Music Reviews from the Staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House


November 1, 2021
Ten Amazing Records of 2021
In this review, we point out ten records that we especially and repeatedly enjoyed during 2021, which were also released in 2021. We imagine that each of these records possessed strains of non-idiomatic improvisation, though to differing extents and certainly of varying flavors.


Streams - Yuma Uesaka And Marilyn Crispell
Label: Not Two Records
Catalog #: MW1010-2
Location: Warsaw, Poland
Release Date: January, 2021
Media: cd or digital files entry entry

A favorite activity of the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House is to discover delightful music from musicians previously unknown to our ears. Of course, we also enjoy music from familiar names but there is a special pleasure in hearing a voice for the first time. However, because of the insular nature or perhaps introverted personalities of the PPPH staff, our mechanisms for discovering new musicians are limited. Largely we rely on collaboration with other musicians, whom we know well.

Such is the case with Streams. To our knowledge, we had not heard the saxophone of Yuma Uesaka previously, while we were long acquainted with the piano of Marilyn Crispell. From the first moment that we listened to the piano and clarinet on the first track, Meditation, we knew that we were in for a special treat. Each of the subsequent tracks kept our attention riveted through the final track, in which the duo of Uesaka and Crispell are joined by Chatori Shimizu on shō, a Japanese free reed wind instrument. We have listened to this recording repeatedly during 2021 since it came out in January and we are happy to start our year-end recommendations with it.



Confluence - Magda Mayas' Filamental
Label: Relative Pitch Records (bandcamp)
Catalog #: RPR1120
Country: United States
Release Date: May 14, 2021
Media: cd or digital download entry entry

Prior to listening to Confluence, we were familiar with the music of Magda Mayas in two duets, Gardener with Chris Abrahams (Relative Pitch, 2013) and Tempe Jetz with Jim Denley (Relative Pitch, 2017), and one trio, Spill Plus with Damon Smith and Tony Buck (Nuscope, 2014). While those three records cover a pretty broad landscape in terms of personnel interpretation and tenor, they all fall within the well-loved category of "non-idiomatic improvisation" in a fairly pure form.

We were therefore motivated to hear what kind of music Ms. Mayas made with a larger ensemble (an octet) and surprised at the result. The work has a score, which takes the form of twelve photographs, gradually revealed during the course of the performance, of the merging of two rivers, the Rhône and the Arve in Geneva. Even when we were unaware of the presence of the score, however unconventional, we heard a cooperative music, which hinted at the blending of composition and improvisation. Certainly there was cooperation in the smaller ensembles but it seemed often of an interrogational manner, in which the musicians were asking each other questions and providing answers, sometimes in an adversarial way. In Confluence, there is a clear effort at providing a collective, common theme. We enjoyed it very much.

This is a live recording from November, 2019. The music investigates the territory that lies on the border between avant garde jazz and contemporary classical, though, of course, "You don't have to call it jazz if the term offends you."* We will venture into territory of this kind again before our top ten list is over.


*I suppose this is a paraphrase of the quote, "You don't have to call it music if the term offends you." or "If it offends you to call what I do 'music', then call it something else." from John Cage. This quote is presented differently by different folks. I don't have an original source.


eponymous - Maraton
Label: Barefoot Records
Catalog #: BFREC065CD
Country: Denmark
Release Date: May 13, 2021
Media: cd or digital download entry entry

Maraton is a quartet in which four musicians with varying backgrounds have collaborated to explore what music should arise from the spaces between their respective territories. That the combination of different perspectives should lead to an album that is not easily categorizable is, from our point of view, the best possible outcome. Maraton features Christian Haase on synth, Lasse Sonne on piano and synth, Jonathan Ludvigsen on drums, synth and samples and, finally, Maria Dybbroe on reeds and percussion. All four musicians additionally contribute vocals on the album. Of these musicians, we were previously familiar only with Ms. Dybbroe, from her saxophone in free jazz ensembles, Køs (Forlaget Kornmod, 2020, reviewed by the PPPH April 30, 2020) and Caktus (Barefoot Records, 2020, reviewed by the PPPH October 24, 2020).

We posted a review of Maraton on the blog of the PPPH on June 14, 2021.

The only thing predictable about this music is that listeners with open ears will love it. We sent a second copy to our dear brother-in-law, who confirmed this observation.


  • Maria Dybbroe (saxophone & voice) musician's website
  • Christian Haase (synth & voice)
  • Lasse Sonne (piano, synth & voice) musician's website
  • Jonathan Ludvigsen (drums, synth, samples & voice)


Hybrids — Hi Birds - Lynn Cassiers & Alexandra Grimal
Label: self-released via Bandcamp
Catalog #: None
Country: France
Release Date: March 8, 2021
Media: digital files entry entry

We posted a review of two duets with Alexandra Grimal, including Hybrids — Hi Birds on the blog of the PPPH on March 8, 2021. In this year-end list, we add a few additional notes. Alexandra Grimal said, "To me, joy is much more efficient in terms of opening thoughts than dramas. I like to put the audience into a reflective and serene state. So that everyone's inner vision of life can reveal itself and blossom into the world for other human beings around."* So, it is not an unreasonable position for a listener to hear joy in the music or to allow the music to evoke joy in the listener, as certain kinds of music have done for thousands of years.

