To music journalists, dedicated fans, and a swarm of other zealots, the end of each year entails making a “best albums of the year” list.  To mark the occasion, Ars Nova Workshop asked several musicians playing in Philadelphia for our 2010 - 2011 season to contribute their lists and the responses appear below.  Among their selections were numerous records by artists and ensembles also performing this season, including those by Ideal Bread, Gerald Cleaver, Tom Rainey, Marc Ribot, Tomas Fujiwara, Mary Halvorson and, featured on almost every list submitted, the superb ECM release by the Michael Formanek Quartet, The Rub and Spare Change.

Evan Parker/Sten Sandell - Psalms
This is one of the few times that I heard a record and actually said to myself "This is the best record of the year.”  I usually don't think like that, but I have continually come back to this since Evan gave it to me on tour this summer.  Tenor saxophone and pipe organ.  The level of engagement on this record is exactly what I always want in an improv record and so rarely get.  From beginning to end, both Evan and Sten are completely melding into one strange, somewhat electro-acoustic voice.  That's an oversimplification, though, because there is a warmth to the record that is the first thing that attracted me to it. 

Alvin Curran - The Works 1970s
I always have to include one New World release, as that is who pays my bills and puts up with my shit.  This year is way too tough as they have put out a ton of good stuff and I'm guessing that the upcoming December release of the Merce Cunningham box set is going to rule my world, but I love Alvin Curran and especially this sort of pre-foghorn era stuff.  This is a three disc set of his solo recordings from the 70s and it's a fascinating mixture of minimalism of the type being practiced by Tom Johnson or even a stripped down Steve Reich, combined with elements of static drone, ecstatic vocalizing and just weirdo electronics.  These pieces have that kind of mid-70s meditative feel, without ever dipping into new age. 

Chris Riggs/Liz Allbee - Forced Collapse
This is an LP by guitarist Chris Riggs of Graveyards and Liz Allbee of No Sugar on trumpet.  I got this in the mail from Chris this year and I wanted to not be into it.  I don't know why, maybe just professional jealousy of Liz or wanting to do more playing with Chris than I've gotten to do in the past couple of years?  Anyway, it didn't last long.  Sometimes something if just so good, you can't even hate on it.  This record is that good.  I'm sure it's sold out by now, but if you can track down a copy, do it.  I think Chris and Liz are too of the baddest musicians around and both are just now starting to get some love, so you should jump on the bandwagon.

Walter Marchetti - La Caccia/Natura Morta
This isn't really a 2010 record, but something I discovered this year, so I'll add it here.  I found a double cd set of these Cramps label pieces of Marchetti's in the back of a record store in Ann Arbor, Michigan this year.  I'm a huge Marchetti fan, so it was a tremendous score for $20, especially since Alga Marghen re-released the same pieces recently (with a couple of additions) for about $150.  That in itself would be enough to count for the best of the year, but the music is totally incredible, conceptually (as I think it always is for Marchetti), but also musically (not always the case).

Branford Marsalis - The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born
This is simply a rediscovery in 2010.  I've always thought that the best way to really hear what a jazz musician is made of is to really listen to what they do at medium tempos.  Fast tempos are just bluster and muscle memory most of the time.  Slow tempos can too easily drag into some kind of nostalgia or chewing of the musical scenery.  Medium tempos really reveal how a player structures their improvisation and how they think about harmony, rhythm, and melody.  Along those lines, I’m hearing this trio record in a totally new way lately.  Branford is what he is.  I'm not saying we need a renaissance of his music, but this record proved to me that it isn't flash.  There's some heavy duty thought in his solos and he's not always making the easy musical decisions.

Nate Wooley will perform with C. Spencer Yeh, Okkyung Lee and a special guest percussionist on March 5, 2011 at Vox Populi.

Jeremiah Cymerman - Under a Blue Grey Sky
Congs For Brums - Noise To Men
Michael Formanek Quartet - The Rub and Spare Change
Jason Moran - Ten
Tomas Fujiwara & Taylor Ho Bynum - Stepwise
Jon Irabagon - Foxy
Marc Ribot - Silent Movies
Laurie Anderson - Homeland
Ideal Bread - Transmit: Volume 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy
Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Forty Fort

Mary Halvorson performed at The Rotunda with Ches Smith & These Arches on Dec. 8, 2010 and with Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up on Dec. 16, 2010. She will be playing on April 27, 2011 with The New Mellow Edwards at International House Philadelphia and on May 7, 2011 with the Tom Rainey Trio.

Defeated Sanity - Chapters Of Repugnance
Ancient Wound - The Winterholder
Stargazer - A Great Work Of Ages
Bastard Noise - A Culture Of Monsters
Weasel Walter Septet – Invasion

Mick Barr performed on Nov. 4, 2010 at Kung Fu Necktie.

Michael Formanek Quartet - The Rub and Spare Change
Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Harvesting Semblances and Affinities
Markus Schwartz and Lakou Brooklyn - Equinox
Tony Malaby's Tamarindo and Wadada Leo Smith Live
Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up - Actionspeak
Gerald Cleaver's Uncle June - Be It As I See It

Ches Smith & These Arches performed on Nov. 18, 2010 at The Rotunda.  He will be playing on April 27, 2011 with The New Mellow Edwards at International House Philadelphia.

