Music Reviews from the Staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House


November 24, 2023 and updated December 23, 2023
Ten Ear-Opening Records of 2023
The staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House high-light ten records of adventurous jazz (we use the term as inclusively as possible) released in the past year to which we have repeatedly listened.


Vands Transparens - Sidechains
Label: Barefoot Records
Catalog #: BFREC074LP
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Release Date: February 19, 2023
Media: 12" vinyl or digital download entry entry

In 2023, we heard three new albums by Maria Dybbroe and we loved them all. For those unfamiliar with Ms. Dybbroe, she is a Danish saxophonist, improviser and composer with twin loves for melody and musical invention. She works in Copenhagen and is part of the local Barefoot Records Collective there. She is the leading force in several jazz ensembles. In 2021, she received the Prize "New Name of the Year" at the Danish Music Awards for Jazz with her ensemble Maraton for their eponymously titled debut release (Barefoot Records, 2021).

Vands Transparens (Water Transparency) is the debut release by Sidechains, a saxophone quintet, including Maria Dybbroe, Sven Meinild, Martin Stender, Francesco Bigoni & Henrik Pultz Melbye. The music that they have chosen to make together is mellow and ambient but actively shifting in its texture. There is an engaging simplicity to it that belies a layered complexity.

Ms. Dybbroe also released an album in 2023 with her ensemble, Caktus. Their second album, flimrende (flickering) is a jazz quintet composed of Frederik Hagner (double bass), Thorbjørn Kaas (double bass and cello), Tobias Andreasson (drums), Zeki Jindyl (saxophone) and Maria Dybbroe (saxophone) playing Dybbroe compositions. The debut album Under Solen (Barefoot Records, 2020) by Caktus was nominated for "Album of the Year" at the Danish Music Awards for Jazz and earned Ms. Dybbroe a nomination as "Composer of the Year" by the Danish Critics Prize Steppeulven. Their second album develops and expands upon the strengths of the first. Although they are musically distinct, we liked flimrende just as much as Vands Transparens and could have picked either album to kick off the PPPH Top Ten list for 2023.

We said above that we heard three records by Maria Dybbroe in 2023. In the liner notes on the bandcamp site for Vands Transparens there is mention of a 2019 album, Rituals (Bad Posture, 2019), a collaboration between Maria Dybbroe and composer Jacob Ridderberg. (Note: This link is useful—we couldn't find Rituals on bandcamp by searching for "Ridderberg" or "Dybbroe" and it is buried in a search for "Rituals".) Somehow we had entirely missed this well-kept secret on its release. In any case, the trio of Vands Transparens, flimrende and Rituals was the most exciting musical revelation of 2023 for the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House.

The full review of Vands Transparens was posted March 8, 2023.


Sun / Moon - David Murray
Label: JMI Recordings
Catalog #: JMI-10
Location: New York, United States
Release Date: January 17, 2023
Media: 12" vinyl x2 entry

We have heard a couple dozen records by groups led by David Murray and by the World Saxophone Quartet, released as earlier as the 1970's but none more recent than the 1990's. We hadn't followed what kind of music David Murray had been making in the twenty-first century, but we saw this record for sale and decided to correct our error. Sun / Moon is also the first solo saxophone record by David Murray that we had heard. We loved the music on all four sides of vinyl. His playing and creativity remain superb. The sound quality is fantastic. We have listened again and again.


Una Ofrenda A La Ausencia - Camila Nebbia
Label: Relative Pitch Records
Catalog #: RPRSS023
Location: New York, United States
Release Date: August 25, 2023
Media: compact disc or digital download entry entry

We continue to avidly follow the Solo Series on Relative Pitch Records. To our knowledge there were five new releases in this series in 2023, bringing the total number to twenty-two. The appeal of this series is two fold. First, it routinely brings artists new to our ears into our listening sphere. There is always something special about the first time you hear the music of an artist. Second, Relative Pitch Records allows the artist complete freedom to express their solo voice in the manner that suits them. We really enjoyed all of these cds, including others from 2023 such as Madison Greenstone's Resonance Studies In Ecstatic Consciousness and María A. Valencia's Compendio De Alofonías Abisales. However, we decided to go with Camila Nebbia's Una Ofrenda A La Ausencia (An Offering to Absence) for the purpose of assembling this end-of-the-year list of musical highlights. We enjoyed both her personal exploration of the tenor saxophone and the themes of absence visited in different ways on each track.

The full review of Una Ofrenda A La Ausencia was posted August 22, 2023.


