NoBusiness Records is a Lithuanian label focused on adventurous new and historic jazz recordings. Over the years, we have written a number of reviews of their offerings, reproduced below.
Rodrigo Amado Motion trio with Alexander von Schlippenbach – The Field (2021)
The Field is a single 56-minute track recorded at the 2019 Vilnius Jazz Festival. On it, Rodrigo Amado (sax), Miguel Mira (cello), and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums) are joined by long-time free-jazz pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach. Even without a fourth collaborator, the Motion Trio is known for setting forth dense and lively improvisations. The addition of Schlippenbach pushes them even further in that direction.
In particular, the dialog between Amado and Schlippenbach is both intense and delicate. They engage in cooperative co-leads, each gently prodding the other. Case in point, Schlippenbach’s rolling structures and percussiveness serve as a contrasting role to Amado’s circling and angular solos. These joint efforts wax and wane in terms of energy level, from all-out to more introspective passages. Mira and Ferrandini are similarly active, though the former is unfortunately a bit lost in the mix during the louder sections. Nonetheless, this ostensible rhythm section provides a clanging set of labyrinthine patterns that are quite listenable even if taken in isolation.
In short, this is free jazz for those who enjoy information-rich offerings where all participants are forging their own paths as part of a collective effort. The Field was released July 2021 on NoBusiness Records, and is nothing short of a bracing. Well done.
Sabu Toyozumi / Mats Gustafsson – Hokusai (2020)
Drummer Sabu Toyozumi is not very well known outside of a few circles. One of his many claims to fame is being the first non-American in the AACM. In addition to that, he has spent the last five decades touring, performing, and recording with a long list of improvisers from three continents. Mats Gustafsson, of course, is more of a household name (if people in your house are into firey free improv) and has played with a similarly long and varied roster of musicians. As far as I can tell, this meeting, recorded live in Japan in June of 2018, is the first between the two.
Toyozumi plays the drum kit as if it were a group of found objects. While he produces rolls and occasional rhythms, his use of space and sparse phrasings are more prevalent. Rather than fill the pieces on Hokusai with notes, he proceeds in a meandering and deliberate fashion. Gustafsson, perhaps influenced by this approach, is uncharacteristically minimal at times. He switches between sax and flute, eliciting angularities from both. When not in the background, Gustafsson offers up staccato runs, wails, and warblings. Among the five tracks, each musician has one dedicated to his solo playing. This further accentuates and complements their duets. The result is an album that is exploratory and mostly quiet, but with a few blasts here and there to make sure you are paying attention.
Sam Rivers Quartet – Braids (1979 / 2020)
It was April, 1979, in the tiny room upstairs at dc space, the long-gone—it’s now a Starbucks, of all things—venue for adventurous groups like the Sam Rivers Quartet, which was playing that night. It was an incandescent performance consisting of one long, intensely-played set. I was there, and still remember it vividly more than forty years later. A month after they played dc space the quartet was in Europe; their concert in Hamburg, Germany from 15 May is documented on Braids, the fourth installment in No Business Records’ extraordinary Sam Rivers Archive Project.
By 1979, Rivers had expanded the trio format he used in the mid-1970s to a quartet; bassist Dave Holland, doubling on cello, was still with him, but Thurman Barker had replaced Barry Altschul on drums, and Joe Daley, playing tuba and euphonium, was added as the fourth member. The double bass-tuba pairing was an unusual one, but even with its bias toward the lower end of the sound spectrum, the group could move nimbly and with a clarity of line, as the Hamburg recording shows.
The album consists of two tracks, the first of which ends in a fade; presumably, both are from the same set, part of which is missing. The music opens with Rivers on tenor in the midst of a collective polyphony that gradually settles into a relaxed groove led by Holland, and culminates in an intense, very fast swing. If the first track deals in high-energy playing, the second, longer track shows the group’s mastery of nuanced textural playing. Barker opens it with a drum solo, which segues into Rivers on solo piano. Over the course of the thirty-plus minutes, the texture undergoes constant changes, with voices being added and subtracted in various combinations and all four players leaving ample space for each other. Particularly arresting are duets for Rivers’ flute, first with Holland on bowed bass and then with Daley on tuba. This clearly was a group that could make the unlikeliest-seeming instrumental combinations work beautifully and naturally.