Josh Abrams - Natural Information
Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hebert & Gerald Cleaver - Book of Three
Michael Formanek Quartet - The Rub and Spare Change
Mary Halvorson Quintet - Saturn Sings
Tom Rainey Trio - PoolSchool

Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up performed on Dec. 16, 2010 at The Rotunda.

Fille Qui Mousse - Trixie Stapleton 291
Pan Sonic & Keiji Haino - Synergy Between Mercy and Self-Annihilation Overturned
Anton Bruhin - Deux Pipes
Autechre  - Oversteps
Group Doueh - Beatte Harab

C. Spencer Yeh will perform on March 5, 2011 with Nate Wooley, Okkyung Lee and a special guest percussionist at Vox Populi, and on March 23, 2011 with Wally Shoup and Ben Hall at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery.

Marc Ducret - La Sense de la Marche and Qui Parle?
I, and I assume many other fans of 'modern' 'jazz', know Marc as a guitarist primarily from his long-time association with Tim Berne. These two records, released on French labels, were new to me this year. Both feature mid-size ensembles, the former record being an incredibly precise live recording while the latter consists of mind-blowing studio constructions. The compositional depth and expansive, explosive playing on both of these records provide an utter feast - if they had been released in the US years ago they'd be considered classics by now. Don't sleep!

Dan Weiss Trio - Timshel
The drummer Dan Weiss has led this trio for several years - it features pianist Jacob Sacks and the bassist Thomas Morgan. Those who have seen Dan play are familiar with his mastery of the drumset and tabla as demonstrated in groups led by David Binney and Rudresh Mahanthappa. In his trio, however, he often explores more introspective territory, drawing especially on his love of classical music. This record is presented more or less as a suite and has many moments of quiet profundity.

Ches Smith and These Arches - Finally Out of My Hands
These Arches is tenor player Tony Malaby, guitarist Mary Halvorson, Andrea Parkins on accordion and electronics, and the drummer and leader Ches Smith. I saw this group play four times over the past 18 months: all the gigs were great and each one exploded the possibilities raised by the previous one. This group is as bombastic as Dan Weiss' is delicate. Many of the compositions are little fragments intended to catapult the musicians into the ether.

Michael Formanek - The Rub and Spare Change
Bassist Michael Formanek's new group includes Tim Berne, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver. It is my favorite group of his - the players are so mutually sympathetic that it seems like they can take his compositions anywhere. Also, his compositions have a 'standards'-like familiarity while often simultaneously being very abstract.

Bob Drake - The Shunned Country
Bob composed, played, sung, and recorded this entire record: 52 short songs about scary things. Edward Gorey meets avant garde country rock, lots of banjo. Addictive, the kind of songs that I wake up at 3AM thinking about.

Elliott Smith - Figure 8
I was very late to the Elliott Smith party, not really “getting it” until this year. I love it all, but this one is the most perfectly realized for me. This apparently is not the consensus opinion. The major songwriter of his time.

Cardiacs - Guns
The best album by one of the best bands ever. I've had this record for 10 years and I still listen to it a ton. I keep playing it for everyone because no one seems to know it, and everyone for whom I've played it freaks out over it. Psychedelic, heavy, and unremittingly catchy.

Matt Mitchell performed on Thursday, June 24 at Philadelphia Art Alliance with Tim Berne’s Los Totopos, and on Tuesday, April 23 with Matt Mitchell’s Central Chain.

R. Kelly - Love Letter
Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
John Hebert - Spiritual Lover
Joe Morris and Nate Wooley - Tooth and Nail
Paul Motian - Lost In A Dream
Jon Irabagon - Foxy
Kirk Knuffke - Amnesia Brown
Bob Dylan - The Witmark Demos 1962-1964
Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth - Deluxe
Rick Ross - Teflon Don

Mike Pride’s From Bacteria To Boys will perform at Philadelphia Art Alliance on Jan. 13.


For our final concert of the year, Ars Nova Workshop presents a fantastic double-bill with Ideal Bread and Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook- Up.  A former student of legendary drummer Alan Dawson, Fujiwara has worked with artists such as Anthony Braxton, William Parker and Vijay Iyer.  Fujiwara's quintet The Hook Up – with Brian Settles, Mary Halvorson, Jonathan Finlayson, and Danton Boller - released their first record, Actionspeak, on 482 Music earlier this year.  Fresh off the road from several dates with Thirteenth Assembly – Fujiwara’s quartet with Halvorson, Jessica Pavone and Taylor Ho Bynum - ANW was able to catch up with Tomas to ask a few questions about Actionspeak and his plans for the New Year.

Has this been a productive year for you?

Yes, overall a pretty productive year. I was very happy to get The Hook Up's first album out (Actionspeak, 482 Music), do some gigs with the group, develop the music further, and write some new pieces.  My duo with Taylor Ho Bynum released a second album (Stepwise, Nottwo Records) and The Thirteenth Assembly, a collective with Taylor, Mary Halvorson, and Jessica Pavone, worked on and toured a new book of originals that we'll be recording this month for a 2011 release on Important Records.  Also, very exciting and inspiring to work with Ideal Bread (Transmit, Cuneiform Records), Red Baraat (Chaal Baby, Sinj Records), Matt Bauder's Quintet (Day In Pictures, Clean Feed), Mary Halvorson Trio/Quintet, Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet, Positive Catastrophe, Matt Mitchell's Central Chain, Amir ElSaffar, Matt Welch's Blarvuster, and the Broadway show "Fela!".

