Blaise Siwula, reed master of free music. . . we've usually associated
him with New York City in years past. He has however been spending sometime down in Merida, Mexico and has hooked up with some good players there. /Merida Encuentro/ (nfm 004) gives us a CD of free encounters of the ear-enriching kind, a rewarding result of the confluence of new and culturally diverse combinations that can happen when everybody opens up and listens.
The first several cuts feature Blaise on clarinet and alto and Armando
Martin on acoustic guitar. "Para Django" starts things off with a kind
of swing extension of outness, of course paying tribute to Django
Reinhardt in the process. More abstracted duets follow, with "Sin
Tiempo" giving us a first climax via prepared and unprepared guitar that
goes from Bailey-esque flights to Latin classical to jazz chording to
sung-played expressive lining while Blaise makes a cohesive statement on
Armando switches to electric guitar for "Disenos" and drummer Edgar
Caamal joins the group to make it a trio for the rest of the set. The
dynamic remains free and open form. Edgar's brushed drums make us feel a little more like we are back in New York, but Armando on electric
quickly turns up and gets us into a more watted avant abstraction that
has an exploded free-rock feel as Edgar switches to sticks. Blaise turns
up the intensity on alto and gets the max out of the two-lined
The mood continues with Armando back on acoustic and Blaise catching
alto fire. A longer, softer "Suave" brings back clarinet, brushes and
acoustic for what starts out as a kind of free ballad with a lazy
bluesiness in there as Blaise channels some tradition into his own world
with smooth ease but pointed strength. It comes to climax, then gets
quiet and moody again.
The finale, "Fuera", substitutes Alvar Canto Torres on electric guitar.
He is more into a metallic, psychedelic, high-voltage sound with guitar
feedback, power drones and edgy lines that give Blaise something else to
work against. Blaise glides and slithers along with it while Edgar
continues free drum barrages but also interjects intermittent pauses to
change the texture of the momentum.
In the end we get another way free can roll. Blaise is in great form and
his fellow travellers add dimensions and dynamics that keep it all
interesting. This is a successful first outing with lots of modes and
moods. I look forward to what else they will do in future.
Giancarlo Mazzu/Blaise Siwula/Luciano Troja (SLAM)
by Ken Waxman
After five years of intercontinental music making,
Italian pianist Luciano Troja and guitarist/drummer
Giancarlo Mazzù, plus New York multi-reedist Blaise
Siwula, have finally recorded their co-operative trio.
The wait was worth it. With interactive familiarity
engendered by time, the three easily enmesh unique
textures and timbres into a satisfying whole. Siwula is
an improviser never inhibited by fashion or genre.
That makes him a perfect foil for the other two, whose
musical explorations flow equally from so-called
classical music and folkloric suggestions as well as the
liberation implicit in free music.
As an added bonus, d’istantes3’s seven tracks are
divided in such a way that two unique trios could be
on hand. One, more jazz-oriented, usually features
Siwula playing alto or tenor saxophone in a tart,
impassioned manner while Mazzù demonstrates his
talent as a time-keeping drummer with a fondness for
shuffle beats. Here Troja’s command of blues
progressions and other swing conventions is on display
as well. With a style more akin to contemporary New
music, the pianist helps define the second trio,
alongside Mazzù’s harsh rasgueado and slurred
fingering on the guitar plus Siwula’s extended
techniques, usually expressed in the chalumeau
register of the clarinet or bass clarinet.
For instance, with Mazzù’s slaps and ruffs and
Troja’s metronomic pulsing propelling the tune
forward, “Istantes 2” finds Siwula’s saxophone lines
evolving from hesitant flutters to multiphonic, circular
smears. In contrast, “Istantes 1” could have been
through-composed in early 20th century Vienna. As
low-pitched clarinet puffs eventually sharpen, reed
lines are accompanied by harp-like strums from the
guitarist and busy piano patterns.
Divisions aren’t hard and fast, however, since
many tracks exhibit both recital- and dance-hall
characteristics. “Istantes 2” for example, has a blues
progression and drum rolls and shuffles suggesting
‘30s Swing while heavily vibrated bass clarinet slurs
are strictly modern. By the final selection the three
have managed to forge inimitable sequences, which
can call on the characteristics of other musics while
maintaining an interface strictly the band’s own.
For more information, visit slamproductions.net. Siwula is at
Spectrum Jan. 3rd and ABC No-Rio Jan. 20th. See Calendar.
