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



Editorial: NOW PLAYING: PTM's Celebrity Playlists
On La Nuit Transfigurée: Christine Wodraschka & Yves Romain , Didier Petit, Alex Grillo, Camel Zekri
James Tenney
Tisziji Muñoz
Michael J. Schumacher
On Mode: Christian Wolff / Morton Feldman
On Hibari: Atami / Eke / from:/to:
David S. Ware
Jazz & Improv: Sun Ra / Lehn & Strid, Klapper & Küchen / Free Zone Appleby / Kowald, Masaoka, Robair / Gary Lucas & Jozef van Wissem/
Contemporary: Arne Nordheim / Ekkehard Ehlers /
Electronica: (the) Dropp Ensemble / Stelzer & Talbot /
Last Month


NOW PLAYING!
As part of the ongoing celebrations to mark the tenth anniversary of the Paris New Music Review - and thanks to Anne Hilde Neset for mentioning the site in the Go To: section of the October Wire, a nice surprise - I asked some of the musicians whose work we've featured over the years to tell us which album(s) they had been listening to most frequently over the past month (just in case I was missing out on something important..). Fred Frith sent the following dispatch in from Mills College in Oakland, California: "The music that I keep coming back to is Field Geometry by Helen Mirra. Helen is an artist who works in film, video, sound, text and sculpture. Field Geometry is a record of her guitar playing along with Fred Lonberg-Holm's various instruments, with the work of the 19th century education researcher Friedrich Froebel as its point of departure. It's a beautiful, abstract, hypnotic and mysterious piece of work which bears little resemblance to most of what we listen to, and for that reason alone I thoroughly recommend it."
For Minneapolis-based poet and pianist Erik Belgum, it's Sun Ra. "Solo Piano (Vol. 1) (1977) has been sitting atop my top records list for the past month - we used to call them "records" when I was your age. I'd spent weeks trying to understand, articulate, and transcribe the Ra solo style when my nephew showed up wanting to play me the James Bond Theme. To my chagrin, with his unstable left hand groove, random placement of sforzandi, and all those major-minor chords in the right hand, he put out a damn nice Sun Ra sound, for a fifth grader."
While he prepares to pack his bags and move west from New York City, multi-instrumentalist and composer Scott Rosenberg has "Quasi's Featuring 'Birds' on constant rotation on my stereo. Sam Coomes' masterful proggish anthems raging against everything from failed relationships to the ruthlessness of capitalist society add up to the strongest pro-creativity manifesto I've heard on a rock album. The words are darker than anything out there, but the overall message is one of fighting for the survival of your music. If you ever need a reminder of how you're not alone in the struggle, Coomes is always there to remind you that you're a foot soldier in the army of a higher cause."
Not too far away in Brooklyn, the indefatigable Alan Licht has chosen "the CD reissue of Horacio Vaggione's 1978 La Maquina de Cantar LP, originally on Cramps (now on ampersand 11). The second piece/second side, "Ending", is the piece I keep returning to. It's multitracked synth, very 70s sounding, much like David Borden's minimal excursions of the era. After ten minutes, it stops dead and a single synth plays a folky melody out of a renaissance fair, soon joined by a chorus of others to make a rich (almost too rich) harmony. Ten years ago I'd have dismissed this as being cheesy, but right now it sounds great."
Meanwhile, back in Vienna, at the heart of Old Europe, composer and trombonist Radu Malfatti "just heard a part of a Mahler symphony and it was horrible! I don't listen to music a lot anymore; the only CD I've been playing in the last month was the forthcoming duo with Taku Sugimoto and myself, because of all the cutting and editing, which I did at home. I'm deeply impressed by Taku's playing and his unique sense of time, space and material. He's a truly wonderful musician and an exceptionally nice person too - because very strange!"
This month's issue also includes the complete text of our monumental interview with free jazz legend, artist and educator Alan Silva. One of the founding fathers of improvised music, in the early 1960s Silva played with Burton Greene, Bill Dixon, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra and Frank Wright (to name but a few), before creating the mythic Celestrial Communication Orchestra and founding the revolutionary art school IACP here in Paris. A passionate story, rich in wisdom and anecdote. Bonne lecture. —DW


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On La Nuit Transfigurée
Christine Wodrascka and Yves Romain
LE PERIPATETICIEN
La Nuit Transfigurée LNT 340101

