The Squid's Ear
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Judson Trio (Leandre / Maneri / Cleaver):
Light And Dance [2 CDs] (RogueArt)

A live recording at Instants Chavire's, in Montreuil, France in 2020, and a studio recording 5 days later in Malakoff, France, in the 2nd album from the Judson Trio of Joelle Leandre on double bass, Mat Maneri on viola, Gerald Cleaver on drums & small percussion, the entwining of viola and bass strings propelled with assertive restraint and accent from Cleaver. ... Click to View


All Set (Laubrock / Payen / Tordini / Rainey):
All Set (RogueArt)

Distinctive for the dual reed front line of French saxophonist Stephane Payen on straight alto sax and New York tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, with the spirited rhythm section of double bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Tom Rainey, formed in 2002 through the collectives HASK and F-IRE, finally realized in recordings with this 2019 studio encounter in Pernes-les-Fontaines, France. ... Click to View


Natural Information Society w/ Evan Parker:
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The first live album from Chicago bassist and guimbri player Joshua Abrams is the 6th Natural Information Society album, captured live in the summer of 2019 at Cafe Oto in London, the core quartet with Lisa Alvarado on harmonium, Mikel Patrick on drums and Jason Stein on bass clarinet joined by UK legend Evan Parker on soprano saxophone for four ecstatic improvisations. ... Click to View


Matthew Shipp / William Parker:
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The kind of conversation only two profoundly accomplished jazz artists such as pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker could have, steeped in the history of the creative form and founded on a long history of collaborations between the two, here in four engaging extended dialogs recorded in the studio Sextan in La Fonderie, Malakoff, France. ... Click to View


Evan Parker:
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A limited edition box set of solo Evan Parker, reissuing the 1986 Incus label box of four previous Incus LPs (Saxophone Solos (1976), The Snake Decides (1986), Monoceros (1978), and Six of One (1982)) plus a cassette of previously unreleased material, here in a beautifully produced box with a booklet by Paul Haines signed by Evan Parker, eacg box hand numbered 000/250. ... Click to View


Big Bad Brotzmann Quintet :
Karacho! (Euphorium)

A superb example of European Free Jazz tradition, modern and amazingly creative, from the quintet of pianist Oliver Schwerdt and reedist Peter Brotzmann performing on tenor sax, tarogato & clarinet, with Christian Lillinger on drums & percussion and dual double bassists in John Edwards and John Eckhardt, performing a 50+ minute free masterpiece at club naTo in Liepzig, 2017. ... Click to View


Susan Alcorn Quintet:
Pedernal [VINYL] (Very Good)

An innovator in integrating pedal steel guitar into modern improvised music, Cleveland-born, Baltimore-based pedal steel guitar player Susan Alcorn's quintet enlists a superb set of New York players--Mark Feldman on violin, Michael Formanek on double bass, Mary Halvorson on guitar, and Ryan Sawyer on drums--taking on a diverse set of Alcorn compositions. ... Click to View


Susan Alcorn / Phillip Greenlief:
Prism Mirror Lens [VINYL] (Very Good)

A beautifully balanced encounter between Baltimore pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn and Bay Area reedist Phillip Greenlief, performing on tenor saxophone & B-flat clarinet, improvising four "colors" as the two span the spectrum from rapid interaction of weaving and pointillistic playing into deeply introspective and ruminating discourse, each the perfect complement for the other. ... Click to View


Fred Frith:
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The first of three sturdy box sets from innovative guitarist, composer and improviser Fred Frith, here with 8 CDs from the Recommended Records label plus a bonus CD, a thick booklet of artwork, photographs & extensive notes from Frith; albums included are Guitar Solos, Gravity, Cheap at Half the Price, Killing Time, Impur , Middle of the Moment, Keep the Dog; Dropera. ... Click to View


Fred Frith:
Crossing Borders (Volume 2 Of The Fred Records Story, 2001-2020) [BOX SET] (Recommended Records)

The second of three sturdy box sets from innovative guitarist, composer and improviser Fred Frith, here with 8 CDs from the Recommended Records label plus a bonus CD, a thick booklet of artwork, photographs & extensive notes from Frith; albums included are Live in Japan, Speechless, Prints, Step Across the Border, Impur 2, Art of Memory II, Skeleton Crew, Helter Skelter. ... Click to View


Fred Frith:
Stepping Out (Volume 3 Of The Fred Records Story, 2001-2020) [BOX SET] (Recommended Records)

