sábado, 21 de octubre de 2017

First-Ever Art Zoyd Box Set Comes Out Nov. 24, 2017 on CUNEIFORM RECORDS

First Ever
Art Zoyd
Box Set Release

Coming Out November 24th 2017
On Cuneiform Records:
"44 ½ : Live & Unreleased Works"
The Art Zoyd Box Set

"Art Zoyd can not be contained in a single adjective." 
-New York Post

Celebrating the prolific legacy of legendary French avant-garde ensemble Art Zoyd, 44 ½  years of music

Trying to make France's Art Zoyd fit into a single neat description is an exercise in futility. Sometimes they're fiendish sonic saboteurs bent on destroying listener's preconceptions about the way music works. Sometimes they're musical sorcerers conjuring strange but bewitching moments of lyrical beauty.

You could call them the original post-rock band, moving on from the dark, stormy sounds of prog legends like Magma and King Crimson to something that makes even those fearless explorers sound conventional by comparison.

You'd be equally accurate in dubbing them avant-classical composers, whose experimental visions are influenced by Stravinsky and Schoenberg.

"Art Zoyd is a quartet, but their instrumental arsenal produces the sound of a mighty orchestra." 
-New York Times

They were charter members of the notorious Rock-In-Opposition movement alongside the likes of Henry Cow and Univers Zero. They're impressionistic soundtrack composers. They're a band. They're a multimedia collective. Ultimately they're simply Art Zoyd. And it takes a document as massive and monumental as the 12-CD/2-DVD set 44 ½, to be released October 27, 2017 on Cuneiform Records, to even come close to offering a comprehensive picture of what they're all about.

Containing hours of live and unreleased material from the vast Art Zoyd archives, 44 ½ delves into the dense jungle of wildly diverse periods in a story that goes all the way back to the '70s. But it also provides many of the missing links in their long, knotty discography, filling in the gaps between their official releases and weaving together all of Art Zoyd's disparate stylistic strands into a majestic, multicolored, even imposing tapestry.

The tale told by 44 ½ incorporates everything from decades-old demos for brilliant but abandoned pieces to live recordings of multimedia extravaganzas involving film, theater, and more. It encompasses intimate trio performances as well as full orchestral assaults featuring dozens of musicians in full flight. It offers explosive industrial soundscapes and sweeping symphonic surges, quiet dread and monumental wallop, delicate acoustic chamber pieces and bustling electronic outbursts.

"Art Zoyd ... is one of the most important collectives in the world - dangerous and challenging." 
-The Absolute Sound

Art Zoyd has always been a band in flux, not only stylistically but in terms of personnel as well. Countless musicians have come and gone through the band's ranks over the years, but most of them can be heard here, with core players like bassist/cellist Thierry Zaboitzeff, trumpeter Jean-Pierre Soarez, keyboardist Patricia Diallo, and violinist/keyboardist Gerard Hourbette providing the through-line.

On recordings that go all the way back to 1975, this sprawling set—you can't capture the gist of an ensemble like this without going heroically deep—spotlights the multitude of ways in which Art Zoyd blazed a trail unquestionably their own. Their constantly shifting sound was even a million miles from that of their aforementioned RIO comrades, let alone anything even minutely more conventional. They've always been the left field of the left field, the maverick's mavericks, and if anything, this set underlines just how diligently they've pursued that grand idiosyncrasy decade after decade, offering new views of their evolution in the bargain.

"The Rock in Opposition c0-founders marry dark, unsettling atmospherics à la Univers Zero to precise minimalist constructs with hints of Philip Glass or Steve Reich" -AllMusic

In a 1996 live performance from Copenhagen, we hear the sinister but subtle, foreboding atmospheres and nuanced textures of Art Zoyd's accompaniment for the classic 1921 silent film Haxan (Witchcraft Through the Ages).  A 2000 concert recording from Maubeuge, France, finds the group joined by a 43-strong ensemble for the dense, brass-heavy orchestrations and pile-driving avant-industrial percussion barrages of the symphonic poem "u.B.I.Q.u.e."

"Final," from a 1975 show in Nancy, wrings an orchestra's worth of dark, gothic-flavored sounds from just guitar, violin, trumpet, and bass, while the 2000 live reading of the wildly diverse "La Nuit Du Jabberwock from Armentieres with Belgian ensemble Musiques Nouvelles features everything from neo-classical movements to electronic minimalism and mutated funk grooves.

In 44 ½ we also get glimpses of glories that were nearly lost to the ravages of time, like the previously unreleased 1990 demo for "Theopanie (Eloge de la Variete)," a piece where Art Zoyd comes off like '80s Tangerine Dream or Kraftwerk amid metronomic beats and a surprisingly linear latticework of synth riffs that would seem anomalous if the group wasn't so tough to pigeonhole to begin with. Then there's the demo for "Alabanje Kalabanza," where Eastern riffs and an urban framework come together for what could almost be the soundtrack to some bizarre crime drama.

Whether they were warping centuries-old classical styles with their sonic funhouse mirror in a piece for the 1989 bicentennial of the French revolution, transforming themselves into an alternate-universe jazz trio in their 1983 accompaniment to Didier Fusillier's play L'Etrangleur est Derriere Vous, or indulging in the unabashed beauty of the piano and choral voices on "Debut" three years later for another of Fusillier's works, Terra Terra, Art Zoyd has consistently flouted expectation at every juncture throughout a long, prolific career. And now, with the arrival of 44 ½, we can finally get a long view of all their most compelling twists and turns along the way.

