Off Minor

Musings of a Jazz geek

Prezens, at the Vortex 13/1/08

Posted January 15, 2008

David Torn and Tim Berne

Prezens at the Vortex, 13/1/08 « David Torn (guitar, effects), Tim Berne (alto sax), Craig Taborn (Fender Rhodes, electronics), Tom Rainey (drums) »

Prezens, the ECM CD, was released a little under a year ago, although originally recorded March 2005. I think this is their first performance in the UK as Prezens (is that the group name or the record?) although this is essentially Berne’s Hard Cell group, with the addition of (and leadership transfer to) David Torn. Torn, I suppose, is supposed to be a sort of background genius, but it’s only through Berne’s association that I’ve ever heard him (he previously performed with Science Friction—Hard Cell + Marc Ducret (or is that Big Satan + Craig Taborn?)—at the London Jazz Festival, I remember)… The thing about Prezens, the disc (which is brilliant and fresh) is that it seems so dense with editing and post-performance processing (in a Teo Macero cut-up and splice sense), that it’s hard to tell what’s live and what’s ‘artificial’. In fact, Prezens the live act seems pretty well removed from Prezens the record, with no obvious tunes/themes, just a continuously evolving improvisation (presumably based on something? It would be interesting to know how it’s all set up!). When I’ve seen Tim Berne in his own groups (Big Satan, Paraphrase) it’s all continuous weaving streams of invention, but they always seem to have some definite theme in their heads (playing around, playing towards, playing away from). This Prezens seemed to be much less pre-determined, and a little bit more dangerous; as the maelstrom revolved around the stage, it might have taken a bit longer for everyone to come down on something brilliant, a bit more of a struggle to tame everything, but the experience was quite fantastic for it.

This Sunday performance was day one of a two-night residence (I think they’re playing in Leeds, Tuesday night), with the Monday night Vortex performance being recorded for February transmission on Jazz on 3… I think that’s something you should look out for ;p

Also, this interview with Torn, on YouTube, is pretty interesting ;)

Tim Berne David Torn Craig Taborn Tim Berne at the Vortex Tom Rainey

Bohman Brothers’ New Year New Sounds Festival

Posted January 10, 2008

John Edwards

The Bohman Brothers’ New Year New Sounds Festival Day 1, at Battersea Arts Centre, 7/1/08 « I-C-E Quintet, and the Evan Parker / John Edwards / John Russell Trio »

A great first-gig start to 2008; the opening night of the Bohman Brothers’ New Year New Sounds Festival at the Battersea Arts Centre… This runs until Saturday, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it back there this week; the BAC site has a full programme listing.

Opening up were the I-C-E Quintet; five clarinets (of different types), sort of revolving around one another; four of them were Rick Gensen, Tara Stucky, Noel Taylor and Jerry Wigens; the programme doesn’t say who the fifth was (and alas I know not who was who)… Each player had a notably unique identity, but I can never clear my head enough to identify exactly what’s going on where… It comes together into a dense soundscape, that I try and work my way round, letting it mould together and then focus in on the odd burst of drive, but tending to remain pretty oblivious to all the technicalities… Captivating and beautiful, but also good that I had an intelligent friend who could explain to me, afterwards, how it all worked…

ICE Quintet

After that too-fleeting performance, Evan Parker’s trio with John Edwards and John Russell. I’ve seen Evan Parker a few times now (hmm, maybe only just on the fingers of two hands) but this was probably the most intimate of them all; the Vortex is ‘friendly’, but here ‘sold-out’ seemed to mean about forty people, and it seemed perhaps like Parker was playing less self-concious than when I had seen him before. John Russell’s scratching playing is fantastic and I should really try and find something where he’s on record. Edwards was dominating in his inspiration and transmogrifying inventiveness…

Evan Parker Trio

As they were packing up, John Russell stepped forward to make an announcement on the future of the Red Rose, and to announce its absolute demise as a live music venue, as the lease is sold on to make way for a pool club. Apparently his January 20th Mopomoso will be the last ever improv event at that venue… Just what exactly is going to happen now??? ;(

(Visit the flickr for more dodgy photos…)

Evan Parker Evan Parker John Russell (Evan Parker trio) Evan Parker / John Russell (Bass?) Clarinet

WXXV: Sonny Simmons and Tight Meat

Posted November 22, 2007

Sonny Simmons and Tight Meat

Sonny Simmons & Tight Meat Trio, at the Red Rose, 19/11/07 « Sonny Simmons (alto sax), David Keenan (alto sax), Alex Neilson (drums), George Lyle (double bass) »

My second and last Wire magazine WXXV event, this time at free-improv bastion, the Red Rose… Kicking off: a set by, support act, Italian Jooklo Duo (their website). Virginia Genta on fiery, tumbling tenor sax, and David Vanzan on free, astral, scattering drums; a really crude outlook, but cool sound. Vanzan with that beautiful floating shimmering hi-hat like Rashied Ali off Isis and Osiris. Genta more noisy but perfect, with deep roots to the avant-garde of the 1960s.