The third of three sturdy box sets from innovative guitarist, composer and improviser Fred Frith, here with 8 CDs from the Recommended Records label plus a bonus CD, a thick booklet of artwork, photographs & extensive notes from Frith; albums included are Technology of Tears, Propaganda, Allies, Accidental, The Previous Evening, Happy End Problem, Nowhere, Sideshow, Field Days; Inimitable (previously unreleased). ... Click to View


Roy Campbell / John Dikeman / Raoul van der Weide / Peter Jacquemyn / Klaus Kugel:
When The Time Is Right (577 Records)

Performing at Bimhuis in 2013, the trans-Atlantic quintet of Roy Campbell on trumpet, flugelhorn & flute, John Dikeman on saxophone, Raoul van der Weide on cello & percussion, Peter Jacquemyn on bass & voice and Klaus Kugel on drums, perform an extended, energetic and dynamic set of free improvisation, with intricate melodies and beautifully rich transitions. ... Click to View


Elliott Sharp:
IrRational Music [BOOK] (TerraNova Press)

An insightful look at the history of New York composer, saxophonist and guitarist Elliott Sharp, "Sixteen Pieces in the Shape of a Memoir" as Sharp looks back at his musical influences and approach to playing and composing, with observations on music, art, politics and technology, a fascinating set of essays from a vanguard artist's point of view. ... Click to View


Charles Noyes K. :
Crimes In High Places, Part 1 (zOaR Records)

Known as a percussionist, Bay Area improviser Charles K. Noyes' first part of his Crimes In High Places is performed on electric & resonator guitars plus amplified guqin, expanding on the innovations of Derek Bailey in free-form non-idiomatic playing as he works to create a personal language on the instrument, presenting a dark and creatively foreboding vision. ... Click to View


Gerald Cleaver / Devin Gray:
27 Licks (Rataplan Records)

Drummer Gerald Cleaver's significance in NY free jazz can't be understated, and his influence and work with younger generation drummer Devin Gray as a teacher, friend and associate has shaped Gray's work, as heard here in this monumental encounter between the two drummers, a duet that started many years before, playing in the streets of NYC, and now properly captured in the studio. ... Click to View


Devin Gray / Ralph Alessi / Angelica Sanchez:
Melt all the Guns (Rataplan Records)

Recorded in the fall of 2019 as a statement to help expand awareness and work for a future free from gun violence, composed in response to several gun violence incidents, performed at Douglass Recording in Brooklyn with the trio of Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Angelica Sanchez on piano, and Devin Gray on drums and providing the compositions, each title expressing his concern. ... Click to View


Devin Gray / Ingrid Laubrock / Cory Smythe :
Cloudsounds Trio (Rataplan Records)

NY drummer Devin Gray provides the compositions for this EP with his Cloudsounds trio of Ingrid Laubrock performing on tenor and soprano saxophones and Corey Smythe on piano, the sophisticated structures leading the improvisers into almost chamber jazz territory, with a light playfulness and warm interaction, Gray's intriguing rhythms shifting and propelling their music. ... Click to View


The Selva + Machinefabriek (Jacinto / Almeida / Morao + Zuydervelt):
Barbatrama (Shhpuma)

The Selva trio of Ricardo Jacinto on cello, Goncalo Almeida on double bass and Nuno Morao on drums join with Rutger Zuydervelt of Machinefabriek who adds unique electroacoustic transformations to their fusion of free improvisation and hydrid world elements, resulting in this wonderfully dark venture inside a virtual jungle of contrasting darkness and refined acoustic beauty. ... Click to View


Giovanni Di Domenico :
Decay Music n. 4: Downtown Ethnic Music [VINYL] (Die Schachtel)

The fourth release in Die Schachtel's Decay Music series is Italian composer Giovanni Di Domenico's Downtown Ethnic Music, a tapestry of synthetic and acoustic sources in a 4th world/Jon Hassell mode, with rhythms from drummer João Lobo, vocals by Pak Yan Lau and Patshiva CIE women choir, the horns of Ananta Roosens and Jordi Grognard; a gorgeous album of detailed ambience and atmosphere. ... Click to View


Adrian Knight:
Fly By Night [2 CDs] (thanatosis produktion)

A "travelogue" of Swedish composer and songwriter Adrian Knight's guitar explorations, works originally released on his digital-only and now dormant label Pink Pamphlet, drawing from work recorded in his home studio that developed from sketches and experimentation, along with new recordings including one with saxophonist David Lackner; beautifully moody and elegant music. ... Click to View


J/L Duo + Adrian Knight and Frew Elfineh Taha:
Ismalfa [VINYL] (thanatosis produktion)

