Monday, September 13, 2021

Abdullah Ibrahim - Solotude (November 26, 2021 Gearbox Records)

Each year on October 9th, Abdullah Ibrahim performs a solo piano concert at the Hirzinger Hall in South Germany in order to celebrate his birthday. Due to lockdown restrictions last year, this traditional birthday concert was replaced with the opportunity to record a solo piano performance. Hirzinger Hall, in Riedering, South East Germany, is famous for its incredible acoustics, and Ibrahim's solitary performance lends itself perfectly to the space, The recording crew was sparse, the audience non-existent, yet Ibrahim’s communion with the piano remains warm and timeless.

1. Mindiff
2. Trieste My Love
3. Nisa
4. Blue Bolero
5. In-Tempo
6. Dreamtime
7. Blue Bolero (First Reprise)
8. Peace
9. Blues For A Hip King
10. District 6
11. Tokai
12. District 6 (Reprise)
13. Pula
14. Sotho Blue
15. Blue Bolero (Second Reprise)
16. Did You Hear That Sound?
17. In The Evening
18. Once Upon A Midnight
19. The Wedding
20. Signal On The Hill

piano and composition by Abdullah Ibrahim

Thomas Heberer - The Day That Is (October 22, 2021 Sunnyside Records)

The dramatic events of the past two years have altered the social and political landscape of the world. The pandemic had the world’s population reeling. Performing artists were particularly affected by COVID-19, as their livelihood was taken away from them in one fell swoop. Veteran trumpeter, improviser, and composer Thomas Heberer took the opportunity while sequestered in his New York City home to compose and coordinate the recording of his new album, The Day That Is.

Well known for his work in the improvisatory jazz world with the likes of the Instant Composers Pool and the Nu Band, Heberer has been focused on showcasing his artistic breadth. His knowledge of the jazz tradition is encyclopedic and his open approach to the music proves just as catholic. The past few years have seen Heberer look more and more to the music of bebop, post-bop, and the New Thing as much as the free music he has long been associated with.

Heberer knew that he wanted to write for a quartet composed of two horns and a rhythm section of bass and drums on his new project, returning to an ensemble size he had familiarized himself with in the 1990s with the group Tome XX. As a fifteen-year member of the New York creative music scene, Heberer was in a perfect place to select a group of musicians who he trusted to interpret his vision and to provide the special, spontaneity that the music requires.

The trumpeter had long been a fan of drummer Michael Sarin, whom Heberer had initially heard with the late, great woodwind master Thomas Chapin. A partnership began to flourish when Heberer joined Sarin in the faculty at Maine Jazz Camp, where they began performing together regularly. Heberer got to know bassist John Hébert as a member of Angelica Sanchez’s Nonet. Hébert’s brilliant musicianship and warm, Southern vibe made him a perfect collaborator. The trio came together for a handful of sessions and a number of live performances prior to the pandemic.

Heberer took some time to decide on the other horn voice, eventually deciding to call on fellow German expat and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock. Heberer has known Laubrock for years and had long appreciated her strategic, compositional minded approach to music making.

The concept for The Day That Is was born just before the pandemic but was accelerated once Heberer’s touring schedule came to a halt. At home, Heberer fell back into his rigorous practicing and composing routines. By the summer of 2020, he realized that the social isolation might last for some time, so he decided to be proactive and have something to show for his time spent at home. The leader’s pieces focused on a number of compositional elements, including ambiguous sounding symmetrical scales. He was also cognizant of providing different parameters for each piece and the architecture of the album as he put the program together. Heberer began to contact the other musicians in the fall to align schedules.
December saw the quartet assemble for the first time to rehearse at the Michiko rehearsal studios in New York’s deserted Midtown. The situation felt particularly ominous as the musicians had to socially distance and cover their horns.

The quartet were joined by engineer David Stoller at the Samurai Hotel recording studio on January 6th, totally unaware of the events that were about to unfold in Washington, DC. As the recording proceeded, Hébert kept the participants abreast of what was happening at the Capitol Building. The group remained focused but alert as they went through the day, only realizing the full magnitude of the insurrection later.

