Reviews that mention Michael Formanek

May 15, 2022

Tony Malaby’s Sabino

The Cave of Winds
Pyroclastic Records PR 18


Cabrioles célébrales et accidents psychotiques

LFDS Records LFDS 016

Balancing the textures from saxophone, guitar, bass and drums are these well-focused and rhythmically sophisticated quartet sessions from the US and France. Evolving with the same high quality, the chief difference is that Sabino almost exclusively features compositions by leader tenor and soprano saxophonist Tony Malaby, while the French Otok contingent, all members of Le Fondeur de Son artistic collective, work in the field of pure improvisation. MORE

March 14, 2022

Michael Formanek Drome Trio

Were We Where We Were
Circular File Records CFCD 2922002202

By Ken Waxman

Making the most of a new trio configuration, New York bassist Michael Formanek calls on local drummer Vinnie Sperrazza and Montrealer-in-Manhattan Chet Doxas playing tenor/soprano saxophones and clarinet, to skillfully interpret four of his extended compositions. Avoiding sameness is the result of canny arrangements by Formanek, who has written and performed in many sized ensembles over the years/ Each track features one or another of Doxas’ reeds.

For example “Never Odd” initially contrasts speedy clarinet trills with thickened double bass thumps. then as the pliable theme vibrates with additional energy from sul tasto string buzzes and cymbal vibrations, tenor saxophone scoops and flattement maintain the triple balance. Recurring clarinet flutters return to introduce a rhythm section-driven swing groove which defines the tune’s last section. MORE

January 8, 2022

El Intruso 14th Annual International Critics Poll

2021 Ballot
Ken Waxman JazzWord Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Album of the year: Julius Hemphill, The Boyé Multi-National Crusade for Harmony (New World)

Musician of the year Kris Davis, Ivo Perelman

Newcomer Musician: Charlotte Keefe (trumpet)

Group of the year: Umlaut Big Band

Newcomer group: Square Peg: Gordon Grdina, Shazad Ismall, Christain Lillinger

Composer: David Sanford, Elliott Sharp, Michael Formanek

Drums: Günter Baby Sommer, Carlo Costa, Peter Orins

Acoustic Bass: Barry Guy, Joëlle Léandre MORE

August 28, 2021

Ben Goldberg

Everything Happens to Be
BAG Productions BAG 018

Taking inspiration from creators like Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus and crafting compositions to fit particular musicians, Bay area clarinetist Ben Goldberg’s Everything Happens to Be is a lively and fluid program. Although written long before the pandemic, the 10 tracks’ contours expand on the mixture of fatalism, faith and fortune that have become Covid-19 tropes. With the interpretations projecting lively motion alongside immaculate articulation they suggest the confident normalcy that should eventually arrive. Oddly enough all the other players are east coast residents. Veterans, bassist Michael Formanek and tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin have worked with the clarinet for decades; while the younger players – drummer Tomas Fujiwara and guitarist Mary Halvorson – are part of a trio with the bassist. MORE

April 28, 2021

The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound Expanded Ensemble

Clean Feed CF 556 CD

Chris Pattishall

Zodiac Suite

No label No #

Extending the breadth of Jazz history these ensembles move past salutes to expected improvised music figures to present programs honoring two deceased composer/arranger/pianists involved in musical transition during distinct eras. Led by New York-based pianist Chris Pattishall, Zodiac Suite is a reconfiguration and amplification to sextet, of Mary Lou Williams’ (1910-1981) 12-part program originally recorded solo and by her trio. Antithetical, and not just because The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound is a 17-piece Philadelphia-based big band directed by alto saxophonist Bobby Zankel. Soundpath is the premier recording of a suite it commissioned from AACM founder Muhal Richard Abrams (1930-2017), first performed in 2012 with the composer at rehearsals. MORE