Jooklo Duo

After a break, Sonny Simmons with Glaswegian Tight Meat. They kicked off with TM’s Keenan dominating with up-tempered rolling overdriven blasts, Sonny Simmons meeting him with more-clearly jazz-inspired fast-paced lines. Lyle played naive sounding scrabbling and scratching bass, while Neilson blasted real free rocking, punkish drum lines. I mean, the drums were fantastic, and with Keenan’s screeching, grinding alto it came out like some cool punk breaking away from the jazz sphere (“punk-primitive post-noise mindset” is how The Wire puts it), Simmons’ Actual Jazz touching up with more melodic detail. Pretty great. This was an excursion from a series of London Jazz Festival events, for me; this years festival proper has been slightly coma-inducing all round. Why wasn’t this hooked up?…

Some more bad photos, on flickr:

Jookla Duo Jookla Duo Sonny Simmons + Tight Meat Trio

You should probably also check out David Grundy’s post, with pictures and sound.

(Sorry this is a bit late in posting, time to check spelling mistakes has been scarce…)

WXXV: Han Bennink, John Tchicai, Sunny Murray, with Spring Heel Jack & friends…

Posted November 15, 2007

Han Bennink and John Coxon

Wire WXXV festival, at Conway Hall, 12/11/07 » Han Bennink (drums), John Tchicai (saxes), Sunny Murray (drums), Spring Heel Jack (electronics), John Edwards (bass), Orphy Robinson (marimba), Tony Marsh (drums) «

Wire magazine’s WXXV festival (that is: 25th birthday festival, for all the square cats) has been in motion for a couple of weeks. Plans to go to more have disintigrated into a start with this night, at Conway Hall. (A new venue for me; pretty nice ;) ) Three sets with three groupings, each a different drummer, Spring Heel Jack (Ashley Wales, John Coxon) providing continuity throughout (the pair also presumably providing much of the organisation as an extension of their Back in Your Town club nights).

Ashley Wales and Han Bennink

Their Han Bennink-backed trio started the night. Bennink is someone I’ve heard having fun on disc, a little bit, with Br ötzmann, Nerve Beats, and the like… But seeing him before me, I was knocked clean over ;) A slightly manic figure, with rolled up trouser legs, a grin that looks just a little bit too crooked… But he sat down behind the kit and started belting out grooving free rhythms that were like nothing else. John Coxon’s top-form broken electronic guitar-playing, pushing in glitches, Wales’ electronics pushing bass-line grooves on an obvious dance music tip. Fantastically moving, jiving, honest, fun… Bennink a true inspiration. When his cymbals fell over and crashed to the floor it was still perfect. His immense grasp of playing space, moving out front to sit behind a single snare drum but flailing his arms (and legs) behind himself to hit that odd beat that he’d left behind, was such a clean, open pleasure to watch. Should probably have bought their CD! The mixture of driving free drums, and the pounding electronic beats made this… Free Improv that you can dance to? Not quite, but still very cool.

John Tchicai, John Edwards, et al

The second act saw Han Bennink replaced with Tony Marsh, and Orphy Robinson and John Edwards added, along side the great figure of John Tchicai; he of Coltrane’s Ascension… A bit disappointing seeing him assume a slightly marginal role, playing brief sax (and bass clarinet!) passages alongside the colossal (but easy tempered) sound-scapes of SHJ, bass, drums and marimba. The piece was cool, and the playing was great, but it wasn’t quite as killer as Bennink et al, mainly because it seemed a bit too pre-meditated. John Edwards played some cool and interesting textural passages, and Tchicai was nice and vocal on bass clarinet, but didn’t quite grab me as much as the other music.

