November News 2001 New Releases
reviewed by Dan Warburton:
Paul Flaherty
Cor Fuhler / Gert-Jan Prins: THE FLIRTS
John Law Quartet: ABACUS
Bruno Meillier / Toshimaru Nakamura: SIPHONO
Keith Rowe / Toshimaru Nakamura: WEATHER
Derek Bailey / Noèl Akchoté: CLOSE TO THE KITCHEN
James Coleman: ZUIHITSU
Arthur Doyle & Sunny Murray: LIVE AT GLENN MILLER CAFÉ
Due Process: FIN DE LA VOIX
Michael Jon Fink: I HEAR IT IN THE RAIN
No Spaghetti Edition: LISTEN... and tell me what it was
Ground Fault Releases: Contagious Orgasm
Lionel Marchetti: PORTRAIT D'UN GLACIER (ALPES 2173m)
Last Month
Next Month


Paul Flaherty / Randall Colbourne / Froc / Richard Downs
Zaabway 2007
Paul Flaherty / Greg Kelley / John Voight / Laurence Cook
Boxholder BHX 016

Good things are worth waiting for. "Prana" was recorded back in 1989, and features Manchester Connecticut's Paul Flaherty on alto sax, with a keening tone at times reminiscent of Byard Lancaster. This is supple and lyrical free jazz, the enigmatically-named Froc studiously avoiding wild extended guitar techniques à la Sharrock, instead anchoring Flaherty's most extreme blowing with choppy comping and occasional Joe Morris-like flurries of notes. Bassist Richard Downs and drummer Randall Colbourne seem more than happy to take off into high speed bop on "Across a Great Distance", while Flaherty waits for the tempo to slacken before soaring in with long lyrical lines worthy of Noah Howard. One gets the impression that the rhythm section doesn't always know what strategy to adopt behind Flaherty's endless arabesques (specifically on "Decending [sic] into Matter"), but group unity isn't in doubt on the final pastoral - in both senses of the word - "Everything is Forgiven", which rounds off the album most satisfactorily.
Flaherty describes the seven pieces on "The Ilya Tree" as "spontaneous compositions" rather than free jazz, though John Voight and Laurence Cook's track record with the likes of Jemeel Moondoc speaks for itself. Trumpeter Greg Kelley -a committed avant-gardist if ever there was one (see reviews elsewhere) - finds plenty of room for his phenomenal extended techniques. It's easy to forget that Kelley, like that other hero of the new trumpet Axel Dörner, can play the hell out of his horn - check out his awesome solos on "Space In Which We Live". Flaherty, whose playing, especially on tenor, is terse, rubbery, but ruggedly lyrical - is on splendid form throughout. Replacing the harmonic input of a guitar with Kelley's trumpet makes "The Ilya Tree" a craggier, more intimidating mountain to climb for the listener, but the views from the summit make it well worth your while.

Comments? email the author
>>back to top of November 2001 page

Cor Fuhler / Gert-Jan Prins
Erstwhile 017

Call it Erstwhile's sense of humour, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Friederike Paetzold's magnificent flower photography and the naughty-but-nice album title are designed to lure unsuspecting punters into buying the album, in which case they're in for one hell of a shock (perhaps a Venus Fly Trap might have been a more appropriate choice of flora..). Cor Fuhler, who studied with agent provocateur Misha Mengelberg (he picked up not only a good grasp of counterpoint but also something of his teacher's oddball sense of humour), has left his piano behind in favour of an EMS synth, turntables and microphone, while Gert-Jan Prins (who also released a thoroughly wacky album with Misha and Mats Gustafsson on his X-OR label) provides "FM modulation", "playing" televisions and radios. Both musicians are members of Keith Rowe's MIMEO and probably suffered irreparable brain damage during that group's 24-hour concert last year in Nancy, since "The Flirts" is a relentless barrage of grainy blips, buzzes and fuzzy squeals, another fascinating and at times infuriating report from the outer wastes of planet music. "Seemingly chaotic, yet very musical" reads Jon Abbey's Press Release. Indeed, but maybe depends on what you mean by "musical".. Some years ago, they blasted a probe out into Deep Space containing what they considered to be representative samples of Great Art, presumably with a view to convincing intelligent life out there that Earth was a worthwhile destination for extraterrestrial tourism. If at a later date they find the money to send another one out, I suggest the powers that be include "The Flirts" instead of J.S.Bach, if only to ensure that any potential space invaders steer well clear of this insane little planet.

