Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Viscerally Intense, Purposeful New Album From Violist Jessica Pavone

Violist Jessica Pavone has been one of the most consistently interesting and compelling musicians on the New York improvisational scene for the better part of a decade, someone who always seems to elevate other players to new levels of spontaneity. Everybody wants to work with her: trumpet icon Wadada Leo Smith, haunting psychedelic art-rocker Rose Thomas Bannister and the late, great guitar stormscaper Glenn Branca number among her many collaborators. Her broodingly surreal 2012 song cycle Hope Dawson Is Missing is a genuine classic, and her Dark Tips project with another hauntingly chameleonic multi-instrumentalist, Raquel Bell is magically murky. Pavone’s latest solo release, In the Action is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing on a killer twinbill on Feb 20 at 8 PM at Happy Lucky No. 1 Gallery, followed at around 9 by charismatic accordionist/multi-instrumentalist songwriter Rachelle Garniez, who’s playing with another first-rate violist, Karen Waltuch. The cover charge is a mystery right now; ten bucks would be a fair guess.

Pavone is not typically a showy player, preferring purpose, melody and texture. Muted, rhythmic white noise flickers behind uneasy, slowly resolving, multitracked close harmonies as the album’s first track, Oscillatory Salt Transport gets underway. Pavone wails on a pedal note when she’s not working twisted permutations on what could be the intro to a Scottish air.

With tons of reverb echoing from her spare, plucked phrases and overtones burning from her low strings, 2 and Maybe in the End could be a deconstructed 80s spacerock anthem at quarterspeed. Using her trusty loop pedal, Pavone builds vortical variations from a chugging diesel engine idle in Look Out Look Out Look Out: these stygian sounds hardly bring to mind the typical range of a viola. She turns the pedal off to begin the album’s concluding title cut, digging into her axe’s natural low registers in a return to allusions to British Isles folk, teasing the listener with that insistent opening cadenza up to a wry, completely unexpected false ending. As is typical of Pavone’s work, it has the freshness of having been made up on the spot even though a lot of it was probably planned out in advance. 

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February 13, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Murky Noir Classics and Devious Jousting from Baritone Sax Titan Josh Sinton

Gritty lows, epic solos, smoky riffage, paint-peeling extended-technique freakout: baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton does it all. He’s played on some of the most memorable big band gigs in New York in recent years, but he’s also a mainstay in the far reaches of improvisational music. That’s why his latest project, Phantasos – a Morphine cover band – might be a surprise, considering how straightforward it is. But for anyone who misses that iconic noir trio, Sinton channels Dana Colley’s blend of murk and lyricism while a rotating rhythm section adds a little extra slink. Nobody in the band is using a two-string bass, as Mark Sandman did, but the group’s debut at Barbes a week ago is the next best thing. Phantasos are back at Barbes every Saturday evening at 6 PM this month, tonight included.

Sinton’s latest album with his Predicate Trio – cellist Chris Hoffman and drummer Tom Rainey – is completely different, and streaming at Bandcamp. So much jazz improvisation is awkward and spastic: this is all about conversations, and good jokes, and spontaneous entertainment. Sinton opens it with a sepulchral solo miniature, the ghosts of baritone saxophonists past wafting and keening up through the valves.

Tellingly, there’s more than a hint of Morphine in the epic second number, Sinton pulling away from the catchy theme, up to a burning cello-and-bass interlude with Hoffman’s chords pulsing over Rainey’s colorful, textured syncopation. The sly humor and subtle drift back toward the theme in the jam at the end are characteristically erudite.

The staccato, rhythmic triangulation in Taiga is much the same, after the wry cat-on-the-steppes-in-midwinter interlude that opens it. A Dance is elegant and rather somber, from Hoffman’s long, terse solo intro, through hypnotically catchy, circling riffs, a divergent interlude contrasting Sinton’s carefree accents against Rainey’s majestic tom-tom resonance and an unexpectedly calm resolution.

