Cuneiform Records: Growing Progressive Music for 27 Years
Before looking at some Cuneiform albums, here are three artist testimonials for the label:
Cuneiform, Steve and Joyce are very old friends now, They are like a second family. We have worked together in a perfect confidence for more than twenty years now, and they really take good care of me and my projects. The interest Steve has in all kinds of music is really incredible. We have played five or six tours in USA since 1999, plus festivals. Cuneiform was always there. I always feel like I am at home in Silver Springs. As long as I am playing, I sincerely hope to carry on working with Cuneiform. It is always a pleasure, a joy.
I don't remember the year, but I think it was around 2002, The Claudia Quintet was playing in Silver Springs. Steve came to the show, introduced himself and asked if we were planning on doing some recording, and if so to let him know. I was vaguely familiar with Cuneiform, enough to say yes. It has been a friendly, fruitful partnership. We email almost daily it seems, either Steve, Joyce (sometimes both) and sometimes Javier or one of their temporary but usually cracker jack interns. But the fact that they respond so quickly and are always trying to help the group is unprecedented in the record label world. They seem to have a system that works and they stick to it and only release music that they like. They are honest and consistent which makes working with them easy, even as the music business is crumbling all around them. Just think what the music world would look like if there were fifty Cuneiforms!
Why I have always liked working with Steve and Joyce at Cuneiform is that they are consummate professionals. They go over every detail with a fine toothcomb to make sure everything is right for the artists and the label. They make sure that they get the CDs to all parts of the world, but of course the main reason it's great to work with Steve and Joyce is because they are really good caring people that love so many different areas of music. They supported the quartet Mujician when no other label was interested. We shall always be grateful to them.
NDR Jazz WorkshopHamburg, Germany May 17, 1973
Cuneiform has dug up a fair share of archival live Soft Machine material for release over the years. NDR Jazz Workshop: Hamburg, Germany May 17, 1973 has a quartet version of the group in transition, plus guests, caught live on CD as well as DVD. Keyboardist Mike Ratledge is the holdover from the "classic" lineup on Third (Sony, 1970). His former band mate, the late bassist Hugh Hopper departed shortly before this recording, but appears on "1983" with the band in a bonus audio feature on the DVD. Roy Babbington, who worked with the group on acoustic bass on some of its previous recordings steps in for his debut as the new prime electric bassist for the Softs. Karl Jenkins asserts himself further as a reed man and keyboardist. John Marshall is a fully gelled with the group by this point as its permanent drummer. For the second half of the performance, Isotope guitarist Gary Boyle and saxophonist Art Themen join the quartet. The group covers a lot of material, primarily from Six (Sony, 1973), and debuts material from the pending Seven (Sony, 1973), which was recorded by this quartet. This group further evolved the music from jazz rock to fusion with tasteful dexterity and well executed chops and riffs.
Brotherhood of Breath
Travelling Somewhere is a significant archival release by Brotherhood of Breath, one of the most robust modern jazz groups. It was active in the early 1970s and featured South African and English musicians. Chris McGregor was a South African-born pianist, whose first group from that country, Blue Notes, was a racially mixed band with players like drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, that sought recognition outside of its tense domestic existence. Combining The Blue Notes with musicians met from the London scene, McGregor created a 12 piece group, Brotherhood of Breath with heavy hitters such as Evan Parker on tenor sax, Mike Osborne on alto sax, Harry Miller on bass and Harry Beckett on trumpet. Travelling Somewhere is a welcome documentation of the short lived group in Bremen Germany in 1973. The music swings hard with a South African flavor throughout the nine cuts, with ample soloing from all. This is a must-hear for fans of jazz, world music and free jazz.
