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Guy Livingston, Publisher; Dan Warburton, Editor-in-Chief

August News 2002 Reviews by Dan Warburton:
On Drimala: John Blum: NAKED MIRROR
Dennis Warren's Full Metal Revolutionary Jazz Ensemble
Has noise has become the new orthodoxy? A TASTE OF MERZBOW
Silence Causes Controversy: An unrelated story.
On Elevage de Poussière: Masayoshi Urabe : SOINGYOKUSAISEYO
On Textile: TEXTILE VYNILE Releases
On Ayler: William Parker Trio
Overheard Posting: The Mysterious Reversals of Evan Holloway
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John Blum

Drimala 02-347-02

Without the support of a bass to build upon, a solo jazz pianist has to decide what that left hand is going to do: attempt to retain both bass line and mid-register harmonic accompaniment (by falling back into variants of time-honoured accompanimental procedures like stride and boogie woogie), or do without one or the other, or both by actively engaging both hands in patterns and lines and dispensing with the old melody/accompaniment way of thinking. (Or do a Borah Bergman and rethink the left hand altogether.) New-York born John Blum approaches the problem from every angle; his fondness for extreme low register chords brings Matthew Shipp to mind, the demented comping of "Rain Dark Rain" reminds me of mid-70s Don Pullen, and those rapid flurries of notes inevitably recall Cecil Taylor (whom Blum knows and has worked with). In addition to being familiar with the work of generations of jazz musicians, through his studies with Bill Dixon and Milford Graves, Blum's pianism owes much to the expressionism of the early twentieth century repertoire: "Ethereal Plane" is as concise and motivically intense as late Skryabin, while "Heart Tumor" has something of the lyrical sweep of Alban Berg. Unfortunately, like late Skryabin, the music can become bogged down in its own rhetoric; tracks like "Consternation" serve to remind us that there's a fine line between the grandiose and the pompous, between gesture and mannerism. Perhaps, though, this is an intentional reflection of the emotional turmoil underlying the entire album - Thierry Trombert's grainy black and white shot of the pianist makes him look pensive, even slightly harried, which is understandable once we open the booklet and learn that all eight track titles are taken from the poem "Naked Mirror" by Jeremy Green, a friend of Blum's who died in 1993 aged 25. If you can handle a bit of angst, "Naked Mirror" is an impressive solo debut. For myself, I look forward to hearing this fine pianist in an ensemble context (and a less boxy recording) with playing partners such as William Parker, Jemeel Moondoc and Randy Peterson.

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Dennis Warren's Full Metal Revolutionary Jazz Ensemble
Drimala 02-347-03

What in the early 1980s used to be called "punk funk" (the first few James Blood Ulmer albums, the early offerings of Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society..) never quite lived up to its potential - the plasticity of free jazz always had a hard time adapting to funk's metrical precision. While Blood and Shannon have ended up spending more time with the latter, drummer Dennis Warren has preferred a more eclectic approach. The current line-up of his FMRJE features Andy Voelker on alto sax and Chris Florio on guitar and electronics, along with old FMRJE hands Abbey Balgochian (since 1997) on bass and Jose Arroyo on congas and percussion, and "Horizon Event" documents their appearance at Skybar in Somerville MA in December 2001 and January 2002 (FMRJE enthusiasts may like to know several jams are available for downloading at Live recordings are, as we all know, often more exciting than studio dates (the highs here are genuinely thrilling), but also run the risk of getting bogged down, even lost. With Dennis Warren behind the kit the band can usually steer itself out of tight spots with breathtaking results, but things are not always totally convincing: Florio's synth doodlings and Martin Luther King samples (no prizes for guessing from which speech) near the end of "Event 120401A" sound a bit tired until Warren and Arroyo return to the attack and manage to conclude proceedings with conviction. In Arroyo, Warren has a percussion partner who's quite happy to lay down straight African rhythms, leaving Dennis free to explore the outer reaches of his rhythmic universe. If rhythmic regularity appears, it's welcomed into the music, worked with and then discarded when no longer necessary (case in point, the opening killer groove of "Event 120401A" which self-destructs after barely a minute, and also "Event 120401B" after about six minutes). Andy Voelker's alto playing, though never quite as incendiary as that of his FMRJE predecessor Glenn Spearman (could it ever be?) reveals a wide knowledge of the instrument and its practitioners, though even he gets a bit stuck towards the end of the second track. What we're left with is a fascinating sonic space full of contrasting gravitational forces (the black hole cover photograph is quite appropriate) - pulses, hooks, motives all pull the music this way and that. It's quite a hike, and even if the view along the trail is often obscured by trees and clouds, the panorama from the mountaintop is well worth the effort.