After an amusing, improvisational rondo of sorts, the group stray even further outside in Unreliable Mirrors, with its rustles and flutters and a coy quasi-march, Rainey coloring the exchange with every timbre he can coax from the depths of his kit, finally rising to a chuffing crescendo.

Sinton and Hoffman growl in tandem as the aptly titled Propulsive steams aong,; then the volcano boils over with a memorable squall. Hoffman hints at a stroll in the improvisation after that, shadowed by fleeting sax and drums. Sinton brings the album full circle with a sly squawk.

February 9, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dynamic, Kaleidoscopic Massed Improvisational Sprawl from Ingrid Laubrock

As a saxophonist, Ingrid Laubrock has formidable chops, borderless ambitions and an often devious sense of humor. While she’s been increasingly sought after for prestige big band gigs in the last couple of years, her own compositions up til now have been mostly for small groups, heavy on the improvisation. This blog characterized her 2016 album Ubatuba as “free jazz noir.” Her latest release, Contemporary Chaos Practices – streaming at Bandcamp – is her most ambitious project to date: two lushly invigorating, Braxton-esque pieces for orchestra and soloists. Those looking for bouncy hooks and swing won’t find it here, but as far as grey-sky massed improvisation, vivid unease and wry humor are concerned, this album is hard to beat.

One big innovation here is that Laubrock employs two conductors. Eric Wubbels conducts the score, while the conduction of Taylor Ho Bynum guides the improvisational aspects of the performance. A big whoosh from the 42-piece orchestra kicks off guitarist Mary Halvorson’s insistent pointillisms as the first segment of the epic four-part title piece gets underway, quickly echoed by the full ensemble: the hammering effect is very Louis Andriessen. Echoey, after-the-battle desolation alternates with massive upward swells; hushed flickers interchange with assertive, massed staccato. From there, a big, portentous heroic theme gets devoured by a flitting swarm of instruments: the effect as funny as it is disconcerting.

The first two movements segue into each other; the third begins with Messiaenic birdsong-like figures, then Jacob Garchik’s trombone kicks off a deliciously off-center, frantic chase scene from the whole ensemble. Led by dissociative figures from the strings, the calm afterward foreshadows the eerie resonance of the coda, awash in enigmatic low brass while Kris Davis’ electric piano flickers and flutters like the celeste in a Bernard Herrmann horror film score.

The album’s second piece, Vogelfrei, begins lush and still, Davis’ muted, ghostly piano signaling a droll exchange between strings and low brass. The intricacy of the interplay, right down to the tongue-in-cheek whistling of the strings amid a slowly emerging, lustrous melody, may be more thoroughly composed than it seems. Comedic moments – Halvorson’s guitar detective hitting a brick wall and then collapsing, and a yes-we-can/no-you-can’t smackdown – liven an otherwise persistent disquiet. A sepulchral choir of voices enters as the instruments build to a crowded skatepark tableau, which disappears only to pop up again.

Davis’ brooding neoromantic figures echo over a distant whirl and bustle, followed by a couple of slow but vigorous upward crescendos. Moments of bittersweet melody fall away one after the other, fading down and out with a long shiver from the strings a la Julia Wolfe.

Laubrock’s New York home these days is the Jazz Gallery, although she also likes to explore the fringes, both literally and figuratively. Her next gig is on Jan 31 at Holo in Ridgewood with a like-minded cast of improvisers: guitarist Ava Mendoza, microtonal violinist Sarah Bernstein, bassists Adam Lane and Brandon Lopez, and drummer Vijay Anderson. It’s not clear who’s playing when or with whom, but the lineup is worth coming out for whatever the case might be. Showtime is 7 PM; cover is $15.

