AMN Reviews: Lina Allemano Titanium Riot – Squish It! (2017; Lumo Records)

Toronto-based trumpeter Lina Allemano can be so understated at times that it takes multiple listens to unwind just what she is doing in both a compositional and a performance sense. And perhaps that is the appeal of this album, a companion her other band’s recent effort Sometimes Y (review). The overlap between the groups only consists of Allemano herself and drummer Nick Fraser. Accompanying them is Rob Clutton on bass and Ryan Driver’s analog synth. Thus, on Squish It!, her Titanium Riot features a degree of non-traditional instrumentation (the synth) for what is ostensibly a modern jazz recording. And let’s be clear that “modern” means, outside, creative jazz, not unlike what is coming out of the corresponding New York, Chicago, and Southern California scenes.

Allemano’s subtlety is in play on Squish It Now, a 10-minute piece with a long, unstructured interlude that waivers on the edge of perception. Similarly, Squish It Nicely delivers an atmospheric, free-improv in a busy, but low-volume manner that eventually builds to a punctuated crescendo. Squish It Forever covers corresponding ground but adds a degree of tension as well. In sharp contrast, the album also features its share of aggressive rhythms with Allemano and Driver not so much providing melodies as textures.

In particular, Allemano’s breathy playing combined with Driver’s unusual synth-work (think non-stop effects rather than discernable patterns) make Squish It! a compelling release. This is a group that has a lot to say but doesn’t have to raise their voices to make a statement. The result is a thoughtful and introspective album – a thinking person’s counterpoint to the demands of a busy world.


AMN Reviews: Mary Halvorson Quartet – Paimon: The Book Of Angels Volume 32

John Zorn’s Book of Angels consists of 300 pieces and has been released on 32 albums over the last 12 years. This offering is supposed to be the final of the series, featuring the last 10 unrecorded compositions. Aside from its status as a conclusion of sorts, Paimon is also of note for Zorn’s choice of performers: guitarist Mary Halvorson with her longtime collaborator Tomas Fujiwara on drums, veteran Drew Gress on bass, and another well-respected guitarist, Miles Okazaki.

The juxtaposition of Zorn’s klezmer-based circular melodies and Middle-Eastern twang with Halvorson’s note bending is the highlight of the album. Zorn’s writing develops the main themes of each piece, but Halvorson and the group work within these loose confines, not afraid to step out from time to time. In particular, Halvorson and Okazaki engage in an interplay, whether doubling one another’s lines, trading off lead and rhythm roles, or ripping through contrapuntal motifs. They focus on acoustic and un-distorted electric gear, given the album a lightness that belies its dense structure. Gress and Fujiwara both contribute in their well-established and understated manners. Fujiwara in particular fits in so well that he is easy to ignore, though once you pay close attention to his playing, you will realize how much he carries the album’s twisted rhythms.

Paimon covers a breadth of space while maintaining a consistent feel and approach. It is neither truly klezmer nor jazz. While steeped in traditional styles, it is not a conservative album. Halvorson and company tease going outside, but never approach actual free improvisation. The album is an exercise in the familiar and the strange, and for that reason alone it is more than worth your time.

AMN Reviews: Patrick Shiroishi – Tulean Dispatch (2017; Mondoj)

Saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi wrote and recorded Tulean Dispatch in the weeks leading up to last Fall’s U.S. election. This solo recording is his response to increasing reports of hate crimes, filtered through the lens of someone whose parents were held in concentration camps.

Consisting of four tracks totaling just over 30 minutes, the album incorporates drones, frenetic playing, and various points in between. Shiroishi’s use of subtle reverb (perhaps due to the room in which the album was recorded) provides a degree of darkness, and his timbre exquisitely contributes to the feel of each track.

The dominant emotions evoked by Tulean Dispatch are anger and passion. The Screams of the Father is a five-and-a-half minute piece that starts with a discordant blast and rarely deviates far from that origin point. Form and Void, on the other hand, begins with a deliberately-paced series of long-held notes and droning themes. Shiroishi works these for several minutes to a crescendo, and then releases the tension. The latter two-thirds of the track builds up to plaintive wails and grinding blasts, an emotive shaking of one’s fist at the sky. The album ends with The Flowers and Candles are Here to Protect Us, a short, melancholy piece that provides a degree of resignation, acceptance, or perhaps a just calm conclusion as Shiroishi comes to terms with his frustration.

Even when not viewed as a protest album, Tulean Dispatch is a singular release that takes solo sax in a number of interesting new directions. But knowledge of the conceptual origins of Shiroishi’s efforts adds further layers to the understanding of his iconoclastic endeavors. Highly recommended.

AMN Reviews: Kyle Motl Trio w/ Kjell Nordeson & Tobin Chodos – Panjandrums [metatrope-006]

The piano trio has evolved in many different ways since the classic Bill Evans Trio, with bassist Scott LaFaro, introduced the format to a looser, more polyphonic sound. The Kyle Motl Trio, which in addition to the bassist includes pianist Tobin Chodos and percussionist Kjell Nordeson, pushes the piano trio further into territory notable for the independence of its voices and its harmonic complexity.