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"Fans of extreme left-right panning will love this."

Mego 040
Important Records IMPREC 002
Important Records IMPREC 004

Over recent years, so much has been written on and recorded by Masami Akita that it's hard to decide where to begin. Journalists feel compelled to apologise for not knowing more than a small part of his oeuvre, and very few, with perhaps the exception of The Wire's Edwin Pouncey, have written on the 50CD Merzbox. If familiarity with the entirety of an artist's work is an essential precondition for informed and informative reviewing (as by rights it should be), then we might be forgiven for concluding that the vast majority of reviews of Merzbow albums are uninformed and uninformative, consisting, as they more often than not do, of mere descriptions of the noise - as if words could be found to describe the visceral thrill of the listening experience. Many commentators (French journalist Michel Henritzi comes to mind) use Merzbow's work as a springboard to launch into a discussion of wider cultural and sociological issues, but Akita is quick to take issue with such an approach (and did so memorably in an interview with Henritzi in the French magazine Revue & Corrigée #49), preferring instead to focus the discussion on the music.
When Akita started off in the early 1980s, noise was really something. Weaned on SPK and Throbbing Gristle, and with a similar penchant for S&M imagery, Merzbow's cassette-only releases circulated through the mysterious underground networks of the experimental post-punk avant-garde at dizzying speed. As time wore on and punk/new wave grew as rich, bloated and politically correct as Bono before being kicked out of the way by house, garage, techno, gabba and the rest, the experimental fringes of the scene gradually began to extend outwards in both directions, so much so that Akita's music now sounds positively mainstream. Thurston Moore (who has himself evolved from gaunt No-Wave extremist to genial father figure and curator of the new and wonderful in music) actually compares "Amlux" to Kiss, and he's got a point. Once your ears get used to the noise level and the trademark saturated drones, it's a decidedly accessible piece of work. Amused and intrigued at Akita's choice of track titles, I wonder which piece by the late, lamented composer was sampled for "Takemitsu".. similarly "Looping Jane" - Jane who? Fans of extreme left-right panning will love "Cow Cow", and "Luxurious Automobile (Krokodil Texas Mix)" shows why the Tigerbeat6 stable mates are so fond of Merzbow.
If several tracks on "Amlux" seem to be crying out for a backbeat, "Merzbeat" goes one step beyond and supplies it. "Promotion Man" kicks off with a thumping metal riff before settling down (no, that's not the word) into a succession of grinding hiphop beats that will probably be sampled and spat back at us by hardcore rap acts in years to come. "Forgotten Land" will have you hunting through old albums to trace the opening sample (I haven't placed yet it but I'm still looking), "Shadow Barbarian (Long Mix)" is quite acceptable, at medium volume, as background music for your dinner party (I've tried it - it works just fine), and the shimmering D major of "Tadpole" had me reaching nostalgically for my copy of Fennesz's "Endless Summer". Decidedly, if Akita gets more accessible than this, the next album will probably be called "Merzeybeat". Oh, and there's even an extra ghost track (how original..), a remix of "Amlux" by Jack Dangers (though for Merzbow remixes, you still can't beat 1997's "Scumtron" on Blast First).
The Mego offering, charmingly described by the label as Akita's "sparking homage to the delicate art of Japanese cuisine", and adorned with photos culled from old cookery books, is as tasty as its menu. Though heavily seasoned with traditional ingredients such as vicious filter sweeps and screes of feedback, our wily chef can't resist throwing in a spoonful of rock from time to time. After 16 minutes of "Tempura in Mess Garden", he douses the flaming wok with cold water in the form of a lazy drumbeat, before slapping it back on the flames with a spicy sprinkling of upper frequencies that will have you grinding the fillings out of your teeth. The final dish - dessert isn't the word for "baked carp, raw carp and miso soup of carp" - curiously, like Japanese cuisine, doesn't quite fill you up (unless you're a fabulously wealthy insatiable glutton who can afford to guzzle it by the kilo); even at high volume, its digitized screams and plunging glissandi soon become almost.. restful.
Though it's relatively easy with current software to mangle samples, pepper them with FX and stack them in up loops, age-old concerns of formal coherence and structural integrity haven't gone away. The difference between Masami Akita and the hundreds, maybe thousands, of kids sequestered away in sweaty bedrooms around the world making their own merz is that, after two decades of experience, he's got a real sense of how to structure material (and he knew how to do that way before he went digital). Face it, noise just doesn't surprise anymore (it can still drive you crazy but that's another matter): now that so-called contemporary music has walled itself up in the ivory tower and mainstream pop has reached rock bottom in terms of creativity and intelligence (though like the stock market these days, it always manages to go even lower), noise has become the new orthodoxy, and Masami Akita's music could even end up one day on a university music faculty syllabus as representative of late 20th / early 21st century classical music.

