Reviewing live and recorded music and interviewing musicians and others are important parts of a journalist's life. Here are just some examples of live gigs reviews, interviews with stellar and very different musicians and reviews of great music. All by me. These are a very small selection of interviews and reviews. More can be found on the columns I write for which include The Free Jazz Collective, Jazz Views and Something Else Reviews.
Sweet Emma Barrett researched for the Library of Of Congress. A woman who defied limitation of age, gender, or colour
Barb Jungr and her interesting take on life
Mark Segger Sextet ' Lift Off' reviewed here - click title
A few reviews - you can find more of my reviews on Something Else Reviews, Free Jazz Collective and Jazz Views.
#Bloomerangs - Moments and Fragments
review originally published on Something else reviews.
#Bloomerangs, a music collective dedicated to exploring musical genres from around the world, features Chris Parker on drums, Rodrigo Cotelo on guitars, Stefan Lenthe on bass and Clay Wulbrecht on piano. Their mission is to integrate different cultures and sounds as a vehicle to a universal human expression through music.
Moments and Fragments, their sophomore release, is due on March 27 via Instru Dash Mental Records and showcases original music from its members – including International Songwriting Competition Jazz category semi-finalist tunes “In Some Shape or Form” and “S. Mitchell St.”
As the title implies, this music takes the listener on a journey with multiple dimensions and moods with jazz as the transporting vehicle. Moments and Fragments is littered with a diverse collection of sonic landscapes that snapshots the intent to keep pushing the genre’s stylistic lines. Guitarist Rodrigo Cotelo, who also serves as music director for #Bloomerangs, led the production of the record, in conjunction with drummer and composer Chris Parker.
“Home” opens Moments and Fragments, and is a bluesy, laid-back number, begun with piano and layered up with guitar, bass and drums with a rolling, gentle rhythm, the piano returning frequently to the easy melody. The guitar-led section has some intricate and interesting leads, which the others follow and the track makes an easy, well structured opening. “Leaps and Bounds” is led initially by the keyboards of Clay Wulbrecht and is quicker of pace, lightly peppered with melodies and solo interludes from piano, a steadfast and deeply rhythmic bass line and an atmospheric fade to finish.
“In Some Shape or Form” is easy on the ears, challenging on the rhythms and intricate in delivery while retaining a depth of texture which is very engaging. This is a longer piece and at just over eight minutes, everyone gets to shine: The bass creates some deeply sonorous pitches over gentle explorative piano and twitched-up drums. There is even a gloriously swung-out section – just brief – before #Bloomerangs swings up the tempo again and then we are down low and smooth for a piano-led section, a drum interruption and a well-worked collective number.
“Untold” is short and laced with a distinctly flirtatious Latin rhythm while “Catch a Clue” is a free-playing number, led by different players at different times with some explorative moments in the rhythmic patterns and harmonics. A stand-out number as each musician listens, reacts and explores, reaching into the depths of their instruments’ ranges and coming out with something which works well. “Another Melancholy Waltz” is, well, a melancholic waltz. It calms the pace for a while yet there is still a lot to listen to, including the wonderful piano lines which pervade the track – but also the background is pretty full-on, with texture provided as support.
“After the Fact” is one of those tracks you hear every so often which features a bit of everything: strong rhythms of changing styles and references, a decent and well-worked piano line or two, great bass and percussive lines, which chop and change according to the rest of the band. This is well listened and well delivered by #Bloomerangs. Even a bit of rock guitar in there. “Layers of Complexity” is short, sweet, banjo driven (if there can be such a thing, but yes, there can). “S. Michael’s St.” is interesting in parts, with sections of sheer bliss and irritating repetition, but it is another facet to this intriguing ensemble.
“Change of Pace” is free, rhythmic and intense with rock references, and grunge jazz in there, too. This is very listenable, with ever-changing emphasis, mesmeric rhythmic diversions and a drive toward the insane. “Mind Your F: is introduced by melodica melody. The track is a contrast to those which went before in many ways and quite calming with a wonderful bass solo.
“Normality Links” is just under 30 seconds of vibrating, strong bass over atmospheric keys. “That Sums It Up” closes #Bloomerangs’ Moments and Fragments, and really does sum it up because in this track you can hear references to a multitude of styles and cultures – and that is true of the album. The title is a good choice, because there are moments and there are fragments of virtually anything in this music.
#Bloomerangs has achieved something which is not easy – to link many different influences and musical references – and they do it well. This is interesting, intriguing music.