Wadada Leo Smith
Spiritual Dimensions is a two-CD set from avant-garde trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, including two completely different live sets. The first disc is with his Golden Quinetet, recorded in 2008 in the Lower East Side at the annual Vision Festival Annual. The loose, sparse feel of the set comes from the work of keyboardist Vijay Iyer, bassist John Lindberg and drummers Pheeroan AkLaff and Don Moye. The second disc was recorded live several months afterwards in Connecticut, by Wadada Leo Smith's Organic. This is more of an electrified groove-oriented set with multiple electric guitars, two basses, cello and drums and goes deeper into the groove. The one song that can be found on both discs, "South Central L.A. Kulture," is expanded, with all players digging in their heels and pushing Smith to his full potential. Spiritual Dimensions is a must-hear for fans of Smith and the Miles Davis fusion period.
The reissue of Univers Zero's first album (originally released in 1977) gives a new and improved version in terms of sound quality. The Belgian chamber rock group founded by drummer Daniel Denis has released its entire back catalogue through Cuneiform. This first album followed several years of the band playing together. The original stamp of Univers Zero's classical meets rock music avant-garde concept, with all of the intricate bassoon and violin work, sounds more like it was captured live at a concert hall as opposed to the basement studio where it was actually recorded. The small group DIY-beyond-Stravinsky vibe is performed with mostly acoustic instruments. Later releases and live performance demands led to electric keyboards creeping in more prominently. The additional live bonus cut, "La Faulx," adds to what was an already stunning debut for this iconic group.
The Ed Palermo Big Band
Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance
Big band leader Ed Palermo believes that the music of Frank Zappa needs to be celebrated and preserved like the music of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk. Palermo, who is also a saxophonist, composer, and arranger, made it his mission to interpret Zappa's music that lent itself to jazz, and to explore it with more depth with players of his caliber who share his enthusiasm as a fan. Palermo leads 14 musicians through spunky, lyric-less arrangements such as the title track that begs to be danced to (even if it be with clothes on). Arrangements on songs such as "Sleep Dirt" display the focus and complexity of Zappa, beyond his sense of playfulness, which comes right back on "Gumbo Variations." Palermo brings a different take on the master's music in a way that will hopefully be passed on to future big bands.
Improvised English jazz music took several steps forward in 1988 when four respected practitionerspianist Keith Tippett, saxophonist Paul Dunmall, bassist Paul Rogers and drummer Paul Rogersformed the quartet, Mujician. In 1998 it recorded its first studio album, Colours Fulfilled, with English saxophonist and improv master Evan Parker as producer. Colours Fulfilled plays out in four separate parts that range from joyful cacophony to subtle moments where it sounds as if Tippett was back putting the melodic finishing touches to another early 1970s King Crimson piece. Dunmall uses several different axes throughout the recording to get his rather direct point across, including opening the album with bagpipes. This is essential listening for fans of anglo free jazz improv.
The Claudia Quintet + 1 featuring Kurt Elling and Theo Bleckmann
What Is the Beautiful?
The Claudia Quintet is the prime modern jazz ensemble led by drummer and composer John Hollenbeck. On What is Beautiful? , he celebrates the work of poet Ken Patchen by adding vocalists Theo Bleckmann and Kurt Elling along with pianist Matt Mitchell. Jazz meets poetry has been a tradition since the 1950s, and Ken Patchen has inspired several generations of artists. The accordion and vibes of Ted Reichman and Matt Moran, in addition to Mitchell's piano, are the dreamy, empathetic accompanying instruments that perfectly support the prose, but it is the intricate playing by Hollenbeck, clarinetist and saxophonist Chris Speed, and bassist Drew Gress that keep this a contemporary and challenging affair. The vocalists use different phrasings and styles throughout the discfrom Elling's mood setting opener, "Showtime/23rd Street Runs into Heaven," to Bleckman's self dueling narrative on "Job." It is the Claudia Quintet itself that puts an original stamp on the music. It is one of the finest working groups on the scene today.
Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co.
