April News 2003 Reviews by Dan Warburton, Nate Dorward & Sean Hickey:



The Wright Stuff: the music of Jack Wright
In Concert: ICP Orchestra / Joëlle Léandre
Throbbing Gristle's First Annual Report
John Butcher on Fringes
Thomas Lehn & Paul Lovens
Book + CD: Improvised Music from Japan
Seth Nehil / jgrzinich
Martin Archer / Geraldine Monk / Julie Tippetts
New on Cut: Repeat / Jason Lescalleet
Contemporary: Joachim Gies / Pierluigi Billone / Ligeti /
In Brief: Etienne Brunet / Wally Shoup / Tony Buck

Last Month


The Wright Stuff
by Dan Warburton
Originally published in Signal To Noise #27, Fall 2002
Free improvisers are, by and large, a funny bunch, eternally bemoaning low turnout at gigs, lack of funding and media attention, while at the same time steadfastly refusing to make the slightest concessions. For American saxophonist (and pianist) Jack Wright, there is no need to complain: if courting commercial success (be it playing for full houses or selling mountains of CDs) means compromising his musical vision, it's quite simply not the way to go. "Audience size, financial reward and 'good' reviews are simply not what gets me playing and keeps me moving ahead," writes Wright, who turns sixty this year. At an age when most folk are counting off the days to retirement, his willingness to call his music into question and redefine the fundamental concepts that motivate his playing, coupled with a seemingly indefatigable urge to seek out new playing partners half his age, has made Jack Wright something of a role model for the younger generation of American free improvisers. Read through the list of the musicians he has performed and recorded with in the past five years, and it's a veritable Who's Who of the burgeoning US improv scene: Bhob Rainey, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Tom Djll, Matt Ingalls, John Shiurba, Damon Smith, Scott Rosenberg, Scott Looney, Stefan Dill, Mike Bullock, Matthew Sperry, Greg Kelley.. the list goes on.
Wright's praise for his younger playing partners is reciprocated: for John Shiurba, who has released two albums featuring Wright on his Limited Sedition label (1998's "Mutable Witness", LS 009, and 2000's "Eight By Nine", LS 025), "Jack is constantly trying to seek out new players in as many scenes and from as many backgrounds as possible, people who will put him in a position where he's not sure what to do, so that he can find new ideas within his own playing. Playing with him is always a surprise, because he seems to seek out surprise." Bassist Damon Smith, who plays on "Mutable Witness", writes: "Every time I play with Jack I know I've just played with a total master. When Peter Brötzmann talks about the importance of Ayler he says it's important to know and play your biography: Jack's is extensive and he gets it through the horn. He is also ready to really find out what the younger players are working on - he treats everyone like peers. He almost studied with Bhob Rainey when other older players were just dismissive of Bhob's concept. And within all of this, he finds a way to bring many of the ideals of free jazz to these quieter contexts - he gives himself to the music every time, not just on stage but his whole life."
For most of that life, Jack Wright's home has been Philadelphia, PA. "From as early as I can remember I took it for granted I would be a musician like my mother, a piano teacher. Despite our difficult relationship, my music has always been dedicated to her. I began playing alto saxophone under a private teacher at ten years old, also singing in the church choir and choruses. Besides hearing classical piano every day, singing was my real music training. It was also an experience of great musical joy, performing every week, even through college." Dreams of becoming a musician disappeared in mid-high school, since Wright felt he did not have the special talent required for jazz ("the only music I could imagine for myself"); drawn instead to academia, he went on to European history study in college and graduate school. "I considered myself a Marxist historian, studied and taught ancient and medieval history at Johns Hopkins, CCNY, and Temple University. I was an academic, for me, music was a thing of the past." (While in college, "just for fun", he sang and played washtub bass in a bluegrass trio, even recording an album.) Towards the end of the 1960's he became deeply involved in radical politics: "As the war dragged on, I felt there was some possibility for a revolutionary movement. I quit work on my dissertation, and left the teaching profession to become a full-time organizer. When the war drew to a close and the revolutionaries despaired, I went through a crisis that made me question the fundamentals of my life. I had picked up the saxophone again, but it was only when I felt completely blocked in every other direction that I applied myself seriously to music practice, immersing myself in self-study."
Though he began by trying to play changes-based jazz, Wright wasn't directly inspired by any particular models. "I had by then heard and was attracted to Dolphy, Coltrane, Ornette, and Ayler. I considered them my peers in the jazz world, rather than heroes above me to be emulated; their spirits were coming through me and still do. I did not distinguish them from the entire jazz tradition, including my boyhood heroes, Johnny Hodges and Paul Desmond. I felt we were all connected in our love of lyrical beauty, even if my specific music was different."
One morning, after "a frustrating time with some jazz players", Wright woke up and simply started playing free form, without ever having heard anything like it. "I was hooked, I knew this was what I had to do for the rest of my life." That was in 1979. A key encounter took place a year later, when reed player Todd Whitman introduced him to what he later described as "the rough, hard sounds of the contemporary Europeans, Brötzmann and Evan Parker, who were pushing the envelope of saxophone sound wide open. I felt offended by this, for my embouchure was trained to please people, that is to be "pleasing". Yet this raw music touched my own emotions; I knew it was a door I had to open, a kind of loss of innocence."
In 1982 Wright released "Free Life, Singing" (on his own Spring Garden Music label, SGM 001) essentially a solo album with some duets with Philadelphia-based drummer, Marv Frank. Recorded "at home, under a loft bed", this lp may be "crude by today's engineering standards", but for raw energy and sheer commitment it's right up there with the early recordings of Zorn and Chadbourne. Wright saw his work then as "a continuation of the sixties, keeping radical culture alive during the Reagan reaction. Eugene Chadbourne is an example of this; his rants were explicit where our non-verbal improv was implicit. For free improv, there was still some element of slapping American white-bread culture in the face. In the mid-seventies I considered myself an anarchist, and for my comrades and myself, finding an accommodation with mainstream culture was out of the question. Now playing music, I was fulfilling my anarchist dream, to play with my comrades, my radical friends, rather than "work" with colleagues for normal career goals. I would refuse to call myself an Artist, pursuing art for its own sake, or for the sake of a career functional to society. I was the wild Dionysian revolutionary, ridiculously confident that music would flow out of me no matter what I did, that I didn't need anything or anyone to confirm it. I was really full of myself, thought I was the greatest and couldn't understand why others didn't know it! I assumed that without having to compromise I would be successful in what is most important - to be respected by peers, to be able to play with partners I wanted and get some kind of gigs. This did not happen - there were few in Philadelphia or New York who would play with me, and very few venues. Generally, musicians who wanted to think of themselves as professionals back then had to do something other than improv, to acquire their audience through composed or pop music that had a beat, a prior structure."
In search of kindred spirits, Wright headed across the Atlantic in 1983. "I went for two months at a time, and did this five times over the next four years. I found what I wanted, places receptive to my free jazz music and partners I could connect with in Berlin and in London. I played in Germany mostly, but also Holland, England, Switzerland and Italy. I brought some of these partners to the US to play at the East Coast Free Music Festival in Philadelphia that I organized, and to tour." By the mid-eighties Wright's major partners were the Europeans - cellist Wittwulf Malik, alto saxophonist Andreas Stehle, trumpeter Lars Rudolph and percussionists Peter Hollinger and Roger Turner, but there were also Americans: drummers Toshi Makihara and Jim Meneses, bassists Rob Clayton and William Parker, guitarist Chris Cochrane, and especially cellist Bob Marsh. Wright met Marsh in Detroit in 1986, played extensively with him when he lived in Chicago, and continues to do so in California, where Marsh has since moved. "Bob has been my main collaborator over the years, and one of the few multi-dimensional artists I have known, that is, painter, sculptor and instrument-maker, a brilliant and playful non-specialist - and like me he's been eager to play with all the younger players who seek him out." Wright and Marsh will shortly be releasing a CD on Spring Garden Music that documents their recent tour of the Northwest, as well as their respective piano solos.
Not content merely to play the music, Wright brought the full weight of his experience as a historian to bear on the subject of improvised music. Few improvising musicians (Derek Bailey and Evan Parker come to mind) have committed their thoughts to print with coherence and eloquence. Wright is one of them. The following extract from "Improvisation as a Social Act" (1986) gives a clear idea of his thought and engagement:
"In Western cultural history, free improvisation is the rebel child of perfection, born in that world that intertwines so nicely the dream of freedom and the life of slavery. A society's culture is repetition, mimesis, spiralling forward, eating and shedding skins. The solid meaning possible for us, what makes communication easiest and smoothest is created in repetition, and perfectibility through development. This resounds through the culture industry, from creator to consumer and back again through market feedback, passing thru corporation and government agency. Careers are built on perfection of the product and guarantee of reproduction, and they form a synthetic, symbiotic unit with spectators. What artist can withstand the lure of feedback - acceptance, recognition, supportive community? But individuality, the supposed prize of our Western Civilization for which we are asked to suffer, does not integrate us socially, it alienates.."
In 1988, Wright left Philadelphia and moved to Boulder, Colorado, "a kind of refuge from the music world back east. I was struck by the peace and beauty of the place - under this great sky, I began painting, and revived my interest in reading and writing. This period broadened and deepened me; I had the calm and space to abandon my earlier ambitions to achieve a place for myself in the music world. The atmosphere for free improvisation back east had been cooling off considerably. The free jazz revival, led mostly by William Parker, had not yet gotten off the ground, and there was a dwindling of the more experimental free improv in New York. Other than the California Bay Area, only NY had any kind of broad improv community. My interest has always been in the community of players, to find partners and then tour with them, and I had scoured the country and Europe in that decade. I could continue that from Boulder as well as I could from Philadelphia. That's why Davey Williams called me the 'Johnny Appleseed of free improvisation'.."