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This fascinating silence issue has been in the news recently. In a court of law, the idea of copyrighting “framed” or “bracketed” silence might have some credibility, though from the same legal standpoint, the actual silence would have no particular resonance.
However, by crediting Cage on the album, Batt is opening himself to a serious lawsuit, says our resident legal expert; because this shows clear intent on Batt’s part. The royalties on this track due to the Cage publisher could in theory be about 4 US cents per CD sold. However it may be difficult to prosecute such a case.
Both parties stand to gain from the publicity, but neither party presumably has the financial means to continue a protracted legal battle. -JB

"Big noises at odds over the sound of silence"
By David Lister, Media and Culture Editor

21 June 2002

Mike Batt, the man behind the Wombles and Vanessa Mae, has put a silent 60-second track on the album of his latest classical chart-topping protégés, the Planets. This has enraged representatives of the avant-garde, experimentalist composer John Cage, who died in 1992. The silence on his group's album clearly sounds uncannily like 4'33", the silence composed by Cage in his prime.

"As my mother said when I told her, 'which part of the silence are they claiming you nicked?'. They say they are claiming copyright on a piece of mine called 'One Minute's Silence' on the Planets' album, which I credit Batt/Cage just for a laugh. But my silence is original silence, not a quotation from his silence."

Read the full article at:

Article on Silence quoted from the Independent
© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

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Masayoshi Urabe
Elevage de Poussière EPP 07

Saxophonist Urabe stands right in the middle of the intersection of the two major roads that have crossed the fertile landscape of Japanese avant-garde music for the past decade - harsh, expressionistic noise and near-empty reductionism. Whereas Tamio Shiraishi knows how to do one thing (hit high notes and hold them until the entire listening space turns into a vibrating column of air) and does it very well, Masayoshi Urabe has a large palette of sounds to paint with, from shrill multiphonics to tremulous, emotion-charged wails and spastic splattering (he must be the only saxophonist around who can sound like Arthur Doyle and Bhob Rainey at the same time). The music engages the silence around it - Taku Sugimoto's work comes to mind in this respect- sometimes accompanied by Urabe pacing around the stage. The album was recorded live in a small performance space in Maxéville just outside Nancy (France), and the fact that it's a vinyl release is significant: the pristine digital "silence" of labels such as Timescraper and Fringes is here replaced by that inevitable whoosh and crackle of surface noise which also maps itself onto Urabe's music, as a kind of temporal frame for his canvas to rest in. Pursuing the fine arts analogy further, the bursts of sonic activity are like those disturbing figures that people Tanguy's empty surrealist landscapes, or the scribblings of Cy Twombly. Urabe has a truly painterly sense of scale, motive and depth: "Soingyokusaiseyo" is the real thing. The title translates, by the way, as "All soldiers prepare for suicide attack" - I don't suppose you get more real than that.


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Bill Wells Octet meets Lol Coxhill
Ticklish / Fizzarum
Jackie-O-Motherfucker / Vibracathedral Orchestra
Mahayoni Mudra / Documents

With its distinctive manga-like cover art designed by Marie Caillou and Sylvie Astier (Doki Doki studio), France's new label for leftfield electronica, post rock and free improvisation has got off to a flying start. Label boss Benoît Sonnette was working in Scotland when he came across Falkirk-based pianist Bill Wells, whose distinctive blend of free jazz crossed with lo-fi sampling technology encountered the doyen of British, soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill in an Arts Centre in East Kilbride in June 2000. The resulting glorious sonic porridge is a noble continuation of Coxhill's laconic work with the French Nato label in the 1980s. For his second release (once more vinyl only, limited edition of 600), Sonnette opted for the split 12" format beloved of FatCat (and other labels), pairing an extended track "Rubato" from London-based Ticklish (Phil Durrant, Kev Hopper, Richard Sanderson and Rob Flint) with two by Fizzarum, a duo from St Petersburg (Russia), whom Sonnette describes as being influenced by Boards of Canada and Autechre.

