Sarah Bernstein Convenes All-Star VEER QUARTET To Play Her Adventurous Compositions, Out Sept 03 via New Focus      

Perhaps it’s due to what she’s referred to as her punk rock-inspired “kill-your-idols mentality,” but it seemingly never occurred to Bernstein to explore the setting most common to the violin, the string quartet. That changed when she presented an evening of her chamber music compositions at Brooklyn’s Firehouse Space, using a nine-piece ensemble that she divided into several configurations.

One of the groupings was a string quartet,” she recalls, “and I was really struck by how my music came to life with that instrumentation. The sound just popped – it was so rich.”

Inspired by that experience, Bernstein returned to the string quartet format in 2018 when she called on Nagano, Falcon, and Jozwiak to form VEER Quartet, aptly named for the ability of the individual musicians and the collective ensemble to swerve from one style or concept to the next. What makes the group unique is their shared experience, spanning chamber music, jazz, free improv, and other genres. That gave Bernstein free rein in following her compositional imagination wherever it led.

I wrote the music for the quartet with a range of approaches,” she describes. “Because I’m an improviser, my compositional imagination naturally includes improvisational sounds. Some of these pieces are almost like expressive and artistic games that the soloists play. And some of my pieces are very through-composed with just a small improvisational element.”

Frames No. 1,” for instance, presents a series of brief sketches meant to spark solo and group improvisations, whereas “News Cycle / Progression” pairs two pieces – a harmonic progression with improvisational rules of engagement and a wholly through-composed section built on that progression. Inspiration can come from the visual arts (“Clay Myth,” which puns on the name of painter Paul Klee) or dreams (“Nightmorning”). “World Warrior” instructs the players to be as chaotic as possible, while “Hidden” submerges a solo melody under dense layers of group harmony.

Ultimately Sarah Bernstein offers an expansive, daring vision of what a modern string quartet can be, unbeholden to tradition or genre but fully aware of and engaged with both. VEER Quartet is a vibrant, challenging, and exploratory album that introduces a thrilling new ensemble to several scenes at once.

RELEASE DATE: September 2, 2022

Creative bassist composer Rosa Brunello arrives with Sounds Like Freedom her second release on Domanda Music

Sounds Like Freedom” is the second release from LA-based record label, Domanda Music. It was recorded in September 2021 in Verona, Italy, and conceived by bass player Rosa Brunello with notable contributions from UK Jazz star Yazz Ahmed, Arabic experimental music pioneer Maurice Louca and Italian drumming sensation Marco Frattini. Each track is the result of spontaneous improvisations, which have been lovingly post-produced by Rosa Brunello herself and label founder Tommaso Cappellato.

The album speaks to the strange times we have been living through collectively as a society when direct human contact has been rationed and many performance opportunities have ground to a halt for musicians across the globe. While seeking to respond to this yearning for connection, Rosa uses this album as an opportunity to harness influences from each of the artists who contributed to this recording. At the heart of this album lies its celebration of freedom and the joy of sharing experiences and spaces with others, at a time when such simple pleasures can no longer be taken for granted. ~Bandcamp

Released May 6, 2022

At your leisure, spin “SOUNDS LIKE FREEDOM” by Rosa Brunello

[NOTEWORTHY]… Maroon Cloud, a powerful eight-part suite by Afrofuturist & celebrated flutist Nicole Mitchell, is a paean to the human gift of imagination

Maroon Cloud, a powerful eight-part suite by celebrated flutist Nicole Mitchell, is a paean to the human gift of imagination and its ability to foster resistance in our dystopian times. It features a drum-less quartet with Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid, pianist Aruán Ortiz, and vocalist Fay Victor, recorded live at National Sawdust in Brooklyn as part of John Zorn’s Stone Commissioning Series (March 29, 2017).

