on life, music etc beyond mainstream




Saturday night’s performance of Iranian master singer Mahsa Vahdat with the Norwegian SKRUK choir and Tord Gustavsen (piano/arrangements,) was incredible. One of the more memorable concerts I have attended in recent years … or maybe ever.

The heart of this project is Mahsa Vahdat’s amazing voice, which melismatically keens, swoops and uulates, bringing out all the beauty, longing and nuance of the poetry of Hafiz and Rumi, (sung in Farsi – the choir sings in Norwegian.)

The concert also introduced me to two albums, both of which I purchased on the spot. The album that represents this project is SKRUK & Mahsa Vahdat, i vinens spiel (KKV label) and it’s available on most streaming sites and on CD. Besides Tord Gustavsen, ECM artist, bassist Matts Ellertson (Thomas Strønen, Mathias Eick etc) is on the album. There is also another album (Mahsa Vahdat, Tord Gustavsen and a percussionist,) called Traces of an Old Vineyard, (also KKV) which was also represented that evening when the choir left the stage and the trio performed pieces from that recording.

I bumped into Tord Gustavsen after the show. He told me there will be a new trio album in the fall and extensive touring, even a visit to Northern California. I am happy to hear of a new trio album; for all the other contexts I have heard and seen him in, I still love his trio albums best of all.

SKRUK also performed a cappella, including a mind blowingly beautiful Kyrie written and arranged by Gustavsen (unfortunately not yet recorded.) The choir surrounded the audience for that one. It truly felt like I had been transported to heaven. A transcendent musical evening.





Thomas Strønen is an imaginative drummer, arranger and composer and it’s clear that his artistic intentions are very serious. Even the name of the band is serious: it comes from the first line of the poetic novel, Fugitive Pieces by Ann Michaels. Like the novel, the band too can sometimes be a difficult but rewarding “read.”

With so little European jazz coming to San Francisco (SF Jazz is not going to stage their ECM festival this year), I wasn’t going to miss out on Time is a Blind Guide’s surprising visit to the intimate Red Poppy Art House in San Francisco last night. I really liked their eponymous album a lot. I was hoping they would play some of that material, but alas, (for this listener anyway,) almost the entire show was culled from the new album Lucas. I had listened to Lucus a few times, some of which really spoke to me and some of which was perhaps a tad too loose for my tastes – at times I found myself growing impatient, waiting for something to happen during some of the free sections. But then, that might say more about me than the music.

Seeing these great players live however, was a different story. The band started out with a long, free piece that had character and gravitas-and was quite the opposite of treading musical waters: lots of droning strings, no-pulse drumming and virtuoso bass bowing by Mats Ellertson, who I had seen perform in Tord Gustavsen’s quartet (with Tore Brunborg), as well as admired on Mathias Eick’s last album Ravensburg.

Although I’m not as familiar with the new material, It appears the balance of improvised music in relation to composed music is more equal on this release, making the live performance very compelling, as the group is given a lot more freedom to explore.

The violinist, Håkon Aase, was also familiar to me from his performances on both Mathias Eick’s Midwest as well as Ravensburg (one of my picks for 2018’s best releases). He’s a very eclectic player who obviously has the classical training but sounds very folky at times, using drone strings whilst playing melodies above them. One can also detect a middle eastern interest. He was no slouch in the more avant garde pieces, whether playing ensemble parts or improvising freely. At times he played arpeggios on both violin and hardanger at once. He also doubled occasionally as a hand drummer.

The cellist is not the one on the album and I didn’t catch his name. He was more than up to the task, but didn’t stand out as much as Hakon did. Pianist Ayuma Tanaka played a somewhat austere role in the proceedings to the point of being somewhat underutilized, and was only given one solo spot in which she played exceedingly sparingly – nothing like the stretching out she did on the first album. Also, there were times when the Pleyel upright wasn’t up to the task and was  nearly  drowned out by the rest of the band.

One of the most enticing aspects of this group is that they are all obviously virtuosos, but rarely show off their prodigious chops. I suspect this is an aesthetic choice on the part of Strønen and it pays off  – there was a muted, suspended feeling most of the performance, the music rarely rising above a quiet whisper.

It’s no small thing to play drums with unmiked strings and piano and still allow everything to be heard. Strønen’s performance was a perfect balancing act that few drummers could pull off. Occasionally, he put down the brushes and picked up his sticks to let loose the raw power that he kept contained most of the evening. In those moments, the  band rose to a polite roar and the room filled with the clamor of wild, albeit somewhat restrained freedom.

It was a small room and the group played it well. The audience of around 30 people were very appreciative, and afterwards, many lingered to talk with the musicians who happily signed Lps and cds. An evening of quiet rapture.



