The Ex Guitars Meet Ken Vandermark / Paal Nilsen-Love, Lean Left Volume 1 (Smalltown Superjazzz)

Lean LeftLen Left vol 1

This is an absolute blast. Given the personnel involved, that may not be a surprise. Between them, Chicago saxophonist Ken Vandermark and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilsen-Love have played with some of the heaviest heavyweights around, from jazz titans like Peter Brötzmann and Fred Anderson (RIP), to noise behemoths like Kevin Drumm and Lasse Marhaug. Here, they join with the guitarists Terrie Hesspal and Andy Moor from Dutch anarcho-punks The Ex for an album of huge math-jazz-punk-funk grooves.

The title of the album alludes to the fact that the concert from which this was recorded (at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis) was so loud that Vandermark nearly coughed up his lungs on the stage. He blames The Ex – for unlike on their amps, there is no volume control on his saxophone. That doesn’t appear to have been a problem at the start of this gig – for the first ten minutes of Lean Left Volume 1 are made up of just Vandermark and Nilsen-Love, experienced in each other’s company, building almost unbearable tension. The bodily integrity-troubling stuff comes later.

On opening piece “Lean Left” the drummer starts with a percussive clatter, sticks against wood, while the saxophonist begins a long and turbulent section of improvisation, ever so slowly, flirting with the groove, working his way towards a section of repeated melody. He stays in this mode for the following “Lean Over”, playing a maddening descending riff over and over, getting increasingly ragged as he goes, until – finally -the guitars stir, waking with a whimper and a squeal, before joining Vandermark in that massive, almost Shellac-like riff. It is one of my favourite moments in recorded music this year, no doubt, and it frees the saxophonist up to produce a succession of loud split squawks over the top. “Right Lung” is a sprawling nigh-on thirty minute improvisation, beginning with Hesspal and Moor squabbling with Nilsen-Love, before Vandermark joins in…and what is THAT he is playing? It sounds like he is jamming on the Art Ensemble Of Chicago’s “Theme De Yoyo”. Glorious. For the remainder, they drift in and out of various combinations, reconvening to share in transient-yet-deep grooves – I think Vandermark may even quote the Arkestra at one point, although I can’t place the track. It sounds like he is having a lot of fun. As will you listening to this.

Mark Templeton, Khroustaliov/Ravalico and Inch Time at Cafe Oto, 19/07/10

Ravalico/Khroustaliov

Hellosquare are, as they kept reminding us through the course of this evening, “a small Australian label”. Humble Australians. Fancy. They made this voyage round the globe to put on a one-off show at Cafe Oto featuring some friends of the label – not just from Australia, but from Canada, Italy and the UK too. They’ve previously featured on this site thanks to releases by ex-Triosk pianist Adrian Klumpes, but they’ve quietly gone about amassing an experimental catalogue which also includes notable albums by the likes of Seaworthy, Mia Clarke and Andy Moor, M.Rosner and Mike Cooper, making this show a good time to check in with where their heads are at.

Inch Time, or Stefan Panczak, is the Australian ex-pat on the bill. After a Vangelis-like intro, He performed a very compact, or rather very Kompakt laptop set, featuring 4/4 rhythms punctuating an air of dreamy ambience. Those Wolfgang Voigt-like hisses and foggy progressions were joined in the second half of his performance deployed an increasing number of dub effects, metallic echoing sounds punctuating some slight keyboard melodies. Pleasant. Probably too pleasant for me as a live show, although Cafe Oto isn’t the right place for this sort of thing (darker and louder would have been better, even following Voigt’s lead with unsettling visuals to provide a visual counterpoint).

Unsurprisingly, the following set by Maurizio Ravalico and Isambard Khroustaliov (aka Sam Britton from Icarus), two of the Not-Applicable collective, was somewhat rougher. Ravalico was improvising on a pair of surdos, with Khroustaliov processing and interacting with him in real time. Ravalico scattered cymbals on top of his drums, rolled marbles on the skin, beat the sides with sticks, bowed the rims, and traced a wet finger across the skin. As well as being incredibly watchable (at times, the sheer number of items on his kit made this look more like a fast-paced cookery show than a musical performance), this gave Khroustaliov a huge array of sounds to work with, isolating rhythms and frequencies and throwing them back at Ravalico at breakneck speed for him to bat away. Ravalico has an album out soon (also featuring Khroustaliov, but more prominently Oren Marshall) which he describes a psychogeographic conga/tuba album, recorded outdoors in London. That sounds crackers (and a must-hear).

mark templeton

I’ve been a fan of Canadian Mark Templeton since the release of his excellent debut Standing On A Hummingbird album in 2007. His performance tonight began much like that album does – with no messing about, catching the dozens outside still enjoying their cigarette break by surprise with some abrasive drone. Templeton’s set was most obviously reminiscent of Fennesz or Tim Hecker, but busier – constantly bringing in new sounds from laptop (guitar, often) or cassette, treating them harshly with savage jump cuts and by panning them from side to side, then discarding them. After a middle section which sounded like bombs detonating, the table in front of him looked like a battlefield, covered in fallen D90 warriors. When the chaos subsided there was deep, submerged melody, reaching its hauntological apex with a closing treatment of Lionel Richie’s “Hello” from his forthcoming Ballads EP, extricating something quite powerful from ostensibly feeble source material. He left Richie lost and confused in an electronic sea, crooning “I wonder where you are”, as the waves of static built up and finally washed over him.