Though several outstanding solo concerts were recorded in 1988 and 1989 (and deserve to be released), Wright waited a further four years before releasing "Thaw" (SGM 002). This seminal album of US improv (stop and ask yourself who else was making music like this in 1992) features Wright in two trio line-ups (one with Bob Marsh and drummer Murray Reams, the other with Terry Sines on bass and Gordon Kennedy on drums) and a sextet including Marsh and guitarist Mike O'Neill. There's an extended duo with trombonist Stan Nishimura, and two blistering solos (one on soprano, one on alto sax). Wright also plays piano on the final track.
Why "Thaw"? In an in-depth interview last year with friend and playing partner John Berndt (quoted above, available online at www.redroom.org/documentation/wright.html and strongly recommended reading), Wright recalled a typical episode of self-doubt and questioning: "In Chicago in '93, fresh from a session with Joe Maneri, I had a gig with Bob Marsh and Jim Baker on keyboards. I wanted to play differently, without my usual overwhelming force. But once on stage, I couldn't help myself; all kinds of rage and anxiety just exploded and ruined it. I was angry with myself afterwards, that my emotions had such a hold on me as to go against the musical direction of my partners. Now that kind of thing doesn't happen. It's the difference between acting out emotion and playing from the center of feeling. There has been some shift in me through the nineties, some melting into tears, which gave me the title "Thaw", even though then it was largely a hope, that my intensity could transform into something larger and more generous."
Continuing his travels back and forth across the country - Berndt notes that Wright performed 88 concerts in 1988 alone, at least half of which were solos - the saxophonist gradually built up a network of playing partners from coast to coast. Just as unforgiving as his concert schedule was the critical eye Wright turned on himself. His lucid observations on solo playing are particularly insightful: "Performing with others, for an audience of improv cognoscenti is the safest, protected environment. Almost anything we do will be appreciated, no barriers here, the doors to the audience are wide open. This is good for the music as far as it goes. But it's the live solo performed for people who don't know or don't care, who'd rather not be disturbed, that is the most revealing test ground. That world, outside the safe improv clubhouse, is confused by strange sounds, and our music is potentially a threat. There we're on the spot of judgment and often become fearful and apologetic. I play, but - I try to pretend they aren't there. Since I can't, I close in on myself. Then, despite this, I often find them wholly responsive, maybe surprised to have liked it!"
In 1998 Jack Wright met and played with soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey, and, as he told Berndt, "was struck by his dedication and way of playing. I was looking for a way out of my usual patterns when I heard Bhob play, and his approach - slow, sometimes almost inaudible, offered a different kind of energy and tension in the music. Since then, his influence on me has been equivalent to Todd Whitman's, opening up new possibilities. I learned to play from a greater place of strength, to breathe differently in the music, to take time. It also gave me a way to connect with players who had no past in free jazz, and so it expanded my range of desirable partners immensely."
The year 2000 was one of Wright's busiest, and yielded several fine albums. With Rainey he toured the west coast, and with Bob Marsh and Fred Lonberg-Holm subsequently released the albums "The Darkest Corner, the Most Conspicuous" (CIMP) and "Double Double", (SGM 009). "Signs of Life" (SGM 010) was also culled from recordings made on tour with Rainey, adding, on a couple of tracks each, clarinettist Matt Ingalls and trumpeter Tom Djll (who described the music as "like a kitten being born in a shoebox. In a dark closet."). In the genre of "reductionist" improvised music (examples of which include Rainey's nmperign project with Greg Kelley, the recent work of Londoners Mark Wastell and Phil Durrant, and various Berlin / Vienna permutations of the Phosphor and Zeitkratzer collectives), "Signs of Life" is an important document. Rainey, Djll and Ingalls also played in Wright's nine-piece large ensemble on the Limited Sedition "Eight by Nine", a challenging document recorded at Mills College, also featuring John Shiurba on guitar, Karen Stackpole on percussion, and a gritty low end consisting of Ron Heglin's tuba and the double basses of Morgan Guberman and Matthew Sperry.
Back east a month later, Wright's extraordinary solo album "Places To Go" (SGM 003), recorded part in Baltimore's Red Room, part in Wright's kitchen, also dates from this fertile spring. There have been many fine solo saxophone albums over the years since Anthony Braxton's seminal "For Alto", but few truly great ones: "Places To Go" is up there along with Evan Parker's "Monoceros", John Butcher's "Fixations", Michel Doneda's "Anatomie des Clefs" and Scott Rosenberg's "V". In contrast, however, to the crystalline perfection of Parker's circular breathing and Butcher's meticulous multiphonics, Wright, like Rosenberg (another one of Jack's playing partners.. surprise!), seems to relish putting himself into musical and technical tight spots. Even when he heroically hacks a way out of his self-created jungle, he's not easily satisfied:
"It's easiest to like what I've done if I can imagine it as someone else's music, but when I realize it's mine it often disgusts me, makes me uneasy. It seems inappropriate to defend it publicly. In general, I'd say that insecurity is built in to improvisation, it is the "free" part, the risk that you might have nothing to offer, which is a door that opens us tremendously. The improv tradition I represent puts a premium on what can happen THIS night that has never happened, for me as player and for listeners. When I play alone before others, for instance, often there is this roaring fear that goes through me, like the dream of all the parts of the horn falling off, and I'm just standing there with nothing. Here is my core, this is home, my briar patch, and I long to be thrown into it."
In July 2000, Wright was in Clayton, New Mexico to cut four splendid duets with guitarist Stefan Dill for his excellent "Flower and Song" (Zerx 029). In September he was back in Baltimore for the High Zero Festival, which yielded the thirty-three minute trio masterpiece "Before the Fall" with Ian Nagoski and Joe McPhee (another great American original), released on McPhee's "Mister Peabody Goes to Baltimore" (Recorded 005). Barely two months later, Wright was back in Canoncito, New Mexico, with his pals Dave Nielsen, Kurt Heyl, Dave Wayne and Al Faaet, in Nielsen's home studio, where he ended up playing percussion and vibraphone in a joyously unpretentious jam session recently released as "One Day's Music" (Zerx 043). Though Wright's playing with Rainey clearly reflects the younger saxophonist's "concept", the florid virtuosity of his earlier recordings is still much in evidence on "Clang", an album of duets with Bob Falesch on keyboards recorded in December 2000 and January 2001. On of these pieces features Wright on piano, an instrument he's been playing since the late seventies but has recorded very little, despite it's being his current instrument of choice "for fresh and surprising discoveries". "Clang" is on Falesch's Zeroeggzie label (Wright describes as "the sister label to Spring Garden Music"), which will shortly be releasing another album, "Close Fit" featuring Wright with Chicagoans Grant Strombeck on drums and Nick Sondy on electric bass.
At the time of going to press, Jack Wright is preparing to move back to the east coast after fourteen years in Colorado. ("At sixty, I have to think whether I want to live out my life continually on the road, or in a few hours proximity to where I can play with my partners.") He's also busy planning a return trip to Europe, to hook up with old friends such as Roger Turner and hunt out new partners in England, France and Germany. As ever, he's undaunted at the prospect of playing to small houses:
"However strange this music is, I still want to touch people, to be however weak or strong as I actually am, to be fully honest, and you can be that intimate only with a few. Small audiences are ideal for this music, which, for all the growth of recording in recent years, is still very much a live, spontaneous event. If I could get twice as much audience but was required to play fewer concerts, I don't think I would do it. I'm what is called "a musician's musician" - if I don't see other players in the audience, I'll imagine I might inspire someone in the audience to play. And I would be happy to be the first partner. So besides the intimacy and spontaneity, I'm still the radical, shorn now of explicit political goals, but still trying to "win them over" to freedom. This is not something I would expect others to be interested in, but I still harbor that ridiculous notion that what we are doing might have some broader cultural impact than simply another milestone in avant-garde music history.
"Neither free jazz nor free improv today challenges the basic enterprise of our culture, the production of objects for a consuming public. Generally speaking, players now are not motivated by a sense of broad cultural challenge but by a reasonable desire simply to be able to play the music that excites them, to explore, and to be successful in drawing audiences and to find the players who are right for them as partners. This is fine by me, and I encourage this development, however normal it might be for our culture. It seems like my wildest dream come true to have new players to meet and play with everywhere. I played in Omaha recently at a coffee shop-cum-bookstore and heard a guitar player called Bryan Day with a fantastic dexterity and musical imagination, reminiscent of Hans Reichel. He was from a small Iowa farm town, somehow had come across improvisation, and is now running a small label called Public Eyesore. By contrast, in the eighties when I toured the country I was playing for people who were starkly ignorant that any such music could even exist, much less be played right in their town. Something deep in our culture is on the move, and there's no telling where it's going."
Given Jack Wright's unending search for new playing partners, it's perhaps appropriate to leave the last word to the saxophonist he "sought out" back in 1998, Bhob Rainey: "Jack seems to thrive on encounter. He takes risks and those risks are real because his music means that much to him. I'm not sure how to summarize my admiration for him, but I believe that this willingness to put himself on the line has something to do with it. Morton Feldman believed that in the battle between music and the composer, music should win. Jack would probably like to win, but he cares enough to lose."
Discography:
THE TAPES-numerous self-published editions from the 80's, solo and with a wide range of improvisers, including Assorted Treats, Jack Wright Sampler, Hamburg, KILLTIME, and Sax Sucking. Spring Garden Music
[LP] Free Life, Singing Jack Wright: solo saxophone and piano; also duo with Marv Frank, drums. Spring Garden Music (SGM) 001 1982
[LP] Passed Normal, Vol. 1 on this sampler, in trio with Paul Hoskin and Chris Cochrane. F.O.T. Records, 1985
[CD] Exquisite Corpses From The Bunker, with 21 musicians from the A MICA Bunker series. HeartPunch, 1987
[CD] THAW Jack Wright solo and various groupings including Bob Marsh, cello and flute; Murray Reams, drums; Michael O'Neill, guitar; Stan Nishimura, trombone; Terry Sines, double bass; Gordon Kennedy, drums; Justin Perdue, guitar; Jeremy Harlos, double bass. Spring Garden Music SGM 002, 1992
[Casette] Jack Wright / John Berndt with Jack Wright: piano, saxophones; John Berndt, saxophones, self-built instruments, electronics. Recorded, 1996
[CD] That Nothing is Known, Quartet with John Berndt, Michael Zerang, Bob Marsh; Recorded 002, 1998
[CD-R] Mutable Witness, quartet with John Shiurba-guitar, Damon Smith- contrabass, Karen Stackpole-percussion. Limited Sedition LS009, 1999
[CD] Crawlspace/Universal Noir, with Bhob Rainey, Eric Rosenthal, and Taylor Ho Bynum. Tautology 008, 1999
[CD] The Darkest Corner, the Most Conspicuous, with Bhob Rainey, Bob Marsh, and Fred Lonberg-Holm. CIMP 208, 2000