"44 ½ : Live & Unreleased Works"
The Art Zoyd Box Set

Box Set Contents: There are eight CDs of live recordings stretching from the years 1972-2004 and four CDs of studio recordings, sketches and outtakes from 1980-2005. Of the two DVDs, one is comprised of historical television appearances from the late 70s into the end of the 80s and the other being the entire performance of their celebration at the RIO Festival.

12 CDs featuring:
• Live in Berlin parts 1 & 2, The Loft (April 1987)
• Häxan, Live in Copenhagen parts 1 & 2, European Capital of Culture (February 1996)
• u•B•I•Q•U•e, Live in Maubeuge, La Luna (January 2000)
• Le mariage du ciel et de l’enfer, Live in Paris parts 1 & 2, with the Ballet National de Marseille (Roland Petit), Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (March 1985)
• Theatre & Live
• LIVE brigades spéciales théâtre de la renaissance Paris (1976)
• LIVE Mons Danses Mécaniques (2000)
• “La Nuit du Jabberwock,” with members of Musiques Nouvelles, Live in Armentières, Le Vivat (2002)
• Live in Grenoble, 38èmes Rugissants Festival (1990)
• Live in Maubeuge, Art Zoyd with the Orchestre National de Lille (2000)
• Symphonie pour le jour où brûleront les cités (1975/orch. 2000)
• Live in Mexico, Art Zoyd with the Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de México (1999)
• Armageddon, actes 2 & 3, Live in Lille (2004)
• Unreleased works
• Globe Arena (1989)
• Musique pour le Six-Centenaire du Beffroi de Bethune (1988)
• Bethune 1789 (1989)
• Les Inattendus de Maubeuge “Spoutnik” (1993)
• Les Trois Mousquetaires
• Flixecourt Tisserands
• La Guerre de Marguerite
• Au nom du Père (1991)  
• Malbodium (1987)
• L'étrangleur est derrière vous (1983)
• Terra Terra! (1986)
• Live in Nancy (1975)
• Live in Reims, Maison de la Culture (1980)
• Live performance (excerpt) for Radio Tonkraft, Stockholm (October 3, 1979)
• Marco Polo (1984)

2 DVDs featuring:
• 44 ½ , the birthday concert, Live at Maison de la Musique, Cap’Découverte, Le Garric, France, Rock In Opposition Festival 2015 (September 19, 2015)
• Live in Berlin, Centre Culturel Français de Berlin (April 14–15, 1986)
• Live on Phase IV / FR3 TV, Hôtel de Ville de Maubeuge (December 1982)
• Nosferatu - Teaser (1988)
• Musique pour l'Odyssée / FR3 Nord Picardie TV excerpt (1979)
• Le mariage du ciel et de l'enfer (excerpts) / Antenne 2 TV (1985)

2 Booklets featuring:
• One Photos booklet, containing archival photographs in color as well as black & white 
• One Texts booklet, containing CD and DVD listings for the whole box set, a two page spread on the band history, and three extensive interviews with the band over the years.

Art Zoyd's Journey Through the Decades

With more than 20 albums to their credit, France's Art Zoyd are a fearlessly experimental ensemble who have always operated in a sphere entirely their own. Heroes of the Rock In Opposition movement, they've been around for so long and seen so many changes that even just a few years into their career they weren't the same band as when they started out.

The band's first iteration began in Valenciennes in Northern France in 1969. At that time, though they were already operating far outside of the mainstream, they were at least nominally a rock band, making progressive music influenced by the likes of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.

But both their personnel and their style began shifting quickly, as they would do for the rest of the band's lifetime. In 1971 a major turnaround in membership saw charter members depart while violinist/keyboardist Gerard Hourbette and bassist cellist Thierry Zaboitzeff come aboard. By 1975, Hourbette and Zaboitzeff were leading the charge towards a new approach.

The first version of Art Zoyd that resembled the group we know today jettisoned the trappings of rock, eschewing guitars, drums, and conventional rock-oriented song structures, in favor of an uncompromisingly forward-looking agenda and a lineup based around violins, trumpet, and bass for a sort of avant-chamber feel, still bearing traces of inspiration from the most experimental end of progressive rock, a la King Crimson and Magma, but much more influenced by modern classical composers and sui generis sound artists.

In 1976 the first Art Zoyd album, Symphonie Pour Le Jour Ou Bruleront Les Cites, was released on the group's own label, and soon the band was performing across France, opening up for their countrymen Magma. By the time they put out their second LP, 1979's Musique Pour L'Odyssee, Art Zoyd had become participants in the Rock In Opposition movement alongside England's Henry Cow, Italy's Stormy Six, fellow Frenchmen Etron Fou Leloublan, Belgium's Univers Zero, and Swedes Zamlas Mammas Manna.

Founded the previous year, RIO was a cooperative whose members were linked by a fierce commitment to making left-of-center music and subverting the traditional methods of operation within the music business. By design it would remain staunchly underground, but would become a hugely respected and influential movement.

