May News 2003 Reviews by Dan Warburton, Nate Dorward & James Baiye:



H\ybrid S\ound S\ystem
Hafler Trio / Jason Lescalleet
Guus Janssen
Donna Summer
Roscoe Mitchell
David First
Mark Whitecage
John Luther Adams
Andy Moor / Thomas Lehn / John Butcher
Tod Dockstader / James Reichert
In Brief: Grubbs & Gustafsson / Supersilent / Keith Rowe / Chris Cutler / Guberman & Ehlis / Natto Quartet /
Last Month


H\ybrid S\ound S\ystem
WINTER WAS HARD TOO…
Tourette TICK5 (2CD)
by Dan Warburton
H\ybrid S\ound S\ystem is a spin-off of Berlin's Zeitkratzer collective featuring Reinhold Friedl on piano, Ulrich Krieger on saxophones and Burkhard Schlothauer on violin. All three compose, too, and their work is featured on the first CD of this set along with Manuel Cecchinato's "Four Constellations Before A Dawn" and Cage's "Two", for saxophone and piano. The second CD brings together nine remixes of the material by Carsten Nicolai, Lee Ranaldo, Rene Liebermann, Boris Hegenbart, Craig Willingham, Masami Akita (aka Merzbow), Marcus Schmickler and Dean Roberts, who contributes two pieces. The title, which is also the name of Friedl's piece, is a reference to the Kronos Quartet's bestseller "Winter Was Hard", a timely reminder that Zeitkratzer have followed Kronos' lead in smashing down the fences between contemporary classical and popular music by commissioning figures from the world of rock and leftfield electronica to produce or arrange work for them. While Zeitkratzer's most prominent crossover coup of recent times was their arrangement of Lou Reed's legendary "Metal Machine Music", it's worth bearing in mind that their roots also lie in the extremely quiet, slow moving lowercase style that has been associated with Berlin now for quite some time (and against which several musicians are now feeling the need to push). Schlothauer is also active in the Wandelweiser Group, with Antoine Beuger, Jürg Frey and Radu Malfatti, and his "Something Lost… Töne" for sax, piano and slowed-down sounds is in keeping with the radical Wandelweiser aesthetic in which silence plays an important structural role. Krieger's "Fallen From Grace" starts with a bang and incorporates some gritty multiphonics, scratchy violin sonorities and thudding inside piano work, but keeps the slow heartbeat, despite some spiky rhythmic interjections. Cage's austere "Two" sounds almost baroque in comparison, after which the extended techniques employed in Friedl's composition come across as opulent, impressionistic even. George Crumb comes to mind on several occasions listening to this and Cecchinato's piece, whose extraordinary sonorities seem due in no small part to studio treatment, reverb and spatialisation (though the booklet lists no electronics as such).
And so to the remixes. Though the musicians are undoubtedly sincere in their wish to break down barriers and open the world of modern composition up to a generation of punters reared on techno and rock, it's probably fair to say that more copies of this album will be sold to rabid Akita and Sonic Youth completists than in the discerning niche market of contemporary classical music. Thankfully though, there's not the slightest whiff of sell-out - though quite what John Duncan's recollections of Tokyo porn actress Toki Ruriko have to do with the project is frankly beyond me - all the contributions are clearly sourced in the compositional material and respect its leisurely pace and serious character. Nicolai's "Alva Noto.z1" imposes a somewhat ominous three-note bass line and a haze of bleeps and clicks onto isolated piano chords to create a rather forlorn landscape. Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo's mix starts off using the same loop, but abandons Nicolai's regular pulse in favour of a cloud of violin tremolos and thuds from inside Friedl's piano. The stock-in-trade touches of ProTools are in evidence, but used discreetly and sensitively, the piece ending in a spine-tingling upper register crescendo. Liebermann's "..