The program begins with the title track, a compressed 6-bar composition that utilizes an ambiguous tonality to allow the improvisations to travel in any direction. Inspired by a sauntering camel ride he had on a visit to Morocco, Heberer’s “Erg Chebbi” echoes the atmosphere of Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” The pseudo ballad “Seconds First” is inspired by the compositional ideas of Andrew Hill and allows the melody to move from trumpet to sax to bass, in a tense but beautiful harmony. The propulsive “Caro Pook” is named for Heberer’s friend, the German composer. It is a piece custom built for Sarin’s unique rockingly swinging drumming and group improvisation, keeping all ensemble members fully occupied.

Heberer’s “Then There Were Three” is an unusually structured piece that presents three independent parts coming together to build into a programmatic long form composition with an extended solo from Sarin. The beautiful melody of “The Sleeping Bag Unfolds” pairs the trumpet of Heberer alongside Laubrock’s soprano sax. The tune’s title refers to Heberer and his wife’s promise to isolate from each other in sleeping bags if necessary during the pandemic. “Closing the Gap” is a brief interlude inspired by the binary musical world of improv/jazz legend Steve Lacy. Dedicated to a departed friend who invited Heberer to East Germany as the Wall fell, “Jimi Metag” is slightly dark and mysterious, an allusion to the dark side of the pseudo- socialist experiment of East Germany.

Composed prior to the pandemic for the Nu Band, “One for Roy” was written for trumpeter Roy Campbell, whose chair Heberer took over when the Downtown legend passed away. The piece splits the ensemble into two, sax with trumpet and bass with drums, with two independent scores which allow the music to overlay at its own pace. “Mapping the Distance” is built over a symmetrical scale ostinato and is a vehicle for solos from Sarin and Laubrock. The program concludes with “The Sky Above,” a gorgeous coda written in a richly harmonious Bill Evans style.

The crazy years of the Trump presidency and the political challenges they amplified had the world on edge. The addition of the pandemic only heightened the tension. Thomas Heberer aimed to provide art that was the opposite of the “ideals” trumpeted during these times. The Day That Is presents music concerned with sharing and creating together, fighting the ideals of those who decided to attack the Capitol Building on that day in January 2021. 

1. The Day That Is
2. Erg Chebbi
3. Seconds First
4. Caro Pook
5. Then There Were Three
6. The Sleeping Bag Unfolds
7. Closing The Gap
8. Jimi Metag
9. One for Roy
10. Mapping The Distance
11. The Sky Above

Thomas Heberer - trumpet
Ingrid Laubrock - tenor & soprano saxophones
John Hébert - bass
Michael Sarin - drums

Amir ElSaffar - Rivers of Sound: The Other Shore (September 2021)

Amir ElSaffar – who leads five ensembles and has released seven albums over the past 16 years – has earned acclaim for being, in the words of All About Jazz, “a virtuoso on the horn, but also an imaginative bandleader, expanding the vocabulary of the trumpet and, at the same time, the modern jazz ensemble.” The Wire has described ElSaffar as “uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music… with eloquence.” The Chicago Tribune hailed the way his “melismatic trumpet lines convey tremendous lyric beauty,” adding that his transcultural innovations place him “among the most promising figures in jazz today.” ElSaffar – a 43-year-old Chicago native of Iraqi-American heritage – now presents The Other Shore, his eighth album and the second by his 17-piece Rivers of Sound orchestra. This moving, sonically kaleidoscopic album features an all-star lineup of players on instruments from East and West, with the performers improvising on the leader’s piquant, serpentine compositions: from the evocative curtain-raiser “Dhuha” (Dawn) to the ravishing “Medmi” (Epilogue). Belgium’s Outnote Records/Outhere Music releases The Other Shore, digitally and on CD, on September 10, 2021.

In the liner notes to The Other Shore, ElSaffar explains the concept for his large ensemble: “I formed the Rivers of Sound orchestra in 2015 as a musical, cultural and social experiment. The idea was to discover new ways of organizing sound without the hierarchical notions found in Western European art music (composer > conductor > players) and without the burden of precedence found in non-Western folk or traditional forms (relying on the past), but still maintaining a sense of structure and cohesion. I was interested in blurring spaces between improvisation and composition, between composer and players. The process relies on spontaneous group interaction, where each musician has agency as part of the creative process… Rivers of Sound is one of the most joyful musical experiences I have ever been a part of.”