Keyboard and synthesizer players, David Borden, Steve Drews and Linda Fisher were the core members of Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company. 1970- 73 is a collection of previously unreleased recordings. The music is heavily indebted to the technology of the late Robert Moog, creator of the Moog synthesizer. The music appears to be way ahead of its time, but actually is very much of a time when synthesizer experimentation was on the rise. "Ceres Motion" has textures that electronica groups such as the Chemical Brothers are currently using on their CDs and film soundtracks. There was much interest from listeners for live performances from the group during this time. Although the group as a whole dissolved, David Borden continued on with his brand of minimalism on other solo releases on Cuneiform.
A Beautiful Western Saddle
A Beautiful Western Saddle by the downtown NYC jazz group Curlew, first released in 1993, was reissued in 2010 with a DVD of two different live performances of material from the same album from the same time period, the first at the city's Knitting Factory and the other at D.C. Space in Washington D.C.. Leader and composer, saxophonist George Cartwright arranges this music for his five piece group around the poems of the late Paul Haines. Vocalist Amy Denio brings the words to life in complex, alternative rock meets art house jazz arrangements. Curlew is one of the key bands to define the Knitting Factory scene alongside groups such as Naked City and Last Exit. While A Beautiful Western Saddle is probably not the best yardstick by which to judge the full instrumental prowess of this outfit, it is certainly an ambitious work, unlike any other music of its time, and still maintains a sense of relevance.
Sao Paulo Underground with Rob Mazurek
Tres Cabeças Loucuras
Cornet player Rob Mazurek never disappoints when journeying into new territory. Mazurek, the sonic heir to Bill Dixon, appears on Sao Paulo Underground's CD Tres Cabeças Loucuras. Different from the work he does with his groups Exploding Star Orchestra and Chicago Underground, the music touches on two different fronts: the aural beauty of Brazilian tropicalismo and a deeper use of laptop electronics. Loops and samples are abundant through the recording and blend with the hints of samba and bossa nova dropped by Mauricio Takara and Guilherme Granado, who also play percussion and keyboards. Vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz , drummer John Herndon and electric bassist Matthew Lux contribute to a track or two, but the real voice that shines through is Mazurek's. Tres Cabeças Loucuras adds something new to the world music as well as experimental music space.
Richard Pinhas and Merzbow
French progressive rock and electronic music master and Heldon founder Richard Pinhas teams up with long time Japanese "noise" musician Masami Akita aka 'Merzbow' for a second release for Cuneiform. Recorded live in 2010, Pinhas and Merzbow use this performance to expand their brand of the experimental guitar and ambient soundscape blueprint created by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno in the 1970s. Pinhas' meditative, sustained guitar lines come through loud and clear despite delay and treatment. Merzbow exploits laptop-centric tones and plays sonic foil to Pinhas, moving between atonal challenge and melodic empathy. Also included in this release is a bonus DVD of footage from the concert itself and a code to download another live release, Paris 2008, by the duo.
Bill Laswell, Raoul Bjorkenheim, Morgan Ågren
Blixt is the first studio release from a power trio comprised of bassist and producer extraordinaire Bill Laswell, Finnish guitar hero Raoul Bjorkenheim and fusion drummer Morgan Ågren, half of the group Mats/Morgan Band. The music ranges from hard rock-laced riffs with pounding bass and drums (the opener, "Black Whole") to dreamier, introspective, jazzier passages more akin to Jeff Beck. All three players deftly improvise live in the studio around original structures created since their first live gig together in September 2010. There is a sense of primal release in the attack of Laswell and Ågren around the fresh metallic chops of Bjorkenheim. More than a jam, Blixt documents a welcome collaboration between three kindred spirits who will hopefully continue their incendiary musical conversation.
Mats/Morgan Band is a Swedish group headed up by two Frank Zappa acolytes, keyboardist Mats Öberg and drummer Morgan Ågren. Live captures the quintet at Club Fasching in Stockholm back in 1999 for eleven long form pieces. The music is a collision of progressive rock, fusion, jazz rock and funk. The combination of drums, bass, guitar and three keyboards arms the group to move across an instrumental music spectrum that contains chops reminiscent of Zappa ("Hollmervalsen"), Emerson, Lake & Palmer ("Ta Ned Trasen") and others, to the dropping beats of the likes of George Clinton ("Min Hast"). The intricat,e frantically paced rhythm section is the engine that fuels the keyboards to take a ferocious lead on the closer, "Kintornen," eventually exiting with pensive solo piano. This is a good CD to start your inspection of Mats/Morgan Band.
