Stephen Chase reviews Day Night by John Edwards & Caroline Kraabel, released under Takuroku, Cafe Oto’s digital label supporting artists in lockdown. Sparks of ignition as grinding then shimmering tones abut each other glinting and hovering. Shades of Xenakis and Scelsi at their most earthy loom out from the bass. The saxophone, increasingly aided by vocalisations, makes tiny melodic ululations before the bass lurches into plucked riffing (is that a glimpse of John Paul Young’s ‘Love is in the Air’?), then freefalling into a searching slo-mo lacuna of feather-like movements. Gloves off, as the track title states Caroline Kraabel and John Edwards have been mainstays of the London improvising scene since at least the late 1980s: Kraabel known especially via her Resonance FM programmes, pacing London’s streets with saxophone (and at times, baby & buggy) in tow, and her 20-piece assemblage of saxophones and voices, the Mass Producers. Edwards has long been a ‘go-to’ bassist for touring musicians, featuring in numerous groups assembled by the likes of Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, and Steve Noble, to name a few. Both have collaborated from time to time in groups such as The Remote Viewers and the London Improvisers Orchestra. Kraabel and Edwards are also a couple and, confined to quarters like the rest of us during the Covid-19 restrictions, made this engaging album of two halves: gloves off, and masks off, recorded at midday and midnight respectively. “…we face things, including sound”, they state in the liner notes. Free improvisation is very much about placing oneself in a situation without apparent recourse to reliable conventions; it’s a precarious music (and it’s tempting to add, for precarious times). This is music heard in close-up. The four walls of a home establishing a dry but warm acoustic. But to call it a response to confinement feels wrong somehow – here, especially on gloves off, there are worlds opening up and a sense of limitless possibility as each player ups the ante. Masks off, made at the witching hour, is correspondingly crepuscular, like unsettled sleep. Though the dynamic level is a little lower the intensity of the music-making isn’t any the less. The sax is even more than before a conduit for vocal tones and respiratory sounds. Respiration and intimacy are to the fore in this music, shaping the emergent phrasing in irregular micro-patterns. Edwards’ bass is as much scraped and rubbed as plucked with both players moving towards the other’s variegated timbres, whistling, whispering, rattling as trees bend and clouds billow and scud. Kraabel and Edwards create a music of constant freewheeling invention but with a sharp weather eye open to navigate the twists and turns. The musicians not so much laying down paths as fell running together through thickets. Who knows what the neighbours thought? You can buy the record here 
– 50% of profits support the artist and 50% support Cafe Oto. ﷯ — All tracks by Caroline Kraabel and John Edwards. Photo by Régine Edwards. Artwork design by Oliver Barrett
© and℗2020 John Edwards and Caroline Kraabel, PRS, all rights reserved. Stephen Chase composes, improvises and walks quite a lot. Most of his work explores interaction between people, action and spaces through sound and time. He has made music variously with Exaudi, Quatuor Bozzini, Philip Thomas, Choir Brevis, Music We’d Like to Hear, Bank St Arts, CoMA, Luke Poot, Ryoko Akama, Patrick Farmer, Ross Parfitt, Coastguard All Stars, piggle and Freaking Glamorous Teapot. He is co-editor of a book on the music of Christian Wolff, and convenes the occasional live series ‘mon se taire truc’. Website:
Twitter: @StephenTChase Caroline Kraabel: LAST1 and LAST2 By Nic Jones "Jazz Journal" 30th May 2019 Improvisation of both the free and conducted varieties stands out even more in these conservative musical times, as this album shows. Kraabel picks up her alto sax only for the second (small ensemble) LAST, while in the first she’s both composer and conductor regardless of how blurred the line between one and the other, and indeed the line between free and conducted improvisation, might be. In both LAST cases Robert Wyatt’s seemingly ever more plaintive (recorded) singing is the only common thing. Given such settings it acts as a point of reference for those who need such things, while on more creative grounds it serves as an axis around which the music coalesces, although inevitably any relation between the two is at best tangential. Thus the listener has to work hard; this is not music that merely blots out the silence. The large ensemble on LAST1 is grounded in the passing moments, and indeed collectively intent on marking each and every one of them, in a manner that more pre-determined music cannot, while the recurrence of what is essentially Wyatt’s vocal motif has the effect of edging the results a little closer to the realm of art song. Contrast is deeply felt in the small ensemble’s work, and not merely in terms of density and tonal colour. The profoundly unassuming work of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (in its Trevor Watts / John Stevens incarnation in particular) is evoked in the quieter passages, but Wyatt’s voice threads the two pieces together in a way that doesn’t serve the trivial business of continuity. Discography
(1) LAST1 (for large ensemble); (2) LAST2 (for small ensemble) (55.54)
(1) Roland Ramanan (t); Caroline Hall (tb); David Jago (tb); Neil Metcalfe (f); Alex Ward (cl); Tom Ward (bcl); Sue Lynch (ts, 2nd cond); Cath Roberts (bs); Philipp Wachsmann (vn); Hannah Marshall (clo); Veryan Weston (p); Jackie Walduck (vib); Seth Bennett (b); Guillaume Vitard (b); Mark Sanders (pc); Kraabel (comp, cond). Café Oto, London, 12 March 2016.