David Grubbs, Mats Gustafsson, Rob Mazurek - The Underflow
originally published on Free Jazz Collective
In early summer of 2019 a trio of jazz musicians who, although they had common collaborators and 2 of them had recorded together (Apertura and Off-Road), had never played together as a trio, came together in the Underflow record Shop and Art Gallery in Athens, Greece. Over 2 nights, they recorded a series of solos, duets and trios, making some sublime and some not-so-sublime sounds. The musicians were saxophone player Mats Gustafsson (The Thing, Fire! Orchestra), Trumpet player Rob Mazurek (Chicago Underground Duo, Desert Encrypts) and guitar player David Grubbs. The music they made was acoustic, electronic and atmospheric, in varying amounts. From gentle bell tinkling to grunting, grinding, full throttle bellows and bleats, what emerged was different and a revelation.
The expected happened - three musicians made wondrous sounds and also the unexpected - a solo from Mats, for example but this time on his first instrument, the flute. The trio gelled - really gelled and Underflow became a thing , a group, taking the name of the venue.
David Grubbs brings his fiery energy to the group, and with the grit and spirit of Mazurek's trumpet playing and the power and energy of Mats Gustafsson's saxophone playing the resulting music is intense, gritty and at times so absurdly off-kilter it somehow works even better than if they played in perfect harmony.
From delicacy of touches to terrifying unleashed power, the musicians each bring their distinct nuances to the group. Mats brings almost as much disruption to his electronics as he does to his reeds yet each parlance is so grounded in chordal lineage,it is difficult to decide exactly why some parts work as well, whilst other miss the mark.
From the off with 'City Stone Sleep', The Underflow primes the listener for a volatile and wide ranging sound-scape as electronics form a dense wall, over which engineering effects and sounds rise, verging on the edge of reason. Yet a second listen picks out false-voice and speech-like sounds interwoven into the electronica in the early parts of the track. The first half of the track, it has to be said, it difficult to get through but persist and emerge into the assuredly rhymed consequences. Real voice enters, brief but purposeful, a rhythm is set, the sounds enfold, circle the tempo before quashing it and Gustafsson's baritone sax explodes in brief, breathy woofs before the track builds, takes on increased energy, imbibes atmosphere over steady baritone and completely off the wall improvised trumpet. The final call and reply from sax and trumpet are wonderful.
'Goats and Hollers' is a track full of changes both in tempo and sounds. It also contains some of the most wonderful and completely unfettered vocalisation you could wish for - masterful, powerful, controlled and absolutely key to the effect of this track. The trumpet again is gorgeous, driving, challenging and the guitar fretful, hungry and mesmeric but it is the combination of all these things which create this track and as the vocals let loose, they seem to provide permission for the other instruments to follow suit. Incredible and completely engaging.
'Creep Mission', a David Grubbs composition, has guitar singing, in emergent harmonics over vociferous trumpet and wonderful whoopy electronics, the effect is crazily uplifting, particularly after the point where the guitar is worked into a short but ferocious frenzy, the echoed notes creating an almost solid back-scape for trumpet and later the baritone reeds to vibrate across.
'Not In A Hall Of Mirrors' is all about the air, the breath and the control of Gustafsson - this time on flute but it is the breaths which also add to the music, and the percussive touches of fingers on keys. A gem of a track and when the switch to sax is made the double tonguing is quite extraordinary, transferred across and pretty much as effective as on the flute. Latter interactions between guitar, trumpet and saxophone create a track which has a sense of emergence, development and finally a blossoming. Beautiful.
'I'll Try Anything Twice' is archetypical of three completely individual musicians creating a single track of music - there is a sense of competitiveness, at times a feeling of unity but mostly it is about the noise on this track and the fun of it. A lovely section magically occurs when the guitar sails out across the top before the sax simply picks up the volume and the guitar stops to allow it to flow. There is a beautiful empathy throughout this track and a quietness which lasts almost to the two thirds mark, after which the stut and flow, electronic rivulets and business of the track develops, belying the lack of volume in its intricacy.
This album is a revelation - it is new venture yet it somehow seems completely right for the musicians involved. The real joy of this music is partly the realism because every breath, holler, key flub and percussive sound is heard and felt by the listener. The process of creation is almost tangible. It fits right in with what I know of Gustafsson and his constant search for the discarding of tags, of labels and the freedom to simply create, to be in the music and work with sounds. He seems to have found two completely like-minded musicians in Grubbs and Mazurek and the huge attraction of this music is the partly self-absorbed way the musicians let go, the guitar proving clever, intuitive and yet very creative, the trumpet fizzing and crazily blazing its own path. But also the way the three musicians work together, creating opposite and also united patterns, walking the same path and then veering off on their own journey but ultimately coming together. This is not in any way confusing music. It is honest, open and clear. It is wonderfully OK and a taste of what is to come as this trio grow together.