(This is the 2nd article in a series of pieces devoted to jazz pianists I consider to be highly underrated: )


The first time I saw Art Lande with the Rubisa Patrol was in of all places, Cotati California, a small college town about 45 minutes from San Francisco. I had brought my fiancée and was sitting with her in the legendary Inn of Beginning, trying to explain to her what she was about to hear. I remember telling her that the music was lyrical, but there was also an unpredictable wackiness in his approach, and at times his music could get very weird. A few minutes later Art and the band appeared on stage. This was the original ECM band consisting of Bill Douglas on bass, Mark Isham (who went on to become a solo artist and well known film composer,) on trumpet, and Glen Cronkite on drums. Art was sitting at this old, funky upright piano on the stage where rock greats such as Neil Young and Van Morrison had recently made impromptu appearances. Art turned to the small audience and said, “I’m Art Lande, this is the Rubisa Patrol, and I hope this music isn’t too weird for YOU!” And he pointed right at my fiancée. 


What I most remember from that night is Bill and Mark playing a duet on two shakahachis, which suddenly morphed into a samurai sword fight. At one point the music was so fierce, the keyboard lid fell, almost squashing Art’s hands. Art immediately responded by deliberately banging the lid up and down as a kind of impromptu percussion instrument. This clever adaptation captures the essence of the man, who is able to be present and creatively respond  to musical happenstance with lightening quick reflexes.


Although I never took a formal lesson from him, Art has been a kind of mentor to me over the years. I have probably seen him live more than any other pianist. In fact, I just saw him play a marvelous Mothers Day concert last Sunday with the irrepressible singer/songwriter Kate McGarry and her guitarist husband, Keith Ganz, (who has to be one of the most underrated guitarists on the planet- check them out.)


What draws me to Art’s playing is his originality and spontaneity. I’ve listened to the man live and on record for over 40 years, and I don’t think I’ve heard a single “lick.” If one goes all the way back to his (vinyl only) first release, The Eccentricities of Earl Dant (an anagram of his name,) one finds his original style already evolved to the point of being recognizable as pure Lande: the lyricism, the idiosyncratic humor, the rhythmic drive, odd clusters, lines that dance, swirl and unexpectedly veer towards the edge of tonality, yet always evincing the trademark warmth and humanity that makes Art so unique. 


His harmonic concept is obviously influenced by Monk as well as Bill Evans, but equally influenced by classical composers, such as Bartok, Bach and Debussy, not to mention his studies with composer/performer/writer, W.A Mathieu. He is listed in Wikipedia as one of the founders of what is known as “chamber jazz.” Knowing Art, I’m sure he would hate that label, because it truly limits the scope of his musical curiosity and invention, which has led him down many paths, often away from the ECM sound he was most known for in the late 70s. 


Art only made a few albums for ECM. The first was a duet album with Jan Garbarek. Red Lanta (1974 – the title is another anagram of Arts name,) is a landmark album in the classic chamber jazz mold. The tunes are airy and light on the surface, yet reveal hidden depths –  this intimate recording captures a casual rapport between these two great players, both of whom had a signature sound right out of the gate. Years after it’s release, upon mentioning the album to Art, and telling him how much it meant to me, his response was, “Oh, that old thing?” 


The two Rubisa Patrol albums are ECM classics. The writing is mostly Art’s, and it certainly fits into the chamber jazz setting. After that, Art was the featured pianist on Gary Peacock’s Shift in the Wind, a trio album with drummer Elliot Zigmund. A far more energetic album with some free play interspersed with Gary and Art’s compositions, I consider it to be among the best trio albums in the early ECM catalog. There was also an experimental record with Mark Isham, entitled We Begin. Combining Art’s piano with Mark Isham’s trumpet and synthesizer skills, it’s somewhat of an oddity, but one that grows on the listener with repeated plays – in retrospect, while the 80s synth sounds date it somewhat, it’s still a very forward looking recording in many respects.


I consider the album, Skylight to be one of the finest examples of “chamber jazz” in the entire ECM catalog. Here the trio, consisting of Lande, Paul McCandless and vibist Dave Samuels pick up where they left off on McCandless’s first solo release, All the Mornings Bring (Vanguard – a great recording, finally released on CD), with more of the same: superb compositions and incredibly intuitive ensemble playing. I consider both of these albums to be essential listening in this genre. 