Didier Petit
DEVIATION
La Nuit Transfigurée LNT 340103
Alex Grillo
L'AMOUR
La Nuit Transfigurée LNT 340109
Camel Zekri
VENUS HOTTENTOTE
La Nuit Transfigurée LNT 340114
I've always admired the chastity of classic French paperback design, in which clear typesetting and sturdy bookmaking are prized, and eye-grabbing cover-images are frowned on. The aesthetic is carried over to these CD releases - really, book-CD combos - on Thierry Mathias's La Nuit Transfigurée label, even down to the wrong-way-round writing on the spine. Each disc comes tucked inside a square cream-coloured book, and there's a lot to look at and read - interviews and program notes; portfolios of black and white photos and visual art; epigraphs, dedications, quotations, even (in the Zekri) a reprint of an essay by Aimé Cesaire on colonialism - although my paltry French leaves me mostly just staring at the pictures. The neatness of the packaging is matched by the music on these discs, which is a refined, clearly delineated kind of free playing that remains in dialogue with song-form.
The booklet to Alex Grillo's L'Amour (tome 1) states that the disc is dedicated to "the letter A"; a valentine inside is inscribed to "ART", "AMOUR" and "ANARCHIE". The album's four extended "suites" offer an absurdist portrait of l'amour, by turns gentle and tumultous. The instrumentation of the quartet - Grillo on vibes, Christine Wodrascka on piano, Dider Petit on cello, Hélène Labarrière on bass - is only half the story, as all four musicians also have speaking parts. Lovers' banal intimacies and quarrels are charmingly mimicked and caricatured, but the lighthearted treatment also yields in places to passages of genuine urgency and fierceness. This is engaging and communicative music, language barrier or no language barrier; the disc's only blemish is - as with so many CDs nowadays - the annoying bonus track tacked on at the end.
A closer look at cellist Didier Petit is afforded by the solo disc Deviation (titled after the Lucretian clinamen beloved of the Oulipo circle of writers). It's impressive stuff in many ways: he has an incredibly varied palette of sounds at his disposal, and has the ears and wits to add to it from what's in the air around him: on "Le Clocher du Hasard" he even enters into dialogue with the local church bells. He is capable of an uncannily convincing replica of traditional Chinese music ("Feu"), plays fine neo-Baroque fiddle ("Eau, Bâton et Sang"), and even tosses in idiosyncratic renditions of "Over the Rainbow" and "Summertime". Ultimately, however, the album is a little disappointing - sometimes genuinely irritating. Petit's wordless vocals are an especial problem: he's very fond of arch pseudo-exoticism - "Feu" features some irritating chop-suey interjections, for instance, and he likes to wail wordlessly in a vaguely world-musicky manner - and the wacky desecrations of the two standards are more exasperating than anything else.
Sightings on disc of pianist Christine Wodrascka are rare: the most widely available offering under her own name is the solo disc Vertical on FMP (1996); she also made a memorable appearance on Ivo Perelman's The Ventriloquist (Leo, 2002), where she actually managed to sound more fearsome than the leader (no mean feat). Her duets with bassist Yves Romain on Le Peripateticien are much more modest in scale: they have the taut economy of wire sculptures. Romain's liner notes are rather antic, which belies the stillness and thoughtfulness that lie beneath even the pricklier outings. Wodrascka's playing is always articulate even as she steps away from any firmly conclusive gestures; this fleetness and elusiveness is perhaps why on a piece like "Pour Marion B., Charles T., Dennis C., Charles G., Michaël W., et les autres..." she's less reminiscent of Cecil Taylor or Irène Schweitzer than the unhinged stride-piano of Jaki Byard.
The newest disc of the bunch, Venus Hottentote features Franco-Algerian guitarist Camel Zekri. The title commemorates France's belated return of the remains of the South African woman Saartje Baartman in 2002; lured from her native country in 1810, she was exhibited as the "Hottentot Venus" in sideshows in Britain and France. Zekri brings traditional musics into dialogue with Western improvisational vocabularies and the technologies of the studio: the long opening improvisation on acoustic guitar, "Terra Nullius", is actually rather untypical of an album otherwise focussed on structures built up from overdubbed layers of electric and acoustic guitar; the results have affinities to Sonny Sharrock's Guitar and Hans Reichel's work. The textures Zekri creates are at once gorgeous and alarming - on the homage to Fanon, "Les Damnés de le Terre", for instance, a blithely folksy melody is buried under a slithering mass of string-rubbing. Disappointingly, Zekri doesn't develop these textures much once they're set forth. This disc would have made a great collection of miniatures, but everything gets stretched to five to nine minutes, and time and again I found myself drumming my fingers. Still, it's well worth a listen, especially if you're a fan of Sharrock or Joe Morris. —ND


