S.O.S. – “Looking For The Next One”
Blue Cranes – “Swim”:
Since their formation in 2007, Blue Cranes have become a key player in the Portland, Oregon creative music/DIY scene and one of the most exciting groups to keep tabs on in the Northwest. They’ve developed a singular musical voice grounded in melody and explosive improvisations—marking off their unique microcosmic territory in “post-jazz” circles. The members of the quintet—Reed Wallsmith on alto saxophone, Joe Cunningham on tenor saxophone, Rebecca Sanborn on keyboards, Keith Brush on bass, and Ji Tanzer on drums—bring a unique array of experiences to their group-centered aesthetic, including work with AU, The Decemberists, Laura Veirs, Wayne Horvitz, Rebecca Gates, Laura Gibson, Ethan Rose, Pete Krebs, Black Prairie and Portland Cello Project. The band takes an evolutionary step forward on their fourth full-length album, Swim, to be released June 4th on the Washington, D.C.-based Cuneiform Records. Swim is a departure from Blue Cranes' previous, and in some ways simpler, albums. Steered dutifully by producer Nate Query of The Decemberists, it is a window into the sometimes messy emotional space of a group struggling with and celebrating the ephemeralness of life. This work is the culmination of several between-album projects, including a 30-day crowd-sourced Amtrak train tour in 2011, and a seven day group composition retreat, supported in part by a grant from Portland’s Regional Arts and Culture Council. However, the heart of Swim lies in indelibly profound life events—the passing away of two dear friends, a serious injury, two weddings, and the birth of a child (Wallsmith's first)—events at tragic and uplifting extremes, both cathartic and celebratory.
Mats/Morgan – “Radio Da Da / The Teenage Tapes”
Swedish collective Mats/Morgan—also known as the Mats/Morgan Band—occupy, or more aptly, create their own sphere in the transcontinental music scene, a zone wherein progressive rock, jazz-rock fusion, experimental rock, electronica, and progressive pop overlap and intertwine. The double-CD set Radio Da Da/The Teenage Tapes compiles Mats/Morgan’s earliest works but with a difference: These albums have been lovingly remixed, remastered, resequenced, and overdubbed by Morgan Agren himself—they are virtually new offerings. Recorded in 1992 (Radio Da Da) and the years 1981-2008 (The Teenage Tapes), this compendium captures Mats/Morgan to some extent in embryonic phases, yet there’s nothing tentative or unfinished about its contents. Everything comes from someplace, and the genre-defying breadth of styles, bracing ideas, and high level of musicianship will appeal to both longtime followers of the group and neophytes, as well as fans of prog-rock and experimental rock in general. Co-led by Swedish musicians Mats Oberg (keyboards) and Morgan Agren (drums), Mats/Morgan remain one of the longest-running European bands (30 years!) in the sometimes-overlapping spheres of jazz fusion and progressive rock. The Mats/Morgan Band has released ten albums and played countless concerts and music festivals. Each has successful parallel careers as leaders and collaborators in a wide range of contexts. An internationally acclaimed drummer, Morgan frequently rates highly in drummers’ magazines’ polls worldwide. Morgan is one-third of a power-improv trio with Raoul Bjorkenheim and Bill Laswell that performs at festivals worldwide and recorded the album Blixt, a thorny, cathartic set released on Cuneiform in 2011. Oberg has performed and recorded with players the caliber of Denny Walley, the Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest, and Bengt Berger’s Beches Brew. Its sixth Mats/Morgan release, a two-disc set entitled Radio Da Da / The Teenage Tapes. This double-disc marks the American debut of Mats/Morgan’s second and third albums, both originally self-released in Sweden in 1998. Radio Da Da and The Teenage Tapes, augmented with previously unreleased material. On Disc One, Radio Da Da is Mats and Morgan performing nearly all instruments and vocals plus contributions from Thordson, Mussa, Jimmy Agren, and more, augmented by two extra tracks. The brisk, snappy “Sigfrid” begins with some bracing Terry Riley/Phillip Glass minimalism before segueing into some searing, soaring keys-flights evocative of early electric-era Return To Forever. “Taljes Logan” and “Djungle Man” are likely inspired by Zappa’s more satirical songs, contrasting deceptively sweet melody with comically caustic dissonance, while “Kul I Parken” with its backwards melody, crisp percussion, and pulsing melodic motifs imparts a nightmarish, Tim Burton-like tone. Disc Two: Teenage Tapes, which compiled the duo’s earliest works, including home and DIY recordings from as early as 1981. While the original Tapes contained 29 tracks, this edition has been expanded to 36 [!] tracks to include recordings up to and including 2008. Tapes seems relatively rough-hewn compared to Radio Da Da, yet never amateurish. Indeed, The Teenage Tapes finds the duo wise beyond their years, presenting playfully grandiose textures (the elemental, fugue-like “JP3”), thorny fusion, dream-pop