January 2013 | THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
Gianccarlo Mazzu' on guitar & drums, Blaise Siwula on alto & tenor sax, bass & regular clarinets and Luciano Troja on piano. Mr. Mazzu' and Mr. Troja were/are part of a trio (Mahanada) and duo who have a couple of discs out on Splasch. Here they work with the ubiquitous NY improviser Blaise Siwula, who has recorded on more than fifty discs with many musicians from around the world. Mr. Siwula has the C.O.M.A. series at ABC-No-Rio for many years which is where he first met these two Italian musicians. Since improvisation in an international language which musicians from around the world share, this trio combines forces with solid results. They are not bound by styles or genres so we hear a variety of directions from straight swinging clarinet to freer explorations. What I dig about this is that there is a playful and somewhat melodic quality to this even though it is fully improvised. A rarity for most free music. At times it sounds as if they are playing fragments of standards yet will organically change direction when anything becomes almost familiar. From time to time, the trio will weave into some further out regions but never go too far. Where as some improv gets too dense or difficult, this never does and sounds fine just the way it is. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
New York Encuentro
Katsuyuki Itakura/Blaise Siwula/
Richard Gilman-Opalsky (No Frills Music)
by Ken Waxman
Named for the idea-exchanging “encounters” Mexican
Zapatista guerillas organized following the 1994
Chiapas uprising, the only concepts espoused on this
outing are purely musical. Yet the unfettered tonal
expressions demonstrated by this trio of veteran improvisers
are as radical in their way as the Zapatistas’ libertarian socialist
ideas were in theirs.
That’s radical, not confrontational. For no matter
how atonal New York Encuentro’s eight tracks appear,
they never fail to communicate. Upfront are the key
clipping and sly, note-patterning of Japanese pianist
Katsuyuki Itakura plus the reed prestidigitation of
saxophonist Blaise Siwula. Keeping the rhythm linear
is drummer Richard Gilman-Opalsky, who also
possesses degrees in political philosophy.
Considering his few brief solos are mostly
involved with cymbal clanking and press roll
reverberating, it’s obvious that Gilman-Opalsky’s
musical philosophy adheres to the Zapatistas’ low-key
(r)evolution. In their playing, the other musicians are
as similarly sympathetic as the Mexican movement’s
rural base is to wealth-distribution ideas. But like a
minority of Zapatistas who turned to direct action, the
trio here plays vociferously enough to get their ideas
Especially animated is Siwula, who on a piece such as “Toy Box” opens the container to reveal staccato tongue slaps, balanced reed bites and overblowing into every corner of the package. At the
same time he isn’t averse to ending a series of irregularly accented stutters with a joking quote from “Heart and Soul”. While the pianist is capable of kinetic jumps, his playing is economical, with singlekey
shading like early Cecil Taylor or mature Thelonious Monk.
The sprightly “Great Incept” could be an updated Monk tune,
with Itakura plinking broken-octave lines, shaded with
stride echoes andSiwula on tenor saxophone harmonizing
in ballad tempo like Charlie Rouse.
Although the trio’s intensity is often expressed in
reed triple-tonguing and splayed, keyboard leaps, in
2011 this progressive encounter should be no more
revolutionary than the Zapatistas’ ideas about nonviolent
Live in London
(No Frills Music)
Saxophonist and clarinetist Blaise Siwula is an acolyte of the fire-and-brimstone school of reed playing, abstracted to the sonic sources that have welled up over the years in musicians like Albert Ayler, Peter Brötzmann, and Shoji Ukaji. Live in London is just that, a series of eight solo tenor and clarinet pieces recorded in December 2008 on a visit to England, along with one duet featuring Alan Wilkinson on baritone saxophone. As much as Siwula pulls from the sandblasted reaches of energy music – and the closing “Time’s Up” with Wilkinson is a joyous shout of hard-bitten, screaming multiphonics and wind shear reminiscent of messengers McPhee and Gustafsson – there’s a lot of variability in his playing. “Stutter’s Waltz” is a three-minute slice of whittled resonance that plays a tense game with the possibility of breaking off into whoops and hollers, yet far exceeds any sense of “exercise.” The connection with McPhee isn’t too implausible, although perhaps Siwula is a little more interested in garishness in his wide-vibrato, wall-shaking preach. That’s notable with “On the Plains of Brooklyn,” which calls up both Rust Belt river silt and the music of the Scottish highlands, somehow mincing a penny-whistle with blustery tenor skronk. It’s a lot to fit into a short piece, but Siwula does it.
“Old Friends” takes a well-worn melodic fragment and ramps up the swagger into athletic curls, blats and paint-peeling sharp masses, though at the piece’s center is an awareness of the instrument’s stately history even as the saxophonist tears through it with winking abandon. Lest one forget Siwula has worked with melody hounds like pianist Nobu Stowe and guitarist Dom Minasi, “Time One Down” is an approximation of a pre-bop chestnut, sweetly closing the disc’s first third. Although that first third is also a bit more lo-fi, the music isn’t harmed, and the following thirty-minutes recorded at Ryan’s FlimFlam grants longer pieces (including the aforementioned duet) that, while mostly not as hell-bent, nevertheless provide a window into Siwula’s quick wit, massive tone, and love for his forebears. “Ryan’s Shuffle” is a fine example of this fact, toying with and building on some arcane melody much as a free mid-60s Rollins, albeit with a little of the non-idiomatic sandblasting school thrown in. Even when he’s taking it the distance, Siwula knows how to bring the music home to an almost hokey-sounding prewar vibe before stretching into high-pitched screams. If you really want a slice of Blaise Siwula’s world, Live in London comes highly recommended.