A cohesive suite in eight parts on dynamics, tone and vocal narration in acoustic jazz from the joining of the 20+ year Swedish duo project J/L Duo of saxophonist Johan Jutterstrom and drummer/percussionist Andreas Hiroui Larsson, Brooklyn-based pianist Adrian Knight and vocalist/lyricist Frew Elfineh Taha (also known under the moniker Black Fist). ... Click to View


Marta Forsberg:
TKAĆ [VINYL] (thanatosis produktion)

Tkać means to weave, as Swedish electroacoustic sound artist Marta Forsberg interwines drones, first through a work of sound and light using frozen and processed violin sounds that slowly shift in minimal repetition; then in a synthetic work exploring darkness, light and colour by means of LED light, fabric, sequins, and minimalistic drone-based electronic music. ... Click to View


OTONN :
Two Crumbling Shapes [CASSETTE + DOWNLOAD] (esc.rec.)

The electroacoustic duo of singer Andrea Silvia Giordano and drummer Nicholas Remondino, working with Pierre Bastien, E-cor Ensemble, Gianluca Verlingieri, Maria Dybbroe and Torstein Lavik Larsen, create uniquely motioned works of decay, deconstruction and destruction, percussion and voice weaving amid unusual sonic sources both abstract and rhythmic. ... Click to View


Yoshio Machida / Cal Lyall:
Premeditation [VINYL 2 10-inch records] (By the Bluest of Seas)

Both members of the Tokyo band SuperDeluxe, drummer Yoshio Mashida performing on steelpan, gamelan and metal-slit drums, and 5-string banjo player Cal Lyall, performing largely on a tabletop guitar setup augmented with electronics, have developed a lovely and relaxed, compelling language of improvisational forms using structural ideas-based on minimal scalar patterns. ... Click to View


Fred Frith:
Stone, Brick, Glass, Wood, Wire (Graphic Scores 1986-96)(2CDs) (Angelica)

RESTOCKED: Fred Frith's 1999 box set, presenting a large, flexible ensemble project using marked photographs and rules as scores while Frith directs and conducts as well as performing; permanent members are Ikue Mori and Zeena Parkins, otherwise the balance of the 44 strong ensemble changes; recordings here are taken from 5 concerts, including the first in 1992 at AngelicA. ... Click to View


Robbie Avenaim / Chris Abrahams / Jim Denley:
Weft (Relative Pitch)

The Australian trio of percussionist Robbie Avenaim, keyboard player Chris Abrahams performing on a Waldorf Q+ Synthesiser and bass flutist Jim Denley, all compatriots in a variety of groupings, in an extended studio improvisation of spacious textures and rapidly understated percussive elements, aptly titled for the weaving and cris-crossing threads on a loom. ... Click to View


Sergio Armaroli / Fritz Hauser:
Angelica (Leo Records)

Performed at the Angelica Contemporary Music Festival in Bologna, Italy in 2019 and recorded with superb fidelity, drummer/percussionist Fritz Hauser joined with xylophonist Sergio Armaroli for an enthralling performance that balances chamber jazz forms with fully free exploration, avant yet embraceable as two interact in exquisite and authoritatively unhurried ways. ... Click to View


John Brennan Wolf:
Nitty Gritty Ditties (Leo Records)

33 songs & instrumentals in 74 minutes performed by Dublin composer, performer, improvisor, pianist and organist John Wolf Brennan, covering an eclectic and vast cross-section of styles and genres, from composers including Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones, Lars Hollmer, Tom Waits, Cornelius Cardew, Bela Bartok, Paul McCartney, John McLaughlin, &c. ... Click to View


Kontrabassduo Studer-Frey:
Zip (Leo Records)

Naming each track for the teeth of a different type of zip-fastener (curved, triangular, saggitate, &c) Swiss double bassists Daniel Studer and Peter K. Frey improvise a fascinating set of interlocking and intersecting abstractions, recorded live at at Kronen Galerie, in Zurich as the two celebrated their 20th anniversary as a duo through a series of 10 half-hour concerts. ... Click to View


Christer Bothen :
Ambrosia [3 CD BOX SET] (thanatosis produktion)

Swedish contrabass clarinetist Christ Bothen in six extended works, the first and third disks a series of solo works using incredible technique and concentration, the 2nd disc a large work in an ensemble with fellow deep reedists Hans Koch & Per Texas Johansson, double bassist Vilhelm Bromander, pianists Kristine Scholz & Tisha Mukarji, and a spectral narrative from Sofia Jernberg. ... Click to View



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  Susie's Aria  

Drummer Susie Ibarra Premieres her First Opera


By Steve Smith
Photos by Kurt Gottschalk 2003-06-20

Susie Ibarra Ever since Susie Ibarra burst onto the international jazz scene in the early 1990s, the versatile young percussionist and composer has made it eminently clear that there is no boundary to her artistic vision, nor any assumption she was content to leave unchallenged. As a member of groups led by David S. Ware, William Parker and Matthew Shipp, Ibarra held her own among decidedly heavyweight company in a field still largely dominated by male performers. The ferocious energy and sinuous grace of her drumming cast aside any considerations of gender, as she quickly became a much-demanded collaborator for such leading maverick artists as Derek Bailey, John Zorn and Pauline Oliveros.