Along with his fluid trumpet playing, ElSaffar sings vocalese in the Arabic maqam idiom and plays the santur, the Iraqi hammered dulcimer (including a beautiful extended solo in “Concentric”). The other members of Rivers of Sound are “family and friends who are like family.” These include his sister, Dena ElSaffar, on violin, viola and joza (the Iraqi spike-fiddle), and her husband, Tim Moore, on Arabic percussion. JD Parran, who plays bass saxophone and clarinet, performed alongside ElSaffar in Cecil Taylor’s large ensemble. Mohamed Saleh, who plays oboe and English horn, worked with him in Daniel Barenboim’s East-West Divan Orchestra. ElSaffar played in high school and college with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, and alto saxophonist Fabrizio Cassol took ElSaffar on his first tour of Europe. Then there are the top jazz improvisers whom ElSaffar met through “serendipitous connections” on the New York scene: guitarist Miles Okazaki, drummer Nasheet Waits, saxophonist Ole Mathisen, pianist John Escreet, bassist Carlo DeRosa. The ensemble also includes Naseem Alatrash on cello, Rajna Swaminathan on the Indian mridangam, George Ziadeh and Zafer Tawil on the Arabic oud, and Tareq Abboushi on buzuq.
“I’m less interested in the surface intermingling of cultures and more fascinated by the new sonic possibilities in this unique combination of instruments from around the world,” ElSaffar says. “What happens when you combine the vibraphone, the santur and the English horn? The rich overtones mix to create fresh textures and sonorities, a new sound whether it’s scintillating or deep and resonant. But it’s not just the instruments but also the way these particular musicians play those instruments. What makes all the musicians in Rivers of Sound special is their versatility and openness to listening to each other, not being bound to any one style but rather bending with the music. We made our first album, Not Two, amazingly quickly, but after that experience and tours of the Middle East, Europe and the U.S., Rivers of Sound has evolved. Our chemistry has deepened, something you can hear in the fluent polyphony and play of microtonal harmonies on the new album, which I think is more ambitious than the first. The eight pieces are partially scored and partially improvised – so I rely on the players to help shape the music in the moment, bringing their own sounds and sensibilities to the compositions. They are what truly makes the alchemy of this music.”

In the liner notes, ElSaffar expands on both the technical and philosophical basis for Rivers of Sound: “The tonal basis of The Other Shore is the maqam – a system of microtonal heptatonic modes found in the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern and Southern Europe, and Central Asia. By using microtonal intervals, as opposed to the fixed pitches of the 12-tone equal temperament, the rigidness of forms melts away, allowing something new to emerge. The ensemble includes musicians from a broad spectrum of musical backgrounds and from different parts of the world. My desire is to expand beyond ideas of culture, in the sense of one style of music ‘belonging’ to a particular group of people or a society. Rivers of Sound proposes an alternative musical model by embracing a multitude of musical expressions, by focusing on the interactions between individual musicians. When we begin with an inherent sense of unity and interconnectedness, and think of musicians as individuals, not as representatives of a culture, there is no longer a need to ‘build bridges’.” 
Amir ElSaffar, photo by Hannah Devereux

1. Dhuha 12:50
2. Transformations 09:54
3. Reaching Upward 16:29
4. Ashaa 15:24
5. Concentric 05:11
6. Lightning Flash 08:53
7. March 06:00
8. Medmi 04:15

Jason Adasiewicz vibraphone
Tareq Abboushi, buzuq
Naseem Alatrash, cello
Fabrizio Cassol, alto saxophone
Carlo De Rosa, acoustic bass
Amir ElSaffar, trumpet, santur, vocal
Dena El Saffar, violin/joza
John Escreet, piano
Ole Mathisen, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Tim Moore, dumbek, naqqarat, frame drums
Miles Okazaki, guitar
JD Parran, bass saxophone, clarinet
Mohamed Saleh, oboe, English horn
Rajna Swaminathan, mridangam
Zafer Tawil, oud, nay
Nasheet Waits, drums
George Ziadeh, oud

All compositions by Amir ElSaffar, ElSaffar Music (BMI)

The Westerlies - Songbook Vol. 1 (September 2021)