January 28, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cartoons and Monsters From Satoko Fujii’s Thermos

File this under be careful what you wish for: a dozen albums, one every month, from perennially intense, captivating pianist Satoko Fujii? To celebrate her sixtieth birthday, she’s done exactly that. Much as the nuts and bolts of officially putting out each record must have been tiresome, the music has been characteristically fresh and outside-the-box. And the project has been a lot easier for her than it would be for most artists. Like most jazz musicians these days, she pretty much lives on the road, and at this point in her career everybody from Wadada Leo Smith on down wants to work with her, so she has pretty much unlimited access to global talent. And she’s figured out that the way to make albums in this era is simply to record her shows and release the best ones.

Album number ten in her twelve-album cycle is the debut of a group she calls Mahobin. In Japanese, it means “thermos,’ but the literal meaning is “magic bottle.” To what extent did she manage to bottle the magic at this 2018 set in Kobe, Japan with her husband and longtime collaborator, Natsuki Tamura, along with tenor saxophonist Lotte Anker and Ikue Mori on laptop? The results are both hilarious and macabre. This is an amazing record, even if the electronics are too loud.

There’s a set and an encore here – ot so it seems. The humor is relentless at the beginning  of the 42-minute first piece, Rainbow Elephant. Everybody is in on it; Star Trek command center bubbles and blips, black noise like at the end of A Day in the Life, a fishtank on steroids, cuisinarted minor-key piano blues riffage, mulish snorts, a ridiculously funny trumpet fanfare and cartoon mice on a treadmill inside the piano tinkling away are just a few things the music might remind you of.

Then Fujii suddenly flips the script with a stern, syncopated low lefthand pedal note and works uneasy Messiaenic permutations, moving slowly upward as Mori oscillates wildly. Anker’s role here is mostly quavery, uneasy sustained lines; Tamura sticks mostly to more sepulchral extended technique, although when he goes in with his chromatics, he goes for the jugular.

Meanwhile, it seems like Mori is sampling her bandmates and then spinning everybody back on themselves, sometimes using a backward making pedal for extra surrealism. Fujii’s ability to make up a theme on the spot and embellish it later on is unsurpassed in all of music, and the enigmatic way she ends this very long, very strange trip goes against all conventional thinking in order to drive it home, dark and hard.

The relatively short encore, Yellow Sky is seven minutes ten seconds of Frankenstein building a fire – that’s Fujii – with the rest of the band as seagulls circling overhead. Creative music in 2018 doesn’t get any better, or more captivatingly weird, than this. Fujii and Mahobin are at the Stone – which is now located at the first-floor Glass Box Theatre at the New School at 55 W 13th St. – at 8:30 PM on Dec 13. Cover is $20; get there early, because Fujii’s New York shows have been selling out regularly.

The best overview of Fujii’s yearlong project is not at this blog, sadly. The New York City Jazz Record put her on the cover of their September issue and included an exhaustive and enthusiastic review of her 2018 output. But not to worry: there will be much more Fujii on this page in the weeks and months ahead.

December 11, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jazz Improvisation at Its Most Adrenalizing and Interesting at Barbes

That two of New York’s best bass players made the trip to Park Slope to watch their four-string colleague Max Johnson improvise with saxophonist Matt Nelson and drummer Brian Chase last month speaks for itself. Opening for Balkan brass legends Slavic  Soul Party, the trio delivered everything that makes improvisation the highest musical art form, at least when everybody’s on their game. Suspenseful slow builds, boisterous conversations, viscerally breathtaking displays of extended technique, stories, ideas, good jokes: this set had it all. Johnson is bringing the potential for all that back to Barbes on Dec 12 at 8 PM with a new trio including Anna Webber on tenor sax and flute plus veteran Michael Sarin on drums.

