March News 2002 New Releases
reviewed by Dan Warburton:
Braxtaal / VogelKwartet
On Tigerbeat6: bLechtum from bLechdom/ HAUS DE SNAUS/ The Inside Story/ Tigerbeat6 Inc.
On Matador: Cornelius
The Frog Peak Collaborations Project
On Leo: Golden Years of Soviet Jazz
Concert review: Radio France: "typically british" reviewed by D. Andrew Stewart
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LopLop LLR 006
Kontrans 448

Both these albums feature the impressive vocal talents of (wonderfully-named) Dutch sound poet Jaap Blonk, who, if the photography on the VogelKwartet album is anything to go by, looks rather like Han Bennink, i.e. as if he's been plugged into something. His vocal range and semantic antics are indeed impressive, especially when he's teamed up with quickfire power improvisers like Michael Zerang and Fred Lonberg-Holm (check out "First Meetings" on Buzz), but on "Come To Catch Your Voice", settings of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.. well, Blonk's drawn a blank. The better poetry is - or rather the more intrinsically musical it is in terms of its sound - the more musicians should steer clear of it (face it, even the mighty Stravinsky couldn't set "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" convincingly). Though obviously sincere in their intentions, Blonk and his quartet of Dutch musicians (on violin, clarinet/sax, trombone and bass) just don't seem to catch the rhythm of Thomas' wordplay. It might be different if Blonk could actually sing (a seasoned troubadour like Phil Minton could probably make a go of some of this material); descending into strangled gargling and guttural splutters doesn't cut it - Dylan Thomas isn't Kurt Schwitters. Blonk's dramatic declamations could work perfectly for a truly over-the-top piece like Ginsberg's "Howl" (or why not Michael McClure's "Fuck Ode"?), and his splintered microsonics might be fine on something by e.e. cummings, but, call me old-fashioned, I don't care, if you want to hear Dylan Thomas read properly, go back to Richard Burton's First Voice in "Under Milk Wood".
The Braxtaal offering (the third outing by a group which has been together since 1987) fares much better, precisely because Blonk's lyrics are written in "Onderlands.. which sounds like Dutch [though] even native speakers of that language cannot understand it." The texts are included, all scan and rhyme perfectly and they evidently mean something to Blonk, who declaims them with gothick Jabberwockian intensity. Rob Daenen and Theo Bodewes both use their samplers to great effect, and Bodewes also contributes some hard-driving percussion. Strip away the wacky lyrics and some of the wilder samples, and this is basically an indie rock cabaret album, and a very entertaining one at that.

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As Cindi Lauper sez...
bLechtum from bLechdom
Tigerbeat6 Meow030
Kevin bLechdom
The Inside Story
Tigerbeat6 Meow029 (3"CD)
Tigerbeat6 Inc.
Meow012 (2 CD)
Electric Company
Tigerbeat6 Meow32