\." is busier, superimposing dozens of tiny clicking loops over a background of rumbling piano resonance to create a veritable rainforest of activity, while scrupulously respecting the character of the original pieces. Hegenbart's "re:remerge" is similarly austere, recalling his fine collaboration a while back with Werner Dafeldecker on Grob. Dafeldecker (shame he wasn't invited to take part in this project) also turned out a magnificently morose album with Dean Roberts ("Aluminium" on Erstwhile) in 2000, and Roberts contributes two fine pieces to this collection that move further away from the instrumental source sounds to create a web of tingling pulses and sustained bell-like tones. Sandwiched in between them is I-Sound (aka Craig Willingham)'s ".{.." (dontcha just love these titles? I haven't had as much fun with my computer keyboard since fällt's invalidObject series a couple of years ago), which cooks up a gurgling broth of rasps and buzzes into which handfuls of Cage chords are tossed like spices. Similarly, Masami Akita goes straight for the gut by sampling and looping one of Krieger's dirtiest multiphonics. As Merzbow pieces go, this must be one of the prettiest he's done in recent times, but it can't resist an odd blast of viciousness about halfway through. Unlike all the other remixes, it strays just a bit too far from the feel of the original source material for my liking, though as Akita's presence will probably guarantee a good few hundred sales off the bat, one imagines that the project instigators didn't mind too much. Fortunately, the album goes out on a high note with Marcus Schmickler's "friedl.krieger.extension", further dazzling proof that Schmickler is one of the brightest laptoppers out there with a pair of ears to match his software. A satisfying way to round off an intelligent, well realised and highly recommended piece of work.


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Hafler Trio / Jason Lescalleet
The Hafler Trio
THE MOMENT WHEN WE BLOW THE FLOUR FROM OUR TONGUES
Crouton Music Crou16 10"EP
Jason Lescalleet
DUE PROCESS COMBINES XIX XX
We Break More Records 003 LP
by Dan Warburton
The explosion of activity in electronic music in recent years has, as we all know, led to the arrival of a string of new labels on the scene - Mego, Raster Noton, Mille Plateaux, Touch, 12k, Intransitive, Edition, Ground Fault, Bremsstrahlung, Tigerbeat6, the list goes on..- all of whom are producing serious work of the highest quality: almost exclusively on CD. Somehow, the mythology of the digital world of laptops, MiniDiscs, glitches, fizzes and pops is supposed to "suit" CD format better, though exactly why is somewhat unclear. It's especially gratifying then to come across two superb releases of new and challenging electronic music released on vinyl only.
For several years now, Milwaukee's Jon Mueller has been curating his Crouton Music label with painstaking attention to detail and originality when it comes to packaging. Discs have appeared in wooden boxes, cardboard sleeves and in various odd sizes, accompanied by exquisite photographs and texts (many by Mueller himself). The Hafler Trio's "The Moment When We Blow The Flour From Our Tongues" comes as a 10" EP on transparent vinyl, with track titles printed forwards and backwards, and an accompanying booklet featuring elegant photography and elusively poetic textual fragments that may or may not have something to do with the music. The Hafler Trio has always been an intriguing proposition - for a start, it's not a trio (these days it's Andrew McKenzie alone, working out of Reykjavik) - despite several notable releases on hip imprints, h3o have remained relatively hidden in the undergrowth of the underground, McKenzie crafting his extraordinary and inscrutable soundscapes with apparent disregard for the Wire-driven vagaries of the alt.electronica marketplace. The two pieces here are no exception: discreet and beautifully crafted soundscapes of glacial beauty, they weave their way into your consciousness as gently and insistently as a small child pulling at your sleeve. Interested readers might also wish to read a fine interview with McKenzie at www.croutonmusic.com.