Comments? email Dan Warburton
>>back to top of November 2001 page

John Law Quartet

HatOLOGY 567

Pianist John Law cites Keith Jarrett's "Personal Mountains" as a tune that haunts him. In fact, Jarrett haunts much of "Abacus", from the themes - melodies stated in unison, a fondness for fast-moving circle-of-fifths harmonies - to the piano playing itself. Like Jarrett, Law is classically trained, technically very proficient and deeply interested in Baroque music - hence the track titles, which instantly invite another listening (referential, historical and defiantly non-jazz). Law admits to getting fed up with "total blow-out" pianism, and "Abacus" represents a step backwards from the edge he peered over on his "Extremely Quartet" album a few years back (hat Art). The weight of Barry Guy's bass is sorely missed (Tim Wells does a little Charlie Haden in "Sarabande" but otherwise lies low - was he genuinely timid or just mixed down?), as is the explosive virtuosity of Paul Dunmall. Jon Lloyd's horn playing here is solid enough, but his attacks often seem rusty and give the impression he's fluffing notes on Law's heads, even when he isn't (no big deal: you could say the same of Dewey Redman with Jarrett). At times he sounds like John Surman - try comparing his soprano work on "Aria" with Surman's on "Number Six" (Miroslav Vitous Group, ECM 1185). If he's distinctly lacklustre on "Sarabande", put it down to Law's theme, which was apparently written as an instant eulogy to John Stevens upon learning of the drummer's death in 1994. Law might have been advised to wait and come up with a more interesting melody, though he rescues the track with a truly magnificent solo, his best (and most Jarretty) on the album. Drummer Gerry Hemingway is as efficient as ever, though I'm sure he can do a solo like "Burlesque" in his sleep.

What do you think? email Dan Warburton
>>back to top of November 2001 page


Bruno Meillier / Toshimaru Nakamura
SMI NM 210
Keith Rowe / Toshimaru Nakamura
Erstwhile 018

Bruno Meillier is a saxophonist, flutist and (here) keyboard player based in St Etienne, France, where for several years he has organised concerts for his Musiques Innovatrices Festival, and his association Toto N'Aime Pas La Soupe. Towards the end of the 80s he was based in New York, where he formed the group Zero Pop, performing with (amongst other luminaries of the Downtown scene) Ikue Mori, prior to which he was closely involved with the RIO project Etron Fou Leloublan, and released a handful of albums with fellow Etron member Ferdinand Richard. Siphono is his latest two-man outfit with Japan's Toshi Nakamura, who (in case you didn't know already) plays an "empty" mixing desk allowing him to work with feedback in an almost sculptural fashion. The five pieces on "Siphono" were recorded between June 1999 and November 2000 in St Etienne and Annecy. For those already familiar with Nakamura's solo albums "No Input Mixing Board" 1&2, and his two duo albums with Sachiko M ("Un" on Meme, "Do" on Erstwhile), Meillier's input on "Siphono" lends the music a slightly less extreme, almost pastoral flavour: unlike Nakamura, who works hands-on with the timbre of his material, Meillier can - and does - insert precise pitch content on his synthesizer and the resulting music has a harmonic sweep not always present on some of Toshi's other releases. Because Nakamura plays with loops, there's both the possibility of extended washes of sound and the potential for subtle rhythmic interplay: "Pousse-pousse Go" starts off sounding almost waltz-like, before the rhythmic grid is overlaid with something more foursquare - only later does the listener realise it's closer to 7/8 - the whole thing swings (no, that's not the word, but never mind) like an early Tricky album. With the exception of the opening "Quick Quick Slow", all the tracks are relatively short (for a change), giving the impression they were culled and mixed out of longer sessions of experimentation, tantalising glimpses of a world we'll never get to visit. The music positively glistens - anyone out there who automatically assumes that electronic improvised music has to be user-unfriendly and cause permanent damage to domestic animals is invited to check this album out at once.
That said, "Weather Sky" is another thing altogether. Bruno Meillier invited Toshi to play a duo concert in St Etienne with AMM's no-concessions table guitar master Keith Rowe, and took them into the studio the day after to record for Erstwhile. Sensitivity to pitch is less important here (Rowe, remember, hasn't tuned his guitar since the early 1960s): the album's three tracks are real slow-burners. Rowe can be agile and aggressive when he wants to, but his preferred working method is to lay down long drones and gently adjust them - which is basically what Nakamura does: the two are therefore totally compatible and neither feels any need to bounce the other in a new direction. The album's structure - two long pieces framing a shorter central one - is the same as Nakamura's first Erstwhile outing with Sachiko M, "Do", and the total listening experience is equally purifying for the ear (though where Sachiko's piercing sine waves belong to the dental surgery, Rowe's grainy buzzes wouldn't be out of place in a barber shop). This is not to give the impression that the music is painful to listen to - far from it (though prolonged listening at high volume through headphones might not be the best course of action): like the albums of LaMonte Young, Charlemagne Palestine and Tony Conrad, this music inhabits the listening space, and even tiny movements of the head can reveal new and surprising combinations of tones that listening to more conventionally "active" music tends to exclude. In its austere way, it's as direct, colourful and appetising as Rowe's trademark pop art cover - which is, literally, the cherry on the cake.