Recorded by Manolis Aggelakis at Underflow Records and Art Gallery, Athens, Greece, on May 31, 2019. Mixed and mastered by Alex Inglizian, ESS Chicago summer 2019.
Personnel: David Grubbs - guitar;
Mats Gustafsson - flute, flutophone, baritone saxophone, live electronics;
Rob Mazurek - piccolo trumpet, wooden flute, electronics, percussion, voice.
KIMIKO ISHIZAKA - New Me!
Kimiko Ishizaka was born to German-Japanese parents in Bonn, Germany. Piano studies with her mother began at the age of 4 followed by conservatory studies with Professor Roswitha Gediga-Glombitza at the Hochschule für Musik Köln and later Professor Peter Feuchtwanger, Professor Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, the Alban Berg Quartet, and the Amadeus Quartet. From the tender age of 5, Ishizaka was a respected soloist and chamber performer, especially in the context of the Ishizaka Trio, which consisted of her and her younger brothers ( both also music prodigies) on violin and 'cello. The trio played together for 16 years, receiving wide critical acclaim. Kimiko has been a soloist since 2000, performing Mozart, Beethoven, Grieg, and Gershwin, and establishing herself as an interpreter of Bach and Chopin. She has appeared at festivals world-wide. Her recordings of Bach in particular have earned critical acclaim and she composed her own ending for his “Kunst der Fuge” ( which was unfinished at the time of Bach;s death). In 2019, Kimiko released an album of 10 pieces that she composed herself. ‘New Me!’, features jazz harmonies with classical forms.
Kimiko describes the pieces as ' classical, informed by jazz harmonies, as well as Bach. In them I present two fugues, a canon, a theme-and-variation, among other classical forms. The pieces are predominantly written in four voices (thanks Bach!) but all of the harmonic structures explore modern jazz, and the pieces have subtitles like 'Modal Interchange Functions' and 'ii-V-i Substitutions' ".
The album opens with 'New Me!' which at first sounds relatively simple until you listen closely to what is going on in the left and right hands. Different progressions, different rhythms and tempos yet they come together to create a wonderful merge of sounds which blend perfectly the harmonics of classical composition with the joyful delivery of jazz. It is short but very sweet. ' Two Hearts' is gentle, slow and would sit as easily in a classical collection as it does in a jazz - orientated CD. The only real nod to jazz is in the swung cadences and the inflections but it is very listenable. 'Woozy Heights' is gentle again but this tune has attitude as the disharmonies occur - deliberately placed to check any change of the listener thinking this is an easy listen. Delightful and quirky.
'Expectation' has a Joplinesque vibe to it at first but this is quickly replaced by rivulets of sounds which chase each other up, down and merge together at time, creating a sense of anticipation with the changes which happen as the tempo is withdrawn then re-expanded - very effective. ' Forget- Me-Not' is pretty, elegant and created using repeated but slightly differing musical motifs - a very lyrical interpretation of her own composition and the sense with this piece is that it could be played in so many different ways and bring a different atmosphere each time . 'Our Time Is Running' is melodic with rhythmic and tempo changes with the phrases whilst 'Blues Variations' is pretty much exquisite with all the elements of the blues , the blue notes, the pull backs, the swing, the emotive slowness of it all, the heavy left hand which never quite loses rhythm ( but does come close at one point). This is a great track and the variations are there, explored and delivered in style. ' What Love Meant To You' is emotive, atmospheric and varied, the music painting lyrical ideas and exploring them, whilst 'Water Under Our Bridge' is a delightful sojourn into summer; riverside walks, water trinkling past, the piano deftly evoking images of water flowing at different speeds, the light bouncing, skies reflected the colours are evocatively painted by this master pianist. ' Walk Of Lonely Memories' is interesting for its change of moods, the darker, slightly swung rhythms creating a sense of impending menace, with use of the lower octaves under the brighter upper right hand work.
The CD is an interesting one because the piano playing is note-perfect, the delivery technically wonderful and the emotive style is developing. In some tracks you can hear a real jazz player whilst in others you get the sense there is such a classical base, with a classical pianist exploring and somehow learning the jazz styles in a technical way. But , and this is what is interesting, there is also that wonderful sense of something coming. It is difficult to change the delivery style one thing I would definitely say is that there is more to come in the jazz style and feel - and that 'more; should be encouraged.