Tracks and Personnel
NDR Jazz WorkshopHamburg, Germany May 17, 1973
Tracks: CD: Fanfare; All White; Link1/Link2; 37 ½; Link 3; Riff; Down the Road; Link 3a; Stanley Stamp's Gibbon Album; Chloe and the Pirates; Gesolreut; E.P.V.; Link 4; Stumble; One Across; Riff II. DVD: Fanfare; All White; Link1; The Soft Weed Factor; Link2; 37 ½; Link 3; Riff; Stanley Stamp's Gibbon Album; Chloe and the Pirates; Gesolreut; E.P.V.; Link 4; Stumble; One Across; Riff II; 1983 (bonus audio only); Encore Improvisation/Stumble Reprise (bonus audio only).
Personnel: Roy Babbington: bass; Karl Jenkins: oboe, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, recorded piano, electric piano, piano; John Marshall: drums; Mike Ratledge: electric piano, organ; Gary Boyle: guitar (CD#7-16, DVD#1-16, 18); Art Themen: soprano and tenor saxophones (CD#7-16, DVD#1-16, 18); Hugh Hopper: bass and tapeloops (DVD#17).
Tracks: MRA; Restless; Ismite is Might; Kongi's Theme; Wood Fire; The Bride; Travelling Somewhere; Think of Something; Do It.
Personnel: Harry Beckett: trumpet; Marc Charig: trumpet; Mongezi Feza: trumpet; Nick Evans: trombone; Malcolm Griffiths; trombone; Mike Osborne: alto saxophone; Dudu Pukwana: alto saxophone; Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Gary Windo: tenor saxophone; Chris McGregor: piano; Harry Miller: bass; Louis Moholo: drums.
Tracka: CD1: Al-Shadhili's Litany of the Sea: Sunrise; Pacifica; Umar at the Dome of the Rock, Parts 1 & 2; Crossing Sirat; South Central L.A. Kulture. CD2: South Central L.A. Kulture; Anglela Davis; Organic; Joy: Spiritual Fire: Joy.
Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Vijay Iyer: piano and synthesizer (CD1); John Lindberg: bass (CD1); Pheeroan Aklaff: drums; Don Moye: drums (CD1); Michael Gregory: electric guitar (CD2); Brandon Ross: electric guitar (CD2); Nels Cline: 6 and 12 string electric guitars (CD2); Lamar Smith: electric guitar (CD2#1, 4); Okkyung Lee: cello (CD2); Skuli Sverrisson: electric bass (CD2); John Lindberg: acoustic bass (CD2).
Tracks: Ronde; Carabosse; Doctor Petiot; Malaise; Complainte; La Falux (bonus track). Personnel: Michel Berckmans: bassoon, oboe (6); Daniel Denis: drums, percussion (1- 5); Marcel Dufrane: violin (1-5); Christian Genet: bass (1-5); Patrick Hannapier: violin, viola (1-5), pocket cello (1-5); Emmanuel Nicause: harmonium (1-5), spinet (1-5); Roger Trigaux: guitar, harmonium (6); Guy Segers: bass (6), vague rumblings (6), interstellar chaotic speech (6).
Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance
Tracks: RDNZL; Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance; Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula; Pound For A Brown On The Bus; Sleep Dirt; Gumbo Variations; Mom And Dad/Oh No; Moggio.
Personnel: Ed Palermo: alto saxophone; Paul Adamy: electric bass; Bob Quaranta: piano; Ray Marchica: drums; Ted Kooshian: organ, synthesizer; Cliff Lyons: alto saxophone, clarinet; Phil Chester: alto and soprano saxophone, flute; Bill Straub: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Ben Kono: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Barbara Cifelli: baritone saxophone; Charles Gordon, Joe Fiedler, Matt Ingman: trombone; Ronnie Buttacavoli, John Hines: trumpet; Carl Restivo: guitar, vocals; Dave Riekenberg: tenor saxophone; Emedin Rivera: percussion.