Nate Wooley / Liudas Mockūnas / Barry Guy / Arkadijus Gotesmanas – NOX (2020)
There is something about Nate Wooley recordings – they exhibit a broad intentionality even if the pieces therein appear to be freely improvised. Within ostensibly unstructured passages, meta-patterns slowly emerge that make you question how much of the music was truly spontaneous. Here, he is joined by the legendary bassist Barry Guy, as well as Arkadijus Gotesmanas on drums and percussion and Liudas Mockūnas on clarinet and sax. Three lengthy pieces on NOX explore several dimensions of guided improvisation.
At first blush, the album is open, noisy, and full of extended techniques. There is no traditional sense of melody. Instead, all four musicians provide bursts of rough and discordant energy as a quartet as well as in subsets thereof. Wooley’s playing is gritty and angular, carefully crafting sound envelopes and pulses. Mockūnas forms more lilting or circular contributions in addition to staccato runs of notes. In parallel to this, Guy explores his bass in a characteristically unconventional fashion, essentially soloing through most of the recording. Gotesmanas drums in a rhythmless free-jazz style, with little repetition or predictability. As an example of how this is put together, Multa Nox, the second track, is an interesting juxtaposition of sparser moments and jerky, stumbling progressions.
In short, this is forward music – both aggressive and restrained. Occasionally this presents itself as harsh wailing, but those moments are outnumbered by more overtly cerebral passages. Like the fabric of the universe in quantum theory, NOX is continuously ripping itself apart and putting itself back together on the particle level. Well done indeed.
Vincent Chancey Trio – The Spell (2020)
The Spell is by a trio led by French hornist Vincent Chancey and including the late double bassist Wilber Morris and the percussionist Warren Smith. All three musicians are or were highly accomplished practitioners of the art; Chancey, whose name may be less familiar to many, spent the mid 1970s in Sun Ra’s Arkestra and the 1980s in Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy and the David Murray Big Band. The Spell is an archival recording made in the Kraine Art Gallery in New York City in October of 1987; the sound quality is somewhat raw and the audio field shallow–as one might reasonably expect from the on-the-spot technology of the time–but the performances come through clearly and eloquently. Chancey takes an unlikely candidate for lead instrument in a jazz setting and plays it nimbly; Morris and Smith respond with both power and subtlety. The group’s sui generis makeup lends the collective sound a warm, wine-dark quality which is only emphasized when the keys turn minor, as they do in the first piece, a composition by Morris. What keeps the music from being confined to a narrow range of timbres is Morris’ moving back and forth between arco and pizzicato and Smith’s use of mallet percussion. The subtle framing effect this has on Chancey’s horn comes out particularly well on the fourth track, another Morris composition, where first double bass and then mallet percussion play in unison with the horn. The Spell is a rewarding album and another example of No Business’ making available historic performances that otherwise would undeservedly be forgotten.
Conny Bauer / Matthias Bauer / Dag Magnus Narvesen – The Gift (2020)
The Gift is a recording of the contemporary trio of brothers trombonist Conny Bauer and double bassist Matthias Bauer, and drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen performing live in Berlin in July of 2018. The dynamic within this trio is very much driven by both Bauers acting as coequal lead voices. Matthias is heard mostly on bow, which allows his instrument to project its sound all the more effectively alongside of Conny’s bright, brassy horn. Indeed, Conny plays with an assertive, forward tone, but the soliloquy with which he opens the second piece develops out of an inward-turning, meditative mood. Matthias’ own solo work is meticulously honed and especially exciting when pushing back against Narvesen’s support. The latter is a key element within the mix; he is a remarkably sensitive and inventive colorist whose muscular playing raises and lowers tensions as the music’s emotional trajectory demands. An excellent unit and an engaging recording.
Keys & Screws – Some More Jazz (2020)
Keys and Screws is a wind trio with the more conventional makeup of saxophone, double bass, and drums. The group—tenor and soprano saxophonist Thomas Borgmann, double bassist Jan Roder and percussionist Willi Kellers—recorded Some More Jazz in Berlin in May of 2017. Although made in a studio, the recording seems to have been done live, to judge from the communication and chemistry it displays. The music is loose but together, organized with short motifs articulated on saxophone and varied on the bass, and all tied together with shambling but cohesive grooves.