Seeing Art live, one never knows what to expect. Back in the late 70s, Art would sometimes hold court at the Great American Music Hall for several nights, each night having a different theme. One night it was lyrical duets with Paul McCandless (it’s amazing that after decades of performing together as a duo, Paul and Art have yet to release a duet album), the next, the Rubisa Patrol playing nothing but waltzes. Another night there were mattresses and blankets on the floor; the lights were down low onstage and everyone in the band was lying down. Occasionally, a somnambulant figure would rise in the darkness and sleepwalk to an instrument – slow abstract lullabies emerged. 


Art is also a literary kind of guy. He often reads poetry aloud while improvising. Sometimes, he just makes stuff up. I remember a night where he told a spontaneous tale of an alien sneaking into a house and raiding the fridge- his alien voice was hysterical. On rare occasions he has been known to sing one of his own humorous and quirky songs.


Eventually Art left the Bay Area for Switzerland where he was active as a teacher and performer for a number of years. For some reason that period isn’t documented by any recordings I am aware of. He was no longer with a label at that point – in fact he has continued to be an independent artist to this day. Art eventually returned to the states where he made his home in Boulder Colorado. At 71, he has been more active than ever – he currently plays in at least 6 bands and still records and tours regularly.


Art likes to pair up with young musicians – occasionally as the drummer rather than pianist. One such band is called the Russian Dragon Band (Rushing/Dragging – a drummers joke?) Another group with Art in the drummer’s seat is the Boy Girl Band, a group entirely  devoted to playing completely improvised music.  He is also featured on drums in the experimental group Funko Moderno, a postmodern band that plays music that supposedly originates in the fictitious country of “Italavia.” It’s a premise that allows for funk, bebop, tongue in cheek jazz themes and Slavic music influences to collide in unpredictable ways.  


Art also guests on countless albums. One such example is Sioux Country, by sax player/educator Pete Sommers – It is a fine duo album. Featuring Pete’s compositions, it’s not unlike Red Lanta in tone, although it feels distinctly American, coming as it is from the southwest. Art also has an ongoing series of free improvisation recordings with sax player, Mark Miller. Seeing the two together live, one can expect an evening of musical mayhem. Occasionally, Art will whip out his trusty melodica and perform as a 2nd horn player. The two are good friends – it’s an anything goes musical situation that often becomes comically theatrical.


Art has also had a special musical relationship with French/Vietnamese guitarist/composer Nguyen Le. Appearing in the mid 80s on both of Le’s first two albums (Universal – both excellent) , Miracles and Zanzibar (with Paul McCandless), and his superb ACT recording, Walking on the Tiger’s Tail (also with McCandless,) there is an electric current running between these two distinctly unique artists – their highly contrasting styles and temperaments seem to bring out the best in one another. In 2008, while recovering from a bad breakup, I took a trip to the southwest where I followed Art and Nguyen Le on their mini tour of the Southwest. The first concert of the tour was a house concert in Boulder. I remember sitting in a small living room crammed with around 12 guests, looking at a grand piano and next to it, an electric guitar, a MacBook Pro on a music stand and on the floor, a pedalboard filled with blinking lights – I asked myself, “How on earth is this going to work?” What followed was a surprising mix of atmospheric sounds, ambient jazz, and world music. It was a magnificent, unforgettable performance. 


That’s the thing about Art Lande: he has an insatiable musical curiosity. His work embodies the perfect balance of freedom and form. He supports creativity in others and loves to collaborate. His collaborations even go beyond his musical associations: In 2011, with the help of two graphic artists and an editor/writer, he created his own tarot deck. The “Art tarot” is the fruit of decades of study and 6 years of development. The goal was to strip away the medieval archaisms of the original decks, cutting to the essence of the archetypes and energies represented by each card. If you’re interested in tarot as a tool for self transformation, it’s worth tracking down. 


Art’s albums are worth tracking down as well. Unfortunately, they’re  not always easy to find. Art cares not a whit about self promotion. He never speaks of new releases – he doesn’t use the internet at all. The only way to find new music by this artist is to visit his website (which he proclaims he has nothing to do with,) or do a Google search. Besides the ones mentioned in the article, I also recommend checking out the following:


Melissa Spins Away (vinyl only,) Great American Music Hall label, solo piano (an album of jazz waltzes – gorgeous.)

Friday the 13th- Vartan Jazz, music of Monk-solo piano  (very cool album- was supposed to be a live album but something went wrong and wound up recorded live in the studio.)

Shapeshifter- Synergy Music- original compositions, with Paul McCandless, Peter Barshay and Alan Hall

Recurring Dream – Mike McGinnis with Art and Steve Swallow (they just released a followup album)

Nemesis- Songlines- Mark Nodwell, Drew Greiss, Tom Rainey, Doug Young, Ron Miles (Marc Nodwell’s compositions are notable and it’s an SACD)

Polar Opposites- Dave Peterson guitar, Art Lande piano (good guitar player, nice tunes. Mostly duos, but I think theres a rhythm section on a few tunes as well.)