(2) Kraabel (as, dir); Maggie Nichols (v); John Edwards (b); Richard E. Harrison (pc). Café Oto, London, 11 December 2017. Review of 'Giving Out' (Kraabel/ Alcorn and Kraabel/ Lewandowski double CD) “This double set of spontaneous improvisations finds the saxophonist and vocalist Caroline Kraabel sharing a disc each with the pianist Annie Lewandowski and the pedal-steel guitarist Susan Alcorn. Lewandowski plays everything on the piano but the keys, and the fearless duo dare each other to make the smallest gestures count in captivating, near silent dialogues. The second set has a unique texture. The steel guitar can’t help but suggest country and blues, but Alcorn flattens her instrument’s accent to engage with Kraabel in a textbook demonstration of free improv’s communicative ideals.” Stewart Lee, Sunday Times Playtime, CD with Veryan Weston and Mark Sanders: “An unusual free improvisation trio, for Caroline Kraabel sings almost as much as she plays saxophone, and I’m not talking about vocalization She sings actual songs, in both French and English. Her approach to melody is somewhat akin to Dagmar Krause’s. And that agrees very well with the very English type of free improvisation performed by Mark Sanders (drums) and Veryan Weston (piano) – the latter is used to improvising in song mode, thanks to his long-standing association with Phil Minton. A fine record, surprising and slightly destabilizing.” 
Francois Couture, Monsieur Delire Morning Star review, 2005, by Chris Searle The Echoing Sound of Liverpool’s Soul Caroline Kraabel and Phil Hargreaves Where We Were: Shadows of Liverpool (Leo) There have been a succession of recordings over the century of jazz that have sought to describe cities and their stories with their sounds. There is Yusuf Lateef’s Detroit: Latitude 42 Degrees 30, Longitude 83, Malachi Thompson’s 47th St suite of Chicago, or George Russell’s New York NY with Coltrane blowing a metropolitan storm. Much further back there were Ellington’s sound essays of Harlem, New Orleans street songs and marches or Fats Waller’s London Suite from Soho to Limehouse, from Chelsea to Whitechapel – all evocative of the ripe humanity of city life. But few musicians have used the actual acoustics of real urban locations in one particular city to contribute to the sound textures of their recording. Here is one that does just that, with deep sonic understanding of a city and a unique timbral beauty. From ordinary urban sounds, of Liverpool voices and echoes of pubs, performances, roads and tunnels, sirens and voices, engines, rivers and boat horns, applause and crowds, sheer solitude and warm company, light and darkness. An insight of saxophones into the living soul of Liverpool is the album Where We Were by a woman and a man, a Californian and a Yorkshireman born in other cities – San Francisco and Leeds – and their horns alone, with not a rhythm section in sight or hearing. It’s an astonishing record, nothing trite, a unique sound conception, love song and a praise song indeed to Liverpool and its people. Caroline Kraabel grew up in Seattle and came to London as a teenager, ‘just too late to realise my punk dreams’. Instead she directed her alto saxophone towards free improvisation, has recorded with bassist John Edwards and pianist Veryan Weston, and the large-scale London Improvisers Orchestra, always conscious of ‘the implications of electricity related to recording, synthesis and amplification’. Phil Hargreaves – the sole horn of the amere3 trio – is the multi-instrumentalist of Where We Were, playing tenor and soprano saxophones and flute. He lives in Liverpool, where, as Kraabel describes in her sleevenotes he ‘was tireless in finding extraordinary acoustic locations for the recording, which include The Grapes public house on Mount St, the Jump Ship Rat on Parr St, the Wallasey Tunnel and Picton Library, a street and alleyway near Penny Lane, a greenhouse on Sefton Park Allotments, the anechoic chamber of Liverpool University, and St George’s Hall in Lime St. Such are, as Kraabel puts it, ‘the diversity and beauty of the sonic spaces’ explored through this album. I’m a Londoner, so I’d need to know the city of Liverpool better than I do to recognise these spaces, intimate to Liverpudlians. As the record opens, the pub atmosphere, warmth and company, changes to the rhapsody of the two horns burning out of the distant whine of sirens before the riverine and subriverine silences sounds and menace – and the vehicles which hum and groan across and under the Mersey, every second, every day, every night. Hargreaves blows a chorus of spitting notes, while Krabbel’s long, almost agonised howls give out the host of voices of a struggling city and the music ripe in Liverpool’s soundscapes and the Scouse incantation of all the moments of