minutes, Dottie then quintet in alternation. The constantly refocused, straightforward yet cognitively labyrinthine prose-poetry recitations set up an expectation that is realized in equally varied musical comments by the group. There is freedom; there is focus.

It works completely because Ms. Grossman and the Vlatkovich conflagration are well attuned to one another. Something like this could quickly become pretentious, over-reaching, self-affirming in a kind of conceited aren't-we-artists sort of way. The fact that it all is most certainly NOT has to do with the unprepossessing and almost casual (deceptively perhaps) image-weaving that takes place between the two creative forces.

It is NOT an uneasy melding of prose-poem and jazz. It is an EASY one. Very much recommended.


Improvijazzation Nation, issue # 67

Dottie Grossman & Michael Vlatkovich – CALL AND RESPONSE: You’ll have to enjoy poetry to “like” this CD… Ms. Grossman’s poems, in this classic format, with her (usually) reading first, then Michael’s trombone as the “response” are indeed haunting. As you might expect, these are quite short pieces, none of them exceeding 3 minutes; but if you listen through the whole 35 pieces, it will all be “perfectly clear”. Those who have been reading this ‘zine for a few years will realize that I have a love affair with well-done poetry/music… this is more than “well done”, it’s perfect. Many CD’s done this way come off without letting th’ listener get deep inside the poetry… some kind of competition between th’ poet & th’ player, I think – but “Call and Response” is easy to get into, & brings th’ surreal home in a heartbeat. I enjoyed it thoroughly! One thing that makes the album stand out is that the spoken word all “makes sense”… & the improvised trombone adds to the feeling that this is “perfectly natural”, even though it’s (not at all) what you’d hear on your “regular” FM station. This is a true “KEEPER”, & lovers of th’ power that well-done words & music have to change perceptions will agree with me when I declare this MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Rotcod Zzaj


Jim Connolly with The Gove County String Quartet & Anna Abbey - It's Only Gravity That Makes Wearing A Crown Painful (CD, pfMENTUM, Classical)

If you love strings you're gonna love this one. The strangely-titled It's Only Gravity That Makes Wearing A Crown Painful features the talents of five musicians: Laura Hackstein (violin), Sally Barr (violin, five-string violin), Nick Coventry (viola), Jim Connolly (double bass melodica), and Anna Abbey (toy piano, piano). Plenty of beautifully executed tracks here...twenty cuts in all...and there's not a sour grape in the bunch. All of the composition are originals with the exception of a really odd take on Mr. Rogers' "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" (?!!?). But if the inclusion of such a tune might make you think this album is a joke, think again. These smart resilient pieces are smart, mature, and ultimately very rewarding. Super slick sound quality and the playing is top notch throughout. Killer compositions include the title track, "Tealight No. 9," "Bobo Is Hungry," "Tealight No. 4," and "The Watts Towers." Top pick.

June 2011



number 819

Throughout he delivers to the point bleeps and blops. Wood and Onserud return on the album of Bonnie Barnett. Added by Garth Powell (percussion) and Bonnie Barnett (vocals). Barnett is a vocalist, composer, improvisor from Los Angeles. She has some work out on Nine Winds, including a duo with bassist Ken Filiano. She has been exploring texts of Gertrude Stein and Jean-Paul Sartre and other writers. Of both writers she reads a text on this new release. I miss the point concerning these two pieces that have the musicians improvising and Barnett reading. But I don’t know how both activities are supposed to be interconnected. This is different for the pieces where Barnett changes for non-verbal vocal exercises like in ‘In between Dreams’ and ‘Primordial’. Again the fine work by Wood is to be enjoyed ont his one, like in the inspired opening track ‘Badinage’. (DM)


Improvijazzation Nation

Issue 121 Reviews

Dick Wood – NOT FAR FROM HERE: Not far from “there”, either, mi amigos… like, OUT there, man! What a wallop this CD packs… you can read about (all) the players on the pFMentum page for this release. This excellent 6-track adventure starts off with a 7:07 monster, “Ignatious“, which clearly demonstrates the kind of exploratory jazz spirit that makes product from this label so outstanding… this tune sounds like a New Orleans funeral marching band on steroids! It was recorded in 2008, but didn’t get release-mastered until 2011… if you’re lookin’ for “smooth, gentle & soothing”, you’ll have to move along to another rack, but if your tastes run to sonic adventure, you’ll agree when I declare this MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED; “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.97. The other thing that’s important is that I give this one the “PICK” of this issue for “best improvised jazz”. Get more information on the page linked in above. Rotcod Zzaj


Rich West: Mayo Grout's Known Universe


July 8, 2010

Immagini tratte dall'archivio della NASA, schizzi di navicelle spaziali improbabili, fonti di energia alternative e l'universo (s)conosciuto di un fantomatico Mayo Grout. Tutto questo e molto altro troverete in Mayo Grout's Known Universe, ultima fatica discografica di Rich West, "batterista che compone musica per improvvisatori" secondo una sua definizione assai riduttiva nei confronti della multidimensionalità artistica che lo contraddistingue. Visioni pop(olari) arricchite di commento musicale (o viceversa?) Mayo Grout's Known Universe, assembla sette tracce registrate tra il 1991 e il 2003, brani che ben rappresentano lo spirito libero e curioso di Rich West.

Il lungo brano iniziale (oltre diciotto minuti) si muove tra ossessioni rock (i trascorsi del leader nei Camper Van Beethoven emergono prepotenti), spoken word, afflati free, in un affresco di grande impatto. "Short I Am" è lava incandescente che per tre minuti consuma tutto l'ossigeno a disposizione. In "On Her Wrists She Wore Her Interest" sono i momenti cameristici a caratterizzare l'atmosfera del brano con un finale, finto smooth-jazz, straniante. La conclusiva "Es-I" è molto vicina a certi lavori di musica contemporanea con moods che cambiano repentinamente e il connubio flauto/fagotto a connotarla timbricamente.

Punti fermi e caratterizzanti di una formazione a geometria variabile sono, oltre al leader, il chitarrista Haskel Joseph, e la notevole flautista Emily Hay, dal suono cristallino, dalla verve scintillante capace di dolcezze così come di rasoiate taglienti ma soprattutto terminale perfetto nella strategia musicale del leader.


Harvesting Metadata


August 26, 2010

From the land of beyond jazz comes the duo of David Borgo and Jeff Kaiser. Their project KaiBorg exorcises the proverbial ghost in the machine.

Borgo is a saxophonist, ethnomusicologist, multi-media artist and professor of music at the University of California, San Diego and Jeff Kaiser is a trumpet player, multi-media artist and founder of pfMentum Records. Their interactions as KaiBorg are both audio and visual.

The experience here is minus the visual, but certainly the sounds describe things sometimes one might not want to see. Their method involves improvising with live electronic processing in realtime. Often with gentle micro sounds, as on "Exception Conditions," where the rumble of generated sound is more felt than heard. Then there are the full force assaults of sound, similar to the force of a tornado as it passes too close, heard on "Maladaptive Optimization." Here both Borgo and Kaiser are tearing huge sheets of sound with their respective instrument as the storm rages.

The disc's longest piece is a 16-minute excursion called "Hypernymic Entailment." The distinction between the two horn players and the live processing is inextricably blurred. Are we hearing the trumpet or electronic geese? The outer edges of sound (sometimes music) are explored into deep space. Strange and beautiful sounds here.


Vital Weekly 770


Tobias Fischer

David Borgo and Jeff Kaiser are the two players behind Kaiborg. Borgo plays the saxophone, as well as such oddly named instruments as the chalumeau, dudukophone, whistlophone, mijwiz and slide whistle while Kaiser has the trumpet, flute and voice, although that wasn't easy to tell from what I heard on 'Harvesting Metadata'. Both also play laptops and use those to process their playing through. Their laptops seem to play a major role in their music. Only at selected times we recognize the trumpet and the saxophone. The majority is reserved for a lot processed sound files, which at selected times explode right in your face: Kaiborg aren't afraid of turning on a bit of noise. This creates altogether a bumpy ride along the highs and depths of improvised music. Music that leaves the listener behind with considerable fatigue, certainly when the listener decides to raise the volume quite a bit. Powerful free stuff going on.


Colter Frazier Quartet: Colter Frazier Quartet


January 15, 2009

Tucked away in Santa Barbara, California, tenor saxophonist Colter Frazier has been quietly creating a striking blend of new music that draws inspiration from myriad sources. The self-titled debut of Frazier's working quartet features Nick Coventry (viola, violin), Miles Jay (bass) and longstanding musical duet partner, Rob Wallace (drums) on an intriguing set of originals that seamlessly fuse chamber music, free jazz, minimalism and Eastern folk music traditions into a cohesive whole.

A tasteful and inventive composer, Frazier's writing tends toward the chamber-esque, with periodic interludes of turbulence and rousing rhythmic activity. He generates a kaleidoscopic array of textures and tones from his string heavy ensemble during the austere opening of "Lloyd's Prayer," which slowly builds to a coiled, throttling theme, while "Hopes of Reunification" slyly alternates restrained pointillism with hyperactive staccato interjections reminiscent of Anthony Braxton and Raymond Scott. "4 Days and 5 Months" and Miles Jay's "Flight School for Sparrow" draw on muscular modal forms and vibrant intensity, approaching Coltrane- esque levels of expressionism.

The quartet embraces a vast dynamic range; the somber dirge "Unknown Strain II" exudes sinewy sonorities and serene melodic arcs while "August Ballad" unleashes spasmodic free discourse filled with harsh angles and coarse edges. The episodic "Lonely Friday" reveals Frazier's expert skills as an arranger, while "1-22-07" demonstrates delicacy and nuance as the quartet plies a brisk regal miniature brimming with neo-classical majesty.

The ensemble's empathetic interpretations of Frazier's opulent tunes reveal a symbiotic rapport. Individual solo statements are effortlessly integrated into the overall fabric of each piece as communal expressions, which reach a fevered pitch on "Flight School for Sparrow," and introspective depth on "Where000."

Frazier's mastery of the tenor saxophone encompasses a vast range, from hushed overtones to coruscating multiphonics. His aesthetic inclinations are subservient to his compositional goals however; although capable of extreme dynamics, he is no mere pyrotechnician. Alternating soaring unison lines and thorny contrapuntal themes with Coventry, the pair veers from songbird like harmonies to terse sinewy lines fraught with dramatic dissonance.

Jay and Wallace eschew predictable swing in favor of inspired polyrhythms and colorful textural accents to support Frazier's multi-layered pieces. "Late Again" even hints at the driving early minimalism of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich while the modal ostinatos of "4 Days and 5 Months" and "Flight School for Sparrow" borrow harmonic elements from Middle Eastern traditions.

Frazier avoids conventional strategies for improvisation in his heady compositions, focusing his thematically direct works towards specific goals. The fully notated "Focus" closes the album on a telling note. A repeated bittersweet refrain from paired strings and tenor frames Wallace's percolating percussive commentary, ending the record on a harmoniously unorthodox note.

Arriving fully formed with a singular artistic focus, the Colter Frazier Quartet is a stunning debut, worthy of the highest praise.



Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner


Bruce Friedman


Bruce Friedman’s Optional Parameters To Improvise Organized Nascent Sounds is a collection of graphics which attempt to provide a semi-structured free improvisation.

The recording is a collection of four MCT’s or “monochromatic textures” that treat a symbol as a texture, with or without solos and duos.

The textures are rather sparse and well-behaved which I enjoyed. Sometimes free improv can err on the side of overly chaotic and I did not feel bombarded with meaningless noise on this disc. Whenever I started to want something different, I usually got it.It is important to recognize that the intent of the disc was to create singular textures of activity. The various incarnations of the MCT’s do, at times, start to become a bit too monochromatic for my tastes, but thankfully the solos and duos seem to come in at just the right time and play just the right contrapuntal textures to freshen things up again. The solos and duos also add an additional musical trajectory which keeps the music flowing along.All of the instrumental voices maintain a clear sense of sonic space. I enjoyed the sparser “less is more” approach to building texture and admire the way that no one particular voice stands out unless it is one of the obvious solos or duos. The icons that form O.P.T.I.O.N.S. would be applicable to any ensemble at and skill level. This collection of MCT pieces is as good of a place as any to start. I’m curious what comes next and I’d love to hear what others would do with this system.

Bruce Friedman: O.P.T.I.O.N.S.


June 24, 2009

Bruce Friedman è un trombettista che opera nell'area californiana, a stretto contatto con altri improvvisatori come Ellen Burr e Rich West. La loro attività musicale spesso si interseca con progetti teatrali, balletti, installazioni di arte varia. Sono in qualche modo la moderna reincarnazione del lavoro iniziato da John Cage, Merce Cunningham e pochi altri negli anni quaranta, quando il radicalismo e la voglia di rompere ogni schema portò ad infrangere le barriere fra le arti.

Questo album vede Friedman alla testa di un ensemble elettro-acustico da camera composto da undici musicisti (compresi i due ospiti estemporanei Haskel Joseph e Richard Kim). La registrazione è stata effettuata all'Architecture, uno spazio dedicato alle arti contemporanee di Los Angeles.

L'acronimo O.P.T.I.O.N.S., che dà il titolo all'album e al progetto, ha come decodifica 'Optional Parameters to Improvise Organized Nascent Sounds' e si basa su partiture che richiamano espressamente il lavoro di John Cage e in particolare gli scritti contenuti nel suo libro 'Notations.' Sono essenzialmente segni minimali che fungono da guida all'improvvisazione, cercando di evitare l'invadenza. La scelta di come interpretarli e di quando farlo è lasciata agli esecutori, nello spirito della prima parola che in qualche modo si fa poi acronimo completo. Options. Opzioni.