Jason Lescalleet, who recently moved away up the coast from the hotbed of activity in Boston to the seclusion of Maine, continues to prove that he's one of the most original practitioners of electronic music with two extended pieces, "Combine XIX" and "XX" on the fabulously named We Break More imprint. The last Due Process offering that came my way ("Fin De La Voix", on Ron Lessard's RRRecords a couple of years back) went as far as "Combine XXIV", and it seems that Lescalleet (alone, presumably, since Lessard isn't credited as participating on this release, though DP has until now been more or less his baby) is continuing the work. Lescalleet's working methods are various and not always easy to figure out - not that it's important to know how his extraordinary sounds are arrived at - using a combination of tapeloops and trashed hi-fi as well as digital post-production, he arrives at a musical result which renders the analog vs. digital debate pretty meaningless. Both pieces are somewhat grittier than the music on Lescalleet's recent "Mattresslessness" release on Cut (see last month), but nonetheless require active and attentive listening to reveal their many wonders. Fragments of thrashing rock, biblical readings (in French) and field recordings are woven together with the artistry and attention to detail of Belgian lacework, and the end product is just as durable.


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Guus Janssen
Sound-Lee! (Guus Janssen, Jorrit Dijkstra, Raoul van der Weide, Wim Janssen)
PLAYS THE MUSIC OF LEE KONITZ
Geestgronden GG 021
www.geestgronden.com
by Nate Dorward
Dutch pianist Guus Janssen, who has an affectionate but subversive approach to the jazz piano canon (Wilson, Tatum, Tristano and Monk are obvious reference-points), hasn't recorded all that frequently in recent years as an improvising pianist - he's also active as a "straight" composer - so it's a pleasure to receive this latest bulletin from him in his improviser's guise. "Plays the Music of Lee Konitz" is a live recording from Amsterdam's BIMhuis in 2001 in which Janssen's quartet mulls over half a dozen 1950s Konitz tunes, plus alto saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra's "Near-Lee" (based on "One-Note Samba"); some of the readings stretch to as much as twelve or thirteen minutes. Lennie Tristano's aesthetic is given an intriguingly skewed revisiting: whereas his single-note lines took a winding, snake-charmer's course across the keyboard and his block chords fell across the keyboard like landslides, Janssen's approach recalls Monk and Mengelberg in its obstinate refusal to let go of a clutch of notes until he's dealt with it to his own satisfaction. There's little trace of up-and-down runs in Janssen's playing, which favours instead stride-piano styles that set the two hands talking back at each other; as a result there's a playful, bouncing-ball quality to his work. These mannerisms are sometimes pushed to the point of self-indulgence, and in a few spots Janssen's two-handed toying with rhythmic displacements risks losing the thread entirely (notably a confused passage on the saxophonist's re-entry in the middle of "Ablution" that might well have been edited out) - but I'd rather hear music whose risks don't always pay off than music that doesn't take any in the first place. Dijkstra's nonchalant phrasing and tone recalls Michael Moore as much as Konitz himself, but it's Eric Dolphy who most often comes to mind here - especially his fondness for placing an absurdly sour note at the terminal point of a phrase. Indeed, one might argue that this disc inherits the legacy of Dolphy's "Last Date" (on which, lest we forget, Dolphy was partnered by Dutchmen) as much as it does the Cool School. Questions of musicial genealogy aside, it's a welcome addition to the catalogues of Janssen and Dijkstra, who demonstrate with flair that Konitz's work as a composer is in need of reassessment and exploration.