interludes (“Wanna Dance?”), and gothic bebop (“Bandet Gar”). “Chicken Pie” pays tribute to the flamboyant proto-prog of Yes and Genesis while “Basflarp” is a stirring slice of Scandinavian funk, Billy Cobham and Stanley Clarke carving a niche in the Arctic Circle. While Teenage Tapes presents a band still finding its way, combining razor-sharp instrumental acumen with a puckish sense of humor, seeds of forthcoming greatness are already evident. “Bombonk” finds these youths blending the whimsical and the nightmarish with equal aplomb. “Foxtrot” (a nod to Genesis?) evokes post-Discipline King Crimson. With the release of the double-CD Radio Da Da / Teenage Tapes, fans and novices will be able to go “forward” with Mats/Morgan in terms of a “new” opus to relish by jumping headfirst into the past via these hitherto-unheard (outside of Sweden) albums. Devotees of Rock In Opposition, the “old-school” prog of the Canterbury bands, fusion, and even commercial powerhouses Yes and Brand X will find vistas a-plenty to cherish.
Richard Pinhas – “Desolation Row”
“The big crisis is coming now in Europe,” says avant-rock icon and philosophy PhD/writer Richard Pinhas. “Desolation Row is an image of what we can Feel and See coming during this neoliberalist era... neoliberalism transforming ultimately into TEKNOFASCISM...the real Big Brother!” Morally outraged by the corporate greed that caused Europe’s (and America’s) 21st century economic collapse, shattering the public’s (the 99%) wellbeing and undermining democracy itself, Desolation Row finds Pinhas returning to his philosophical and artistic roots and resuming his stance behind political barricades. His newest solo album is as politically charged, musically radical and artistically potent as those he created with his band Heldon during a prior era of socio-political change. While a young student at the Sorbonne, studying under French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, Pinhas had manned the Paris barricades during the May 1968 student uprising. Experiences from those years would infuse his later work, in a music career launched in 1974 when Heldon released its debut recording, Electronique Guerilla. 40 years later, the original Electronique Guerilla re-arms himself with guitar and electronics as weapons in a stance against Teknofascism. Says Pinhas of Desolation Row: “Music is a way to fight...and to bring weapons to people, to make them feel outside of their servitude, and perhaps to make them happy, even for one minute...a way to fight the power!” But beyond marking his return to political fire, Desolation Row finds things coming full-circle for Pinhas in other ways. In a career spanning more than 4 decades, pathfinder Richard Pinhas has remained continually innovative, pioneering groundbreaking developments in electronic rock and industrial music and influencing generations of musicians. In a major creative surge over the past several years, he has released numerous recordings – many of them double-disc releases – in collaboration with noise and experimental musicians, breaking further sonic ground. Desolation Row finds Pinhas collaborating with those he has directly or indirectly inspired and influenced, with the results in a class by themselves. While his roots are in progressive rock, electronic music, philosophy, and science fiction/literature, Desolation Row finds guitarist/composer Pinhas in the company of some of Europe’s cutting-edge performers in the frequently-overlapping spheres of jazz, progressive rock, free improvisation, and noise — Oren Ambarchi, Lasse Marhaug, Etienne Jaumet, Noel Akchote, Eric Borelva, and his son, Duncan Nilsson — engaging in a series of six distinct works which stimulate and push all concerned through and beyond their comfort zones. Desolation Row is a work that stands both with and apart from the respective oeuvres of its principals. The continually evolving Pinhas reaches ever-newer artistic vistas – and draws attention to Europe’s sociological, political, and economic turmoil on Desolation Row. Far from being an “elder statesman,” Richard Pinhas is in the thick of things, continually reinventing his musical conceptions, recognizing no conventional constraints. This Spring brings a tour of Japan where he will have live encounters in at least four cities with Kenji Haino, Yoshida Tatsuya, and Merzbow. Summertime will find Pinhas headlining the 2013 SONAR Festival in Spain as a duo with French Catalonian electronica icon Pascal Comelade. Continuing on a creative surge, Pinhas’ plans for future recordings include works with Tatsuya, Ambarchi, and San Franciscan Barry Cleveland, as well as others. Collaborating with established icons and young newcomers alike, Pinhas is a lynchpin in the current noise / electronica / experimental music scene, uniting diverse elements to forge music that is relevant, forceful and new. In addition, two documentary films are currently in production about Pinhas and his music. As this decade brings even more potent and disorienting change, it will have a most pertinent “soundtrack” courtesy of the protean artist that is Richard Pinhas.