John Tchicai

The evening finished with the same ensemble, but with Tony Marsh replaced by the great bear-figure of (free jazz legend) Sunny Murray. He launched off with a mesmerising and satisfyingly jazzy solo opener, catching most slightly off-guard, with Edwards, some minutes later, catching a drift and pulling the group in with a deep funk bass line. Maybe I’m just not subtle enough, but this was a lot more exciting. Unfortunately, maybe due to pressures of time—or perhaps because Murray had just had enough—as soon as the thing quietened into a lull, the drummer took it upon himself to bring the piece to an abrupt halt, finishing the proceedings as Coxon was still plucking out from his guitar. Watching him dance up from his kit and across the stage, taking his applause, I just wished that they could have played on longer…

Some more photos on flickr:

John Coxon Han Bennink at Conway Hall John Coxon John Edwards, Tony Marsh John Edwards at Conway Hall

Charles Gayle / William Parker / Mark Sanders, at the Red Rose 21/9/07

Posted September 23, 2007

Charles Gayle and Mark Sanders

Back in Your Town, at the Red Rose, 21/9/07 » Charles Gayle (alto sax, piano), William Parker (bass), Mark Sanders (drums) « »

The London leg of this Charles Gayle tour, incorporated into this month’s Back in Your Town at the Red Rose, Finsbury Park. Rod at wordsandmusic has already posted a pretty excellent review of Monday’s Liverpool gig, Mapsadaisical an equally nice one re: this London session… So, sorry if this is a bit derivative and pointless…

These Back in Your Town nights are really pretty awesome; for their cheapness (of entry) and general back-waterness (working men’s club vibe), Wales/Coxon manage to pack a pretty decent hit rate; last year’s Sunny Murray concert, this year’s Bruise gig*, like, most of my favourite Free Jazz is here.

The night kicked off with a pretty slick Steve Beresford / Neil Metcalfe, piano / flute duet… Beresford constantly moving, surprising, engaging; Metcalfe (who I don’t think I’ve heard before) getting pretty strong with cool lines and immediate interaction with Beresford’s mixture of chopping styles. Studious and reflective…

When, after the interval, the Gayle group took to the stage, all things changed. Gayle himself: tall and thin, dressed in black with an iconic white plastic alto sax, bursting out from the back of the stage with a flurry of notes and sounds, a bolt out of the blue (even for the rest of the band, with the drummer, Mark Sanders, still in the midst of thanking tour organisers Birmingham Jazz). Caught somewhat off-guard, drums and bass whipped round into action, creating an instant pounding flurry of scattering notes and beats. Sanders so fast and powerful over his kit, kicking out patterns that would constantly shift and move. William Parker just an excellent virtuosity, hard to follow exactly what he was doing, his body quite still and patient but his arms and hands a casual flurry creating all sorts of intricate patterns that I could hardly follow… (It was pretty incredible, walking in to the Red Rose and seeing Parker lurking outside the gents toilets, this being the same guy I’d seen as a miniscule dot on stage with the Taylor/Braxton unit a few months ago, for about seven times the ticket price.) Gayle himself was blisteringly good; a kind of cross between the flurries of Charlie Parker, and the silghtly warped, weird freedom of Ornette Coleman. Splitting onto piano for a good section of the night: an almost naive pounding style to start, but then onto something more vocal (yes, even quoting the theme from Coltrane’s Naima).

Recorded for broadcast on Jazz on 3, supposedly due for the night of October 5th… get your tapes ready!…

William Parker (Charles Gayle Trio) Charles Gayle + Mark Sanders Charles Gayle

These are mine, but mapsadaisical and andynew both have more, better pics, on flickr.

* Bruise back next month, Back in Your Town October 18th. Yay!

Rashied Ali Quintet, at Pizza on the Park

Posted July 22, 2007

Rashied Ali

Rashied Ali Quintet at Pizza on the Park, 20/7/07 » Rashied Ali (drums), Josh Evans (Trumpet), Lawrence Clark (Tenor Sax), Greg Murphy (Piano), Joris Teepe (Bass) «

It’s been a good month for Big Historical Names; after Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor, now: Rashied Ali, with his Quintet, at the Pizza on the Park. And a bit of a change to get to see a big name american act in a much more intimate venue. Rashied Ali probably isn’t as big as Ornette or Taylor/Braxton, but Interstellar Space is one of the most important (and frequently played) records I’ve ever bought (being as it was one of the first sounds to push me into complete musical Freedom)… and like the big anticipated RFH acts earlier in the month, he didn’t let me down.