Comments? email Dan Warburton
>>back to top of November 2001 page

Derek Bailey / Noèl Akchoté/David Grubbs
Derek Bailey / Noèl Akchoté
Blue Chopsticks BC6
David Grubbs
Rectangle International REC AC2

In the world of improvised music it's a question of safety in numbers - the alliance between guitarists David Grubbs (formerly of Chicago, now Brooklyn) and Frenchman Noèl Akchoté (now resident in Vienna) is a case in point. (You can read the full story in an interview with Grubbs - now woefully out-of-date on certain points - online at Akchoté co-founded the Rectangle label with saxophonist Quentin Rollet, originally to release only vinyls. "Close to the Kitchen" was one of the first of several guitar duos Akchoté set up with "stars" (others include Eugene Chadbourne, Marc Ribot and Fred Frith), an astute move not only for Akchoté himself but also for the Rectangle imprint: the original vinyl issue of these duets with Bailey has long since sold out. Enter David Grubbs (whose first album for Rectangle, "The Coxcomb", included a long duet with Akchoté) who offered to reissue "Close to the Kitchen" on his own Blue Chopsticks label. It's good to see the album out again, even if it is a bit of a rough ride - Akchoté taking on Bailey is a bit like setting up a game with a chess grandmaster and trying to beat him at draughts instead: Akchoté tries every trick in the book from chunky metal riffs to drones to squeals to outright pandemonium, but Bailey won't be bounced into becoming Sonny Sharrock. He's evidently having a ball though; if you've had enough of supersilent guitarists like Taku Sugimoto, this is the perfect antidote.
For his second outing on Rectangle, "Thirty-Minute Raven", Grubbs reworked a piece recently performed at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The ever-faithful John McEntire provides percussion, and Grubbs (guitar, synth and computer) is joined by Akchoté, Quentin Rollet on alto sax and Charlie O. (all of whom guested on last year's Drag City album "The Spectrum Between"). Its insistent computerized pulses and lush scoring have more in common with Gastr Del Sol's final album "Camofleur" than with the balladry of "The Coxcomb", but also seem to indicate that Grubbs is intent on marking out his own small plot of land in the backwoods of American minimalism. Even if Akchoté and O's brief cameo appearance throws in some twisted harmonies, McEntire's drumming and Grubbs' Zen country guitar are reassuringly the same as ever. It probably didn't take them very long to do, but it's fresh and summery and, if you can take the non-stop pulses, very enjoyable.