In the '80s, Art Zoyd performed all over Europe, increasing its reputation as one of the premier progressive ensembles. In 1983 a turning point arrived when they were tapped to provide music for choreographer Roland Petit's ballet Le marriage du ciel et de l'enfer at Milan's La Scala Festival and Paris's Theatre des Champs-Elysees. It was the group's introduction to multimedia art events, which would become a significant part of Art Zoyd's work for the rest of their career as they scored silent films, theater pieces, dance performances and more, all across Europe, gaining new audiences all the while. It was in the first half of the decade that the group crafted some of their milestone albums, including Generation Sans Futur (1980), Phase IV (1982), and Le Mariage Du Ciel Et De L'Enfer (1985).

Kyle Eastwood - In Transit (JAZZ VILLAGE [PIAS] 2017)

The Los Angeles bred, Paris based bassist and composer estimates that about half of the tracks were "road tested," with a few rendered completely fresh in the studio. "That's part of the concept, all the moving around and spending time on the road and working through our favorite material."

Just as on his previous two critically acclaimed collections The View from Here and Time Pieces, Kyle plays with a powerfully swinging yet beautifully soulful and sensual quintet of young English musicians. The longest-term members of Kyles powerhouse quintet are pianist Andrew McCormack (12 years) and trumpeter and flugelhornist Quentin Collins (9 years). Newer to the fold, and adding brilliantly to the shared chemistry, are tenor and soprano saxophonist Brandon Allen (who made his first appearance on Time Pieces) and the latest member, drummer Chris Higginbottom.

After inviting renowned Italian saxophonist Stefano Di Battista to join the ensemble on numerous gigs throughout Europe, Kyle invited him to bring his lush and lyrical sensibilities to the Sextant La Fonderie Studio in Malakoff, France to record on four tracks of the new album. The most prominent of these is the intimate and dreamlike acoustic re-imagining of "Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso," which was penned by Ennio Morricone, one of Kyle's favorite film composers; having previously played with the great Italian composer, Di Battista brings an intimate familiarity to the piece.

"We all have similar tastes in music," he adds, "and after playing together for a while have truly developed a unique musical camaraderie and dialogue that allows us to play seamlessly in sync and intuitively know just when to break for every member to take a solo."

The rhythmically intense, vibrantly re-imagined jazz classics on In Transit -- Count Basie's "Blues in Hoss' Flat," Mingus' "Boogie Stop Shuffle" and Thelonious Monk's "We See" -- create a wonderful dual sense for Kyle of coming full circle paying homage to his influences while bringing those traditions into a forward thinking contemporary context. Original compositions like the freewheeling funk-jazz hybrid "Rockin Ronnies" (an homage to Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club, the bands favorite London hotspot) and the brisk, high octane trip through a frenetic "Rush Hour" highlight the compositional talents of each member individually and collectively.

Other key tracks include the McCormack penned "Jarreau," a whimsical romp that pays tribute to the late great Al Jarreau, which borrows some harmony lines and chord changes from the singers "Not Like This," and "Soulful Times," a soaring and soul-jazz piece that opens the collection and introduces the ensemble's sense of easy swing, bright piano harmonies, dynamic horns and the infectious pocket grooves of Kyle and Chris Higginbottom. "I really think everyone played their pants off on this album, and I'm really happy with the way it turned out."

01 Soulful Times
02 Rush Hour
03 Movin’
04 Cinema Paradiso (Love Theme)
05 Night Flight
06 We See
07 Rockin’ Ronnie’s
08 Jarreau
09 Blues In Hoss’ Flat
10 Boogie Stop Shuffle
11 Sunrise (Bonus Track)
12 Swamp To An Oasis (Bonus Track)

Available on Jazz Village [PIAS] 
Digital World Wide: October 20 | CD & Vinyl North America: October 27

Don't Miss This New $5 Album, Get It This Weekend Only! **Remembering Phil Miller**

viernes, 20 de octubre de 2017

Wadada Leo Smith - NAJWA (TUM RECORDS October 20, 2017)

Wadada Leo Smith’s new album Najwa features four compositions in tribute to past masters of creative music, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Billie Holiday, as well as the title composition ”Najwa” in remembrance of a love lost. Compared to Smith’s prior recordings, the presence of four guitarists and Bill Laswell’s electric bass create a unique sound world and fluidity for the music.

The first two extended compositions that open the album are dedications to two great masters of creative music, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, and each takes the form of a mini-suite. “Each has a second movement within the context of the overall shape,” says Smith. “They’re shaped like miniature suites within the context of a single album. And then the whole album has the shape of a tribute. It’s all about people and, therefore, it’s also organically unified, based around these people who I respect.” Next is the brief but touching “Najwa,” followed by a dedication to the sometime drummer of Smith’s Golden Quartet, Ronald Shannon Jackson.

The CD closes with the achingly beautiful “The Empress, Lady Day,” one of Smith’s several compositions dedicated to Billie Holiday. “I’ve written more compositions for Billie Holiday than maybe any other person,” Smith says. “She was a great performer/composer.” Although Wadada Leo Smith has worked with electric guitars in the past, including in his Organic ensemble and in Yo Miles! which he co-led with Henry Kaiser, Najwa puts the guitar in an even more central role. All four guitarists have worked with Smith before; Michael Gregory Jackson since Smith’s early years in New Haven in the 1970s, Henry Kaiser in Yo Miles!, and Brandon Ross and Lamar Smith (Smith’s grandson) in Organic.