First off: a word about Pizza on the Park… My first visit to a ‘proper’ London jazz club (basement, no windows, waitress service)… Why haven’t I checked out this place before? Great atmosphere (although, also, in parts, a bit cliquey, and theme-parky). Pizza on the Park is essentially a Pizza Express gig, so the same just-slightly disappointing pizzas, but ok… However, the service itself was really chronic, which was seriously annoying for the sort of place where you can’t go and just dig it out yourself. Although probably suffering from single-diner blind-spot syndrome, would have been nice if my waiter could have actually bothered to get me at least one alchoholic beverage during the four hours I was sat there (or a desert! or a cheque at the end!). Anyway, not wanting to put too much emphasis on this point, but it was a bit of a downer, and makes me feel like it’s not really the sort of place I’d want to visit unless I knew the band was going to be great.

The music:

Rashied Ali was playing with most of the quintet off his Judgement Day record (I need clarification over the trumpeter). Fairly typical feel overall; the sort of contemporary hard-bop sourced music that most of the American Names are probably going back to, to mostly bide their time… A kind of broad Blue Note, sixties/early seventies vibe. But totally solid. The trumpeter was playing the most Inside, but with really powerful lines. Maybe it was because he was playing straight into my face, but… trumpet usually leaves me wondering why?; this was cool. Lawrence Clark was an impressive soloist, on tenor, fast runs all around his horn, overblowing at the top and at the bottom, with the odd strains of Coltrane seeping through (that’s a cliché; Clark was not, and really had his own sound). At the same time, not just going through motions, he had a solid grasp on the melodic construction (in fact, I think he was responsible for quite a few of the band’s actual charts and tunes). Towards the end of the second set (possibly on a performance of Judgement Day itself), the band pulled back for a time leaving a Clark–Ali duo, and the tumbling (and unpredictable) sheets of sound moved closest to JC territory. That little part, probably the highlight of the night. The bass was a little lacklustre, but then he was having to make do with a slightly battered electric bass, having an even more battered double bass lying in a heap somewhere on the tarmac at Heathrow airport. The pianist, Greg Murphy, played formative lines, freaking into some unexpected blast crashes every now and then, showing signs of something more free… Underpinning all this, of course, Rashied Ali. The rest of the band may have been playing on the Inside, but Ali stuck to free scattering pulses, firing out shots here and there in patterns that were only just obviously related to the group form, bringing the staid-in-principle choice of set list into something, really, Else. It was amazing how powerful his sound was hitting me, all from barely perceptible motions of the sticks; it was almost like artillery going off. Fairly unique, I can’t remember seeing any drummer play like him, and he was completely and utterly mesmerizing. Although my Rashied Ali record collection is generally far more free than this, and the traditionality of the group was slightly suprising, it all worked brilliantly, with Ali’s own freedom drive making it all that little bit more special.

Ornette Coleman, at the Royal Festival Hall

Posted July 11, 2007

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman quintet, at the Royal Festival Hall, 9/7/07 » Ornette Coleman (alto sax, violin, trumpet); Charnett Moffett (bass); Denardo Coleman (drums); Tony Falanga (bass); Al MacDowell (electric bass) «

Hmm… Not a lot that can be said, really… Back to the Royal Festival Hall, twice in two days, having caved in, and scraped the money together, just at the last minute (to think! that close to missing it, all through my own free will!)… Ornette Coleman, with his son Denardo on drums, and then the bass-trio backing of Charnett Moffett, Tony Falanga, and Al McDowell.

An hour long set with tunes mostly from the recent Sound Grammar recording, I think… Jordan and Sleep Talking were definitely there, with Denardo Coleman and Tony Falanga both direct from that disc.

Ornette was as piercingly rich as my first exposure to him on The Shape of Jazz to Come, even though, now, clearly quite frail. (Even his trumpet and violin managed to sound complete…) His son played full, rocking drum beats that established a strong propulsion… The three bassists mixing around the roles, and sounding great; the block sustained the sound, leaving it more solid than it would have been as just a jazz trio, perhaps, but maintaining that same slightly stripped-down immediacy. With slightly duff hearing, and a cost-saving rear-stalls eye view, it was hard to distinguish between the individual bass roles, so I’ll have to leave the specifics to others elsewhere

A contrast to the cerebral performance from the previous night; it was like getting slapped in the face by a slab of pure melody, and I just felt fully on air, really… Probably not pushing the boundaries, this Sound Grammar a traditional Atlantic-era-sounding Coleman project, but not that that left anything missing… After the standing ovation, Denardo seemed to tactfully suggest that they should play something else… And ‘Lonely Woman’ was really something else… Ornette Coleman was such a strong, formative influence on my earliest forays into jazz music, thankfully he didn’t let me down!… Outstanding, and just one of the happiest gigs I’ve ever been to… ;)

Pity that many of the seats remained unsold… £45 starting price is, in a practical sense, probably asking a little bit too much… The extra 75mm of leg room is all very nice, and the new hall looks very, very pretty, but… how much cash are they short of?