How did The Hook Up hook up?

I wanted to start performing the music I was writing and I wanted to perform the music in a context where the compositions and band grew together.  I was looking for an ensemble that was committed to developing a personal sound and a personal way of communicating and interacting.  I didn't want a band that had the "usual suspects" from a particular scene, but one that had to work to find a common ground and voice. I think that that sound in my head led me to subconsciously choose four other musicians who had never played together before.

I've known Brian since my very first gig in New York City. He has always had a personal voice on his instrument, a sense of imagination and creativity that has a strong foundation, and a beautiful sense of space and phrasing.  The first few European tours I did were with Danton and, over the years, we've developed a chemistry that only comes from time spent together, both on and off the bandstand.  I think the bass-drums telepathy is one of the most important connections in this music, and I feel it most strongly with Danton. He is one of the best bass players out there, musical and supportive in any context, and always down to try something new. I've known Mary for about 7 years.  We've played together in nearly a dozen groups and I appreciate that she always sounds like herself.  She takes chances and has a seemingly endless arsenal of ideas and sounds.  Jonathan and I started playing together in a quartet that would have regular sessions to workshop new compositions. As with all of the musicians in The Hook Up, his sound was the first thing that resonated with me: a clear flow of ideas with a sense of adventure and risk.

What is “Actionspeak” and how does it relate to the seven pieces on the album?

It can be read both as actions speak and action's peak, two concepts that I strive for. Hopefully the music, the action, speaks for itself as well as capturing a peak in our actions.  I was also told it has some astrological connection to my birth chart; that it would make sense, from my chart, that I would choose this album title, but I have no idea why!

Nestled within the driving hard bop of the other tunes, with its contemplative, almost underwater and dreamlike mood, “Folly Cove” stands out from the rest of the tracks.  Can you talk about this piece?

Folly Cove is in Rockport, MA, a place I've spent some time in over the years.  As cliché as this sounds, I heard one of the song's trumpet lines one morning, as soon as I woke up, and wrote most of the piece that day, without an instrument.  It's a good example of what I mentioned earlier where the piece and band grew together, influenced each other in shape and approach.  Now that we've played it so many times, it takes on subtly different forms each time.

You’ve cited Haruki Murakami as an inspiration for the album. What about his writing motivates your work?

With Murakami, a perfectly plausible story unfolds in the "real world" for 50 pages, and then, all of a sudden, the cat starts talking and we're walking through the sewer asking a fish for directions to the scientist's lab.  There's no set up, there's no explanation, it just is the way it is and he makes it work because his world has infinite possibilities. He tells stories in a way that allows for anything to be possible and you can really go on the journey without questioning what's right or wrong, real or imagined.  To have that strong of an approach, that strong a structure to what you're doing, that you can pull off any idea and make it work in the flow of the story you are telling, is very inspiring to me. Plus, his imagery is amazing and a strong sense of imagery is something I strive for in my writing and playing.

You’ll be pulling a double shift tonight, opening on drums with Ideal Bread.  How has your perspective of Steve Lacy’s music changed since you began performing it?

I had never played Steve Lacy's music before Ideal Bread, so every tune in the book was a new adventure and challenge.  I had listened to a fair number of his records, but there have been many new ones that Josh [Sinton] has turned me on to.  Josh does a great job of writing charts that include information from all versions of a song, different recordings with different lineups, etc.  He'll tell us what Steve told him about particular songs, recordings, approaches, and times in his life.  It's definitely made me appreciate Steve Lacy as a great composer, in addition to his playing, and I especially appreciate how his music can be humorous while being very serious and thoughtful at the same time.  

What are your plans for 2011?

Recording a new book of originals with The Hook Up, a third duo album with Taylor Ho Bynum, and a second release from The Thirteenth Assembly.  I’ll be touring with those projects as well as Red Baraat, Matana Roberts, Matt Bauder's Day In Pictures, Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet, Positive Catastrophe, and Matt Welch's Blarvuster. And hopefully some other stuff that I don't even know about yet!

Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up will be performing on Thursday, December 16 at The Rotunda (4014 Walnut Street) with an opening set by Ideal Bread.

Last week, Ars Nova Workshop shared the first half of our conversation with Mario Pavone, who will be in Philadelphia on December 12 with Orange Double Tenor.  For the second part of our interview, we asked Mario to tell us more about the suite his sextet will perform, Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po.  Here’s what he had to say:

When’s the last time you played Philadelphia? 

I think 15 or 16 years ago, 1995 or 1996, with the Thomas Chapin Trio.  It could have been Painted Bride or elsewhere.  During this time the trio, with Michael Sarin on drums, was playing 200 concerts a year, and almost all of them were wonderful.

What’s the motivation behind Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po?

The intent of the work was to reflect on the reactions I’ve had hearing so many legends and innovators from 1960 to 1968.  The physical presence of these giants and the socio-political issues their work addressed has remained with me to this day.  I wanted to re-envision and reinterpret this in today's idiom, and within my own compositional systems: the feeling, the ethos, and the energy of that time and those players.