Comments? email Dan Warburton
>>back to top of November 2001 page

Tom Prehn Quartet

Atavistic Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP221CD

Originally released on the tiny Danish V 58 label in 1967, "Tom Prehns Kvartet" is one of those rare gems of European free music that was scandalously overlooked at the time and subsequently forgotten until John Corbett and his bloodhounds from Atavistic sniffed it out. And what a find! Tom Prehn (born in 1938) reveals himself to be a singularly original pianist who consciously chose to swim against the current that directly and indirectly charted the course of European free music for years to come - meaning Cecil Taylor, whose playing, in Prehn's words, was "so strong I had to avoid it." (He did, however, meet Albert Ayler and John Tchicai, and readily acknowledged the enormous liberating force of their and Taylor's music on the Danish scene - CT enjoyed a long residence at Copenhagen's Café Montmartre in the early sixties). Prehn came at jazz from another direction - contemporary classical music. Steeped in traditional theory and musicology (it was only through his half-brother that he discovered more popular musics), his piano stylings owe as much to the Darmstadt avant-garde and the New York School as they do to jazz. In 1967, the year he recorded this album, Prehn also studied composition with Earle Brown and Witold Lutoslawski, so it seems fair to assume he was familiar with the bold graphic scores of the former (and one imagines, with pianist David Tudor's interpretation thereof - both Prehn and Tudor participated in an all-night happening in 1968) and the flexible "aleatory counterpoint" of the latter (Lutoslawski invited Prehn's group to the prestigious and highly influential Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1970).
Prehn's playing partners were equally open-minded musically. Tenorman Fritz Krogh can handle both wild, expressionistic blowing (check out the 41 seconds of "Herfra til Marathon") and intricate pitch-sensitive composition (his "Xenia" is based on a twelve-tone row). Bassist Poul Ehlers and drummer Preben Vang are a revelation, easily as strong and innovative a rhythm section as Maarten Altena and Han Bennink (who cut another pioneering European free album that same year, "Porto Novo" with Marion Brown). The fragmented noises of Ehlers' "F.eks" ("for instance") have nothing at all to do with free jazz à la Ayler or Taylor; instead they seem to anticipate with uncanny precision the music of a later generation of European free players (blind test an improv fan with this and they'll likely as not say it's on Incus, Emanem or FMP), whereas Prehn's "Modus Vivendi", with its superimposed rhythmic strata, extreme registers and piano clusters, sounds like it could have been written by Penderecki (forget his turgid neo-classical recent stuff: back then Penderecki was really far out). You can't get more European than "L'homme armé", which, like Masses by the celebrated early Renaissance composers Guillaume Dufay and Josquin, uses the well-known French medieval song as basic compositional material. "L'homme armé" itself appears unadorned after two and a half minutes, but pay attention and you can hear it orbiting Ehlers' later bass solo. Next time you listen, you'll be able to hear how Prehn used it to generate his own theme, and also the rhythmic cells that open and close the piece. The final "Det var en Sondag Morgen" is closest in spirit to the volcanic energy of free jazz, and for my money rivals the best of Evan Parker's early work with Alex von Schlippenbach, or Brötzmann's legendary trio with Fred Van Hove and Han Bennink. John Corbett is on the one when he describes this as "original free music of the highest calibre" - and unless you happened to be in or around Copenhagen at the end of the sixties, you won't have heard this music before, though I guarantee you'll want to hear it again and again.

Comments? email Dan Warburton
>>back to top of November 2001 page

...and more

Bhob Rainey / Greg Kelley
Bhob Rainey / Jack Wright / Fred Lonberg-Holm / Bob Marsh
Spring Garden Music
Bhob Rainey / Jack Wright / Tom Djil / Matt Ingalls
Signs of Life
Spring Garden Music
Bhob Rainey
Sweet Sonk
Crouton Music
James Coleman
Sedimental SEDCD30