The first guy to pull out all the stops at the November 6 gig was Nelson. Playing soprano sax, he  fired off what seemed to be twenty nonstop minutes of circular breathing. Part of what required that was endlessly circling variations on the kind of tightly clustering, cellular phrases he plays in Battle Trance. That was spectacular enough, but he raised the bar several notches, punctuating the river of sound with wildfire, Coltrane-like glissandos, paint-peeling duotone harmonics, shrieks and wails. At the end, he was about as winded as any horn player can be: to say that this was epic to witness is an understatement. Switching to tenor, he gave himself some opportunities to breathe for the rest of the set, but the intensity was pretty much unrelenting.

Johnson was also on a mission to air out his chops, whether bowing whispery, ghostly harmonics, churning out mesmeric, pitchblende rivers of chords on the two lowest strings, racewalking through swing and taking a couple of bouncy, funky detours for the closest thing to comic relief here. Meanwhile, Chase took charge of the dynamics: he was on sentry duty. Whenever it seemed that a lull might be imminent, he’d smack something and the rest of the trio would pick up on the signal. At one point, he pulled the bell of the hi-hat off the stand and gave it a solid whack: it turned out to be the cork on this champagne bottle. Flickering through his hardware and along the rims, wirewalking on the bell of his crash cymbal and driving the final nail through whatever peak presented itself, he engaged the audience as tersely and emphatically as he did his bandmates.

This month’s show has similar potential if completely different personalities. As an improviser, Webber is more of a tunesmith but isn’t afraid of noise. Sarin comes from a completely different era and idiom, but so does Chase, who’s had a money gig with an indie band for years. You can see for yourself what kind of quirk and charm and maybe new elements get invented on the 12th of the month at Barbes.

December 6, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Playful, Picturesque New Album and a Fort Greene Show by the World’s Most Mysterious Drummer

Why on earth would anyone be interested in an album of solo percussion? Because the world’s most mysterious drummer, Carlo Costa, is playing it. While he’s best known for his sepulchral, otherworldly sound, his new solo album, Oblio – streaming at Bandcamp – is the funnest, funniest and by far the most colorful project he’s ever been involved with. He’s playing the release show this Nov 29 at around 9 at Jack in Fort Greene. The intense improvisational trio of cellist Leila Bordreuil, bassist Sean Ali and violist Joanna Mattrey open the night at 8; cover isn’t listed on the club’s calendar or any of the musicians’ gig pages, but it’s usually $10 for shows here.

Costa’s new album has two tracks. The first clocks in at a bit more than twenty minutes, the second at about seventeen. It’s likely that most if not all of it is completely improvised. Here’s what happens: entertainment coming at you right down the pike.

A gentle drone punctuated by wavelike gong pulses, then a mysterious flicker or two! Somethihng is afoot! The crank of an antique car engine, a jaunty whistle or two, a perplexed persistence…the motor sputters but never quite starts.

The way Costa mimics a cello or violin simply by rubbing his drumheads is astonishing. Persistent squeaks over calm ambience, agitated chirps alternating with playful rattles…then a jungle begins to come to life! That, or a bagpipe gone off the rails while a thunderstorm looms in the distance. The clouds burst, and suddenly it’s a hailstorm!

A squeaky if steady crank slowly loses its grooves. More of that distant boom alternating with sand in somebody’s hourglass…or shoes. A shinto temple in the rain before 3/11 ruined everything…is that mosquitoes, a cash register about to self-combust, or the most brilliant approximation of a rainstorm ever recorded by a multi-percussionist?

Scurrying insectile phrases against lingering, high washes conclude album side one. Side two opens with a kitchen-sink feel that grows to a LOL-funny series of Rube Goldberg machine polyrhythms, once again over that ominous series of cumulo-nimbus gong hits in the background. Tree frogs! A woodpecker! A dude with a bandsaw trying to cut down the tree with the woodpecker in it?

Rain on the music box…hacksaws on a particularly stubborn pipe…Dr. Seuss clockwork…a squeaky wheel that gets no grease…and there you have it, the most psychedelically entertaining percussion album of the century!