As Cindi Lauper sez, "Girls just want to have fun", and Bevin Kelley and Kristin Erickson - aka BFB's Blevin bLectum and Kevin bLechdom - certainly sound like they're having a blast. After their album "The Messy Jesse Fiesta" won them a prize at Austria's Ars Electronica festival (probably because those more deserving of the award happened to be adjudicating the competition), Tigerbeat6 - electronica's in label in case you hadn't noticed - has reissued the pair's debut EP "Snauses and Mallards" (originally a 12" on Kit Clayton's Orthlorng Musork imprint) and the post-Messy EP "De Snaunted Haus", along with two extra tracks, of which more later. The farty squelch of "Snauses" may brighten up your afternoon but probably won't change your life; the EP's party stomper, "ShithoLe" fairly shuffles along (enough has been made in the press of the duo's scatological imagery, imaginary animals and risqué cartoon artwork - it's the music that concerns us), but the other tracks, from the opening "Rock-a-MaLLard" (very Residents) to the cluttered collage of "Cosmic Carwash" are fun but strangely forgettable, even though they fairly bristle with the latest laptop gapping and snipping. "De Snaunted Haus" interleaves more of the same with dotty digitised comic cuts dialogue: although it's fine by me that BFB are following in the footsteps of George Clinton by creating their own batty alternative world, I'm still looking forward to something musically spectacular. "Caravan Voyager" and "Hotrodderdam" are impressive as hell but don't groove as hard as "ShithoLe", while "Going PostaL", which once more recalls the Residents' penchant for taking primitive, even inane, musical material and dismembering it with wobbly reverb and studio wizardry, hints that BFB's best work is still to come. The first of the two extra tracks, "In Search of the Non-Stop Party PLanet" is a killer, but the closing "Bad Music" is, well, bad.
Having presumably managed to extricate herself from the pair's Siamese-twin jumpsuit, Erickson turns in a pleasant if lightweight solo 3", all but one of whose nine tracks clock in at under three minutes (though it probably took her about a hundred times as long with her MSP software to craft a piece as ferociously busy as "KLardiscopic Remedy#1"). Perfect stuff for your kids' birthday parties, and not a nasty Snaus or Mallard in sight. "KLardiscopic Remedy#1" also pops up on the Tigerbeat 2CD compilation, two hours' worth of spastic digitised insanity featuring a roster of musicians from all over the globe. Bay Area regulars Lesser, BFB and label head honcho himself Kid606 turn in tracks (the best of which is the Kid's double act with Kevin bLechdom under the name Nut'n'Honey), but there are also strong contributions from Germany (Jean Bach, kpt.michi.gan) and especially Japan ("exoticmanwalking(edit)" by Joseph Nothing, aka Tatsuya Yoshida is very impressive). Elsewhere there are weirder offerings from leftfield by Goodiepal - apparently another alias for those wild'n'crazy guys from Manchester, V/Vm - Pimmon, Stilluppsteypa and Leafcutter John, whose fucked-up gritty dub of "untitled 4" went down well here. Some tracks are less accomplished but intriguing, notably Steward's "The Man With The Tiny Hands", which sounds like Florian Hecker remixing Chemical Brothers remixing the Mekons, and Languis' "Snowfall", featuring what sounds like a real bass guitar (wow) playing in 5/8 (double wow); others - Daedelus, Mikael Stavöstrand, Lusine Ici, to name but three - try (and fail) to make up for their lack of interesting musical material by overdoing the special effects, and several tracks (mentioning no names) are total dross and should in my view have been trashed outright, but, like most compilations these days, it's a mixed bag.
The Tigerbeat6 regulars who get to contribute to the Electric Company remix album ("Greatest Hits", indeed!) are the more accomplished practitioners. Kid606 kicks off with a headscratchingly brilliant "Josie and the Slamming Demonic Riffs Rmx", after which Timeblind and Geoff White's offerings can only fall a bit flat (White starts off with some wonderful crystal clear pings but doesn't go much further). Even the Trevor Horn of the Third Millenium, Mike Paradinas aka µ-ziq, gets too carried away with his big bouncy brass hooks and loses sight of the goal. BFB and Phthalocynanine turn in some demented slash and gabber, and Tom Recchion's "Kelvinator" is spacious and haunting, but once more it's the stranger versions that grab the attention. Leafcutter John's "Thursa2" is significantly entitled "Hostile Takeover Mix", and Pimmon, Kim Cascone and Frank Bretschneider clear away the digital clutter and go into the microsonic details with clinical precision. Skip the double CD compilation and go straight for this one.

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Matador OLE 332-2

"What's that smell?" asks hotel manager Basil Fawlty testily in the old BBC comedy classic "Fawlty Towers". "Flowers," says Polly, the chambermaid. "I just got them from the garden." "What are you stinking the place out with those for?" replies Basil. "What happened to the plastic ones?" "Point", the latest album by Cornelius (aka Japan's Keigo Oyamada), is the perfect bunch of plastic flowers - every sound is fussed over with minute attention to detail (timbre, panning, mix) in a frustratingly beautiful utopian vision of babbling brooks, tweeting birds and Cornelius himself (clad presumably in a Hawaiian floral shirt and designer shades) idly strumming his guitar on an impeccably white beach as warm waves lap around his toes. He could be the Shuggie Otis of 2002 were it not for the vocals: gone is Shuggie's deliciously fragile mix of Neil Young and Sly Stone, replaced by impossibly pitch-precise swathes of breathy vocoding (check out the cunningly skewed take on Ary Barroso's "Aquarela do Brasil"). "Bird Watching at Inner Forest" takes the tiny irregularities that typify the loping rhythm of an authentic samba orchestra and straightens them out to produce super-slick road music ("ideally suited", one imagines, "to brightening up the lives of stressed-out commuters crammed into the Tokyo subway system").
Natural sounds - tropical rainforest birds and creaking crickets (or rather soundfiles thereof) - are seamlessly integrated into the Total Product, which is as squeaky-clean as a Shibuya health food spa and smells just as nice ("remember folks that over 97% of all commercially available perfumes these days are synthesized using headspace technology.."). We're so impressed at Oyamada's crafty trompe l'oreille that even a two-minute blast of slashing metal guitars like "I Hate Hate" (Todd Rundgren meets Eddie Van Halen meets Mr Bungle) comes as no surprise. The final "Nowhere", complete with what David Toop thinks might be a sampled duck, is a swoony samba cançào with luscious strings worthy of Claus Ogerman, but instead of the touching naïveté of an Astrud Gilberto, we get a strangely wobbly trombone (a-ha! but is it a real trombone? I think not, but does it matter?) before the brutal precision of state-of-the-art music software filters out all but the teeth-grinding upper frequencies. "Stop the music," intone the voices, but even the final piano note is subtly prolonged by technology and complemented by the synthesized flutter of an old vinyl run-out groove. You can't help but smile. Basil Fawlty's plastic flowers, by the way, were being ironed.

