The Other Side

Live at the Knitting Factory

Live at the Bower Poetry Club

Finally! Total Unity in 3 Phases

[Ayler Records,]

With so few jazz or improvised music labels going fully digital, it's a real coup to see an important outlet for new jazz - Ayler Records - finally make a complete entrance into the digital domain. With the release of these six CDs, Ayler opens its doors wide and gives the clients an option. You can either purchase these releases on-line as full digital downloads or you can order them as digital downloads at full price, with Ayler providing the burnt CD-R, liner notes, cover art. Though there is a great breadth of music within these six CDs, each one has something concrete and fresh to offer.
Joel Futterman seems to be an outsider. Neither fitting into the New York, Chicago, San Francisco or any other major city scene, he remains a musical outcast. While his 80's output left the greatest impression, it was his output with Jimmy Lyons that threw me head first into the music. Personal highlight of Joel Futterman's live prowess was a live performance in Nickelsdorf as part of the 'Kidd' Jordan Quintet. Together with Gustafson, Guy, Fielder and Jordan, he was a raging animal let loose on stage. In a solo setting, as on "Possibilities", he's a different person. Divided into seven distinct suites, the album is presented as one continuous whole. Futterman wastes no time in getting to heart of the matter. With sharp attacks on his keyboard, he's a flying madman. Percussive nature of the piano is at the forefront of much of the material here, as he's dancing on the keys in rhythmic patterns. Improvised, but structured with brief, nearly melodic interludes, the music dances and sings. Like a broken record or a choir that's cut short, his approach is brutally direct and honest to the core. Three of the sections extend beyond the twenty minute mark, allowing Futterman perfect opportunity to tell an extended storyline. With hints of blues, jazz and new music to spare, Futterman is unafraid to pursue the chartered course he's set out for himself more than thirty years ago. If I say this is a crucial record, then I may not be telling the whole truth. It's simply a diary that Futterman has left wide open on the table. Don't be afraid to take a peak inside.
"Allemansratten" or 'all of mans' right to freedom' is a perfect translation of guitarist/composer Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut's concept of music. His take on leadership is that "a leader who knows how to lead without leading". Quintet he amassed in 2005 includes alto saxophonist Blaise Siwula, Ras Moshe on tenor, Nick Gianni on various woodwinds and mandolin and Mike Fortune on percussion. Shurdut being an inventor of Environmental Tuning [which is tuning synchronized to sound of one's surrounding] makes no qualms about using his invention in this recording. Most impressive parts of the record are the constant wind-blasts from Siwula, Moshe and Gianni. Moshe is especially impressive as his jagged interplay with Siwula gets top marks. Fortune is a percussive beast, giving others something to rally against. His constant barrage on the skins makes it that more challenging to get the gist of the story line that is told by the rest of the quintet. The lack of any proper mixing makes the listening session that much more closer to the actual live performance. Exhausting in its complexity and performed with abandonment, "Allemansratten" is a feast of wonders for your senses.
Norwegian alto player Frode Gjerstad has made a number of important recordings with everyone from Derek Bailey, John Stevens, Peter Brotzmann, Nick Stephens, Bobby Bradford to Lol Coxhill. He has also performed with the rhythm section of bassist William Parker and percussionist Hamid Drake [most notably on "Ultima" and "Remember to Forget"]. The return to this reliable rhythm section was recorded while the trio was on tour in Chicago in 2000. Perhaps it was the togetherness that was worked on during the tour, but there's a certain something about this session that makes it sound so comfortable and so loose. Gjerstad's delivery is free but his playing is steered back on course by Parker and Drake. His alto tone is clean and crisp and even when he rivets up some jagged lines up to the sky, there is no coarse element to it. The trio delivers especially well on a slower piece, appropriately called "The Ballade". Featuring a nice arco solo from Parker and some fine brush work from Drake, the piece lounges almost lazily, like a tourist on a beach. The title cut features some terrific bouncy rhythmic work from Drake [on the frame drum], while Parker provides some trance flute work, which is then enhanced and brought to life by Gjerstad's jumpy alto.
This is a very accessible record, allowing anyone not familiar with Gjerstad's body of work an easy entrance.
From one exceptional trio to another, "Live at the Knitting Factory" sees Sonny Simmons Trio recorded at the height of its prowess during the Vision Festival in 2001. Alto demi-god Simmons blows some jaggedly pleasing lines, while his rhythm section - bassist Cameron Brown and percussionist Ronnie Burrage - provide sturdy backbone. The interaction between the players is other-worldly as each one predicts, almost ahead of time, what the course of action will be. As in a never ending slithering snake, the alto goodness snakes its way up and down the listener's spine. Burrage is especially effective as a rhythm keeper and a loose innovator of sorts. An inclusion of "Pas Bon" [meaning "no good"] is rather an interesting take. Simmons talks about police brutality and the importance of love in a very brutally honest way. The set ends on another high note. As the caressing sounds of Simmons' alto revels up his band into submission on "New Groove Mode", you realize this is yet another highlight in his extended musical career. Trombonist Steve Swell saw a disparity in various musical camps living in New York City. His main goal with the Nation of We [NOW] Ensemble was to bring together people from these disparate factions into one orchestra and make music for them that would speak volumes. The piece, as performed live in January 2006 at the Bower Poetry Club, is entitled "Declaration of Interdependence" and is broken up into four parts. Building strength on ideals of tolerance, respect and peace, Swell's piece goes from strength to strength. Featuring a strong trombone line up - Dick Griffin, Peter Zummo, Dave Talyor and Steve Swell, along with a blazing trumpet section - Roy Campbell, Lewis Barnes and Matt LaVelle - the band has the highs and lows covered. In addition, the saxophone section is exceptionally strong with names such as Rob Brown, Will Connell, Saco Yasuma, Sabir Mateen and Ras Moshe. Pianist Chris Forbes plays impressive layered motifs underneath the rowdiness happening at the top. Despite what would sound like complete chaos, bassists Matthew Heyner and Todd Nicholson are given a couple of opportunities to shine off on their skills [their duo on "Second Part" serves as a break-point and is highly commendable]. The way the music is written, each member of the Ensemble gets a fair chance to have at least a solo and show themselves off in an interactive duo or trio setting with other members. Though chaos is usually associated with these kinds of set-ups, there's none here. Sure, there are strong and vivacious solos, but overall, the interaction is flawless. What we get is a very strong showing from this ensemble that will hopefully see more fruits in the years to come.
On his website, rebel alto player Luther Thomas says "Musicians want to play all the time, we can live all over the world. The battlefront is everywhere, and we are on the frontline. We are like NATO, but it's not a weapon it's an instrument, it's all about love. We're ready to go, have a ticket, have a gig, have horn, will travel." With his weapon firmly in hand, he unleashes a record that outlines his firm belief that improvisational unity can be possible. With a line up that features Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut on guitars, amplifier and drums, Ed Chang on computer, home made reeds and tenor, along with Motoko Shimizu on toys, recorder and voice, we are officially ready for an inter-galactic blast off. Even though each member of the quartet gets shared writing credits, this is as improvised as it comes. While Thomas attacks full-front center with tsunami waves of alto, Shimizu plays around with various toys and gadgets and Shurdut shines with crazy percussive work [he's especially heavy on the cymbals, which gives the music a shimmering layer]. Some feedback is evident in sections as Shurdut puts his guitar through some hoops. The electronic faction of the record is quite heavy, which allows for an interesting mix of the human and non-human instrumentation. Chang's mastery on his laptop twists the pictures into skewed images of themselves. Finally, we get an exhaustingly wild and abandoned ride. Superb!

- Tom Sekowski

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