Friday, July 22, 2011
New York Encuentro: Blaise Siwula in Excellent Form with K. Itakura and R. Gilman-Opalsky
Now that what was once called the "new thing" is nearly 50 years young, we have a chance to assess what has gone on so far. Not today, however, since as I write this New Jersey is headed toward 100-plus-degree weather and my office is rapidly becoming an oven with yours truly as the tuna casserole. Nevertheless there are substyles in "free" improv that are well marked out and players working within the various parameters with increasing economy of expression and a kind of certainty years of experimentation and musically genetic drift have made possible.
The trio of Katsuyuki Itakura, piano, Blaise Siwula, alto and tenor saxes, and Richard Gilman-Opalsky on drums serves as a good example. New York Encuentro (No Frills Music 002) finds them in a free-blowing set that has the consistency of music by players who know where they are coming from, know where they want to be, and then get there.
Itakura comes out of the Cecil Taylor school of pianistic all-overness. He's quite good at keeping the lines and clusters coming. Gilman-Opalsky has the Sunny Murray-and-after freetime drumming down and interacts well with the others. Then there is Blaise Siwula. He has a way of his own that relates to what has gone before but does so in ways that are endlessly inventive. It's not so much a timbral sound sculpting that goes on with Blaise on this set, though he does of course have a sound. It's the way he keeps coming up with lines of interest, setting up a dialog especially with the piano, laying out line after line of musical improvisation with a lucidity of someone who knows what he is about...that is what makes New York Encuentro music well worth hearing.
Blaise Siwula – LIVE IN LONDON: You must be a dedicated improv fan to completely enjoy what Blaise is doing here. His solo tenor sax work is both penetrating and forward moving! “On The Plains of Brooklyn” will grab your ears and hold on to them for the entire 4:07. “Transparent Dialogue” uses little “punctuation marks” to guide you through the conversation. Those of us who are able to let ourselves go & get immersed in the moment will understand what’s being said immediately. I’ve heard other players like Jack Wright and Jeffrey Morgan perform such antics many times, but Blaise manages to captivate your mind even though it’s a recording. This is a great performance that gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me (especially for listeners who can’t do without some freestyle), with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96. Get more information at www.blaisesiwula.com Rotcod Zzaj
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Blaise Siwula, Solo Tenor Sax, "Live in London"
How many solo saxophone records have I heard? A good many. Are they all wonderful? No. If the player is not imspired or comes to the date unprepared, it can be slow going for the listener. Happily that is not the case with Blaise Siwula's Live in London (No Frills Music 001).
It's from two separate live appearances in 2008. He switches to clarinet on one track and Alan Wilkinson joins him on the baritone for the final number.
What I find excellent is how Blaise creates differing spontaneous compositions (free playing, if you like) by concentrating on the rich possibilities that the tenor offers. Siwula channels the big, timbrally complex sound worlds. Like Ayler and the Texas tenors, Blaise Siwula gets a sound that has wide expressive impact. Yet he doesn't really sound like those players because he has worked through his own take on the sounds.
It's free saxology from the nether regions of the land of Wail. And it's about as good an example as I've heard in a few years. Just as Blaise and Alan Wilkerson go out with a madcap flourish on the final number, you should do the same. Go out and get this--or Google Blaise and find a way to order it. But don't expect toe tapping. Do expect to set your MIND tapping.
Grego Applegate Edwards
"Blaise Siwula Live in London"
Human beings spend their lives trying not to be alone. Once they find company, they begin the
elusive search to rediscover their initial solitude. In music, the solorecording reflects this
contradictory quest. In many ways it is the most intriguing form, both for fan andartist, and once finally attempted, it is charged with a discernible aspiration to retrieve the ensemble format.
First to come to mind on the first track of tenor saxophonist Blaise Siwula’s Live in London,
“Stutter’s Waltz”, is Peter Brötzmann in the stammering orgies of deep tones and harmonics. Siwula invokes Albert Ayler on the second track, “On the Plains of Brooklyn”, with a simple, folk-like melody that slowly deconstructs into darker, earthier tones, closing, as Ayler often did, anthemically. “Transparent Dialogue” is a paradigm of what Siwula does all along: he attacks the problem inherent in a single-instrument excursus by engaging in dialogue with himself. Often, as suggested, this involves the play of lighter and darker, of higher and lower tones; but also, as in this tune, short staccato bursts contrasted with longer, legato lopes.
Siwula is a master duettist and he has no trouble transposing this knack to a self-on-self context. Again, melody and barrages of sound walls stack up against one another swimmingly, as Siwula always hints at harmony even in his noisiest squawks and his tunefulness is ever tempered by a robust, muscular delivery.