Ibarra stepped out on her own as a bandleader in 1999, asserting her growing confidence as a composer. Her fresh, original musical voice bears the influence of jazz, blues, contemporary composition, gamelan and the traditional music of her Philippine heritage. That voice has been manifested in a chamber music-influenced trio, a fiery mainstream jazz quartet and the hypnotically grooving Electric Kulintang project. At the same time, Ibarra has also been active in the free-improv trio Mephista, alongside pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and electronics performer Ikue Mori.

For most performers, the furious pace at which Ibarra's calendar fills up would prove more than sufficient. But for the last year, she was also hard at work on a project that any composer might find daunting, and one that most jazz-related artists would never consider tackling in the course of a career: The 32-year-old composer has just completed her first opera.

Based on a libretto by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, Shangri-La received its world premiere on June 14 at the Mill Hill Playhouse in Trenton, New Jersey, produced by Passage Theater Company. Despite its bucolic title, Shangri-La is a challenging work, taking as its subject matter three Western businessmen drawn into the sex trade in Thailand, and their inability to escape the situation in which they find themselves.

The two-hour chamber opera featured a nine-member cast with a traditional Thai vocalist, two sopranos, one mezzo-soprano, two tenors, a baritone and a bass-baritone. Noted composer Tania Leon led an ensemble that included regular Ibarra collaborators Craig Taborn on piano, Trevor Dunn on bass and Roberto J. Rodriguez on percussion, alongside flutist Thea Reynolds, violinists Meg Okura and Joyce Hammon, violist Carol Cook and cellist Egil Rostad. Ibarra herself did not perform in the piece, for which she supplied a through-composed score that still provides for a degree of improvisatory freedom from the soloists.

Perhaps the most obvious question is why Ibarra would be interested in composing an opera at all. Blame it on her youth: Opera played an important role in Ibarra's childhood. "My mother took me to the opera when I was a kid," she said, her voice animated by a breathless ebullience that colors a conversation generously punctuated by laughter. "She had season tickets. My father's not an opera fan, and my brothers and sisters didn't want to go. I was the youngest, so I would be the one going with her."

For Ibarra, who grew up in Seabrook, Texas, a small town located between Houston and Galveston, this meant seeing first-class performances at Houston Grand Opera, one of the nation's most renowned and ambitious companies. "I grew up seeing incredible productions at Houston Grand Opera. In a way, this project takes me back to my childhood, because I have all these memories of different classical operas."

It was partially that childhood familiarity that led Ibarra to sign onto the current project when Komunyakaa, who conceived Shangri-La, proposed it to her. A Trenton resident and Princeton University professor, Komunyakaa is widely revered for his rhythmic, almost reportorial style. Many of his works have touched on musical themes; one, the epic-length Testimony, based on the life and art of Charlie Parker, was adapted as an opera by Australian jazz composer and saxophonist Sandy Evans for broadcast by the Australian Radio Company in 1999, and staged by the Melbourne Festival at the Sydney Opera House in January of this year.

Ibarra first met Komunyakaa in 1997, and felt an immediate affinity with the Louisiana-born poet. She accompanied him in several readings, and played behind him on Herido, a vibrant, bluesy session Komunyakaa co-led with Dallas-based trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez, which was issued by 8th Harmonic Breakdown in 2001. Despite her youthful passion for mainstream operatic lore, however, what attracted Ibarra most to Komunyakaa's project was its thoroughly contemporary subject matter - a refreshing anomaly in a contemporary opera scene still predominately mired in the reheated verismo of recent pieces like Therese Raquin, Little Women and A View from the Bridge.

"Yusef originally had the idea [for the opera] from a magazine article he came upon," Ibarra said. "It mentioned how British and European businessmen were going over to Thailand on sex tours, and how they were committing suicide and never coming back. It's set in Bangkok, but it touches on things that happen in a lot of countries, not just Southeast Asia. This stuff goes on in Cuba, it goes on in Eastern Europe, it happens pretty much everywhere. It's a story about paradise and hell-and how paradise can turn into hell-and it also touches on the AIDS epidemic, which is out of control in the sex trade."