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Donna Summer
THIS NEEDS TO BE YOUR STYLE
Irritant 30
by Dan Warburton
Many years ago, when the real Donna Summer made some dumb remark about AIDS being the wrath of God, large bins were placed outside record shops in San Francisco's Castro district for local patrons to throw their DS albums into in disgust. Whether Mr Jason Forrest is now trying to woo the gay community back by adopting the disco diva moniker is open to question, but the sweaty partygoers who adorn the cover of "This Needs To Be Your Style" were probably all in short pants when it happened many moons ago. Even so, the omnipresent snarl of radio, TV and muzak ensures that, whatever these fading 70s and 80s pop icons might be doing now, their old shit is being eternally recycled and ingested by a generation of kids who, although they might sincerely love it, have no qualms about subjecting it to whatever butchery today's music software can perform. Supertramp, Hall & Oates, The Go-Gos, The Cure and Earth Wind and Fire are thrown into Forrest's food processor, chopped up into bite-size pieces, sucked up and spat out across the dance floor. He happily acknowledges a debt to plunderphonics founding father John Oswald, but stops short of giving the finger outright to corporate Amerika (and Empress Donna's armada of lawyers who are, one imagines, sailing forth as I write to take on the plucky young Nelson on the high seas of the law courts): "All of a sudden I'm getting paranoid that more than 1000 people might buy the record," he confided recently to The Wire's Philip Sherburne. Well, sorry, Jason, but my recommendation to readers is go out and buy this as soon as you can. At a time when many practitioners of post-techno electronica seem to be disappearing into their own software with a belch of half-digested Deleuze and a gleam of high-pitch glitch that's about as sexy as a box of fridge magnets, this much-needed blast of attitude is more than welcome. Damn right this needs to be your style.


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Roscoe Mitchell
Roscoe Mitchell and the Sound Ensemble
SNURDY MCGURDY AND HER DANCIN' SHOES
Nessa NCD-20
by Nate Dorward
This 1980 date marked the debut of Roscoe Mitchell's Sound Ensemble (one of his two regular non-AEOC groups of the time, the other being the Space Ensemble), which found him with a quartet of younger players: trumpeter Hugh Ragin, guitarist A. Spencer Barefield, bassist Jaribu Shahid and drummer Tani Tabbal. Mitchell continued to reconvene the group throughout the 1980s, recording a number of discs for Black Saint, but this vibrant debut recording for Nessa has long had a favoured status among Mitchell enthusiasts. The disc opens memorably with "Sing/Song": the rainfall delicacy of its beginning yields to clubbing frenzy and then - at (literally) the last minute - to a peal of song almost shocking in its freshness and joy. The piece is somehow at once both a fun ride and a cleansing experience. "CYG" and "Round" are characteristic but very different pointillist studies, existing in a state of calm suspension, the musical fabric stitched together with reprises of material which reveal themselves only very gradually: the most obvious instance on "CYG" is the soft but disquietingly prolonged held note at the beginning, midpoint and end of the piece, while "Round" explores its material through a series of unhurried displacements and mirrorings, closing at last with a musical round which fades away like a retreating Oriental procession. "Stomp and the Far East Blues" is an enigmatic dovetailing of sardonic funk and serene exoticism (Barefield's guitar splits the difference between sitar and oud) and the title track is a snappy, off-balance dance that closes the album on a high. Even better, though, is the reading of Braxton's march "Composition 40Q," announced by a cheerfully vulgar football whistle. From this point the listener is relentlessly frog-marched into stranger and stranger surroundings, an experience both disorienting and intensely pleasurable.


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David First
DAVE'S WAVES
Ants ant09cdr
by Dan Warburton
Let me start by dedicating this review to the spineless individual who wrote in to the site to complain about my use of culinary metaphors and provided a false email address so I couldn't even send him a recipe in return. As my wife is fond of reminding me, the only things that matter in life seem to be music and food (plus a few other things we won't go into), and I'd like to think David First would agree: "Dave's Waves", subtitled "A Sonic Restaurant", was originally an installation of the same name in Lier in Belgium, another country where food matters, where listeners (diners?) could seat themselves at a table, don a set of headphones, peruse the menu and select the track of their choice from a CD player in front of them. This takeaway version consists of four "entrées", "Cross-eyed Luck", "Closet Earth", "Queen Siesta" and "Harebrainer", each lasting 19'33", and for those unfamiliar with First's cuisine, it's all about drones.