How does this work tell the story of your musical history?

I can speak about individual pieces within the suite.  “Poles” explores the visual component that was so much a part of that music, specifically Jackson Pollack. “The Dom” was an important jazz club, located on St. Marks Place (East 8th Street, between 2nd Avenue and The Bowery) and situated just below the “Electric Circus”: a rock club where Jimi Hendrix and others would often play, while at the same time downstairs at The Dom Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Tony Scott and many others were playing.  The Fillmore East was located just around the corner.  This confluence illustrates the great change of cultural focus that was taking place, from The Beatles to Woodstock.  “Silver Print” calls up other visual images, photography, and looking at and hearing Rahssan Roland Kirk, with never less than three horns hanging from his neck, playing all of them simultaneously with grace and power.  Ultimately, I would like to have the work and the music on the CD speak for itself and to tell the story without words.

How do the ensemble members’ voices lend themselves to these compositions?

While Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po is both a new work and a summary of my work, it is in the brilliance of these players that I look forward to the future. Most of the musicians on Arc Suite have collaborated with me for 10 years or more although they are two to three decades younger than me.  They intuitively understand the harmonic implications in my written scores, and they bring their own world of experiences and training to bear on these pieces.  In the process, they are feeding information back to me, enhancing my ability to continue writing new and fresh work.  Their great understanding of music history, combined with their extensively informed approaches, result in each player's sound and the content of their solos being able to reference the music from that time with my compositional systems. 

In the spirit of looking back at your history as a musician, what’s one of your fondest memories?

There are many, but a luminous, sky blue summer day in July at the Newport Jazz Festival with Thomas Chapin and Michael Sarin takes the cake!

Mario Pavone’s Orangle Double Tenor will be performing on Sunday, December 12 at International House (3701 Chestnut Street).

On December 12, bassist and composer Mario Pavone will be in Philadelphia with Orange Double Tenor.  The sextet, featuring saxophonists Tony Malaby and Marty Ehrlich, trumpeter Dave Ballou, pianist Peter Madsen and drummer Gerald Cleaver, will perform Pavone’s new work, Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po.  Commissioned by Chamber Music America’s 2009 Jazz Works, and released last month by Playscape Recordings to coincide with Pavone's 70th Birthday, the work shows Pavone looking back on his extensive and flourishing life as a musician.  Ars Nova Workshop had a chance to catch up with Pavone to talk about his career, and here is the first half of the two part interview.

In November, 1961, you drove from Connecticut to New York City to see John Coltrane play at the Village Vanguard.  What impact did this performance have on you?

It was life changing.  I had not yet begun music studies, but was an avid listener.  The full group that night, with Trane, Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, Jimmie Garrison, and Elvin Jones, recorded one of the most seminal albums ever: Live at the Village Vanguard, two tunes, 1 hour set, “Impressions” and “India.”   At the time I wasn’t sure what I was hearing - pinned and riveted to my seat – but returned home and to my studies at the University of Connecticut and soon after rented a bass fiddle.

When Coltrane died six years later you drove back to New York City for the funeral and ultimately decided to stay to pursue a life of music.  How did this loss inspire you?

For me, in Trane’s music the message was “you too can do music because there is music in all of us.”  Saint Peter’s was jammed with thousands, steamy, with Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman playing up in the balcony section and Trane’s remains on the alter.  It was a big loss for the music community, with saxophonists not knowing how to proceed.  Those not yet committed to Trane’s more open vision of the music were soon to turn towards it.  I quit my engineering gig, committed fully to the bass, and never looked back.

Was it a difficult transition to make?  Was there a strong network and community of improvisers and creative artists?

The Jazz Composers Orchestra Association existed then, including Paul and Carla Bley, Bill Dixon, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, and many others.  The community was strong and also united in political terms, especially around opposition to the Vietnam War.  We played every day, all day and night, with musicians coming and going, such as Rashied Ali, Stafford James, Roswell Rudd, Perry Robinson, Laurence Cook, Mark Whitecage, and many others.

Can you talk about the creative energy alive during the loft scene?  Who were some of the musicians you worked with and who had the greatest influence on your playing?

Many mentioned above apply here.  I toured and recorded heavily with Paul Bley and Bill Dixon, who were major influences. Since then I have been strongly influenced by Wadada Leo Smith, Anthony Braxton, Dewey Redman, Henry Threadgill, and the younger musicians who play with me today, like Tony Malaby, Jimmy Greene, Dave Ballou, Gerald Cleaver, Steven Bernstein, Michael Sarin, Matt Wilson, Tyshawn Sorey, Craig Taborn, Katherine Davis, and Russ Johnson, and contemporaries like Marty Ehrlich and Peter Madsen.

What are some of the changes you’ve witnessed in the jazz community over the last five decades?

The scene has always run in cycles, up and down at different times.  We all know that serious music is suffering large reductions in CD sales, and so on, since we are in a technological transition with downloading.   Players are better educated and assimilate the theoretical information at quicker rates, but they still need to experience the musical life in order to have stories to tell.  It has always been a struggle, and what hasn’t changed is the need to stay fully committed to one’s work even through adversity.