With his frequent playing partner trumpeter Greg Kelley (whose innovations have already been reviewed in these pages), soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey is an improviser worth watching at the moment. Their group project nmperign - a duo on this album, but previous incarnations have featured percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani and tapeloop whiz Jason Lescalleet - is about as uncompromising as it gets (not only musically: both their name - derived apparently from the Latin "igNotuM PER IGNotius" - and their track titles are well-nigh unpronounceable). This isn't easy listening. At low volume there doesn't sound to be much going on at all, but turn up the wick and a whole world of manic flutterings, clatterings and stifled yelps comes into focus (along with various strands of ambient noise picked up by sensitive microphones.. passing cars, amp hums, even a low-flying aircraft). Fans of ghost tracks will love the explosion of applause that comes crashing in four minutes after the end of the last track - a wistful sideways glance at the 5000-seater concert halls a group as extreme as nmperign will never be invited to perform in.
"Double-double" pairs Rainey with saxophonist Jack Wright against a couple of cellists, Bob Marsh and Fred Lonberg-Holm. It's thorny, intriguing stuff, closer in sound to contemporary classical music (Scelsi comes to mind in the more sustained passages), the strings leaving less room for Rainey to explore space and timbre, moving the music instead more towards an investigation of micro-tonal nuances. Rainey's second offering on Wright's Spring Garden Music imprint is more minimal, featuring the saxophonist in a set of duets with clarinetist Matt Ingalls, trumpeter Tom Djil and Wright himself. "Signs of Life" is the perfect title - Rainey is one of the more adept practitioners of musical microscopy, investigating the tiniest noises his instrument has to offer while leaving sufficient empty space around to render each grain of sound fascinating and valuable in its own right. We're about a million light years away from Peter Brötzmann and Evan Parker here; even John Butcher and Mats Gustafsson sound almost classical in comparison, though Rainey has - like Gustafsson - a keen ear for the spits and crackles, and - like Butcher - a feel for the extreme high register of the soprano and for its luscious multiphonics, especially evident on the solo "Sweet Sonk", part of Crouton Music's "Folktales" series of 3" CD compilations (this fifteen minute offering is packaged along with three-inchers by Achim Wollsheid and Jon Mueller).
Rainey pops up (on two tracks) on James Coleman's "Zuihitsu", a ravishing set of fifteen short pieces featuring Coleman's theremin. This instrument, despite being inexplicably in vogue at the moment, has distinct limitations, notably in terms of uniformity of timbre and attack, but Coleman has the good sense to team up with the best improvisers from the Boston region to create music which shows off both the instrument and his virtuosity to great advantage. He can swoop and toot with Greg Kelley, stutter and flutter with singer Liz Tonne, pop and gurgle with Tatsuya Nakatani and moan and groan with Vic Rawlings' cello. The performances are absolutely exquisite - if at times tantalizingly short - and perfectly in accord with the Zen elegance of Coleman's accompanying text and graphics.

Comments? email Dan Warburton
>>back to top of November 2001 page

Arthur Doyle / Sunny Murray

Ayler AYLCD 002

It might say "Arthur Doyle" on the album spine, but the first three tracks of this disc recorded last March in the Glenn Miller Café in Stockholm belong to drummer Sunny Murray and altoist Bengt "Frippe" Nordström, an early pioneer of Swedish free jazz who died shortly after this recording was made (hence perhaps this homage). Doyle finally shows up on track four, "African Love Call", playing uncharacteristic (for him) choppy bursts of tenor over an almost funky strut laid down by Murray. The recording wisely mixes Murray's drums behind Doyle's horns (live gigs have often found the saxophonist at something of a disadvantage when it comes to competing with Sunny's volcanic onslaughts), and the interplay between the musicians is evident throughout. Doyle's ecstatic scat singing on "Two Free Jazz Men Speak" is superb, and Murray's rock-solid groove utterly infectious. With reference to my extended interview with Murray and his wish to be acknowledged by younger drummers, his playing on this album ought to serve as an inspiration for generations to come. Doyle's reading of "Nature Boy" (which makes an interesting comparison with the duo's purely instrumental version of the same track on last year's excellent studio album "Dawn of a New Vibration" on Fractal) is awesome. Throw away your copy of George Benson's version and check this out, because both of these special musicians are still, to quote John Zorn, kicking butt.

Like this review? email Dan Warburton
>>back to top of November 2001 page



Though the Due Process concept dates back some twenty years, this latest incarnation features mainstay Ron Lessard of RRRecords collaborating with Jason Lescalleet on analog tapeloops and digital manipulation. On the strength of this album, Lessard may indeed be justified in billing himself as "America's Foremost Noisemaker", though there's serious competition out there. Rising to the bait, and in stark contrast to the warm, slow drones of his recent Intransitive collaboration with John Hudak (see elsewhere), Lescalleet's work here is pretty vicious, but as ever is executed with total commitment and great timing. Obviously a great pair of ears, though if he keeps this us for several years I don't know what state they'll end up in. In case you speak French, the album title doesn't in fact refer to the final and total obliteration of the human voice (a tenable hypothesis, given the uncompromisingly harsh nature of much of this music), but to the fact that the piece entitled as such was the last piece to be performed live at a Massachusetts venue called The Voix. Featured guests included Chris Cooper, Greg Kelley, David Quinn and Vic Rawlings. Kelley's chilly trumpet blasts are particularly effective on track two (if the Court Musicians of the Kingdom of Bhutan recorded on location in the Queens Midtown Tunnel it might come out sounding something like this). It sounds as if Rawlings turned up to perform accompanied by a large dog -- in any case there's some serious barking going on throughout track four -- the canine concerned is either trying to register some kind of aesthetic protest or is having a great time, I can't tell which, but its yelping becomes an integral and rather fascinating part of the piece. Great stuff. Give your neighbors a thrill and turn this one up LOUD.