The music on Panjandrums isn’t made out of conventional melodies and harmonies—far from it—but nevertheless it artfully conveys a range of moods and states of mind: restlessness, exuberance, introspection, capriciousness. Architecturally, each of the group’s three constituent parts is an interlocked piece in a tightly integrated whole. Bass and piano are distinctive but complementary voices carrying convoluted, often dense and rapid lines with, through and against each other. The drums set out a free pulse subdividing time and parceling it out into sequences of irregular but balanced and compact quanta. The closes the trio come to a conventional jazz trio piece is xOr, where the piano clearly takes the lead over a regular meter and a bass laying down a discernible harmonic foundation, complete with the simulacrum of a walking line. This is meticulously constructed music well-served by a crisp and finely balanced recording.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Schnellertollermeier – Rights (2017; Cuneiform Records)

This power trio’s odd name is derived from those of its constituents, bassist Andi Schnellmann, guitarist Manuel Troller, and drummer David Meier. Rights is the follow-up to their 2015 release, X (review). While the group’s basic approach has not changed – instrumental math rock with interlocking rhythms and a slight twinge of psychedelia. This 40-minute album is to the point. Its underlying structure is based on repetitions and variations on a handful of relatively simple yet layered themes. Not unlike late-era offerings from labelmates Present, Schnellertollermeier takes these building blocks and crafts skyscrapers of cinematic sound and texture. The outcome can be thought of a mix of Godspeed You Black Emperor with 80’s King Crimson. Or a Euro-take on Zevious and Ahleuchatistas. Troller’s use of harmonic-laden melodies, in particular, is reminiscent of the latter. A strong release.

AMN Reviews: Lina Allemano Four – Sometimes Y (2017; Lumo Records)

The trumpet is making a comeback as a lead instrument of choice in left-of-center music. Wadada Leo Smith, Nate Wooley, Daniel Rosenboom, Jaimie Branch, Stephen Haynes, and many others have released excellent material over the last decade, if not in the last several months. Canadian Lina Allemano is no newcomer – she has quietly put out a cadre of recordings going back 15 years. With Sometimes Y coming out next month as one half of a two-CD release respectively featuring each of Allemano’s bands, you can expect her profile to increase. Simply put, the music is just that good.

The Lina Allemano Four has its origins in the early 2000’s and has had a static lineup for over 10 years. Joining Allemano is Brodie West on alto sax, Andrew Downing on bass, and Nick Fraser on drums. Sometimes Y is a cohesive and well-organized romp through disjointed timings, shifting rhythms, and scattershot themes. They come together and pull apart, generating an unpredictable tension. Still, the group manages to pull off flurries of free improvisation without sounding overtly outside.

Of particular note is the interplay between Allemano and West, consisting of staccato pulses, atmospheric harmonies, and distorted but airy phrasings. Their elastic cohesion stretches between tightly-played leads to disparate individual warblings. Downing provides a bed of sound rather than rhythm per se, employing both bowed and picked playing. Fraser’s work is similarly understated and frequently devoid of a traditional beat.

Perhaps because they have been together so long, this quartet has an exquisite feel for space and timing. They don’t need to play loudly or rapidly to grab the listener’s attention. The downtempo pieces are overflowing with ideas, flourishes, and unusual directions. Sometimes Y is a stellar effort – there is much to like here no matter where one falls on the jazz / creative music spectrum.

AMN Reviews: Tomas Fujiwara – Triple Double (2017; Firehouse 12 Records)

There is something about jazz double trios – the opportunity for rhythmic intricacy can make these recordings dense and exciting listens. Drummer Fujiwara is no stranger to the lineup, as he also participated in the aptly titled The Double Trio from Stephen Haynes and Taylor Ho Bynum in 2008. Triple Double, which will be released on October 20, features half of that album’s lineup with Bynum and Mary Halvorson joining Fujiwara on cornet and guitar respectively, as well as Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Brandon Seabrook on guitar, and Gerald Cleaver rounding the group out on drums. The dual-guitar attack of Halvorson and Seabrook has appeared before – on Jacob Garchik’s Ye Olde, as well as live duet performances and (perhaps in a more subdued fashion) with Anthony Braxton. Here, Seabrook’s speed picking and riffing complement Halvorson’s clean, yet twangy offerings. Clearly, the possibilities for such a group are virtually boundless.

On Diving for Quarters, the opening track, the two guitarists kick things off with a twisted, percussive duet before rest of the group joins in for a deliberately-paced outside theme. Bynum and Alessi alternatively wail and employ extended techniques, providing a melody buried deep with their own accents and those of the rest of the group. Fujiwara and Cleaver are an interesting combination, with both playing as if he were the only drummer. Rather than exchanging rhythm and lead roles, the two simultaneously provide their own rhythms with ample fills and improvised structures generating walls of percussion. To that point, they end Diving for Quarters with a duet that is challenging to follow, a little overwhelming, yet satisfying.

Blueberry Eyes follows with opaque layers of rhythm and noise on top of disparate and disjointed melodies. Subsets of four or five members combine and fall apart. But when all six come together, a barely organized chaos ensues. Pocket Pass features some crazed guitar histrionics from Halvorson and Seabrook, and a deceptively catchy lead from Bynum and Alessi. Love and Protest provides a brilliant non-stop racket in which is seems as if no one plays what is expected for the track’s entire seven and a half minutes. Decisive Shadow entails power chords and horn staccatos that would make Nick Didkovsky’s Dr. Nerve wince.

Much more could be written about Triple Double. Fujiwara and company go beyond the “sum of their parts” cliche. The group is in full attack mode early on, letting up only for note-bending interludes. With a heavy emphasis on guitar effects and atmospherics, as well as busy drumming, they build a dense tension that is rarely released. The result is so percussive that I can still feel the reverberations in my chest after the album is over. Can’t imagine what this would be like live. Highly recommended.