The Sam Rivers Trio – Ricochet (1978 / 2020)
From the beginning, multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers’ trios of the 1970s featured bassists and percussionists of exceptional quality. On his freely improvised excursions of the time, Rivers was joined by musicians like Richard Davis, Cecil McBee, Arvil Anderson, Norman Connors, and Warren Smith. But it was Rivers’ double bassist and percussionist of the mid-to-late 1970s trios that many consider to make up the classic free trio rhythm section: Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. On Ricochet, the third entry in No Business Records’ superb Sam Rivers Archive Project, they are featured on a performance recorded at San Francisco’s legendary Keystone Korner on 12 January 1978.
Ricochet’s single track captures the seamless flow of the group’s nearly hour-long, continuous performance. The piece is structured as a typical Sam Rivers Trio set, with Rivers moving from one instrument to the next while maintaining a running dialogue with bass and drums. In addition, both Holland and Altschul get ample solo space of their own. The performance launches with Rivers’ acerbically bright soprano saxophone, followed by an interlude for solo bass, a piano section, a cello interlude, a tenor saxophone section, a percussion solo, and finally a section for flute. The energy level is especially high, as is brought out in the recording’s mix which puts Rivers and Holland both to the front. Holland in particular is shown to be a motive force in structuring the flow of the music as he centers Rivers’ solos with rapid walking lines and rhythmically dense repeated figures. The Keystone set was done at a time when he was playing cello; his long cello solo between the piano and tenor saxophone sections is exciting for its forward motion and for its introduction of a new voice into the set. The subsequent extended interplay between the cello and Rivers’ kinetic tenor lines is intriguing for the way the two instruments converge in range and diverge in timbre. As is typical of his work with the Rivers trios, Altschul brings a restless, abstract swing to the table; his playing is volcanic throughout.
That January night at the Keystone the Sam Rivers Trio played cathartic music of an especially high order; surely this has to be among the Rivers-Holland-Altschul trios best performances.
Threadbare – Silver Dollar (2020)
Ostensibly free improv, Threadbare is so much more. A trio consisting of Chicagoans Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Ben Cruz on guitar, and Emerson Hunton on drums, Silver Dollar is their debut recording. Notable is that the veteran Stein leaves the writing credits to the relatively younger talents of Cruz and Hunton. This turns out to be an interesting move, as the latter duo is more than capable.
Like so many musicians who have come up in the last two decades, Cruz and Hunton blend styles effortlessly and eschew any preconceived rigid notions of what might be proper. This is laid out clearly in the first two tracks, where Cruz’s And When Circumstances Arise harkens to tightly-structured avant-rock while Hunton’s Threadbare 02 begins in an open and textural fashion before evolving into an angular duel between Stein and Cruz.
Indeed, Cruz’s rock leanings as well as his rhythmic sophistication can be found on the three other pieces he pens, including the absolutely monstrous title track. This effort involves a deep staccato droning from Stein and Cruz with Hunton all over the map. Cruz chords out a rough melody for a Stein solo in what ultimately comes across as a rather aggressive and powerful form of dirge.
Hunton sticks with a looser approach though isn’t afraid to provide an off-kilter beat on 24 Mesh Veils. Threadbare is fairly free, however, moving into a tense groove over which Stein and Cruz can extemporize. The final track is credited to both Cruz and Hunton, and involves quiet atmospherics with soft yet jagged leads that build to a suitable crescendo.
Sam Rivers – Zenith (1977 / 2019)
Zenith is a live recording made at the Jazztage Berliner 1977 with an unconventional quintet of Rivers on tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and piano; Dave Holland on double bass and cello; Joe Daley on tuba and euphonium; and both Barry Altschul and Charlie Persip on drums. The quintet was a subset of the larger orchestra Rivers brought to Europe; this may have been their only performance together as a quintet. And an intense performance it is: a single, 53-minute improvisation that establishes and maintains a high energy level throughout. The two drummers mesh well and don’t overwhelm the rest of the group; Holland and Daley, who developed a finely-tuned working relationship in the Rivers quartet during this period, complement each other well and avoid any redundancy of line or color in the lower registers. Rivers’ playing is explosive and inspired, which is no surprise in light of the rich textures his bandmates weave.
Bones – Reptiles (2019)
Reptiles is a recording of the Israeli trio Bones, comprising bass clarinet (Ziv Taubenfeld), double bass (Shay Hazan), and drums (Nir Sabag). While the pianoless saxophone trio is a well-established configuration within jazz, the pianoless bass clarinet trio is less so. Bass clarinet and double bass are known for being among the quieter instruments in any ensemble but on this raw, forceful recording they show a more aggressive side. Taubenfeld’s sound tends toward the acerbic while Hazan favors a blunt-edged pizzicato on most of the tracks; Sabag’s free polyrhythms provide the trio with a propulsive push. Odd-numbered tracks are collective pieces, while the even-numbered tracks are solo performances for double bass, bass clarinet, and drums, respectively.