In part, Maroon Cloud refers to the realm of creativity that we can enter simply by closing our eyes — an ability no one can take away from us. Imagination, especially black imagination, is a really vital and undervalued resource, the composer states. It’s very clear that we can’t continue in the same direction that we’ve gone, but we need to return to where imagination and creativity come from, because if we don’t have another vision then we can’t make a different future. What makes us special as human beings are our ability to imagine things that don’t even exist yet. Those future-seeking visions, for now, exist in what we might call the cloud. Maroon, meanwhile, has a number of meanings: it ties into the theme of resistance by referencing the Maroons — those Africans who escaped slavery in the Caribbean and banded with indigenous people to form their own communities as early as the 16th century. Mitchell also cites the alternate meaning of marooned, i.e., people being abandoned to their fate. And then there’s maroon, the rich dark color we might see with eyes closed, imagining social and political renewal. Nicole Mitchell, a longtime Chicagoan, and professor of music at the University of California-Irvine, recently received a Champion of New Music Award from the American Composers Forum. She has been hailed for her Afrofuturist vision and credited as the most inventive flutist in the past 30 years of jazz by The New York Times. Her varied projects and leadership as the first woman to chair the AACM have widened the scope of improvised music. ~Editorial Review | Amazon

Norwegian Keyboardist Jon Balke Celebrates the Concept of Coexistence and Cooperation on Hafla, His Third Album with His Ensemble Siwan

Available April 22 via ECM Records

Hafla is the third album from Norwegian keyboardist-composer-arranger Jon Balke’s Siwan, launched in 2007 as a meeting point for musicians of strikingly different backgrounds and experiences. Siwan celebrates the concept of coexistence and cooperation, making the case for the positive attributes of cultural diversity, as it looks back into history and forwards towards new models for shared work. The legends and the poetry of al-Andalus continue to inspire Balke and company, but this is contemporary music shaped by players who choose to listen, respond and adapt.

Jon Balke brings many musical aspects together in his writing for a unique ensemble that includes an Algerian lead singer, a kemençe player from Turkey, an Iranian master of the tombak, an innovative Norwegian drummer, and an energetic string section of baroque specialists. The interweaving of their creative contributions – in a delicate play of textures, melodies, and rhythms – underlines and envelops verses penned many centuries ago.

The repertoire on Hafla begins with Balke’s setting of lyrics by Wallada bint al-Mustakfi, the free-thinking 11th-century Ummayad princess of Cordoba and the lover of Ibn Zaydun, the great poet of al-Andalus.

“The story of their relationship is legendary,” Balke notes. “And Wallada also wrote some great, short and precise poems. This time, we were looking for poetry descriptive of life as it was lived in that period. Somebody made the observation that the phenomenon of co-existence begins in the neighborhood when someone needs help. It begins in the queue to buy bread. On that kind of basic level. It’s a good perspective, I think.

Composing for Siwan frequently begins with the selection of words to be sung, he explains, as he exchanges ideas with Mona Boutchebak. “Often it’s many processes taking place. I might suggest some poems – perhaps starting from Spanish translations of the words – and then, while walking in Nature, sing or whistle a melody into a recording device. In my home studio, I’ll develop that a bit and send it to Mona who’ll look into the translations and send me back a version sung in Arabic. Checking formal Arabic against dialect versions, and other details. Meanwhile, I’ll start arranging for strings and imagining how the percussion players might work with the material.”

With the musicians coming from diverse traditions, Balke has to be resourceful in his presentation of new pieces. “I’ve had to find ways to write new music for musicians who don’t normally read scores. For the Barokksolistene everything is written down. For the others usually, I record demo versions of the material, with me playing percussion as well as keyboards and sometimes cello, so that everybody has at least a sketch of the songs.”

Already in the Magnetic North Orchestra, the ensemble that was Siwan’s precursor, Balke had drawn inspiration from the sound colors and dynamics of the great Arab orchestras (and in particular the music of Egypt’s Oum Kalthoum) and sought to devise and develop a contemporary equivalent. On Diverted Travels (2004), his collaboration with Bjarte Eike, a baroque violinist also fascinated by the overturning of boundaries, took Balke a step closer to the pulsating chamber music of his imagination. Since then, Eike and his cast of Barroksolistene have been frequent collaborators. Inside present-day Siwan, one of the recurrent pleasures is hearing the ways in which kemençe player Derya Turkan engages with the baroque group, the sound of middle eastern and western string traditions converging or contrasting. “Derya is quite free in his role. He’s deeply rooted in the Ottoman school but also has a great ear for the music of the west and has the ability to adapt and improvise as the music modulates through different keys.”

Equally absorbing is the creative percussion. Helge Norbakken’s idiosyncratic drumming insinuates itself deep into the textural fabric of the music, and the crisp tombak of Pedram Khavar Zamini, which draws upon and extends Persian classical tradition, offers running commentary.