December 13, 2019

Michael Formanek Very Practical Trio

Even Better
Intakt CD 335

Izumi Kimura/Barry Guy/Gerry Hemingway

Illuminated Silence

Fundacja Sluchaj FSR01/2019

Gabriela Friedli Trio


Leo Records CD LR 828

Miles Perkin Quartet

The Point in Question

Clean Feed CF 529 CD

Torbjörn Zetterberg & the Great Question


Corbett vs. Dempsey CvsD CD 058

Something in the Air: Double bassists Score from the Background

By Ken Waxman

January 16, 2019

Jacob Sacks

Clean Feed CF 497CD

Robert Landfermann


Pirouet Records PIT 3103

Although populist demagogues may keep insisting on nationalism and exclusivity, in truth the world and its people are more globalist than ever, especially when it comes to Europe and North American. One confirmation in the musical sense arrives with these striking examples of contemporary quintet Jazz. Fishes may be all-American and Brief fourth-fifth German with an American drummer, but the points of demarcation are meager. Except for the number of tracks and that the US disc features a tenor and a tenor/soprano saxophonist, while the German horn section is a tenor and an alto saxophonist, there’s nothing particularly Teutonic or Yank about either/ MORE

November 21, 2018

Devin Gray

Dirigo Rataplan II
Rataplan Records RR001

Mads la Cour’s Almugi


WhyPlayJazz WP JO44

Two inventive solutions to dealing with the challenges implicit when creating improvised music with the standard two horns-two rhythm combo are aptly displayed on these discs. Both quartets consist of musicians who often work together and each group ranges over nine or 10 tracks. American drummer/composer Devin Gray convened his second Dirigo Rataplan CD after a six year hiatus by re-enlisting players acknowledged as musicians’ musicians: tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, trumpeter Dave Ballou and bassist Michael Formanek. Lesser-known, in North America at least, the equally sophisticated Danish players on Hule have made Almugi their go-to project since 2015, with the compositions of cornetist/flugelhornist Mads la Cour interpreted by bassist Mariusz Praśniewski, drummer Kasper Tom Christiansen and Lars Greve, who plays clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone). Virtuosity on the American side contrasts with versatility from the Danish one. MORE

December 6, 2017

Roberto Ottaviano Quarktet

Dodicilune Dischi Ed 354

Eric Revis

Sing Me Some Cry

Clean Feed CF 428 CD

Marcelo dos Reis/Eve Risser


JACC Records 034

Tim Daisy’s Celebration Sextet

The Halfway There Suite

Relay Recordings 016

Amok Amor

We Know Not What We Do

Intakt CD 279

Something In The Air: Seven Musical Voices for the Future

By Ken Waxman

The year just ending marked one important milestone in musical history. The first so-called jazz record was issued in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB). Obviously that musical designation, which in its century of existence has gone through as many permutations and retrenchments as so-called classical music has in many centuries, is far different then the ODJB’s primitive efforts. But jazz/improvised music continues to evolve, buttressed by new voices. Here is a group of youngish improvisers who will likely still be contributing to the shape of jazz during its 125tn anniversary – and probably for years afterwards. MORE

February 18, 2017

NPR’s 11th Annual

Jazz Critics Poll Ballot

•Your name and primary affiliation(s)

Ken Waxman: The New York City Jazz Record; Whole Note

•Your choices for this year’s 10 best New Releases listed in descending order

1. Alexander Hawkins Trio Alexander Hawkins Music AH 1001

2. Anna Webber’s Simple Trio Binary Skirl Records 033

3. Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus The Distance ECM 2484

4. Artifacts Reed-Reid-Mitchell 482 Music 482-1093

5. Umlaut Big Band Euro Swing Vol. 2 Umlaut UMFR-CD18 MORE

December 11, 2016


Cuneiform Records Rune 415

By Ken Waxman

Probably improvised music’s most celebrated guitarist at present, Mary Halvorson has attained the position because of her individuality as well as her ability. Like an actor who moves effortlessly between comedy and drama, Halvorson is equally proficient playing solo or in large ensembles, but her best work is done in intimate circumstances. While her dynamic strokes often define a tune’s parameters, her styling is particularly notable during Convallaria’s 11 selections when her light-fingered invention is complemented by bassist Michael Formanek’s chunky thumps. She’s like a painter preparing a pencil, sketch with the bassist there to add color and depth. Drummer Tomas Fujiwara provides a backbeat when needed, but generally uses his rolls and cymbal clicks as if he was a high class publicist: making the others look good without drawing attention to himself. MORE

