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

August News 2002 Reviews by Dan Warburton:
On Atavistic: Ab & Terrie
On Grob: John Butcher / Phil Minton
Ghost Trance Music: Anthony Braxton
On In Tone: Peter Brötzmann / William Parker / Michael Wertmüller
Ralf Wehowsky / Kevin Drumm
On Vandoeuvre: Oliver Benoit / Jean-Luc Guionnet
On Musica Genera: Kyle Bruckmann
Scott Rosenberg
On Crouton: Telecognac
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Ab & Terrie

Atavistic ALP130CD

Dutch punk veterans The Ex have ventured into improvised music territory on several occasions: bassist Luc has a busy touring schedule with Four Walls (with Phil Minton, Veryan Weston and Michael Vatcher), guitarist Andy tears it up with Leonid Soybelman and Kaffe Matthews, and the group as a whole has maintained cordial relations with the foot soldiers of Misha Mengelberg's ICP Orchestra (they now appear as Ex Orkest). Not to be left out, guitarist Terrie (né Hessels in 1954) has recorded with überpunk Han Bennink ("The Laughing Owl", Improv IS 03). Here he's partnered with tenor saxophonist / clarinettist Ab Baars, and the results, despite another set of potty liner notes from John Corbett (something about drunken kung fu fighters this time) are as patchy as The Ex's "Instants" album from back in 1995. The simple fact is that while Terrie is frankly unbeatable when cavorting round the stage with Luc and Andy, playing actual notes (let alone developing them into anything remotely motivic) just isn't what he does, and Baars, though perfectly capable of fucking shit up, if you'll excuse my French, is at his best when mauling rhythmic and melodic cells. Like Mengelberg, he also draws on a deep knowledge of the repertoire of the instrument(s) he plays (check out Misha's "Two Days in Chicago" on hatOLOGY), but when he tries to do so here, notably in the two tracks dedicated to Muhammad Ali, Terrie can only clunk along in the background rather than engage him in some intelligent pitch play. Unsurprisingly, the pieces that work the best are those that go for all-out noise ("Hamergaar" "Kryzeltanden II", "Grameel"). And if decibels are what you're after, I suggest you put this one back in the rack and pick up The Ex's "Aural Guerilla" instead.

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John Butcher / Phil Minton

Grob 429

Though it goes without saying that Phil Minton is the most versatile and talented vocal improviser of his generation, listening to him on record and seeing him perform isn't always a pleasant experience. Given his amazing ability to produce sounds that range from full-blooded pub tenor to stuck pig, from wet cat trapped in a spin drier to Donald Duck on speed, it's a wonder the guy's got any vocal cords left at all. He can make abstruse modernist poetry come to life (witness the classic "Mouthful of Ecstasy" or Simon Nabatov's "Nature Morte" or Frank Koglmann's "O Moon My Pin-Up"), but if left to his own devices he often leads himself (and his listeners) into the darkest corners of vocal sound, those bubbly, thick farting noises we're taught to stop making by the age of five, or the desperate choking squeals that seep out of alcohol-soaked depression. Saxophonist John Butcher, whose immaculately static demeanour on stage is in stark contrast to Minton's convulsions, is necessarily compelled to follow the vocalist into the furthest reaches of his arsenal of extended techniques during these seventeen short tracks (only one goes past the four-minute mark) recorded at three different London venues in 1999. The resulting music is arresting but somewhat uncomfortable: one wishes Butcher would let fly with one of his spectacular volleys of notes (which he does briefly on "Sticky Willie" but seems to do more readily when partnered by drummers) and that Minton would take off into one of his after hours boozy rants (as he does in the groups "Roof" and "Four Walls"). There's something touching about his introverted humming on "Itchgrass", and the insane yodelling of "Beggar's Lice" will raise a smile, but listening to the whole album from beginning to end isn't something you're likely to want to do very often.