Masahiko Satoh and Sabu Toyozumi – The Aiki (1997 / 2019)
Recorded in an intimate live setting in Yamaguchi, Japan in 1997, The Aiki represents a rare meeting of pianist Masahiko Satoh and drummer Sabu Toyozumi. The two long duets that make up the release are the product of a chemistry that is as deep as it is rarely given occasion to combust, as Satoh’s tightly coiled, knotty lines find a fine foil in Toyozumi’s muscular excursions ranging over the entire drum kit. If the pairing of piano and trap drums implies a relatively restricted palette of timbres, Satoh and Toyozumi compensate by building their improvisations through a sophisticated use of space and dynamics.
Bobby Bradford / Frode Gjerstad / Kent Carter / John Stevens – Blue Cat (1991 / 2019)
Another recording from the 1990s, Blue Cat is a 1991 session for the quartet of cornetist Bobby Bradford, alto saxophonist Frode Gjerstad, double bassist Kent Carter, and drummer John Stevens. The four play a finely crafted free swing especially notable for the mutually supportive, motivic interplay of the two horns and solid playing from the rhythm section.
Steve Swell / Robert Boston / Michael Vatcher – Brain in a Dish (2019)
Brain in a Dish from the trio of Steve Swell on trombone, Robert Boston on piano and organ and drummer Michael Vatcher is a freely improvised collection of eleven pieces that takes Swell’s extended vocabulary of growls, squeals, air notes and buzzes and situates them within a sympathetic and stimulating setting. Particularly intriguing are the pieces for the timbrally distinctive combination of trombone and organ.
Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton – Concert in Vilnius (2019)
Parker, Guy, and Lytton are no strangers to one another. According to a quick and dirty count, this is their 17th release as a trio since 1983. And even with nearly four decades of collaboration, they still have new statements to make as a group. Recorded in October 2017 at the Vilnius Jazz Festival, the aptly titled Concert in Vilnius is about 55 minutes in length and spans four tracks. Parker plays the tenor and soprano sax, Guy the double bass, and Lytton drums and percussion. (But that instrumentation probably goes without saying, right?)
In short, this set is prime European free improvisation. The trio crafts a dense and information-rich offering, one in which the intensity ebbs and flows through the activity remains lively. Guy and Lytton, in particular, play artfully off one another with the latter moving in and out of structured forms and the former giving every inch of his instrument a workout. The theme, if any, is to do the unexpected – whether that means playing at the edge of hearing or making loud, abstract declarations. Parker provides his rolling solos, simultaneously melodic and angular, which often jolt his companions into even fiercer endeavors.
To these ears, this trio hits high points when they play all out, barely giving the listener a chance to catch up. These extreme passages sandwich quieter sections, which only makes them stand out even more. Ultimately, Concert in Vilnius shows that, at an age at which most of us have slowed down, Parker, Guy, and Lytton are still exploring rigorous new paths of outside jazz.
Simon Nabatov, Barry Guy, Gerry Hemingway – Luminous (2019)
Collective improvisation can take several forms: abstract and textural; linear and polyphonic; dynamic and expressive. None these forms necessarily excludes any others, and much of the most engaging and satisfying collective improvisation will contain all of them, often in unexpected ways. This is true of Luminous, a particularly gratifying set of collective improvisations produced by three of improvised music’s most accomplished and well-rounded players.
The trio on Luminous was put together in 2015 by pianist Simon Nabatov, a Russian émigré who settled in Cologne by way of New York. The other two members are percussionist Gerry Hemingway, an American now resident in Switzerland, and British bassist Barry Guy. All three have extensive backgrounds in contemporary and, in Guy’s case, early, composed music as well as in a broad gamut of improvised musics, all of which tells in the music on this recording.
The twelve tracks range from the driving, percussive sounds of Slip Away, the galvanizing opening piece; through the brooding introspection of Forty Days; and to the timeless, long tones of the title track. Nabatov’s contributions can be forcefully fragmented and dissonant, gently melodic, or skittishly urgent. Hemingway here, as in all his work, shows himself to be a consummate colorist with a refined sense of space. On some of the pieces, he plays tuned percussion, which brings in a fascinating set of pitch and timbre contrasts and resemblances to Nabatov’s piano. Guy’s bass, played conventionally and with extended techniques, rounds out the collective sound with a muscular, often rough-hewn beauty.