[CD] Places to Go Jack Wright solo CD; Spring Garden Music, SGM 003, 2000
[Double CD-R] Rattle OK eleven rough cuts of recordings, sept. 1999-june 2000. Jack Wright on saxes and contralto clarinet, in various combinations of players including Bob Marsh, violin, voice; Tom Dill, trumpet; Ron Heglin, tuba; Matthew Sperry, bass; Karen Stackpole, percussion; Matt Ingalls, clarinet; John Shiurba, guitar; Bhob Rainey, soprano sax; Morgan Guberman, bass; Ben Wright, bass; james Coleman, theremin; Eric Rosenthal, percussion; Greg Kelley, trumpet; Stefan Dill, guitar; Dave Gross, alto sax; Bob Wagner, drums; Scott Rosenberg, flute; Ben Wright, bass; Bob Falesch, metapiano; Mike Bullock, bass; Eric Leonardson, springboard, among others. also jack solo on piano. SGM 006 and 007 2000
[CD] Flower and Song, Stefan Dill, guitar, includes four duos with Wright, Xerx 029
[CD-R] Jack Wright Large Ensemble 8x9, with Bhob Rainey-soprano saxophone, Matt Ingalls-clarinet, Morgan Guberman & Matthew Sperry- contrabass, Tom Djll-trumpet, Ron Heglin-tuba, John Shiurba-guitar, Karen Stackpole percussion. Limited Sedition LS025
[CD] Double Double, with Bhob Rainey, Bob Marsh, and Fred Lonberg-Holm. SGM 009
[CD] Signs of Life, trios with Bhob Rainey, sop sax, Tom Djll, tpt, and Matt Ingalls, reeds, SGM 010
[CD] The Shattering, Carol Genetti, voice, includes five pieces with Wright, Recorded 004
[CD] Mister Peabody Goes to Baltimore, Joe McPhee, reeds, tpt, includes trio with Wright and Ian Nagoski, elect. Recorded 005
[CD] Clang, duos on saxes and piano with Bob Falesch, metapiano, Zeroeggzie Ox-2bdf