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Anthony Braxton

NINETET (YOSHI'S) 1997 Vol.1
Leo 2CD LR 343/344
Rastascan 4CD BRD 050

Anthony Braxton's Ghost Trance music is finally coming out on disc - "Yoshi's", which follows the earlier outstanding "Composition N.247" (Leo CD LR 306), includes Compositions 207 and 208 (72' and 71' respectively), scored for six horn players (Braxton, Brandon Evans, James Fei, Jackson Moore, Andre Vida and JD Parran, playing twenty-five instruments between them), electric guitar (Kevin O'Neill), bass (Joe Fonda) and percussion (Kevin Norton). The nine players occasionally split up into three trios which, while remaining under the global control of Braxton, set off in different directions, playing the Ghost Trance material at different tempi, as well as occasionally adopting "secret strategies" of their own. Braxton's concept of "pulse tracking", using strings of notes to provide a pulse within a compositional structure, may be, to quote Steve Day's extensive liner notes, "persuasive", but it is also pretty exhausting. In "Composition 247" the sheer physical effort involved for Braxton and Fei, circular breathing throughout (bagpiper Matthew Welch had it easy) was exhilarating; here, the abundance of saxophones and clarinets tends to clog up the texture, leaving one gasping for breath, or least hoping for a few seconds of silence which never come. "Composition 208" is slightly less busy, and there's some spectacular work from Braxton himself, but much of it lies half-buried in a thick stew of baritones and bass clarinets.
Were these works performed by a standard contemporary music chamber ensemble (why doesn't Braxton interest the Ensemble Modern in a performance?), the texture would at least be more variegated - there would, though, still remain the notes. I recall preparing an interview with Harrison Birtwistle a while back, when I asked a composer friend which questions I ought to ask: "Does he care about his pitches?" came the reply. The overriding impression received from this album as well as the recent "Composition N.169 + (186 + 206 + 214)" is that pitch comes pretty far down the list of Braxton's priorities. What do we listen to music for? The answer to that question will inevitably be different for each person asked - the music that means the most to me is that which leaves me, albeit slightly, a different, changed individual from what I was before. That is partly a function of memory, of being able to locate oneself in the piece during and especially after listening - with Braxton's recent music, one is left with the sense that one has undergone a challenging intellectual experience while at the same time being unable to remember anything of it except the sketchiest details. It's like jogging: most folk do it because they think they ought to or imagine they'll be in better health for doing it, but very few people I see huffing and puffing round the park on Sunday mornings actually look as if they're enjoying the experience.
The 4CD box on Rastascan goes some way to restoring my faith in Braxton's concept: "Composition 286" (which also incorporates Compositions 147, 20, 69d, 256, 173, 6j, 162 and 23a if you're interested) is a sprawling 90-minute Mahler symphony of a piece, featuring inspired contributions from trumpeters Greg Kelley and Taylor Ho Bynum and some raucous bass playing from Matthew Sperry. Braxton's Ghost Trance strategies are, to misquote Barnum, a peg to hang music on: once you've become accustomed to the eternal return of the rhythmic unisons of the composed material, with its duplets, triplets and quintuplets, you find yourself waiting for the next explosion of "real" improvised solo activity. Gino Robair's percussion work, which includes some deft marimba playing and off-the-wall electronics, is magnificent, and the gritty input of guitarist John Shiurba and horn multi-instrumentalist Scott Rosenberg (whose respective labels Limited Sedition and Barely Auditable helped release this set) is a thing of wonder. In comparison, the saxophone quartet reading of Composition 289 with Braxton, Jesse Gilbert, Dan Plonsey and Justin Yang is a wearisome affair. The most satisfying pieces on offer here are the two quintet pieces on Disc Three, Compositions 277 and 287 featuring Braxton, Rosenberg, Shiurba, Sperry and Robair, which could arguably have benefited from being released as a single album, though that would have deprived Braxton completists of the pleasure of acquiring yet another monumental box set.