La musica è piuttosto ostica, raggrumata attorno a sezioni puntillistiche che non lasciano spazio ad escursioni prolungate dei piccolissimi frammenti melodici che a stento si possono riconoscere. Il batterista Rich West riesce con notevole perizia a ricavare qua e là scansioni che stratificano qualche brandello ritmico compiuto, per il resto è scenario aperto, lunare, dominato da crepacci e insenature. Buona escursione nel vuoto, non scordate la tuta e le bombole dell'ossigeno.



For Rich West it started with some side activities in Camper Van Beethoven circles in the 80s (Monks of Doom and Wrestling Worms). Later he recorded with people like Mike Watt, Jimmy Carl Black, Jeff Kaiser and many others. Nowadays he is an avant-jazz drummer and ensemble leader. For a view on his of works of the last years have a look in the catalogue of Pfmentum, a San Diego-based label. This illustrates his development as composer and ensemble leader. "Mayo Grout's Known Universe" is his latest effort. For this album West surrounded himself with some excellent musicians form his southern California connections: Emily Hay (flute), Bruce Friedman (trumpet), David Kendall - (bass guitar, electronics), Haskel Joseph (guitar), Ace Farren Ford (vocals), Tony Atherton (alto sax), Steuart Liebig (bass guitar), Eric Johnson (bassoon), Walter Zooi (trumpet), Jill Meschke (keyboards), Paul Green (bass guitar). The performance made by several of these musicians, is part of the success of this album. It is overall nicely executed. We hear some great solos by Emily Hay on flute, Haskel Joseph on electric guitar. And there is a lot of fine interplay to enjoy, with nice instrumentals passages like the closing piece. It is a conceptalbum of program-music built around a story on the fictitious person Mayo Grout. I must admit that I did not my best to comprehend it. I couldn't make much of it and probably I missed some points here. But on the other hand, I enjoyed the playing and the compositions. And that's enough for me. West takes inspiration from many sources: jazz, rock, funk, impro, noise, it is all there. It results in a rockmusic with avant-garde touches, but never really far out. (DM)

Rich West - "Mayo Grout's Known Universe"

(pfMentum 2009)

From Aural Innovations #41 (October 2010)

Drummer/percussionist Rich West has had a long career in music. Despite being a member of an early incarnation of Camper Van Beethoven and the space/psych group The Mooseheart Faith Stellar Groove Band, his true passion seems to lie in the realms of avant-garde jazz. This has been evident from one of his earliest projects, the orchestral rock band The Wrestling Worms in the early 80's right up to his present day solo efforts like this one, Mayo Grout's Known Universe.

Blending percussive orchestral music in the vein of 20th century classical futurist Edgar Varese with a Charles Mingus-like approach to jazz and the progressive rock fusion of Henry Cow and Waka/Jawaka era Frank Zappa, West creates his own unique little universe that he attributes to the mind of Mayo Grout, the cockroach obsessed character of the title.

It's not easy music to listen to, as is most often the case with the avant-garde. Whilst West doesn't stray into the totally free form very much, there are passages of such chaos, as well as lengthy, growling ruminations from Mayo Grout and weird little sing song melodies punctuating the more improvised (and sometimes very psychedelic) jams. Flutes twitter, horns blurt and howl, bass throbs menacingly, guitar rumbles, and West's percussion veers from the wildly random to precision complexity.

Mayo Grout's Known Universe is a crazy ride indeed, but fans of the above-mentioned artists as well as Canterbury bands like The Soft Machine will no doubt find great enjoyment in its off-kilter twists and turns.

Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald

Onserud, Hal – “Hal 2008” – [Pfmentum]



Hal Onserud plays a fine bass , he also composed all the tracks here which are improvised as they are played by these Santa Barbara musicians. On all tracks except 7, Onserud’s “vocals” are featured in stream of poetic, raving, musing, rhyming observations. He’s not much of a singer, but the sentiments are affecting. Very experimental, wholly original, strange sounds.

Steuart Liebig / The Mentones: Angel City Dust


August 20, 2009

Angel City Dust marks the third outing for bassist Steuart Liebig's largely aggressive and rowdy quartet, where progressive and avant-garde jazz uncannily coexist with high-impact blues-rock. Nevertheless, the musicians can lay claim to a deviating, multi-genre outlook that is morphed into a singular sound, partly due to chromatic harmonica ace Bill Barrett's frontline work with alto saxophonist Tony Atherton. Then Leibig adds another compelling element via his limber bottom-end and fluent unison lines with the soloists.

Drummer Joseph Berardi's often pummeling and turbo-mode backbeats offer a mammoth undercurrent. Driven by spirited sax and harmonica breakouts, the musicians lay it all out with foot-stomping pulses and brain-rattling avant, boogie rockers amid the knotty time signatures. They toss in a few oddball digressions and wail away throughout the entire session.

Liebig takes a fluid, yet monstrous bass solo atop Berardi's relentless thrust on "Locustland," and the soloists turn up the heat with frenetic lines during the intense frameworks heard on the aptly titled, "Fire and Ice." In other regions of sound and scope, the artists execute off-kilter dirges, along with hard-edged bump and grind motifs. Moreover, Barrett and Atherton generate an interesting series of harmonic phrasings, given the odd instrumentation pairing. Hence, the band imparts a cleverly articulated balance, consisting of cerebral implications, punishing jazz-based improvisations and a rollicking and rolling undercurrent.


Steuart Liebig/The Mentones, “Angel City Dust” (pfMentum)

This one of those albums that brings out the unrealized drummer in me, where I’m just beating a hole in the clipboard with pen and palm instead of taking notes. Vigah, that’s what it’s got.

The Mentones are bassist Steuart Liebig’s blues band, ha. That is, he and drummer Joseph Berardi apply approximations of roots grooves -- railroad boogie, jook jerk, Otis Redding soul rave, Chicago roll & tumble -- to Liebig’s postmodern Zappa-Beefheart riffs. And then harmonicat Bill Barrett and alto saxist Tony Atherton douse the thing with kerosene and set it on fire.

Whether executing unisons, harmony lines or solos, Barrett and Atherton keep the energy up. In case you don’t know Barrett, he’s one of the world’s most accomplished and powerful harp exploders. By cocking the chromatic harmonica’s slide and gassing its reeds in exactly the right way, he can generate terrifying LOUD harmony blasts, twitters and superwheezes that assault your earholes as no other instrument can. Atherton doesn’t lag behind, spitting out a level of raunch rarely heard from an alto. Liebig’s technique on six-string electric bass is unsurpassed -- dig for example the sweet little chordal riff he plucks/strums on the tugging “Slow Burn Fever,” sounding as if he’s overdubbing himself, but I know he ain’t. Berardi’s drumming is a friendly combination of whiskey-bar feel and jazz precision, the latter quite valuable considering the frequent split-second accents the music demands.

Liebig butts some disparate animals together: Foghat meets Schoenberg on “Headlock”; a polite waltz meets a barbiturate overdose on “Out, Down and Over.” And it coheres. Probably one other aspect was present before, but this third Mentones album is the first in which I noticed it, namely a particular visual quality, where I often pictured a scene while listening: an awkward blind-date conversation during “Lonelyheart” (I swear I didn’t look at the title before making this observation), for instance, or a drunk sobbing and stumbling down the street during “Wool.”

Strong as the record rolls -- play it loud -- it does not compare to the live Mentones experience. Too bad this churchlike venue serves no booze (or anything else); I recommend that you smoke some dust outside.

Steuart Liebig’s Mentones: Chamber Jazz Rocks

October 4, 2009

Steuart Liebig & The Mentones — Angel City Dust (pfMentum, 2009)

I love that Steuart Liebig has a bar band. The Mentones not only stomp through some rocking beats, they also pair up the saxophone with a chromatic harmonica, one that gets played like an electric instrument. It’s a buzzing, flailing, bluesy good time.

But under the surface, the band is playing the same kind of complex chamber-jazz music that Liebig uses on his more “serious” albums.

Pomegranate, one of those “serious” albums, was my introduction to Liebig. He’s part of the southern California crowd that includes Vinny Golia, G.E. Stinson, Nels Cline — and Jeff Kaiser, the guy who’s kept the scene documented for the past decade on the pfMentum label.

Pomegranate consists of four long chamber pieces,

each featuring a different guest soloist. I love the mix of cerebral jazz and thoughtful composing here — especially on the Nels Cline track, which ditches all chamber-jazz pretentions and goes for a total noise freak-out. Yeah!

But back to that bar band, The Mentones. This is fun stuff that evokes images of dive bars just outside town, where the motorcycles kick up the desert dust. But with sheet music. Bill Barrett‘s harmonica adds a honky-tonk touch to otherwise chamber jazz-y compositions, and then he blazes through his solos like he’s ready to throw beer bottles back at someone.

A track like “Empty” or “Locustland” manages to rock out amid complex twists and turns in the writing. “Headlock” is a great head-banger. “Wool” and “Slow Burn Fever” go for the slower, swampy tempo of a dusty 110-degree day, although the latter ends up in a brutal battle of harmonica versus Tony Atherton’s sax.

This is the third Mentones album, after Locustland and Nowhere Calling, and I’d recommend any of the three.


Dr. Mint: Visions And Nightmares


November 18, 2008

Dr. MInT

ronimo costruito sulle iniziali dei musicisti che compongono il quintetto) è un gruppo giovane ed esuberante, dalla visione dark che non fa quasi mai intravedere spiragli di luce, e il titolo Visions and Nightmares è in tal senso eloquente.

L'inizio è un lieve e dolce crescendo in cui i musicisti indugiano dando vita ad atmosfere intriganti e soffuse, ma strada facendo forza ed energia emergono e assumono ruolo primario.

L’album è costituito da due suite, “Visions and Nightmares” e “Apocalyptica”. Entrambe sono state registrate live in studio e sono basate principalmente su improvvisazione e interplay.

Bel feeling tra i cinque, che dialogano ottimamente e sembrano prediligere l'improvvisazione e le sonorità rock.

Leader non dichiarato sembrerebbe essere il trombettista Daniel Rosenboom, compositore di tutti i brani e musicista dalla pronuncia morbida e impeccabile accompagnata da un fraseggio lirico.

Le sonorità acide della chitarra di Alex Noice e il drumming potente e preciso di Caleb Dolister caratterizzano fortemente il disco, i ritmi ostinati e ipnotici del bassista Sam Minaie sostengono solidamente i fiati che si alternano o duettano in perfetta sintonia. Gavin Templeton al sax alto sembra suonare a memoria con il leader e a tratti nella pronuncia ricorda vagamente Zorn.

Nel complesso si tratta di un buon disco, che si muove in un ambito assai prossimo a quello del giovane quintetto Kneeebody, ma con maggiore propensione al rock e minor inventiva, e che alterna momenti di grande energia ad atmosfere soft dark.


Review for the solo guitar album... A Lonesome Fog

Hmmmm. Sounds as if Antony has more than ten fingers as he swirls multiple notes on that acoustic guitar, some bent, some not. It sounds similar to the one plays inside the piano by muting and banging on the strings. Some of the pieces are a bit violent and eruptive in nature. Some more tranquil and even calm. But everything is quite enchanting. Certain strings buzz, while others are twisted into odd shapes. At times, Antony reminds me of Elliott Sharp, but not as angular or intense. There's definitely some alien sounds as Antony bangs on the strings with some objects, yet it makes sense or tells a short story. This is a most impressive debut from a gifted guitarist worthy of some recognition.

- Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery


The Colter Frazier Quartet - The Colter Frazier Quartet (CD, pfMENTUM, Jazz)

The Colter Frazier Quartet is Rob Wallace (drums, percussion), Miles Jay (bass), Nick Coventry (viola, violin), and Colter Frazier (tenor sax). This self-titled album is surprisingly original and unique. Although these four fellows play what could probably best be described as modern jazz, their music is much more listenable than such a tag would normally suggest. While there is a lot of free improvisation going on, the overall sound is reminiscent of some of the great classic jazz artists from the 1950s and 1960s...except more fluid and, naturally, more polished and updated. The band members reside in Santa Barbara, perhaps the fact that they have not been part of a "scene" in a big city explains their more unconventional and unique approach. The playing is tight and unpredictable...and yet strangely calming and provocative. After hearing this album, we can't help but feel that these guys will be asked to do some heavy duty soundtrack recording in the very near future. Truly cool fluid cuts include "Lloyd's Prayer," "August Ballad," "Lunch With Osby," and "Focus." Recommended.