Sao Paulo Underground – “Beija Flors Velho E Sujo”
Sao Paulo Underground isn’t just an international musical conspiracy. It’s an electronica-laced Tropicalia funhouse, a secret passage between Chicago’s volatile avant garde jazz scene and Brazil’s teeming creative capital, an intoxicating state of mind where Sun Ra lays down in a field of giant poppies with Ol’ Dirty Bastard to debate whether the Wizard of Oz is full of juke or jive. Featuring Chicago improv maestro Rob Mazurek on cornet, harmonium and various effects, and Sao Paulo’s Guilherme Granado on keyboards, synths, sampler and vocals, and Mauricio Takara on percussion, cavaquinho and electronics, SPU delivers its fourth revelatory album Beija Flors Velho E Sujo. Slated for release on June 4, the album is SPU’s second album for Cuneiform (Mazurek’s new label Infinity Dogs Records is co-releasing the “Beija Flors” LP with Cuneiform). In its latest incarnation, SPU is a power trio and a post-modern orchestra rolled into one, marked by glistening sonic textures, seductive eletronica beats, unabashedly beautiful melodies, an expansive improvisational palette and fiercely gleeful interplay. A potent program of new material honed during a 2012 North American tour, “Beija Flors” captures an ensemble hitting a fierce creative stride. Ecstatic, roiling and utterly unpredictable, the music flows from three distinct musical personalities united by “the idea of infinite love, the idea of breaking through to the other side through sonic power and beauty,” says Mazurek, a veteran disrupter of genre conventions.
S.O.S. – “Looking For The Next One”
In 1974, three poll-winning British saxophonists joined forces around a radical concept: Dispense with a bass player and a drummer and go it alone. The result was S.O.S., the trio of John Surman, Mike Osborne and Alan Skidmore, saxophonists who led or played on many of the groundbreaking British jazz recordings of the late 1960s and ‘70s. Although S.O.S. lasted less than three years, they paved the way for World Saxophone Quartet, Rova and other all-sax bands. During their brief existence, S.O.S. recorded only one LP – a self-titled studio album for the legendary Ogun label – that has been frequently cited by critics and historians for almost 40 years as a landmark recording in British jazz history. Undoubtedly, Cuneiform’s release of Looking For The Next One, a 2-CD compilation of studio sessions and live recordings, will not only rekindle discussions about S.O.S.’s innovative music among connoisseurs, but introduce their exciting, virtuosic music to a new generation of listeners. The inclusion of the entirety of their legendary July 1974 Balver Hohle Jazz Festival concert is a game-changer, as it reveals S.O.S.’s penchant for connecting multiple compositions with open improvisations, an approach they did not employ on the Ogun album. The concert also documents how Surman seamlessly integrated keyboards and synthesizers – instruments that were overdubbed for S.O.S. – into a performance, and gives more space to Skidmore’s energetic drumming than on the Ogun album. The CD of studio sessions include several unique tracks, including an intense Surman overdubbed solo piece for soprano saxophone and synthesizer, hard-hitting tracks with the late, great drummer Tony Levin – who played with everyone from Joe Harriott to Mujician – and burners like “Rashied,” a tune Surman and Osborne learned at an early ‘70s session with John Coltrane drummer, Rashied Ali. The collection also includes new, extended versions of such memorable tunes from S.O.S., as “Country Dance,” “Goliath,” and “Where’s Junior?,” as well as prime examples of their use of Irish folk tunes and Bach inventions. With a 16-page booklet featuring archival photographs – including shots taken during S.O.S.’s Balver Hohle Jazz Festival concert – and a concise history of the band and their groundbreaking music, written by jazz critic and Point of Departure founder Bill Shoemaker, Looking For The Next One is a substantial addition to Cuneiform’s important catalog of archival British jazz and progressive rock recordings. It not only fleshes out important aspects of their materials and methods, it also reinforces the risk these three celebrated British musicians took in undertaking this endeavor.
(UK) / May 26, 2013