In addition to the guitars, Bill Laswell’s electric bass takes a central role in the sonic world of Najwa and Laswell also played an important part in the post-production and mixing of the music on the album. Smith says that he enjoyed “the idea of making this session and then going back and re-recording some of the areas and then sitting down with Bill and allowing him to tweak it in certain ways and re-reference it in a whole different way. I very much like that notion, that idea or that philosophy.” This was the first time Smith and Laswell recorded together but their collaborations have continued both live and in the recording studio.


Wadada Leo Smith’s new album Solo: Reflections And Meditations On Monk features his solo trumpet on four classic Thelonious Monk compositions and four new compositions by Smith inspired by Monk, the artist that Smith feels closest to in the historic continuum of creative music. “Most people would never realize that I am closer to Thelonious Monk than to any other artist,” says Smith. “What connects us is a vision of composition and its forms, music psychology, and our articulation of the ensemble as a trashing field for new information.” From the time he listened to the early masters of modern jazz as a teenager, Smith felt that “ It was Monk, his ideas of a band and composition, that were the closest to what I dreamed of being as an artist.

His history of composition and his knowledge of how to use sound were a prime motivator, really, for me wanting to be a composer. I would go back and forth between him and Duke Ellington on this, but Monk had the upper hand in the end.”  Smith’s fascination with Monk’s solo recordings began more than five decades ago, when he purchased the recording Thelonious Monk Alone In San Francisco.

“The essence of Monk is, I believe, in his solo performances” says Smith. “All those pieces, the solo music, follow the primary formula of the compositions, but they all stray, they all lead to expansions and further explorations allowing the compositions to grow and become renewed each time he plays them.

The way in which I play Monk’s melodies on this recording, they are all personal: they are not based on chord progressions, they evolve essentially by proportion – long notes, short notes. Each of them is played, they move, in a way in which I can celebrate his melody, but seen through my expression of it.”  In addition to four classic Monk compositions, “Ruby, My Dear,” “Reflections,” “Crepuscule With Nellie” and “'Round Midnight,” the album includes four new compositions by Smith inspired by Monk and his personal history whether real, imagined or dreamed.

Together, the pieces form a unique collection wherein the two composers seem to communicate with each other through Smith’s solo performances. Smith’s first recording as a leader was also a solo album (Creative Music–1 in 1971). Since that time, he has continued to perform solo concerts and record additional solo albums (Solo Music/Ahkreanvention in 1979, Kulture Jazz in 1992 and Red Sulphur Sky in 2001). Solo: Reflections And Meditations On Monk is, however, Smith’s first solo recording that includes another composer’s music. Smith has also begun performing Monk’s compositions live for the first time. Wadada Leo Smith (b. 1941), who was part of the first generation of musicians to come out of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), has established himself as one of the leading composers and performers of creative contemporary music.

In the late 1960s, Smith formed the Creative Construction Company together with saxophonist Anthony Braxton and violinist Leroy Jenkins and, since the early 1970s, he has mostly led his own groups, which currently include the Golden Quartet, the Great Lakes Quartet, Mbira, Organic and the Silver Orchestra, among others. In 2012, Smith released his most extensive recording to date, Ten Freedom Summers, a fourCD collection which was one of three finalists for Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2013. In 2013, he released Occupy The World (TUM CD 037-2), a two-CD recording of six extended compositions performed by Smith with TUMO, a 22member improvising orchestra. The Great Lakes Suites (TUM CD 041-2, a double-CD with Henry Threadgill, John Lindberg and Jack DeJohnette) was broadly hailed as one of the top albums of the year in 2014 as was the duo recording with bassist John Lindberg, Celestial Weather (TUM CD 046), in 2015. In 2017, Smith received awards for Jazz Artist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year (for America’s National Parks) and Trumpeter of the Year in DownBeat’s 65th Annual Critics Poll and was named Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association.

Scott Robinson's Heliosonic Toneways, Vol. 1

ScienSonic Laboratories releases historic large ensemble recording, made on the 50th anniversary of Sun Ra's classic Heliocentric Worlds

The Heliosonic Tone-tette featuring Sun Ra Arkestra members Marshall Allen and Danny Ray Thompson plus Scott Robinson, Philip Harper, Frank Lacy, Tim Newman, Pat O'Leary, JD Parran, Yosvany Terry and Matt Wilson

On April 20, 1965, one of the most adventurous and far-reaching recordings in jazz - or music - history was made in New York City. The great Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra convened in engineer Richard L. Alderson's RLA Studio and crafted The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, an amazing and enigmatic recording that continues to astonish listeners to this day. Somewhere between outer space chamber music and avant-garde jazz, it introduced listeners to sounds not normally heard in improvised music. The album's boundary-stretching jazz sounded like no other record made by anyone, ever.

Now, fifty years later, ScienSonic Laboratories has created Heliosonic Toneways, Vol. 1, an historic new recording in the intrepid spirit of the original Heliocentric Worlds. On April 20, 2015, original participant Marshall Allen (now 93 and still highly active as leader of the Arkestra) and longtime Arkestra member Danny Thompson joined an incredible cast of some of New York's most creative musicians at the behest of ScienSonic's founder, multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson.