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James Tenney
SELECTED WORKS 1961 - 69
New World 80570-2
Nowadays, John Cage's inane grin is as universally recognisable as the Cheshire Cat's, and Mortie Feldman's ugly mug stands out a mile, but how many people, specifically music freshmen at US universities, would be able to recognise a photograph of James Tenney? Tenney (born in 1934) has certainly kept a discreetly low profile over the years, but he is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in post WWII American music, as this welcome reissue of these pioneering works (originally released on the tiny Artifact label) testifies.
"Collage #1 ("Blue Suede") (1961) uses a recording of Elvis' classic version of the Carl Perkins hit to come up with something Christian Marclay would have been proud of, were it not for the fact that he was probably in short pants when Tenney created this minor masterpiece back in 1961. "I like to think it would have pleased [Elvis]," the composer later wrote. Well, I dunno how far The King was ever into musique concrète, but it would certainly have elicited a wry smile - and it's stood the test of time just as well as the original track. "Analog #1 (Noise Study) grew from a fascination with the roar of traffic in the Holland Tunnel, through which Tenney used to drive en route for Bell Labs, where his pioneering research with the likes of Max Matthews sowed the seeds for a whole generation of computer music programs to come. "Dialogue" and the exquisite "Phases (for Edgard Varèse)", which both date from 1963, are proof that mathematically complex electronic music need not be indigestible and ugly. 1964's "Music for Player Piano" might provide a clue as to why Tenney has never quite attained the hip status of other experimental composers such as Mumma and Ashley - its fiendishly difficult polyphony has more in common soundwise with the Princeton serialists than with what would later be called the Downtown scene; indeed, Tenney's prolific output is neither Uptown nor Downtown, but rather All-Over-Town. Of the eight works included here, only the eighteen and a half minutes of "Ergodos II (for John Cage)" try the patience a little; "Fabric for Ché" sounds as stormy and apocalyptic today as it must have done back in 1967, and "For Ann (rising)" is, literally, timeless. Perhaps his most famous work, this is Tenney's infinite glissando, the aural equivalent of M.C. Escher's famous eternally rising staircase, a piece of sonic illusionism that has fascinated many musicians, from Jean-Claude Risset to the Buzzcocks. All in all, this is a disc that anyone claiming to be interested in twentieth century American music cannot afford to be without. The accompanying thirty-two-page booklet includes Larry Polansky's lengthy and informative essay "The Early Works of James Tenney", originally published as an essay in Soundings #13, and is an impressive musicological and analytical survey of the works themselves and an invaluable introduction to Tenney's work. —DW


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Tisziji Muñoz
DIVINE RADIANCE
Dreyfus/Anami FDM 367060
Guitarist Tisziji Muñoz's liner notes to this disc are a torrent of fuzzy guruspeak that borders on the megalomaniac; the results are entertaining though if you're in the right mood. This session, recorded the month after September 11th, was according to Muñoz "a timely date, a sacred, perhaps miraculous, creative event and spiritual gathering in the highest sense." It was no less than a "necessary" act of cosmic and geopolitical restoration: "It was urgent that I demand no less than Divine Radiance from everyone, in order to balance out the loss of light and the flood of sorrow released on September 11, 2001." Fortunately, it succeeded: "We all cried, died and were, in a way, reborn through this music," which was "powerful and pure enough to reverse both the directions of ignorant hatred and the cosmic wheel of time governing life and death. From my view, I know this, to some degree, was accomplished. During this recording on the 30th of October, we transcended 2001, fifty years before it and a hundred years after it!"
Be that as it may, the band here's certainly nothing to sniff at: in fact, the guitarist is by far the least celebrated musician in the band, which features a two-tenor front-line of Pharoah Sanders and Ravi Coltrane, bassists Don Pate and Cecil McBee, drummer Rashied Ali; and (believe it or not) Paul Shaffer of the David Letterman Show on keyboards. Shaffer's presence is explained in his enthusiastic liner-notes: as a teenager in 1969, he encountered Muñoz (b.1946) busking in Toronto and was so impressed that he became an apprentice of the guitarist, and he has been a staunch champion of his music ever since. Acting as co-producer for Divine Radiance, Shaffer seems to have also financed it out of his pocket, if I've deciphered Muñoz's statement correctly ("his heart's intention has been to help materialize my musical vision without concern for having to persuade or convince anybody as to what that is or how it should be created, and to execute a musical project without any upfront concern for the ever present economic limitations"). Shaffer's musical contribution on the date is virtually invisible, and is mostly confined to pouring syrup over the sappier moments (the namby-pamby "Fatherhood" in particular); once the screaming and shouting kick in he quickly gets the hell out of the way.
The omens might look pretty grim, but actually the disc's not bad by any means. Muñoz is a windbag, alas, and Ravi Coltrane seems to be there purely on the strength of his surname, as he's completely wrong for this company - I've liked his work in a mainstream or Steve Coleman bag, but he's way too softspoken to contend with this kind of hurly-burly. But any disc uniting Sanders, McBee and Ali has plenty going for it, and the all-out fury of the 24-minute title-track is worth a taste if you're a fan of so-called "ecstatic jazz". Divine Radiance can't be recommended without a long list of caveats, but it does manage at least to partially fulfill the promise of its star-studded lineup. If you're a fan of some of these players and are adept at tuning out the more grating elements then it's worth a listen, but otherwise it's fairly missable. —ND