If today a young jazz musician approached you and said he/she was intending to quit his/her day job and devote him/herself completely to music, what advice would you offer?

If you feel you have your own voice, go for it!

Mario Pavone’s Orangle Double Tenor will be performing on Sunday, December 12 at International House (3701 Chestnut Street).

French-Norwegian quartet Dans les arbres create robust, improvised labyrinths of acoustic sound that emphasize texture, space, and dream-like contemplation.  With titles such as “La Somnolence,” “L’Indifférence,” and “Le Détachement,” the group’s ECM debut - released in Europe in 2009 and this month in the US – explores the liminal spaces between sleep and consciousness, alienation and engagement, subject and object, stillness and movement.  ANW caught up with percussionist Ingar Zach - who along with multi-instrumentalist Ivar Grydeland runs the SOFA imprint - to ask a few questions in preparation for Dans les arbres’ Philadelphia debut, which is one of only three US dates on their first ever stateside tour.  

How long have you been working with Xavier, Christian and Ivar, and what was the motivation behind forming Dans les arbres?

As Dans les arbres we've been working since 2006, but all four of us had been working together before this in various settings. DLA actually stems from the work that Ivar and I have been doing as a duo. At a certain point Ivar and I had an idea of inviting Christian to play, and see what this combination could lead to. We were recording material and playing a couple of concerts before Xavier was in the picture, but as soon as we invited Xavier, already at the first rehearsal we felt that it would be great to develop the music as a quartet. The motivation is very simple: I think we all experienced a great potential to create something special together as a group, with a totally flat structure and equal responsibilities was an evident attraction to us.

What’s the significance of the name Dans les arbres (In the trees)? Does it relate to the group’s approach to improvisation and the subsequent soundworld?

The fact that it's French and basically only one person in the group can pronounce it, is kind of a strange thing you might say. But, during the process of our first recording, we were trying to find a name for the ensemble and titles for the cd. We also played the music for friends and colleagues to get some input from outside. A good friend of ours, actually the guitar player of The Ex, Andy Moor, said that listening to our music he got an association of a cottage in the woods. So from then on, we were stuck with the woods and the trees, which led to Xaviers’ suggestion: Dans les arbres.

Even though I don't think the name Dans les arbres is in any way directly linked to the music we play, I guess you could argue that we are musicians with a need to create music in our own way, and this activity could be compared to being up "in the trees.”  I don't know, perhaps subconsciously we are attached to the significance of the name of the ensemble. I'll leave this to the listener to decide.

Listening to the ECM debut, sounds seem to be happening across a plurality of locations.  Can you tell us about the recording process?

The recording was done in two days in a museum outside Oslo in Norway. We played live in the same room with the brilliant sound engineer Thomas Hukkelberg recording it all. There is no studio experimentation of any kind, just a bit of editing starts and stops of the pieces.

Dans les arbres’ influences are incredibly diverse, which is evident on the album.  Can you talk specifically about your interest in Norwegian folk musics and how you think this relates to some of the other reference points heard on the record?

In the early 1990s I played a lot of Norwegian and Swedish folk music in different settings, and I know that Christian also has been in contact with these traditions, especially playing with Nils Økland and Gjermund Larsen in his ensembles. But to pinpoint concrete references to Scandinavian folk music in DLA's music is very difficult for me. I guess they are there somehow, but so are thousands of other references. I think listing up all our references would be rather confusing if you wanted to know what the music of DLA sounds like.  

What are some of the tools and devices that make up your percussion kit?

My setup with DLA is built around the Gran Cassa (horizontal orchestral bass drum), with tam-tams (gongs) and additional metal percussion such as singing bowls, china cymbals, and ceramic bells made for me by Birte Kittilsen.

What does Dans les arbres’ have planned for the future?  Are there any big concerts, tours, collaborations, directions or new albums coming up?

Yes, we are almost finished mastering the forthcoming CD for the ECM label. It will be out in 2011, hopefully in springtime, but no date is set yet. We are touring a bit in the spring, and doing a couple of festivals in Norway, Austria and Lebanon. There are also plans to go to Japan and also continuing touring in Europe. We have a long term project coming up making music for film, which is something we all are eager to start with.

Dans les arbres will be performing on Wednesday, December 8 at Philadelphia Art Alliance (251 S. 18th Street).

Drummer Gerald Cleaver was last in Philadelphia when Ars Nova Workshop hosted the Michael Formanek Quartet in October, and he’ll be returning two more times before the New Year: on December 2 with the Gerald Cleaver Group and on December 12 with Mario Pavone’s Orange Double Tenor.

Cleaver began playing drums, trumpet, and violin at an early age, and after earning a BA in music education from University of Michigan he taught in the music department at both his alma mater and Michigan State University.  Over the years he has worked with Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Hank Jones, Matthew Shipp, Reggie Workman, Joe Morris, and Ralph Alessi, to name only a few.  This fall he’s played many dates, touring Europe and Brazil with the Enescu Project, Craig Taborn, Ivo Perlman, Samuel Blaser and Michael Formanek.

