New issue of StN Hits the Newsstands

After a year’s hiatus, Signal to Noise, the journal of improvised and experimental music, has released a print issue (#63 Spring 2012). It’s just hit newsstands and, if you can’t find it at your local bookseller/news vendor, is available via the magazine’s website.

Issue #63 includes a feature written by yours truly: an interview with free jazz saxophonist Tim Berne as well as many other articles and reviews (table of contents below). The hope going forward is that the magazine will publish twice yearly. StN is also maintaining a blog (I’ve been deputized as “blog master”), which you can check for regularly updated exclusive online content.

issue #63 | spring 2012
available 04.15.2012
featuring …
story: chad radford  photos: alexander richter
story: steve jansen  photos: pete gershon
story: christian carey  photos: michael galinsky
story: william gibson
live reviews:
Edgefest in Ann Arbor by Lawrence Cosentino
Suoni Per Il Popolo by Lawrence Joseph
Anthony Braxton in New York by Clifford Allen
reviews of over 150 of the season’s key releases and reissues in CD / DVD / LP / download format

Tonight at Roulette: McPhee and Cyrille

Andrew Cyrille

Tonight at Roulette in Brooklyn, two free jazz icons appear on the Interpretations series. Drummer Andrew Cyrille is joined by guitarist Elliott Sharp and electronics artist Richard Teitelbaum. Meanwhile, saxophonist Joe McPhee’s Trio X, which includes Dominic Duval and Jay Rosen, performs the long form piece Eroc Tinu. A tribute to Cecil Taylor, the work will also feature special guests Steve Dalachinsky, Hilliard Greene, and Roy Campbell.


Joe McPhee Trio X: EROC TINU

Andrew Cyrille, Elliott Sharp, & Richard Teitelbaum

Thursday October 13, 2011
8PM at Roulette, in Downtown Brooklyn!
509 Atlantic Ave (corner of Atlantic and 3rd Ave)

Purchase tickets online at and enter to win one of two copies of Trio X’s new 5-CD set “Live On Tour 2008″ on CIMP Records!

Upcoming Events:
Nov 10:  Ralph Samuelson & Yoko Hiraoka // Jin Hi Kim, Samir Chatterjee & Thomas Buckner
Dec 15, 16: Wadada Leo Smith 70th Birthday Celebration

For more information on Roulette Brooklyn:
509 Atlantic Ave (corner of Atlantic and 3rd Aves in downtown Brooklyn)
2, 3, 4, 5, C, G, D, M, N, R, B & Q trains and the LIRR
General admission: $15 / $10 Roulette Members, Students, Seniors
Tickets can be purchased online:

Ken Thomson (CD review/concert preview)


“It Would be Easier If”

Intuition Records

Composer/alto saxophonist/bass clarinetist Ken Thomson plays with a variety of ensembles, from Asphalt Orchestra to Signal. Other new music luminaries such as Bang on a Can and the American Composers Orchestra have commissioned pieces from him. But his latest recorded outing is with still another group: Slow/Fast. Joined by trumpeter Russ Johnson, guitarist Nir Felder, bassist Adam Armstrong, and drummer Fred Kennedy, Thomson presents five substantial pieces that bring together his two principal spheres of activity: jazz improvisation and contemporary composition.

On “Kleine Helmet,” Thomson (on bass clarinet) and Johnson perform long arcing melodies in octaves over judicious rhythm section activities that allow them considerable space and freedom. The same duo winds configuration takes a foreground role on “G_d D___ You, Ice Cream Truck.” But here, the musicians really cook, with the horns taking up relentless, angular, and often blistering altissimo leads. Correspondingly, the rhythm section adopts a more propulsive role, with Felder’s guitar providing an agitato ostinato counterweight to the busy melodic foreground.

Armstrong and Kennedy get a chance in the spotlight on the freewheeling slow introduction to “No, No, No.” When winds and guitar join them, they craft atmospheric, gradually evolving tone clusters. Further “out” than the CD’s previous cuts, it’s also artfully paced and evocative music-making.

The playfully titled “Wanderangst” brings a more lighthearted ambience to the proceedings. But it’s no less carefully orchestrated. Pitched percussion and a buffo-tinged bass clarinet solo engage in a sparkling colloquy, while the other participants edge their way towards a post-bop jazz palette. Johnson overlays the texture with a supple sostenuto melody, while Armstrong’s bass clarinet encroaches on his turf with dovetailing walking lines. The accumulation of strands is gradual, but the tune’s subtle buildup allows for each performer to have his own space for development. The piece dissolves just as elegantly, gradually fragmenting into a false ending, and then building back up to a stentorian tutti climax.