Along with trombonist Frank Lacy, trumpeter Philip Harper, bassist Pat O'Leary, saxophonist Yosvany Terry, bass trombonist Tim Newman, drummer Matt Wilson and bass clarinetist JD Parran, Robinson and the Arkestra vets reentered the orbit of that landmark recording created a half-century earlier.

Heliosonic Toneways is not a recreation or remake of Heliocentric Worlds; instead of duplicating the original music, Robinson's goal was to use the extraordinary sonic template of the original recordings - the same instrumentation and distinctive sounds - to create new and imaginative music that would honor the spirit of the original sessions while also setting off into new and completely uncharted terrain. This is ScienSonic's most ambitious project yet, and the results are remarkable. 

One of the unique facets of Heliocentric Worlds was the album's use of an expanded palette unprecedented in even the most experimental jazz, incorporating such unusual instruments as timpani, piccolo, and the haunting bass marimba. Some months later, Volume Two followed with the addition of chromatic sets of "tuned bongos" and the eerie, electronic Clavioline. The distinctive aural environment of these two recordings, along with an offbeat musical methodology which blurs the lines between composition and improvisation, makes for utterly singular music which truly lives up to the admonition on the back of the original LP jackets: "YOU NEVER HEARD SUCH SOUNDS IN YOUR LIFE."

Robinson's ScienSonic Laboratories was the most fitting locale in which to record these extraordinary sessions; his converted garage houses one of the world's most extensive collections of obscure musical instruments, the fruits of years spent combing flea markets and junk shops. Among the lab's treasures is the original bass marimba that Sun Ra played on Heliocentric Worlds, heard here in the hands of Scott Robinson and Marshall Allen himself.

Also returning from the 1965 recording is original engineer Richard Alderson - who had not worked with Allen since the Heliocentric sessions but was tracked down and recruited to engineer the date. This made for a truly historic three-way reunion - fifty years later to the day! - between Allen, Alderson, and the original instrument that figured so prominently on the 1965 LP. A strange twist was added when news arrived during the sessions of the passing of Bernard Stollman - whose ESP label had issued the original Heliocentric LPs - on the very same day.

The results include Marshall Allen's first-ever recordings on piano and bass marimba, in addition to his customary alto sax and EVI. It was captured in a marathon session, resulting in enough material for two releases - look out for Volume Two in 2018. Despite many setbacks including pouring rain, technical difficulties, and long delays in the mixing process, the results of this massive effort can finally be heard. 

This is startling and unforgettable music, captured with extraordinary clarity and sonic detail - music that could only have taken place at ScienSonic Laboratories, with these musicians, these sounds. This is music that takes you somewhere... somewhere utterly unfamiliar, yet strangely inviting. Or, as Sun Ra used to say, "Somewhere there." From an audiophile standpoint, Alderson calls it "the best recording I have ever made." And while it is unlike any other Laboratory production to date, this music certainly lives up to the ScienSonic motto, "Worlds of Tomorrow Through Sound."

Please visit www.sciensonic.net to learn more about our previous releases with Julian Thayer, Marshall Allen, Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Grimes and more. Become a Laboratory Member!

Satoko Fujii Quartet – Live at Jazz Room Cortez (CORTEZ SOUND October 20, 2017)

Satoko Fujii Quartet breathes new life into old compositions

On Live at Jazz Room Cortez, available October 20, 2017

Joining Fujii are trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, drummer Takashi Itani and violinist Keisuke Ohta 

Pioneering Japanese free jazz violinist Keisuke Ohta joins pianist Fujii for a delightfully unpredictable live recording of previously recorded tunes.

“Satoko Fujii is one of the most original pianists in free jazz…” – Steve Greenlee, Boston Globe

“Unpredictable, wildly creative, and uncompromising…Fujii is an absolutely essential listen for anyone interested in the future of jazz.”  Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz

"★★★★. There's a sense that freedom and lyricism are always elbowing for room on Fujii's page; how she controls those instincts is a large component in her ability to craft enormously thought-provoking music. Fujii's music is —by turns— primitive, exhilarating, and sensitive, but not in a quixotic manner. It is within her well-managed eccentricities that Fujii challenges the listener with inventiveness meant for open ears." – Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz

Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts. And that’s what pianist Satoko Fujii did when she assembled the quartet heard on her latest album, Live at Jazz Room Cortez available October 20, 2017 via Cortez Sound. She could have put together a traditional band with rhythm section and a horn player. She knew she wanted to use longtime compatriots trumpeter Nasuki Tamura and drummer Takashi Itani. But something told her to use violinist Keisuke Ohta instead of a bassist and she went with her gut feeling. The result is an album with a unique group sound and vision that brings fresh insight into her compositions.

Teruhiko Ito had invited Fujii to come back to his Jazz Room Cortez in Mito, Japan, scene of her triumphant 2016 solo performance captured on Invisible Hand (Cortez Sound), this time with a band. Fujii had performed with Ohta, who is something of a patriarch on the Tokyo free jazz scene, back in 1997 and 1998, around the time she returned to Japan after earning her graduate diploma from New England Conservatory in Boston. “He came to my mind and I couldn’t picture any other person to join us,” Fujii says. “I didn’t think about it much. My inspiration created this line-up.”