AllMusic Review by François Couture

The Tee-Tot Quartet are one of Steuart Liebig's grooviest projects, along with the Mentones. In fact, the two bands are clearly connected, personnel-wise (drummer Joseph Berardi plays in both) and in spirit and style. In the Tee-Tot Quartet, Tony Atherton's alto sax and Bill Barrett's harmonica are replaced by the cornet of Dan Clucas and the Dobro of Scot Ray -- in that order: Clucas gets the melodic lines and occasional unison lines with Liebig's contrabass guitar, while Ray's Dobro adds the same kind of grit to the group's sound that Barrett brings to the Mentones. The music on Always Outnumbered ranges from groovy blues-based tracks to mock jazz tunes ("Sunshine Candy") and more free-form slow numbers with a distinct Mingus flavor ("Serenade," "Mercy Kitchen," and "Fearless," where Liebig's snakelike bass work gets to shine). If these pensive moments have their appeal, the album's strength resides in hot pieces like "07-04-00," "Chucktown," and "Barrelfoot Grind" -- tracks where the quartet locks in tight, balancing character playing with attitude and creative license (a phrase that could very well sum up Liebig's approach to composition, be it for groups like this or for contemporary chamber music ensembles). Some of Liebig's projects feature complex and difficult music (very rewarding too, mind you). Like the Mentones' output, this first opus by his Tee-Tot Quartetis based on rootsy beat-driven music that could very well appeal to fans of modern jazz and blues, who might widen their horizons in the process. For, accessible as it may be, this music still has enough bite to deserve a key spot in Liebig's expanding oeuvre.

Steuart Liebig Tee-Tot Quartet: Always Outnumbered


August 4, 2008

A Post-Modern Renaissance Man, West Coast bassist Steuart Liebig is a classically trained composer with numerous pieces to his credit, from orchestral scores to works for unaccompanied contrabassguitar. Liebig calls upon myriad sources as inspiration for his varied projects, from his formative experiences in blues and rock bands to early sideman gigs with soul jazz pianist Les McCann and free saxophonist Julius Hemphill.

Liebig brings his expansive compositional knowledge to American roots music on Always Outnumbered, the debut recording of the recently formed Tee-Tot Quartet (named after bluesman Rufus Payne, an early mentor to Hank Williams Sr.). Similar to The Mentones (another of his many ensembles), the Tee-Tot Quartet combines traditional American roots music with free improvisation, fusing abstracted variations on early blues and jazz styles with pastoral Americana and brief detours into free jazz.

Inspired by the rousing Dixieland of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Fives, the soulful blues of Skip James, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters as well as the sublime work of country pioneer Hank Williams and jazz modernist Charles Mingus, the diverse session encompasses a wealth of moods that range from haunting, cinematic ballads to angular Beefheartian blues, bolstered by a penchant for bursts of free form chaos.

The leader's six string fretless electric contrabassguitar, an instrument of expansive tonal qualities, serves as the quartet's harmonic fulcrum. Liebig's elastic bass lines and fluid melodic contours provide the unit with an unwavering foundation, supported by Mentones drummer Joseph Berardi's buoyant trap set rhythms.

The unorthodox front-line pairs Scot Ray's electrified dobro with Dan Clucas' expressive cornet. Ray (also an accomplished trombonist) generates a kaleidoscopic array of sound with his amplified dobro; from languid slides to fragmentary picking, his instrument's resonator hums with ghostly blues inflection one minute, scintillating crystalline shards the next. Dan Clucas' expressionistic approach resides in the same continuum as Cootie Williams and Lester Bowie; his blustery phrases spiral into a thicket of chattering growls and pungent slurs when not plying plangent, muted cadences.

With their catchy melodies, countrified twang and bluesy demeanor, the Tee-Tot Quartet belongs to a long line of folk/blues deconstructionists. At their most ebullient, their quirky melodic sensibility conjures the surreal Americana of Bill Frisell's collaborations with Ron Miles, as well as Dave Tronzo's mercurial work with Steven Bernstein, while the more tortuous excursions invoke the oblique angles and jagged rhythms popularized by such luminaries as Fred Frith and Curlew. Rough around the edges yet highly accessible, Always Outnumbered is one of Liebig's most enjoyable albums in a growing discography.

Steuart Liebig Tee-Tot Quartet: Always Outnumbered


July 11, 2008

The latest concoction from bassist Steuart Liebig is a conglomeration of progressive jazz and American roots music. An unlikely combo indeed, yet the leader and his quartet pull it off and make it all sound quite endearing and vibrant, to complement the organic attributes devised within the acoustic-electric format.

On this extravaganza, cornetist Dan Clucas summons imagery of 1920's hornist Bix Beiderbecke, coupled with dobro player Scot Ray's boisterous jazz-blues phrasings. However, it's Leibig who clearly shines as the director of operations here, as his fluidly pumping lines anchor the variable flows along with drummer Joseph Berardi's snappy groove attack.

At times, one thinks of an unlikely fusion of vintage jazz and bop, forming some sort of oddball alliance with blues-rock. With that, the band morphs into a continuum of wily arrangements that intermittently straddle the free zone. On "Cleaned, Shaved and Sober," Ray's weepy slide riffs provide a rather eerie contrast to Clucas' lamenting lines. It all rings like one of those after-hours jam sessions, where everyone is feeling the effects of boozing and storytelling.

Lucid imagery comes to the forefront throughout, when the group also kicks out the proverbial jams via rollicking and rolling jazz-rock vamps. Otherwise, the musicians stream the avant element into select passages, which is a facet that adds a notch of zaniness to this wildly entertaining set, dappled with knotty time signatures and a few barn-burning style meltdowns.

In sum, Liebeig has a seemingly endless bag of tricks at his disposal. Like an expert chess player, we can only try and anticipate his next move.

Published 08/01/2008

By David R. Adler

Steuart Liebig/Tee-Tot Quartet: Always Outnumbered

“Tee-tot” is an apt onomatopoeic term for the semi-drunk, limping rhythms put across by this oddball quartet. Led by West Coast “contrabassguitarist” Steuart Liebig, the group boasts a frontline of cornet (Dan Clucas) and Dobro (Scot Ray), with Joseph Berardi supplying understated drums and percussion. The music’s warped, blues-jazz flavor belies its chamberlike precision; it’s something Dave Douglas and Bill Frisell might have come up with if locked in a room together. The themes-usually voiced by cornet and Dobro in unison-defy any clear major-minor schema, reflecting Liebig’s head for atonal composition but also his love of musical tongue-in-cheek.

There’s a sparse, haunted, far-off quality to some pieces, such as “Serenade,” “Fearless” and “Mercy Kitchen,” balanced by the smartass surf-rock of “Bobtail,” the wobbly bright-tempo swing of “Chucktown” and the disjointed beat of “Barrelfoot Grind.” Clucas moves between muted and open horn, while Berardi uses brushes to give even the more assertive pieces a gentler impact. Ray, who has recorded as a trombonist (hear 2003’s Active Vapor Recovery featuring Nels Cline), gets a fantastically pure tone from the Dobro on the quieter tracks, though the instrument sounds less unique, more like a conventional guitar, when Ray opts for distortion.

One of the least predictable handlers of the electric bass, Liebig plays a restrained role in this group, as he does in his more classically oriented Minim quartet. He can solo, no doubt, but more often we hear him anchoring the groove or stepping forward with clear melodies, extending the quartet’s contrapuntal options.


Jim Connolly And The Gove County String Quartet: Jim Connolly And The Gove County String Quartet


September 10, 2007

Jim Connolly and The Gove County String Quartet is the debut of the Santa Barbara-based composer's newest ensemble. Leader of the mercurial chamber music septet The Gove County Philharmonic, contrabassist Connolly largely eschews the Philharmonic's eccentricities in favor of a more refined approach.

While the larger Philharmonic tends towards cinematic flourishes and a circus-like atmosphere that invokes Kurt Weill by way of Carl Stalling, Connolly's string quartet reveals an even richer vein of lyricism.

Drawing inspiration from his heritage, Connolly's compositions for string quartet owe a great deal to such American composers as Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Charles Ives. A classic songwriter at heart, he focuses squarely on folksy sing-song melodies and rhythmic momentum for the basic foundations of his work.

Connolly regularly uses the wide dynamics, quicksilver tempo-shifts and non-linear development commonly employed by many contemporary composers. But where many of his peers allow dissonance and angularity to dominate, Connolly concentrates instead on harmonic counterpoint and the purity of a strong melody.

Influenced by folk, gospel, country and other strains of Americana, his compositions overflow with pastoral atmosphere and bittersweet nostalgia. No stranger to popular music, he even summons a melodic kernel from the Beatles' "Across The Universe" in "Pinocchio."

Rich in harmonious detail, Connolly's compositions are not without subtle surprises. Sprightly Raymond Scott-inspired asides and strident Bartokian episodes alternate with regal passages of Bachian austerity. More episodically varied than the minimalists and more conceptually conservative than the post-serialists, Connolly's work shares similarities with new tonalists such as Aaron Jay Kernis, Michael Torke and George Tsontakis.

A beautiful record, Jim Connolly and The Gove County String Quartet expands beyond the free-wheeling antics explored by his seven-piece Philharmonic, resonating with a sense of timeless maturity.

Brad Dutz: When Manatees Attack


October 4, 2007

Percussionist Brad Dutz has an astounding range of performance and recording credits, from Leo Kottke and Kiss, to Frank Sinatra and Kenny Loggins. On When Manatees Attack, the Los Angles based musical chameleon both inspires and confuses. The result is a strange mix of improvisatory eclecticism rooted within twentieth century classicism. Although compositional in texture, the expressive components contain elements of great surprise, which illustrate the strong improvisational skills of the performers.

Oboist Paul Sherman is based in California and spends much of his time performing classical music. His compositional influences include Carter, Boulez and Ligeti, amd such interests are apparent in the timbre and texture of his instrument. James Sullivan considers bass, contra-alto and contra-bass clarinets to be specialties and also focuses on a great deal of twentieth century performance. Cellist Rachel Arnold is heard only as a texturalist throughout, making her participation less evident or interesting.

The compositions, all of which are written by Dutz, are seemingly titled with an intent to interest strangely. "Spongy Bark begins with a frenetic and disjointed melodic line, which could easily have been written by Carl Stallings in a Stravinsky mood. Dutz's marimba darts through the oboe and bass clarinet. At times, the winds are in unison; elsewhere they are clearly reciting a composed conversation, with composition and improvisation are unequivocally intertwined.

"Insulated Potato Wedges is a lazy yet coherent discourse involving seemingly incompatible musical companions. The cello begins with slow, single tone bowing, providing an ominous undercurrent. The oboe enters with a short expressive melodic line and, as it drifts off, the clarinet continues with an entirely different message of tension. The feeling of great stress continues until the xylophone's frenetic and disjointed passage attempts to create yet another atmosphere of discord. The result is never boring, compelling anticipation of the next turn of phrase or conversation.

"Biff the Salesman is not a diligent spokesman for a rewarding product, but a forgetful reprobate on a frolic of his own. The oboe and marimba dominate much of the proceedings, with the latter providing an undercurrent of manic arpeggios, while the English horn and clarinet state a seemingly haphazard melody in unison. They contin the conversation in a deliberate and clearly cooperative manner, until the instruments each take their own free turn.

Much of the music darts about without a specific melody or tonal center, and also with no specific allegiance or dedication to absolute free form. Dutz's playing propels the group forward throughout, yet it is never clear whether the eventual destination has been determined. The music is restless, yet satisfying; highly polished in its written passages, and also deftly improvised at other times. And never dull.

Emily Hay / Brad Dutz / Wayne Peet: Emily Hay / Brad Dutz / Wayne Peet


June 2, 2007

A summit meeting of West Coast talent, this self-titled release features flutist Emily Hay, keyboardist Wayne Peet and percussionist Brad Dutz blending styles and genres into an unclassifiable mix. With a truly empathic sensibility, these three interact with subtle restraint on a remarkably cohesive selection of improvised pieces. Despite the lack of prewritten material, the predominance of strong melodies, solid rhythms and harmonious interplay is a testament to their virtuosity and adaptability.

All three musicians share a similar aesthetic. Each is a long-standing member of the left coast's creative music community, with memberships in numerous line-ups and ample session work. With inspiration gleaned from seemingly unlikely sources and free from their usual responsibilities, this unstructured setting allows their creativity to develop unimpeded.

Hay plays flute and alto flute, and also contributes wordless vocals. Her flute playing varies in approach, depending on the mood. On "Bean Dip" she alters her tone to resemble the breathy timbre of a shakuhachi, lending it an exotic quality. "It Can Be Thick" features a darker, piercing sound, invoking Robert Dick's expansive pitch control at points. Her wordless vocalese combines the extended techniques of Meredith Monk with the spry chutzpah of Shelly Hirsch, as she sputters, wails and hisses with glee. Her sinister delivery on "Coming!" is accompanied by Peet's haunting organ and Dutz's sparse percussion, evoking a dark and threatening mood.

Peet switches back and forth between piano and organ, with a few waves at a theremin for good measure. The driving piano motif on "Hot Japanese Water" conjures images of a film-noir soundtrack, full of intense locomotive power. On "It Can Be Thick" his organ summons the ghosts of early fusion, simmering with a muscular, Bitches Brew-inspired vibe.

Dutz traffics in a variety of percussion instruments, dabbling in steel drums, congas, doumbec, djembe and countless others. From jaunty gallops, loping tribal patterns, scintillating accents and in-the-pocket vamps, he plays with sensitive economy, maintaining forward momentum while never overstating the beat.

Politely chamber-esque in spots, assertive and caustic in others, the trio drifts easily from one mood to the next, transitioning between them with grace. Mature and considered, this adventurous but accessible recording is a potent reminder of the viability of the occasionally over-looked West Coast improvising tradition.

Emily Hay / Brad Dutz / Wayne Peet: Emily Hay, Brad Dutz, Wayne Peet


May 13, 2007

These three creative musicians from Southern California's avant-garde jazz scene play a large role in keeping the torch lit. Each has recorded free jazz time and again, and their local concert performances continue to provide the sparks that unite generations of music lovers.