[CD] One Day's Music, quartets with Kurt Heyl, tbn, Dave Nielsen, bass and reeds, Dave Wayne/Al Faaet, drums; Xerx 043
[CD] Birds in the Hand, to be released April 2003, duos with Bob Marsh, cello, voice, Public Eyesore Records
[CD] Open Wide-Jack Wright at High Zero 2001--various groupings at the Baltimore Festival with Dan Breen, drums, John Dierker, reeds, Jason Willet, elect, Evan Rapport, piano, clarinet; Thomas Ankerschmidt, sax; duo with Katt Hernandez, violin. Recorded 006
Partners with whom Jack Wright has been performing and recording, 1998-2003:
Angelina Baldoz, tpt, Seattle; John Berndt, saxes and elect., Baltimore; Dan Breen, dr, etc., Baltimore; Jerry Bryerton, dr, Chicago; Mike Bullock, bass, Boston; Gust Burns, piano, Seattle; Taylor Ho Bynum, tpt, Boston; Charles Cohen, elect., Phila; James Coleman, theremin, Boston; Chris Cooper, elect., Northampton MA; Ernesto Diaz, g, San Francisco; Arrington De Dionyso, contralto cl, voice, Olympia WA; John Dierker, reeds, Baltimore; Stefan Dill, g, Clayton, NM; Tom Djll, tpt, Santa Cruz CA; Bob Falesch, computer elect., keyboard, Chicago; Carol Genetti, voice, Chicago; Dave Gross, reeds, Boston; Morgan Guberman, bass, voice, Oakland; Andy Hayleck, g, Baltimore; Ron Heglin, tbn, Berkeley; Katt Hernandez, violin, Boston; Kurt Heyl, tbn, Cerrillos, NM; Paul Hoskin, reeds, Seattle; Matt Ingalls, reeds, computer elect., Oakland; Greg Kelley, tpt, Boston; Andrew Lafkas, bass, Minneapolis; Eric Leonardson, invented instrument, Chicago; Fred Lonberg-Holm, cello, Chicago; Scott Looney, piano, elect., Oakland; Toshi Makihara, dr, Phila.; Wittwulf Malik, cello, Hamburg, Germany; Bob Marsh, cello, voice, violin, El Cerrito CA; Joe Morris, g, Boston; Tatsuya Nakatani, dr, NYC; Tari Nelson-Zagar, violin, Seattle; Mike O'Neill, g, Boulder; Mike Pride, dr, Brooklyn NY; Bhob Rainey, sop. sax, Boston; Scott Rosenberg, reeds, New York; Eric Rosenthal, perc, Boston; Davu Seru, perc, Minneapolis; John Shiurba, g, Oakland; Wally Shoup, sax, Seattle; Damon Smith, bass, Oakland; Nick Sondy, e-bass, Chicago; Matthew Sperry, bass, Oakland; Spirit, dr, Oakland; Karen Stackpole, perc, Oakland; Grant Strombeck, perc, Chicago; Roger Turner, perc, London; Matt Weston, perc, Easthampton, MA; Todd Whitman, reeds, Buffalo; Nate Wooley, tpt, Jersey City; Ben Wright, bass, Questa NM; Michael Zerang, perc, Chicago
New partners discovered on his fall 2002 Europe tour, with whom he will be touring and performing in the future:
Serge Bagdassarian, electronics, Berlin; Boris Baltshun, electronics, Berlin; Axel Doerner, tpt, Berlin; Michel Doneda, soprano sax, France; Phil Durrant, computer electronics, London; Kai Fagashinski, clarinet, Berlin; Carl-Ludwig Huebsch, tuba, Cologne; Andrea Neumann, inside piano, Berlin; Le Quan Ninh, percussion, Toulouse; Martin Theurer, piano, Witten, Germany; Birgit Uhler, tpt, Hamburg; Sabina Vogel, flute, Berlin; Joe Williamson, bass, Berlin
http://www.springgardenmusic.com
http://www.zeggz.com
http://www.recorded.com
http://www.norumba.com
http://www.limitedsedition.com
http://members.aol.com/tautology3/index2.htm
http://www.cadencebuilding.com/cadence/cimp.html
Five tours are scheduled for 2003 with these musicians in North America: with Bob Marsh in April, with Boris Baltshun, Serge Bagdassarian, and Michel Doneda in May, with Ben Wright, Mike Pride, and Nate Wooley in August, with Tom Djll and Bhob Rainey in September, and with Phil Durrant in November. For details see his website at www.springgardenmusic.com



>>back to top of April 2003 page



ICP Orchestra / Joëlle Léandre Quartet +
Théatre des Bergeries, Noisy-le-Sec 7th March 2003
by Dan Warburton
Jöelle Léandre's "No Comments" Quartet (featuring Sebi Tramontana on trombone, Carlos Zingaro on violin and Paul Lovens on drums and musical saw) was joined tonight (on three tracks) by pianist Irène Schweitzer for just over an hour of highly accomplished improvisation. Impressive and entertaining it was, though not exactly earth-shattering - this wasn't so much a question of avoiding risk altogether but rather of minimising it. Bassist Léandre is too restlessly creative to slide into comfortable cliché, but you can almost bet that at some stage during the evening she'll metamorphose into Cathy Berberian, accompanying her hysterical soprano on the bass. Though guaranteed to raise a few polite titters from the audience, this does tend to upstage her fellow musicians, and the fact she chose to do it during two of the three pieces featuring Schweizer raised a few eyebrows. It also unfortunately relegated what she was doing to the status of programme music - the bass became a weeping tragic heroine or a circus clown, a mere extension of a voice - musical argument was reduced to being a metaphor for language, and musical ideas merely symbolic of standard elements of human discourse (consensus, conflict, questioning, sarcasm, boredom). Though Schweizer's brief solo showcased her prodigious technique, and her duo with Léandre revealed a sense of humour just as defined (and arguably more refined) than the bassist's, the three pieces without her were more extended and musically satisfying; Zingaro's technical virtuosity complemented Léandre's admirably, Tramontana was somewhat subdued but his ear for pitch was faultless, and Lovens integrated the theatrical aspect of his performance perfectly - no surprises there: he's been doing it for years.
Dutch veterans Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink are also, of course, Grand Masters when it comes to incorporating humour and theatre in performance, but the sense of benign anarchy that reigns during an ICP Orchestra gig (do not be fooled - things are much more organised than they seem) is always a joy to behold. Misha, who finally ambled onstage to his piano after a sensational opening trio improvisation featuring trombonist Wolter Wierbos, violist Mary Oliver and tenor saxophonist Toby Delius, was evidently delighted with proceedings throughout. Apart from a brief piece of music theatre where he and Han wandered around the stage catching imaginary mosquitoes in people's instruments (and plugging the new ICP album at the same time), the humour on display was present within the music itself rather than grafted onto it. The ICP horn section is as entertaining to watch as it is to listen to, moving to the right from Wierbos' pit bull power (this guy could probably blow a hole through a wall), via trumpeter Thomas Heberer's classical poise and Delius' deceptively laidback attitude to the po-faced Ab Baars on clarinet (again, don't be fooled..) and the sheer elegance of Michael Moore, who played Hodges to Misha's Duke to perfection. Counterbalanced by the string trio of Oliver, cellist Tristan Honsinger (as intense as ever) and bassist Ernst Glerum, with Bennink's incomparable brushwork keeping time behind, the orchestra delivered the standard ICP goods - Mengelberg and Monk compositions to the fore - with consummate panache. If you ever get a chance to see this outfit live, don't miss it - you will not be disappointed. Hard to single out a high spot, but the reading of Monk's "Criss Cross" might just be it - Moore's superb solo inspired Misha to produce one of the finest (and funkiest) solos I've ever heard him play.