Drones have been around for quite some time in occidental art music (and for thousands of years in other cultures), more precisely since post-War contemporary composition drove headlong into a perceptual cul de sac by coming up with theory-heavy compositional systems that seemed to have little to do with their sounding result. Those connoisseurs who treasure their battered copies of La Monte Young's "Drift Study" and go to extraordinary lengths to acquire the music that grew out of Young's early 60s Dream Syndicate group (with John Cale, Angus Maclise and the somewhat over hyped Tony Conrad) are strongly encourage to book a table at Dave's Waves right away, since First, whose career has involved collaborations with musicians as diverse as Cecil Taylor and Richard Lloyd, is quite simply a master chef when it comes to cooking up harmonics. "Cross-eyed Luck" is a set of frequencies that glissando gently through the brain's alpha wave range and out into the listening space. On headphones it's deeply relaxing, but blasted out into your apartment it's a thriller. "Closet Earth", it says here, fixes its harmonics at the fundamental resonant frequency of the Earth's electromagnetic field, the so-called Schumann Resonance, but the music is far from static - a gently manipulated sawtooth wave sweeps in and out of view. First's menu is keen to stress the music's therapeutic qualities: writing of "Queen Siesta", whose frequencies move through the delta wave range, he reminds us that this latter is "the brain wave signal of the subconscious, the seat from which intuition arises," adding: "this one is for the connoisseur - those who make it all the way through will be amply rewarded." That might sound like your mum telling you to eat up your greens, but it's nowhere near as traumatic an experience as it sounds. The closing "Harebrainer" though is a real rollercoaster ride, with First including phase shifted filtered white noise to set up nothing less than a monstrous groove. Guaranteed to get your head spinning, indeed. Bon appetit!


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Mark Whitecage
Mark Whitecage / Dominic Duval / Jay Rosen
THE PAPER TRAIL
Acoustics Ele 413
Mark Whitecage / Dominic Duval / Jay Rosen
NO RESPECT
Acoustics Ele 414
Mark Whitecage & his Virtual Combo
DUCKS ON ACID
Acoustics Ele 415
by Dan Warburton
Why Mark Whitecage isn't filling thousand seater auditoriums throughout Europe is a total mystery to me; the man is an absolute master of the alto saxophone and clarinet (not to mention a dab hand at electronics), and of the finest and most original jazz composers in the world, and has been for years. While festival promoters pull their socks up and start giving him the exposure he so richly deserves, the rest of us can gobble up all the available copies of these three fine limited edition releases on the Acoustics label.
"The Paper Trail", recorded in New York way back in 1995 in a somewhat dry acoustic, finds Whitecage at the peak of his form, spinning out threads of melody as delicate as flowers but as strong as sinew. Tracks like "Cheese" swing deliciously, proof, if any were needed, that free jazz can be light and elegant as well as forceful and tempestuous. Duval is on fine form, and Rosen's drumming is assured and sensitive throughout, but has yet to attain the maturity evident on more recent outings such as "No Respect", recorded live in Graz, Austria, in 2001 (the applause is rather brutally cut at the end of the tracks). "Bushwhacked" lopes along as slinkily as a panther, Whitecage dangling lazily off the beat like a liana. On "Just Us" he channels his sound through a delay unit, his clarinet emerging from an impressionistic haze. (The technique wears less well on "No Respect", but Whitecage has the sense to switch the machine off after three minutes.) Duval's bass sound is outstanding on "Court Street", where he punches out funky bass riffs like Eddie Gomez while Rosen shuffles along elegantly in the background. The trio's reading of "Round 'Midnight" closes the set, and joins the pantheon of great cover versions of the song.
"Ducks on Acid", recorded last year in New Jersey, features Whitecage's "gizmos" (pitch processors, loop stations and delay units), which he uses to layer his horns into a one-man orchestra. "You can imagine things can get pretty complicated in a hurry," he writes, in a style as forthright and accessible as his playing, and they do. It's odd but arresting stuff; "Pong" sounds like a Pauline Oliveros outtake circa 1965, while I'd be curious to learn what Mr Rollins would make of the two readings of "Oleo". The additional treatments work best when Whitecage uses them horizontally, i.e. to create contrapuntal interplay ("See No Evil" and "Let's Make Believe" are especially impressive), rather than vertically - the harmoniser-thickened texture on "Synare Samba" and Whitecage's weird vocals on the aptly titled "DD's Acid Trip" become somewhat claustrophobic after a while, maybe deliberately so. If pushed to recommend just one of these three releases, I'd opt for "No Respect", but if you're genuinely interested in getting familiar with Whitecage's phenomenal talent, you should get them all.