Love in Exile - Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad Ismaily
Label: Verve Records
Catalog #: B0037176-01
Location: New York, United States
Release Date: March 24, 2023
Media: 12" vinyl x2, compact disc or digital files entry

Frequently, when we are writing reviews about musicians who have received extensive accolades, we think of the quote by Vijay Iyer, who said, "When I hear mastery without risk, I feel ripped off."* When we first listened to Uneasy (ECM Records, 2021) by the trio of Iyer, Linda May Han Oh & Tyshawn Sorey, we wondered aloud if it was possible for a trio with two recipients of MacArthur Fellowships to make risky music anymore. In Love in Exile, Iyer answers that question in the affirmative. It is without a doubt a risky career move to release an album of Urdu love poems in the polarized climate of the United States, where politicians continue to stoke anti-immigrant and often anti-Muslim sentiments for their own benefit.

Every song on this album is beautiful. The voice of Arooj Aftab is beautiful and the instrumental accompaniment by Iyer and Ismaily is also beautiful. Finally, the courage to make a piece of music according to one's personal creative vision without being constrained by fears of reception is perhaps the most beautiful element of this album.

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


Storm Dance - Joëlle Léandre & Vinicius Cajado
Label: Not Two Records
Catalog #: MW1035-2
Location: Krakow, Poland
Release Date: June, 2023
Media: compact disc entry

At the risk of repeating ourselves, we note that one of the appeals of listening to free improvisation is the way that musicians, previously unknown to each other, frequently come together for impromptu meetings. For listeners living in remote locales, one can follow the commercially released recordings of a particular musician and continuously be introduced to musicians whom we have not heard before. For decades, Joëlle Léandre has been such a musician. Many creative folks want to play with her and she appears to be willing to oblige. In 2023, we listened to several new releases by Joëlle Léandre and two of them were duets in which she introduced us to someone whom we had not yet met. One of the discs was Estampe (Confront, 2023) where Léandre partnered with drummer Rodolphe Loubatière and the other was Storm Dance where she paired with fellow bassist Vinicius Cajado. This record proved a delightful introduction to Brazilian bassist Vinicius Cajado. Each time we hear a new recording by Joëlle Léandre we fall in love with her bass playing again. Both of these cds worked their magic on us. We picked the bass duet for this list but listeners can't go wrong either way.


Chimaera - Sylvie Courvoisier
Label: Intakt Records
Catalog #: INTAKT CD 410
Location: Zürich, Switzerland
Release Date: October 20, 2023
Media: compact disc x2 and digital files entry entry

Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier assembled a sextet with somewhat eclectic instrumentation that includes Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Christian Fennesz (guitar, electronics), Drew Gress (bass) and Kenny Wollesen (drums, vibraphone). The results are pleasantly unpredictable. As British guitarist Derek Bailey noted, the music is for people who share the following sentiment, "That's one thing we had in common. An impatience with the gruesomely predictable." For folks who are already imagining the piano of Courvoisier meandering beneath trumpets soaring over an abstract surf generated by the electronics of Fennesz, they will not be disappointed.

interview 1997, from Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation by Ben Watson, Verso, London, 2004, p. 60.


Letters to George - George
Label: Out Of Your Head Records & (bandcamp)
Catalog #: OOYH 018
Country: New York, United States
Release Date: January 16, 2023
Media: vinyl, cd & digital files entry entry

Letters to George is the debut release by a quartet composed of John Hollenbeck (drums, piano), Anna Webber (tenor saxophone, flute), Aurora Nealand (voice, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, keyboards) and Chiquita Magic aka Isis Giraldo (keyboard, voice, piano) who play Hollenbeck's compositions. It is an album of synth-heavy jazz with reeds on most tracks titled with last names of people with the first name George. The exceptions are three "songs" with lyrics.

Each album in this list has a round-about story regarding the path we took that ended in listening to the music. Ever since we included Anna Webber's Idiom (Pi Recordings, 2021) on the PPPH Top Ten list for 2021, we have begun more attentive to the music she is making. In 2023, we listened to many entries in Webber's discography, several from past years and three released in 2023, including Shimmer Wince (Intakt, 2023) and Capacious Aeration (Tzadik, 2023) with Matt Mitchell. Along with Letters to George, these three records span a very diverse musical terrain. We found something to enjoy in all three of them and haven't fully digested the music of any of them, as they all have new thoughts to offer with each listening. As we have said above, we could have picked any one of them to put on this list, but we picked Letters to George because it took us most by surprise and we are, have we mentioned?, sympathetic to music possessed of "an impatience with the gruesomely predictable".


pique-nique au labo 3 - Jean-Jacques Birgé
Label: GRRR & (bandcamp)
Catalog #: GRRR 2036
Location: Paris, France
Release Date: September 11, 2023
Media: cd & digital files entry entry

pique-nique au labo 3 is the third installment (the first two being released together as a double cd) in the musical laboratory of French composer and improviser, Jean-Jacques Birgé. The nature of the experiment is succinctly described as follows: "It is about playing to meet and not the other way around as is usual", i.e. meeting to play. On each of the eleven tracks, Birgé assembles a different duo or trio with the purpose of creating a dialogue or trialogue documenting their meeting. There is nothing resembling tentative introductions on this disc. The pieces presented capture a snippet of musical conversation from each group, already in full stride.