Cleaver has also been working heavily with his two projects Uncle June and Farmer By Nature.  Uncle June, with Andrew Bishop, Mat Maneri, Tony Malaby, Craig Taborn and Drew Gress, will have a new album out on January 25 titled Be It As I See It; Farmers By Nature, his trio with Craig Taborn and William Parker, will release Out Of This World’s Distortions in February on AUM Fidelity.

The Gerald Cleaver Group is a special project made possible by a Towson University Jazz Residency set up by Professor Dave Ballou, who plays trumpet in this group and also in Pavone’s Orange Double Tenor.  Cleaver had the following to say about this new ensemble of improvisers.

“This group is a special project, never assembled before, although we've played together in different circumstances.  I'm very happy and fortunate that each person was available.  In general, they're some of my favorite improvisers.  And that is always a large focus of my endeavors.  I've known Andrew Bishop the longest; we've played in so many great configurations I like to think of him as the anti-matter Gerald Cleaver (smile).  Michael Formanek is a living legend.  There's literally nothing he can't do musically.  I met my wife, Jean Carla, in an improvisational setting, and was greatly impressed from day-one with how much music she makes out of every situation.  And Dave Ballou and I have had many great musical moments with the great Mario Pavone.  He's a great musician, such a lyrical trumpet player.”

The Gerald Cleaver Group will perform on Thursday, December 2 at Philadelphia Art Alliance (251 S. 18th Street).


Since finishing his studies at the prestigious Mills College, percussionist Ches Smith has worked across jazz, rock, and experimental categories, proving to be a versatile artist ready for any challenge.  Over the years he has worked with Xiu Xiu, John Zorn, Wadada Leo Smith, John Tchicai, Marc Ribot, Fred Frith, Tim Berne, Terry Riley, and many others.  He has appeared on over 30 recordings, the most recent being Finally Out Of My Hands with his These Arches ensemble featuring Mary Halvorson, Andrew Parkins and Tony Malaby.  In preparation for Ches Smith & These Arches’ Philadelphia debut on Thursday, November 18, ANW asked Ches a few questions about this exciting new ensemble.

 Your playing and projects cover a wide musical spectrum, from Good for Cows to Congs for Brums, These Arches to Xiu Xiu.  Do you see these various approaches and projects as overlapping or more disjunctive?

 I feel there is overlap in the writing. Who I am collaborating with ultimately determines the outcome of the written material.  Good for Cows is half Devin Hoff's concept and writing, and half mine.  So, the ideas have to work for both of us.  That makes the result different from, say, These Arches or Congs for Brums, in which I have the final say.  The material for Congs for Brums and These Arches may have similarities initially, but changes drastically when arranged for the members of These Arches or for solo percussion/electronics in Congs for Brums.  Congs for Brums is the only project where I am deliberately writing etudes: pieces with things that I am trying to develop in my playing, or that challenge me as a player.  Xiu Xiu is an entirely different scenario in that the material ultimately has to spark a lyric or narrative from singer/lyricist/founder Jamie Stewart, or its not going to work.  That's not to say he won't like it, but if he can't connect to the material as a storyteller, it’s usually curtains.  From a playing standpoint, all the projects I play in overlap, but I see each one having different concerns as far as volume and sound goes.  I do not concern myself with style or genre. When playing, especially, I am not trying to reach into a particular bag.

Tell us about your history working with Mary, Andrea and Tony?

Mary and I met in the second version of Trevor Dunn's Trio-convulsant.  We became best friends.  I now play in her trio and quintet as well. I met Tony 5 or 6 years ago on the West Coast when he was gigging in Oakland, CA.  I was a fan of his from before that.  Now I occasionally play in his groups, as well.  Andrea was also someone I was listening to way before I moved to NYC, but this band is the first time we've worked together.

Why did you choose to work with these specific musicians for the compositions on Finally Out of My Hands?

I like the way they brought the music alive, and took it way beyond my control.  They often push the limits of the compositions, as well, taking liberties with the written material.  I'm learning how to write for a hectic environment which is constantly in flux.  They improvise great in a free setting, as well.

A hectic environment that’s constantly in flux?

By that I am referring to the scenery which often surrounds the written material.  When improvising, the band does not worry about how to get back to the composition.  The writing must be rugged enough to hold up to whatever is happening: It must work with someone making something up instead of their written part; it must be able to hold its own against (Andrea's) feedback, extreme interpretations of the phrase (especially from Tony) including smearing, stretching, etc.  Sometimes the reprise of the written material feels like trying to land an airplane in a heavy storm.

What’s the significance of the name These Arches?

The name These Arches was inspired by the traditional function of arches in bridge design, in which weight is supported by the horizontal tension at the arches’ meeting point. I was reflecting on bridges in music: bridges in compositions, bridges between improvisation and composition, bridges between the players' highly-developed individual voices.  The arch reminded me of how I was trying to deal with composing for these improvisers, and having improvisers deal with my compositions. The pieces, on the one hand, need to be activated by improvisation to result in forward motion, or they might collapse under their own weight.  On the other hand, the written material can act as the other half of the arch, providing counter-pressure to the forward thrust of the improvisation.

Finally Out of My Hands captures the act of letting go.  How does this relate to these pieces?