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Peter Brötzmann / William Parker / Michael Wertmüller

In Tone CD 5

Launching a new label with an offering from William Parker and Peter Brötzmann is pretty sound from the business point of view (the serried ranks of WP and PB completists alone should be able to buy up all existing stocks of a limited edition release), but given the tremendous volume of stuff these cats put out, it's not likely to be a great surprise musically, and it isn't. This live set recorded at the Knitting Factory in June 2001 finds the mayors of the Lower East Side and Wuppertal accompanied by brilliant young drummer Michael Wertmüller (manufacturers of skins for tom-toms should get hold of this guy's phone number, as he's likely to need to replace them very often if he carries on like this). The forty-three minute set plays continuously despite four track indexes on the disc, and Brötz runs through his customary arsenal of instruments - tenor, tarogato, bass clarinet and back to tenor - while Parker (who thankfully sticks to the bass) powers the lower end forward with his trademark ostinati. The crowd evidently love it - I suspect many people turn out to a Brötzmann gig in the hope he'll burst another blood vessel in his forehead and shower them with blood (which happened once) - but for all its considerable vim and vigour, it's a music whose structure at both micro and macro level is increasingly predictable. Still, all those 1950s Blue Notes are predictable too and they still sound good - perhaps it's time once and for once to drop the "avant-garde" moniker and just call this good old jazz.

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Kevin Drumm
Mego 053
Ralf Wehowsky / Kevin Drumm
Selektion SCD 030

As improvised music slides inevitably into routine ("performance practice" crystallises into idiom and ultimately freezes into dogma), Kevin Drumm's willingness to take risks, even if it means scuppering the ship of state (a notoriously inconsistent performer, Drumm could be the Sonny Rollins of improvised music) is something to cheer about. To quote Taku Sugimoto: "I love playing with Kevin. NO PLAN." "Cases", billed perhaps significantly as musique concrète, finds composer Ralf Wehowsky constructing two fascinatingly frustrating sound edifices from Drumm's guitar and "devices". Like a Drumm concert, things never seem to turn out the way you think they will: the music settles down for a good drone and then ups and spits in your face, or runs pell-mell into a wall of silence. Like Werner Dafeldecker's recent work with Polwechsel, it's austere stuff, and best appreciated on disc. (In concert Drumm tends to skulk behind his devices and you rarely get a chance to see what he's doing - and if you do it never quite seems to correspond to what you're hearing.) After six listenings, I still haven't figured out what's going on, and it blows me away every time.
By way of contrast, the gold Teutonic script of "kd" (on a black background of course) which adorns "Sheer Hellish Miasma" gives a clear idea of what to expect: if the opening "Turning Point" doesn't have you racing to the stereo to turn down the wick, the drone apocalypse of "Hitting the Pavement" will have you evicted before the track's twenty minutes are up. Now that Merzbow albums are about as dancy and accessible as Parliament/Funkadelic (see elsewhere), it's refreshing to hear that noise (i.e. really beautifully crafted noise as opposed to the indiscriminately thrown-together hi-decibel garbage released by any number of would-be agents provocateurs these days) can still do the business. Weedy pseudo-intellectuals who buy into improv for some kind of post-structuralist/deconstructionalist cheap thrill are going to get their wispy beards singed beyond recognition: if Roscoe Mitchell hadn't swiped it as an album title, "Sound" would have been great for this. Just as your earlobes are frying nicely, a door slams and you find yourself in the next concentric circle of hell: one minute into "The Inferno" and you know you're in trouble; it's like one of those 6G fairground rides - you've paid your money, you're strapped into the machine and you realise you're going to have to go through with this whether you like it or not. And you end up loving it, dazed, confused and comfortably numb. The closing "Clouds" goes about its business as patiently and resignedly as a janitor mopping up blood and entrails in an abattoir after closing time. Is it too early to nominate this as Album of the Century?

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Oliver Benoit / Jean-Luc Guionnet