The CD closes with its title track: “It Would be Easier If.” A ballad, it features sinuous legato lines from Johnson underlaid with sensitive comping from Felder. This is gradually challenged by interruptive flurries from Thomson. The two winds start to cohere into an uneasy duet alliance, their independent melodies gradually morphing into a series of repeated interlocking gestures. The move from modern jazz to minimalism takes still another detour, as the rhythm section steps up and reclaims the music-making for a gentler, more swing-based, conception. The winds and rhythm section once again build to a fulsome climax, creating crashing waves of massed textures followed by a brief denouement; ending the piece in a stylistically hybridized fashion. It’s a fittingly varied statement with which to end this multifaceted yet satisfying recording.


Ken Thomson’s new Quintet “Slow/Fast”, and Lainie Fefferman’s Quartet “Phthia” will close the Fall Season of Music at First on Friday, December 3rd, 2010 at 7:30pm.
This new music series is held at First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, located at 124 Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights.
Tickets are $10 at the door. Contact for more info.
Directions are at

Review: Lawnmower

Clean Feed CD CF178

In the postmodern era, polystylism is all the rage; hyphenations such as jazz-rock, alt-folk, and even indie-classical abound. But the personnel on the Clean Feed recording Lawnmower, guitarists Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton, alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, and drummer Luther Gray have a different take on eclectic music-making. Rather than trying to create a stylistic amalgam, music that melds with two different genres into one synthesized mode of playing, the Lawnmower collective prefers to allow two different musical practices to coexist side by side. Thus the recording isn’t so much a jazz-rock hybrid as two different sets of musicians – folk-rockers Littleton and Farina and avant jazzers Hobbs and Gray – each playing in their own respective musical mother tongues.

While it may at first take some getting used to, the musical results are by no means as disjointed as the concept might at first suggest. After all, just because they aren’t changing their preferred method of playing doesn’t mean that the four participants aren’t still sensitive listeners and improvisers. Thus, Littleon and Farina are able to set up some fascinating arpeggiated drones on “One,” over which Hobbs crafts an angular, angst-laden solo; slinging bent notes in between the cracks of the guitarists equal-tempered perambulations. “Prayer of Death” provides two distinct commentaries on the 16-bar blues structure, with Hobbs eventually dispelling the sense of summit with caterwauling altissimo playing. Gray pushes the rhythmic lilt more overtly towards a palpable sense of swing on “Glass” – the guitarists counter with a more ambient demeanor. Conversely, “Dan” revels in sustained tones from both sides of the equation, with penetrating feedback thrown in for good measure.

Lawnmower thus presents a musical conversation in which the participants all speak different languages; yet they seem to understand each other perfectly. Intriguing stuff; one hopes this isn’t a one-off collaboration.

4D: Matthew Shipp's latest for Thirsty Ear

Matthew Shipp


Thirsty Ear

For a while around the turn of the millennium, avant-jazz pianist Matthew Shipp threatened to stop recording. One could understand why: he’s prolific beyond belief, and one could understand that an artist in the ‘out jazz’ realm might be fearful that an overly compendious catalog might be harmful to sales and recouping recording costs. Happily for those of us who wanted MORE from Matthew, he decided not to stay away from the studio, and has continued to record prolifically.

Shipp has also served as the curator of Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series, an imprint that has served to blur the boundaries of free and neo-trad jazz, and of jazz with other stylistic categories: electronica, hip hop, and even contemporary concert music. On his latest release, 4D, he’s continued in this vein. A solo outing, it presents both Shipp originals and standards. He even tackles venerable chestnuts such as “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Autumn Leaves,” as well as the gospel hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus.”

We don’t have audio from the album that’s cleared for posting yet, but here’s a recent video of Shipp performing solo to whet your appetite for 4D.

Live at the Loft

Lotte Anker, Craig Taborn, and Gerald Cleaver

Live at the Loft


On Live at the Loft, Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker joins two Americans, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver, on a gig recorded in Cologne in 2005. Three long form improvisations (subsequently named via title suggestions from the audience in attendance) demonstrate the artists’ impressive capacity to combine spontaneity with an ear toward structural shaping and motivic coherence.

For example, “Magic Carpet” unifies around the pensive interval of a minor third. Anker’s keening sustained notes unfold into repeated iambic gestures under which Taborn creates a misterioso palette of diminished harmonies. Anker casts a progressively a wider net, registrally speaking, picking up the pace of her angular lines until, spurred by Cleaver’s increasingly overt presence at the kit, they build to a blurting fortissimo. After this first rapturous climax, each player takes a solo in turn, creating a whorl of intricate subsections. But the piece’s angst-filled inception, and its structuring around the minor third, is never entirely forgotten nor, save for Cleaver’s unpitched drum solo, significantly absent. It serves as an idée fixe that brings considerable congruity to these post-tonal proceedings.