Songbook Vol. 1 presents The Westerlies in their most intimate format to date. Following their widely acclaimed original chamber music recordings and high-profile collaborations with Fleet Foxes, Big Red Machine, Conrad Tao, and Theo Bleckmann, The Westerlies return to their folk roots for a set of acoustic covers of some of their favorite songs. Listeners are invited into The Westerlies’ living room to bask in the warmth and immediacy of the group’s interpretations of John Prine, Adrianne Lenker, Randy Newman, Aphex Twin, Ólafur Arnalds, and Jason Moran. Stripped down to their essence, the brilliance and feeling of these timeless songs are heard in a revelatory new light.

1. Way Back Then 03:38
2. Get Away Jordan 02:38
3. Saman 02:26
4. Arizona Landscape 04:07
5. Avril 14th 02:02
6. Blue and Red Horses 03:42
7. When She Loved Me 01:21

Riley Mulherkar - Trumpet
Chloe Rowlands - Trumpet
Andy Clausen - Trombone
Willem de Koch - Trombone

Recorded May 5-7, 2021 at
The International House of Long Tones
Brooklyn, NY

Produced, Mixed, and Mastered by Andy Clausen

Kraig Kilby - Satori (September 2021 Just Us Records)

In the Spring of 1977, Kraig Kilby began the thirty-year trip towards realizing his only solo album. By his early thirties, the trombonist and keyboard player had become firmly embedded in the national Soul music circuit, having recorded with artists such as Bennie Maupin and Dynasty as well as spending months each year on tour with The Whispers. At home in the San Francisco Bay Area, he was writing the compositions that would eventually become Satori.

When it came time for Kilby to record, he tapped longtime friends Michael Clark and Paul Jackson, the groundbreaking rhythm section behind Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters band, to help him realize the tunes he’d sketched out. Over a burst of sessions at Tres Virgos Studio in Marin County, the three-piece group (with Kilby on keys) solidified the arrangements and recorded the foundational tracks in the converted garage underneath the shadow of Mt. Tamalpais.

Kilby returned home to Marin when off the road between 1977 and 1981 to continue work on the album. Following a precise mental map, he painted a panoramic array of additional instruments, synthesizers, percussion, effects, and trombone onto the original takes. This painstaking process brushed up against the technical limitations of the then-humble studio and pushed the recordings in an experimental direction that, in retrospect, finds strong parallels in contemporaneous masterpieces from acts like The Mizell brothers, Norman Connors, and Detroit’s Tribe Records.

The white-hot rhythmic core of Clark, Jackson, and Kilby, alloyed with Kilby’s production flourishes and knack for aural texture make Satori play like a record collector’s fever dream of a psych-jazz grail. If it had been released at the time, it would have most likely become one– but the universe had other plans. Kilby’s busy schedule with The Whispers kept him out of the studio, and in 1989 he landed a steady gig touring with Etta James. Traveling the world for nearly two decades with his trombone and what became a tight-knit musical family, Satori would remain on the shelf until 2007. Rounding out the tracklist with two short improvisations recorded in the early 00’s, Kilby self-released the album on CD. Primarily given away to friends and family, it seems to have largely missed the prying eyes of jazz obsessives and crate diggers until now.

Equally meticulous and wild, lyrical and chaotic, nostalgic and trailblazing, it’s not an exaggeration to herald Satori as one of the most adventurous and prescient Jazz albums to have ever fallen through the cracks. The recordings feature musicians working at the height of their power at a critical moment in Jazz history, when the widening gap between the avant-garde and the dancefloor tended to draw musicians to one side and cast shady glances towards those on the other. Kilby somehow manages to capture both of these possibilities with an ease and expansiveness that is ascribed to the giants of the era.

As the Jazz-Funk milieux from which albums like Satori emerged increasingly solidifies in the collective consciousness as both a golden age of American music and a vital reference point for those immersing themselves in the prehistories of Hip-Hop and House, it feels critical for these compositions to have another chance at reaching an audience, and to mint Kilby his own much-deserved star. Upstart Detroit label Just Us is pleased to offer Satori on vinyl for the first time. 