>>back to top of April 2003 page



Throbbing Gristle
First Annual Report
Get Back get83 (LP) / Thirsty Ear CD 57105 (CD)
by Dan Warburton
Recorded back in 1975 and never released at the time (this explains why their first album was 1977's "Second Annual Report"), for reasons we'll discuss later, the mythic "lost" album of Throbbing Gristle (Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Pete Christopherson and Chris Carter) is finally out and about. There's little information on it to indicate precisely where and when these six tracks were recorded (and, not wishing to be inducted against my will into a hardcore video game cult or receive someone else's pubic hair clippings in the post, I'll take the labels' word for it on the 1975 date), but they still sound as wild and scary in 2003 as they must have done back then - if anyone outside the band ever got to hear them, that is.
It's always hard to explain what Britain was like in 1975 to those who weren't there, but TG manage to do it better than anyone else. The Industrial Revolution had burned itself out, the 1973 oil crisis had led to a wave of power cuts and an explosion in unemployment and inflation (which ultimately led to Thatcher's impressive election victory four years later), and the pop music of the time did absolutely nothing to reflect the dreary, rain-sodden cynicism - desperation, even - of that strange generation (mine) that grew up too late for flower power and too soon for Thatcherism. What the fuck did a bunch of rich public schoolboys from Charterhouse poncing around wearing fancy masks have to say to spotty depressed teenagers in the blighted housing estates of Northern England? It's also hard to explain the horrific fascination the British tabloid press had (and still have) with England's most notorious serial killers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the so-called Moors Murderers, several of whose child victims still lie undiscovered in the bleak hills outside Manchester. (Hindley has now died, after a persistently unsuccessful campaign to have herself released from prison). When Genesis P-Orridge tells the banal story of Brady and Hindley committing a gory axe murder in "Very Friendly" while watching Eamonn Andrews' prime-time ITV series "This Is Your Life", he knowingly juxtaposes two of the decade's cultural "icons" (P-Orridge's mail art of the period, with its disturbing cut-ups of the Royal Family, greasy English breakfasts and sleazy under-the-counter pornography, also knew exactly how to touch the rawest of raw nerves in the battered English psyche). "It was just an ordinary day in Manchester", begins his deadpan monologue. With its heavy, fuzzed-to-death guitars and thudding rhythmic accompaniment, one thinks inevitably of The Velvet Underground's "The Gift", but whereas John Cale's tale of the unfortunate accidental death of a man who decided to mail himself to his girlfriend is actually quite hilarious (thanks in no small part to Cale's delicious Welsh accent), "Very Friendly" is unremittingly terrifying, precisely because it is so goddamn banal. Drinking cups of tea and smashing someone's head in with an axe ("blood ran down Eamonn Andrews' teeth") become strangely equivalent, and Pete Christopherson's electronic distortion of P-Orridge's voice is the icing on the cake. None of the subsequent storytelling tracks that punk and New Wave spawned - one thinks of Alternative TV's "The Radio Story" or Rhoda Dakar's "The Boiler" - disturbing though they are, can quite match the queasiness induced by this.
So why wasn't it released at the time? P-Orridge and then girlfriend Cosey Fanny Tutti were already accomplished performance artists (with COUM Transmissions), but neither the British public - nor, one imagines, the rock press - were ready in 1975. With the succès de scandale of COUM's "Prostitution " show at London's ICA the following year, however, the floodgates of punk burst open and all the pent-up energy of Britain's angry youth spilled out, in the form of the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, the Damned and literally hundreds of other minor groups of rebellious kids with snot-matted green hair and safety pins stuck through their lips. Apart, perhaps, from Pistols' manager Malcolm McLaren (who knowingly used the British public's fascination with / horror of sex and Nazism to great commercial effect), not many people knew how to channel the forces of darkness as well as TG: not only did they piss off the Establishment, they even infuriated the punks - listen to that ferocious heckling on "Second Annual Report"'s "Maggot Death" (live in Brighton).
"First Annual Report"'s other tracks, though admittedly not as scary as "Very Friendly", also reveal how far in advance of the time Chris Carter was in his use of electronics. Punters may also want to check out his "The Space Between", reissued on Mute in 1991, and ask themselves whether the wave of electropunk that Cabaret Voltaire rode out on would have formed without Carter's pioneering work behind it. And as for Gen and Cosey's guitar playing.. well, there's been nothing like it since. Diehard TG fans will already have this album, of course (and may well have coughed up for the release of TG's 24 CD box set); but if by chance you're coming to this group for the first time, "First Annual Report" is as good a place to start as any, though as one reviewer has written, it's perhaps better to listen with the light on.

>>back to top of April 2003 page



John Butcher
INVISIBLE EAR
Fringes 12
by Dan Warburton
"Invisible Ear" is neither John Butcher's first solo album nor the first to exploit the possibilities of multitrack recording - he was exploring that territory on "Thirteen Friendly Numbers", released on his own Acta label back in 1992 - but it's arguably his finest (and given the quality of his Emanem outing "Fixations" two years ago, that's saying something) and certainly his most audacious. As his brief comments in the liner notes indicate, the saxophonist was working with close-miking back in the early 1980s with Chris Burn ("Acute" on their debut album "Fonetiks"), but his increasingly frequent collaborations with electronics - well documented on the two albums with Phil Durrant, "Secret Measures" (1997, Wobbly Rail) and "Requests and Antisongs" (2000, Erstwhile) - have led him back to the technique to research it in detail.
If anyone has any lingering doubts that Butcher's soprano playing has moved out of the long shadow cast by Evan Parker (the idea that it was ever in it is a frankly stupid assertion, given the two men's utterly different approaches to the instrument, but one that still gets aired nonetheless), the opening "Swan Style" should finally put the matter to rest. The upper register of the instrument is amplified (magnified would seem to be a better word) to ear-tingling extremes Tamio Shiraishi would be proud of. Butcher doesn't shy away from the ugly grit of feedback either - the opening moments of "A controversial fix for…" sound like a wonderfully dirty Chicago blues harp. The saxophonist is a shrewd observer of the scene, acutely aware (and not uncritical) of developments in what Noël Akchoté has amusingly referred to as the "shhhfllllfffwsshhhpfft school of improvisation", many of the younger practitioners of which will, one imagines, be listening in return just as carefully to his close-miked soprano work on tracks like "Cup Anatomical", "Dark Field" and "Bright Field". Butcher's background as a scientist (he holds a Doctorate in physics) is well known, and there is an undeniable sense of experimental rigour to pieces like "Streamers", where he painstakingly explores micro-sonorities of his tenor saxophone, nudging it towards the edge of shrieking feedback and then standing back to observe the phenomena. The end result is far from cold and clinical, though - "Invisible Ear" transcends the tough self-discipline of its creation to create a sound world of great beauty. "The Importance of Gossip" features seven amplified saxes and a synthesizer, an instrument Butcher had previously used on his contribution to "Polwechsel 3", "Floater", to create three minutes (with the exception of "Streamers", only three of the twelve tracks on the album go beyond the four minute mark) of exquisite rustling and gurgling, while "What remains" layers five tenors and three sopranos to form a thrillingly vibrant orchestral texture worthy of Scelsi. Butcher's knack of choosing the right pitches is uncanny, and the multitrack pieces on "Invisible Ear" are harmonically richer and less claustrophobic in feel than similar tracks on "Thirteen Friendly Numbers". The closing "Atelier", the only track not recorded at home in London (three tracks were recorded in Münster in Germany in 1999 and superimposed later), finds Butcher exploring the resonant frequencies of the performing space's architecture - Brandon Labelle eat yer heart out - with the precision of a professional acoustician. (Another fine example of this is his Potlatch trio album "The Contest of Pleasures" with Axel Dörner and Xavier Charles.) Trills haven't been given such a good workout since Alan Silva's "The Seasons Part 6".
That this album should be released on Giuseppe Ielasi's excellent Fringes imprint is only fitting, given that label's reputation for challenging and groundbreaking solo improvised work (Domenico Sciajno's "Broken Bridge", Annette Krebs' "Guitar Solo"..), but beware: Fringes albums only come in limited editions, and I have a feeling that the 600 copies of "Invisible Ear" will become invisible themselves sooner than you think.


>>back to top of April 2003 page



Thomas Lehn & Paul Lovens
ACHTUNG
Grob 537
by Dan Warburton
The cover art says it all, a sculpture by Carmela Uranga consisting of dirty pots piled a metre high in a tiny sink in the corner of an empty room - pull one saucer out from near the bottom and the whole damn lot will come crashing down (to the uninitiated, the music of Thomas Lehn - analogue synthesizer - and Paul Lovens - percussion - already sounds like somebody smashing dishes in a sink, but I was thinking more, erm, metaphorically..). Though Lehn is the (undisputed?) master of the analog synth, he'd probably be the first to admit that twiddling one of its many knobs just a fraction too far can radically alter the resulting sound - and Lehn, as you'll know if you've ever seen him perform live, doesn't treat the instrument with kid gloves just because it's nearly as old as he is: he jabs and pummels it, jams credit cards into it and, when necessary, gives it a mighty clout (how else can you get that delicious springy reverb?). It's no surprise then that his most dynamic outings to date have been with percussionists - firstly Gerry Hemingway (the Erstwhile double "Tom and Gerry" and its sequel on Umbrella) and now Paul Lovens. Lovens, as well as being one of the most responsive percussionists around, is also something to watch live, as he hurls various elements of his kit - cymbals, wood blocks, whatever - to the ground beside him in search of ever more varied sonorities. Both musicians can also be extraordinarily discreet in their movements, though, and the music on "Achtung" is as much a reflection of their meticulous attention to tiny detail as it is an avalanche of cascading crockery. On these two live tracks (the first clocking in at just over ten minutes recorded in Lehn's home base Cologne in May 2000, the second a 48-minute monster recorded three months later in a Dachau gallery space) things can - and do - change suddenly from one moment to the next, which makes for an unpredictable, exciting (and at times exhausting) listening experience. Washing up will never be the same again.