North Sea Jazz Festival 2010, Ahoy Rotterdam (Part 2)

Erasmusberg

After yesterday’s post, covering some of the more boundary-pushing electronic music to feature at the North Sea Jazz Festival, you could be forgiven for wondering if there was any jazz worth seeing at all. And while it wasn’t all tame vocal jazz and funk-lite, you still had to navigate the programme carefully to avoid making wrong turns. Pat Metheny’s peformance turned out to be somewhat saccharine, full of gurning and noodling, while Marcus Miller’s Tutu set featured one slap bass solo too many for me (i.e. I left after the first one). But elsewhere some of jazz’s elder statesmen, as well as its innovative young guard, were to show the way. Continue reading

North Sea Jazz Festival 2010, Ahoy Rotterdam (Part 1)

Erasmusberg

Just look at some of the headliners at this year’s North Sea Jazz Festival: Norah Jones. Earth, Wind & Fire. Macy Gray. Diana Krall. Jools Holland and His Sodding Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. You’re probably already wondering what on earth possessed me to get the bus, train, tube, train, ferry, train and Metro from London to the city of Rotterdam for the festival. But if you looked beyond the unashamedly populist fare that was being peddled on some of the main stages of the huge Ahoy complex (13 stages, over 20,000 visitors each day; the scale of the festival was mind-blowing) you’d see some innovative and risky programming which meant that both meteorologically and musically this was to be one of the hottest weekends of the year. Continue reading

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba at the Barbican, 02/07/10

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba

At one point during the set of the Malian griot Bassekou Kouyate and his band Ngoni Ba, Kouyate – who played at the Glastonbury festival last week – held his instrument up towards the mic. “This is a ngoni”, he told us. “It is not a guitar”. And despite the obvious differences – the ngoni is a four stringed cricket bat-shaped instrument made of wood and goat skin; the guitar, well, isn’t – it was a point worth making. This was a show which constituted approximately 75% ngoni soloing. And not just soloing – but proper foot on the monitor, head tossed back to the roof style soloing, with Kouyate even playing his instrument through a wah-wah pedal.

Before that extravagant display came something much more sedate. The kora player Ballak√© Sissoko (who has collaborated with the great Toumani Diabate) played a set with the French cellist Vincent Segal (who has collaborated with, er, Sting). It began with Sissoko spinning lines, humming and groaning along as he did, before being joined by the hum and groan of Segal’s cello. Despite the different musical heritage of their instruments, the set worked mainly due to Segal’s reluctance to deploy anything of a traditional classical nature in his playing – focusing instead on sounds, tapping and slapping at his instrument, and using, where necessary, non-Western scales. The miles between the instruments’ respective origins were driven down to nil during some delightful call and response sections, the musicians delicately and intricately working up a long, conversational melody.

We should have known what was about to come when Bassekou Kouyate’s set started with him playing a solo from the wings of the stage. He barely stopped over the next couple of hours. As well as his wife, the vocalist Amy Sacko, Kouyate was joined by three other ngoni players (Kouyate and one other on the smaller, higher-pitched version, two on the larger bass form), and two infectiously happy percussionists (one on calebash, the other relentlessly shaking stuff and dancing). The song structures of last year’s I Speak Fula album, were quickly dispensed with after a mere verse from Sacko, in favour of some incendiary musicianship. Over backdrops which varied from gritty desert blues to scratchy afro-funk, one by one, the ngoni players would step forward to tear off solos which built from simple phrases and ideas to wild, dense flurries of notes. When one of his proteges played, Kouyate would stand next to them, nodding approval, raising an eyebrow in mock “how did they do THAT?” surprise. But when he played himself, it was even more outrageous and decidely unconventional, plugging in and stamping on pedals, as if someone had called him “the Hendrix of the Ngoni”, and he’d decided to take them at their word. Despite all being seriously good musicians, there was a playfulness of mood which meant this was never less than thoroughly entertaining; the show ended with each ngoni player taking their wildest solo of the night, before being chased into the wings by the others. And to think that there were people at Glastonbury last weekend watching bands with guitars instead of this…