Vand'oeuvre VDO 0223

The music on guitarist Olivier Benoit and saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet's album is as elusive as the artwork by Agence Tandem (four square onion-skin vellums that have to be superimposed to figure out where and by whom the album was recorded) and seemingly as unfathomable as the track titles. Studiously avoiding both the standard rapid fire of free improv guitar/sax duets (compare Bailey and Butcher's work on "Vortices and Angels", or Frith and Zorn's "The Art of Memory") as well as any trace of jazz influence - even though both musicians happen to be well-versed in the idiom - "&UN" could well be the most original improv disc so far this year. The austere opening track establishes the mood of the album, with Guionnet's long held tones drifting in and out of a haze of sustained guitar harmonics occasionally punctuated by isolated crackles and fizzes which reappear at the beginning of track two and gradually accumulate to form a dense web of flutters and scrapes (the saxophonist using the spatial possibilities of two mics to great effect) before the music collapses back into introspective pointillism. Track three is an amazing study in non-linearity, a steadily moving assemblage of isolated fragments of shattered syntax - in a manner analogous to the aforementioned artwork - not so much a question of extended as much as deconstructed techniques. Track four returns to the desert landscape of track one, with Benoit exploring the possibilities of detuned lower strings while Guionnet gently coaxes multiphonics in and out of focus. Benoit is content to play with various microtonal nuances on track five, while the saxophone breathily sketches out the contours of virtual melodies. The brief sixth track charges along, with Guionnet manhandling soprano and alto sax simultaneously and yet continually stepping back from the abyss of total freak out. The final piece goes back to rummaging in the toy box before going underground just after nine minutes, only to reappear three minutes later, an austere ghost track of metallic clangs from Benoit and plangent wails from Guionnet.

Real Audio ClipBenoit_Guionnet: &Un

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Kyle Bruckmann

Musica Genera MG001

Apart from the attention of a few notable exceptions (Yusef Lateef, Sonny Simmons) the oboe and cor anglais have never managed to establish themselves as legit "jazz" instruments, (unlike the clarinet, which rode into the emerging world of American popular music on the wave of early twentieth century Eastern European immigration), while in the domain of contemporary classical music the oboe has retained a strong presence, thanks in no small part to the virtuosity of Heinz Holliger, as both performer and composer. In the light of recent developments in oboe technique called for by younger composers, many of whom writing with Holliger in mind, it's clear the instrument is perfectly suited to the demands of today's improvised music: in the hands of a great player it's as agile as any clarinet, and just as capable of multiphonics and extended techniques as the saxophone. On the strength of his second album after his solo "Entymology" on Barely Auditable a couple of years back, Chicago-based Kyle Bruckmann is just such a player: "And" is a collection of duets pitting his oboe, cor, suona (a Chinese double-reed instrument) and raita against the cream of the crop of Chicago improvisors - percussionists Michael Zerang and Weasel Walter, bass clarinettists Gene Coleman and Scott Rosenberg, trombonist Jeb Bishop, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Jim Baker on synthesizer (shame we aren't told what synth either, since the sounds Baker gets out of it are incredible). Whereas Bruckmann's first album showcased his virtuoso playing, "And" reveals he's just as capable of virtuoso listening: he can take on Zerang and Bishop in the outer reaches of instrumental technique, craft beautiful and coherent melodic lines with the clarinettists, hit multiphonics dead on as cleanly as John Butcher, and if need be blow the hell out of the upper register - quite a feat on a double-reed instrument - to produce a screaming high-end Sachiko M would be proud of. All this before going the distance with the ebullient Weasel Walter in a final round worthy of Brötzmann.
Real Audio Clip: Bruckman: AND

Label info:
Musica Genera
Wiosny Ludów 46/23, 71-471 Szczecin, Poland

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Scott Rosenberg

Barely Auditable bar000
Scott Rosenberg / John Shiurba
Limited Sedition LS021 / Barely Auditable barTOO (CD-R)
Scott Rosenberg / Anthony Braxton
Barely Auditable bar222
Scott Rosenberg
Umbrella 026

