An underrated (…ignored?) label that has consistently been releasing electrifying records. Do yourself a favour and check them out. These are serious artists who work outside the disgraceful circles of “officially sanctioned” improvisation, expressing fun, excitement and huge heart.
DAVE STONE / JAY ZELENKA / GREG MILLS – Premonitions
Improvisation can be an ugly beast, a ho-hum experience, a good way to render an idiot nervous, or the synthesis of everything that’s fascinating in a creative process. Premonitions is mostly made of the latter kind of occurrence, and is without a doubt one of the best albums of free music heard in a long time by yours truly. The reason behind this admiration is simple: there’s no constriction whatsoever in the playing, yet not for a moment the outcome resembles a disconnected jumble of blast-and-toot clowns, which is usually what happens in similar circumstances. The level of musicianship is incontrovertibly high, and the multiplicity of the creations – expressed via diverse settings and orchestrations – highlights the artists’ utter command of the instrumental forces. Mills is a sizzling pianist, able to perform incredible runs maintaining articulated clarity only to leave room to mysteriously resonant shades and zinging shards a minutes later. Zelenka and Stone are predominantly active on reeds but also utilize trombone, percussion and prepared piano; they infuse the interplay with influences between complexly exotic and utterly devastating, tumultuous freedom meets ritual concentration. Synthetic suggestions are delivered with nonchalance and irony, resulting perfectly amalgamated in the overall tissue; if even workstation presets sound intelligent, that should tell something. Get a copy of this pronto.
THE JAMES MARSHALL HUMAN ARTS ENSEMBLE – Autonomous Oblast
After having listened to this abundant hour of dazzling “big band free jazz” without looking at the cover, and being convinced that it sounded pretty current, I was gobsmacked to learn that the material was instead recorded in 1975 and 1976. The Human Arts Ensemble – a nonet and a quintet in separate takes – was nominally led by reedist Marshall but there’s no real boss here. It’s just a thick heap of screaming ‘n’ rumbling instrumental voices enriched by several bizarre contributions (got to dig those bicycle bells). The attentive listener will have some fun in following strategies, seeing where a certain player goes amidst the mayhem, understanding if the phrases are completely off-centre or there are quotes of famous materials… you get the picture. At any rate the music is mainly turbulent, with rare moments of respite. Poor Carol Marshall is heard straining the voice beyond the clangourous mass, her effort admirable and also desperate in a way: this is a hell of a loud din, containing so many factors that it almost becomes a hypnotizing kaleidoscope if played at low volume, believe it or not. The set is dedicated to the memory of saxophonist Maurice Malik King and drummer Jim Miller, both present in the 31-minute marathon “Invocation”. If you happen to like the most unruly sections of Centipede’s Septober Energy, this might be right up your alley. A straightforwardly unswerving album.
FREE JAZZ POSSE – Fanfare For The Nōh Age
The above mentioned Zelenka and Stone are two members of this extraordinary septet, which also includes Jeremy Melsha (trombone), Derek Leu (guitar), Aaron Smith (soprano clarinet), Ajay Khanna (Eb clarinet) and Mike Fitzgerald (trumpet). Now, to give you a vague idea of how this work sounds like, forget the band’s name and think instead to an expanded version of ROVA, featuring the accompaniment – and several more independent incursions – of an electric guitar, and the sometimes outlandish yet ever clever insertion of brass inside the general structure. Exactly as I said for Premonitions, we’re in presence of improvisation of the finest calibre, the kind of stuff whose clarity-in-chaos articulation level is so high that many of these enthusiastic bursts really sound composed. The performers push their own vision forward determinedly as if ostracized by the establishment, trying to persuade us about the utter artistic validity of the concept. They fill the air with notes, but saturation is not reached; the geometries can be fractured, or entirely delineated. Every move appears well-considered, the sense of liberation perceived throughout regulated by the awareness of the necessary room for each player to express a diverse mental picture. A collective texture designed by distinctive entities, exhilarating music for splitting the brain into seven imaginary scores to follow. All of this leads to sincere esteem on this side of the speakers.