>>back to top of April 2003 page



Improvised Music from Japan
IMPROVISED MUSIC FROM JAPAN 2002-2003
Book (160pp) + CD
http://www.japanimprov.com
by Dan Warburton
If you didn't manage to hunt down a copy of the monumental and magnificent 10 CD box of "Improvised Music from Japan", you may be tempted to invest in this book / CD package instead (though it's nowhere near as comprehensive in scope). While generally focused on the so-called onkyo scene, the book also touches on Japanese free jazz and post-punk (there's a welcome interview with Phew), but like other recent publications that have tried to reflect the whole diversity of the Japanese scene, it inevitably spreads itself too thin; in barely eighty pages (of the English half of the book) there are no less than thirty texts, including ten interviews, plus twenty-odd CD reviews (though one imagines that those who will want to invest in this will already have many of the discs featured). The interviews are interesting but too slight to be fully revealing (anyone familiar with this scene recognises the importance of Jon Abbey and his Erstwhile label - do we really need another page promoting the label?), and while Minoru Hatanaka's article on Off Site provides some illuminating detail, one wonders why Heiner Goebbels' "Hashirigaki" merited inclusion, being a piece that (apart from its Japanese title and the incorporation of Japanese songs performed by Yumiko Tanaka) has more to do with the Beach Boys and Gertrude Stein. (Using the same logic, Goebbels' "La Reprise" should figure in any book on black American pop music, thanks to its inclusion of Prince's "Joy in Repetition", and I confidently expect to see "Ou bien le débarquement désastreux" featured in forthcoming studies of African kora music..)
The accompanying CD - bravo if you manage to detach it from the inside cover of the book without ripping it - opens with an uncharacteristic (and gorgeous) field recording piece by Toshi Nakamura made in the south of France in 2001. The following track, Brett Larner's "m-7/7-5" (recorded in California and featuring seven non-Japanese guitarists - the only reason for the piece's being included that I can think of is that Larner is resident in Japan) is a real inner-ear thriller, after which the plops and whooshes of Masahiro Okura, Masafumi Ezaki and Taku Unami come as welcome relief. The offerings from Haco, Yoshio Machida and Tetuzi Akiyama (this latter an outtake from his recent "Résophonie" on A Bruit Secret) are effective though not exactly indispensable. The final half hour of the disc is given over to (an extract of) Radu Malfatti's "Tenkaku", performed by the trombonist and Taku Sugimoto at Vienna's Porgy and Bess club in March 2002. While my own experience of playing with Radu remains one of my fondest memories and most profoundly moving musical experiences, I'm not sure I'd like to listen to it again - I have a feeling that hearing (and seeing) "Tenkaku" in the flesh would have been fascinating, but, for once, mea culpa, sorry lads, I find my attention wandering listening to this recording (though maybe that's OK.. "If your mind wanders, let it." - Cage).
In the book, Malfatti's email correspondence with Sugimoto makes some telling points, but as much of it is quoted verbatim from his e-interview with the writer in this magazine it's not exactly surprising anymore. If, as Malfatti argues, "the true avant-garde is the critical analysis of or issue-taking with our cultural surroundings," Toshi Nakamura's positive but innocuous review of "In Case Of Fire Take The Stairs" (featuring two musicians he performs with on a regular basis, Sachiko M and Andrea Neumann) certainly doesn't qualify as avant-garde. And that's probably the most unsettling aspect of the whole package - much as I admire and adore Malfatti and his music, I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that the stagnation he's fond of warning us against is sadly beginning to make itself felt in the onkyo scene. Still, I'll probably end up buying the next issue if only to find out how Ami Yoshida's short story "Tiger Thrush" continues.


>>back to top of April 2003 page



Seth Nehil / Jgrzinich
CONFLUENCE
Intransitive
INT 022
STRIA
Erewhon
CDWhON008
by Dan Warburton
With the proliferation of amazing software packages and ever more powerful machines, making electronic music today is, in theory, easier than it ever has been, and the recent slew of unimpressive (to say the least) remix albums seems to be depressing proof that increased sophistication of resources has not always led to a corresponding raising of the stakes when it comes to quality. It's comparatively rare to find composers of electronic music who are prepared to really take their time in working and reworking their sonic material, which makes these two exceptional companion albums by Seth Nehil and John Grzinich, one on the Belgian label Erewhon, the other on Howard Stelzer's Boston-based Intransitive imprint even more worthy of your attention.
Using sound material sourced from various objects played (Nehil prefers the word "manipulated") by large groups of people, the two composers "trade, treat and trade" sounds again until, as Nehil writes, "because of the very long composition time (more than two years) it becomes impossible to claim ownership." Rather than trying to fit their material into a pre-conceived architecture, Nehil and Grzinich "allow the sounds to dictate the overall form," and the end-product manages to combine a naturally breathing sense of form (in a manner not dissimilar to much electroacoustic improvisation) with a sound surface of extraordinary precision and complexity ("anywhere from one to over a thousand layers may coexist in any one moment"). Listening through headphones - recommended unless you happen to have a state-of-the-art stereo system and a listening space large enough to enjoy the music at the necessary volume - reveals the extraordinary lengths to which the composers go to interleave, crossmix and develop their sound material. At times the source sounds seem easily identifiable, but once the layers of crackles, rustles and clanging pots and dishes have been superimposed and set back into the middle distance of the mix through masterly and subtle panning, they assume different, multiple identities. What could start out as a gentle tap on a piece of wood ends up as distant thunder - or is it gunfire?
The steady accumulation of sonic events inevitably recalls the stochastic pile-ups of Xenakis, who, you will recall, in his 1966 interview with Marc Blancpain (which accompanies the Fractal reissue of his "Persepolis" - not the shoddy job released by Asphodel last year), explained his interest in mass phenomena as a means to obtain "form, a completely new plastic sonority that no longer behaves according to polyphonic or tonal or serial rules, but rather a completely new concept that can be found in calculating probability, or in theories such as the Kinetic Theory of Gases which [..] plays an important role in astrophysics today." Many composers today pay lip-service to Xenakis while apparently understanding neither the sheer difficulty and complexity of his music nor the compositional strategy behind it (I'm thinking particularly of those who participated in the disappointingly shallow above-mentioned Asphodel Persepolis remix project), but works such as Nehil and Grzinich's "Pneuma" (on "Confluence") and "Arboreal" (on "Stria") are the authentic descendents of "Bohor" and "Concret PH".
"The Distant Edge" (on "Confluence") was sourced in recordings of a 1999 street demonstration in Belgrade, and superimposes recognisable sounds of mass protest - blaring car horns, chanted slogans and angry cries - to form a huge pulsing cloud of sound about an octave in range. If Xenakis comes to mind once more (and we should not forget that his experience of public uprising during the occupation of Greece during the war was a formative influence on his concept of mass sound), so at times does mid-period Ligeti (specifically a piece like "Clocks and Clouds") - the music appears to drift by slowly until you focus your attention in on the detail and find it to be teeming with activity like a beehive. Simply put, these two albums contain some of the most technically accomplished and awesomely beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard, as infinitely complex and infinitely simple as light. Any self-respecting new music enthusiast can't afford to pass them by.