The full review of pique-nique au labo 3 was posted September 30, 2023.


Song for Mother E - Amina Claudine Myers
Label: Leo Records
Catalog #: CD LR 935
Location: Kingskerswell, United Kingdom
Release Date: February, 2023
Media: compact disc entry

Of course annual music lists are intended to highlight contemporary music released that year. However, we sometimes allow one spot, usually the last spot, to feature a timely reissue of older music. In 1980, Song for Mother E was the first album issued by Leo Records. Amina Claudine Myers is an important voice and one of the few women from the first generation of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), founded in 1965 in Chicago. She appears as a guest pianist, organist and vocalist on many albums released under the names of fellow AACM members, such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Lester Bowie and Henry Threadgill. This early album under her own name is a seminal recording that had just been available on the original 1980 vinyl pressing (or digital copies of it floating around on the internet). Myers perfoms on piano and organ and sings. Pheeroan Aklaff (drums and little instruments) is the only other musician who appears on the album. As an aside, the Artifacts trio of Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid and Mike Reed covered Have Mercy Upon Us from Song for Mother E on their album (482 Music, 2015) interpreting pieces by AACM greats.

In 2023, Leo Records reissued Song for Mother E for the first time on cd. In the liner notes it states, "By the time we decided to release it, the master tape deteriorated and eventually could not be used. To produce the CD we had to record it from the LP to digital." In any case, the music sounds great on cd and is a welcome reissue.

To our knowledge, Leo Records does not release music digitally. A few years ago the label stopped shipping cds to the United States. Their website lists a US distributor that does not carry any remotely new stock. As such, it proved very difficult to track down this cd (or any new cd on Leo Records) in the United States.


Manifesto - Susan Alcorn, José Lencastre & Hernâni Faustino
Label: Cleanfeed & (bandcamp)
Catalog #: CF637CD
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Release Date: June 23, 2023
Media: cd & digital files entry entry

The pedal steel guitar of Susan Alcorn has appeared in End-of-the-Year lists from previous years. In 2023, we listened to three very different records by Susan Alcorn, including a septet that blends improvisation and Chilean folk music on Canto (Relative Pitch Records, 2023) and a trio with Patrick Holmes (clarinet) and Ryan Sawyer (drums) on From Union Pool (Relative Pitch Records, 2023). We picked this trio with José Lencastre on alto and tenor saxophones and Hernâni Faustino on acoustic and electric bass, in part because the free improvisation appealed to us and in part because through this record Alcorn introduced us to two Portuguese musicians almost entirely new to our ears. (We had heard one track with Lencastre and Faustino earlier on a 2021 compilation.) All three of these albums showcase different facets of the unique interpretation that Susan Alcorn brings to the contemporary collective improvised music.


Drums & Octobass - Keiji Haino & Guro Moe
Label: Conrad Sound & (bandcamp)
Catalog #: CnRd334LP or CnRd334CD
Location: Oslo, Norway
Release Date: December 15, 2023
Media: lp, cdx2 & digital files entry lp & cdx2

The staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House engage in the rather obvious fantasy that our readership (ambiguous as it is) might seek out music recommendations from the PPPH blog for holiday gift giving. Therefore, in late November, we posted our End-of-the-Year list with time for pre-holiday shopping. In November, our Top Ten list only contained nine entries. We left one spot blank for potential late arrivals. In particular, we wanted to hear this record due out in mid December. In late December, we completed the list and we arrived at a tie for the tenth spot, including both Susan Alcorn's Manifesto (reviewed above) and Drums & Octobass. Hurray for ties!

The prolific Haino maintained an incredibly active live schedule in 2023, but to the best of our knowledge only appeared on three official (or maybe semi-official) recordings in the calendar year. He appears on one track of unpeople by Shuta Hasunuma, which introduced us to the genre of glitch electronics. But Haino's musical statement for 2023 is undoubtedly Drums & Octobass. The music is a duet with Guro Skumsnes Moe, an improvising double bass player. Although she has an extensive discography to her credit, this was our first introduction to her playing. On Drums & Octobass, Haino performs on drums and Moe on a variant of the traditional bass instrument described as an octobass. This instrument was also new to us. Both musicians also appear on voice and other instruments on the record. To be honest, the non-idiomatic use of voice reminded us of Flowing Stream (Leo Records, 2014) by Thomas Buckner, Joëlle Léandre and Nicole Mitchell—our favorite record of 2014! It is far out improvisation on the edges of the musical landscape and not for the weak of ears.

Audiophiles who want to listen to the recording on vinyl are advised to purchase a copy of the double compact disc release as well. The vinyl runs about thirty-one minutes, while the second cd includes an additional forty-three minute track, which is worth the extra expense. Curiously, the digital files release includes only the vinyl content.

In at best peripherally related news, there was a special Haino-related event that occurred in 2023 for one member of the PPPH staff. For interested readers, we post a link here.


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