Tiny Reviews: Tiptons Sax Quartet, Alien Ensemble, and Torbjörn Ömalm & Saajo

July 30, 2014

Tiny Reviews edition!

Featuring:  Tiptons Sax Quartet & Drums Tiny Lower Case, Alien Ensemble Alien Ensemble, and Torbjörn Ömalm & Saajo Tih.



The Tiptons Sax Quartet & Drums – Tiny Lower Case

Tiptons Sax Quartet - "Tiny Lower Case"There is a warmth and exuberance to Tiny Lower Case that is strongly reminiscent of traditional New Orleans jazz.  And while that’s not the style of the Tiptons Sax Quartet, their mix of Romanian, Klezmer, Soul, Jazz (and more) reflect the odd soup of influences that contributed to jazz in its earliest New Orleans forms.  Music that is catchy without ever getting saccharine, heart-on-the-sleeve evocative without ever becoming superficial.  Thick grooves are augmented by wildly careening solos, harmonies bolstered by tempos that bounce with life.  And capital-F fun.  Most especially fun.

Your album personnel:  Amy Denio (alto sax, clarinet, voice), Jessica Lurie (alto & tenor saxes, voice), Sue Orfield (tenor sax, voice), Tina Richerson (baritone sax, voice), Robert Kainar (drums, percussion), and guest: Peppe Voltarelli (vocals).

The album is Self-Produced.

Available at:  eMusic | Bandcamp | CDBaby | Amazon: CDMP3



Alien Ensemble – Alien Ensemble

Alien Ensemble - "Alien Ensemble"The Alien Ensemble, an acoustic project from a member of electronica act Notwist, falls into territory originally scoped out by Todd Sickafoose’s Tiny Resistors… a place where modern jazz blends in neatly with indie-pop, chamber, post-rock, minimalism, folk, and really any other influence from any other genre that seems to fit at the time.  Arguably, that kind of thing isn’t really Jazz anymore, but new things are tough to categorize, more often defined by what they aren’t than what they are.  That’s this, here.  Their self-titled album Alien Ensemble is a mesmerizing blend of influences that presents a cohesive sound very easy to connect with.  Fans of Todd Sickafoose, the Ocular Concern, and Matt Ulery’s Loom should be paying attention here.

Your album personnel:  Micha Archer (trumpet, Indian harmonium), Karl-Ivar Refseth (vibes), Andi Haberl (drums), Mathias Gotz (trombone, harmonium), Stefan Schreiber (bass clarinet, sax), Olivier Roth (alto flute), and Benni Schafer (bass).

Released on Alien Transistor.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon: CDMP3Vinyl



Torbjörn Ömalm & Saajo – Tih

Torbjorn Omalm & Saajo - "Tih"Relaxing trio album from guitarist Torbjörn Ömalm, who also doubles on kantele.  Elements of jazz are fused with elements of Lapland, Swedish folk, and instead of some blend of influences, the songs sound like the genres are in a perpetual struggle over which will be the dominant force.  It lends peaceful music a very subtle, and very different, kind of tension.

Your album personnel:  Torbjörn Ömalm (guitar, kantele), Bo Söderberg (drums, percussion), Robert Erlandsson (upright bass), and guest: Henrik Rytiniemi (vocals).

Released on the F-IRE Collective.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon: CDMP3



Some of these Tiny Reviews were used originally in the weekly new jazz releases column I write for eMusic, so here’s some language protecting their rights to the reprinted material as the one to hire me to write about new jazz arrivals to their site…

New Arrivals Jazz Picks,” “New Arrivals Jazz Picks” & “New Arrivals Jazz Picks,“ reprints courtesy of eMusic.com, Inc.
© 2014  eMusic.com, Inc.

As always, my sincere thanks to eMusic for the gig.

Angles 9 – “Injuries”

July 29, 2014


Angles 9 - "Injuries"Saxophonist Martin Küchen keeps adding members to his Angles ensemble, and the music keeps getting better.  For those keeping score at home, the new release Injuries has the count at Angles 9, and, unsurprisingly, the music keeps getting more buoyant, more textured, and more fun.  The comparison often made is Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and that’s not an unfair parallel to draw, but where Haden’s outfit planted its roots in protest music, Kuchen’s outbursts are more celebratory in nature.

This is music that explodes with life and barely holds together at the seams.  “European Boogie” opens the album, with a Stahl intro on vibes that sees the ensemble launching into a catchy groove with a heavy foot and a light bounce.  “Ubabba” charts a similar course, except that where the ensemble still rides a catchy groove, it’s their partnership in harmony that carries the day.