On this unique session, Emily Hay vocalizes through her flute and blows a mighty mean streak that picks up emotion along the way. She carries each melodic fragment on high and packs it with energy. She inspires. As co-host of the experimental program Trilogy on radio station KXLU-FM in Los Angeles, she's in a position to know where our freedoms lie. Here, with her two creative partners, she unleashes a spontaneous program of thought-provoking episodes.

Brad Dutz provides the trio's rhythmic foundation with a large number of exotic textures. In a live concert performance, he can be seen moving constantly back and forth between tables of small percussion tools as well as drums and mallet instruments. On this session, he colors with multiple textures, but remains for the most part in the background. Dutz' experience has taught him that there's a time to step out front and there's a time to coalesce. As a versatile jazz percussionist who works all of the Southern California genres, Dutz communicates with a broad audience.

Pianist and organist Wayne Peet gives this session its harmonic colors. Gentle and polite, he turns his attention to the delicate nature of flute, voice and small percussion. Consequently, the session turns pretty and avoids the angst that sometimes follows avant-garde musicians around. Like Dutz, Peet keeps up with other areas of jazz while honoring his free spirit as much as possible. He's led some bodacious funk band sessions in L.A., but is probably better known for the music that he's provided for films such as Bull Durham and White Men Can't Jump.

With this trio album, Hay, Dutz and Peet come alive through their music. Each does his or her part to make sure that the session remains subdued and relatively quiet. However, there are moments when the mood shifts to eerie and tense. The world needs that kind of balance. Spontaneous, free and unattached, their collaboration could have come from any part of the world. There are no ties. This trio persuades without format.

Their "Hot Japanese Water, a personal favorite, rumbles with a consistent rhythm while chasing natural motions all over the place. Another piece takes on the sheen of Ravel's "Bolero, stopping for a brief respite with flute, theremin and light drum friction. "A Lotta T's takes the theremin for a ride while Hay issues wordless vocals and nonsense lyrics that focus on the letter "T, giving us plenty of reasons to smile. The trio's free jazz session, which comes recommended, serves as a genuine pick-me-up.



A long time ago I studied history, with a special interest in religious history, heretic movements and such like. Hermits, monks and ascetics were not my speciality but I did get across them. They are also the source of inspiration for Gregory Taylor (laptop) and Jeff Kaiser (Quartertone trumpet and laptop), who work as The Desert Fathers. Their two lengthy improvisations were recorded live at the Boise Experimental Music festival. Taylor is connected to Cycling74, so the laptops are running wild on max/msp patches I guess. I am not sure why they choose the name The Desert Fathers. For all I know they want to live in silence, away from the world, whereas Kaiser and Taylor are in a dialogue together, they are improvising together. I must say that it was a bit hard to get into this. Both pieces are long (thirty one and twenty six minutes), and it's a straight recording with no editing or overdubbing. Personally I think it would have been a stronger product when they had decided to take things apart and made a re-configuration of the best moments and splice those together. Now we hear them searching for sounds in some cases and that is a pity because it stands in the way of those moments that are really good, when we hear the trumpet struggling and fighting with the laptop sounds. More for the die hard fans or perhaps for those who attended those particular evenings. (FdW)


Dan Clucas / Immediately: Exile


March 29, 2006

Cornetist and composer Dan Clucas has been active on the Los Angeles scene for the last fifteen years, but is only now releasing his debut recording. Clucas has recorded with Jeff Kaiser's Ockodektet and Harris Eisenstadt's Ahimsa Orchestra and has performed with Vinny Golia, Nels Cline and Steuart Liebig and Henry Grimes; he also leads another group, Dead Air. His bandmates in Immediately, except for drummer Rich West, are relatively unknown, but they do deliver a strong and compelling statement which left me waiting eagerly for Clucas' future recordings.

Clucas explains in his liner notes that Exile was born as his "sense of exile, encouraged by the events of the world, started to get the better of me," and it's equally inspired by poet Allen Ginsberg's words that "the imagination—it represents a futile gesture in the USA—and yet the heart lives on it." Immediately was Clucas' medicine for his sense of alienation, and indeed, the music on Exile lives up to the band's name—up front, urgent and risk taking, while honoring other daring musicians.

Exile begins with the rhythmic "Stating the Obvious," which sets the tone for the disc. Clucas has a convincing, tough tone, which is intensified by Brian Walsh on the clarinet and the tenor sax. Noah Phillips' unsettling and manipulated guitar adds to the chaos, bassist Michael Ibarra safely anchors the sonic mayhem, and drummer Rich West colors the dense textures with inventive fractured patterns. All contribute to the tight interplay.

A series of dedications follows with "You Say," for conrnetist Bobby Bradford, which owes much to Ornette Coleman; "Exile," for nuevo tango master Astor Piazzolla—a kind of imaginary violent tango that Clucas keeps boiling to the end; and the folksy "The Black Horn," for John Carter, the most tender piece on this release, with Clucas' muted cornet in the back coloring Phillips' atmospheric lines.

The short "Mothers and Daughters" marks the return to a funky rhythm, and the march-like "Wheat and Weeds," with glimpses of an Americana guitar playing by Phillips, concludes the disc. As on other pieces, it sound as if Clucas is about to lose control of his bandmates, but his assured playing always brings them to a safe haven.

A brilliant release.

Dan Clucas / Immediately: Exile


May 23, 2006

For Exile, longtime Los Angeles cornet count Dan Clucas convenes a quintet he calls Immediately. He uses this rare session as leader to showcase his appealing writing, blistering technique, and good ear for his bandmates. All five improvisers listen hard and create a distinctive sound, equally at ease playing the arrangement or walking in space.

Brian Walsh plays a tenor that's so fat it sometimes bursts at the seams. His clarinet, while considerably trimmer, uses the lack of mass for higher flights. Guitarist Noah Phillips' gifts as a sonic chameleon alter the quintet's sound track by track. He imitates synthesizers, splashes random radio noise, buzzes prepared strings, or simply applies fingers to frets with an astounding selection of notes. Bassist Michael Ibarra's deep resonance keeps time and timelessness. Drummer Rich West's wide-awake polyrhythmic attack paces the ensemble's many mood swings well. Clucas' writing employs hip jazz heads discarded for hair raising freedom rides that resolve back to the theme and out.

"Stating the Obvious flows in on a salacious strut. Ibarra and West set the groove as a silky, snake-stringed Phillips interlude precedes the funk theme arrangement. A beat's pause, then the group spreads out, Phillips crunchy beneath Walsh's flaring clarinet. Clucas drops the mute to blister the brass, and Phillips follows with a twisty grind. The slightly broken post bop of "You Say tears apart behind Phillips' fuzz-tone tales. Clucas recovers the skewed swing with a hard trumpet run. Walsh plays big like Sonny Rollins, and Phillips adds slippery trans-terrestial tones in support. "Exile occasionally blooms into large, humid tango motifs, which deconstruct on variation until they melt into seething blow-fests.

West's subtle percussion introduces and underscores the sparse, balladic The Black Horn. Joining the evocative muted trumpet and ticklish clarinet, Phillips adds quiet radio noise. The sunny "Mothers and Daughters follows Ibarra's jagged bass line into a vigorous workout. After a soul-jazz tease, "Wheat and Weeds gets down to craggier business, still played at an easygoing pace.

Immediately plays with passion and daring, creating music that remains grounded while reaching for the sky.

Dan Clucas Immediately



by Jay Collins

6 March 2006

Borne out of a sense of isolation and frustration resulting from a post-9/11 consciousness, West Coast cornetist Dan Clucas simply “wrote some music, got a band together, called it Immediately, and we played some shows and made this recording.” While Clucas’ liner note comments suggest a relatively laid-back process, what results is a collection of pieces that weaves memorable melodic themes among a thicket of contrapuntal interplay, a sense of chaos and daring, as well as a continuity inspired by the musicians’ getting behind Clucas’ ideals.

Clucas’ his name is hardly one that most folks have pondered due to the fact that he hasn’t appeared on many releases. His comrades are met with a similar sense of obscurity, other than drummer Rich West, who has made a name for himself with a variety of appearances and solo discs, particularly for last year’s wonderful Bedouin Hornbook (check it out if you haven’t heard it).

While the record is a cohesive whole, each of the six tracks easily stands on its own two feet. “Stating the Obvious”, a rhythmic stew, sets the tone voraciously, with clarinetist Brian Walsh making his mark with his sinewy clarinet lines that spark guitarist Noah Phillips’ skronky tatterings and Clucas’ muted threads that soar over the meeting of Michael Ibarra’s arco gliding, Phillips’ torrents, and West’s spunky tumblings.

Three dedications form the middle of the program, with Bobby Bradford getting the nod for “You Say”, which is more in the mode of Braxton than Bradford, as an uptempo head encourages intensified free blowing from Walsh’s tenor, which sets the stage for Clucas’ own delights that meet Phillips’ manipulations head on. Astor Piazzolla is feted on the decidedly Ornettish “Exile”, which is a blast from start to finish; while another one of SoCal’s legends, John Carter, is referenced on “The Black Horn”, a folkish reverie with the group’s melodicism at its best.

Perhaps the strongest track is the Vandermarkian “Mothers and Daughters”, which relies on its funkish vibe to get the message across, with a flair for heady exchanges before circling back to its opening head theme. Finally, Clucas concludes with “Wheat and Weeds”, a funky march that, like many of the aforementioned pieces, teeters on the edge of busting out of control, but manages to stay on the rails thanks to the guidance of the engine room.

Like many other wonderful documents from the Nine Winds and pfMENTUM catalogs, Exile joins the list of excellent small group jazz from the Left Coast. As with many releases from that underexposed scene, let’s hope there is more to come from Clucas and company.

Michael Vlatkovich: Across 36 Continents


January 26, 2006

West Coast trombonist Michael Vlatkovich displays some mature yet nonconformist writing and arranging on Across 36 Continents. The eccentricities prepared for this ten-piece small orchestra make for fresh and at times freewheeling music-making. Then again, Vlatkovich is known for being a bit unconventional. His recent work has been in duets: Call And Response(pfMentum), with poet Dottie Grossman; and Chobraty (Nine Winds), with tubaist William Roper.

Here he enlists some of his usual suspects and playing partners: trumpeters Rob Blakeslee and Jeff Kaiser; and saxophonists Kurt Peterson and Rich Halley. Add to that Jill Torberson's glorious French horn, Mark Weaver's tuba, Alan Lechusza's bass clarinet, and Mark Weber's percussion.

The longest piece also has the longest title: "It's Too Much To See Things Any More Clearly Than One Must See Them. Opening with the scuba-sounding muted trumpet, the off-kilter circus sounds await the merry-go-round's stops and restarts. Drummer Chris Lee lays out for long passages, enabling the one-on-one interactions to shine. The getting up to speed before slowing to each station is quite thrilling and a nice way to feature the soloists.

Vlatkovich plays on the Hollywood noir nostalgia on "All Of You None Of Us Must Know and offers some silly slurring on "5 Why Zee, which opens the disc. He occasionally employs a heavy dynamic sound to drive the music, but mostly he writes music with a light touch and an undeniable grace, like the gentle "I Have These Tears. Poet Mark Weber joins the band on "Be Careful, a meditation on motorways with the band playing echoey (car) horn arrangements behind the poet.

Hopefully Vlatkovich will never surrender to any jazz standard or canon—his music is too precious.

Published 06/01/2006

By Josef Woodard

Steuart Liebig/Stigtette: Delta

There aren’t many electric-bass guitarists running around the avant-improv circles where Steuart Liebig tends to dwell. The unorthodox timbre of plugged-in bass is especially noticeable on his chamberesque project Delta, featuring the refreshing instrumental combination of flutist Ellen Burr, clarinetist Andrew Pask and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. This group, the Stigtette, traverses a rarely traveled and carefully plotted terrain where free playing meets writing vaguely nodding in the direction of such 20th-century modernists as Stravinsky and Hindemith.

If playful wit enters the picture through titles like “Dynamite’s Dionysian Dance” and “Secret One-Hand Shake,” the music itself tends to be more somber in spirit. Vibrant energy isn’t lacking, though, as the players give buoyant life to the lively cadences and terse harmonies of Liebig’s writing.

In the strange dynamics of this group, the unusually versatile wind players hug the road of the composer’s tightly scored and sometimes tricky parts and veer off tastefully into improvisational turf where so directed, mostly in tasteful collective free-for-alls rather than focusing on solo statements. Meanwhile, Liebig has his hands and mind full: detached from the main textural color of the ensemble by his hermetic, electric sound, Liebig serves as a surrogate rhythm section, at once grounding with bass parts and supplying a percussive role.

What to call this quasi-avant-jazz-chamber concoction? To the leader’s credit, “Stigtette music” works just fine.





Most of the twelve pieces included in this album range between New Music and avantgarde Jazz. Nonetheless, some pieces or passages from them turn out to be unclassifiable. With a style clearly identified with experimental music, the artists construct unusual structures created by means of an acute imagination for the architectures of sound. The instruments used here range from contrabassguitars, to flutes, clarinets and basoon. Most of the time, the themes give out a mixture of disquieting melodies and silences.



