Christian Meaas Svendsen with Nakama and Rinzai Zen Center Oslo – New Rituals (Nakama)
New Rituals is a huge offering. First, it’s a triple-disc album clocking in at almost two hours long. Deuzio, it reiterates the same compositions on the three discs, but the first one is for ensemble and choir, the second one for ensemble alone, and the third one for solo bass. Tertio, its source material is ten ancient Zen Buddhist sutra chants. The aforementioned ensemble is made of two violins, piano, drum, and bass, which lends a peculiar sound halfway between contemporary classical and traditional chant-music. Moreover, the three discs are not simply the same recordings with some layers removed, but entirely new interpretations of the same source material. This is a daunting album, if only by its length, but its spiritual nature and creative performances make it more than worth it.
Linda May Han Oh – Aventurine (Biophilia)
Crossover jazz doesn’t get much credit, but when it’s fusing the worlds of jazz and classical music, it can be quite powerful. Enters bassist and composer Linda May Han Oh and her new album, Aventurine. This collection regroups thirteen of her compositions, that are here played by an octet (except four songs by a quintet) filled with impressive musicians, like Greg Ward and Matt Mitchell. They, both the compositions and the performers, truly capture the aventure part. Though somewhat Romantic in its sound and scaffolding, being based on musical emotions and evocativeness, the compositions still retain a certain modern edge, perhaps lended by their jazz half. Aventurine is a wonderful album, and, at seventy-five minutes long, it’s got quite a lot to offer!
ゴタンダ (Gotanda) – Almost Free Jazz for Totally Busy People
This was an unexpected treasure! First of all, being in the “experimental” bin of Bandcamp, it could’ve easily gone unnoticed amidst all the harsh noise releases and amateurish failures, but I got hooked by the title’s “Almost Free Jazz”. Well, even though it doesn’t go near free jazz at all, Gotanda‘s album is one amazing release. Blending together post-rock, hardcore, progressive rock, and math rock, and veiling it with a saxophone as lead instrument, which gives the music a false impression of being jazz, was nevertheless a winning bet. In the end, this is what I’d call a progressive post-hardcore band, and it’s one that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Everything about that album is great, except that it’s only too short!
Moon Letters – Until They Feel the Sun
Out in early June, Seattle’s Moon Letters‘s debut album is a promising insight into a newly formed band. Upon first hearing them, I thought I was listening to Autumn Electric‘s frontman, which turned out to be right; he does have a strikingly unique voice. If you never enjoyed a similar vocal profile, it might take some time to get accustomed to it, but given that Michael Trew is a capable singer, it should go pretty fluidly. Other than that, Until They Feel the Sun is a progressive rock opus that’s in contemplation of the golden days of the genre. It does have a retro hue to it, somewhere between the seventies’ extensive songs with meandering structures and the eighties’ idolizing of the electric guitar solo. Somewhere between Genesis and Gentle Giant, yet with a slight modern touch. Moon Letters is a promising new name in the prog scene.
Milton Man Gogh – How to Be Big and Small (at the Same Time) (Art as Catharsis)
I’ve got to say, I wasn’t thrilled by Milton Man Gogh‘s debut, Stress to Impress, which came out in 2017. I’ve also got to say, on the other hand, that their upcoming release, How to Be Big and Small (at the Same Time), is brilliant and really fun to listen to. I’ve already described their sound as “garage jazz”, or something like that, and this is still true, but with better production, better compositions, and better chops. Everything’s better on this new release, and that’s why I’m talking about it here and now. Or perhaps it is I who changed in two years and gained a new appreciation for their same sound. You be the judge of that! In any case, I believe this is a great album, and you should give it a shot!
John Zorn – The Hierophant (Tzadik)
It’s the same thing as always, with John Zorn: The Hierophant is astoundingly great but also pretty hard to find. I guess that a musician with his reputation can afford to be cryptic and not listener-friendly. Zorn’s newest album for jazz trio is nowhere to be found streaming online, but a fan like me had a little money saved just for that disc. First of all, the visuals and packaging are stellar. The dark and mystic sleeve hides a second sleeve, darker still and with a Tarot depiction, which then holds a bright white disc along with a card, just like a Tarot card. Uncovering this album for the first time is an experience in itself. Listening to it is quite another. The nine compositions on record each represent a card of the deck, heralded by “The Hierophant” title track, which is possibly my favourite one as well. Dissonant, winding, surprising, and eventful: those are four qualitatives that go quite well with the whole of the album overall. But then, not only are the compositions brilliant, the performers have made their marks as well. Most striking to me, as a bassist, is Trevor Dunn’s bass lines, which are all over the place; creative and varied as well as played with an undoubtable mastery. Of course, there are also the parts played by Brian Marsella on piano, which is truly the centrepiece of the album, and the drums of Kenny Wollesen, its backbone. The Hierophant is an astonishing album, and I’m already looking forward to John’s next release.