Byron Wallen Trio
A conference presentation on the Dirac equation, and its modelling of the zero-bandgap energy states of graphene, left me running to the Festival Hall just in time to miss the first few minutes of this warm-up trio… They were alright but not really on the same level… This Evening Standard review seems to be quite confused…

Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton, at the Royal Festival Hall

Posted July 9, 2007

Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton

Cecil Taylor & Anthony Braxton, at the Royal Festival Hall, 8/7/07 » Cecil Taylor (piano); Anthony Braxton (soprano, sopranino, alto saxes; contrabass-clarinet); William Parker (bass); Tony Oxley (drums) «

My first visit to the newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall, this Sunday… A bit of a hash-up with the seating, after a ‘raised stage’ that hadn’t been put down again left everyone in the front two rows scattered across the remaining front fifteen, just to give us a chance to see… Would also have been nice if it hadn’t taken until the eighth steward to find out what was going on… But at least it’s not a double-booking, and at least they made up for it by springing on a surprise (to me!) Polar Bear support act… Not quite as cool as at Taylor John’s, but only through a lack of intimacy; a capable, restrained, half hour set, making their upcoming CD even more tantalising…

A quick break, enjoying the hall’s nice new palatial bars and Thames-overlooking balconies (but not the lack of toilets!), then back in, not quite knowing what to expect… Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton had been double-billed at the RFH before, but Braxton in a Ghost Trance quintet, and Taylor, separate, in a trio with Bill Dixon and Tony Oxley. Braxton had stolen the night, while Taylor’s presence had seemed fraught, to say the least.

But! Here he was!! Disembodied, at first, off-stage, reading some poetry that I couldn’t begin to understand, while Oxley walked solemnly to his kit. Then Taylor appeared, dancing onto stage to meet the waiting drummer, finishing with a pirouette and a bow onto the piano stool — a sign of contentment, or a sarcastic ‘fuck-you’ to the paparazzo, jumping up to stick a camera lens in his face?… It seemed slightly ominous… But then the music came: nimble foraging, picking at the keys, flurries and delicate atonal crashes, beating off Oxley’s wide ranging patted-out percussion (where do they breed cows that big?). The pair feeding in and out of each other, but heavily interplay through confrontation, it seemed… Three tunes: exquisite melodic fragments, drawn out of a small moleskinne on the piano-top and then battered with the shit kicked-out on the keys. Maybe just a little bit samey, a bit like he was just beginning to go through the motions… I’m not sure, my hearing was duff on the night, and I found it a bit tricky to lock in… Beautiful, none-the-less…!

After that, the pair disappeared; William Parker took the stage for an impressive classically Down bass solo, a lot of it arco and massively impressive. Then, they all re-emerged, this time with Braxton finally in tow… A brooding, rattling, percussive start, with Braxton squeezing on contrabass-clarinet… They moved around, the inimitable Taylor lines began to break through… Braxton, investigative, trying to decide quite what to try. As he moved to different horns—soprano, sopranino and alto saxes—his style shifted through the modes, not necessarily making anything canonically ‘Braxton’. Abstract flurries then, on alto, more-like smashed melodies. Taylor’s attention seemed always on him, batting out the shapes and apparently transfixed by the prospect of what was to come… At times the group moved into definite free-jazz territory, with the almost-melodies just prised out… But then it would move into more of a noise territory; delicate noise, aggressive but easy. As for the rest of the band, Parker started off quite muted, but moved toward some great grooving lines nearer the end… Impressive, always, and a great propulsive sound. Oxley looked like his was having great fun throughout, pausing now and then to reflect on the concentrated music around him…

It burned out as a great success, I thought… When taking the applause, Braxton and Taylor seemed fairly decently elated by the whole experience… My description of the great music they made is probably well far off the mark… Was listening to Parker’s Now! Other Directions in music… record this afternoon and was thinking, well, if you take this, add some Cecil Taylor, then… you’ll get something that isn’t even close… Wordsandmusic has a better description; mapsadaisical does too (plus a nice photo that is approximately three-thousand times better than mine)… The whole thing was recorded for Jazz on 3, broadcast this Friday 13th… See my earlier post for lots of suitable links :)