November 22, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leila Bordreuil Cooks Up Murk and Mysticism at the Kitchen

That Leila Bordreuil could sell out the Kitchen on Thanksgiving eve testifies to the impact the French-born cellist has had on the New York experimental music scene. After a long residency at Issue Project Room, she keeps raising the bar for herself and everybody else. This past evening she led a six-bass septet through her latest and arguably greatest creation, the Piece for Cello and Double Bass Ensemble II. To call it a feast of low tonalities would be only half the story.

At the concert’s stygian, rumbling, enveloping peak, it was impossible to tell who was playing what because the lights had been turned out. In the flicker of phones, backlit by the soundboard’s glow and the deep blue shade from the skylight, six bassists – Zach Rowdens, Sean Ali, Britton Powell, Greg Chudzik, Nick Dunston and Vinicius Ciccone Cajado – churned out a relentless low E drone. As they bowed steadily, keening flickers of overtones began to waft over a rumble that grew grittier and grittier, eventually shaking the woofers of the amps. Yet only Bordreuil seemed to be using a pedalboard, first for crackling cello-metal distortion, then grey noise, then flitting accents akin to a swarm of wasps circling a potential prey. Still, the overall ambience was comforting to the extreme, a womblike berth deep in a truly unsinkable Titanic, diesels at full power behind a bulkhead.

The rest of the show was more dynamic,and counterintuitive. Bordreuil didn’t begin to play until the bassists had gradually worked their way up from a stark drone, Ali and Dunston introducing fleeting high harmonics for contrast. Beyond that, the six guys didn’t move around much individually. The second movement began with the composer leading a pitch-and-follow sequence of slow midrange glissandos, then she deviated to enigmatic microtonal phrases over the somber washes behind her. The final movements were surprisingly rapt and quiet – and much further up the scale, a whispery, ghostly series of variations on high harmonic pitches.

Methodically working a series of mixers and a small keyboard, opening act Dylan Scheer turned in an entertaining, texturally diverse, industrially icy set of kinetic stoner soundscapes. Flying without a net is hard work, and Scheer made it look easy, dexterously shifting from an echoey, metallic drainpipe vortex, to gamelanesque rings and pings, starrily oscillating comet trails and hints of distant fireworks followed by allusions to a thumping dancefloor anthem that never materialized. That the set went on as long as it did – seemingly twice as long as the headliners – could have been intentional. It was also too loud. The Kitchen is a sonically superior space: sounds that get lost in the mix elsewhere remain in the picture here. So there was no need to blast the audience with almost supersonic highs which gained painfully, to the point that the earplugs the ushers were handing out became necessary.

Bordreuil’s next show is at Jack in Fort Greene on Nov 29 at 8 PM with her trio with Ali and violist Joanna Mattrey.

November 21, 2018 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Edgy Preview For Bigtime European Creative Music in Deep Brooklyn

Every year, the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland draws European fans from across the continent, along with plenty of American travelers. It’s one of the major European jazz festivals and routinely sells out. For the last few years, there’s been a brief New York edition of the festival as well. It was fun to catch a trio of festival acts last year at Jazz at Lincoln Center – but word on the street has been that the really wild stuff is at the series of house concerts scattered around town over the course of a weekend. Saturday’s show in a comfortable second-floor Lefferts Gardens space – part of the adventurous Soup & Sound series – validated that.  Creative music in 2018 doesn’t get much better than this was.

That the propulsively glimmering trio of guest alto saxophonist Ned Rothenberg with pianist Piotr Orzechowski and drummer Łukasz Żyta weren’t anticlimactic speaks to the levels of spontaneous magic reached by the rest of the acts on this characteristically impromptu bill. The overall theme seemed to be variations on uneasy circular themes: tense close harmonies, taut and then more elastic push-pull against a center that veered in and out of focus, simple repetitive figures growing into double helixes that eventually produced brand-new musical species. 