Can't stand this review? email Dan Warburton
>>back to top of November 2001 page

Michael Jon Fink
Cold Blue Music CB0004

"Distinctly contemporary artistic distance from musical materials" reads the blurb. Hardly. Perhaps it's the expressive and ultra-sensitive interpretation of Fink's piano pieces here by Bryan Pezzone, but there's a distinctly wistful air to this music; the heavy use of the pedal, bittersweet suspensions and bell-like octaves point back in time beyond Satie (that's what I'd call "artistic distance".) to Debussy. Feldman is also cited in the Cold Blue press release, supposedly to lure the hip into the record stores, but to my ears Fink's music has more to do with another strand of experimental music, the neo-tonal simplicity of Gavin Bryars, Howard Skempton and early John Adams, a sense of nostalgia heightened by the fact that, apart from the piano pieces, all the works on this disc date from either 1985 or 1987. "I Hear It in the Rain", whose guitars, keyboards and percussion are superbly recorded and genuinely atmospheric, takes up where Bryars left off about 1980 (before becoming a Professional Pataphysical Bore), and "Living To Be Hunted by the Moon", a brooding soundscape for multi-tracked clarinets and sampled sounds points back to the slow systems music of Eno's "Discreet Music" and John Adams' "American Standard" - for its distinct lack of surface activity, you sense there is some underlying harmonic process at work. The problem is trying to stay awake long enough to work out what it is.

Love this review? email Dan Warburton
>>back to top of November 2001 page

Brett Larner
Spool SPL 114

Presumably as a deliberate attempt to get away from the standard image of the koto player (demure geisha in silky outfit kneeling submissively..), Brett Larner's CD cover shows gory outdoors butcher shops in Nepal and Tibet. The 73-minute album inside is a set of ten duets featuring his koto, bass koto and gu zheng. It's a bit of a mixed bag: the opening duet with Jim O'Rourke literally scratches around on the surface for eight minutes, while Ted Reichman's accordion on track two blends wonderfully with Larner's Harry Partch-like microtonal flurries, in an elegant and beautifully-pitched study in slowmotion clusters. The piece with Anthony Braxton is an absolute triumph, Larner shadowboxing his former teacher magnificently as Braxton gives a high-speed tour of his instrumental arsenal, after which Gianna Gebbia's alto sax two tracks later inevitably comes across as an anticlimax. If Larner had wanted to choose one track instead of two to showcase his oriental instruments' pentatonic shimmers, the track with Sam Bennett's electronics could have been dispensed with in favour of the effective (but truncated) outing with G.E. Stinson's electric guitar. The collaborations with the guitarists are diverse and engaging (with the exception of the fourteen fuzzy minutes Larner spends trying unsuccessfully to cheer up Loren Mazzacane Connors, who's once more entrenched in weeping, drooping misery): John Shiurba is as gritty and uncompromising as early Chadbourne, while Taku Sugimoto - on acoustic guitar here - is ultra-minimal and inscrutable as ancient calligraphy. The final duet on bowed koto with Gino Robair is a strangely disturbing but fascinating way to end. Though I still prefer his magnificent, intimate "Indistancing" (Leo Lab 1999) with Shoko Hikage and Philip Gelb, "Itadakimasu" is a fine sampler of Larner's many talents.