For a complete discography of Art’s recordings both as leader and sideman, including the aforementioned bands and albums, (some of which are only available as download on his site) and touring schedule, check out 

2018 8 Mai

MIM Museum, Phoenix AZ

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A hidden gem, the Musical Instruments Museum is the most comprehensive museum of instruments in the world. The museum’s inventory is so large, there is only space to display about 1/2 of the 15,000 instruments in their entire collection.

I have no idea what this astounding museum is doing in Phoenix AZ, but it’s amazing not only in the breadth and scope of the collection, but in the ingenious way the museum presents the instruments and associated music.

On entry, the visitor is issued the usual headphones and sound producing box, except in actuality, there is nothing usual about it. Each exhibit has a large video screen, demonstrating the various instruments on display. Using Bluetooth technology, the moment the visitor stands in front of the exhibit, the sound of the video syncs to the headset. As soon as the user moves away, the sound fades down, until it’s reactivated by the next exhibit. It works seamlessly. These are high quality audio/video clips presented in stereo. Many are rare field recordings. There is almost no narration, except when the occasional scholar explains the historic significance of say, the Japanese Noh play, or sheds light on the wedding music of Tajikistan.



Downstairs one can spend hours exploring just the pop, rock, world and new music exhibits. This exhibit focuses on famous stars to represent certain genres or periods. It must’ve been difficult to decide which pop/rock star to pick to represent an entire musical genre or period within that genre. They do a pretty good job, but it’s simply impossible to decide who to pick for say, the entire 80s pop era. (They picked the Police.) Johnny Cash, The Carter family, Dolly Parton (and a few others)  for country. But why in God’s name pick The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band over The Band to represent the early roots of Americana? Oh well. Elvis of course, but also Duane Eddy and Roy Orbison. You’ll find John Lennon’s piano on display, as well as Pablo Casals’s cello, Clara Rockmore’s theremin (!) and a very cool exhibit on Kronos Quartet. (On the other hand, almost an entire wall devoted to Taylor Swift – Really?)

They also try to include various stars of popular world styles, such as Cuban music (Tito Puente,) Qwali music maestro, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, as well as sitar master, the late Ravi Shankar (and his daughter Anousha) for Indian music. In addition to the pop, world and classical stars, there’s an amazing room filled with historical orchestrions and other fascinating automated instruments built over the centuries.

There’s also an interactive room filled with instruments that one can touch and play.

But all of this is just the warmup to the main event, which is upstairs. The MIMs collection of world instruments is simply staggering. Divided by regions and broken up into countries, it’s a mind blowing experience. We started in Asia exploring Indonesian and other island cultures, dipping into China, Japan and India. The collection is simply too vast to see in a day: we never even got to the America’s, Europe or African collections! My partner called it the Louvre of musical instrument museums, and that about sums it up.

The museum also has an impressive and eclectic concert series as well.






Perhaps my fellow Manafonistas have already discovered this wonderful hour long documentary on Eberhard Weber by Julian Benedikt. It has a lot of great footage from various stages of his career, including a number of things I’ve never seen before, even some casual backstage craziness dating back to his younger days.

I wish I could watch this with some of my German friends, because  the film is mostly in German, with the exception of  some words by Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, the late Michael di Pasqua, Jan Garbarek etc.

Because I have always been such a big admirer of the man and his music, I was very moved by this piece, even without understanding most of the dialogue. It’s a very personal film and covers a lot of ground in just about an hour. It’s been up on Vimeo for about a month. Looks like it was made fairly recently. Highly recommended.


2018 16 Apr

Kristjan Randalu

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Estonian pianist Randalu has always impressed me with his technical mastery and subtle arranging chops, but takes it up another notch on the new ECM release, Absence.

The opening track, Forecast is one of the most stunning pieces I’ve heard in a very long time, starting with an out of time meditative opening, moving into shimmering arpeggios of light with a haunting repeating melody, and suddenly opening up into a powerful piano solo. You can hear the classical inspiration from composers such as Erkki-Sven Tüür and Tõnu Kõrvits, both of whom had been his mentors at one time. This classical harmonic approach serves the music well – it fits in with the ECM aesthetic, yet integrates rigorous classical discipline with spontaneous improvisation in a unique, fresh approach.

Besides his compositional excellence, Randalu is a prodigious improviser. His chemistry with guitarist Ben Monder is palpable here, and drummer Markku Ounaskari’s supple playing is the glue that pulls it all together.