Zamini, Norbakken, and Eike have all been part of Siwan from the outset, but there have been some line-up changes over the years and the first edition – with Amina Alaoui, Jon Hassell, and Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche – set a high bar for musical drama, winning awards including the Jahrespreis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik. By the time of 2017’s Nahnou Houm album, Siwan had transitioned from conceptual project to real band, as Balke rallied his instrumental forces around singer Mona Boutchebak.

Mona’s a very creative artist,” Balke emphasizes, “although rather shy about her capacities as a composer and music maker, having grown up singing other people’s songs.” For Hafla, Boutchebak set Ibn Zayud’s poem “Mirada Furtiva” as an elegant ballad: it’s one of the album’s subtle highlights. Boutchebak sings it to the accompaniment of her kwitra, the Algerian oud, and Balke wraps a gently murmuring soundscape around it, like the whispers of the night.

The 2021 recording sessions – at Copenhagen’s Village Recording – called for intuitive solutions, being twice postponed by Coronavirus restrictions and then subject to limitations on the number of musicians permitted to be in the studio at a given time. It was finally recorded in shifts – a session with most of the soloists and Mona, and a second session with Derya Turkan and the string players. Travel bans kept Pedram Khavar Zamini from participating directly: instead, he added his tombak detailing to the work when all other elements were in place. Listening and adapting to the Siwan tradition.

Now, however, the whole ensemble is keen to take to the road. Concerts are currently being finalized, and at several venues, Balke plans to augment the musical performance with a visual presentation, “with video art based upon Islamic geometry.”

More details about the ensemble and Jon Balke can be found at www.siwan.no and www.magnetic.no

Jon Balke’s SiwanHafla
ECM Release Date: April 22, 2022

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Pianist Tord Gustavsen Returns with New Trio Album, Opening, Featuring Steinar Raknes and Jarle Vespestad

Available April 8 via ECM Records

Tord Gustavsen’s album Opening develops the traits and styles explored in his earlier works while introducing a broader spectrum of suppleness and a transformed sense of interplay to the trio’s repertory. It is the first Gustavsen Trio recording with Steinar Raknes on bass and the newcomer feels quite at home supporting his colleagues in the deep end, settling in quickly between Tord’s refined chordal studies and Jarle Vespestad’s delicate stick- and brushwork.

 

There’s a particularly striking openness to the music, marked by spacious improvisations and a tendency to reveal the secrets and melodies at their own pace. “The urge for saying something, be it abstract or lyrical, has to come from within,” Tord reasons. “During the recording of the album, it felt better to do the breathing first, open up the soundscape in more organic ways and let the melody enter when it comes naturally.“

 

Multiple causes may account for the shift in temperament on Opening – the change in the lineup certainly being one of them. Bassist Steinar Raknes establishes a firm counterpoint in the music. “He’s an extroverted bass player, who likes to take center stage, while also being an incredibly supportive and humble accompanist, so he moves very swiftly between background, collective, and soloist roles.” An ideal counterbalance to the variable basslines, Jarle’s percussive rumination acts as a mediator, guiding his fellow musicians through alternating straight-ahead and rubato passages.

 

Here more than ever Tord dwells on minuscule fragments, brief chord chains, and scarce hints of motifs, developing the material patiently: “It’s something I’ve been doing a lot in solo concerts. Having themes just appear out of the dark and disappearing back into a shady undercurrent…

 

In a way picking up where the prior trio album The Other Side left off, album-opening “The Circle“ presents a hymnal refrain, fashioned with a humble design. “I was sitting at the piano and the first four bars just came to me. I worked out and developed the remaining structure deliberately, but more and more I find that the best tunes I’ve written over the years basically just came to me, like gifts. I then have the responsibility to shape the gift, make it grow and turn it into a complete piece”.

 

The trio offers spontaneous moments of dense rubato interplay on “Opening” and “Findings,” the latter of which ends on an instrumental quote of the Swedish folk song “Vis Fran Rattvik,” “It shows that I was listening to the classic Swedish Folk-tune arrangements by the late Jan Johansson, who also happened to be one of the greatest Swedish jazz pianists. I’ve been learning many of his arrangements by heart, just as an exercise and that influence is in evidence here.” These are also the most freely improvised exhibits of the record, as is counterpart “Findings II.” “I really enjoy building these miniatures — it’s something we often do in live situations. It’s about creating a shape, not about free improv in the sense of showing everything you’re capable of doing,”

 

With each song, the trio shifts focus, presenting the reduced, most skeletal shape of composition on “The Longing,” the gentle untangling of melody on “Shepherd Song” and the subtle deconstruction of dance with “Helensburgh Tango” – “to the point where it almost doesn’t qualify as a tango anymore.” Like “Re-opening,” most songs have prescribed harmonic changes and general shapes, “but when to move from one chord or section to the next isn’t pre-composed, but decided between us, in the spur of the moment.”