June 6, 2016

Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus

The Distance
ECM 2484

The Who


Auricle Aur 14+15


Cosmopolitan Greetings

Red Piano RPR 4699-4419-2

Eric Platz

Life After Life

Allos Documents 012

Florian Hoefner


Origin Records 82706

Something In The Air: Those Who Teach Can Also Play

By Ken Waxman

As shibboleths go, the hoary “those who can do, those who can’t teach,” must rank at the very top of the list. Besides libelling the majority of educators who devote themselves to the task of imparting knowledge to students, it negates the activities of those who teach and do. Here are some musicians who maintain a full-time teaching carer along with consistent gigging. MORE

March 22, 2016

Guelph Jazz Festival

Guelph, Ontario
September 16-20, 2015

By Ken Waxman

Story telling of the verbal and instrumental variety was an important feature of this year’s Guelph Jazz Festival. Trying out new venues such as Heritage Hall (HH), Guelph’s first black church; and the soft-seated Guelph Little Theatre (GLT), the festival added a feeling of intimacy to its innovative programming.

Front and centre with tales, tall and otherwise were two Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM) members, multi-reedist Douglas Ewart and alto saxophonist Matana Roberts. Confirming the old adage that actions can speak louder than words were musicians as cerebrally intricate as Evan Parker’s soprano saxophone forays or as raucous as guitarist Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog trio. MORE

March 7, 2016

On The Cover

Michael Formanek
Going the Distance

By Ken Waxman

Bassist Michael Formanek admits that until recently he never really ‘loved” big band music, even though he had played his share of it during the quarter century he spent in New York before 2003. In Manhattan, as an in-demand sideman, among his other jobs, he put in time with the Mingus big band plus large groups led by pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and saxophonist Bob Mintzer. But Formanek, 58, who has gigged almost constantly since at 18, in his native San Francisco, he began working with major innovators including drummer Tony Williams and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, was in NYC closely identified with what he calls “more intense improvisation”. He led his own small acoustic groups and was featured in many so-called downtown bands, most prominently those led by alto saxophonist Tim Berne. MORE

September 6, 2015

Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up

After All Is Said
482 Music 482-1089

Jason Adasiewicz’s Sun Room

From The Region

Delmark DE 5017

Fred Frith/Evan Parker

Hello, I Must Be Going

Victo cd 128

Mary Halvorson Trio

Ghost Loop

ForTune 0010/010

Ingrid Laubrock Anti House

Roulette of the Cradle

Intakt CD 252

Something In The Air: Many musical Interconnections at 2015’s Guelph Jazz Festival

By Ken Waxman

As the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) settles into maturity, dependable musical choices and the vagaries of touring means that a few of the performers at this year’s bash, September 16 to 20, are featured at more than one ensemble. The happy end result is that the audience gets to sample some musicians’ skills in more than one challenging setting. MORE

April 12, 2015

Ananda Gari

Auand Records AU 9041

Tineke Postma

Sonic Halo

Challenge Records CR 73370

Ben Goldberg

Orphic Machine

BAG Productions BAG 007

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York


Libra Records 215-036

SITA: Cutting-Edge Free Improvisation at The Music Gallery

By Ken Waxman

Major improvisers from elsewhere frequently play Toronto, but not as often do they appear with an all-star line-up. That’s what happens on April 29 when alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s Snakeoil is in concert at The Music Gallery. Berne, who has been on the cutting edge of advanced jazz for 30-odd years, arrives with three younger players who have distinguished themselves on the New York scene: fellow reedist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Ches Smith. This being the 21th Century and past the age of consistently working groups, each – including Berne – is involved in many other projects. MORE

October 2, 2013

Ellery Eskelin

Clean Feed CF 271 CD

Ellery Eskelin Trio

New York II

Prime Source 7010

Although exposing characteristic and innovative reed comportment on both these trio sessions, tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin’s choice of partners results in highly idiosyncratic and original discs. A superficial listing of personnel would deem Mirage the reedist’s country and western CD and New York II his standards disc, the conceptions that go into each are much more profound than these rote descriptions. MORE