Frode Gjerstad / Johnny Mbizo Dyani / John Stevens – Day Two (2019)
This is a slab of studio free jazz recorded in 1982 and – to the best of my knowledge – unreleased until now. The lineup is an incarnation of Gjerstad and Stevens’ Detail Trio, which featured a revolving member on bass. Here, the monstrous South African Johnny Dyani takes on that role to complement the Norwegian Gjerstad on tenor and soprano sax and the British Stevens on drums.
Day Two consists of two 20 minute improvisations that, if anything, showcase Dyani’s singular talent. While Gjerstad and Stevens share a comfortable rapport (they do not play “together” but instead complement each other quite suitably), Dyani is a different animal. At times he goes along with the trio’s flow, and at others he is doing something else entirely. When not providing a few sweeping slides, Dyani’s rapid fingerwork throughout the first track is sharply juxtaposed over Gjerstad’s soloing. This rapid-fire, prickly approach gets a supporting role of sorts from Stevens, though not in a homogenized fashion. Dyani’s ability to generate tension in this setting – sharing the bill with two outstanding improvisers in their prime – is a testament to his abilities. Nonetheless, the recording leaves plenty of room for soloing and expression from all three members.
Not overtly outside, Day Two remains an unconventional statement from an underappreciated trio. Thus, this release is much more than just a curious piece of history.
Bobby Naughton – The Haunt (2019)
For a period of about a decade—from, roughly, the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s—New Haven, Connecticut was home to an exciting creative music community. Some of the principal figures were homegrown, some were from elsewhere, but the meeting of talent produced a cross-fertilization of ideas that resulted in excellent music, some of which was documented and some of which was not. Fortunately, the music on The Haunt, the 1976 recording led by Bobby Naughton, was not only recorded and issued in its time, but has been reissued by the fine No Business Records label as well.
Naughton, a largely self-taught vibraphonist and composer from Boston who lived and worked in New Haven during the 1970s, is joined on The Haunt by trumpeter Leo Smith (before he became Wadada Leo Smith). Smith, like Naughton, was a central figure in the New Haven creative music scene of the time; both worked closely together in small groups and as founders of the Creative Musicians Improvisors Forum, New Haven’s AACM-like artists’ collective. The third voice on the record is that of New York clarinetist Perry Robinson who, sadly, died at the end of last year.
Originally released on Otic, Naughton’s self-run label, the music still sounds astringently fresh and surprising over forty years later. A good part of the reason for this is the unusual instrumentation: clarinet, trumpet, and vibes are supplemented by no rhythm section for maintaining a pulse or even just a bass instrument to ground the harmonies. Consequently, the music tends to have a floating, harmonically open feel to it. The trio has been compared to a chamber ensemble, but even then it’s an extraordinary one. The vibes provide the frame, as would the piano in a chamber trio, but the other two instruments have a more complicated and unorthodox relationship, given the trumpet and clarinet’s similarities of compass and the peculiarities of their timbral interaction. At the upper end of their registers, they can be hard to distinguish; at the lower end, the two voices peel apart, the hollow warmth of the clarinet tempering the trumpet’s strident brassiness. Smith and Robinson both seem to intuit the implications of this dynamic and interlace their lines around each other in order to bring out the subtlest shadings of color; Naughton also is adept at altering the overall timbre of the music by using changes in register to converge on and diverge from the other two instruments. The title track, with its unisons, counterpoint, and alternating leads from all three voices exemplifies the group’s painting with aural colors; a track like Ordette shows Naughton’s mastery at building textural variety with the deft arrangement of solo voices and ensemble passages; Slant demonstrates the timbral possibilities unlocked by harmonized melodies and the simultaneous play of independently improvised lines. The rapport among all three is extraordinary and given full opportunity to unfold within the unhurried tempos and open spaces of Naughton’s compositions.
Sam Rivers – Emanation (1971 / 2019)
It is June 3, 1971, and the Sam Rivers Trio—which in addition to the multi-instrumentalist leader included Cecil McBee on bass and Norman Connors on drums and percussion—is playing Boston’s Jazz Workshop. The trio, which Rivers formed when he was at or near the end of his 1969-1971 tenure with the Cecil Taylor Unit, had played the Jazz Workshop the previous February; excerpts from a recording of that performance found their way onto Rivers’ 1973 album Hues, which for many of us at the time was our introduction to Rivers’ improvised trio music. A later, fuller performance by the trio, recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July, 1973, was released the same year. But here, on the June, 1971 Boston Jazz Workshop recording, we can hear a complete performance by the group at an early stage of their development. And it was an auspicious start indeed.