Over the course of the evening, the quartet played a wide range of Fujii’s compositions, but for the CD she chose versions of two pieces that she’d previously recorded because, “they give you the clearest and deepest examples of each musician’s ability.”

Indeed, everyone shines, both individually and as members of the ensemble, throughout the disc. “Convection,” first heard on Fujii’s New Trio album, Spring Storm (Libra, 2013), receives an extended treatment full of contrasting events and surprising changes in direction. A series of improvised sections which Fujii signals the end of with a gorgeous, ringing chord, “Convection” mixes absurdity and surrealism with lyricism and pure sound in a virtuoso ensemble performance. Fujii reaches all the way back to her first trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black for “Looking Out the Window,” the title track of their 1997 debut recording. The track opens with a playful mix of voices, folk influences, and unusual timbres and textures before segueing into a sequence of unaccompanied solos by each member of the band. The piece culminates with a rapturous reading of the tune’s melody.

Critics and fans alike hail pianist and composer Satoko Fujii as one of the most original voices in jazz today. She’s “a virtuoso piano improviser, an original composer and a bandleader who gets the best collaborators to deliver," says John Fordham in The Guardian. In concert and on more than 80 albums as a leader or co-leader, she synthesizes jazz, contemporary classical, avant-rock and Japanese folk music into an innovative music instantly recognizable as hers alone. Her most recent group, Satoko Fujii Tobira with trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, bassist Todd Nicholson, and drummer Takashi Itani, released their debut recording Yamiyo Ni Karasu in 2015. “There are pulse-pounding rhythms, vibrant tones and dark chords woven together into a multi-shaded tapestry of sound…What an absolute pleasure to listen to Satoko Fujii,” wrote Travis Rogers Jr. in The Jazz Owl. Over the years, Fujii has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music, including the ma-do quartet, the Min-Yoh Ensemble, and an electrifying avant-rock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins. She has also established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles, leading Cadence magazine to call her, “the Ellington of free jazz.” Her ultimate goal: “I would love to make music that no one has heard before.”

Fuji has a well-deserved reputation for assembling unconventional bands of kindred spirits to bring her musical vision to life. The product of a moment’s inspiration, the quartet on Live at Jazz Room Cortez realizes her vision with sensitivity, imagination, and total commitment.

jueves, 19 de octubre de 2017

Raoul Björkenheim / eCsTaSy - Doors of Perception (CUNEIFORM RECORDS)

Nordic jazz explorers Raoul Björkenheim and eCsTaSy
open the Doors to New Sonic Vistas with
Doors of Perception,
kaleidoscopically inventive & perceptive improvisation 
that reveals the quartet at its hottest, 
unleashing “what Ecstasy sounds like”

In the mansion that is guitarist Raoul Björkenheim’s music there are many rooms, and the Finnish-American guitar explorer opens up a particularly vivid and volatile new portal with Doors of Perception, his third Cuneiform release with his quartet eCsTaSy. Slated for release on October 6, 2017, the album captures an extraordinary working ensemble stretching into transfixing new spaces, settings defined as much by texture, vibe and sinuous melodic lines as by rhythmic and harmonic structures.

Featuring the innovative drummer Markku Ounaskari, Björkenheim’s longtime partner in sonic exploration, the young and dauntingly prolific saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen and bassist Jori Huhtala, eCsTaSy continues to expand its sonic palette. Over the course of six years the musicians have forged a riveting communion. Capaciously inventive, rigorously gutsy and unapologetically Nordic, the music flows from the mystic Finnish landscape and the hothouse Helsinki music scene that gave birth to the band. 

“The band has really developed during the last few years, getting to a point that I had hoped we would reach,” Björkenheim says. “We went into the studio with some sketches, but most of the music was created spontaneously, and you get a sense of this ongoing conversation. We couldn’t have done this five years ago. We didn’t have this kind of trust yet.”

One sure sign of the quartet’s deep connection is the way they distill ideas. Sequenced as a stream of consciousness train of impressions, Doors of Perception features 10 tracks that all clock in under five minutes. Rather than exploring extended forms or expansive soundscapes, the music is instead marked by pithy statements and compressed drama. Which isn’t to say Doors of Perception lacks grandeur. The album opens with “Ides of March,” an ominous, portentously churning piece that breaks like a thunderstorm, only to clear with a thumping bass passage and a thick, ringing guitar chord. “Buzz,” the album’s briefest piece, is a jittery journey that seems to pass through a multitude of stations, driven by Ounaskari’s spidery cymbal work.

Maybe the group was heading to the beach, as the wary but persistently spacious “Surf Bird,” follows, featuring Lyytinen’s lilting East-meets-West wood flute. The album’s longest track, “Elemental” is also the most pleasingly consonant, a snaky sojourn that keys on Lyytinen’s keening soprano sax and Björkenheim’s meaty strumming. With its blustery bass sax and soaring guitar line, “Talkin’ to Me?” is appropriately pugnacious, while the title track proceeds like an invitation to an enigmatic subterranean realm. The album closes with “Ecstasy Dance,” a righteous blast of joy that whirls off to the horizon, suggesting yet another door well worth entering. 