For one, the title has to do with the way one deals with stress and anxiety.  I do as much as I can, then try to let it go.  I wrote the piece “Anxiety Disorder” during a period when I couldn't access this method.  Secondly, I place responsibility for the outcome of the music in the hands of the band, which also includes me, of course.  I refuse to “lead” in a live situation.  If shit gets fucked, as a group we are going to have to make something up.  We may find our way back to the piece, or not.  I feel we are getting better and better at doing this.  The composition should be flexible enough to allow this.

What new projects and collaborations are you working on?

Tim Berne's Los Totopos, new Secret Chiefs 3 recordings, my third Congs for Brums record, a Congs for Brums split record with Chris Corsano, new Xiu Xiu recordings, likely in collaboration with Greg Saunier of Deerhoof, a group called Snake Oil with Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell, new material with Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog, and a new trio with Tim Berne and David Torn.  Matana Roberts and I did a duo show last night [November 7] that I really enjoyed.

The end of the year is approaching: any votes for 2010’s best album?

The new one by Tony Malaby's Tamarindo featuring Wadada Leo Smith.  Michael Formanek's The Rub and Spare Change. The latest Darkthrone. But don't take my word for it.  I don't get to new stuff nearly as much as I'd like.

Ches Smith & These Arches will perform a free concert on Thursday, November 18 at The Rotunda (4014 Walnut Street).

Blues After Piet

The experimental jazz scene in the Netherlands has been thriving since the 1960s and Misha Mengelberg’s role in its creation and evolution has been inestimable.  In 1967, with Han Bennink and Willem Breuker, Mengelberg founded the Instant Composers Pool to foster Dutch creative music and culture.  Saxophonist and composer Benjamin Herman, whose quartet featuring leading Dutch jazz musicians Anton Goudsmit, Ernst Glerum and Joost Patocka will be performing at Philadelphia Art Alliance on Wednesday, November 10, exemplifies the perpetuation of this rich tradition started by Mengelberg and the ICP.

Herman has performed with Mengelberg on several occasions and in 2008 released an album of Mengelberg’s compositions titled Hypochristmastreefuzz (More Mengelberg).  Like the ICP, Herman’s vast body of work obeys no genre limits, mixing styles such as punk, salsa, jazz, surf music, and Afrobeat.  Guitarist Goudsmit, who named his son Misha, is a former student of Mengelberg’s who earlier this year won the Boy Edgar Award.  This annual award honors those who have made a significant contribution to Dutch Jazz music and was received by Mengelberg in 1966.  Bassist Ernst Glerum also has deep connections to Mengelberg, as he’s performed with him in the ICP Orchestra for many years, along with leading Dutch musicians such as Ab Baars, Wolter Wierbos and Michael Moore.

For this performance, the Benjamin Herman Quartet will be paying homage to Mengelberg and the diverse, flourishing tradition nurtured by the ICP.  In preparation for the ICP Orchestra’s three-day takeover of the Philadelphia Art Alliance on April 1-3, 2011, we invite you to join us for this special evening of music and to welcome these superb Dutch artists to Philadelphia for what is one of only seven live US dates.

Guitarist and violist John King has composed music for opera, theater, orchestras, chamber ensembles, rock bands, dance and film, and was Music Curator at New York City’s The Kitchen from 1999-2003. He has received commissions from the Kronos Quartet, Ethel, Bang On A Can All-Stars, Mannheim Ballet, New York City Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, the Ballets de Monte Carlo and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. In March 2010, King and the Crucible Quartet released 10 Mysteries on Tzadik, which features 11 exquisite pieces that practice and explore the idea of “trilogic unity.” ANW had an opportunity to speak with King about 10 Mysteries and the new work he will be performing at Philadelphia Art Alliance on November 5.

Can you explain the idea of “trilogic unity” that motivates 10 Mysteries?

I had begun to explore different ways of organizing sound in some earlier pieces, but with 10 Mysteries these ideas came together in a distinct way. I would have an idea for a certain structure and I could compose these materials in a very fixed way. Within some of these parts, I would allow for chance operations to determine things like pitch sets or rhythmic elements or dynamic shapes. I would also allow for different improvisations "directions" which are given to the different musicians to be determined using chance. I would then leave areas of the piece to be improvised by the players, and when and for how long they improvised was left open. I tried to include equally musics which were fixed, which were created with chance and which were spontaneous.

How does the practice of “trilogic unity” allow the ensemble to explore new spaces between composition, improvisation and chance that would otherwise remain concealed?

I wanted these areas of composition, chance, and improvisation to have no clear start-or-end points. I wanted them to blend and merge seamlessly. The players follow independent paths which, on occasion, come together at times and in ways which are unplanned and unknown until that moment. This allows the players to play "with purpose, without intent.”

What is the relationship between 10 Mysteries and the I Ching?

I don't use the I Ching per se, but use the operation of coin tosses/die rolled/random numbers based on the non-repeating sequence of π (pi), etc. These random numbers are then used to generate pitches/dynamics/etc.

Can you tell me about Kosmos? Will you be performing sections from this in Philadelphia?