This trio is so dynamic and huge sounding that at first I barely noticed the absence of a bass player. Overall, this album serves up a soft palette of musical colors, veering from the melancholic to the ecstatic, occasionally taking  a detour to some surprisingly dark spaces. Once in a while, the power of this trio comes thru the generally gauzy sonic veils, hinting at what they must sound like live and unleashed. (There are some good videos on YouTube.)

The music flirts with ambient and free playing in a couple places, but Randalu’s sense of structure and form keeps it from becoming diffuse or unfocused.

Music of startling beauty and originality, this album will easily be on my top 10 list for 2018.


2018 15 Apr

New E.S.T live album

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I’m sure that Esborn Svennson’s untimely death affected many Manafonistas and readers – it certainly affected me deeply.

To tell the truth, when I first heard them I was not particularly blown away. Then I bought the American release, Somewhere Else Before, a compilation culled primarily from From Gagarin’s point of View and Good Morning Susie Soho, (both excellent early albums), and I was hooked – I became a rabid fan, buying every subsequent release and eventually collecting their entire catalog. And hungry for more.

So naturally, I responded to the news that ACT is releasing a new live double CD with great joy and expectation. This trio holds a special place in the jazz universe – and in my heart. They were a singular force of nature- sadly, I never got to see them live.

This is one of those rare trios, the kind whose chemistry can only come about by growing up playing music together. I am looking forward to this one with great anticipation.


2018 31 Mrz

Andy Sheppard Quartet

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What is it about this quartet that makes them so special and such a pleasure to listen to? First of all, it’s the chemistry. These four players know just how to play together. Total compatibility. Then I think it’s the honesty. It’s not easy to make simple music this beguiling. It’s not easy to make music this harmonically stripped down, yet so texturally complex and melodically seductive.

At first, I thought, well, it’s so diatonic I will be bored in 10 minutes. But I wasn’t. Was it Andy’s breathy lyricism, or Elvind Aarset’s magical colors? Michel Benita’s sensitive support on bass, or Seb Rochefort’s perfectly intuitive drumming? Whatever it is, I keep finding myself longing for more of this music. Listening on the trail, it reflects the beauty of the natural world, those rare states of consciousness where one experiences the direct apprehension of nature without the descriptive mind having to constantly dialogue about it. That’s what this music does: It sounds like what it is, a direct communication of beauty, reflectiveness, with occasional moments of fire amidst the immense seas of tranquility and melancholy. It’s therapeutic in that it washes the mind clean, a sound purification filter for the soul.

So I checked out the earlier, Surrounded by Sea and found a similar, inviting world. I think of them as bookends, twin worlds, or at least parallel worlds.

Living quite happily with both of these, I ask fellow manifonistas if this group has any other recordings prior to these two ECM releases, and if so, where I can find them.




I just watched this fantastic documentary last night.  Director Emma Franz lets candid conversations and live footage tell the story in lieu of narration, revealing an artist who has never stood still, constantly reinventing himself yet, paradoxically, always sounding exactly like himself. It’s funny, surprising, occasionally dramatic, personable and engaging,  just like Bill’s music. A diverse group of great musicians from Bonnie Raitt and Paul Simon to John Zorn, Jim Hall, John Abercrombie and Michael Gibb talk about the universal appeal and influence of Bill’s music. Many of the people he plays with, such as Joey Baron, the late Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and Ron Carter, share stories and thoughts about their collaboration. What emerges is a portrait of one of the most dedicated players/composers alive, who also happens to be one of the nicest guys in the business. Essential viewing.

This film is available for purchase here:

It’s also available for viewing if you’re an Amazon Prime member. (It’s probably rentable as well.)


2018 13 Mrz

For Misty

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Beyond the lost past,
Beyond all fading memory,
Beyond the smell of decaying leaves
And the half remembered taste of warm bread one winter’s morning in late December,
and how you laughed in delight at our delight,
I love you
Beyond the frail tendrils of dying cells
Flaming out in super novas of forgotten embraces
I love you
Beyond the loss of your very self,
And even your own name,
Beyond the loss of your senses,
And the loss of making sense-
And Memories disappearing behind you
Like trains uncoupling and abandoned on empty snow covered tracks,
fading into darkness,
silent and still,
I love you
Beyond hope,
Beyond reason,
Beyond the loss of everything precious,
I love you
Now, now and now and for always,
Beyond time,
Beyond the body,
Beyond unspeakable pain,
Beyond the horrifying recognition of
The broken mind,
The heart is alive, intact
And perfect
This is how I see you,
And I will love and hold you in my heart forever
And always.

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