Looking forward to 2022, Grimal's website currently notes that she plans a debut double record as a singer/songwriter to be released this winter. ("Le premier double album de chanteuse de pop éxpérimentale d'Alexandra va bientôt sortir cet hiver!") That a jazz/experimental improviser/composer should explore popular music is not too much of a surprise. Ms. Grimal has contributed to the pop albums of other musicians in the past decade, including appearances with Macha Gharibian's Trans Extended (Jazz Village, 2016), Pierre de Trégomain's Shelter (La Fabrica'Son, 2015) and Birgitte Lyregaard's Blue Anemone (Challenge 2010). This last record contains a lovely voice and saxophone rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. We very much look forward to the forthcoming pop record.


*The Efficient Thought-Opener of Joy: An Interview with Alexandra Grimal, An International Journal of Exploratory Meta-Living, Issue #13, (2020) p. 1-2, full text.


Idiom - Anna Webber
Label: Pi Recordings
Catalog #: PI89
Country: United States
Release Date: May 28, 2021
Media: double compact disc or digital files entry entry

After we had our consciousness unexpectedly broadened by our exposure to Yuma Uesaka on Streams, his duet with Marilyn Crispell, (reviewed above), we went out seeking other recordings with Yuma Uesaka. Apparently our musical ignorance knows no bounds, for the next record we found was by Anna Webber, another musician wholly outside our listening sphere. Then, we had our minds blown again! [Sound of explosion.]

The first cd in this two cd set features Anna Webber in a trio with Matt Mitchell (piano) and John Hollenbeck (drums), while the second features a much larger ensemble including Yuma Uesaka and other musicians identified below. In both cases, there is a mixture of composition and improvisation that blends avant garde jazz and contemporary classical ideas, a combination that we referenced in the review of Confluence by Magda Maya's Filamental above. For some reason, the ears of the staff PPPH seemed to have encountered more examples of this kind of music in recent years. Of course, this vague description covers a huge spectrum but other recent releases that, at least in our mind, occupy similar territory include Poof (Pi Recordings, 2021), the latest release by Henry Threadgill's Zooid, who have perhaps played a defining role in the creation of this musical terrain, as well as Ingrid Laubrock's Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt (Intakt, 2020), which like Idiom has two cds one for a small ensemble and one for a larger group.

Whether there is a current trend going on to which we have only now become aware or just serendipity in our listening, we are enjoying, at the moment, a fuller exposure to a modest tipping of the balance toward composition in the creative music that reaches our ears.



Hi Hello I'm Signe - Signe Emmeluth
Label: Relative Pitch Records (bandcamp)
Catalog #: RPR1113
Country: United States
Release Date: January 29, 2021
Media: cd or digital download entry entry

The single thirty-five minute alto saxophone solo, taken from a live performance in August, 2020, served as our introduction to the music of Signe Emmeluth. That it was titled, Hi Hello I'm Signe seemed very much a propos. In the universe of saxophone solos, we sought examples for the purposes of comparison. We considered Anthony Braxton's For Alto (Delmark Records, 1971), but, while similarly inventive, Ms. Emmeluth's playing is generally more patient, less frenetic and takes the form of a longer narrative than For Alto. We thought about making a comparison to music that is less than fifty years old but ultimately we abandoned the idea. This musical introduction appealed to us and we are content to let it stand at that.


  • Signe Emmeluth (alto saxophone)


Beauty / Resistance - Joëlle Léandre
Label: Not Two Records
Catalog #: MW 1013-2
Location: Warsaw, Poland
Release Date: 2021
Media: triple compact disc entry

This three cd set contains live recordings from the Krakow Jazz Autumn Festival 2019 during Joëlle Léandre's artistic residence. The first disc is a quartet with Mateusz Rybicki (clarinet), Zbigniew Kozera (double bass) and Zlatko Kaučič (drums). The last two discs are duets with Kaučič and Rafał Mazur (acoustic bass). Because there are three discs, we are inclined to provide three quotes.

We make no secret of our excessive admiration of the music of Joëlle Léandre. She said, "Improvisation is music of jubilation where the primary driving factor is incarnate liberty."* Should listeners not be at liberty to express the jubilation they find in her music?

Joëlle Léandre said, "I play who I am. Yes, I play who I am, I've always been like that. What a job! Improvising is accepting this danger, the power of this nothingness, this adventure." That a listener should find this music adventuresome is therefore no accident.

