2015 Artists' Picks
Kevin Kastning
Andy Vaz's House Warming

17 Pygmies
Aaltonen & Haarla
Rodolphe Alexis
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Le Berger
Book of Air
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Council of Nine
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Heinen & Borring
William Hooker Quartet
How To Cure Our Soul
Kevin Kastning
Kastning / Clements
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Louis Minus XVI
Rhys Marsh
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tholl / fogel / hoff
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Kosemura, Shinozaki, Nitta

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Collection 100
Landscapes of Fear

EPs / Cassettes / Mini-Albums / Singles
Amonism + Revenant Sea
Matt Barbier
Hesperius Draco
Markus Oehlen
Greg Sawyer

William Hooker Quartet: Red
Atypeek Music / Gaffer Records

Louis Minus XVI: Kindergarten
Atypeek Music / Be Coq Records

It's unusual for a jazz quartet to feature a double-saxophone front-line; even more rare is the fact that Louis Minus XVI's Kindergarten isn't a straight-up, kick-out-the-jams collection of improv-driven blowouts. Instead, the four musicians involved work through complex arrangements that many times overturn convention. Originating from Lille, France, Louis Minus XVI is described as a fusion quartet, fusion in this case referring to a melding of noise rock and free jazz. But while elements of both are present on the group's sophomore effort (its debut Birds And Bats appeared in 2011) and while one could be forgiven for thinking of Mat Gustafsson or Peter Brötzmann during the noisier episodes, saxophonists Adrien Douliez (alto), Jean-Baptiste Rubin (tenor), electric bassist Maxime Petit, and drummer Frédéric L'homme offer more than five riffs on a singular theme.

The thirty-five-minute recording does initially adhere to the expected script when “La Marche” lurches into position with the saxophonists' intertwining bluster egged on by the rhythm section's bulldozing lurch and the track's opening minutes conforming to the long-standing tradition of free blowing. But at the four-minute mark, a discernible shape begins to assert itself (if briefly), and it becomes clear that the group had been working its way towards that stage the entire time. Even more surprisingly, the subsequent piece, “More Friends,” shifts abruptly from the opener's high-volume presentation to a delicate, ballad-styled approach, and its peaceful character is pushed even further when the music's given over to ruminative exchanges between the saxes.

Other left turns follow: in “Sugar OD,” Louis Minus XVI tackles punk-jazz stutter-funk, the group's honking attack growing ever more obsessive and tightly wound as the piece advances; something akin to klezmer or Arabian music seeps into the recipe for “Columbine's Twin” when serpentine saxes coil themselves around Petit's agile riffing and L'homme's martial tom-toms; the complexity of the composition and the fluidity of role-swapping earmark “Columbine's Twin” as material that has little in common with free improv. By the time “Bain Atlas” caps the release with ten minutes of methodically structured interactions, any impression of Louis Minus XVI as a one-note noise rock-and-free jazz outfit will have been amended long ago.

As noisy as Kindergarten sometimes is, it pales in comparison to the torrential storm blowing through the William Hooker Quartet's Red. A live set recorded at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn on May 16, 2012, the six-song affair is a cyclonic exercise in high-intensity jazz that sees trumpeter Matt Lavelle, pianist Mark Hennen, and bassist Larry Roland accompanying the drummer. Hooker, of course, is a familiar figure in avant-garde jazz circles: a veteran of countless festivals and playing situations, he's released over sixty CDs a a leader and played with firebrands of all kinds, among them Billy Bang, William Parker, Thurston Moore, Elliot Sharp, and David Murray.

Hennen goes toe-to-toe with the drummer on the scene-setter “Ever Remembered,” the pianist's bold splashes matched at every moment (and sometimes drowned out by) by the leader's fusillades. Lavelle enters the fray in “Miracle of Tansen” and, by virtue of his instrument, is better able to make himself heard than Hennen (Roland's generally drowned out by the surrounding maelstrom but has a nice solo spotlight near the end of “Higher Triad”). Six tracks are indexed and titled, but Red plays without interruption for forty-four minutes; the indexing isn't arbitrary, by the way, as there are details that differentiate one track from another (Lavelle's attack signals the transition from “The Progressive Nature” to “Higher Triad,” for example).

There are a few relatively quieter sequences, though even they're loud. Hooker pulls out the brushes to start “The Progressive Nature” and “Instinct and Intellect” at slightly less cataclysmic pitches, and the music decompresses during “Higher Triad” for a piano spotlight (replete with inside strums) and a spoken word turn by the drummer; Lavelle also takes a nice muted solo at the end of “Instinct and Intellect.” On this uncompromisingly raw and primal outing, the drummer drops serious bombs throughout, the band roars from the get-go, and a voice, presumably Hooker's, repeatedly exhorts the players to ever-escalating heights of frenzy. Red's definitely one for those who like their free jazz volcanic.

January 2016