While Björkenheim is no stranger to long musical structures, he was after a different kind of narrative arc on Doors of Perception. Much like each piece is a finely calibrated aural micro-cosmos, the album proceeds from track to track with its own internal logic. “In a way it is countercultural,” Björkenheim says. “It’s an invitation to enter a world that might be disorienting. I don’t hear a walking bass, is this jazz? It might be a little bit of a challenge, but it’s also an invitation.”

With Doors of Perception, Björkenheim and eCsTaSy avoid predictable and boring routines to offer the listeners something all too rare in most jazz these days.  The Doors of Perception invites listeners to join eCsTaSy’s musical trip, a journey filled with excitement and joyous revelations that spark emotions and expand all ears.

Doors of Perception is the third release by Raoul Björkenheim’s Ecstasy, all of which were released by Cuneiform. The first album, the self-titled eCsTaSy, came out in 2014.  eCsTaSy’s second album, Out of the Blue, was released in 2015. Both previous eCsTaSy albums were nominated for the Emma Prize for Best Jazz Recording in Finland, which is the Finnish version of the Grammy.

As those who’ve seen him in his many ensembles can testify, guitarist Björkenheim is an astounding live performer, and his band  eCsTaSy is positively electrifying live. Active on the international jazz festival circuit, Ecstasy recently played at Jazzahead in Bremen in April 2017. In support of the release of Doors of Perception, Ecstasy will perform several concerts in Finland in 2017.  Björkenheim plans to tour Ecstasy internationally in 2018, as well as to do several festival performances.


Raoul Björkenheim
Born in Los Angeles in 1956 to Finnish parents, Björkenheim spent the first 15 years of his life in California and New York surrounded by artists (his mother is Finnish actress and singer Taina Elg). In the early 1970s, he moved to Finland, where he came into the orbit of the great Finnish jazz drummer Edward Vesala, who introduced him to his rigorous improvisational ethic. By the early 1980s, Björkenheim became a key member of Vesala’s pool of players, performing on three of the drummer’s albums including the classic 1987 ECM session Lumi by the sprawling ensemble Sound And Fury.

“Vesala was a strong influence when I was starting out as a jazz musician in the 80s,” Björkenheim says. “His recording Tryptikon for ECM with Jan Garbarek and Arild Andersen is one of my talismans to this day. That record proposes a music influenced by the free jazz of Ornette and Ayler, but tempered by a gorgeous Nordic sensibility and an ear for free tonality, combined with an extended use of dynamics.”

By the end of the 1980s, Björkenheim was ready to strike out on his own, and he made his first major contribution as a bandleader with Krakatau. The group released two recordings in Finland; in 1996, Cuneiform reissued one of them, 1988’s Ritual, thus beginning its longstanding collaboration with the guitarist. After Björkenheim reformed Krakatau with all new personnel, the group gained international acclaim in the early 1990s with two albums on ECM. Krakatau continues to make music, often joining forces with four-piece West African percussion ensemble Senegal Drums as the 8-piece Krakatau & Senegal Drums, whose most recent festival gig “had people dancing in the aisles, it's very joyous music,” recalls Björkenheim.

In 2001, Björkenheim moved to New York City. On September 18 - exactly a week after 9/11 - he released an astounding and ambitious album called Apocalypso on Cuneiform. A solo studio album, Apocalypso featured Björkenheim playing all of the 42 parts he originally composed for 42 guitarists at the 1994 Helsinki Juhlaviikot Festival. All About Jazz noted that “Apocalypso manages to be both brilliant and apocalyptic at the same time. It stands among Björkenheim's best work… pure, undiluted Björkenheim…truly glorious in its relentless blackness.”

Björkenheim returned to Finland in 2008, where he resides today. He continues working with like-minded visionary musicians on both continents, collaborating with Finnish musicians (UMO Orchestra, Kalle Kalima and Markus Holkko) while also maintaining productive contacts with New York free jazz stalwarts William Parker and Hamid Drake, Kalabalik with Gerald Cleaver and Anders Nilsson, and genre-smashing Bill Laswell.  In 2011, Cuneiform released the debut self-titled album by Blixt, featuring the jaw-dropping trans-continental power trio of Björkenheim, bassist Laswell and Swedish drummer Morgan Ågren. 

In Finland, Björkenheim has forged a creatively rewarding relationship with the noted Finnish director Taru Mäkelä, writing scores for a series of her films, including the 2011 hit Varasto (Warehouse) and a sequel to the dark, workplace comedy Varasto 2 (Warehouse 2), to be released in 2018. In addition, Björkenheim is currently writing a book on guitar improvisation. “The book,” says Björkenheim, “will be purposefully aimed at ALL guitarists who want to learn their way around their instruments through improvising, so jazz, classical, folk and rock guitarists will find a wealth of ideas to work on.”

Regarding his recording and performing ensembles, Björkenheim says “I’m mainly focused on eCsTaSy and Triad. Instead of putting out 10 records a year, these days I prefer something that’s more focused and complete.” Triad, Björkenheim’s power trio with double bassist Ville Rauhala and drummer Ilmari Heikinheimo, released its critically hailed debut album Beyond (Wayside) in 2017. But his primary creative outlet for the past six years has been eCsTaSy, an astounding, empathetic quartet whose first two recordings on Cuneiform (2014’s Ecstasy and 2015’s Out of the Blue) were nominated for an Emma, the Finnish equivalent of the Grammy. 