This is music that tells a story, but with many voices at once and rarely in unison.  “Eti” and title-track “Injuries” both posses that euphoric excitement and energy of a roomful of people all celebrating the same thing in different conversational tones and tenors, sometimes at a murmur, sometimes with a roar.  In particular, the 22-minute epic “A Desert on Fire, A Forest / I’ve Been Lied To” runs through a series of chapters, each with their own plot twist.

But no matter what the story is or how it’s told, this music is supremely fun and wildly expressive, and the kind of joyful listening experience often hoped for, but not often received.  An outstanding album, and one of 2014′s best so far.

Your video personnel:  Martin Küchen (alto sax), Magnus Broo (trumpet), Eirik Hegdal (baritone & sopranino saxes), Mats Äleklint (trombone), Johan Berthling (double bass), Alexander Zethson (piano), Mattias Ståhl (vibraphone), Andreas Werliin (drums, percussion), and Goran Kajfeš (trumpet).

Angles 9 is comprised of a strong cast of musicians who’ve received plenty of other attention on this site and via my eMusic/Wondering Sound Jazz Picks columns.  Personally, I’d start with Goran Kajfes, who hasn’t yet put out a recording that didn’t float my boat.  Some serious fun there.

Released on Clean Feed Records.

Jazz from Sweden.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3

Or purchase directly from Clean Feed Records.  I believe I’ve seen several posts on the AllAboutJazz forum indicating they’d had successful retail experiences with the Clean Feed site.


Some of this review was used originally in the weekly new jazz releases column I write for eMusic, so here’s some language protecting their rights to the reprinted material as the one to hire me to write about new jazz arrivals to their site…

New Arrivals Jazz Picks,“ reprints courtesy of eMusic.com, Inc.
© 2014  eMusic.com, Inc.

As always, my sincere thanks to eMusic for the gig.

The Ocular Concern – “Sister Cities”

July 28, 2014


Ocular Concern - "Sister Cities"At the heart of Sister Cities, the new release by The Ocular Concern, is the four-part suite which lends the album its name.  Sister Cities touches upon the theme of a modern world with increasingly fuzzier boundaries, with the quartet’s Portland, Oregon home as the glue that binds it up.  Of equal relevance is that the theme is analogous to the music itself.  Contemporary music of complex structures and infinite details, it lends itself to no one influence, except in fleeting moments.

There’s some voicing of the tango form on “The Island Milonga,” though approached more with the indie-rock flavor of Calexico than, say, a more traditional expression on recent releases by Latin Jazz artist Mark Weinstein’s Todo Corozon or Julio Botti’s Tango Nostalgias or even the innovative Line Kruse’s approach on Dancing on Air.  And the use of African mbira on the ephemeral “Ghost Town City Council” is eclipsed by the song’s opening indie-rock twang and its hard rock burly outro.  There’s also the chamber music opening to “Portland In Reverse” and how it intermittently cedes to the singular modern jazz influence of a Todd Sickafoose Tiny Resistors.

And that’s the jumping off point to what makes Sister Cities so damn successful.  Todd Sickafoose was one of the early innovators to this new style of contemporary music that calls Jazz home but travels to so many genres that home is simply wherever the ensemble briefly lays down its notes.  The key to moving in complex directions from genre to genre with a whirlwind of motion that it all seems to blend together is the quality of its melodies, and the way in which they are stamped onto the listener’s attention during the intro, the conclusion, and some well-timed spots in between.

Sister Cities is dotted with its shifting tides of influences and expressions, but it’s the album’s well-crafted, thoughtful, quirky melodic statements that makes this music supremely affable and an effortless listen.

Your album personnel:  Dan Duval (electric guitar, toy piano), Andrew Oliver (electric piano, percussion), Stephen Pancerev (drums), Lee Elderton (clarinet), Nathan Beck (vibraphone, mbira), and guests:  Erin Furbee (violin), Brian Quincey (viola), Justin Kagan (cello), and Alex Krebs (bandoneon).

Released on PJCE.

Jazz from the Portland, Oregon scene.

Available at:  Bandcamp | CDBaby | Amazon MP3


Sunna Gunnlaugs & Maarten Ornstein – “Tear”

July 27, 2014


Today’s featured video is from the duo of Sunna Gunnlaugs and Maarten Ornstein, performing the song “Tear,” live at Splendor Amsterdam in May of 2014.

On her Twitter account, Gunnlaugs hinted that this duo collaboration might result in a future recording.  Let’s hope.

Your video personnel:  Sunna Gunnlaugs (piano) and Maarten Ornstein (bass clarinet).


Have a great Sunday!


Another “Jazz is Dead” column? Just copy-and-paste this…

July 26, 2014


BitW square avatarI’m as tired as anyone from the occasional, random columns, both on blogs and, shamefully, in conventional news sources, typically entitled something to the effect of “Jazz is Dead.”