December 10, 2012

Jacob Anderskov

Granular Alchemy
ILK 195 CD

Mark Solborg

Solborg 4+4+1

ILK 191 CD

By Ken Waxman

Recorded five days apart in Copenhagen in 2010, these CDs from two young veterans of the Danish improv scene, present differing versions of defining contemporary music. They also demonstrate the demand for the talents of tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Speed, featured on both discs. If the Brooklyn-based Speed doesn’t have enough to do stateside, helping to run Skirl Records and playing with many so-called downtowners, he frequently gigs in Europe. Connections go deeper than that, of course. Guitarist Mark Solborg and pianist Jacob Anderskov, the CDs’ leaders, earlier forged connections with Speed while working and studying in New York. Anderskov’s Granular Alchemy and Solborg 4+4+1 are among the dozens of musical projects in which each is involved. MORE

March 24, 2011

Michael Formanek

The Rub And Spare Change
ECM 2167

Hugo Carvalhais


Clean Feed CF 201 CD

Leadership’s loss is a sideman’s gain as these quartet sessions demonstrate. That’s because alto saxophonist Tim Berne, who hasn’t made a CD under his own name for about half a decade, instead adds his skills to these bassist-led quartet sessions. Instructively as well, while one combo is completed by Americans with whom Berne has often played in the past, the other is made up of younger Portuguese Jazzers who recently toured with the American reedist. MORE

April 25, 2005

Jacob Anderskov Trio

On The Loose
ILK/Scraggly Records

Doctor Structure
Godot … stuck in traffic
ILK/Scraggly Records

By Ken Waxman
April 25, 2005

Both sides of young Danish pianist Jacob Anderskov are exposed on these twinned releases from his own ILK/Scraggly label. There’s no denying his compositional and performance skills – he’s got the music awards from his home country to prove it – but properly rating both session means deciding what he adds to these CDs, a mainstream jazz piano trio and an almost-fusion effort on which he intermittently plays electric piano. MORE

March 24, 2004


Gustav Mahler - Dark Flame
Winter & Winter 910-095-2

Newest chapter in pianist Uri Caine’s POMO recasting of the works of the so-called Great Composers, DARK FLAME showcases an almost total vocal program.

Based on lieder composed by Austrian Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), the musicianship and inventiveness here are at the same high standard as Caine’s earlier meditations on the work of J. S. Bach, Richard Wagner and other Mahler projects. But with 14 selections rearranged over 77 minutes, there are times the variations move from novelty to gimmickry. Mahler’s oeuvre heard in gospel, Klezmer, rock or mainstream jazz variations is engaging; but linking it to turntable tricks, Oriental sounds, overwrought poetics or cocktail jazz works less well. MORE

February 23, 2004


Mirror Me
OmniTone 12203

Songlines SGL SA 1545-2

Commentators often ascribe a certain innate togetherness to the playing of married couples who record together, which in reality is no more than the sort of sympatico feelings band members can express for one another. More critically, husband and wife musicians can and should develop separate musical personalities.

That’s the fascination and interest in MIRROR ME and APPARITIONS. For while Jersey City, N.J. saxophonist Tony Malaby and pianist Angelica Sanchez have been married since 1998 and together for years before that, their albums aren’t that much similar than any two others by a pianist and saxophonist. The tenor and soprano man may play on his better half’s CD, in fact, but the outcome is different. MORE

December 22, 2003


Line on Love
Palmetto PM 2095

Don’t be put off by the title of this fine CD. Despite similar curly hair and use of saxophone, multi-reedman Marty Ehrlich hasn’t suddenly turned into Kenny G.

Instead he uses the almost 54 minutes of the session to prove that you can perform understated, mellifluous music without insulting anyone’s intelligence. The eight selections score because he and his rhythm section bring the same guts and techniques they would to an out-and-out free blow or technical experiment as they do to these more restrained ditties. MORE