Founded by Björkenheim in 2001, Ecstasy includes drummer and long-time Björkenheim collaborator Markku Ounaskari, and saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen and bassist Jori Huhtala, whom Björkenheim met during his teaching duties at the Sibelius Academy.

Markku Ounaskari
A veteran of some of the most memorable Finnish groups of the past two decades, Markku Ounaskari gained new visibility recording for ECM, including his first solo album, 2010’s Kuára. A confederate of international jazz stars like Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, French guitarist Marc Ducret, alto sax legend Lee Konitz, and the late great Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, Ounaskari has played with all virtually almost all the major Finnish jazz figures. In 2014 he was given the Yrjö prize, the most prestigious jazz award and the biggest acknowledgement that a jazz musician can receive for his or her work in Finland. “Markku is a lyrical player who has the capacity for high-energy explosions as well,” Björkenheim says, “so with him in the crew we're aiming for that wide dynamic/emotional range.”

Pauli Lyytinen
Saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, 34, is part of the band’s youth wave, a prolific recording artist who leads or co-leads a diverse array of ensembles, including Elifantree, Magnetia Orkesteri, Equally Stupid, Pauli Lyytinen Machinery, Kauhukakara, Laponia Improvisations Experiment, and Skalle & Sharon. “He’s a musician and composer with an obsession for tone color and experimental techniques, creating a sensation with his fluency on the Bb family of saxophones, from bass to soprano,” Björkenheim says. “In music ranging from hardcore free to experimental pop, Lyytinen has been inventing new roles for his instrument, often limiting himself to the role of accompanist. In this quartet, he gets a chance to spread his improvisatory wings.”

Jori Huhtala
At 33, bassist Jori Huhtala is the youngest member of the band, though he’s already firmly established on the international scene through his work with heavyweights like David Liebman, Tim Hagans, Jukkis Uotila and Tim Ries. At home he’s in constant demand as a sideman with top Finnish improvisers such as Verneri Pohjola, Eero Koivistoinen, Kari Ikonen, and Jari Perkiömäki, and in the ensembles Big Blue, Kvalda, and Jussi Fredriksson Jazz Wars. For Björkenheim, his powerful bandstand presence “echoes of Miroslav Vitous and other past masters.” 

Cuneiform asked Raoul Björkenheim to talk about Doors of Perception. Here’s what he said:

The name of our album is "Doors of Perception", readily bringing to mind the book by Aldous Huxley describing his ecstatic experiences with mescaline, and also part of a poem called "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" by William Blake. I named it that because of the cover photograph, which I took while walking in Soho NYC last June. It seemed to me to evoke the psychedelic spirit of our album, in which the listener really has to let go and just dive in! 

But the cover also has a subtle political message. The USA’s political climate is hitting unprecedented lows, and unbelievably 40% of the population still think that Trump is doing a good job (WTF??), so everything feels very absurd, like there's little hope in sight. When I saw this doorway in Soho, I couldn't resist the image, which seemed to me to be as fragmented as society is now, and of course the dig at Trump was waaay too polite, but it felt very appropriate, especially as the poster is in Spanish.

When we were planning this album, I had the ambition to write tight charts. But my experience led me to decide that the free quality I'm looking for thrives better in an improvised setting, so I abandoned the chart idea and instead trusted the band to listen and improvise, based on several ideas for each piece. 

Compared to Ecstasy’s previous album, Doors of Perception is a freer, rawer proposal with less predetermined forms, so the band has a chance to demonstrate trust in ourselves and in each other. After six years of working together, I feel that this album sounds more mature and together, though the hallmarks of our playing will surely be recognizable.

The listener might initially become disoriented by the raw sound we deliver here, but given that "jazz" records have often become so predictable, I hope that this music will feel fresh and daring once the musical environment becomes more familiar. We take quite a lot of risks that most jazz musicians would leave alone, allowing ourselves to ride the waves as they come, but I myself have great respect for musicians that do take those risks.

I think that Doors of Perception reveals the band at it's hottest, almost like a live recording, and therefore it gives a true picture of what Ecstasy sounds like.  - Raoul Björkenheim

1. Ides of March (3:16)
2. Answer It! (5:13)
3. Buzz (3:01)
4. Surf Bird (4:27)
5. Elemental (5:44)
6. Talkin’ to Me? (4:18)
7. Doors of Perception (5:30)
8. Jitterfug (3:25)
9. Sunflower (3:21)
10. Ecstasy Dance (4:50)

Raoul Björkenheim: electric 6 string and 12 string guitars
Pauli Lyytinen: bass, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, wood flute
Jori Huhtala: doublebass
Markku Ounaskari: drums and percussion

Produced by Raoul Björkenheim.

All music by eCsTaSy except tracks 7, 8 & 10 by Raoul Björkenheim.

Recorded and mixed by Markus Kärki.

Mastered by Pauli Saastamoinen @ Finnvox Studios 2017.

Cover photo by Raoul Björkenheim.

Cover design by Bill Ellsworth.

This recording was made possible by a grant from The Arts Promotion Centre Finland.