AllMusic Review by François Couture [-]

For her solo debut Duos, flutist Ellen Burr opted for a selection of duo pieces -- five of them -- bookended by two flute solos. Burr's compositions are mostly based on graphic scores, although in some cases the sense of direction and the tightness over melodic fragments suggest more. Some of these pieces are actually extremely well written, graphically or not, especially "Permutations '62," a kaleidoscopic duet with clarinetist Andrew Pask. "Senbazuru," featuring Steuart Liebig on prepared bass, is another highlight, both players already sharing a rich vocabulary; Burr has appeared in several of Liebig's projects. The two suites with Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon are more abstract, but still have strong moments of virtuosity. Here though, you can feel the graphic score hindering the interplay between the musicians. The 16-minute "Four Square," with percussionist Jeanette Kangas, is the most formal piece here. Rather cold-sounding, it marks the low point of the album. As for the two flute solos, they are geared at showcasing not so much Burr's technique as her control and range of expression. For instance,"Ball of Yarn" is a gripping emotional piece, with lots of Kirk-like breathing; few women care to go down that fiery road and Burr does it with gusto. Duos is the album of an accomplished flute player and a convincing composer.

Ellen Burr 'Duos'

(pfMENTUM 2006)

Specialist in transverse flute, composer and painter, the Losangelina Ellen Burr , proposes with "Duos" a music certainly definable as 'contemporary', in happy balance between compositional heterodoxy, improvisation and jazz, with Anthony Braxton, John Cage and in part Roscoe Mitchell as main referents.

Ellen, mainly active in the Bay Area circuit, is an original musician, inspired by the instrument approach both from the Berio of the 'Flute Solo Sequence' and from a certain Roland Kirk ...

His music is decidedly austere, yet strongly 'physical' in performance, the result of a more conceptual than concrete writing (the scores are 'maps' made up more by visual suggestions than by noted heights - the 'cards' of Roscoe Mitchell ?) where the investigation ex-tempore on the instrument assumes central importance. Even when the starting platform is, as in this project, the dialogue with another musician: Sara Schoenbeck's serious bassoon , Andrew Pask's clarinet , Steuart Liebig's electric bass 'prepared' , Jeanette's drums and drums Kang .

If a few moments of boredom surfaces here and there in the compassionate flute-bassoon duets (Canon-Cards-Canon 1e 2 ) and flute-percussion ( Four Square ) listening becomes more engaging in the lively Permutations '62 (with Andrew Pask), and in Senbazuri (with Steuat Liebig), a unique tribute to Cage's passion for oriental cultures.

However, the most interesting traces of this CD are those in which Ellen proposes herself in solitary dialogue with her own flute, Ball Of Yarn and Warp & Wea , two 'improcompositions' performed with extraordinary intensity and richness of accents.

Added: August 22nd 2006

Reviewer: Pietro Tola



AllMusic Review by François Couture [-]

For Heavenly Breakfast, drummer Rich West decided to work again with a quintet, but retained only the services of trumpeter Bruce Friedman from the group that appeared on Bedouin Hornbook. Ex-Motor Totemist Guild Lynn Johnston (sax and clarinets) completes the small yet agile horn section; electric bassist Dan Krimm replaces Scot Ray and his tuba; finally, the electric guitar is out and the electric piano in, here performed by Emily Beezhold. Although the group on Bedouin Hornbook did a fine job at going through West's whimsical charts, this lineup is much better at filling them in and twisting them slightly out of shape. The opening track, "Bloomsday" is hands-down the best track on the album. It is raucous, driving, and surprisingly tight despite its 11 minutes. West uses simple heads that he transforms in clever ways over funky grooves interspersed with episodes of structured improvisations. The piece evokes the Frank Zappa of Waka/Jawaka with a touch of George Lewis. None of the other six pieces on the album will reach that level of excitement again, but they still have plenty to offer. "Le Petomane" contains some quirky heads, while "Death Pledge" and "A Performer's Objective Is to Put Everyone to Sleep" feature strong, graphic score-based group improvising. Nevertheless, the album would have lost its momentum if it weren't for the concluding piece, "Glenn's Conducting." The longest number at 18 minutes, it provides another highlight, although not in the same register as "Bloomsday." After a long introductory dirge by West (on accordion), Krimm, and bubbling electronics than might be coming from Beezhold's Korg MS2000, the group launches in a series of cut-and-paste sections of tutti lines and subgroup form improvisations. The piece is fractured, restless, but certainly eventful and entertaining, and West succeeds in convincing the listener that the whole holds better together than its parts could lead you to believe. Heavenly Breakfast is one of the nice avant-jazz surprises to come out of the West Coast in 2006. Recommended.



Brassum - Live (CD, pfMENTUM, Modern jazz)

Brassum is Dan Clucas (cornet), Michael Vlatkovich (trombone), Mark Weaver (tuba), and Harris Eisenstadt (drums)...four modern jazz musicians with a flair for the unusual. The tracks on Live were recorded during three of the band's performances in 2004 and 2005. The tracks on this album are spontaneous and unpredictable. What sets this group apart from others is the intriguing use of the tuba as a main instrument. But rather than sounding goofy or comical (which is what can happen when most jazz, pop, and rock bands push the tuba up front in the mix), the instrument seems to fit into this band's equation with comfort and ease. Seven lengthy cuts are presented here...with our favorites being "Selvage," "The Meaning of the Word/Shades of Grey," and "A Grain of Mustard Seed." Recommended for fans of modern obtuse jazz.


Published 07/01/2006

By Christopher Porter

The Choir Boys: With Strings

The Choir Boys are Jeff Kaiser (trumpet, quarter-tone trumpet, flugelhorn, electronics) and Andrew Pask (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax, bass pennywhistle, electronics); the “with strings” includes guitarist G.E. Stinson and contrabass guitarist Steuart Liebig, who augment their instruments with electronics. Together this quartet of talented musicians creates a mass of noise, drones, squeaks and squalls that was almost certainly cool to hear live-and not so cool to listen to on CD.

Recorded live last October at the Ventura College Theater in Ventura, Calif., this is the sort of music that, in concert, can overwhelm you with texture and volume, toying with your equilibrium and distorting your senses. But when compressed into a disc, this sort of aggressive ambient music can lose its immediacy and power. Judging from the CD-booklet photo, the group played in front of a screen, which likely displayed lights and/or images that helped give this sci-fi soundtrack some avant-psychedelic context. But the nearly 80 minutes of sound presented here is more endurance test than mind expander, making you wish some real (and tonal) choir boys would show up. Pass on the CD, but check out the Choir Boys’ next concert.



Many Axes: 2 Many Axes


July 19, 2005

Many Axes is the brainchild of Susan Rawcliffe, who makes ceramic flutes based on centuries-old instruments. After learning the instruments she creates, Rawcliffe jams with wind player Scott Wilkinson and percussionist Brad Dutz, who make up the rest of the trio.

This music is an adventure, if nothing else. The players create a variety of sounds from these clay instruments, adding just what they want, when they want it. Though the music is based in a free environment, it does not fall completely within the confines of jazz. Rather, the trio works from a world music perspective, making sounds that work from a very primitive base at times or more complex styles, such as East Indian forms, at others. This certainly makes for an interesting record, but it lacks the depth and complex ideologies that make up jazz.

That aside, 2 Many Axes is a bit of a monotonous disc that really may require only a single listen. The trio certainly develops a novel idea, creating sounds that you are not going to hear anyplace else. As with other similar projects, the lack of form just does not carry the ideas provided all that far. It's worth a listen, but this material is probably conveyed better live.


AllMusic Review by François Couture [-]

Emily Hay's flute and voice have graced the albums of the avant-prog group Motor Totemist Guildsince the early '80s, but they quite near vanished from the public eye following their 1998 album, City of Mirrors. This CD sets the record straight: she is still active, creative, and witty. Like Minds is a collection of sorts, spanning a decade of activity and a number of projects and collaborations. Despite the diversity, it conveys a strong sense of direction. The music is presented as being improvised, but it still relies on rhythm, composed structures (although possibly instantly composed), and the occasional melody. In short: fans of the Guild will be able to relate to this material, as it shares its invention and some of its subversive avant rock format. Hay is one of America's under-recognized creative singers. Her range, extended techniques, and playfulness should put her alongside the likes of Shelley Hirschand Anna Homler. Among her sidemen on this album are percussionists Brad Dutz, Rich West, Joseph Berardi (ex-Non Credo), and Marcos Fernandes (from the Trummerflora collective), bassists Lisle Ellis and Steuart Liebig, guitarist Michael Whitmore, and violinist Ronit Kirchman. The Hay/Kirchman/Dutz/Berardi quartet works marvelously well in "Call to Unarm," a nine-minute piece that is simply too structured to pass as an improvisation. The same goes for the song "A Year and Two Weeks" (featuring Hay, Whitmore, and Dutz), the only piece with overdubbed vocals. There are a few weak tracks -- the title track for instance, which has some nice vocal interplay between Hay, Kirchman, and trombonist Kurt Heyl, but never really takes off -- but they represent a small minority of the 12 pieces. And Like Minds is one of the most accessible-sounding albums the experimental label pfMENTUM has released. If you have appreciated Hay's earlier work, do not hesitate: hunt down this CD.

Emily Hay: Like Minds


July 4, 2005

Emily Hay comes in off the bench to smack one over the center field wall on Like Minds. A ubiquitous presence on the West Coast improv scene as a pianist, vocalist, and flutist, Hay works as an entertainment copyright paralegal, radio DJ/host, promoter, and soundtrack producer and supervisor—when she's not playing with Vinny Golia, Jeff Kaiser, Adam Rudolph, or any of her many ongoing projects. Her first recording as leader collects twelve tracks recorded over ten years, boasting a stellar array of Pacific improvisers all feeling the magic.

Call to Unarm opens like a kabuki play, with Brad Dutz and Joe Berardi percussing along with Hay's free flights and violinist Ronit Kirchman. Kirchman urges a variety of sound from the violin, and both she and Hay bring fearless vocalese. Lisle Ellis' electronics and Marcos Fernandes' field recordings create a dreamscape for Hay's virtuoso flute flights and vocals on the beautiful "Liturgy of Sound. Michael Whitmore's guitar and Hay's diabolical vocal on "A Year and Two Weeks combine for a sound reminiscent of Bongwater, with Dutz on thereminesque synthesizer.

Wayne Peet's understated piano provides the incense for Hay's meditation on Boiled Cadillac. Jagged edges and wavering tones play "Crooked Hopscotch, with Michael Intriere's cello bobbing and weaving. Hay seamlessly weaves vocals and flute with Sara Schoenbeck's inventive bassoonistics. The ever-present Dutz sounds like at least two percussionists.

The title track trio includes Kurt Heyl's roaming trombone with Kirchman's violin slash and Hay's peripatetic piccolo. All three vocalize. "Wha' 'Bout features a trio of Hay with Steuart Liebig and Rich West. Liebig's bass throb shadows Hay's floating vocal, giving way to West's rolling rhythm. Liebig goes to funky town and Hay rides the alto along with him.

Now in the spotlight and off the sidelines, Emily Hay arrives to find her place among like minds.


Live improves collected over several years make up this issue. Hay pulls us onboard her distinct caravan of floating atmospherics and on-the-spot rituals. I like them when theyre spacey (Call to Unarm), when theyre goofy (A Year and Two Weeks), even when they are kinda ECM neoclassical (Boiled Cadillac). In Wha Bout she explores the ritual substrata that sounds like it might underpin all traditional cultures, i.e. she goes into Meredith Monk territory. Yet she makes music with her own stamp. That stratas got room for everybody. All her cohorts are recommendable. Let me just mention, however, Michael Whitmore on guitar and Brad Dutz on synthesizer, melodica and percussion. Hay is a top drawer improviser and shes very well accompanied here.

Richard Grooms

The choir boys.


Here are short sounds, micro-figures and textures, trumpet flurries - tightly integrated with electronic sound which makes various delay and transformation of them, most of the time rather echoing and extending the laid-back feeding of instrumental sounds than taking it out of its way of being. At the end of track 7 instruments are heard "solo", just with reverberation, as the "naked" form of electronic processing.


Jeff Kaiser / Andrew Pask -- THE CHOIR BOYS [pfMENTUM]

This disc is a series of seven duets between Jeff Kaiser (trumpet, quarter-tone trumpet, flugelhorn, live processing) and Andrew Pask (clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano / alto / tenor saxophones, bass penny whistle, live processing), all recorded live in the studio with no overdubs or pre-recorded samples in October of 2004. These are largely extended workouts -- three are approaching ten minutes, two exceed fifteen -- featuring a variety of sounds created with traditional instruments, some of which are allowed to stand, while others are significantly mutated. The sound, especially on tracks like "Wheeling Rebus," is surprisingly vast and multi-layered for only two players being present, with a significant element of drone amid the traditional sound of wind instruments. "Dim Effigies" opens with a loud explosion of sound, as the instruments are processed in a wildly overdriven manner for several minutes before resuming a more "normal" (and less ear-frying) sense of interplay before mutant sound blasts begin to creep back in as the piece progresses, along with long, sustained drones. The album's center is taken up by the two longest works, "The Variability of Stammering Arrows" and "Blue Air Habit," themselves almost the length of a full album at over thirty minutes; the former is driven by more loud experiments in sound processing and drones, with a sense of dynamics that flow and ebb as the sound of violence dies away and is replaced by more serene playing, only to pick up again later. The latter is built more around natural sounds, although there are moments of processing that result in whirling, high-pitched drones and, toward the end, thundering waves of low-end bass rumble. The mixture of natural sounds and processed sounds makes for a shifting, drifting ocean of texture in which all things are impossible to pin down. There's something happening here and you don't know what it is, do you, Mister Jones? Better sit down while you try to figure out how it's possible to make ordinary instruments sound so otherworldly.





