Even in 2017, free improvisation continued to be one of the most progressive, oblique, complex and transcendent forms of communication in the musical underground; it was also a very productive year for the ex-yu region ; we have pieced together our favourite sonic excesses, bold experiments, potent maelstroms, rich and nuanced textural dialogues…

Compiled and reviewed by Toni Milenkovski, Predrag Karanjac and Marko Milićević.

1.Zeitkratzer / Svetlana Spajić / Dragana Tomić / Obrad Milić – Serbian War Songs (Karlrecords)

Serbian vocalists extraordinaire Svetlana Spajić and Dragana Tomić, along with the gusle player Obrad Milić, join Zeitkratzer, one of the leading avant-garde ensembles working today, to offer a new reading of their homeland’s war songs from the WWI and reimagine them into a complex orchestral narrative of sustained drones and screeching strings, conjuring up a desolate atmosphere strongly reminiscent of the horrors of war.



2. JMZM & Bebè Na Volè: Harry (A lullaby for Mr. Partch)

Josip Maršić, a former guitarist of Regoč, Gori Ussi Winnetou and Very Expensive Porno Movie and Zoran Medved, of Rijeka-based electro-acoustic and experimental duo JMZM, have already released over 20 albums. They make music for films and theatre plays, experiment using various instruments, and on their latest album, in collaboration with Adam Semijalac (who is better known as Bebè Na Volè), pay homage to the legendary self-taught american composer Harry Partch. By using effects and filters on an old zither and percussions, Maršić and Medved create a creepy, tense, dynamic and almost psychotic musical narrative, which grows epic in its prog-inspired boldness, and gradually becomes more in tune with Semijalac’s vocals while he sings and recites surreal lyrics dedicated to Partch.


3. Marina Džukljev & Jaka Berger – While Two Pigeons (Zvočni prepihi)

Serbian improv pianist Marina Džukljev meets up with Slovenian drummer and percussionist Jaka Berger for a texturally rich dialogue which allows them to explore the complementary nature of the relationship between the two instruments, due to the percussive possibilities of the piano. It’s a lesson in atonality, worthy of Cecil Taylor’s most groundbreaking experiments with Sunny Murray.


4. Marina Džukljev & Manja Ristić – Moj lavirint nije tvoj lavirint

Two luminaries of the Serbian improv scene, Marina Džukljev (piano) and Manja Ristić (violin), join forces for a highly commanding performance that places them firmly on the world map of free improvisation. Employing extended techniques, preparations and various sound objects in order to obtain a wider range of textures and timbres, the duo weaves delicate abstract soundscapes that run the gamut from contemplative microtonal explorations to atonal bursts of noise.


5. Alchemical Playgrounds – The Lost World of Tonono

Core member of the Alchemical Playgrounds, drummer Marko Lasič  is joined on this album by Samo Lasič on guitars and electronics, Gabriele Cancelli on the cornet and Giorgio Pacorig on the electric piano. “The Lost World of Tonono” is based on the idea of ​​a fictional world, the world of our ancestors, and the name “Tonono” derives from “Tuo Nonno” which in italian means  “Your Grandfather” ; it doesn’t surprise that album’s theme revolves around problems of today’s refugees. This album is like a mix of experimental soundtracks for short animated films from the 60’s , with the free jazz influx from Ornette Coleman’s soundtrack for Population Explosion (1968) by Pierre Hébert. Marko’s drum playing, and use of various objects for the exploration of rhythmic sounds is irreverent and well versed with Samo’s crazy non-latino Marc Ribot’s guitar, Giorgio’s Fender Rhodes, and Gabriele’s cornet, taking us on a trip propelled by slow and fast melodies through the lost highways of Tonono.


6. Szilárd Mezei / Marina Džukljev / Vasco Trilla – Still Now (If You Still) ‎(FMR)

One of the most active free improv performers in the region, violist Szilárd Mezei and pianist Marina Džukljev have played together for almost an eternity ; on this release they’ve been joined by the idiosyncratic Spanish percussionist Vasco Trilla. Still New is a very dynamic album with sudden outbursts of  zany unpredictability. All three performers have a strong feeling for the pacing ; Mezei’s viola is more tense while Džukljev’s piano is playful until she relegates it to more somber, chamber atmosphere ; Trillo’s percussions move from background to being more leading voice, achieving a sense of equilibrium in this hurricane of aleatoric movements.


7. Domen Gnezda – Misnomer III

Slovenia’s most experimental guitarist, Domen Gnezda, returns with another in the line of his “Misnomer” releases. III sees him in great form, continuing the mind-boggling experiments of his second release for cultish slovenian improv label “Zavod Sploh”. There’s more of his electric guitar connected to a modular effects system, breaking up the sound to the tiniest particles and reshaping them till they are unrecognizable, fueled by more poppier sensibility and clubbish rhythms ; from the trippy rhythmical glitchiness of Alfred Glitchhop, towards the more distorted guitar-scapes, this turned out to be another abstract adventure in the sea of indeterminacy, sometimes building up towards more straighter-edge ambient pieces (Neutron Star). It’s nonetheless a riveting electroacoustic experience of constantly morphing and playful sonic duets/ duels.

8. Dré Hočevar – Surface of Inscription (Clean Feed)

A unpredecented (international-leaning) force of the Slovenian improv scene, drummer Dré Hočevar is joined by vocalist Charmaine Lee, pianist Elias Stemeseder, brass player Weston Olencki, reeds player Michael Foster, and electronic musician Bernardo Barros on this fourth outing for Lisboa-based label Clean Feed. They engage in a highly abstract and nuanced dialogue ;  Charmaine Lee breaks this scientific stateliness with a lot of her glossolalia, gibberish and glottal clicks which errupt to full hysterical laughter on some of the tracks, while other performers bring a lot to the game too ; some of the tracks explore the quieter spectres of prepared sound sculpting  and dwell in “disenfranchised language of muted rage” while others explode with free-jazz-ish freak-outs.