Joëlle Léandre said, "A recording is an encounter, a reuniting with friends, with people you feel good with. I also believe it's an act of love. I really believe that: when you play, you improvise, you like being with someone else, you like the other. No need for sex, you just like the other. Something in him pleases us, tempts us, seduces." That a listener should discover not only seduction but love in the music is, we suppose, according to Joëlle's grand design.


  • Joëlle Léandre (double bass)
  • Zlatko Kaučič (drums, discs 1 & 2) musician's website
  • Mateusz Rybicki (clarinet, disc 1)
  • Zbigniew Kozera (double bass, disc 1)
  • Rafał Mazur (acoustic bass, disc 3) musician's website

*Solo. Conversations with Franck Médioni, Joëlle Léandre, kadima collective, 2011, p. 66.
Ibid. pp. 68-69.
Ibid. pp. 99-100.


Trumpet - Wadada Leo Smith
Label: Tum Records
Catalog #: TUM BOX 002
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Release Date: May 21, 2021
Media: triple compact disc entry

Tum Records of Helsinki is celebrating the eightieth birthday of Wadada Leo Smith in grand style. Trumpet is one of two three-cd sets released earlier this year and two more releases are planned for November, 2021. Trumpet presents Wadada Leo Smith on solo trumpet from 2016, when he was a youthful seventy-five years old. Aficionados of extended techniques for playing the trumpet will not find them here. Wadada Leo Smith provides a soulful and earnest panoply of sonorous, melodic trumpeting. We are not inclined to offer additional interpretation. As Evan Parker said, "[T]he music is it's own best explanation. We can talk for another five hours and we still wouldn't really explain the music. The music explains itself. And by exposure to the music and by exposure to the history of the music, this is the way somebody will come to an understanding of how the music works."*


*Evan Parker, interview, From Music and the Creative Spirit: Innovators in Jazz, Improvisation and the Avant-Garde by Lloyd Peterson, Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland, 2006.


Uneasy - Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh & Tyshawn Sorey
Label: ECM Records (bandcamp)
Catalog #: ECM 2692
Country: Germany
Release Date: May 28, 2021
Media: double vinyl, cd or digital download entry entry

This recording features Vijay Iyer (piano) with Linda May Han Oh (double bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). Vijay Iyer said, "When I hear mastery without risk, I feel ripped off."* It is not clear, when a trio is assembled in which two of the three members are recipients of MacArthur Fellowships, what can constitute risk. The staff of the PPPH listened to the masterful music on this record many times, consciously attempting to discover the embodied risk. If we were successful in our task, we did not know it. The time in each listening passed pleasantly all the same.

Thankfully the champions of a literature of non-idiomatic improvisation at the Poison Pie Publishing House run no risk of accumulating such critical accolades that they endanger the authenticity of their creative works. Oh, this is both the glamour of creativity without external motive and the security of the unknown.


*Uncertainty Principle, Vijay Iyer, All About Jazz, 2017.


Brass and Ivory Tales - Ivo Perelman with Dave Burrell, Marilyn Crispell, Aruán Ortiz, Aaron Parks, Sylvie Courvoisier, Agustí Fernandez, Craig Taborn, Angelica Sanchez & Vijay Iyer
Label: Fundacja Słuchaj! & on Bandcamp
Catalog #: FSR 11|2021
Location: Warsaw, Poland
Release Date: September 25, 2021
Media: nine compact discs or digital download entry entry

As is surely the case with many listeners, if we think of Brazilian saxophonist, Ivo Perelman, in a duet with a pianist, it is surely with Matthew Shipp. On Leo Records alone, the pair has at least twenty releases in the past decade, many duets, including the four cd set Efflorescence Volume 1 (Leo Records, 2019), which contains only the first half of the tracks from that recording session. So while we have been waiting since 2019 for Volume 2 to be released, we were instead blind-sided by the release of the nine cd set Brass and Ivory Tales, which celebrates Ivo Perelman's sixtieth birthday by pairing him with nine different pianists, none of whom are Matthew Shipp, but virtually all of who are luminaries in the world of free improvization.

Through long collaboration, Perelman and Shipp achieved a telepathic sympathy that is intrinsic to their shared playing. Our own personal choice as to the epitome of this telepathy is found in track four of disc one of the aptly named three cd set Oneness (Leo Records, 2018). It is wrong-headed to seek the same level of intuitive improvisation in these duets with nine other pianists. You will not find it but careful listeners will find nine different takes on collaborating with Perelman.

At the time of writing this review, we have listened to all nine discs, most of them more than once. It is an embarrassment of riches and it is hard to digest nine cds, much less articulate the nuances in the ways that each pianist interacted with Perelman. To be honest, we are only beginning to get to a point where we can listen to the discs without comparing them to Perelman & Shipp. There are some insightful liner notes by Neil Tesser that provide a brief guide to distinguishing characteristics of the duets.

In any case, there is a real treasure trove of music here that is waiting to be explored further with the promise of providing a unique mechanism for comparing the ways that various improvising pianists go about their craft in responding to Perelman and prompting him to respond in kind.





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