www.ejn.it/mus/whitecage.htm Contact rozmark@bellatlantic.net


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John Luther Adams
IN THE WHITE SILENCE
New World 80600-2
by Dan Warburton
First things first: the "Luther" is there to make sure you don't get this Adams confused with the other one - remember "Nixon in China"? - though you could be forgiven for doing so, since both men write post-minimalist tonal (or rather diatonic) music. John Luther Adams has lived in Alaska for the past quarter of a century, and is at pains to let you know it: "I've come to measure everything I do [..] against the overwhelming presence of this place.. [which] has profoundly influenced the atmosphere and the scale of my work." As such, the seventy-five minutes of "In The White Silence" are more representative of his aesthetic than other shorter pieces that have appeared elsewhere, notably on the Cold Blue label last year. Like Arvo Pärt and John Tavener, Adams has a knack for creating soundscapes whose unashamedly beautiful surface cunningly disguises the rigorous contrapuntal devices that lie beneath; the fact that the entire composition remains in the same basic white note mode tends to mask the subtle polyrhythmic relationships between its various strata, and the uniformly slow tempo serves to obscure (though in a work as self-consciously "white" as this, obscure is certainly not the right word) the larger form, cogently analysed by Sabine Feisst in her accompanying liner notes. "Silence is not the absence of sound. It is the presence of stillness," writes Adams, but despite the fact that there is plenty of stasis - especially harmonic - in the piece, there is in point of fact no silence at all. In the sense that Adams openly aspires "to music that is both rigorous in thought and sensuous in sound," the piece, sensitively performed by Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble and beautifully recorded, is a success, though to a certain extent I feel uncomfortable listening to it in the middle of a bustling city; Steve Reich's "Desert Music" only made sense when I listened to it while crossing Nevada, and Adams' music seems to be as site-specific as James Turrell's light works and Richard Long's land art. Listened to in the right frame of mind, it works its charms, but if you approach it with the slightest hint of an ironic smile, you'll probably end up being disappointed, if not lulled to sleep. And that's perhaps what differentiates John Luther Adams' music the most from that of his namesake down the coast - its total absence of irony.


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Moor Lehn Butcher
THERMAL
Unsounds 04
by Dan Warburton
Saxophonist John Butcher is often frustratingly associated with the so-called micro-improv end of the spectrum, but there's nothing he likes nor does better than getting caught up in a bout of hard blowing; he's just as adept at screeching upper registers as he is at squeezing out delicate multiphonics, and this outing on guitarist Andy Moor's label Unsounds gives him plenty of opportunity to do both. Moor, who started out in Dog Faced Hermans before joining Dutch punk group The Ex nine years ago and relocating to Amsterdam, reveals himself as an improv guitarist to watch; his background in rock means he has no qualms about laying down the odd motoric riff ("Once Gravity Strikes For Real"), coming at the instrument from a different angle from the "usual" post-jazz techniques of Messrs Bailey, Russell et al. Thomas Lehn is in his element, conjuring forth a veritable electrical storm of blurts, zaps and fizzes from his analogue synthesizer, and giving it a good pounding to boot (dig the spring reverb), but "Thermal" is no mere brutal slugfest - far from it - behind the grit and the sweat there's a cunning sense of complicity and cogent sense of structure. A trio of tiny tracks ("Miss Universal Happiness", "Weak Alarm" and "Tongue") reveal that the trio is perfectly able to handle small forms too. Only complaint: the cover photo, which I imagine is supposed to represent a cloud, or a puff of smoke (but in fact somewhat resembles a map of France) - surely not the appropriate image for music as strong and sinewy as this.