9. Lote Anker & Zlatko Kaučič – Plodi (Klopotec)

“Plodi” is recording made at the Slovenian Brda Contemporary Music Festival in the village Šmartno on September 2016. First three tracks feature Danish sax-player Anker playing vibrant, lively, eerie solos at the local 19th century Saint Martin’s church, using its resonating possibilities to full extent. Next four compositions are duets with Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaučič, recorded at local house of culture ; energetic, eccentric, sonically engaging and wild. Last improvisation is a duo of Anker and Kaučič with Polish acoustic bass guitarist Rafal Mazur and trumpeter Artur Majewski, which starts with more rarefied gestures and (again) ends in a highly dynamic and explosive improv maelstrom.


10. Basement Disharmonic Orchestra – Ballad For Stockhausen (Balkan Veliki)

Four musicians from the Macedonian collective “La Colonie Volvox” launched their new project Basement Disharmonic Orchestra, while working on the material for their fourth album . Predrag Ikonomovski and Kristijan Evgo on electric guitars, Goce Naumov on electronic pad and Dragan Stojkovski on clavinova create a three part journey on this hommage to Stockhausen ; however, its first and probably best part (The First Movement), is  actually closest in spirit to Stockhhausen’s music, in its experimental-ambient-improvised glory. In a similar manner of rockist sensibilities deconstructed through the vocabulary of free improvisation and soothing ambient jamming, they continue in the second part (Second Movement), introducing a repetitive drum’n’bassy groove. The campiest moment on the album is also the longest one; Third and A Half Movement can be best described as a collage of variations on various well-known and lesser-known music themes, among which the most famous are partisan song “Po šumama i gorama”, “Smoke on the Water”, “Pink Panter Theme” and a few more.


11. BRGS – Auditory Contemplation (Zvočni prepihi)

Jaka Berger is restless. On Auditory Contemplation, slovenian drummer has embraced the quiet excesses of the european EAI scene, and released one of his most delicate and stranger releases yet. A meeting of Morton Feldman’s slowly dying (or exhale-ing) piano music, tense soundtrack suited for a psychological horror film and dark ambient atmosphere, interspersed with deranged sounds of scanner, creepy hissing and subtly muted, marimba-ish percussions seem to be the winning combination on this very nuanced and moody haunted house soundtrack.


12. Manja Ristić / Ronald Panza / Amar Šantić – South Snow

“South Snow” compiles performance pieces culled from various concert sessions held within the framework of Improzor, a Mostar-based platform promoting improvised music, bringing together, in collaborative and solo settings, three artists of the regional improv scene: Serbian violinist and sound artist Manja Ristić and Bosnian Ronald Panza, founder of Improzor and guitarist Amar Šantić. Manja Ristić’s hydrophone-captured aquatic murmur of the Neretva River, evocative of Annea Lockwood’s aural river studies, provides the perfect accompaniment for Ronald Panza’s uncanny whale song-like tape loops and Amar Šantić’s prepared guitar sorcery.


13. Igor Čubrilović Tom Fedja Franklin – Zemun-Duet/Duel Series (Labud KUP)

This feedback-drenched improvisation is a avant-rocking meeting of Igor Čubrilović on resonator and Tom Fedja Franklin on drums. 30 minute, psychedelic (desert) rock riffage gets lost in the haze of “pulsating Vox amp, overdriven inputs on Neve console, burning tubes on Tube Tech compressor, Coles and Neumanns punished by relentless drums”. Then the overheated lamps swing with microphone feedback and it goes all batshit feedback-y in the second part. Lots of fun in the Wild Wild West (Zemun).


14. Samo Šalamon Sextet – The Colours Suite  (Clean Feed)

Eminent Slovenian guitarist Samo Šalamon has rounded up a very colorful crew within his sextet, justifying the title of the album. Besides Šalamon on the guitar, there is Pascal Niggenkemper on bass, Julian Argüelles on soprano and tenor saxophone, Achille Succi on bass clarinet and two drummers – Christian Lillinger and Roberto Dani. This recording is from the 2016. edition of Ljubljana Jazz Festival, released by Clean Feed, Portuguese label for contemporary jazz music. Samo’s compositions and arrangements run the gamut from classical jazz and jazz-rock idioms to essential free jazz, while improvisations often take the wild turn and further emphasize the musical skills of the ensemble.

15. Eve Risser & Kaja Draksler – To Pianos (Clean Feed) 

“To Pianos” sees the pairing of two of today’s most forward thinking pianists: French Eve Risser and Slovenian Kaja Draksler. Envisioned as an homage to the instrument, the album is a dazzling display of the duo’s eloquent artistry in both technique and innovation, whether handling the keys or working inside the piano. The result is prepared pianism of the highest order.

16. Virtaranta Okuda Berger Trio – Nature of Spinning (Zvočni prepihi)

Virtaranta Okuda Berger Trio is a meeting of prolific slovenian drummer Jaka Berger, finnish double bassist Antti Virtaranta and japanese violist Rieko Okuda . Virtaranta and Okuda have already played together in “Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra” ; Nature of spinning sees all three improvisers in a minimalist and maximalist mode, simultaneously. We get the impresssion that Berger’s intense prepared drumming takes the dominant role, even though Virtaranta and Okuda treat their strings in a percussive manner and enrich this improv game with textured double bass slaps, insane bow screeching and staccato notes.