July News 2000

articles by Dan Warburton

Agora Festival:
In Concert: Nunes
On In Situ: François Tusques
Alan Silva: Take Some Risks
Alan Silva: In the Tradition
On Leo: Remote Viewers: Persuasive with Aliens
On Nurnichtnur: Hans Tammen: Endangered Guitar
Last Month
Next Month


Emmanuel Nunes' "Lichtung I & II"
Théâtre du Rond-Point Champs-Elysées, Paris, June 22nd 2000

I wonder if the fiery young Pierre Boulez, who cut his teeth at this venerable theatre at the end of the 1940s, could have imagined then that half a century on it would be filled with an enthusiastic audience for challenging new music using state-of-the-art technology from an Institute (IRCAM) that he would found in the early 1970s. Though Boulez wasn't present at last night's concert (I spotted other luminaries including György Kurtag and Jonathan Harvey however), he can be duly proud of both the technological wizardry he so earnestly championed and the Ensemble InterContemporain he founded in 1976 — both were on superb form. It must be said that, in comparison to the young lions of Frankfurt's Ensemble Modern, some of the (semi-legendary) members of the InterContemporain look old and drowsy, but they play with such consummate mastery that it hardly matters. In any case, conductor Jonathan Nott (soon to replace David Robertson as the EIC's Musical Director) was as dynamic and electric as the music he had to conduct.
Emmanuel Nunes was hardly out of short pants when Boulez started working for the Jean-Louis Barrault's theatre company; born in Lisbon in 1941, he followed the classic post-Darmstadt trajectory — studies with Pousseur, Stockhausen, Jaap Spek and Georg Heike, periods of residence in Cologne, Berlin and Paris (he's now Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire here), and generous backing from his home country's illustrious Gulbenkian Foundation. His music steers a careful course between the dogmatic stylistic icebergs of the epoch — serialism, musique spectrale, New Complexity — charting a territory very much his own (Wolfgang Rihm might be considered a similar figure). "Lichtung I" for clarinet, cello, horn, trombone, tuba, 4 percussion and what the French like to call dispositif électronique ("dispositif" means anything from "equipment" to "tool" to "gadget": here it consists of real-time treatment and spatialisation and also pre-recorded tape material) is a gritty twenty-two minutes. The low-end orchestration wasn't helped on-stage by the erection of perspex screens in front of the percussion (to ensure that their sound is better directed into the microphones placed to capture it); with the boxy theatre acoustic and the almost-total lack of reverb (natural or otherwise), the listening experience was not exactly comfortable. About halfway through the piece the live band stops and the tape part takes over, the tape part being superimposed chromatic scale figures on several instruments (all synthesized) moving upwards at different speeds — presumably an illustration of the theoretical building blocks of Nunes' "rhythmic pairs" technique that has preoccupied the composer since 1978's seminal "Nachtmusik I". It's a curious moment, rather like seeing an artist's palette or color chart stuck onto a canvas (à la Jasper Johns), since it serves only too well to illustrate the fact that, behind all the sophisticated software emanating from IRCAM these days, composers are still left to work with good old synths, and none of the sounds Nunes uses here can't be spat out at the flick of a switch from a standard expander in anybody's bedroom. The return of the live band, albeit mangled and scattered about the room's many loudspeakers by the computer technology, was a moment of some relief.
"Lichtung II", receiving its (complete) world premiere last night, was another ballgame altogether. With more instruments at his disposal (3 clarinets, alto trombone, horn, tuba, 4 percussion, harp, string quartet and double bass) and the invaluable expertise of Tonbandmeister Eric Daubresse, Nunes has created a 35 minute piece of real bravura that makes Boulez's "Répons" sound like a glitzy Christmas toy. Transformations abound; a few skittery col legno string passages become a stochastic cloud of sound worthy of Xenakis, three clarinets become a wailing multiphonic choir, and a simple flourish of crotales is filter-swept into a region of digital sonics worthy of Viennese post-techno operators Fennesz and Rehberg. I have to admit that one listening can hardly do this dense, multi-directional work justice (it is, after all, the culmination of Nunes' work with the "rhythmic pairs" theory, and marks therefore a major stylistic milestone in his oeuvre); suffice it to say that I can only hope that it will soon be available on disc. It is, after all, in my mind, the very best thing that's ever come out of IRCAM.

(back to top of July 2000 page)

On In Situ

The French cellist Didier Petit was born in Reims in 1962. Along with frequent playing partner Denis Colin, he was closely involved with Alan Silva's IACP (Institut Art Culture Perception: an unorthodox jazz school at the best of times under Silva's direction, less so since he upped camp and moved to Germany several years ago), and was Pedagogical Director there from 1987 to 1990. The In Situ label, which Petit has curated for nearly a decade now, is a good place to start any investigation of French improvised music; as the name suggests, Petit's aim has primarily been to document live performances, through a complex series of co-productions with theaters, festivals and clubs throughout France. Not exclusively so, however: one of his earliest projects was to reissue pianist François Tusques' landmark 1965 "Free Jazz" (see below), and one of the most beautiful albums in the collection features violinist Carlos "Zingaro" playing in a Portuguese monastery accompanied by.. a seven-second reverb (IS 076)! Other treasures on the label include the fabulous "La nuit est au courant" (IS 040), documenting a rare tour by an extraordinary quartet featuring enfants terribles Jac Berrocal (trumpet) and Jacques Thollot (drums), with bassists Francis Marmande and Hubertus Biermann, "Impulse-Elan" (IS 075), a breathtakingly intense collection of Joe McPhee/Daunik Lazro duets, and a 1985 solo set from Steve Lacy ("Solo", IS 051) which no serious Lacy collector should be without. You can come record shopping to Paris if you wish: the trademark In Situ red and black neo-constructivist graphics are easily spotted in local shops. You'll soon become familiar with the playfully elliptical liner notes by Hervé Péjaudier and their occasionally comical mistranslations into English (not on the recent albums though, whose notes have been translated by myself..). Good news: after various partnership deals and negotiations (unlike Leo Feigin or Werner Uehlinger, Didier is a slow worker and prefers to take his time and release just one or two titles a year), the entire In Situ catalogue is once more available, and though each item in it merits careful attention, I've selected just five (re)issues here to whet your appetite.


François Tusques

Last year, new music journalists (ever in search of the roots of free jazz) were all celebrating — and justifiably so — the reissues of the groundbreaking Joe Harriott Quintet albums "Free Form" and "Abstract", but most of them seem to forget Didier Petit's 1991 reissue of another epochal album recorded in October 1965 by a sextet led by pianist François Tusques, and featuring saxophonist François Jeanneau, clarinetist Michel Portal, trumpeter Bernard Vitet, bassist Beb Guérin and drummer Charles Saudrais. The interplay between Jeanneau and Portal (both of whom are still major figures on the French scene, while never perhaps quite living up to their real potential) is outstanding, inevitably recalling Coltrane and Dolphy (it seems safe to bet that Eric would have been playing and recording with these guys about this time had he not died in Berlin in 1964). Tusques is a lean and mean improviser with a keen sense of space — in a blind test I was pretty sure I was listening to Andrew Hill — and the rhythm section is as supple and subtle as any mid-Sixties Blue Note line-up you'd care to mention (Guérin, of course, went on to feature prominently in the 1969 explosion of free jazz on BYG/Actuel detonated by the arrival of Shepp, Murray, Thornton, Burrell et al.). Like the Harriott quintet, this is proof, were any needed, that free jazz was not necessarily (nor had to be) an angry cry of oppressed Black America. If anything I'd even say the French album is more advanced than Harriott's: whereas the British group in 1961/62 were still solidly anchored in be-bop structure, Tusques and his sextet just three years later are moving into more abstract territory. "Free Jazz" is a document of singular beauty and passion that no serious jazz lover should be without.

(back to top of July 2000 page)

Silva: Take Some Risks

Alan Silva &c:

Though Alan Silva is no doubt familiar to anyone reading this — his discography after all reads like a roll-call of the all-time great free jazz albums — his post-Center of the World recordings are less well-known and sometimes hard to track down (particularly the later recordings of his mythic Celestrial Communication Orchestra, released on the IACP label). "Take Some Risks" was recorded in the Maximilien Guiol Gallery in 1986, and features Misha Lobko on clarinets, Bruno Girard on violin, Didier Petit himself on cello and Roger Turner on percussion. A lot of folk these days in Europe are engaged in a frustratingly stupid polemic against free jazz and in favour of (European, "non-idiomatic") free improvised music, but they could do no worse than go back to this album and clean their ears out: at its wildest, this could be the Cecil Taylor Unit of the late Seventies (though without the piano), while next minute you might be fooled for a moment into thinking it was SME-style "insect music". Sure, Turner's extraordinary fireball percussion work is light years away from "conventional" jazz drumming (he was one of the first to abandon the standard kit set-up in favor of a seemingly miscellaneous pile of bric-a-brac, metal and toys), but Silva's booming bass work is just as recognizable as it ever was on his recordings with Taylor, Ayler and Frank Wright. The album is aptly named — the music lurches forward with apparent abandon, a blind man walking a clifftop footpath: some of it is absolutely breathtaking, some of it fails.. magnificently. Younger generations of improvisers who pore over master tapes in studios trying to mix out odd spots of trouble should go back and listen to this, have the courage of their convictions, and take some risks themselves.

(back to top of July 2000 page)


Michel Doneda / LÍ Quan Ninh / Dominique Regef:

Soprano saxophonist Michel Doneda and percussionist LÍ Quan Ninh have worked together on many occasions (you can find them along with Daunik Lazro on In Situ 037), but SOC was a relatively short-lived trio featuring Dominique Regef on hurdy gurdy and israj. The album was recorded (as have been several In Situs) at the Musique Action Festival in Vandoeuvre-les-Nancy in 1992 and is rightly regarded as one of the landmarks of French improv in the 1990s. Though I find Doneda's recorded work somewhat inconsistent in quality (I can however recommend "Ogooue-Ogoway", his live collaboration with bassist Paul Rogers and a team of African drummers (Transes Européenes TE 003), and his introspective post-Evan Parker solo album "Anatomie des Clefs" (Potlatch 598)), his soprano here is rich and reedy, and his interest in Eastern European and Oriental musics to the fore, complemented by Regef's hurdy gurdy, and Ninh's extraordinary percussion (along with the solo album "Ustensiles" on For4Ears this has to be Ninh's best work on disc so far). The final track, "Le paradoxe en long", is a brooding, almost Mahlerian slow movement, with Ninh's cymbals and bass drum the ominous rumblings of an approaching storm and Regef's swirling drones the perfect backdrop to Doneda's searing soprano. Folk music for the 21st century.

(back to top of July 2000 page)

In the Tradition

Alan Silva / Johannes Bauer / Roger Turner:

Seven years after the "Take No Risks" session, Silva and Turner teamed up again, this time at Vandoeuvre with trombone whiz Johannes Bauer. The CD tray curiously credits Turner on 'bone and Bauer on percussion (!): maybe an Alan Silva joke — the album title is certainly somewhat tongue-in-cheek, after all.. "In the Tradition" might lead one to expect one of those "respectful" tributes to the elders, à la Marsalis, or Carter (but also Braxton and Shepp) — five seconds into track one (all the tracks are called "Standard"s) and it's clear we're in for a trip of another order. Silva is featured exclusively on synthesizer (perhaps to the horror of ol' purists expecting his bass, or at least a bit of violin), and very impressive he is too: the synth has long been regarded as belonging to rock, techno and fusion, but Silva's wild work on it serves to remind us that Sun Ra and Paul Bley were among its very first champions (curiously enough, Ra's Moog adventures are as far out today as they were back then, while Bley's early 70s synth work sounds horribly dated now). Bauer and Turner are just as insane, and the album cooks from beginning to end. A friend of mine once found a Schubert symphony in the sleeve of what he thought was Zorn Parachute twofer (perhaps STN's honorary president Dr. Chadbourne would like to comment on that?!).. in the opposite direction, someone should slip this CD into a "Conversations with the Elders" jewel box and offer it to a crusty jazz snob as a Christmas present. Heh heh heh..

(back to top of July 2000 page)


Daunik Lazro / Carlos "Zingaro" / Sakis Papadimitriou / Jean Bolcato:

Recorded at Vandoeuvre just two days before "In the Tradition" was "Peripheria", a killer quartet consisting of Daunik Lazro (alto and baritone), Carlos "Zingaro" (violin), Sakis Papadimitriou (piano) and Jean Bloat (bass). Lazro, one of the first important French free (as opposed to jazz) players, and "Zingaro" have been frequent playing partners since the mid-Seventies (and are still active as a duo: check out 1998's "Hauts Plateaux" on Potlatch P 498), and their interplay is formidable — never forced nor violent, but always emotionally charged. Anchored in Bolcato's solid bass and gently underpinned by Papadimitriou's filigree piano work (his solo "Piano Cellules", IS 010, is an unjustly overlooked landmark album of extended piano techniques), this 47-minute set is pure magic from start to finish. Once again the tape was rolling at the right moment: and Didier Petit had the foresight to release the resulting recording for the rest of us.
So whether you're shopping in Paris (in which case feel free to ask for addresses of the best record shops: there ain't that many..) or ordering through In Situ's North Country distributor, I can recommend the above titles (and just about everything else on the label) without reservation. French improv is flourishing, and Didier Petit's label is certainly one of the reasons why.

(back to top of July 2000 page)


The Remote Viewers:
Leo Lab CD 067

Already memorably described by STN's own Walter Horn as "Ligeti meets ROVA in Eastern Europe in homage to Dracula" (I won't try and do better than that), this is the third outing on Leo for the London-based trio of husband and wife team David and Louise Petts, ably abetted by Adrian Northover. All three play saxophones, and the Petts double on "electronics" (for the most part here pretty basic synths — the tantalizingly-named "pocket theremins" on their second album are not credited). The most arresting element though is Louise's voice, a disturbingly polished contralto owing more to Nico, Tracey Thorn and the Young Marble Giants' Alison Statton than to Julie London. The Remotes' cover versions are rapidly becoming legendary: after the theremin-ravaged nightmare ride on Madonna's "Secret" on the last album, this time we're served with a deliciously B-movie version of a decidedly B-Bowie song ("Jump They Say") and a clatteringly lo-fi massacre of Portishead's "All Mine" (already covered in desperate technicolor yawn by Tom Jones and Neil Hannon). David Petts' originals are as mysterious and unsettling as their titles: wailing saxes and Ra-esque synth doodles intertwine in pristine home-studio sound (not a reverb button in sight), just enough to get right under your skin and gently sabotage any other activity you might be tempted to indulge in while listening. The Remote Viewers, in short, sound like absolutely no other band on the planet, and while Leo Feigin must be obviously delighted with having such a team on his artist roster, it's perhaps a shame that their music, by being on Leo, is less likely to reach the freaky crossover indie audience that it most handsomely deserves.

(back to top of July 2000 page)

Endangered Guitar

Hans Tammen:
NUR/NICHT/NUR LC 05245 (1998)

In its burnished metal box it looks like an old Unit Moebius Belgian techno album, or something from Berlin's Chain Reaction label, but put this on at your local rave party and you'll see the ecstasy-addled kids really trip out.. "Endangered Guitar" (fond memories of Maarten Altena's bass-bondage on the old ICP album "Handicaps") is forty-seven minutes — twenty tracks, the longest 4'22" — of white-hot solo guitar work from German-born (now resident in the US) Hans Tammen. Tammen is old enough to tell you that his favorite guitarist is Richie Blackmore, and he apparently started playing guitar horizontally on his lap while Fred Frith was still knitting socks for Henry Cow album covers — but unlike that other old hand at table guitar, AMM's Keith Rowe, who paints vast desolate landscapes of Feldmanesque delicacy, Tammen's music shatters and splinters in all directions, molten shards of noise relentlessly pelting the inner ear (if like me you can only listen to music like this through headphones for fear of provoking eviction and/or divorce, you've got a hell of a thrill coming..). It's all executed — that is the word — with clinical precision, and it kicks ass. Don't be fooled by that Richie Blackmore line though: apart from a few effects boxes there's little to reveal Tammen's fondness for rock (though in wilder moments I like to imagine that Robert Fripp and Brian Eno could have come up with this if they'd been doing speedballs and angel dust back in 1975 instead of (no) pussyfooting..). Recent years have seen a slew of fine free guitarists emerge, from the ubiquitous O'Rourke to Alan Licht to Leonid Soybelman, but nothing they've done so far packs this kind of punch, and Uncle Pat Metheny's occasional forays into noise (either solo or with Derek Bailey) pale into insignificance. In terms of sheer technical innovation (as ever, it's hard to believe this could have been recorded in real time), let alone sonic inventiveness, "Endangered Guitar" is, for my money, up there with Bailey's 1970's solo albums and the early extreme Eugene Chadbourne stuff (recently reissued on Rastascan). Those of you who missed out on the Statements Quintet's "The Cat's Pyjamas" (Leo Lab 054) last year might want to check out Tammen in an ensemble context (with Ursel Schlicht, Dom Duval, Jay Rosen and Christoph Irmer), and his work on German reedman/composer Martin Speicher's "Erdtne" (Hybrid) is well-worth hunting down. A duo album with Denman Maroney is due out later this year on the French label Potlatch, but if you're coming to Hans Tammen for the first time, this is where you should start. Buy now or cry later.

(back to top of July 2000 page)

Copyright 2000 by Paris Transatlantic