Minus Zero Overview

Minus Zero is a new label started by Vijay Anderson, Ben Goldberg, and Dina Maccabee. All of the proceeds from album sales are donated to Planned Parenthood. This is a compilation of reviews that we have published for Minus Zero releases.

Goldberg, Brown, and Anderson – The Reckoning (2017)

This trio date from 2015 features Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Sheldon Brown on alto sax, and Vijay Anderson on drums. The eleven mostly-short tracks involve rolling contrapuntal melodies from Goldberg and Brown over Anderson’s supple percussion. Though solidly in a free-jazz vein, Goldberg and Brown alternate between providing main themes over which the other improvises shifting motifs. This adds an element of structure to an otherwise unpredictable mix. Their playing encompasses a modern form of post-bop; familiar, yet angular and discordant. Anderson’s contribution could be described in a number of ways, but a cross between Alex Cline and Chris Corsano is one. He establishes timing in a busy and mercurial fashion, playing in response to his bandmates as well as stretching out on his own. But the trio is at best when each is exploring within the context of the group’s spontaneously transforming orientations and frames of reference.

Bernstein, Marcelo, Popejoy, and Podgurski – Propolis (2017)

Recorded live in January 2015 at New York’s Firehouse Space, this two-track album of improvised avant-rock features Sarah Bernstein on violin and voice, Alexis Marcelo on piano and keyboard, Stuart Popejoy on bass, and Nick Podgurski on drums. Perhaps the most immediate observation is the raw power of the rhythm section, with Popejoy and Podgurski providing two-pronged approach. On one hand, they work tightly together to set forth complex, intricate lines, but on the other, then go in their own directions during more free sections of this recording. The former is reminiscent of that of Idiot Flesh, while the latter is more propulsive in nature. Over this, Bernstein and Marcelo supply effects-laden violin and keyboards. They keyboard patches are thick and orchestral, evoking a cinematic and slightly retro feel. Bernstein provides snippets and sawing wails, more for effect than for purpose of melody. A great album for those who like their improv to be creative and not too free.

Kyle Bruckmann / Sam Pluta / Katherine Young – Live . Elastic . 10.20.16 (2017)

Don’t be put off by the album cover – this is some scary stuff. A 33-minute slab of processed improv featuring Kyle Bruckmann on oboe and English horn, Sam Pluta on electronics, and Katherine Young on bassoon and electronics, the aptly-titled Live . Elastic . 10.20.16 was recorded at Chicago’s Elastic Arts. Bruckmann and Young drone respectively, and make liberal use of extended techniques. As a consequence, it can be hard to tell where the playing ends and the electronics begin. Pluta and Young provide distorted structural elements and walls, using decimated samples among other approaches. Bruckmann’s contributions are high-pitched and complimentary to Young’s lower-register offerings. Given the near-complete lack of melody, this recording is solidly in free improv camp. And with use of non-traditional instrumentation, Bruckmann, Pluta, and Young comfortably flirt with the extreme wing of that genre. Listening to how this trio plays off of one another and responds to their bandmates makes Live . Elastic . 10.20.16 a compelling and enjoyable release.

Devin Hoff – Baile As Baile (2012)

Bassist Devin Hoff, perhaps best known for stints with the Nels Cline Singers and Xiu Xiu, has been lending his skills as a sideman to many worthwhile projects. On this 25-minute EP, he focuses on solo contrabass. Overdubbing plucked rhythms with bowed leads, Hoff wends his way through several short pieces that combine folk and free improv. The first three tracks are part of a suite, Plains Song, and slowly build from the deliberately-paced opener to a chaotic finale. The remaining tracks feature strummed and bowed solos offering wistful yet ominous melodies with a Northern European feel. Hoff’s overdubbing on these pieces also provide texture under slowly spiraling leads, in fashion structurally (though not sonically) reminiscent of post-rock. Hoff manages to combine his technical chops with composition and improvisation skills in a manner that results in a richness that goes beyond your average solo bass album.  Highly recommended.

Jordan Glenn – BEAK LIVE (2017)

Jordan Glenn, otherwise known as the drummer of Jack O’ The Clock and the Fred Frith Trio, takes on a composition and conducting role in this live recording. His “band” consists of Will Northlich-Redmond on guitar and kalimba, Karl Evangelista on guitar, Mark Clifford on vibraphone, Jason Hoopes on bass, Robert Woods-LaDue on percussion, Robert Lopez on percussion, and Jon Arkin on drums.

This percussion-oriented ensemble divides its time between semi-tuneful themes and more outside excursions. But rather than sounding African or Brazilian, for example, Glenn keeps the group heading in a direction informed by American rock music but sounding too exotic for that label. The rhythm section lays down complex yet melodic structures while the guitars improvise and accentuate. Nonetheless, the entire group is not opposed to making departures into free noise from time to time.

The only caveat to this recording is that it captures a significant amount of audience noise (not just cheering) which can distract from the quieter moments. Or, in a Cage sense, perhaps the audience is part of the composition. In any event, not unlike said audience, one can only applaud Glenn’s efforts herein, as he manages to beat a new musical path using familiar and diverse elements.

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