"IE", for 22-piece ensemble, was recorded in California in 1997, and though a glance at multi-instrumentalist Scott Rosenberg's bio (work with Anthony Braxton, Luc Houtkamp and the late Glenn Spearman) might lead you to expect burning big band improv with fireworks from the likes of Gino Robair, this belongs on your shelves under "Contemporary", alongside Curran, Lucier, Wolff and Oliveros, all of whom Rosenberg has also studied with. It's a symphonic-scale album whose four compositions incorporate improvisation to varying degrees: "Hums" provides textual instructions regarding what and how (though not where and when) to play, the second (untitled) track is a graphic score, the third uses what Rosenberg calls "an extremely physical type of conduction", and the final serene "Requiesence" needs two conductors to cue sets of actions (pauses, melodies, long tones). No motivic carpet-weaving à la Feldman here (though the darkly luminous tableaux of his late works do come to mind), but rather vast instrumental landscapes glowing with a rich inner light from the spectral collisions of the ensemble's chosen pitches.
In total contrast, the longest of the 198 tracks on "One Liners", a collection of duets featuring Rosenberg and guitarist John Shiurba, lasts a mere 1'21", and five of them actually clock in at just four seconds (before this, Zorn's "Hammerhead" (0'08") was the shortest piece in my collection). Released on two CD-Rs, each containing the maximum 99 tracks (total duration also 99 minutes), this fascinating and exhaustive (exhausting!) inventory - less Naked City screamcore than pocket Parachute-period Zorn/Chadbourne (with echoes of Braxton and Bailey) - deftly weaves together performances recorded at seven different locations between April and December, 19, yes, 99.
"Compositions / Improvisations 2000" interleaves three brief improvisations with three Rosenberg compositions and two older Braxton pieces, #168 and #65 (especially impressive). As both Rosenberg and his former teacher play the same arsenal of instruments, and both have the same rubbery, fluffy sax attack and occasional fondness for vicious throaty snarls, it's just as well we're told who plays on which channel. Braxton's scores make use of spatial elements and graphic markings to "interpret as deviations from the note, like baroque trills", while Rosenberg's more strictly notated pieces, despite the intimidating angularity of their themes, leave plenty of space for both players to stretch out in - Braxton is remarkable on Rosenberg's "eerhre", which takes up the final third of the album. At times florid and lyrical, at times disjunct and cellular, this diverse and challenging set of duets richly repays repeated listening.
"V", on Chris Stamey's Umbrella imprint, finds Rosenberg alone with a sopranino sax, flute and contrabass clarinet in the studios of WNUR Chicago (where he also DJs), moving away from the motivic influence of Braxton deep into the sonic bowels of his instruments. As Alvin Curran writes in his colourful notes, "resonant whale biology will never be the same" - track titles like "bbrbbrtttybbyynk" make perfect sense. Though I might hesitate to recommend all 21 tracks (total time 43'25") to people suffering from acute gastric problems, "V" could be the most exciting solo reeds album since Michel Doneda's "Anatomie des Clefs" a couple of years back, and with it Scott Rosenberg joins an intrepid new generation of Americans (Greg Kelley, Matt Sperry, Bhob Rainey..) not afraid to journey out to the wild frontiers of instrumental sound and bring back what they find.

Real Audio Clip: Rosenberg: slssss (knrcch)

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Crouton Music Crou011

Crouton Music, a label specialising in exquisitely produced hand-numbered limited editions, is the brainchild of writer and percussionist Jon Mueller, one of a handful of musicians, along with Hal Rammel and Chris Rosenau, responsible for creating a small but increasingly influential new music scene in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mueller and multi-instrumentalist / sampling artist Rosenau are frequent collaborators in the groups Pele, Collections of Colonies of Bees, and, with Scott Beschta, Telecognac. "Memory" samples and loops music both original (by Mueller, and also material culled from the earlier Telecognac project "Over" (Crouton 007) with ex-Swan Jarboe) and by others, including, apparently, Arvo Pärt. The heavily processed children's music boxes and reverb-drenched classical strings, coupled with the strange spastic flurries of Mueller's electric percussion are oddly disturbing - Mueller's soundworld is closer to Nurse With Wound than it is to mainstream free improv - and haunting, in the real sense of the word: even at first listening you have the strange impression you've heard this somewhere before.. hence perhaps the significance of the album title. Interfacing text and music is of special interest to him, both as a writer (the hallucenogenic horror of his earlier album "Pianobread") and producer (his ongoing series of collaborative albums entitled "Folktales"), and along with the elegant austerity of the silver-tinged cover photography, "Memory" comes with six separate accompanying texts (one for each track? No indications are given..) written by Mueller, quietly surrealistic prose poems which correspond perfectly to the unsettling dream landscape of the music.

Real Audio Clip: Telecognac Moment

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Copyright 2002 by Paris Transatlantic