This is a daring release merging Avantgarde Jazz with acoustic

experimentation and influences from New Music, as well as other, more

difficult to place, traits which contribute to endow this release with a

great originality. Kris Tiner plays the trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo

trumpet and saxoflugel. Mike Baggetta plays prepared acoustic guitar. The

succesive sonic textures take us step by step into an unexplored terrain.


Brad Dutz: Nine Gardeners Named Ned


November 11, 2005

Los Angeles percussionist Brad Dutz spends more time outside on Nine Gardeners Named Ned. With names like Kris Tiner, John Fumo, Sara Schoenbeck, and Ellen Burr joining the ensemble for a session of snails and adventure, the listener can expect some rare and exotic blooms. Throw William Roper's wry words into the mix, and they morph into genetically modified organisms.

Dutz's compositions require genre-melting sensibilities from the players who eagerly accommodate him. His contributions as a player add more to musicality and sound than stimulating beat fever. The nine pieces hang together like a suite.

Dutz manages a percussion fanfare preceding the sly theme of "Look at the Pretty Weeds... They're Dead." Dutz (on bongos) and drummer Chris Wabich throw beats back and forth while Kim Richmond circulates on clarinet. John Fumo blows the flame hotter on trumpet. Sara Schoenbeck bends and molds her rich bassoon sound around charted flourishes. "Rotted Vegetables... Too Late to Pick introduces the Nine Neds via one of Roper's inventive tall tales. After a brief ensemble sojourn, "Rotted fruit... infested with insects becomes a bawdy retelling of the Eden expulsion myth by Roper. Near humid drumming opens "Distribute Fertilizer... Evenly, where Wabich's gentle steel drums lurk through the shady theme.

A flurry of drums, shakers, and beatables open "I Like Brown Leaves Especially When They're Torn. The ensemble riff sets up a marimba solo by Dutz and a veering bass clarinet run by Bob Carr. "Leaf Blowers Are Stinky... And Loud briefly explores angular counterpoint, then "Norbert Rakes Bark... And Mulch leads with the drummers playing a field snare march. Flutes and piccolos counterpoint bassoon, tuba and bass leading to a military meltdown.

The moody ensemble piece Wicked Late For Nite Blooming... But Not Dusk, shifts and changes, with entertaining group improvisations opening up along the way. "Plant the Bulbs... Frequently rides a clown car through Nino Rota land.

On Nine Gardeners Named Ned Dutz and company create a rich musical landscape composted with restrained improvisations, a garden where the hours fly by.

Wayne Peet Quartet: Live At Al's Bar


October 21, 2005

Some things are worth the wait. It's taken four years for Left Coast keyboardist Wayne Peet to mix this live recording from Al's Bar in Los Angeles, and another two to release it. But Live at Al's Bar—featuring guitarists Nels Cline and G.E. Stinson, along with drummer Russell Bizzett—is the kind of recording that never goes out of date. Filled with kinetic energy, it's best categorized as fusion, but its anti-solo approach makes for a refreshing change from the more chops-laden approach that often typifies the genre.

Not that there's any lack of virtuosity. Cline has always shown an encyclopaedic musical knowledge—as influenced by The Byrds as he is by Sonic Youth and John Coltrane. Capable of shredding with the best of them, his own records—notably last year's The Giant Pin—reveal a world view where blending the aesthetics of Jim Hall and Jimi Hendrix makes complete sense. But he's more interested in creating collectives than displaying frightening chops for their own sake.

Stinson may be even more texture-oriented than Cline, adding "mangled recordings to his own sonically altered guitar work here. Since first establishing his name with the more accessible Shadowfax, Stinson has since gone on to become a deeper part of the edgy Left Coast scene, operating in the same musical circle as others associated with labels like Cryptogramophone, Nine Winds, and pfMentum.

Peet is better known as an engineer on dozens of productions since the early 1990s. It's likely that his involvement on the recording side has resulted in his intrinsically self-editing, lean, and powerful playing style. Bizzett, essentially unknown outside the LA scene, is a true listening drummer, meshing perfectly with the open ears of Peet, Cline, and Stinson.

Live at Al's Bar has a clear precedent in the late drummer Tony Williams' Lifetime group with Larry Young and John McLaughlin, specifically the seminal fusion of Emergency! (Verve, 1969). Still, the group gives a sonic update to its similarly raw approach. The extended "Five Swirls and "Five Doors are more episodic jams than fixed compositions, the former being groove-centric and the latter more a sound collage, ranging from restrained to extreme. Still, despite the occasional full-frontal assault of Cline and Stinson, an ongoing sense of development makes for provocative listening. Noise improv groups like Wolf Eyes and Hair Police could take a few cues from this group about the value of contrast. Noise improv this ain't, but it shares some textural similarities.

Peet's riff-based "Inner Funkdom closes the set—the only track featuring conventionally delineated solos. Even so, it's more about effect than melody, texture instead of linear themes—although everyone solos with a firm sense of construction.

Wayne Peet's quartet isn't likely to play a venue near you, but thanks to Live at Al's Bar we can all experience what it was like, one night in 1999, to hear an electrifying group combine reckless abandon with big ears, open minds, and a firm desire to build ambient soundscapes transcending individual contribution.

Wayne Peet Quartet: Live At Al's Bar


October 10, 2005

Recorded several years ago at a live club date in Los Angeles, Wayne Peet's quartet boils over with a hot, steamy affair that brings you up and out of your seat within minutes. The crafty organist, best known for the creative improvised music that he's worked out with Vinny Golia, as well as numerous Southern California studio assignments, turned Al's Bar into a one-night stand of hail and rain. His musical partners, drummer Russell Bizzett and guitarists Nels Cline and G.E. Stinson, throb and swing while Peet lays down a rhythmic foundation and slides around the room with an array of quirky melodies.

Experimenting with myriad electronic effects, the quartet creates impressions of mystery and suspense. Their soulful groove gets your body reacting naturally, while their spontaneous explorations translate into meaningful dialogue.

Peet opens "Five Doors" with an eerie juncture, enters with a placid air, builds gradually to a fierce understanding, and closes with all cylinders firing at once. He takes "Five Swirls" through a suite-like set of impressions that provide moving landscapes. "Inner Funkdom" struts and stares with a cocky outlook as the quartet parades its feelings on the matter for all to see. Woven throughout the session is a thread of funk and down-home fun. Peet has soul, and his quartet has the freedom to turn it loose. Together, they have created a recommended album that's sure to appeal to a broad audience.

Dan Clucas / Immediately: Exile


December 25, 2005

This disc had me from the first few notes, and that's a rare event, especially when it is by a new (unfamiliar) artist.

Cornetist Dan Clucas can be heard on a couple Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet (large ensemble) sessions, but otherwise you might not have heard his music. And besides drummer Rich West, who has worked with Vinny Golia's Nine Winds label, this disc is a nice introduction to a few other unfamiliar artists.

Clucas opens with the funky, odd-metered "Stating the Obvious, which mixes a bit of John Abercrombie guitar work by Noah Phillips with Brian Walsh's snaking clarinet sound. It's a composition that gathers music from many sources, taking an outward stroll but landing back on the groove block.

Clucas makes an interesting choice with the cornet here. His dedication to Bobby Bradford on "You Say begins with an Ornette/Bradford 1960s sound, but quickly steps on the gas with some very impressive tenor sounds by Brian Walsh. Phillips is credited with guitar only, but he stretches his instrument into the electronics category by twisting knobs and applying effects. Bassist Michael Ibarra keeps matters rooted with an acoustic time structure throughout, making this a very accessible recording.

The band asks you to play "find the tango" on the Astor Piazolla-dedicated title track. Oops, there it is, but they don't stay long before it's off to new time zones and adventures. While purists may demur, Clucas and his swirling caldron of ideas effectively keep the soup from spilling over, always summing up and returning to his original thoughts.

The very Americana feel of "Mothers And Daughters is once again framed by Ibarra, with Rich West and Phillips breaking towards freedom. Clucas' composition, akin to drummer Matt Wilson's writing, is the star here. He seems to be able to capture a folksy angle on jazz. For a West Coast artist, he certainly has a Midwestern sound.

Exile is a precious find in the new artist(s) category.


AllMusic Review by François Couture [-]

At last, Anna Homler has delivered an album that can match her fabulous and highly praised Victo release, Corne de Vache. This collaboration with bassist Steuart Liebig is a perfect match. The man's E-flat contrabass guitar rules the low frequencies, while his bass preparations, simple electronics, and sweeping loops offer a nice complement to Homler's bottomless bag of toys and objects. And, of course, she has the voice of an enchantress, singing in a naturally flowing language only she understands -- somewhere between a casual incantation and an infant's babble. Kelpland Serenadesis a set of "live, undubbed improvisations" according to the booklet, which fails to indicate precisely when and where it was recorded. There is a handful of short tracks of one to three minutes in length; they feature the strongest collective improvisations, each musician in perfect communion with the other's own universe. The longer pieces tend to feature a leader. At times it is Liebig's bass loops, as in "Sehnsucht," where Homler barely manages to place a few toy sounds (that is, until the bassist cuts the loops off, letting the singer compose an instant song). Elsewhere, it is Homler's turn to take the center stage, Liebig simply punctuating her phrasing and attempting to influence the overall mood of the piece unfolding. Homler can do wonderful things with toys, be they instruments or cheap electronic gadgets, but one wishes she would sing more on this album. Still, pieces like "Winter Street," "Sidpaho," "Radix Vitae," and the aforementioned "Sehnsucht" (and so many others) will ravish fans of the too-discreet vocalist. And Liebig's performance once more illustrates his versatility. Highly recommended, especially if you already own Macaronic Sines or Corne de Vache and need to hear more from her.





Scott Fraser, who has been writing electro-acoustic music since 1972, and trumpetist Bruce Friedman, whose versatility is remarkable, join their talents in an album cropping mostly from improvisation. The music, of an experimental nature, albeit harmonious, varies amongst structures typical of Contemporary Music, with others nearer to deep Ambient.In some tracks Fraser uses the electric guitar with reverb effects so that it sounds with sharp chords, organ-style, thus contributing a great part of the ghostly landscape on which Friedman outlines his enigmatic melodies by means of the trumpet.



"This is a formidable and a well-matched duo that has found a pathway to connect so well with each[other] and with us as well."

— Bruce lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

The duo Lechusza/Adler is compacted with a refinement to outstrip any conventionality, succeeding to meld multicultural melodious invention three times over.


Steuart Liebig / Stigtette: Delta


December 22, 2005

While he's experimented with larger ensembles on albums like Pomegranate(Cryptogramophone, 2001), contrabassguitarist Steuart Liebig tends to favour the more intimate context of the quartet. But his groups have been anything but conventional, with his three Quartetto Stig albums featuring violin, trumpet, contrabassguitar, and drums, and last year's Quicksilver (pfMentum) a combination of flute, violin, contrabassguitar, and percussion. Still, despite the unorthodoxy of his instrumentation, there's always been a rhythm section.

Not so on Delta, which, for Liebig, most heavily blurs the line between contemporary composition and improvisation. Featuring flautist Ellen Burr (back from Quicksilver), clarinetist Andrew Pask, and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, Delta has more to do with modern classical concepts than traditional jazz harmonies. Both Pask and Schoenbeck were recently seen on left coast scene progenitor Vinny Golia's Large Ensemble: 20th Anniversary Concert (Nine Winds, 2005) DVD, another release that demonstrated how the long-held line between jazz improvisers and classical interpreters exists no longer. Delta occupies a similar space, but in its smaller size avoids the chaos that sometimes characterizes Golia's large ensemble.

Delta is no easy listen, deceptive though it might be with the relatively soft tones of the flute and clarinet, and the warm low end of the contrabassguitar, bassoon, and bass clarinet. While Liebig's electric contrabassguitar would appear to be odd man out in the lineup, it feels equally organic, and meshes well with the wind instruments.

Liebig also uses prepared techniques to give his instrument a more percussive texture, as on "Dynamite's Dionysian Dance, one of the more rhythmically insistent tracks on the disc, and Secret One-Hand Shake, where his instrument is altered so much that it loses clarity, creating a clangy, almost mechanical sound beneath Pask's clarinet solo.

Liebig describes "Our Lady of the Illuminated Hand as "a requiem of sorts, and its somber mood certainly alludes to darker matters. Between dissonant harmonies, Pask's multiphonics and Liebig's gut-deep tones, there are references to 20th Century composers like Ligeti. But with its improvisational component, it also goes to unexpected places that more formal classical composers would never envisage. "Light Cloud, Dark Cloud is equally brooding, but purer of tone, even at times approaching a dark lyricism.

They may not know each other, but there's evidence that Liebig and British ex-pat multi-instrumentalist Fred Frith come from some of the same musical places. While more detailed in structure, "Seven Secrets About Time bears resemblance to some of Frith's '70s group Henry Cow's chamber-like passages on Unrest (East Side Digital, 1974) and In Praise of Learning (East Side Digital, 1975).