Tracks: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.
Personnel: Paul Dunmall: reeds; Paul Rogers: double bass; Keith Tippett: piano; Tony Levin: drums.
What Is the Beautiful?
Tracks: Showtime/23rd Street Runs into Heaven; The Snow is Deep On the Ground; Mates For Life; Job; Do Me That Favor; Flock; What Is the Beautiful?; Beautiful You Are; Peace Of Green; The Bloodhounds; Limpidity Of Silences; Opening the Window.
Personnel: John Hollenbeck: drums, percussion, keyboard; Ted Reichman: accordion; Chris Speed: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Matt Moran: vibraphone; Drew Gress: acoustic bass; Matt Mitchell: piano; Kurt Elling: voice (1, 4, 7, 10, 12); Theo Bleckmann: voice (2, 5, 8, 11).
Track Listing: Ceres Motion; Cloudscape For Peggy; Music; Train; Easter.
Personnel: David Borden: keyboards; Steve Drews: keyboards; Linda Fisher: keyboards.
A Beautiful Western Saddle
Tracks: CD: Let's Sit Right Down/The Passing; Such Credentials as Have Become Pseudonym; Poem for Gretchen Ruth; All's Well that Ends; Peking Widow; The Prince; What is Free to a Good Home?; Still Trying; Breakfast; Today; Song Sung Long; Human Weather Words; Now Can You Tell Me or Can It Still Be Told?, Paint Me!. DVD: Saint Dog; Rudders; Moonlake; Gary Brown; Jim (to the James River); Saint Croix; Gimme; To the Summer in Our Hearts; It Must Be a Sign; The Hardwood; Today; Paint Me!, What is Free to a Good Home?, Now Can You Tell Me or Can It Still Be Told?, The Prince, Poem for Gretchen Ruth, Such Credentials as Have Become Pseudonym, To the Summer in Our Hearts, The Hardwood.
Personnel: George Cartwright: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, voice; Tom Cora: cello, voice; Davey Williams: guitar; Ann Rupel: bass, voice; Pippin Barnett: drums; Amy Denio: voice.
Tres Cabeças Loucuras
Tracks: Jagoda's Dream; Pigeon; Carambola; Colibri; Just Lovin'; Lado Leste; Six Six Eight; Rio Negro.
Personnel: Rob Mazurek: cornet electronics, voice; Mauricio Takara: cavaquinho, drums, percussion, electronics, voice; Guilherme Granado: keyboards, loops, samplers, percussion, voice; Richard Ribeiro: drums, voice; Kiko Dinucci: guitar, voice; Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone (5, 7); John Herndon: drums (5, 7); Matthew Lux: bass guitar (7).
Tracks: Rhizome 1; Rhizome 2; Rhizome 3; Rhizome 4; Rhizome Encore.
Personnel: Merzbow: laptop; Richard Pinhas: guitar and loop system.
Tracks: Black Whole; Moon Tune; Tools; Cinque Rroulettes; Shifting Sands; Closing Hour; Ghost Strokes; Invisible One; Drill Bits; Storm; 4-4-4-4-2-2-2-5-2.
Personnel: Raoul Bjorkenheim: guitar; Bill Laswell: bass; Morgen Agren: drums.
Tracks: Hollmervalsen; En schizofrens dagbok; Ta ned trasan; Jigsaw variations; Guardian pitch; Paltsug; Etage; Min häst; Banned again; Igloo; Kintörnen.
Personnel: Mats Oberg: keyboards; Morgan Agren: drums; Jimmy Agren: guitar; Tommy Thodsson: bass; Eric Carlsson: keyboards; Robert Elvsson: keyboards.
All Photos: Courtesy of Cuneiform Records