I encounter way too many excellent new jazz recordings to believe that statement to be anything but a whole lot of fuck-all.

Every week I’m highlighting outstanding new recordings, which serve to illustrate the breadth and variation of expressions that call Jazz its home.  Some of them are forward-thinking, while some of them are rooted firmly in the Jazz of Today, and then others immerse themselves lovingly into the Jazz traditions that serve as the foundation and lineage on which Jazz continues to grow… and thrive.

These Jazz musicians I listen to and spotlight on this site (and on Wondering Sound), I want them all to have huge financial success and be able to focus solely on their art.  But their ability to do so isn’t an indicator of the medium’s spirit.  It’s the music itself.  And if a columnist proclaiming that Jazz is dead is citing commercial considerations or just revealing a lack of knowledge of the music that’s out there, then that’s got nothing to do with Jazz… it’s a sign that the columnist doesn’t have a clue about where to look for signs of life.

I give a pretty good rant.  On a lot of subjects, really, but when it comes to music, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I have strong feelings about these “Jazz is Dead” columns.

But I just got left in the shade.

A recent visit to the AllAboutJazz forums had me fall upon a post from forum member Alypius, who shot down the latest “Jazz is Dead” column, which somebody linked to on the forum.  It should be standard boilerplate response to any of those stupid columns.

This is pretty much the entire post word-for-word.  I removed a couple sentences and left off the opening and closing sentences, just because they were specific to the article in question and looked out of place when removed from that context.  And like I said, now it’s ready for you to copy-and-paste into the comments section of the next “Jazz is Dead” column you encounter.

Here it is:

Your essay is a real head-scratcher.  Man, I have to ask: Are you even listening? Are you really aware of the range of creativity going on out there? I find all such global hand-wringing tiresome. And it’s tiresome because it’s not true. I am not prone to rants, but hand-wringing such as what you have posted provoke them. Lack of innovation? Give me a break. There is a richness of creativity going on today that makes a lot of jazz of the past look staid and old-fashioned. There are rhythmic innovations, harmonic innovations, innovations in the choice and use of instruments, an unheard-of compositional richness, and dialogues with musics from across the planet.

You heard Steve Lehman? He’s drawing on compositional techniques from the cutting-edge of contemporary classical. Have you bothered to go and hear the Wayne Shorter Quartet perform recently — these mind-boggling hour-long fearless explosions of sound? Have you bothered to chart the ambitious and prolific career of Dave Douglas? John Zorn? Brad Mehldau? Heard Craig Taborn? Darcy James Argue? David Binney? William Parker & Hamid Drake? If you’ve actually heard any of these folks, you would not have the audacity to speak as you did. Lack of innovation? Please, give me a break.

Go dig out some of those 1960s LPs. In that supposed heyday of jazz, that supposed golden age, there were lots of copy-cat records. Lack of innovation abounded. In their defense, some of those guys were just trying to make ends meet in a tough economic environment. What is different today is not the creativity. It’s the abysmal state of music industry. Jazz artists have very, very few clubs to play. They get virtually no publicity for latest ventures. They certainly get no support from record companies. Don’t rose-color the past: artists really struggled back then too.

You ever actually read a history of jazz? The biggest jazz audiences were during the fusion era when Miles Davis played rock festivals like the Isle of Wight. It wasn’t just Miles’ musical creativity. He was very gutsy in terms of his business decisions — for instance, figuring out how in the late 1950s to move from Prestige to Columbia, then later throwing his venerable jazz legacy to the wind by embracing electric trends and working with Bill Graham and the rock scene. By the way, some people are pretty critical of the “creativity” of the fusion era — exactly the period when jazz had, numerically speaking, its biggest audiences. As for today, many of the economic issues faced by creative jazz artists are, often enough, the very same ones that plague creative classical artists and plague creative rock artists: people don’t seem willing to pay to listen to music any more. Creativity abounds — but it doesn’t pay.

Let me go back to the beginning of my rant: Are you listening?


Here’s a LINK to the original discussion thread on the AllAboutJazz forum.  After some downtime, it appears that they are back up and running.  This thread was one of the first things I came upon since checking back in on the AAJ forum.  It gave me a real chuckle, and reminded me of why forums like that need to be supported… just a great environment to shoot the breeze about this music.

Speaking of which, Alypius has put in some serious sweat work on that forum developing a very cool resource, the discussion thread entitled “Playlists for Newcomers to Jazz.”  You can find it HERE.

In honor of Alypius’s post, here’s a track from one of his favorite albums of the year thus far, from Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band, the album Mother’s Touch

And here’s a link to an album review I wrote on this site.