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Frog Peak Music
The Frog Peak Collaborations Project
Frog Peak Music FP007

In 1996, Frog Peak's Larry Polansky took advantage of a six-month residency in Australia to launch the Collaborations project, by inviting composers to submit short works based on a brief soundfile consisting of Australian Chris Mann reading a text he supplied himself. Of the 62 composers represented on this double CD, 38 are American, 17 are from or based in Australia, a couple are British and there's one entry each from Singapore, the Netherlands, Brazil, Finland, Argentina, Canada, France and Italy. Several composers submitted more than one work, meaning that there are 114 pieces in all, plus the original soundfile if you feel like having a go yourself. To take part all you need is enough patience to live with Chris Mann's ridiculous Aussie accent long enough to cobble up a minute's worth of sonic clutter with whatever state-of-the-art software you can lay your hands on - don't forget to tell us what you're using: SoundHack, Kyma, Lemur, Curve Control.. it all sounds very impressive. Would that the music did: with very few exceptions - Rainer Linz's "Piano" (would have been nice to know how his piece related to the soundfile, but never mind), Lawrence Fritts' "Minute Variations 1-4", the two tracks by Trojan Theatre, Paul Dibley's "A Question?", Joe DeFazio's "Four Studies", Hern Jercher's "DAGS", D'Arcy Philip Gray's "theReason", Peggy Madden's three offerings, Carter Scholz's "An Economy of Virtual Knowns" (at least he tells us how he did it), Akira Rabelais' "Three Minutes of Fifteen Seconds" and Eric Lyon's "Conversations 1: A Micro-Oratorio" (at last, a groove!) - most of this sounds like nothing more than a demonstration of music software's latest special effects. No matter how they try to mangle the soundfile though, Mann's zany inflections keep on poking through; listening to the two discs through from beginning to end will either drive you to drink or declare war unilaterally on Australia. In the midst of all this insane twittering, the two offerings from Huk Don Phun are a welcome blast of nasty noise, though my own favourite is Ernie Althoff and Graeme Davis' "Best Intentions", which, as neither composer is linked to the Internet and both were thereby spared the lunacy of Mann's text, consists of 57 seconds of deeply satisfying silence.

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Golden Years of the Soviet New Jazz
Golden Years of the Soviet New Jazz Volumes 1 and 2
LEO GY 405-8 (4CD)