The main character in Shangri-La is John Wong, "a Chinese-American metaphysical detective from San Francisco who is hired to go to Bangkok to investigate an embezzlement scheme," according to Ibarra. The three western businessman are Paul, a middle-aged African-American Vietnam veteran, Eddie, a troubled younger man, and David, the sleazy drug smuggler who is actually guilty of the crime Wong is investigating. Alee is a waitress who has a sideline in translating letters into English. Other characters include three women, Noe, Mana and Pidang, and the Barker, who runs the club. The cast may be unconventional, but the drama that results from their intersection is certainly operatic in scope.

"As musicians, we live with music and sound," Ibarra said. "We write songs, not characters. But writers live with these characters. So I've been living with these characters, and it's been really cool to experience that. Living with these characters for such a long time, they become real, like they're right behind you. It really is fun."

Though it may initially seem far-fetched to imagine an opera written by an avant-garde jazz drummer, for anyone who knows Ibarra's own recordings, it doesn't take a giant leap of imagination to understand why Komunyakaa sensed that she might be up to the challenge. Much of the music she has composed for her trio - particularly the current lineup that features Taborn and violinist Jennifer Choi - combines the rigor and transparency of chamber music with an unmistakable sense of narrative drama.

Increasingly recognized for her work as a composer, Ibarra was recently commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution to compose Lakbay, an extended suite for her trio that was premiered in December at the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC, in conjunction with an exhibition of photography by Filipino American artist Ricardo Alvarado. Ibarra has been tapped to write two new works for the Kronos Quartet (she will also perform in one of them), and she is also scoring two forthcoming documentariesby Chinese filmmaker Yan Jin.

Still, while Ibarra is not the first jazz composer to take a crack at opera,there have been few predecessors to whom she could turn for inspiration. The best known, of course, is pianist Anthony Davis, whose first opera, X, based on the life of Malcolm X, was produced to widespread acclaim in Philadelphia and New York in 1986. (It's notable, perhaps, that Davis-like his fellow improvisor Ibarra-was drawn to a contemporary subject for operatic treatment.) Davis has since composed three further operas: Under the Double Moon, a science fiction work; Tania, based on the kidnapping of Patty Hearst; and Amistad, detailing the historic slave-ship revolt and subsequent trial.

Other jazz composers have turned to more archetypal allegories for their operatic subjects, such as Leroy Jenkins's Mother of Three Sons, successfully staged by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company at Houston Grand Opera and elsewhere, and Anthony Braxton's Trillium R: Shala Fears for the Poor, critically lambasted after its New York premiere. Julius Hemphill employed a still more idiosyncratic approach in his Long Tongues: A Saxophone Opera, abstaining from using singers altogether. The one thing that unites all of these disparate works, unfortunately, is that none has found a place in the standard repertoire and only three (X, Tania, Trillium R) have been recorded, making it nearly impossible for a young artist like Ibarra to hear and learn from them.

Instead, Ibarra immersed herself in contemporary opera scores and recordings. She cites György Ligeti's dark, surreal Le Grande Macabre as a particular favorite, owing in part to its near-improvisatory freedom of expression. Ibarra admits to having been a bit overwhelmed initially by the notion of composing a work of such scale, particularly in light of her own daunting schedule. "I was intimidated by the fact that it could be quite long!" she said. "To me, time was of the essence. But you just have to break it down, and you just do it-like anything, you just begin.The libretto was written pretty quickly, and I find Yusef's words very musical, so it was really easy for me to write with them."

When she finally began to compose Shangri-La in earnest, the music that poured forth reflected her own personality and that of her collaborator, rather than slavishly imitating any particular past master. "Whatever you do, it's going to sound like you," Ibarra says. "There's an influence of Thai music, both traditional percussion and the classical court style. There's some gong music. And there's definitely a blues influence, because I feel that Yusef's writing is so heavily influenced by the blues. It's really kind of an interpretation of his words."

Given the difficulties and expense involved in mounting operatic productions, it's far too soon to tell what the ultimate fate of Shangri-La will be. Ibarra's prognosis is upbeat, however; Passage Theatre hopes to mount a full-scale production of the work, and presenters in New York City and elsewhere have indicated their interest. Meanwhile, emboldened by the experience of creating the work, Ibarra eagerly envisions an ongoing working relationship with Komunyakaa.

"In an age of specialization, people just concentrate in their own medium," she says. "It used to be that artists were collaborating all the time. We've developed this great collaboration, and we have a lot of other ideas. We work well in this medium, and we get the chance to talk about a lot of important things that I think need to be talked about."



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