Kosmos will be a 2-3 hour long string quartet which I am currently working on, and because of its nature, I could not make an excerpt of such a piece. I have instead included a world premiere of a piece, BArACkoBAma, using the musical letters of the President's name to create melodic cells, which evolve and transform during the piece. I've done this with another recent piece for piano for mErCECunninGHAm. A kind of tribute or present. (B=Bb, H=Bnatural in musical nomenclature). John King and the Crucible Quartet will be performing, with an opening set by Jessica Pavone’s Songs of Synastry & Solitude, on Friday, November 5 at Philadelphia Art Alliance (251 S. 18th Street).


Over the past decade, guitarist and composer Mick Barr has released countless recordings under the names Ocrilim, Orthrelm, and Octis, and has worked with Krallice, The Flying Luttenbachers, Zach Hill, Weasel Walter and Sam Hillmer of Zs.  His lightning fast guitar style and singular approach to the instrument goes unrivaled among his contemporaries, leading Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi) to claim that “He is our Coltrane.”  In preparation for Barr’s concert at Kung Fu Necktie on Thursday, November 4, where he’ll be sharing the bill with the Phillip Greenlief-Trevor Dunn Duo, ANW managed to pull the prolific guitarist away from his axe long enough to answer a few questions.

You’re putting out tapes, CDs, CDRs, LPs, and 7”s at an alarming rate under your various monikers. Tell me about some of your most recent releases.

Yes, this year has been a bit overly busy for releases, but mainly because I'm sick of sitting on old recordings and I needed some food money. The first thing I released this year was a triple CDR set under the Ocrilim moniker. I hand made these to order.  It contained three separate albums recorded in 2007. The albums were Ixoltion, Sacreth and Hymns. Then there was the Brave Grave #2 cassette. This is a series of tapes curated by 905 Tapes based in Wilmington, DE. The concept is to have one performer play his/her instrument for as long as they can and then release the entire, most likely flawed, performance. Mine came out to be about 80 minutes of solo guitar shredding. I also self-released a CDR of this once the tapes sold out. Next was the Neerdeth CDR reissue, and Neerdeth Version 1. Neerdeth was a solo guitar album I recorded in 2006 and originally released in 2007. Neerdeth Version 1 was the original recordings that were never fully released. There was also an Octis CDR reissue of a 2003 recording Diemos Extractions. And there was an Orthrelm retrospective CD released by Weasel Walter's ugEXPLODE label. This CD contains the classic 2001/2002 recordings in our first phase of the band where we vehemently opposed repetition. Then came another release from the Ocrilim moniker, Absolve, which is a droney black metal raga of sorts. Also my new band Oldest released our debut CD. Me and Nondor Nevai released an album of improv war metal as well called Labyrintha under the moniker of Barr-Nevai, also on ugEXPLODE.  Way too much.

Where do you do most of your recording and what’s the process like?

Almost everything I do is composed in advance, but occasionally I do a little improvising. Not much, and not much on my own. I do most of my solo recording at home on my laptop or 4-track. For the most part I record everything plugged in direct, as I don't have any amps to play through, or space to play loud. I try to do as little editing as possible, although I usually like to double track everything. Then, if I can afford it,
 I'll take my primitive recordings to Colin Marston's Menegroth, The Thousand Caves studio in Queens and have him re-amp the signals and work his studio magic on them. I don't have the best ears for mixing and mastering, so I entrust these things with him.  

Elliott Sharp recently asked you to contribute a song to hisI Never Meta Guitar compilation alongside guitarists like Mary Halvorson, Nels Cline, and Raoul Björkenheim.  How do you think your style of guitar playing and sound fit in with these players?

Yes, I was very excited to be a part of this compilation. It was strange to listen to the entire compilation in its sequence and then to hear how my piece fit with everything. I kind of felt like it stood out like a sore thumb, to be honest. It seemed really jagged and harsh compared to everything else, but I guess not in a bad way. One of the best compilations I’ve ever been included on. 

I read on your blog that you recently put out a collaborative record with drummer Brooks Headly, and you’ve also worked on several other collaborative projects over the years, including with Sam Hillmer of Zs and Weasel Walter. Do you have any collaborations planned for the near future?

There are a few possible collaborations on the horizon. Me and Nondor Nevai plan to make an all out assault of a recording at some point. Been talking, planning, and jamming with drummer Dave Witte. I’m in an improv trio with Tim Dahl of Child Abuse and Kevin Shea of Talibam!. We did a bunch of recording earlier this year that will probably be released at some point. Krallice just finished recording our third album and we will probably make another record at some point. Might do a show and recording with Chuck Bettis soon. Then there's an old recording I did with James Plotkin and Tim Wyskida that is very slowly coming together. A bunch of others are still just in the talking/thinking stages. I’m also working on finishing a string quartet. I would really like to get more into composing for other instruments as I've been feeling less enthused about performing much these days. I like playing shows, but just not that often right now.

What should we expect for the Philadelphia show?

A newer solo guitar set that's about 35 minutes long, part of which is the track from the I Never Meta Guitar compilation. 

Do you have a favorite jazz musician or album?

When it comes to jazz, I mainly stick to the original free jazz heavyweights and Weasel Walter. Interstellar Space by Coltrane and Rashied Ali is probably my all time favorite jazz album.

Mick Barr will be performing on Thursday, November 4 at Kung Fu Necktie (1248 N. Front Street) with the Phillip Greenlief-Trevor Dunn Duo.