 

“Stream” uncovers a ‘classic’ piano trio ballad in shape and execution. “Though seemingly counterintuitive, in the studio, our interplay grew densest during Steinar’s solo, then we move into a collective crescendo – both spontaneous decisions that really shed a different light on the track.” “Ritual” follows, seeing Steinar taking the lead with guitar-like treble and Gustavsen being in charge of the lower frequencies, applying subtle electronics in the process.

 

The group goes full circle with the one subject that pulls through Tord Gustavsen’s entire ECM oeuvre, as Opening closes with Norwegian folk themes: “Fløytelåt” (the flute) by composer Gveirr Tveitt and Egil Hovland’s “Vær sterk, min sjel” from the Norsk Salmebok, the Norwegian Hymnal. Instead of stating the obvious and immediately going for the melody, Gustavsen and his accompanists again broach the songs with openness, trading strict organization for thoughtful and effortless improvisation.

 

Opening was recorded in Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo in November 2021 and produced by Manfred Eicher.
Tord Gustavsen Trio | Opening
ECM Release Date: April 8, 2022
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[NOTEWORTHY]… dynamic and virtuosic sound of Finnish-born guitarist-composer Olli Hirvonen’s second album New Helsinki is unrivaled

He’s great! He’s a big talent. He has a natural talent.” John McLaughlin

Olli Hirvonen is a dynamic and virtuosic Finnish-born, New York-based guitarist. Winner of the Socar Montreux Jazz Electric Guitar competition in 2016 (the jury was presided over by John McLaughlin), Olli releases his second album, New Helsinki on Edition Records.

New Helsinki is an album that promises to ignite the attention of the international media and fans worldwide with its deft infectious melodies, irresistibly bold grooves, and intense inventive soloing. A musician with a larger vision and a commanding spirit, Olli Hirvonen, is a supremely gifted guitarist and composer. With New Helsinki Hirvonen has thrown down his calling card and demonstrated the promise that will inevitably thrust his career and profile on an upward trajectory towards international acclaim. ~Bandcamp 

[NOTEWORTHY] The inventive voice of guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson’s second album Bending Bridges glistens with unpredictable originality

Bending Bridges is Brooklyn-based guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson’s second recording with her working quintet and third consecutive title as a leader on Firehouse 12 Records. As on 2010s Saturn Sings, which appeared on nearly 100 best-of-the-year lists, she is joined by trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist John Hébert, and drummer Ches Smith for a program of new original compositions written specifically for this ensemble.

Saturn Sings felt like a beginning,” she explains. “When that album was recorded, the band had only been together for a year and we had only played a handful of gigs. Since then, we have played together much more often, our sound has developed and we have become increasingly comfortable with the music and with each other. The more I get to know the quintet, the easier it becomes to compose for that instrumentation, and for those musicians specifically. Plus, over time the whole band becomes more relaxed, which allows us to take more risks during performances. That s a huge part of why I try to keep my bands together for a long time.”

Ms. Halvorson’s work with her quintet, which will hit the road this spring and summer in support of Bending Bridges, has inspired critics to call her “extraordinary” (John Fordham, BBC 3 s Jazz on 3), “hugely inventive” (John Corbett, DownBeat), “daringly unpredictable” (The New Yorker), “a distinct voice of her own” (Carl Wilson, Slate), “the most original jazz guitarist in a generation” (Michael J. West, Washington City Paper), “a multi-faceted artist whose writing is as impressive as her improvising” (Troy Collins, Point of Departure) and “one of today s most formidable bandleaders” (Francis Davis, Village Voice). ~Editorial Review | Amazon

Original Release Date: MAY 08 2012

 

Andorra’s versatility is unlocked through their distinct eclectism and grandiose expressions

Andorra members are all educated at the Funen Music Conservatory, and it has for a long time been a wish for all members to gather again for a common love of music. During the last year’s corona lockdown, the opportunity arose.

Since the time of the conservatory each of them has developed in all musical directions, but it has now resulted in a beautiful collaboration with great genre versatility which is expressed in their distinctive and grandiose sound.