email the author
>>back to top of November 2001 page

No Spaghetti Edition
LISTEN... and tell me what it was
SOFA 506

NSE is a ten-piece improvisation ensemble from Norway (aided and abetted here by Axel Dörner on trumpet and Pat Thomas on piano and electronics), and their album was recorded by ECM veteran sound engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug in Oslo, but that "Nordic sound" (of Jan Garbarek et al.) is notably absent - this music could quite easily have been recorded in Paris, Berlin or San Francisco. Indeed, if you were out to demonstrate that free improvisation has become an idiomatic music in itself, a genre as easily recognizable as hard bop or prog rock, this would do nicely: Rolf Erik Nystrom and Hakon Komstad's reeds plop, spit and growl like saxophonists since Gustaffson are supposed to do, Oyvind Torvund and Ivar Grydeland's guitars fuzz dangerously like vintage Chadbourne and pick and plink in all the right places like Derek Bailey, Ingar Zach and Paal Nilssen-Love fly around their drums and percussion with the joyful abandon of Pauls Lytton and Lovens and from time to time there are some subversive classical/folk/jazz intrusions, masterminded by the gleefully anarchic Thomas (one supposes). When all twelve get going on "If Mountains Could Sing", they make a mighty racket, and quite an enjoyable one at that - elsewhere there's a distinct feeling of sensory overload and one only senses a concern for minute details of pitch and timbre when the band splits up momentarily into smaller sub-ensembles - "The Night, the Death and the Universe" starts well (with a title like that ought to) but soon explodes into another wild free-for-all. Perhaps a sextet would have sufficed. This is a solid and respectable piece of work, and you can tell the musicians had a ball recording it, but not something that leaves any strong lasting impressions, either positive or negative. Maybe it is bit like some of those old ECM albums after all.

Loathe this review? email us
>>back to top of November 2001 page

George Lewis / NOW Orchestra
Spool SPL 113

Though all but one of the compositions featured here date from the mid seventies, when trombonist/composer George Lewis pulled up his AACM roots and replanted them in the hothouse of New York City, they're still bursting with energy and creativity a quarter of a century on - moreover, the opening "Hello/Goodbye" has, Lewis informs us, been revamped "to include Afro-Cuban and rock rhythms" - and are played with consummate skill and enthusiasm by Vancouver's NOW Orchestra. Dylan van der Schyff rocks his socks off on drums, fine horn playing abounds (trumpeter Rob Blakeslee is especially worthy of mention), accompanied by spectacular flashes of piano from Paul Plimley and shards of molten guitar from Ron Samworth, the whole edifice solidly built on Lewis' superbly-scored arrangements. Though inscribed more or less within a jazz tradition - Gil Evans would no doubt have approved of the brass scoring - Lewis, like his former associate Anthony Braxton, is evidently familiar with the wider repertoire of 20th century European contemporary music: Peggy Lee's cello work on "Shadowgraph 2" is closer to Xenakis than jazz, and there's a healthy dose of Cathy Berberian in Kate Hammett-Vaughan's vocals. Like George Russell (whose major orchestral works "The African Game" and "Electronic Sonata" perhaps come closest to the "Shadowgraph" pieces in their stylistic diversity and skillful blend of composed and improvised elements), Lewis knows how to control matters of form and orchestration while still allowing individual musicians - not necessarily just soloists either - space to express themselves to the full. And what about his trombone playing? Well, to quote Mr Zorn, he still "swings his f---ing ass off" (though NOW's bass trombonist Brad Muirhead gives him a damn good run for his money on "Shadowgraph 3"). This album finds the middle-ground between the ecstatic free-for-alls of Alan Silva's Celestrial Communication Orchestra and the dense scoring of the Jazz Composers Orchestra, and stomps all over it. Smashing clusters, indeed.

Like this review? email Dan Warburton
>>back to top of November 2001 page

Ground Fault Releases
Contagious Orgasm
Ground Fault GF016
Lionel Marchetti
Ground Fault GF017
Bastard Noise
Ground Fault GF018