While Liebig has worked within conventional rhythm section frameworka on albums like trombonist Scot Ray's Active Vapor Recovery (Cryptogramophone, 2003) and percussionist Gregg Bendian's Interzone record Myriad (Atavistic, 2000), his own path is moving more towards a classically informed chamber aesthetic. Beautiful may not be a word that comes immediately to mind when describing Delta, but there is something strangely compelling about Liebig's blend of detailed structure and more open-ended improvisation, making Delta a worthwhile investigation for the open-minded listener.


Eric Sbar Shows Off A NiceJaquet


March 13, 2004

Where Santa Monica Blvd falls dead at Sunsets doorstep, pfMentum held a cd release party for Eric Sbar and niceJaquet’s Cactus at the 4016 Gallery. Anyone looking for sanctuary from the cold December’s night kept walking past the bare concrete floor and walls of the gallery, with its rounded concave gray flake and peeling paint ceiling. Musicians blew on their hands, and stood before tiny floor heaters. Sbar wrote and performed an impressive array of music with three different ensembles. Despite some dalliance with trombone, Sbar’s main horn remains the euphonium, a tenor tuba. In his hands the horn comes in from the brass band, and becomes an agent of soul, emotion, and inspiration.

With the well-attended affair in full swing, Sbar began a somber solo near the door of the adjoining gallery. Across the room, Jennifer Jester began playing counterpoint to Sbar’s line on euphonium. Near the front door, pfMentum’s CEO, Jeff Kaiser, played a third variation on flugelhorn, and in the adjoining gallery Martin Loyato completed the quartet on flugelhorn. Ritualistically, the four walked slowly toward the stage while playing the deeper ranges of their horns. Sbar and Jester fell into a harmonized melody that the flugelhorns emulated.

After that reverent fanfare, the second band of the evening assembled. Multi reedist Cory Wright successfully steered a small crowd of winds through Sbar’s treacherous straits. 6-string bass ace Steuart Liebig exerted his melodic and rhythmic grace, locked tightly into the exuberance of drummer Corey Fogel. Even with the morguish chill of the night, Fogel created his own heat playing in barefeet, t-shirt, and jeans. Whenever possible, Tim Hatfield blew fire from his tenor sax.

With Sbar on trombone, and Wright on alto, the front line launched a jaunty arrangement seemingly stretched when the Fogel and Liebig joined polyrhythmic. The horns slid out of precision into freedom. Hatfield took a meaty turn on tenor. Liebig’s great ear allowed him to work off Hatfield’s invention. Fogel kept it steady for Liebig to unleash the beast and display his range. Wright and Sbar conversed sans band. Eventually, Fogel hit short bursts, each impact matched by Liebig. Hatfield recombined with Sbar and Wright, and the ensemble rushed into the coda deftly hitting rests.

Wright’s solo clarinet wound through the initial measures of “Abby and the Monk.” Sbar answered on euphonium and Liebig picked up the theme. Fogel entered, Sbar dropped out, and Wright led the trio. With Liebig and Fogel solid, the horns improvised over the increasingly funky beat. Hatfield blew gold again. The next piece found Wright on baritone. Small sounds set the mood, with Liebig tapping small clips attached to his strings. The three horns sustained low notes, and Sbar finessed a rich toned meditation that became acapella. Wright resumed exploring the ponderous ballad with Sbar. The ensemble returned and Wright continued his slow sad solo. Sbar on trombone and Hatfield played support, while Fogel kept it light with a brush and a mallet.

After intermission, a variation on the niceJaquet band took over. Only Jason Mears on alto and Ivan Johnson on bass showed up from the original session. Wright stayed on flute and clarinet, Jessica Catron played cello, TJ Troy hit percussion, and Jonathan Stehney played bassoon. “Gotcha” rocked harder than the recorded version, with the percussionists slamming and Mears flying on alto. As the structure evaporated, Sbar soloed over Catron and Johnson’s bowing, both drummers used hand percussion, and right on time everyone snapped back to the opening riff.

For the next improvised piece, Wright and Johnson created a darkly serious atmosphere. Mears played multiphonics, Catron runs, and Stehney pops. Fogel scraped his cymbals before an extended use of silence by the band. Sbar blew toneless air through his horn, occasionally poking the quiet, percussion used light gongs and vibes. On “Bubba Lou,” Wright played the sing song flute, and Johnson pulled an impressively dexterous solo. Returning to the airy theme, Stehney, Mears, and Wright read through some tough turns then the ensemble rose in improvisation. Wright’s flute pulled everyone back for the ending.

Finally, the beautiful “Chorale” ended the concert. A spacious seeming improvised opening coalesced into a rolling figure that allowed room for a warm Sbar solo and duet with Stehney. Jason joined the round and with fullness of the bowed bass and cello, the evening came to satisfying conclusion with a thunderous ovation.

Sequences that seemed improvised on the cd found the musicians reading their charts with tight rope walker’s eyes. All three ensembles clearly rehearsed extensively to achieve a cohesion that seemed as spontaneous as the improvisations. Even so, by the end of the chilly evening many of the revelers were still bundled up like characters from South Park.

Rich West: Bedouin Hornbook


June 8, 2004

This long anticipated Rich West collection rewards the wait. A longtime Los Angeles new music mainstay, West goes with the locals, assembling his band of Bedouins from home-based talent. LA sound scientists and cultural engineers Jeremy Drake and Chris Heenan hold down electric guitar and reeds, respectively. Although familiar to local audiences playing amplified acoustic guitar as a synthesizer, Drake here surprises with deftly straightforward guitar as well as his signature sonic explorations. For Heenan, West and Scott Fraser’s production collects all the subtle sound and nuance he pours into his performances. Scott Ray returns from his highly praised Active Vapor Recovery project to essay the bass parts on e-flat tuba. West’s compositions include Nino Rota like strands of old carnival music and Ray’s tuba makes it real. Bruce Friedman provides sinewy yet lyrical improvisations with an inviting tone.

While you expect strong improvised outings from these musicians, West’s writing delivers unexpected treats. Opening with “Bugge,” the band rises out of lightly articulated noises, including minor mouthpiece manipulations from Heenan, to climb aboard Ray’s funk train. Heenan and Friedman duet a carousel theme, that morphs into Ray’s agile tuba sparring with Heenan’s alto. Drake plays chorded support, and adds to the dialogue. Next, Friedman introduces a lowdown tango suggested by Ray and Drake with West dancing through. Then he joins Ray and Drake in riffing for Friedman’s pungent exploration. “Tribology” busts out the gate with off kilter lurchings. Ray continues to keep everyone honest and Friedman goes through his paces followed by Drake’s Skunk Baxter lead that launches a satellite. Drake stays echoplexed for Heenan’s rough toned run.

A deep didjereedo-like drone and accompanying drones open “Twang.” Heenan and Friedman duet a short figure and the various long tones continue. After their third such interlude, the band works variations on that figure, Drake tangling it like yarn. West has the whole ensemble steadily out of step creating the illusion of looseness. He steers the piece to the fun zone, and the happily oblige.

Small sounds and Heenan pops start “Tychai 1 and 2.” Brief carnivaliyana detours the group improvisation. Heenan on bass clarinet joins with Ray to create the elephant stomp of “Curly.” Friedman takes a bright ride over the bass heavy riff, West rolling the cage with Drake’s funk rhythm guitar. Ray takes the tuba to the basement for “Furcifer.” West honks bozo horns and Drake brings space signals. Friedman plays a counterpoint theme with Ray, Heenan sometimes doubles the line on bass clarinet, and sometimes changes it.

Smart writing from an original voice, and the depth of the players make this a set that should find a long life on the laser player.

Many Axes: 2 Many Axes


December 4, 2004

Susan Rawcliffe, Scott Wilkinson and Brad Dutz fill a room with their many axes, arrange all the instruments on tables just so, and move freely from end to end, selecting the right sound-maker as each idea rushes into their combined frame of reference. The session is a flood of ideas, and these three veterans of the modern creative music scene make it work. Their music absorbs your thoughts and mesmerizes.

The water flutes of "Puddle" combine water sounds with percussive melodies. These aren't mere impressions: the artists create their scene with the genuine article. By blowing into bottles and animal horns, Rawcliffe and Wilkinson create spontaneous melodies while Dutz explores the world of percussion possibilities. The result is natural, primitive, and entirely fresh.

The threesome communicates with differing themes. "Roll Over Johann" features tabla and flutes in an East Asian adventure. Similarly, "Dali Comma" takes the trio's collective improvisation on a world tour with clay xylophone and lyrical pipes. "Unheard Melodies" combine the sound of the wind with other everyday sounds to accompany Wilkinson's euphonium soliloquy. To fit the occasion, however, his euphonium feature consists of air—a lot of air. His use of bass recorder on "Buried There" follows a similar theme, as his delicate notes drone and moan.

The trio is at its best on "Mastodon Stew," where the clay didgeridoos (claydoos) are used to rumble out a deep-seated chant that would appear to have stemmed directly from a bridge to ancient cultures. Elsewhere, the program moves through traditional sounds from around the world, as Rawcliffe, Wilkinson and Dutz employ their vast array of acoustic musical instruments in adventurous motion. Recommended, 2 Many Axes provides a unique listening experience that is at once peaceful and adventurous.

2 Many Axes – Many Axes

Published: 2004/10/30

by Jesse Jarnow

Recording for the percussion-heavy pfMENTUM label outta California, Many Axes do well to add to that imprint’s sense of sound and color. Playing almost exclusively on homemade instruments, the Many Axes trio carves out just under an hour of weirdly structured improvisations that are perfectly suited for deep listening. The three musicians always hang out in the realm between the ethereal and the New Age, and – thankfully – fall more often with the former than the latter. The minute-and-a-half "Pillbug’s Nightmare" is a tone poem for ocarina and slit drums. Most songs effectively make use of melodic percussion while retaining a rich ambient vibe. 2 Many Axes is far from easy listening, though also a relaxing, rejuvenating experience. It is Zen, and it is weather, and it is water falling between strangely carved rocks. Oblique Strategies sez: ‘Abandon normal instruments.’

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From L.A. Citybeat

Jan. 8-14, 2004


When Philadelphia poet Dottie Grossman came to Los Angeles in the late 1970's, she found the town liberating for her work. Her now-deceased husband, improvisational pianist Richard Grossman, was already artistically mature. The L.A. experience pared her work down to its wry essence; she titled Richard's recordings ("Moon, Tap-Dancing Outside"), and produced observational epigrams that are small gems. Four years ago, she shared radio space with trombonist Mike Vlatkovich on Mark Weber's KUNM jazz show in Albuquerque. Weber suggested they perform together and, despite Grossman's objections (she's old enough to remember the crimes committed in the name of Poetry and Jazz), she acquiesced and enjoyed it. For his part, Vlatkovich relishes the creative demands of their "call and response" mode. She reads and he responds in a way that skirts the obvious and the literal. Instead, he finds an emotional point in Grossman's work from which to spontaneously compose. Only a player with Vlatkovich's compositional and improvisational depth could pull it off so gracefully. They're working this weekend in a new series of music and spoken word curated by saxophonist Richard Wood, which he calls "Godot's Ear." (Wood and his own ensemble are also part of the bill.) Grossman could have been talking about the series when she wrote, "A new house is rising/like a miracle, on baby feet."


AllMusic Review by Eugene Chadbourne

Certain things can just be counted on when it comes to a large ensemble effort organized by Jeff Kaiser. First off, many avant-garde players associated with the Los Angeles music scene will take part. If desirable, a listener with eyes closed can both imagine and actually count these players driving into Kaiser's hometown of Ventura and looking for parking places near the town's City Hall, where most of these gala musical events take place. When it comes time for Kaiserto create a document of the proceedings, rest assured it will come superbly packaged complete with an amusing titling scheme; 13 Themes for a Triskaidekaphobicis a perfect example, the names given to the individual sections seeming to reference the leader's somewhat ludicrous background in the world of fundamentalist preaching.