After the eight-disc box set "Document: New Music from Russia, the 80s" (LR 801-8) some years back, here are nearly nine and a half more hours of music from Leo Feigin's archives. A lot of the music on Volume 1 (the Valentina Ponomareva set, almost all of the Anatoly Vapirov disc, twenty minutes of Sergey Kuryokhin's) and one extended track on Volume 2 featuring Petras Vysniauskas, Vyacheslav Ganelin and Grigory Talas was released during the early years of the Leo label, but has been long out of print. The remaining music, complete discs featuring Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky and Vladimir Volkov, Vladimir Rezitsky's Jazz Group Archangelsk, Mikhail Chekalin, plus nearly an hour of the irrepressible Kuryokhin and 39 minutes worth of Vysniauskas is available here for the first time. Even if the sound quality of many of these recordings leaves much to be desired (the story of how many of Feigin's tapes were smuggled out under the Iron Curtain is already the stuff of legend), their release here in beautifully designed and intelligently commented CD box sets is cause for celebration.
Vyacheslav "Slava" Guyvoronsky met bassist Volkov (then only eighteen years old) back in 1978, after several years playing trumpet in a provincial orchestra in Kemerovo (Siberia). Their duo lasted for over two decades (before Slava teamed up with another fine musician many years his junior, accordionist Evelin Petrova: check out 1999's "Chonyi Together", LR 268), and these hitherto unavailable recordings were made in 1985 and 1986. In Volkov, Guyvoronsky found the perfect partner: the young bassist doesn't need to race all over the fingerboard like NHOP to prove he has a monstrous command of the instrument. What is immediately striking about Slava's trumpet playing is not merely his considerable dexterity on the instrument (not only in the mastery of traditional scales and arpeggios, but also his ability to vary the embouchure when necessary, from a clean 50s cool bop sound to a raspy, fluffy attack worthy of Bill Dixon), but its staggering sense of economy: every note means something, not a single sound is superfluous. Avoiding the studied perfection of a Marsalis, whose attacks and inflexions seem so carefully calculated to conform to the requirements of a Tradition half of his own imagining, Slava's playing often recalls Dixon (not least for the sheer integrity that the music breathes, and his utterly natural incorporation of "extended" techniques - listen to the extraordinary "Totem"), but also early Miles (the slithery bop of "Three Dances"). Apart from a brilliant 98-second cover of "Night in Tunisia", all the music is composed by the trumpeter, and ranges from the cheeky "In Search of a Standard" and "Waltz" (a nod to the changes of "Someday My Prince Will Come") to the lyricism of "Poet (Netsuke)", another gem of a piece that says more in one and a half minutes than many musicians do in a lifetime.
By far the best known musician of those represented here is pianist Sergey Kuryokhin, whose untimely death aged 42 in 1996 immortalised him just at the moment when his rather dubious championship of the extreme right National Bolshevik Party might have shattered his reputation as his country's most forward-looking avant-garde musician of his generation. (Maybe though this was just another example of his constant desire to create controversy, even at the expense of his own career; Leo Feigin recalls how Kuryokhin was invited to record with John Zorn for Elektra in 1987, but refused to touch any of the pianos he found in New York's finest studios under the pretext they were no good - instead he invited Zorn to come and record in Leningrad, an offer the saxophonist declined, having presumably had enough.) In his extended solo improvisations such as "Vernissage", Kuryokhin pursues musical ideas relentlessly with tempestuous virtuosity until they almost entirely lose their meaning and become mere rhetorical flourishes; the block chords and clusters of (previously unreleased) "Meditation at the Piano" collapse into stride piano, while "Popular Zoological Elements" ends up with a flamboyant reprise of Liszt. Such touches inevitably raise a smile, but there's a darker side to Kuryokhin's musical humour - not dissimilar to Shostakovich's sarcastic use of pastiche in the Leningrad Symphony - the listening experience is uncomfortable; playing the disc through from beginning to end is rather like going on a pub crawl: you consume vast quantities of beverage and achieve the desired euphoric state as quickly as possible but end up waking up the next day with little recollection of what went on the night before (not to mention a mouth like a postman's sock). Even the high-speed reading of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag", complete with hilariously out-of-tune jug band oompahs from tuba player Sergey Panasenko, is somehow terrifying: Kuryokhin, sounding alarmingly like one of Conlon Nancarrow's player pianos, seems to be hurtling towards a brick wall, fully aware that he'll either blast right through it or smash his brains out trying. Valentina Ponomareva is famous in Russia for her interpretations of traditional gypsy songs, but according to Feigin, "what she really wants to do is avant-garde - there is just no market for it." Apart from a six-minute romp through "C-Jam Blues" (featuring an unknown trumpeter who is absolutely magnificent - Feigin has no idea who it might be, having received the tape without any additional information, though he assures me that there were "hundreds of trumpeters playing like that in Russia" - we need to hear more of them!), all the Ponomareva material here has been previously available on the albums "Invocations" (LR 121), "Fortune Teller" (LR 136) and "Intrusion" (LR 157), but good luck to you if you're trying to find the originals. The musicians featured read as a roll call of the great first wave of Russian free jazz: Kuryokhin's there of course, but you'll also find Anatoly Vapirov, Sergey Letov and Vladimir Tarasov, whose drum synthesizer work on "Intrusion" is simply staggering. This is one of those pieces that seems to have beamed down from another universe (Sun Ra comes to mind, yes), and it hardly matters that Ponomareva goes a bit over the top on the delay unit - it's mind-blowing stuff. Saxophonist / composer Anatoly Vapirov moved to Bulgaria in 1986 after several years teaching at the Leningrad Conservatoire. It's a shame then his "Macbeth", a forty-minute