1. Incantation 02:03
2. Lately 05:56
3. Sometime Soon 05:41
4. Musing 02:14
5. Lonebone 02:36
6. Satori 06:22
7. Ketchee 04:35
8. Strawberry Point 05:04

Kraig Kilby: Trombones, Keyboards, Kalimba, Small Percussion, Drum Programming (on Incantation)
Paul Jackson: Bass
Michael Clark: Drums
Lyn Haet: Acoustic Harp (on Strawberry Point)

Per Anders Nilsson - Re​-​Cycling (September 10, 2021 Simlas Produksjoner)

Archipelago of Sounds: Re-cycling

This album consists of recordings that spans over almost forty years. What unifies however, is that the entire material consists of solo saxophone and live electronics. Its title Re-cycling entails re-use of existing material, which it is, as it contains surplus material from my solo record Random Rhapsody from 1993. The island pieces series are part of an on-going recording project called Archipelago of Sounds, which is about creating musical works that on the one hand display coherent sounding music, and on the other should individual pieces show a unique sonic identity.

The oldest part, the furious walking bass accompaniment in Re-cycling, was recorded in the early 80s on a Buchla modular synthesizer at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. Whereas the rest of the electronic background was made in an Akai S1000 sampler and a Mac sequencer, whilst the saxophone overdub and mixing were made in 1988. Moreover, Autre Cap was originally a commission for the ICMC in Aarhus in 1994, based on a patch made with the Max software that featured score following techniques invented at IRCAM in Paris, which in turn triggered pre-recorded soprano saxophone samples.

The remaining pieces were recorded in 2020 and 2021, where the author plays alto saxophone together with different patches on a Bug Brand modular synthesizer, except Looper Islands that uses an old, and re-cycled Max/MSP patch, and Whereabouts which features an Octatrack sequencer/sampler.

1. Re-Cycling 07:39
2. Sounding Islands 2 02:29
3. Davis Islands 05:46
4. Autre Cap 07:36
5. Sounding Islands 3 05:08
6. Looper Islands 03:39
7. Sounding Islands 1 01:50
8. Whereabouts 04:32

Per Anders Nilsson
Alto, baryton, and soprano saxophones
Bug Brand modular synthesizer, Octatrack, and Max/MSP programming

All compositions by Per Anders Nilsson
Recording engineer and mixing: Per Anders Nilsson
Mastring: Per Anders Nilsson except Björn Asplind on track 2, 6, and 8.

Jim Marks - Touching Your Feelings (November 10, 2021)

After two years of preparation, we are thrilled to announce the reissue of the most precious hidden gems of Soul Jazz / Spoken Word albums from a key era. Originally released in 1974 as a private pressing of fewer that 100 copies, Touching Your Feelings by Jim Marks is a crucial missing piece of the proto-rap era lying firmly between Gil Scott Heron and Amiri Baraka, with whom he made a strong friendship. Jim Marks' mix of deep, expressive poetry and solid jazz sits on the edge of works by The Last Poets and fellow west coast rhyme smiths, the Watts Prophets. Upon hearing Jim Marks for the first time, it will remind you of those other great strangers of music who suddenly returned to the fore; you will experience the same emotions as when first listening to Terry Callier or Darondo.

Now 83, Jym (with y) has written 8 poetry books and recorded two albums. We found him, where he has always been, behind the windows of his barber shop in Palo Alto, where he worked for 50 years.

Touching Your Feelings will take you on a musical journey of 11 poems written by Jym between 1968 and 1974 that talk about social and political issues, the human condition, our relationship with ourselves and each other, the inner self. In a wide ranging interview, Jym Marks told Tony Higgins about his life, musical inspirations, artistic motivations and much more. This is an opportunity to hear a truly remarkable record that sells for thousands of dollars on the collector circuit, and is unknown even to the most attentive! 

A1. Music And Song
A2. I Ought To Watch That-Ego
A3. Gifted-For Cecilia
A4. Eulegy For Dewey
A5. It´s Time To Become

B1. Touchin Your Feelings
B2. Jazz Is Ourselves
B3. On Black
B4. Baaad News For Mr. Blues
B5. Rhythm Is Accenting Time
B6. Greater Than Pain

Drums – Scott Sprague
Electric Bass – John W. Smith
Percussion, Effects – Don Hendon
Piano, Electric Piano – Jim Marks