There's a package in my mailbox from Erik Hoffman's Ground Fault label. Great! I open it. Who is Contagious Orgasm? As there's also the latest offering from Bastard Noise (yes, they sound like their name), I fear the worst, especially on opening the jewel box to read that "The Flow of Sound Without Parameter" -- a slightly pretentious but nevertheless scary title -- is the work of one Hiroshi Hashimoto; given Ground Fault's fondness for ear-searing Japanoise (I still haven't quite recovered from their Government Alpha album two years back) and the interest of certain citizens of that fair country in bondage and domination, Contagious Orgasm sounds like it might be a nightmare ride. In fact, it turns out to be one of the most accessible, varied and thought-provoking electroacoustic albums of the year. Sourced from field recordings made in Chemnitz in Germany, Hashimoto's work is a fine example of the authentically synthetic -- in the real sense of the word -- culture the Japanese excel at. The opening "Thirsty Teeth" collages tolling bells, thunderclaps, screams and snatches of sopranos and string quartets, an evocative sonic B-Movie leading one to suspect that the teeth in question belong to no other than Count Dracula. On one level, that is: Hashimoto's later juxtaposition of wildly different source sounds in "Hacking the Reality Myth" and "Sketch for Square" (heartbeats, intimate bedroom gasps and grunts, birdsong heard from a café terrace, frenetic drum'n'bass) invites the listener to conjure up a potentially infinite number of possible extra-musical scenarios, before finally succumbing -- I'm beginning to understand what he means by contagious orgasm -- to the sheer beauty of the total soundworld. The idea of sculpting music out of field recordings and conventional instrumental sources has its origins back in the late sixties -- I assume Hashimoto is as familiar with the seminal work of Luc Ferrari as he is with early Cabaret Voltaire, Muslimgauze and Heiner Goebbels -- but it seems to have come of age relatively recently, with fine albums such as this. I've played it six times already and I can confirm it's contagious. What about the orgasm? Mind your own business.
Though Lionel Marchetti has been making his presence felt recently with fine albums on Intransitive ("Knud Un Nom de Serpent") and Grob ("Double_Wash", with JÉrme Noetinger and Voice Crack), the original recordings used in "Portrait d'un Glacier" were made back in 1993 on the Tre La Tite glacier halfway up Mont Blanc. Six years later, responding to a commission from the GRM, he worked them into a 29-minute musique concrÈte piece in studios in Paris and Lyon. Along with the (expected) sounds of boots crunching through ice as sharp and deadly as broken glass, and fragments of conversation as Marchetti's party of climbers confronts the dangerous reality of the immense landscape, there are some spectacular surprises -- compared to the frozen soundscapes of, say, Thomas Köner's "Permafrost" and "Nuuk", "Portrait d'un Glacier" is pretty fast-moving stuff, as much Cinema for the Ear as his two solo offerings on Noetinger's label of the same name. After the deep rumbles of the glacier, the work ends with the sound of an aircraft flying away high in the sky above. It's a deeply moving moment, the perfect metaphor for Marchetti's work throughout this and other pieces, the quest for a perfect synergy between man -- as represented by the sounds he creates artificially -- and his environment, as captured in these magnificent field recordings).
"Crust of extreme low density / Primarily composed of ice / Without sunlight / Central data scans of interior indicate sustainable warmth and possible life forms / Descent speed stabilized / Emergency systems activated." This text, along with a cartoon showing two astronauts planting a flag depicting a human skull, accompanies Bastard Noise's "Descent to Mimas" (presumably a planet, and very probably a reference to some sci-fi novel I've never read, in which case I apologize: I'm too busy listening to albums like this to read science fiction). It neatly provides the imaginative listener with all the elements required to construct an extra-musical "program" with which to approach the music -- many people who run screaming from new music in all its forms can accept and even appreciate it if called upon to think of it as a soundtrack to an imaginary movie -- the zaps and blips that open "Beneath Ice Skin" could represent hi-tech machinery probing the barren surface of a hostile planet (another glacier, perhaps?), while "Space Coffin" could be evoking the desolation and horror of Hal9000s, Giger monsters, and so on.. Such a listening is no doubt fun but, as we saw with Contagious Orgasm, remains only one of many ways to approach the music: if BN's two-man line-up John Wiese and Wood (first name not provided, but I guess "Ed" would do) had chosen to market their music as "artistic" product, complete with accompanying Baudrillardesque gobbledygook and pretentious titles -- or untitles, à la Francisco Lopez -- they could now be gracing the pages of trendy rags the world over. By choosing to stick with the Bastard Noise name and play the sci-fi card, they presumably won't mind this album being filed under alt.rock/noise (after all, the snarling vocals on the title track instantly recall the wonderful Gibby from the Butthole Surfers). A shame, perhaps, since those punters who recently rushed out and bought up the reissue of Xenakis' "Persepolis" (on Fractal) would probably enjoy "Descent to Mimas" just as much. I certainly know I do -- but I can't speak for my downstairs neighbors.

Enjoyed this review? email Dan Warburton
>>back to top of November 2001 page

Copyright 2001 by Paris Transatlantic