Ticklish (a full-length album, their second after the eponymous outing on Grob two years ago, is slated for release on Textile in the near future) "have been operating as a spectral presence on the British electronic music scene for the past five years, refusing to comply with easily identifiable (and easily dismissible) movements", reads the blurb. Both groups inhabit the territory between improv and the weirder zones of techno, fertile ground these days. As is the extended drone, the legacy of the Velvet Underground and its orbiting planets (Tony Conrad, Angus Maclise).. the third Textile release features an extended track recorded in Portland, Oregon by Tom Greenwood's Jackie-O-Motherfucker and two from Leeds' Vibracathedral Orchestra. It's an inspired pairing, and somebody should set these two groups up for an extended tour. Sonnette finally turned his attention to what was going on in Paris, and managed to find a fault line separating the somewhat exclusive world of French free improvisation and the distinctly underground world of French alt.rock. Mahayoni Mudra brings together the theremins, synths and guitars of Fred Nipi and Romses (aka Freyja) and the percussion talents of Frank de Congo (aka Franq de Quengo of the group Dragibus and head honcho of Paris' hippest record store, Bimbo Tower). Apart from a couple of offerings on homegrown compilations ("Traversées", UR CD 03 and "Pas Attendre!", Shambala 0209), this is the group's first extended outing.

Documents (Jean Baptiste Favory, André Ménard and Bruno Fernandes, plus others) are even more obscure (I've been living in Paris for 14 years and hadn't heard of them), describing their work as being "no longer concerned with the dividing lines between music, pure sound and noise. In its quest for the power which lies suspended in the shadow zones, the group navigates along these limits without ever fixing them." It's music of considerable power, and like all the other releases on Textile (including the label's first CD release featuring Otomo Yoshihide, Otani Yasuhito, Xavier Charles and Alma Fury) it's refreshingly free from the idiomatic baggage that all too rapidly clutters up musical genres.


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William Parker Trio
Ayler AYLCD-044

Previous Ayler releases, though musically outstanding, have been dogged by rather rough sound quality (rather like the label's eponymous hero's recorded output, come to think of it), so it's a real pleasure to see Jan Ström taking his artists into a studio for a top-notch session. The ubiquitous Parker is joined by his frequent sparring partner Hamid Drake and Swedish altoist Anders Gahnold for a splendid sixty-six minutes of eminently danceable music (though nothing like the dismal acid jazz of the recent Black Cherry offering on Aum Fidelity, I hasten to add) - so much so that an undertaker working next door to the studio actually complained the music was "disturbing his clients" (!). For those familiar with Parker and Drake's work (who isn't these days?), the music on the album won't come as any great surprise, but it's definitely worth the price of admission to check out the grainy, rubbery lyricism of Anders Gahnold. This is the second time Ström has slipped a local Swedish player onto a visiting American star's album (his Arthur Doyle release last year also featured three tracks by Bengt Frippe Nordström), but I'm not complaining - Gahnold holds his own magnificently (what a thrill it must be to ride the Parker / Drake rhythm section). Let's hope the Ayler label will soon issue more of Gahnold's early work with the late Johnny Dyani and Gilbert Matthews.

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Backing in Reverse
This was forwarded to us by a member of the Bay Area New Music Discussion group:

Has anyone ever heard of an artist named Evan Holloway? I found a compact disc in the Museum Store at the Whitney Titled "Music of Chopin Performed on the Reversed Piano". It has a cover that looks like an old low-budget LP design with an earnest-looking pianist in a black tie standing next to a concert grand in front of a red velvet drape. On closer inspection, I noticed that the photo appears to be "flopped". That is, the curve of the piano is downstage left. (The Steinway & Sons logo reads properly.) There is no additional information on the exterior of the CD other than the man's name and a list of well-known Nocturnes and Etudes on the back. I couldn't stop myself buying this CD. I just cracked it open for the first time today, and put it in the CD player and I died laughing when I heard it. It is exactly what the title and image imply.

Has anyone ever heard of this? If you don't listen too closely it sounds like your hearing some Chopin works you've never heard before with a bit strange tonality. But some of the pieces are so immediately obviously upside-down versions of music that is so familiar that, to me at least, it's hilarious. One of them almost brought me to tears. (Maybe I'm just too easily amused. As a kid, I never tired of listening to 45s played off-center (without the little yellow retainer to hold them in place). Anyhow, the inside of the booklet is not much more revealing. It simply displays a few figures indicating the reversed position of the pitches on the keyboard and an overhead view of the instrument.

At first, it had me going. Did someone actually go to the trouble of constructing this instrument? In this age of Photoshop and MIDI, I guess I should know better. Anyhow, my guess is that Evan Holloway is not a musician at all, but a conceptual artist who, with the help of some Disklavier recordings of someone like Horowitz, a little MIDI programming, and a little digital graphic retouching, made this curious little object.

Help us to find Mr. Holloway’s piano! Send any leads to

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