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Tod Dockstader / James Reichert
OMNIPHONY 1
ReR TODD1
by Dan Warburton
Created between 1963 and 1967, "Omniphony 1" was a groundbreaking collaborative work between composers James Reichert and Tod Dockstader. Dockstader provided Reichert with a set of "cells" (recordings of natural as well as electronically generated sounds) to be transcribed and extended in an instrumental composition for 12-piece ensemble, which was subsequently recorded (in 1966) before being sent back to Dockstader for further transformation using Moog processing equipment. The resulting 45 minute five-movement work is accompanied on this release by Dockstader's earliest work, 1961's "Study No 7" and one of his most recent, "Past Prelude", from 1990.
Compared to previous milestones in mixed instrumental / electronic music by Varèse and Stockhausen, Reichert's cellular writing, which owes more to Bartók, Stravinsky and Hindemith than it does to the Darmstadt avant-garde, sounds somewhat dated, as do Dockstader's manipulations (that treacly Moogy sound is now identified clearly with its epoch as much as the mellotron is with early 70s prog), but the reappearance of this music is cause for celebration (especially for those of us who have been trying to find original Dockstader vinyls for some time). Both Dockstader and Reichert studiously avoided being sucked into the wearying tenure track of academia (Reichert ended up working for CBS on TV themes), and their music, despite the rather boxy sound of the instruments, still retains a directness that faculty snobs would no doubt dismiss as glib and superficial, but which draws listeners into the music rather than alienating them. (From a compositional (i.e. music theory) standpoint, Babbitt's "Philomel" - roughly contemporary - is probably light years ahead, but "Omniphony" is a darn sight more fun to listen to.) Just as Dockstader avoided the serialist polemics of the Europeans, his own take on musique concrète - he's always preferred the term Organized Sound - is refreshingly free of the somewhat inhibiting Schaefferian solfège dogma, freely incorporating snippets of military bands and Third Reich broadcasts, documentary style (Luc Ferrari's seminal "Music Promenade" also comes to mind). No wonder trendy rockers like Jackie O Motherfucker's Tom Greenwood like to slap Dockstader lps on the turntable.


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Improvisation In Brief
David Grubbs / Mats Gustafsson
OFF-ROAD
Blue Chopsticks BC11
by Dan Warburton
The last time Dave Grubbs and Mats Gustafsson got together, on 1999's "Apertura", the Swedish saxophone virtuoso found himself sitting on one note throughout (an extraordinary display of circular breathing, but hardly what Mats fans normally pay money to hear) while Grubbs droned merrily away on the harmonium. This time round, as if to make up for it, "Rendezvous Up North" starts off with an extraordinary display of the kind of yelping and splattering that Gustafsson does better than anyone else. Grubbs' harmonium is also in evidence, but his instrumental palette is more varied here, including (of course) guitar, laptop, and, apparently, a glass-topped table being dragged back and forth across a concrete floor (whooa, those after-concert parties in Sweden must be really something). Add to this fragments of Bach cantatas and what sounds like a cat in heat, and you end up with one of the oddest (and most enjoyable) outings of the year so far, refreshingly so, given improvised music's tendency to take itself far too seriously.
Supersilent
6
Rune Grammofon RCD 2029
by James Baiye
The four members of the Norwegian group Supersilent, the press release proudly informs us, as if it's something to be proud of, "never rehearse as a group and don't discuss music with each other." Perhaps if they did, they'd come up with something more interesting than this. It seems these days that everything coming out of Norway is ultra-hip (The Wire magazine being in a large part responsible for the trend), and referencing "in" bands like Godspeed You Bloody Exclamation Mark (who will, I'm prepared to risk a bet, have disappeared off the map in a couple of years.. anyone out there remember Labradford?) will surely sell them a packet of albums, but these dull semi-tonal improvised ramblings should have stayed in the hard drive. It's easy to see what music these chaps enjoy listening to: early 70s Miles and Herbie, and of course Soft Machine (whose generic numbering - rather than naming - of albums they've chosen to adopt), but especially the early ECM outings of fellow countryman Terje Rypdal. Not surprisingly then do we learn that the Rune Grammofon catalogue is distributed and marketed by ECM (which used to stand for "European Contemporary Music", though "Exquisitely Crafted Monotony" might be more appropriate these days). Raising a glass to Rune Grammofon's healthy balance sheet, I've just listened again to Rypdal's 1985 ECM outing "Chaser", and it's a lot more fun than Supersilent, I can tell you.