Nonetheless, it is not an insane assumption to suggest that more concentrated time went into these aspects of packaging and presentation than into the music itself. This is just a matter of practicality, as designing an album cover could normally be the work of one or two people meeting, whereas getting all the members of an "ockodektet" together for extended rehearsal time is probably as impossible as convincing one of Ventura's wealthy retired citizens to take a midnight stroll through the crime-ridden streets of nearby Oxnard. Every composer, conductor, or presenter of this kind of ambitious large ensemble of music would probably agree on one thing and one thing only: there is never enough time to do the thing properly. The many existing recordings of such ventures could collectively serve as a kind of a monument to this reality; this one can be added to the top or the bottom of the pile, basically no worse but not much better than so much other stuff like this. While the realms of free jazz and avant-garde music are where composers such as Kaisermost easily find associates willing to be drafted into large groups, many stylistic aspects of this type of music conspire to turn the composer's original intentions into a kind of faceless mass, lacking in any personality other than the extended instrumental techniques and stream-of-consciousness doodling that is as obvious an element in this type of music as Britney Spears' belly button is to the pop music of the new millennium. Players such as saxophonists Lynn Johnstonand Vinny Golia, fantastic as they are, are doing nothing here they haven't done already, blowing away like typical free jazzmen with -- hopefully -- an eye cocked to catch one of Kaiser's cues. The titled themes flow together into an extended performance that lasts more than 70 minutes. How much composed material was utilized and how it relates to the various track titles will be hard to discern for most listeners. Indeed, there is quite a gulf of interest between the tantalizing titles and the actual music. "Gravity Was an Errant Scoundrel," for example, is a heck of a title. But most of these sections don't sound so distinct from each other, the overwhelming effect sometimes consisting simply of players trying to find a note, any note, that might be audible over the sounds of all the other players. In the final "I Wish My Uncle Toby Had Been a Water Drinker," electric guitars and keyboard dominate with quite a hard background coming from the drummers -- this seems to be one of the major changes in timbre in the program. Kaiserhas a fantastic musical mind and although it can be heard at work here from time to time, the results are hardly that special. Part of the orchestra plays what sounds like an old brass band theme; the rest of the group freaks out. The horn players randomly choose pitches in order to assemble big, fat dissonant chords behind a soloist, the result sounding like not much more than the needle being dropped anywhere on an Alan Silva Celestrial Communications OrchestraLP. Kaisercan be considered a philosophical descendent of Silvabecause of the time and energy he puts into trying to create large ensemble works in which improvisers play an important role. These efforts and the existence of so many excellent musicians willing to try to help pull off such events and the resulting surge in community spirit are all extremely important and encouraging aspects of society. While 13 Themes for a Triskaidekaphobiccan't be said to be Kaiser's greatest recording, it is literally dripping with goodwill, presenting a promise that one of these nights he is going to do something like this that will really be brilliant.\


AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

The duo of brass virtuoso Jeff Kaiserand percussion master Brad Dutzis a pair that seems unlikely on paper given the investigative nature of the music found on The Order of Her Bones. But it is an illusion presented by how tightly wound in the improvisational world these musicians are. Over the course of 12 compositions, Dutzand Kaiserattempt to give sonic expression to themes from T.S. Eliot's landmark poetic work, Four Quartets. Small, streamlined phrases are articulated through the force of a line in the poems, and then moved into the center of the exploration to be considered by trumpet, flugelhorn, and any five or ten of literally 100 percussion instruments. And, unlike a free-rambling meditation on emotional transference or imagery, this pair concentrates on the "song" element in these poems, the music in their chosen section or phrase. Each improvisational element, each exchange, each flurry of notes and beats dovetails from the last into the next. These sections move toward one another even as one musician brings both challenger and consolation to the other. The individual sections mean nothing without the whole and that's how this work was conceived, and as such, it is full of shadow, balance, nuance, and tonally brilliant communication and articulation. This is a gem; seek it out from


AllMusic Review by Matt Borghi

Ted Killian's Flux Aeterna begins with a eerily apocalyptic electric guitar solo that in places seems to quote parts of Jimi Hendrix' by now world-famous rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" from 1969's Woodstock Music Festival. With the first track as a point of departure, Killian moves through a series of compositions where the guitar plays the main role, while surrounded by a variety of synthesized harmonic tapestries. For the most part, though, the guitar is the primary melodic instrument on Flux Aeterna, and really shows Killian experimenting with it in a lot of new ways. In places, this recording sounds like the work of Robert Fripp and King Crimson, and in other places there's strangely experimental work going on that's reminiscent of Brian Eno, and even some of John Cage's work. However, one thing is certain: Ted Killian has created a fantastic disc that truly creates a new harmonic vocabulary both for the guitar and for the guitar as background and foreground instrument. Guitar players in particular should pay special attention to this recording, but if you're looking for a recording that seems to be slightly -- very slightly -- tinged with an 1980s synthesizer sound (as well as a very unique guitar sound), then this is certainly a fantastic recording.


Musical Complement

Soundtrack created by Ventura promoter of new music enhances short film, and stands alone.

August 25, 2000


In Ted Mills' short, beguiling and funny film "nowhereland," a character in some unspecified post-Orwellian zone wanders about a bleak quasi-sci-fi landscape. He and his co-workers exist in a bunker-like area, fiddling with equipment both retro and futuristic, dominated by a tyrannical overlord whose logo is a pug with a pipe.

We are led into a haunting and sometimes goofy cascade of images, with recurring shots of an ominous hallway, ambiguous satellite dishes and throbbing polka dots.

Into our hero's drab gas-masked existence, a woman appears, luring him away from his duties and, indeed, the social order of things (echoing the theme of Terry Gilliam's 1985 film "Brazil").

An independent filmmaker from Santa Barbara who has a few projects to his credit, Mills shot the 30-minute film in black and white and without synchronous sound, on Super-8 and video, but with a visual care and atmospheric starkness that recalls David Lynch's 1977 "Eraserhead."

Mills had finished this unique film last year, but what he lacked was the right soundtrack. It had to be something suitably strange and experimental, with hints of humor.

Enter Jeff Kaiser of Ventura, the perfect candidate for the gig. Kaiser, long a champion of making and promoting new music, has been very active of late. Add this soundtrack to the list.

It's a testament to the strength of the music that listening to the soundtrack without visuals conjures up its own kind of abstract cinematic world.

Using mostly trumpet and electronics, with the help of longtime ally Jim Connolly on acoustic bass, Kaiser basically followed his aesthetic heart in the process. He relies on improvisation and texture-building strategies to create a complementary score. Roy and Daphne Jones add ethereal vocal parts on the bittersweet theme, a tender moment before the noisy aural storm of the coda. It's all in an experimentalist day's work.

The finished film's premiere will take place at the Center Stage Theater in Santa Barbara, and a limited-edition run of the soundtrack--with accompanying booklet-- will be available on Kaiser's growing new music label, pfMentum.

For Internet-friendly curiosity-seekers, Kaiser will make the music available free on around the time of the premiere in September. Who knows? Maybe it will even wind up on Napster, if it's still around by then.

In other pfMentum news, Kaiser recently released a strong, definitively free-wheeling duet with guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante called "Pith Balls and Inclined Planes." The pair explore varied terrain, calling successfully on the muse of free improvisation, from a generally nonidiomatic perspective. In other words, don't expect much that sounds like jazz here (although there are wisps of swing phrases on "Puny Demigods on Stilts").

Diaz-Infante is a composer and performer with an instinctive way of creating "sound paintings" that stress mood and feelings. His atonal adventures here sometimes recall the work of British free guitar icon Derek Bailey, while Kaiser's trumpet gestures often achieve a kind of mumbling eloquence, as on "'Fearful of Contagion" and "Outside: Three Tennis Courts."

Kaiser also shows his refined skill with computer-manipulated electronic sounds, as on the mesmerizing piece "Once (and It Was Not Yesterday)," dedicated to the late great Conlon Nancarrow. For several decades, Nancarrow, exiled to Mexico City, created wild etudes for player piano, unplayable by humans. Kaiser pays tribute with a similar effect derived with the help of his computer, with rapid skittering lines over a drone.

The CD is another good example of the pfMentum label's mandate, mostly about engaging improvisational statements, or otherwise pushing the envelope of musical possibilities.


Jeff Kaiser & Ernesto Diaz-Infante

Pith Balls and Inclined Planes

Jeff Kaiser samples and manipulates his own trumpet and Diaz-Infante’s impressive guitar to create stunning, very contemporary music at the very outer edge of acid jazz. No, it isn’t entirely jazzy, and you assuredly can’t dance to it, but the electronic ambiance, coupled with Kaiser’s fragile melodies, lend it a certain funky swing which isn’t obvious straiht off but which catches up with you after a while.

Take “The unreasonable power of the diagrams”; Kaiser’s flugelhorn comes onlike he’s taking a solo in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, while Diaz-Infante’s percussive playing gives the whole thing a kind of unpulsed undulation, the kind of swing which improvised music really thrives on. On “My machines came from too far away”, Kaiser sounds like and Diaz-Infante just goes wild; wonderfully exciting stuff.

There are exceptions: “Once (and it was not yesterday)” isdedicated to Nancarow and, like all things edicated to Nancarrow, it collages accelerated piano samples (from Diaz-Infante’s excellent Solus) in imitation of the dedicatee’s piano-rolls. A slower middle section is all too brief (how brave it would have been to do the whole piece like this) but the whole is satisfying enough. On the other hand, “Puny demigods on stilts” and “Outside, three tennis courts” sound like live duo improvisations, and whether it is or not, they’re lovely pieces of music, especially the former.

Kaiser has both a strong voice as a musician and a srong musical conception, two things which don’t always come together. Finding Diaz-Infante to work with must have been a pleasure, as his guitar-playing is full of verve and always surprising. Here, it’s almost entirely percussive — knocking n the wood, striking the strings with drumsticks and so on — but thre’s a real personality here, and a proper guitarist lurks audibly within. Recommended. Richard Cochrane


Jeff Kaiser: Ganz Andere


September 1, 1999

“Why can’t we all just get along,” those now famous words spoken by Rodney King have bounced everywhere from Jay Leno’s lips to a tee shirt I saw on a Tibetan monk. But sampling has been around since well before Snoop Doggy. There was The Beatles’ White Album, and “I certainly was drunk at the time” from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. It’s in our blood. Ever since the pilgrims borrowed Native American’s corn dogs and decided to play football on Thanksgiving we’ve been sampling. But generally it is a side ‘effect’ of the music, a window dressing, and not the window. Here, the electronics and sampling are the portal and multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia is the curtain. The closest thing I can relate to Kaiser work is Brian Eno/David Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Golia plays sideman to the electronics for most of the recording. His patience and support in this new role for him, ties the seemingly disparate sounds together. Kaiser, the brains behind the disc, directs the flow playing a Miles-like trumpet Kaiser like Golia, never steps into the riotous stream of electronics, sampled children and rat talk. Maybe we really all don’t want to get along, playing a lyrical refrain to the world’s nihilism.


Starting off in a grand manner of musique concret, with cut up static of what could be a conversation on short wave between fishermen on the North Sea, or scrambled orders being sent from the bridge of a Russian carrier involved in a big maneuver in the Spitsbergen region, this sonic adventure soon blends the radio traffic with sounds that in my imagination spew a trail of a supersonic military jet’s exhaust across the cold blue northern sky in the days of the Cold War. Man, this is a great beginning of a great continuation!

This company – pfMentum - which seems to have started its CD output just in the last couple of years, sure does impress me. What were these guys doing before they went into the recording business? It is unusual to see this mix of imagination, skill and pure joy! To be able to pull this off these guys have to be very experienced – and not just in music. The variations of style, genre, sound on this CD is amazing, and just what I’ve been looking for. It never gets boring, even on the tenth spin! Still more to explore, discover!

After the electroacoustic musique concret opening the music blends over into sort of jazzy tunes, and believe it or not, I even hear recollections of 1960’s love-ins with Charles Lloyd here, in the sound of the flute, but only briefly.

Yet this is not just metamusic, alluding on a whole long range of modern cultures, but also something completely new, in Jeff Kaiser’s happy-go-lucky rambling in and out of atmospheres, technical show-offs and sentimental backlashes, even hurtling into saxophone cries right out of the most golden days of Coltrane and Shepp! This really is indescribable, putting a lot of strain on the reviewer, but listening is pure joyous adventure. The electronics are used in a very cool and collected way, in precise attacks along the causality of musical events. It’s like Jeff's been studying with GRM – Groupe de Recherches Musicales – in Paris, while at the same time earning his money as a street musician in the Quarter Latin, or with the painters lined up along the Seine. Is there any truth in this, not, perhaps, in this exact way, but in similar settings? I’m trying to figure out how anyone can put all these completely separated worlds together, and make wonderful music out of it! I recall a Norwegian CD on Rune grammofon - RCD2011 - with a minimal band of two guys calling themselves Alog, who works in almost the same way as Jeff Kaiser on their CD “Red Shift Swing”, but that’s the only comparison with other CDs I can make, really. Of course there have been composers who involved themselves in style breaking and metamusic, like, for example, Mauricio Kagel, and I’m sure he’d enjoy this lot a lot!

True, this is not for all ears, and I’m sure, to be able to keep this going, you need a global audience, but that is exactly what the Internet is, and hopefully the word will get around on the net, about Jeff Kaiser and his friends – for example Ernesto Diaz-Infante – so they can make an occasional a buck too, and keep the goodies coming.

Even voices of children, echoing the early days of Stockhausen’s “Gesang der Jünglinge” make their appearance on track eight!

So much unmusical, untalented gibberish is blurted out of loud-speakers all over this globe, that you have to make an extra note of something really worth hearing, and this CD is a great fireworks of musical surprises! For sure this is something completely different, like the title – “Ganz Andere” – suggests! You even get your share of maddening voice permutations! Yeah man! The last track – the longest track on the CD with its eleven minutes – is an electroacoustic peace that really blows my mind! This is some of the best electronic stuff I’ve heard – myself being one of the foremost collectors of electronic and electroacoustic music in Northern Europe… Ah… these voices reaching for you out of a dreamscape, desperately trying to make contact across dimensional abysses, like the little girl in that movie – “Poltergeist” – who got sucked up by evil spirits and tried to make contact with her mother through the static of the TV screen… And you don’t even get spared the bees, swarms, huge swarms!!!


AllMusic Review by Eugene Chadbourne

This duo hooks their instruments through all manner of electronic processing and sometimes seem to be playing extended solos at the same time. The combination of what they are doing has more of an environmental than musical effect at times. It is stark and unsweetened, experimental in a way that invokes visions of electronic wires gnarled like spaghetti and a frizzy-haired mad scientist looking up from the cellar with a lamp in his hand. Sometimes the distortion of Kaiser's trumpet makes it sound like he is coming to the listener through a telephone line, while his partner's accompanying part comes across as a fusion of an electric guitar and shag carpeting. Not for the faint hearted, but if they get stuck listening to it they can interpret the spliced-in CB radio bits as meaning help is on the way.

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