>>back to top of April 2003 page



Fluvium
Martin Archer, Geraldine Monk, Julie Tippetts
FLUVIUM
Discus Discus14CD
www.discus-music.co.uk
by Nate Dorward
"Fluvium" is the second collaboration between Archer, poet Geraldine Monk and singer Julie Tippetts (following the electroacoustic song-cycle "Angel High Wires", also on Discus). It is not a "poetry-and-music" disc as much as a collaborative composition using as its materials music, speech and the singing voice, a carefully constructed sonic artefact - but architectonic metaphors are all wrong for a disc so fluid in texture, which pushes so gradually but inexorably into the condition of estrangement. The piece occupies a zone "wayafter aching midnight" (the phrase appears several times during the piece), pushing past the point where emotions and wounds are fixed and communicable, so that Monk's words and Archer's music give the impression of carrying an emotional charge that is no longer easily determinable and can't be put in words. As David Kennedy remarked to me, to venture "wayafter aching midnight" is to step beyond "a kind of threshold into a world that is at once terrible and beautiful. And sometimes the beauty and the terror are external and sometimes from inside the self."
The piece opens with deliquescent, will-o-the-wisp electronics; Monk's first spoken sequence is a set of "abandoned whisperings", the words virtually impossible to make out but having that peculiarly threatening quality that urgent whispers possess. This leads to a shimmering and undulating soundscape and a spoken passage which evokes fin-de-siècle spiritualism - a séance "Ina dark-dark". Violent, echoing knocking - "Rappa rappa. / rappa rappa" - suggests that the answer to the desperate question "Is there anybody there?" is yes, but the piece trails off just when a response seems about to be made. The searing metallic sound - like the infinitely stretched-out ring of a cymbal - that opens "Fusile" seals off this line of inquiry: we return to the abandoned whisperings, now spoken. The scene they evoke is chill and desolate - at once a moonscape and a decaying city. Tippetts enters over silvery melodica, her melismas a wordless lament as threatening or angry as it is sorrowful. The nocturnal landscape of the section (think of the entire piece as a gloss on the musical genre of the nocturne) is broken open by a violently inarticulate passage which brings both women's voices to the fore. The intrusion of "LIGHT" is a shock, a moment of illumination delivered in tones that begin in wonder and end in scorn and anger.
The next section, "Ghast", is bathed in the soothing computery wash one associates with the background noise on a spaceship, with Monk's text an oasis of calm, an alcohol-induced bubble of suspension where "time dripped unnoticed / ~and~then / ~and~then / it stopt." But the soothing wash and the words begin to disconnect, pried apart in violent slow motion and culminating nightmarishly as Monk reprises Macbeth's panicked cry at seeing Banquo's ghost: "Take any shape but THAT." By the mysterious logic of opposites that seems to be in operation, there is an epiphany at this moment in the piece, luxuriant and suspended, given rhapsodic voice by Archer's soprano saxophone while Monk's words take a more agonized path, repeatedly snowballing out and swallowing themselves without reaching their destination. Their image of spiritual release is at last articulated and then immediately cancelled with a stutter: "ghosts(g)hosts)of(o)the(de-ad)ded)return / (turn)to(t)torment(torm)the(e)already / (ready)tormented(ormented)".
The concluding "Metablethers" clears away the fluid nocturnal soundscapes and epiphanies of the preceding sections. Its fitful spasms of knocks and pings (their timbre suggesting both metal and wood) have a harsh and ugly clarity. As Monk puts it, we are in a zone of "The paranoid knock. Node. / Colourless noise. / Electro-bacterial dis / ease....". There's a wild, angry energy here in Monk and Tippetts' vocals, finding outlet through motion, dance, song and shout: "at breakneck / reel the roosh / it came / O / pen M / Outhed / Yip!" Monk's final words are a lullaby, but one delivered with such a mix of tenderness and scorn, menace and bitterness, that this is no pat resolution - no surprise then that the piece concludes with echoing danger-signals and electric-shock percussion. In the disc's coda, "Aftershocks" (a separate piece derived from "Fluvium"), Monk's words emerge in tiny unintelligible fragments like bubbles rising to the surface and popping; even more unnerving is the unearthly swarming of Tippetts' vocals, in a music that suggests dreams and nightmares: at once horrible and beautiful, fascinating and repellent.
 


>>back to top of April 2003 page



New on Cut
by Dan Warburton
Jason Lescalleet
MATTRESSLESSNESS
Cut CD cut008
After several notable collaborations (with John Hudak ("Figure 2", Intransitive), Ron Lessard (Due Process "Fin De La Voix", RRR) and especially with Greg Kelley on the magnificent "Forlorn Green" on Erstwhile), "Mattresslessness" is Jason Lescalleet's first full-length solo album, and the fact that each of its tracks is dedicated to "people that I thought might appreciate the work" - for the most part, fellow musicians - ought not to be misinterpreted. Lescalleet might namecheck kindred spirits such as Francisco Lopez, Taylor Deupree and Achim Wollscheid, but his own working methods are highly original. (That said, it's probably no coincidence that the noisiest piece on the disc, "Straight No Chaser" - presumably a reference to the undiluted punch of a slug of whisky rather than to the Thelonious Monk tune of the same name - is dedicated to Lessard..) "Most of the compositions began as works of [analog] tapeloops," comments Lescalleet when pushed for details on his compositional technique, "but I hope the CD blurs the difference between my two approaches [analog and digital]". Indeed it does - the crackles and fizzes from Lescalleet's collection of lo-fi equipment (defective Walkmen, trashed speakers..) are lovingly reworked with digital precision, but retains their distinctive analog warmth. "Ineinandergreifen - 08 Dezember 1912", with its eerie melodic fragments swirling over what sounds like the whoosh of an old wax cylinder until they're gradually enveloped in a cloud of dusty receding loops, is unlike anything you're likely to have heard, except perhaps (obliquely) Basinski's "Disintegration Loops". (Watch out for the ghost track, too.) Compared to the chilly, glassy perfection of Lopez or the pinprick lowercase intricacy of Deupree, Lescalleet's work has a tough, open-air feel to it, like shaving with cold steel in a mountain stream after a night in a tent.
Repeat
POOL
Cut CD cut009
Recorded in France in July 2001, "Pool" is the third album to appear featuring Cut boss Jason Kahn on percussion and electronics and Toshi Nakamura on his (by now rather well-known) no-input mixing board. On the first of the nine untitled tracks, Kahn - at least I suppose it's him, given his fondness in recent times for extreme high registers - sweeps gracefully through frequency bands that will have the family dog barking along (with enthusiasm?). The distinctive thing about pitches this high is not that they cause physical pain - though that depends, I imagine, on how loud you intend to play the disc - but that they are capable of inhabiting your listening space so completely that even the slightest movement of your head causes the whole resulting sound world to reconfigure itself with quite extraordinary results. Listening through headphones, while maybe more considerate with regard to the neighbours and any other small mammals in the vicinity, just will not do here. Nakamura, whose mixing board can produce anything from slightly irregular post-Industrial (cf. his second solo album for A Bruit Secret) to slurpy subverted leftfield techno (his recent "Vehicle"), was in static mood at the time - "Pool" was recorded barely a month after his slowburning Erstwhile masterpiece with Keith Rowe, "Weather Sky" - but the element of pulse is not entirely absent, thanks to Kahn's discreet percussion work (track 3). Most of the time, however, the music sits, glows and pulses warm and red as Kahn's cover art. No great surprises, but a whole host of exquisite tiny ones.