Mads La Cour: Award-winning trumpeter / flugelhornist / cornetist. Employed in the DR Big Band as the 4th trumpeter. MLC is a very versatile musician and has with his own group “Almugi” released the records “quartet” and “Hule”. Received the award as Funen jazz musician of the year in 2007 and was awarded the P2 jazz award the same year. In 2009 he got a Danish Music Award for his debut release Mads la Cour “à la Cour” as the new name of the year.

Morten Jørgensen: Educated musician at the Funen Music Conservatory with a major in electric bass. He plays regularly with The White Album and Søren Huss.

Nikolaj Bundvig: Educated on drums at the Funen Music Conservatory. Has worked with Alex Canasta, Blue Foundation.

Simon Krebs: He is a graduated guitarist from the Funen Music Conservatory and has two critically acclaimed albums in his own name with original compositions and arrangements – ‘Blur’ and ‘Please Don’t Feed The Fears’. He has also recorded names like Anders Mogensen, Julie Berthelsen, and Tomasz Dabrowski. Received the award as Funen’s jazz musician of the year in 2009.

Peter Kohlmetz Møller: Danish composer, pianist, and producer living in Svendborg. Educated at the Funen Music Conservatory. Known for his genre-twisting work on synthesizers with The Eclectic Moniker, his compositions for Danmarks Radio’s documentary department, and his work as a composer in many theater performances, including at Teater Momentum, Edison, and the Royal Theatre Copenhagen. ~BandCamp.com

Original Release Date: November 12, 2021
At your leisure, listen to Andorra’sSELF-TITLED” release on both Bandcamp and Spotify.

[NOTEWORTHY]… Chicago-based sound & visual artist Damon Locks unmask Where Future Unfolds a transformative masterpiece

Where Future Unfolds is a new work spirited by Chicago-based sound & visual artist Damon Locks. Starting as a solo sound collage piece (where Locks pulled samples from Civil Rights era speeches and recordings to create an improvisational pallet for performance on his drum machine), over 4 years the project has blossomed into a 15-piece Black Monument Ensemble featuring musicians (including Angel Bat Dawid on clarinets and Dana Hall on drums), dancers (members of Chicago youth dance company Move Me Soul), and singers (alumni of the Chicago Children’s Choir).

Alive capture of the ensemble’s epic debut at the Garfield Park Botanical Conservatory on the West Side of Chicago, Where Future Unfolds recalls the spirits of Phil Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music, Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues, and Public Enemy It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in an inspired & utterly immediate contemporary intersection of the gospel, jazz, activism & 808 breaks. ~Editorial Reviews | Amazon

Original Release Date: April 20, 2019

At your leisure, listen to “WHERE FUTURE UNFOLDS” by Damon Locks

In 2021, Swiss drummer & percussionist Florian Arbenz launches perhaps his most adventurous collaboration yet with a series of 12 albums – or “conversations”

Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz set to release 12 albums (or “conversations”) with 12 radically different groups of musicians.

The 1st of this series, recorded from his studio in Basel and accompanied by a feature-length video of the session, features American trumpeter Hermon Mehari and Brazilian guitarist Nelson Veras.

Across a career spanning more than 25 years, drummer and percussionist Florian Arbenz has carved out a reputation as not just a skilled musician, but as a creative collaborator.

Whether with the long-standing trio VEIN who has recorded and toured with Greg Osby & Dave Liebman, or with his own project Convergence which brings together musicians from 4 continents, he is not content to sit still.

The thread that joins them all together is his fascination with bringing visionary musicians together and giving them space to express themselves in his studio. Together, they work through a selection of music curated by Florian to suit the individual musical personalities present.

“I’ve known and played with Nelson for several years and am captivated not only by his highly original and virtuoso playing but also by his unique character and his great sense of humor. He’s a complete player both rhythmically & harmonically so it seemed obvious to get him on board for this series. Hermon, on the other hand, I had never met before our recording session. I had, however, admired his warm tone, open-minded musicality & improvisational skills from afar and am so happy to have finally recorded with him!”

This slightly unusual lineup of guitar, trumpet & drums might, at first glance, miss the bass instrument. But despite the challenges, the creativity of the musicians involved, as well as Florian’s addition of custom percussion instruments covering this range, make for a fascinating listen which moves from hard-swinging soloing to dreaming soundscapes.  ~Bandcamp

At your leisure, check our “CONVERSATIONS #1 CONDENSED” by Florian Arbenz, Hermon Mehari&Nelson Veras