The two sets captured on Emanations are valuable not only in their own right—the music, as would be expected, is exhilarating—but for what they show of Rivers’ approach to free improvisation in a small-group setting. Both sets, each of which is presented as a single long track, are steered by Rivers’ playing on a succession of instruments—tenor saxophone, flute and piano for the first set, soprano saxophone, flute and piano and voice for the second set—and take on the structure, more-or-less spontaneously arrived at, of a suite, each segment of which is shaped by Rivers’ choice of instrument as well as by ongoing changes of tempo and dynamics. But the suite-like nature of the sets isn’t just a matter of structure: during each section Rivers spins out tautly melodic passages that give the section a distinctive, thematically coherent profile. The music may unfold as a stream of consciousness, but it’s one that’s focused and never loses sight of its own musical logic. It’s a focused logic that carries over to the rhythm section as well. McBee and Connors support the lead line with fast and slow swing rhythms, Afro-Latin grooves and ostinati, or more fluid, meterless playing at the music’s transition points. In addition, McBee’s long solo during the first set adds a dramatic element of timbral and dynamic contrast to the sound of the full trio.
Emanation is the first of a series of No Business Records’ planned releases of music from Rivers’ vast archive. As with the trio’s June, 1971 performance at the Jazz Workshop, it is also an auspicious start.
Gonçalo Almeida / Rodrigo Amado / Marco Franco – The Attic (2017)
If you are looking for top notch free-improv, saxophonist Rodrigo Amado should be your go-to guy. His approach sounds notably different than the typical European or American “free” style, though it can be hard to define exactly why. With his various groups, Amado explores instantaneous compositions, makes occasional use of extended techniques, and tempers discordance with angular clarity. Perhaps it is his expressiveness that sets Amado apart – when listening to his recordings you cannot help but feel that he is playing directly to you.
Recorded live in December 2015, The Attic features Amado on tenor, Gonçalo Almeida on double bass and Marco Franco on drums. The album kicks off with Shadows, featuring three minutes of bowed playing and scraping from Almeida before Amado joins in with high-register, distorted lines. Franco takes more of a background role, working the cymbals while his compatriots play off of one another. Throughout the album, Amado fluidly switches between playing inside and out, providing staccato punctuations and drones. When Franco is on, he is wonderfully busy – not unlike Gabriel Ferrandini, another drummer who frequently works with Amado. Almeida switches fluidly between bowing and plucking, playing the bass as a lead instrument.
Perhaps the most outright exciting track is the finale, Nail, which is a mile-a-minute blowout. In this short burst of energy, Amado and Franco duel for the lead with Almeida maintaining an active rumbling in the background. While a rough Peter Brotzmann comparison could be made, the frantic pace of this track is just one aspect of Amado’s overall approach. Highly recommended.
Max Johnson – The Prisoner (2014)
Max Johnson is a bassist and composer living in New York City. He plays in the avant-garde jazz & bluegrass scenes, and has performed throughout North America and Europe. We interviewed him last January, so feel free to check that out for more information.
On this effort, Johnson teams with New York stalwarts Ingrid Laubrock, Mat Maneri, and Tomas Fujiwara. Despite the jazz leanings of the group, The Prisoner is perhaps best labeled as modern classical music. The interplay between Johnson and Maneri, especially, exhibits the kind of precision and delicacy one would expect from members of a string quartet. At times, the scratchiness and structural looseness of the tracks is reminiscent of Ligeti, Xenakis, or Nono.
For instance, No. 48 Living in Harmony starts with a bowed and plucked viola / bass segment, then Laubrock joins with an sax melody. All of this is backed up by Fujiwara’s busy and disjoint drumming. The sum, however, resembles a composition for three distinct sections: strings, brass and percussion. Thus, the analogy to classical. One track with a jazz feel is X04, which starts with a bass and drum vamp, followed by viola and sax leads. But the majority of the album doesn’t overtly groove or swing.
This is a subtle and understated release. The Prisoner might not blow you away on the first, second, or fifth listen. But if you stick with it, you’ll soon discover its depth and character. A true grower, and one of the better releases of the year so far.