>>back to top of April 2003 page



Contemporary
Joachim Gies
RILKE ANTHOLOGY I
Leo CD LR 359
by Dan Warburton
It's often been noted that the "greatest" classical song cycles are those that studiously avoid setting the "greatest" poetry, so Joachim Gies is certainly setting himself a challenge in choosing to work with Rainer Maria Rilke (extracts from his "Neue Gedichte" and "Der Neuen Gedichten Anderer Teil" and "Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge"). Fortunately, in choosing mezzo-soprano Ute Döring, the Berlin-based saxophonist couldn't have found a more accomplished singer to interpret his delicate scores. With writing as dense as Rilke's, it is essential that his texts be printed in the original German in the booklet (they are), preferably alongside their translations (they aren't). Translating Rilke is quite a job itself - read Robert Bly's astute observations on the subject in his "Selected Poems of Rilke" (Harper & Row, 1979) - finding a musical context which allows breathing space for both the texts' internal rhythm and their semantic complexity is another matter altogether. Curiously - paradoxically, even - the richer sound palette of the "Malte Laurids Brigge" six-movement suite works better in this respect (Gies and Döring are here supported by the sampling skills of Michael Walz) than the five poems set in "Reflections". Perhaps it's a question of the density of prose as opposed to the (apparent) simplicity of poetry, but both Rilke's multi-levelled text and Gies' arsenal of extended techniques seem to resonate more sympathetically in Walz's electronics. Improvisation / free jazz this most definitely is not, and its being released on Leo may unfortunately mean it will be unfairly dismissed by "jazz" journalists rather than appreciated by a wider contemporary music public, but wherever it ends up, it is most worthy of your attention.
Pierluigi Billone
MANI. LONG
Durian 019-2
by Dan Warburton
Since Vienna's Durian label abandoned the jewel box a couple of years ago in favour of a circular translucent soft plastic case, what little information the label chooses to circulate about its releases is now only available on the label's website. "Mani.Long", by Pierluigi Billone (who was born in 1960 and studied with, amongst others, Helmut Lachenmann), is a 45 minute piece for 18 piece ensemble (Durian's Uli Fussenegger plays bass with the Klangforum Wien), which, like his earlier "Mani.Giacometti", references sculpture - in this case that of Bristol's Richard Long, whose work often consists of arranging whatever he finds on long, lonely walks into simple linear forms. Long's observations on his work are worth quoting: "Walking itself has a cultural history, from Pilgrims to the wandering Japanese poets, the English Romantics and contemporary long-distance walkers. [..] My first work made by walking, in 1967, was a straight line in a grass field, which was also my own path, going 'nowhere'. Walking also enabled me to extend the boundaries of sculpture, which now had the potential to be de-constructed in the space and time of walking long distances. Sculpture could now be about place as well as material and form. [..] Over the years these sculptures have explored some of the variables of transience, permanence, visibility or recognition. A sculpture may be moved, dispersed, carried. Stones can be used as markers of time or distance, or exist as parts of a huge, yet anonymous, sculpture. On a mountain walk a sculpture could be made above the clouds, perhaps in a remote region, bringing an imaginative freedom about how, or where, art can be made in the world."
That idea of pilgrimage Long refers to is a metaphor of central importance - as much Land Art is to be found in inaccessible regions of the world, the only way to experience such work firsthand is to undertake a physical journey of some not inconsiderable difficulty. Similarly, much contemporary music requires a concentrated effort on the part of the listener, a willingness to meet the composer halfway, a readiness to travel, as it were. The first impression one has of Billone's work is that it is as austere and hard to track down as some of the mountainous regions where Long has chosen to create his art (Billone's website shows a photograph of Long's 1981 "A Line In Bolivia") - percussion instruments rattle menacingly, the pianist roots around inside the instrument, and saxophonist Gerald Preinfalk teases out gritty multiphonics worthy of John Butcher (also a Durian house artist as a member of Werner Dafeldecker's Polwechsel). Subsequent listenings, however, reveal a plethora of tiny details and nuances, which, like Long's stones, serve as both temporal and structural indicators. The music is predominantly quiet (though unremittingly tense - the live recording is unfortunately marred by a few audience coughs and splutters), and its heartbeat remains slow until things suddenly go ballistic with barely four minutes to go. This extraordinary explosion redefines all that has gone before, and inevitably conditions all one's future listenings to the work, like that famous fortissimo drum roll in Morton Feldman's "For Frank O'Hara". "Mani.Long" is a challenging landscape for performers and listeners alike, but it's well worth the journey there, and you will want to go back.
György Ligeti
ETUDES BOOKS I AND II
Idil Biret, piano
Naxos 8555777
by Sean Hickey
Solo piano music was prominent in György Ligeti's oeuvre before his escape to the West in 1956, and his subsequent association with the European avant-garde. Nearly thirty years later, after an intense stylistic re-evaluation, the Hungarian graced us with these forceful and virtuoso etudes which taken as a whole (a third book is still in the compositional stage) form some of the most significant piano music of the last quarter century. Their methodically-notated accents and dry, repeated notes make it easy to trace a musical lineage back to Bartok, but the subtly shaded Fifth etude evokes Debussy, the Eleventh recalls the mystical perfumed sound world of Scriabin, and the staccato Tenth seems to share some elements with American minimalism. The composer's fascination with shifting meters and displaced accents is to the fore, each piece creating its own dense, polyrhythmic web, often with thrilling results (check out the end of the Sixth, which seems to run out of low-end keyboard to complete its rhythmic transformation). Turkish-born pianist Idil Biret (who studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Alfred Cortot) performs this vigorous, muscular music with the attention to detail and great dynamic precision typical of her numerous recordings of more mainstream repertoire (Brahms and Chopin) for Naxos over the years, and it's a real bargain at Naxos' budget price.

>>back to top of April 2003 page



In Brief
by Dan Warburton
Etienne Brunet
WHITE LIGHT
Al Dante
aldante@club-internet.fr
Etienne Brunet has, thankfully, always been hard to pigeonhole, and those coming to "White Light" in search of his blistering improvised saxophone work might be disappointed to find such an extraordinary melting pot of sounds instead. Part audio documentary, part travelogue, the album regroups seven pieces programmed, mixed and conceived by Brunet featuring texts by Claude Closky (itself a "détournement" of Rimbaud), Julien Blaine (fifteen chapters of his book "Du Sorcier de V. au magicien de M." superimposed to become practically incomprehensible), extracts from a gallery installation at the Jeu de Paume museum and a "techno retro" homage to Steve Lacy (with Brunet and drummer Eric Borelva jamming along with a recording of Lacy). Musical material is also sourced from Thelonious Monk, old Romanian folk music (Brunet has an impressive collection) and a live concert given by the Parisian homeless on the steps of Notre Dame in the summer of 2000. Without a good working knowledge of French - not to mention a smattering of German - you're likely to be at a loss to understand what's going on, but the album as a whole is impressive testimony to the diversity and richness of Brunet's world.
Wally Shoup Trio
FUSILLADES & LAMENTATIONS
Leo CD LR 364
Complete with fine liner notes by e-friend and esteemed colleague Byron Coley, "Fusillades & Lamentations" marks the long overdue Leo debut of alto saxophonist Wally Shoup (watch out for the forthcoming "Live At Tonic" album with Paul Flaherty, Chris Corsano and Thurston Moore too). Though highly active in his adopted town of Seattle, Shoup's work on disc has so far been hard to find, though his duo with Jeph Jerman "Rescue Mission" and the "Project W" trio album with Brent Arnold and Ed Pias are both well worth seeking out. Accompanied here by the big, round sound of bassist Reuben Radding and the extraordinarily versatile drumming of Bob Rees, Shoup is on fine form throughout, mixing state-of-the-art extended techniques worthy of John Butcher ("CorkSkrewed") with affectionate tugs on his Southern roots ("Laying Low"), the result being one of the freshest and most satisfying releases of the year so far. Shame he doesn't look all that happy on the accompanying photograph - if I'd released an album as fine as this, I'd be smiling from ear to ear. Check it out.
Tony Buck
SELF_CONTAINED_UNDERWATER_BREATHING_APPARATUS
TES TESCD0102
Recorded in Berlin in 2001, this latest solo release from drummer Tony Buck (who has been increasingly active on the European scene recently, all the while stockpiling impressive press for his work with fellow Australians The Necks) is a forty minute tour de force, the second instalment of a series of works Buck refers to as "time_emotion_studies" (hence TES), and one wonders if the allusion to Brian Ferneyhough's "Time and Motion Studies" is coincidental or not - the clattering accumulation of sonic details coming from Buck's "little instruments" recalls Ferneyhough's solo percussion piece "Bone Alphabet" on a number of occasions. Listening to it in its entirety is almost as exhausting for the listener as it must have been for Buck, though on second thoughts I'm inclined to suspect that he's adapted his kit into a veritable Heath Robinson-style contraption complete with thumb pianos, tea kettles, assorted nuts and bolts, pinecones, knitting needles, rusty bedsprings, metal ashtrays, defective cellular phones, balloons, whoopee cushions, empty cereal packets, polythene bags filled with lentils, elastic bands, jawbones, Catherine wheels, toy revolvers, pebbles, broken umbrellas, wooden hat stands, deckchairs, pottery fragments, pencils, bicycle wheels, disposable cameras, Tibetan prayer bowls, screwed-up balls of paper, dot printers, typewriters, squeaky door handles, bakelite lamp stands, and amplified toenail clippings. If the incessant bustle and rustle of Buck's playing references anyone else's drumming - and I'm not sure it does - it might be Chris Cutler's (no surprise then that Cutler's ReR is handling the distribution of this one), though maybe I'm only saying that because I have fond memories of Buck at the Jazz à Mulhouse Festival three years back tipping a bloody great bagful of stones and miscellaneous items of junk over his kit to wrap up a dense set with Cutler, Jean-François Pauvros, Jean-Marc Montera. Whatever he's doing here, it sounds extraordinary. Check it out.

>>back to top of April 2003 page


Copyright 2003 by Paris Transatlantic