Keith Rowe / Oren Ambarchi / Sachiko M / Otomo Yoshihide / Robbie Avenaim
THUMB
Grob 432
by Dan Warburton
Recorded live at the Instants Chavirés outside Paris in 2001 (in front of an audience that was either very small or extremely attentive, probably both), this one's for completists only. Clocking in at 30'07" (which would have been fine for a full length album about forty years ago but these days qualifies as an EP), it's a slow-moving affair, very prettily executed, but hardly a groundbreaking addition to the already extensive discographies of the musicians involved. Sachiko M provides her customary sinewave drones, and the gentle whirring of Rowe's battery-powered fans is easy to make out, but it's hard to imagine what Avenaim and Otomo are up to. Couldn't they have salvaged more than a half hour's worth of music from a complete evening?
Chris Cutler
SOLO
ReR CC1
by Dan Warburton
Though Chris Cutler has been experimenting with electronics in his drum kit since the mid 1970s, we've had to wait until now for the solo album. And it's been worth the wait. In typically self-deprecating manner, Cutler plays down his considerable virtuosity ("there are no samples, pads or triggers, just acoustic drums amplified and modified with standard electronic processors [..] pedals and guitar effects," he notes), but he handles his equipment with consummate skill. It's not just a question of what you hit, but what you hit it with - as well as standard sticks and brushes, Cutler uses metal rods, kitchen utensils, violin bows, cocktail mixers and massagers to great effect (he's also a dab hand with a pair of rolled up newspapers). As ever though, strange sounds for their own sake don't amount to much; it's how they're integrated into larger structures that counts, and these five extended live recordings ("the places and the people who occupied them are imprinted in the sound and inseparable from it", Cutler writes) are glorious proof that Cutler knows exactly what he's doing.
Morgan Guberman / Chuck Ehlis
EXOTIC ZOOLOGY
Frank Mark Arts FMA 0012
www.frank-mark-arts.com
by Dan Warburton
If you're a fan of that whole subgenre known as "dark ambient" (which is pretty vague as terms go - they all are - but you can guess what it sounds like), these three spacious tracks from the West Coast featuring Morgan Guberman's electric bass and voice and Chuck Ehlis' guitars and loops, will be right up your street. Ehlis, whose life was brutally cut short in January 2000 when he was hit by a car not far from home, showed singular sensitivity in his treatments, and there's a sense of poise to this music that sets it apart from the thousands of other rather vapid offerings gathering dust in the Ambient bin. Guberman, who's just as good at handling Scott Rosenberg's thorny Braxton-like charts in the Skronktet West as he is at manic vocal improvising à la Phil Minton, is a versatile musician, and one to watch. If this album had Bill Laswell's name on it, you can bet you'd have heard of it already. But now you have, anyway.
Natto Quartet
HEADLANDS
482 Music 482-1018
by James Baiye
It's an oft-spouted cliché that Californians have looked westwards across the Pacific for inspiration more than they have to the eastern seaboard or Europe beyond, and one that inevitably comes to mind when confronted with a disc featuring shakuhachi (Philip Gelb) and koto (Shoko Hikage) and whose album and track titles are various Japanese culinary specialities. Though natto itself (fermented bean curd) is something of an acquired taste, the music on the album is eminently digestible and seasoned to perfection. The Japanese instruments are complemented by Tim Perkis' discreet and sensitive electronics, some splendidly florid piano work from Chris Brown (especially on "Sake"), and there's plenty of space and fresh air throughout this fine example of West Coast improv.

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