The mystery guests were a couple of bassists, one of them playing a Fender, building a tersely intertwining lattice of textures that rose from the shadows to let in dapples of light from the upper registers. Rothenberg switched to clarinet for a two-reed frontline with Waclaw Zimpel and a second pianist for a hypnotically pointillistic electroacoustic set that evoked vintage Brian Jones loopmusic before veering back and forth toward a steady, swinging stroll and some jousting between the horns.

Orzechowski then returned to the keys, drummer and host Andrew Drury having all kinds of fun shifting between playfully tricky polyrhythms, allusive swing and extended-technique washes of sound from his kickdrum heads. Alto saxophonist Kuba Wiecek built a muted strobe effect over the thick, murky hammerklavier river underneath. Then the sax and rhythm exchanged roles, a hornets’ nest in both frenetic daytime and ominously nocturnal modes.

The Jazztopad Festival begins on November 16; trumpeter/santoorist Amir ElSaffar, among other current-day masters, will be there on the 24th.

October 9, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mary Halvorson Releases Her First Acoustic Album on Bleecker Street with Amazing Duo Sets Monday Night

The guitar summit of the year is this Monday night, Sept 17 at 8 at the Poisson Rouge, where Mary Halvorson is playing two duo sets, one with fellow six-string mastermind Bill Frisell and the other with multi-reedman Robbie Lee. Her set with the former promises to be as good as, say, B.B. King dueling with David Gilmour. This bill isn’t just two of this era’s greatest guitarists sharing the stage: it’s two of the greatest guitarists ever. The set with Lee is also auspicious since the two have a brand new album, Seed Triangular, streaming at New Amsterdam Records. $20 adv tix are still available as of today.

Halvorson has done plenty of strangely entrancing work over the years, but this is her weirdest album, not only because it’s her first acoustic record. Here she plays a late 19th century 18-string Knutsen harp guitar, a1930 Gibson L-2 model and a 1888 SS Stewart 6-string banjo. Lee, whose background spans from indie classical to chaotic free improvisation, plays antique flutes plus chalumeau (a medieval clarinet), soprillo saxophone, melodica and bells. Many of the album tracks are miniatures, carefully edited from a one-day, completely improvised studio session earlier this year. Some of it sounds like John Fahey on acid; other moments bring to mind the quasi-baroque minimalism of frequent Lee collaborator and lutenist Jozef van Wissem.

The duo open with an alternately precise and fluttery little intro, then make their way carefully but emphatically through Seven of Strong, Halvorson’s enigmatic strums shadowed by Lee’s wandering microtones. Like a Ripple Made By the Wind builds a memorably desolate minimalism. Then, in A Forest Viol, Lee runs his melodica through a weird distortion patch while Halvorson picks elegantly.

After the uneasy strum-and-flutter of Potamogeton, the two make their way through Fireproof-Brick Dust (Halvorson is unsurpassed at song titles) with a squirrelly, loopy, distantly flamenco-tinged elan. The Stuttering Note of Probably turns out to be an obstinate little mini-tone-poem for harp guitar, while Pondeteria contrasts Lee’s quavers with Halvorson’s tuneful steadfastness.

The album’s funniest cut is Rock Flowers, Lee’s over-the-top microtonal sax drama against Halvorson’s tongue-in-cheek banjo. She hints at a handful of pretty folk themes but never quite makes it out of the mist in Spring Up Here. Lee makes short work of his solo bubbles in Sing O-Gurgle-ee This Evening, the album’s shortest number.

The album’s best track is Shoots Have Shot, veering between stately quasi-Andalucian riffs, off-the-rails wreckage and wryly spacious minimalism. The Tawny Orange is similarly spare and allusive, while Early Willows edges toward wistful pastoral jazz. The album closes with the rather epic title track, which could be Gabor Szabo taking a stab at the neo-baroque. Much as this release doesn’t deliver the raw thrills of Halvorson’s electric work, there’s plenty of her signature humor here – and you have to give her credit for having the nerve to record on those tinny old acoustic axes.