 ”Real Solid” isn’t conventionally trad jazz in its outlines; but the piece certainly takes on a more bluesy cast than its predecessor. Anker’s tenor playing here is less penetrating; she darts through artful filigrees, deliberately blurs arpeggios, bends “thirds,” and ghosts notes. While still keeping the harmony on the edge of out, Taborn imparts his own riffs with a tartly postbop flavor, while Cleaver positions conventional fills in unconventionally syncopated parts of the measure. The swinging groove thus created is indeed solid; but the result is anything but commonplace.

At eight minutes, “Berber” is a bit more concise than the other material, but takes some intriguing twists and turns, moving from ad lib-expressionism to more ballad-like signifiers, include comparatively lush piano-sax dovetailing with a sudden flurrying of scales in thirds (!) by Taborn. Once again, the trio is not entirely willing to reach back from their postmodern vantage point to inside the pocket jazz. Given the excitement created by their deft stylistic juxtapositions, who can blame them? Thus, each Neoromantic gesture seems countered by a spate of ambitious avant-jazz barbs, creating a piquant yet fluid music that’s often marvelously wrought.

-Christian Carey  

Van Hove Live

Fred van Hove


Psi Records CD

 Fred Van Hove

Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove is a household name on the European free improvisation scene. His solo concerts are justifiably famous, as this 2007 date recorded live at the Jazz á Mulhouse festival demonstrates.

Divided into two tracks, timed like the album sides of old, Journey is nevertheless best imbibed as a single long-form musical unit. Mozartean flourishes and spicily dissonant turns pirouette across the keyboard as a delightful amuse-bouche before Van Hove slides – the operative word – into the main course: a pitch-blurring tangle of glissandi. These are succeeded by thunderous, rapturous verticals served up in thick walls of sound. The pianist’s Journey thus inhabits both sides of the experimental music fence – classical and jazz – bringing to bear a cultivated technique in passionate explorations: a most satisfying combination.    

Avant jazz writ large

William Parker

Double Sunrise over Neptune

AUM Fidelity


Avant jazz (free jazz/out jazz/ecstatic jazz – pick your flavor) often thrives in lithe groupings; but bassist William Parker has long been known for leading large ensembles in adventurous music-making; noteworthy among them: Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. While not dubbed an orchestra, sixteen musicians premiered Parker’s long form composition Double Sunrise over Neptune at the Vision XII festival, held at the Orensatz Center in New York City in 2007. Portions of this were sonically compromised; the musicians reconvened the next day and rerecorded the work. AUM’s CD compiles the latter performance and the better half of the premiere into a full length album.

Given Parker’s dual gifts – as a rhythm section player and leader – it’s not surprising that the proceedings are groove-centered. Undulating bass-lines and a plethora of percussion instruments lay down a solid foundation, over which a number of NY’s most creative jazzers unleash effusive solos. While there are a number of fine contributions, guitarist Joe Morris and saxophonists Sabir Mateen and Rob Brown are especially thrilling.

Some of the instrumentalist use ethnic instruments such as oud and doson’ngoni, giving the music a globalized flavor. The star of the show is vocalist Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, whose melismatic runs rival the fastest utterances of colleagues’ strings or winds. What’s more, Parker’s compositional organization and direction assure that the piece flows with direction and clarity. Apparently, as long as you have players like these, avant jazz works well writ large!

William Parker - Double Sunrise over Neptune


Free Jazz with all-interval tetrachords

Steve Lantner QuartetGiven – Live in Münster


I’ve long been enamored with pianist Steven Lantner’s playing. His interest in microtones, post-tonal harmony, and injecting swing into a free jazz context put him right up my alley. His current quartet, with saxophonist Allan Chase, bassist Joe Morris, and drummer Luther Gray, contains kindred musical spirits, able to interweave flights of freedom with a disciplined sensibility of interplay.

The second Lantner Quartet CD, Given – Live in Münster, presents a wonderful concert from the 21st International Jazzfest Münster. Like one of my favorite concert music composers, Elliott Carter, Lantner and company currently use the all-interval tetrachord (0146) to circumscribe their harmonic language. This imparts Given with a coherent, piquant sound world amidst its free jazz gestures and open form improvisations.

Chase combines beautiful, floating lines with blustery flurried arpeggiations. Lantner’s soloing has grown as well. He’s masterful at shifting gears; moving from sostenuto chords to postbop swinging lines to Stravinskyian post-tonal fragments on the turn of a dime. Morris and Gray get their solo turns as well, responding with creative, zesty punctuations to the proceedings. Given is a wonderful musical present.

Steve Lantner