composition for saxophone and orchestra, couldn't have been better recorded (though it does take some doing to make an entire orchestra sound like it's been squeezed into a shoebox), since it contains some fine writing. One assumes that Vapirov, thanks to his teaching position, was familiar with the contemporary music coming out of Europe at the time - "Macbeth" breathes the same dismal grey post-Bartókian air as Schnittke, Gubaidulina and Denisov and is about as cheerful as the Shakespeare tragedy. Poor recording quality also somewhat mars the orchestral version of "Lines of Destiny" (bearing the dedication to Alban Berg), but somehow fits the piece's gloomy Weltschmerz rather well. The world-weary string quartet and Vapirov's multi-tracked sax are curiously haunting; if Stan Getz had been born and brought up in Novosibirsk he might have produced music like this instead of his "Focus". The short version of "Lines of Destiny", a duet with Vladimir Volkov on bass, is awesome, and Vapirov's soprano on "Delusion", a (lousy) live recording made in 1983 also featuring Ponomareva and Kuryokhin, could give Evan Parker a run for his money.
Vladimir Rezitsky, who died in 2001 aged 57 of a heart attack, was the prime mover behind the Jazz Group Arkhangelsk (which has sadly disbanded since his death), based in the city of the same name on the shores of the White Sea, way up north by the Arctic Circle. Ken Hyder writes a touching eulogy to "Vova" Rezitsky in the notes to Volume 2, the first disc of which consists of recordings (apparently made on cassette by an unknown fan, but of surprisingly good quality nevertheless) of the JGA's 20th Anniversary Concerts in 1992. The first 37-minute track starts off with various solo offerings from Nikolai Klishin (bass), Rezitsky (on amazingly fat, rubbery alto sax), Oleg Udanov (drums, sporadically accompanied by a melodica) and Vladimir Turov on piano (very close-miked, which leads me to suspect the cassette recording was taken from the mixing desk rather than from somewhere in the concert hall). Each of these four brief solos is remarkable for its total originality - none of the musicians' playing sounds in any way derivative: the closest audible point of comparison might be the inspired self-taught multi-instrumentalism of Braxton, Leo Smith or Leroy Jenkins. When it finally breaks out into a wacky folk theme, Rezitsky and Udanov trading fours over a hilariously banal IV-I-V-I progression, we realise that this Arctic Circle jazz is as close to its folk roots as its black American precursor was (before it was hijacked by Broadway and Tin Pan Alley - those who forget these folk origins are well-advised to remember the current of pure folk that flows through the music of musicians as diverse as Marion Brown and Arthur Doyle). As if to ram home the point that all folk is out there for the taking, the ensuing sequence of African xylophones is followed by a delightfully lo-fi reading of Dave Brubeck's "Unsquare Dance" and a final anarchic "Cucuracha" which self-destructs as magnificently as a Misha Mengelberg ICP chart. The second track showcases the extraordinary vocal talents of Sainkho Namchylak in a big band line-up also featuring Vladimir Tarasov and Ken Hyder on drums, Vladimir Volkov on bass, and Minsk's Ensemble Kamerata and a local string quartet. Quite what these latter felt about having their readings of Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto and Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" joyously desecrated by the others, we'll never know; suffice it to say that in former times, Soviet artists would have been banished to the icy wastes of the frozen North without hesitation for such blatant Dadaism. However, since Rezitsky and his merry band had already set up shop in the icy wastes, what could the authorities do? Sit back and enjoy: though it's perhaps a shame Leo Feigin edited out the "storms of applause" at the end of the performance, this extraordinary recording lives on a testimony to Rezitsky's gutsy resilience.
"Zakanalka is the most distant, industrial and dirty district south of Volgograd [..], a clumsy, stinking communal body [..], drunkards everywhere. It is impossible to explain our surreal way of life [..]. The only refuge has always been records, books and air waves [..]. On the one hand we detest the filth and stink, all these grey monuments, the people who want nothing but sausages and cheap wine, but on the other hand we ourselves are part of it of all this and even more.. we are in love with it." So writes Sergey Karsaev, vocalist and percussion with the group Orkestrion (whose members also include Ravil Azizov on winds, strings and percussion and various other percussionists and vocalists), revealing sentiments similar to those expressed by the first wave of punk and new wave bands that sprang up in the bleak, post-Industrial wastelands of Thatcher's Britain a couple of decades ago. The downside of liner notes such as these (and of reviews such as this!) is they inevitably condition the response of listeners, inviting them to read into the music a subtext of urban despair which doesn't necessarily correspond to the surface of the music - unless you happen to understand Russian well enough to catch the local slang and expletives. Both the "Suite for Zakanalka" (recorded in 1990) and "Garden-Prayer-Abyss" (dating from three years earlier) are strong statements, but it was the latter that especially caught my attention: what did these guys have access to in the way of improvised music in Volgograd back in 1987? Their crisp, fragmented trio sound - percussionist Vyacheslav Mishin deserves special mention - would seem at times to indicate that Leo Feigin was smuggling Roger Turner and Phil Minton albums back into Russia (!), though I'm sure this is not the case: what's remarkable here is that Mishin, Azizov and Karsaev have (instinctively?) mastered the idiomatics of European free improvisation and produced something that could easily hold its own against the back catalogues of Incus, FMP and Emanem. The group's assertion that "every sound should be part of the meaningful whole, every sound should make sense" is to be taken seriously, and perhaps ought to be borne in mind by practising improvisers here in the relative comfort of Western Europe, who all too often overload their performances with superfluous clatter.
To describe the reclusive Mikhail Chekalin as Russia's Jean-Michel Jarre would be doing him (Chekalin) a disservice, but with a discography of over forty solo albums of cosmic synth music to his name, Chekalin's fame has managed to spread far beyond Moscow, where he chooses to work alone in a self-designed basement studio. Down in the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk, guitarist Sergey Trofimov was sufficiently blown away to contact Chekalin, asking to record with him, and to his surprise found himself invited, along with drummer Valery Zhilin and saxophonist Yuri Belenko, to record with Chekalin in Moscow's Sovremennik Theatre. "Probability Symphony in the Style of Jazz" was apparently cut live without any prior rehearsal or discussion, and is an amazing (if at times exasperating) sixty-five minute journey into the no-man's land between musical genres; Chekalin's harmonic language is hardly Day-Glo, but he's not averse to throwing in the odd common chord now and then, while Zhilin manages to propel the music forward without ever really locking into a groove, and Belenko's saxes explore the frontiers of bop and fusion without ever fully revealing who he's been listening to. Trofimov's screaming fusion guitar sound does try the patience now and then, but Chekalin's weird mix, where thick blankets of reverb-drenched synths can and do suddenly appear and disappear without warning, keeps the listener guessing. In short, it sounds like nothing else you've ever heard - too odd and disjointed to space out to, but far too scattered and blurred to appeal to those expecting a Russian Return to Forever, yet fascinating enough to make this listener at least want to search out more work by this obscure keyboard wizard.
Lithuanian-born Petras Vysniauskas studied with Vladimir Chekasin, and "Albino's Movements" is a brooding 39-minute lament for his alto sax and a Yamaha DX7synthesizer played by Faustas Latenas, who exploits the instrument's timbral and microtonal possibilities to great effect. Vysniauskas, who according to Leo Feigin "always insisted he heard the music of John Coltrane in Lithuanian folklore", plays without vibrato for the most part, producing a plangent tone somewhat reminiscent of Garbarek. Beefed-up by a delay unit, his climactic screams and eruptions about two-thirds of the way through are set against the backdrop of Latenas' eerie wails, which curiously falls apart rather spectacularly after the 31' mark, replaced by odd semi-rhythmic microtonal synth comping. The return of the harmonic stasis shortly afterwards is somehow far from reassuring. A thought provoking piece that demands repeated listening. Vyacheslav Ganelin is the star attraction on "Inverso" (recorded back in 1984 and previously released on LR 140), putting his piano, synths and drum machines to the test in a 38-minute blast of inspired insanity also featuring Grigory Talas on guitar and violin. Vysniauskas is quite content to go with Ganelin's flow, but manages to unleash some fearsome jazz and folk chops about halfway through. Now that Leo have finally reissued the Ganelin Trio's back catalogue, it's good to have this one back out too. There's a tendency on the part of music journalists in the West to view these developments in Russian jazz through the distorting lens of Downtown New York postmodernism, as if all the likes of Kuryokhin and Ponomareva were doing was in some way making ironic - i.e. detached - commentaries on established notions of European and American standard repertoire.
It must be said though that there's basically nothing more ironic about Valentina Ponomareva attacking "C-Jam Blues" and "Michelle" with gusto than Mick and Keef covering black r&b back in the early 60s, and I've never heard the Stones described as post-modern (a woolly term if ever there was one). What lies behind the PoMo discussion (which has been going on longer than you think) is the notion that a musician is being somehow insincere if s/he chooses to explore - not necessarily subvert - the conventions of several diverse musical styles. This assumption lies behind Phil Freeman's unflattering description of John Zorn as a "huckster" in his recent "New York is Now!", but also, going further back in history, Adorno's vituperative criticism of Stravinsky (another Russian), which was also partly grounded in this dubious equation of sincerity with artistic integrity. Who is to judge though whether music (or any other art form) is sincere, and how? Listen to Valentina Ponomareva's vocal work on "Wind Blows into the Ears of a Stallion" and the extraordinary "Intrusion" and tell me if it matters.
Objective musicological criteria have been developed over the years which allow us to make certain value-judgements regarding such technical considerations as contrapuntal mastery (compare Bach's fugues to those of his lesser-known contemporaries) and orchestration (Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel are studied as models by composition students the world over), and it seems that the same critical tendencies are being increasingly invoked in the world of jazz pedagogy, which in the US at least is taught as an academic subject in its own right at universities and music colleges. The jazz majors I encountered at university (yes, you can major in Jazz just as you can major in Economics or Archaeology) spoke of "Black Brown and Beige" in the same hushed reverential tones as an art student would when discussing the Sistine Chapel. "It's the Tradition, man," I was told (note the capital "T"), when one of my peers encouraged me, back in 1986, to go and see Mel Lewis and Thad Jones instead of Gil Evans' Orchestra "just jamming" at Sweet Basil's (I went to see Gil and never regretted it). This is the kind of mindset that Leo Feigin has battled against for the past quarter of a century - hence his eulogy to Vladimir Rezitsky on Volume 2: "The kind of feeling these musicians were creating was much closer to the essence of jazz than what one hears in the music of, say, Wynton Marsalis, whose "art" has become a complete parody of jazz." Without wanting to reopen that Marsalis debate yet again, let me just throw in a quote from Karlheinz Stockhausen that Leo Feigin would surely concur with: "Let us not forget that everything we do and say must be considered as a moment in a continuous tradition. Otherwise tradition is dead, dead and thrice dead." The music on these discs may be at times rather badly recorded, may take great risks and not always succeed, but it's a remarkable testimony to the spirit of creative humankind. It's alive, alive, thrice alive.

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Radio France Festival Concert Review
Typically British

Maison de Radio France, Salle Olivier Messiaen February 9th, 2002
reviewed by D. Andrew Stewart
"typically british" Concert

Note: This is their title, not mine, thus the small 'b' on British, not to
mention their grand assumption of the music.

Huw Watkins - Sonate pour violoncelle et 8 instruments
Richard Dubugnon - Mikroncerto n°1 pour contrebasse opus 25
Gerald Barry - Dead March
Mark Anthony Turnage - Bass Inventions

Ulrich Heinen, violoncello
Richard Dubugnon, double bass
Dave Holland, double bass
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
Peter Rundel, conductor


at 22, why not?

Huw Watkins was born in 1976 and thus is presently at the
ripe age of 25 or 26. Suffice it to say, Watkins was 22 at the time he wrote Sonata for
Cello and 8 Instruments. This fact perhaps explains why the work belongs to either the Second
Viennese School or a student composers' concert. I am afraid I can not elucidate further as I had no desire to
concentrate on, or give myself up to, this piece.
Fragmentary and seemingly
twelve-tone, the violoncello opens with some nice lyrical writing with
reinforcement from the accompanying ensemble. Again, the treatment of the
line - and there is a line - is cellular and one is hard pressed to hear any
connections between the melodic fragments. This is not necessarily a bad
thing and in fact the consistant texture creates cohesion.
The second movement is, as expected, slow; do not forget that
this is a sonata. The gestures are romantic and the language is that of
Alban Berg.
In the third movement - fast, no surprises here - Watkins shows a more
modern approach to gesture. There are a number of dramatic stops; that is
to say, the composer builds textures that once at a climax point, drop out
leaving a brief pause of silence. This romantic thrust is a
little dated and the effect - once potent - is now a standard tactic.

a little lazy

Composer Richard Dubugnon took the soloist's stool for his
Mikroncerto n°1 pour contrebasse opus 25. In a festival of contemporary
music where the harmonic norm is dense atonality, I found
Dubugnon's music atypical: the overtly classical gestures in combination
with the obvious hierarchal tonality made the whole experience a little
There is certainly a balance in the music between unity and
comprehensibility. Variety, however, is a bit lacking or simply unengaging
due to the conventional gesture of the work. Even the composer/soloist
seemed a little bored in his interpretation, which resulted in a lazy
Following a dramatic tutti string entrance with all voices playing a
broad chord that filters done to a thin harmony, fragments are heard in the
wood winds. These gestures are gradually transferred over to the soloist.
Under this activity, the strings play a resonant 'pad'. On one occasion I
was startled to hear an actual and audible modulation: the tonal
centre actually moved. Dubugnon was setting us up for
a very practical harmonic world.
The composer's idiomatic use of various voices is skilled. He has
correctly placed standard string gestures such as pizzicato and sul
ponticello. Further, phrases are well cadenced with grand timpani strikes.
The music breathes nicely with an
appropriate amount of time given to gestures. The ensemble is convincing as
a supporting accompaniment during moments of soloist bravado; the string
'pad' is a prominent feature.
As Mikroncerto n°1 continues, there are moments of clear and precise
heterophony conventionally marked by timpani or by the soloist plucking
away. There is another modulation. Dubugnon's triumphant use of Horn and,
again, timpani is noteworthy. In the conclusion, the ensemble joins together in
further heterophony, almost to the point of playing an ostinato or a
minimalist gesture. This final section seems quite pale in relation to the
rest of the piece. Does Dubugnon not
know how to end?

enjoyable the first time

Gerald Barry's Dead March convincingly portrays a sort of wind-up, or
perhaps winding-down marching band. There is all the rawness we associate
with the wind band: loud brassy music, aggressive drumming and high
trilling woodwinds. This said, Barry has a delicate control of his
'Cartoon music' comes to mind during the opening of the piece. There
are plenty of sharp textures in alternation with equally sharp silences.
The textures are well crafted with various voices of the ensemble joining
together to perform a miniscule gesture (really
a short, 'borrowed' melody with accompaniment). The ensemble is logically
and conventionally grouped. For example: the woodwinds, brass, and strings each have their individual voice and
The organization of these miniscule melodies is compelling as Barry
swiftly and dynamically revisits the same textures over and over again, but
always at a high level of fluctuation; thus the order of appearance is always
different. Complimenting these high-energy gestures,
are the crisp rhythms that make up each miniscule texture.
There is finally some relief as oboe and trumpet join timbres on a
little ostinato. This ostinato is carried to other members of the ensemble.
The orchestration is thin and serves as a real contrast to the previous
music. It is not long, however, before Barry recalls the former rigour and
presentation. At this point, the piece is truly like heavy working
machinery - suitable to the character of a marching band. It is nice to
hear the standard band pump: large bass drum plus crash cymbals played in
unison rhythm.
Gradually the sharp fragments begin to touch each other and even blend
into each other. Unfortunately this is not enough to create a variation
from the sound overload. That is to say, Barry's abrupt and continuous
treatment of gesture eventually loses its effect and simply begins to exist
as an accepted texture of the piece. There is little harmonic change and
the connectives between sections are themselves repeated and repeated; not
really a new thing.
Listening to Dead March is energizing at first. There is a
fine polish to the music but the surface quality of the gesture does not
seem to reach deeper than its initial presentation allows.

sleepy wet music

As with his other works, Mark Anthony Turnage evokes the jazz idiom in his Bass
Inventions. Once again there was a soloist on double bass, this time played
by the jazz-legacy Dave Holland.
The one-note opening of the piece sets the listener up for a lengthy,
pensive work. The orchestration is intriguing and simple and the resultant
timbre of low bass clarinet, trumpet and pizzicato strings foreshadows the
tranquility of the work to come. Chords eventually appear in the strings;
illustrating a functional hierarchy working behind
the notes. This yields to polyphony with various voices taking
predominance only for brief moments The polyphony is dense enough to
offer the listener an ample range of colours and inner movements to sustain
interest. The overall harmony is rich and, again, melody is present
but brief and transient. The opening section also features some great
idiomatic melody writing for the two violoncellos in the ensemble.
A considerable amount of time has passed - the sound atmosphere is well
established - enter the bassist. The soloist, on amplified double bass, is
immediately recognized. The wet coloring of the amplification adds a new
dimension to the already established rich harmonies. The music(for the
soloist) is lyrical. The orchestra supports the soloist with sweet, wet
sustains: muted brass, harmonic pad-like gesture in the strings and soft
vibraphone punctuating important notes in the phrase. Turnage's opening
materials sets the pace for the listener, thus the proportion of time to
each section is well balanced.
The bass soloist gradually takes on a running line
that tends to be more consistent with jazz bass figuration than an overhead
melody. Indeed the violas and cellos take the lead role
over the accompanying bass. Low gurgling on contrabass clarinet, bass drum,
bass trombone and violoncello ends the first movement. This is a potent
moment and is vividly “sleepy wet music.”
A bass solo begins the first part of the second movement. If Bass
Inventions was a concerto, this solo moment might be called the cadenza;
although ill placed in classical terms. The activity is light and jumpy,
all pizzicato. There are the typical techniques using harmonics - well is it
a solo for double bass, or isn’t it? After listening awhile, it seems less
like a solo and more like a bassist practicing without the rhythm section.
The music builds to great frenzy - athleticism on double bass is always
enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately, when the ensemble finally enters, it
lacks the tense activity that the bassist has so physically
established. Instead, the entering music seems a little passive and
non-committal. The acoustic piano and the Fender Rhodes electronic one, which have not been heard once up to this
point, are playing light bird-like figures. Both of these instruments
could have had more dramatic entrances; especially considering the
new timbre they add to the ensemble.
The bassist continues his athleticism and a sort of 'big band' texture
eventually arrives: symmetrical rhythms on hi-hat, a real 'walking bass'
played by the soloist and lush brass hits. Turnage finally installs the
strong percussive quality of the piano as the second movement reaches its
Like the second movement, a solo once again starts things off for the
final part of the composition - and once again on double bass. This time,
however, the music is in a different mood. Dave Holland's
capacity as a sultry jazzer really comes through, leaving the listener begging for more (of just Dave!). Again - unfortunately - Turnage calls for
another disruptive ensemble entrance following the meditative bass solo. Of
all things, he employs a clanky percussion attack; although he then
recovers somewhat by recapturing the pensive quality of the solo with
proceeding strings, soft harmonics and pizzicato. It is too bad the bass solo was not more convincingly linked to this string gesture.
At this point, is it polyphony we
are hearing, or has Turnage turned the music around into a
homophonic texture - minus the melody? The music seems to exist as
a one-unit entity, a harmonic entity, but the top line is missing.
Then the bass soloist enters with conventional jazz technique, not a
walking line but rather dynamic bass figuration yielding to a tonal
hierarchy of sorts; now the bass line ‘makes sense' and is not
bothered by the more dissonant ensemble.
Perhaps we could draw one 'Turnage' axiom from his Bass Inventions: by
relying on the resources of an already established harmonic pallette, the
composer can take slight risks by first, removing a single voice from the
pallette and second, engaging the disassociated voice in activities
extraneous to the established mode - and make good music! Or put another
way, in Bass Inventions the composer creates a 'straight-ahead' texture
drawing strongly on jazz-world practice(a walking bass line for example that
observes correct rules of counterpoint), and then throws a more wild and
dissonant texture on top of this grounded line.

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