September 15, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Epic, Darkly Profound New Solo Live Album and a Rare Brooklyn Gig by Iconic Pianist Satoko Fujii

Pianist Satoko Fujii’s epic new solo live album Invisible Hand- streaming at Spotify – is dark and dead serious. She improvises as purposefully and tunefully as anyone who ever lived. If historical accounts are accurate, that puts her on the level of Bach and Schubert, along with Monk, and Brubeck, and Ellington. Those comparisons are deliberate – the astonishingly prolific Fujii’s work combines brooding classical intensity with in-the-moment jazz fearlessness. Her latest project is to release an album a month this year, a promise she’s fulfilled so far. She’s making one of her increasingly rare New York appearances this Aug 29 at 8:30 PM at I-Beam, leading a trio with husband Natsuki Tamura on trumpet and Yoshi Shutto on drums. Cover is $15; be aware that she routinely sells out this venue.

The new album is the debut release on Cortez Records, a new label that’s just as impromptu as Fujii’s music can be. Teruhiko Ito, proprietor of the intimate venue Cortez in the small city of Mito, Japan, essentially launched it to release Fujii’s epic solo concert there from the winter of 2016. In the midst of a snowstorm, a crowd nevertheless came out and responded rapturously.

“Recently I have been hearing that people everywhere in the world are losing interest in music and culture, and the situation is getting worse and worse,” Fujii relates in the liner notes.. “However, around Cortez, there are no signs of that.”

Here are a few reasons why. While Fujii has made scores of albums, almost all of them are with other players. Surprisingly, while perhaps best known as an improviser, she virtually never plays a full set of solo improvisation. The first of this double-cd collection captures only the fourth time in a 25-plus year career that she’s done that.

Which is a paradox, for many reasons, not the least because her improvisation here can sound meticulously composed, while the compositions are spiked with off-the-cuff flourishes and some occasionally pretty wild displays of extended technique. Fujii opened that wintry night with a piece titled Thought, rising through frequent allusions to Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1, to an intense but judicious crescendo and an ominously quiet, chromatically bristling conclusion. From there she did some scampering and some leapfrogging, but also built a methodical thematic variation and a crashing coda

The album’s towering, thirteen-minute title cut has spare, somber, low-mid register melody and some absolutely macabre moments, set to a autoharp-like rainy-day wash of sound that Fujii resonates on the strings inside the piano. In almost sixteen minutes of Floating, she creates a mystical ambience with spare, serioso phrasing and then a muted temple bell-like melody, again played with inside the piano. It sounds practically like a koto.

Fujii’s shift toward a steady anthemic drive that’s practically a stadium rock ballad is striking – how much is she messing with the audience, and how much just with herself? Yet, she ends it with her signature gravitas. She concludes the set with Hayase, working a rather grimly percussive raga-like melody against a central tone.

The second cd opens with a somber single chord, then Fujii makes her way into the ineluctably uneasy, spacious I Know You Don’t Know, leaving her phrases and spare clusters to linger. Flickers of Charles Ives contemplation contrast with waves of Cecil Taylor agitation

Summer Storm juxtaposes cascading, neoromantically-tinged phrasing with circular, Glass-ine melody. The subtle syncopation and ever-present angst of Inori bring the Satie echoes into even closer focus, with a cell-like Reichian precision. After the tumbling bustle of Green Cab, seemingly the most improvisational piece here, Fujii closes with a gospel-infused take of Gen Himmel, the title track to her hushed, rapturous 2013 album.

Fujii is no stranger to a magnum opus. Her densely orchestrated, harrowing 2017 Fukushima suite is her darkest masterpiece to date and was ranked best album of the year here. Her 2008 double cd Minamo, a duo with violist Karla Kihlstedt, is almost as shattering. This one is close behind, another notch in the hall of fame credentials of a rugged individualist who is as consistently interesting and relevant as she is prolific.

August 24, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment