January News 2001 New Releases
reviewed by Dan Warburton:
Kyle Bruckmann: ENTYMOLOGY
The Fonda - Stevens Group: LIVE AT THE BUNKER
Scott Rosenberg: IE
From the PNMR archives... Odd Size to Gothic Records
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ENTYMOLOGY
Kyle Bruckmann
Barely Auditable BAR001

The frontier between improvised and composed new music is getting harder and harder to define. The music of Kyle Bruckmann (oboe, English horn and Chinese suona) recalls both Evan Parker (the meticulous almost electronic precision of the circular breathing) and Heinz Holliger. Though much of "entymology" will have you wondering how the hell he gets those sounds, a couple of pieces are played "straight", i.e. with unabashed lyricism and evident respect for the instrument's venerable tradition. At 46 minutes the album doesn't overstay its welcome, but its rather boxy acoustic (it was indeed recorded in someone's living room) does become a little wearing. As always with impressive solo debuts, I'm led to speculate what the performer might do in the company of others; fun though solo improvising can be, it does tend to sprawl, and the input of (conflict with?) other players can create situations where a particular extended technique is employed for musical as opposed to purely technical reasons. I have the feeling we'll be hearing more from Kyle Bruckmann in years to come.


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LIVE AT THE BUNKER
The Fonda - Stevens Group
Leo CD LR 301


"Not the retro bullshit, not the nauseating smooth jazz, not the young-lions crap, but the real jazz: the way jazz music should have been had it not been high-jacked (sic) by big business, glossy magazines, brainless DJs, prostitute journalists, and brainwashed festival promoters." Ouch! So writes Leo Feigin in one his more, shall we say, ebullient Press Releases (prefaced by the way with the words: "I, Leo Feigin.. hereby confirm" etc.). As a declaration, it certainly stands out from the run-of-the-mill hyperbole that normally constitutes Press blurbs, though if I were Joe Fonda or Michael Stevens I'm not sure how I would feel. Certainly, this is a damn fine album, a superb live recording (complete with audibly clunking, whooshing piano pedals) made in yet another European jazz club going by the name of Bunker, this time at Bielefeld in Germany, and I'm in broad agreement with Feigin that jazz today should be moving in this general direction, i.e. be unafraid to work with emotionally direct material and strong group compositions while at the same time being open to "outside" playing, but certain points of Leo's release text bear closer scrutiny in relation to the music they aim to sell.
Firstly, as one of the "prostitute journalists" (though I generally exchange my paltry writing talents for copies of the discs I review rather than for other more visceral pleasures), I feel somewhat compelled to respond. "Retro bullshit" needs some definition; who has Leo got in his sights here? Wynton Marsalis again? Hasn't the poor bugger suffered enough? Sure, he's cruising for a bruising with the sheer volume of reactionary statements he makes, but I don't doubt for a minute that he'd be happy to have penned most of the tunes featured on this album: "Borrowed Time", "Don't Go Baby" and the closing joyful "Oh, Lord, It's Nice to Sit on Your Porch Today" could easily pass as Marsalis compositions, with their harmonically and rhythmically sophisticated heads, equally at home with the conventions of gospel-inflected 50s/60s hard bop. Of course, these boys don't sound like Wynton's crew at all - Paul Smoker's trumpet attack is nowhere near as perfectly pretty as Marsalis' (thankfully), and there's more of a dangerous edge to the rhythm section too. They're certainly not "young lions", but what's wrong with young lions and why is what they do "crap"? If Leo's thinking of Joshua Redman, James Carter, Cyrus Chestnut and their ilk, I think his taste buds need a little refreshing - these cats may not be at the cutting edge of modernity, but they are doing strong, honest work and are bringing a new young public to jazz music (anyway, go ask Cecil Taylor what he thinks of James Carter..). As for "nauseating smooth jazz", well, I think that all our readers will agree that the likes of Kenny Gee won't be making it to their Year 2000 Top Ten, but I would add that one or two recent Leo releases (naming no names) have been rather.. soporific.
As for brainless DJs, the much-hyped Acid Jazz phenomenon (now admittedly extremely dull compared to what it was a decade ago) did a hell of a lot to bring jazz into the earholes of a young public weaned on the inanities of HipHop (didn't DJ Gilles Peterson say at the outset that his dream was to see Pharoah Sanders at Number One in the charts? Surely a noble goal..), and also led to several fascinating developments such as Coleman's M-Base (which in fact pre-dated the Acid Jazz boom but benefited enormously from it) and its divergent spin-offs by the likes of Greg Osby, Graham Haynes and Gary Thomas. Sure, the Guru Jazzmatazz series isn't my idea of Great Black Music Ancient to the Future, but if it sends kids out to buy copies of "Tauhid" and "A Love Supreme", who am I to bitch?
I sense behind the rhetoric about glossy magazines and big business a certain sadness that his magnificent label hasn't blasted off in the way that Manfred Eicher's ECM has; despite a wonderful roster of major names - Evan Parker, Mat Maneri, Anthony Braxton, Marilyn Crispell, Eugene Chadbourne (all of whom also record for a multitude of labels) - and a cluster of figures faithful to the imprint - Ivo Perelman, Dominic Duval, John Wolf Brennan, Carlo Actis Dato - not to mention a fountain of magnificent new talent (Feigin is still one of the sharpest talent-spotters around), Leo still hasn't had the equivalent of a "Köln Concert" or an "Officium" to hang on his wall in platinum. And it's probably just as well he hasn't, as it has left him free to continue to organize his releases according to the criteria that count the most: musical substance and artistic integrity. "Live at the Bunker" is absolutely solid, heartfelt, good music, and I strongly recommend it to anyone, including Wynton Marsalis and Brad Meldhau fans (I'm sure they'll thoroughly enjoy it).


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IE
Scott Rosenberg Barely Auditable BAR000

A cursory glance at Scott Rosenberg's bio (he's played with Anthony Braxton, Luc Houtkamp and the late Glenn Spearman) might lead you to expect a red hot free improv big band, featuring fireworks from the likes of Gino Robair. It is not. "IE" belongs on your shelves in the contemporary music section, alongside Curran, Lucier, Wolff and Oliveros, all of whom Rosenberg has also studied with. Though not specifically slated as such, it comes across as a large-scale almost symphonic work whose four pieces hang together as four movements. Rosenberg writes: "Each of the pieces on "IE" is different, and they all incorporate improvisation to varying degrees. "Hums" is essentially a very strict improvisation based on a brief text instruction. People are given set notes and are told how to play them (ascending, obviously) and at what dynamic, but where they place their notes and how frequently, is left up to them. The second piece is a conducted score with indeterminate notation, mostly relative pitch lines; the third piece is an extremely physical type of conduction with me running through the group of players trying to evoke various sounds. Finally, "Requiesence" uses two conductors, who give a number which relates to an inderminate set of actions (pauses, melodies, long tones). The players can choose which conductor to follow. The conductors are given directions merely to be meditative and spacious."
The largely static nature of "Hums" might recall the spirit of Morton Feldman, but this is not music woven out of brief and repeated motivic ideas like the Oriental carpets Feldman collected and loved; its vast expanse of instrumental sound is dense but glows with a rich inner light coming from the spectral collisions of the pitches chosen by the forces employed (Rosenberg's line-up consists of ten strings, two guitars, five clarinets, two saxes, trumpet, tuba, accordion, two voices and three percussionists). One hesitates to invoke Rothko (that Feldman connection again), but the large, darkly luminous tableaux of his late period seem somehow appropriate here. The second movement, with its occasional splashes of lyrical sopranos, evokes both the delicate introspection of Luigi Nono and the spacious fragility of Christian Wolff, while the brief (scherzo?) third movement cuts and splices à la Zorn. The final "Requiesence" poses the whole edifice beautifully, its delicate arches of music framed with rich silences (the acoustic of the recording in a church in Berkeley is particularly effective in this respect). This is an exquisite and mature piece of work, and a welcome extension of the American Experimental tradition into the territory of group improvisation. Strongly recommended.


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reviews from the Paris New Music Archives
by Derek Bermel and James Baiye


Chamber Music, released by MMC, presents a complete catalog of Finney’s thirty-six settings of Joyce’s poetry, recorded by soprano Jeanette Lombard and pianist Mary Norris. Finney, an important pedagogue - he taught several generations of American composers including George Crumb, Roger Reynolds, Bassett and Albright - turns 89 this year. His works, however, are sorely underrepresented on disc; the only other available recording features two piano sonatas, played by Martha Braden. Let’s hope that this newly released disc represents a trend to catalog his music! Better late than never...

CRI has released digitally re-mastered recordings of Bassett’s Variations for Orchestra (Radio Zurich Symphony Orchestra), Echoes from an Invisible World (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) and Sextet for Piano and Strings (Concord String Quartet, plus pianist Gilbert Kalish and violist Joel Graham). The disc shows off Bassett’s imaginative manipulation of orchestral timbres; delicate textures alternate with dazzling splashes of color. A new disc of his chamber music - featuring clarinetist Fred Ormand, flutist Keith Bryan and pianist Ellen Weckler, among others - is imminent on the Opus One label.

Finally, Gothic Records has released Albright’s oratorio A Song to David, based on the poetry of Christopher Smart, and performed by the Choir of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minnesota. The disc was recorded live, adding a sense of spontanaeity and immediacy to the listening experience, in contrast with today’s over-tweaked digital patchworks. Throughout the work, the unabashedly tonal spirituals and hymns mix comfortably with haunting atonal flourishes in a music revealing Albright’s mastery of genre-splicing. Also released this season: Albright’s Flight’s of Fancy, an eight-movement organ extravaganza, along with Chasm, on a recording by organist Pamela Decker. The disc also features Herb Bielawa’s Undertones, as well as Decker’s Nightsong and Ostinato Dances. Promises to pack a wallop for pipe dreamers.

Ivanov Suite and Versions/Stages, by Roger Reynolds, is the result of an electroacoustic collaboration with the Japanese experimental theater director Tadashi Suzuki. “Rich and Strange,” to quote Peter Greenaway. This has a lot of sonic potential. Very diverse and fascinating incidental music. Emotional ranges from the terrifying to the somniferic. New World records deserves praise for their eclectic and American discs. [NW 80431-2]

Also from New World [NW 80437-2], but on a different planet, (and a lot more fun, frankly) is Alarms and Excursions by The Bern Nix Trio. Harmolodic music alla Ornette. Jazz guitarist Bern Nix’ work from 1975 to 1987 with Coleman’s Prime Time Band pays off in a humorous and imaginative series of tunes.

Geoffrey Burleson, pianist, teams up with Maria Tegzes, soprano, to bring us some unusual and perhaps deservedly abandoned music in a Neuma disk called Urban Cabaret. This is worth hearing just for the repertoire; mostly songs by Eisler and Schoenberg. [N 450-83]

Recorded live in Cologne in 1992 by the ever innovative Odd Size Records (Paris), the Kontakta sextet uses no conventional instruments, not even regular percussion. Instead they amplify, scrape, bow, and cajole low and sensual sounds out of scrap metal, bicycle parts, tin tubs, and old turntables. In this ambient noise, change comes very slowly- the sounds themselves are long, slow, and drawn-out, with lots of heavily amplified “quiet” sounds. The music gradually moves from one harmonic landscape to another: more peaceful than ominous, despite the post-apocalyptic use of society’s junk. Beautifully mixed. Calm, smoothed over, and with no harsh edges. Ambient but not mindless. [CD OS 13]

Another strange but compelling disk from Odd Size Records in Paris, transomuba by POLare is packaged with no concrete information on the musicians or their origins, although we can guess a German/Japanese influence... Is this mystery disc techno music for the brain? Or just repetitive electronics? How about trance music for the hard core intellectual? Some great and creative sound ideas weigh this disc in between art-music minimalism and raving techno. [OS 15]

Odd Size’s weirdest disc to date (certainly the most uncensored cover) belongs to Illusion of Safety, an Illinois band. The cover, labeled Distraction features a nude man in a demolished building in the midst of an inferno of strip clubs. The music is no less provocative. Samples galore, mostly the same damn ones over and over, looped in 5 second segments, with lots of arcade video game sounds and Las-Vegas-type elevator music, set in mini tape loops. Disconcerting and bizarre. [OS 12]



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