human life and hope. There are sudden and sometimes startling ‘crossfades of one space blossoming into another during the same musical material’, as Kraabel describes it, so much so that the desolation of one sound picture, perhaps a bleak tunnel gallery, can change to another, perhaps in a green allotment smallholding, filled and chiming with a blessed birdsong. For this recording is full of changes, rapid like nature, yet of human growth and fullness to, as in all our cities. Kraabel writes that this record embraces ‘the specificity of spaces and sounds that only live acoustic music can completely celebrate, and it takes adaucious musicians to attempt and achieve it. It radiates the spirit and sound of Liverpool yet it speaks, sings, whispers, howls and narrates to city-dwellers everywhere, in every country. A man and a woman, two horns and a city – with machines to eternalise their sounds and their humanity. That’s what it takes. Morning Star review 2015 by Chris Searle A Unification of Sonic Traditions exerpt from review of Veryan Weston CDs, relating to Five Shadows (Kraabel/Weston) The album Five Shadows introduces Weston with a horn partner, the San Francisco-born alto saxophonist Caroline Kraabel, used to organising and playing with the 20-piece all-woman saxophone orchestra Mass Producers. Between December 1999 and May 2000 the duo explored different acoustic settings in England, from Colchester (in the Arts Centre) to Liverpool, St Mary’s church in Cheltenham to the Standard pub in Walthamstow, east London, usually a rock venue. It’s avery different sound from the trio, a music full of pause, space, transcendant rises and sudden halts in Colchester, deep-throated birdsong and galloping keys in Liverpool, the scintillating edge of Kraabel’s reed within the haunted echoes of long-aching pews in Cheltenham and saloon-bar flourishes in Walthamstow. ImproJazz review May 2019 by Philippe Renaud LAST1 LAST2 (Caroline Kraabel) La saxophoniste alto Caroline Kraabel signait les notes de pochette du disque précédant. Ici on la retrouve pour LAST1 à la tête d’une sorte de ‘All Stars’ de l’improvisation britannique, quinze musiciens dont la liste figure au dos de la pochette. De plus, Robert Wyatt a pré-enrégistré une chanson composée par la conductrice, chanson insérée par phrases entre les interventions des musiciens. La pièce démarre par un joyeux capharnaüm, saxophones, contrebasses à l’archet, piano, ponctué par la frappe de Mark Sanders. Enrégistré au Café Oto en mars 2016, l’orchèstre s’efface pour laisser la place à la voix toujours particulière de Wyatt, alors que chaque instrument se présente tour à tour puis, comme dans une réunion, le brouhaha reprend progressivement le dessus, sous l’impulsion du piano de Veryan Weston et la plainte des saxophones. Plainte, oui, car l’œuvre est dédié au migrants, tous les migrants, mais particulièrement ceux qui s’agglutinent au nord de la France avec l’espoir de pouvoir traverser un jour et rejoindre l’ile britannique. Wyatt revient, a capella, soutenu seulement par Sanders, puis la flute de Neil Metcalfe, le violon de Wachsmann, et l’espoir semble revenir, alors que tout s’accélère grâce à la puissance des souffleurs. Le ton est grâve, le sujet brulant et dramatique. Robert Wyatt aura le dernier mot au bout d’une demi-heure passionante de bout à bout. Le second morceau, LAST2, voit intervenir un quartet dans lequel la compositrice a sortie son saxophone alto, accompagnée par l’omniprésent John Edwards, le percussioniste Richard E. Harrison et la voix de Maggie Nicols. Nous sommes à nouveau au Café Oto, cette fois en décembre 2017, et de nouveau Robert Wyatt a enrégistré une chanson de Kraabel. Découpée aussi en tranches, les phrases s’intègrent et se répètent parmi les instruments, les percussions d’abord, rejointes par la contrebasse au bout de huit minutes, puis Wyatt est doublé par Maggie Nicols sur fond d’archet ou en pizzicato, retour des percussions, nouvelle intervention de Robert cette fois-ci soutenu par l’alto tantôt agressif tantôt mélancolique avant la conclusion laissée à la voix seule de l’ermite de Louth... The Wire review 2019, by Abi Bliss LAST1 LAST2 (Caroline Kraabel) Appearances from Robert Wyatt are sadly rare these days, but without being physically present he plays a key role in these two live documents of improvising ensembles led by the London saxophonist Caroline Kraabel. Performed at the city’s Cafe Oto on two evenings, in March 2016 and December 2017, LAST1 and LAST2 both feature the same recording of Wyatt singing a song by Kraabel, using it variously as punctuation, catalyst, sonic source material and incorporeal collaborator. A longtime member and sometimes conductor of the London Improvisers Orchestra, Kraabel puts her instrument aside to guide the 15-strong ensemble of strings, reeds, brass, percussion and piano of LAST1 through a structured improvisation. It starts with a deliberate jumble, each player seemingly absorbed in their own twisting, rolling riffs and rhythms. The Wyatt’s vocals cut through, his delicate a cappella commanding focus even while his phrases swim in ambiguity: ‘Last time I saw you/ I didn’t think to ask you to remember/ Remember/ This time and that smile/ What were their names?’ The concerts’ purpose as fundraisers to bring musical relief to the migrant camps in Calais and Dunkirk add an additional edge to lyrics that lament lost opportunities for reconnection. None of the players had heard the song before; its first appearance is the trigger for a short ascending solo, starting with Hannah Marshall’s cello and then passed around each player, blurring and shifting with each iteration then gradually subsumed as the ensemble resume their previous business, until the time when Wyatt’s voice again jolts them back, like a memory suddenly refreshed. LAST2 takes a contrasting approach; here Kraabel’s alto sax forms a quartet with Percussionist Richard E Harrison, vocalist Maggie Nicols and John Edwards on double bass. All were familiar with the recording allowing Wyatt’s voice to become a fifth, if non-reacting, performer. This creates a more comfortable – for good or bad – feel, each player engaging with Wyatt in their own accomplished way. Edwards’s bowing closely shadows the timbre before diverging; Nicols pleats the melody with her dramatic vibrato, While Kraabel echoes Wyatt’s reedy fragility with lines that slip from bold, skipping overtones into watery melancholy. Review in Jazz Weekly, May 2019, by Daniel Spicer Caroline Kraabel Last 1 and Last 2 Emanem 5048 ★★★ Caroline Kraabel (cond, as), Robert Wyatt (v), Veryan Weston (p), Philipp Wachsmann (vla), Hannah Marshall (clo), Neil Metcalfe (f), Alex Ward (cl), Tom Ward (bcl), Jackie Walduck (vib), Roland Ramanan (t), Caroline Hall, David Jago (tb), Sue Lynch (ts, cond), Cath Roberts (bs), Seth Bennett, John Edwards, Guillaume Viltard (b), Mark Sanders, Richard E. Harrison (perc) and Maggie Nicols (v). Rec. 12 March 2016 and 11 December 2017 There are few sounds as bittersweet as Robert Wyatt’s singing voice – and it’s his fragile, tremulous falsetto that sits at the heart of these two performances, both recorded live at Cafe OTO. In the first, 16 of London’s finest improvisers react in real time to a recording of Wyatt singing Kraabel’s simple song of memory and regret as they hear it for the first time. There’s a big, almost orchestral feel to the swirling barrage of the large-group improvisation, guided by Kraabel’s conduction from kaleidoscopic turbulence – with spiralling piano and stridulating strings – to something more closely resembling 1960s free- jazz, propelled by Mark Sanders’ crisp snare rolls and clattering toms. Dropped, lonely and alone, in sudden interstices of silence, Wyatt has never sounded more vulnerable. The second performance is by a quartet of sax, percussion, bass and additional vocals from Maggie Nicols. Here, the musicians have previously heard and fully digested Wyatt’s pre-recorded part and this, compounded by the stripped down instrumentation, conjures a much more sparse and focused piece, with Nicols’ ghostly moans and operatic wails setting the mood for Kraabel’s glacial, glancing sax. It sounds like Wyatt is trapped in a glass box being haunted by nostalgic phantoms for the rest of eternity. Daniel Spicer Review in Downbeat, May 2019, by Robert Ham LAST1 LAST2 by Caroline Kraabel ★★★★ (four stars) The core inspiration of LAST1 LAST2, and album orchestrated by Caroline Kraabel, was pure altruism. The 2016 and 2017 concerts where these pieces were recorded raised funds to support stranded migrants in Calais, France, who were hoing to gain entry to the UK. ANd proceeds from album sales will go to support a pair of non-profits that work closely with the Calais refugees. The two pieces here play like a fascinating theoretical exercise, with two very different ensembles performinglive improvisations that react and respond to a pre-recorded vocal by the inimitable Robert Wyatt. For LAST1, which was performed by a group of 15 musicians, the players hadn’t heard the song ahead of time, but swell and wrestle until Wyatt’s plaintive voice and pleading lyrics cut through the chaos. The same build on LAST2 occurs, but stretched over almost the full length of the piece. That has everything to do with how the work was presented: The four musicians went onstage one after another, so they’re playing together only briefly. The open space feels luxurious in comparison to the other side of the album, and remarkable for how, even playing solo, the musicians maintain a consistency of tone and temperament.