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Michael J. Schumacher
ROOM PIECES
XI 127 2CD
For several years now, composer Michael J. Schumacher (the J is in there presumably to help your Google searches bypass thousands of pages devoted to the Formula One driver) has curated two gallery spaces in New York City, Studio Five Beekman and Diapason, taking advantage of a haven of peace and quiet in Manhattan to present his exquisitely crafted site-specific installations. "Room Piece" started out as a 16 track sound environment back in 1994. Those coming to Schumacher's work expecting wholesome slabs of heavy drone - the composer's long association with La Monte Young is well documented - will be surprised (most agreeably) at the diversity and richness of the sounds on offer in this 75 minute version of the piece, one of fifteen versions the composer has so far realised. The predominant heartbeat of Schumacher's work is slow, with strands of drone drifting high in the sonic sky like cirrus clouds, but numerous tiny disturbances appear throughout the piece, modified samples triggered by a complex set of computer-controlled algorithms. The composer remains in overall control of several parameters, notably pitch - computers might be awfully good at scattering the events about but there's no way they can grow a pair of ears as superbly sensitive as Schumacher's. This music positively glistens - the sheer beauty of the sound events and the uniformly excellent mixing of the whole are simply breathtaking.
As if this were not enough, there's a second CD in the box, twofers now being the norm on Phill Niblock's XI imprint. "Piece in 3 Parts" features samples of Jane Henry's violin and Tim Barnes' percussion, processed by Max/MSP software (to create a loop around the pointer [on the computer screen], loop length being constantly modulated, it says here). The texture is somewhat more abrasive, but the ear is still right there, as it is in the two versions of "Still", the first of which features "bowed friction sounds" from cellist Charles Curtis. 1999's "Untitled" is a denser affair, a layer cake of accelerating and decelerating pulsed tones forming a thick but finely calibrated drone texture.
By way of cherry on the cake, the set includes not one but three sets of liner notes - by "Blue" Gene Tyranny, Julian Cowley and Ian Nagoski, respectively - each of which provides informative information on the composer and discussion of his procedures. Ultimately, however, the proof of the pudding is in the listening, as it were - mere words fail to do justice to the outstanding beauty of this music, and unless you're fortunate enough to live within visiting distance of Studio Five Beekman and Diapason, this might be the only chance you get to experience this extraordinary work. You'd be a bloody fool not to take it. —DW


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On Mode Records
Christian Wolff
COMPLETE WORKS FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO
Mode 126
Morton Feldman
LATE WORKS WITH CLARINET
Mode 119
Mode's Christian Wolff edition has now reached Volume 5, though Complete Works for Violin and Piano sounds rather grand considering there are, in fact, only two of them: 1961's "Duo for Violinist and Pianist" and 1999's "Pebbles". This latter was written for Marc Sabat and Stephen Clarke (who perform it here), and is for the most part fully notated and precisely coordinated, though the musicians are periodically required to proceed independently, and the duration of pauses is often left to the performers' discretion. There's a certain austerity to its two-part counterpoint and, from time to time, a rather old-fashioned motoric chugging to its rhythmic regularity, but it sustains its 35-minute duration without flagging. Curiously, the earlier "Duo" - heard here in two extremely different versions, one seventeen minutes long, the other less than six - sounds more abstract, more "modern", as it were: while "Pebbles" makes no use of so-called extended techniques, the surface of the 1961 piece is peppered with odd abrasive scrapes, unconventional bowing effects and occasional leaps into the bowels of the piano. As my ancient vinyl recording of the work performed by its original dedicatees Kenjo Kobayashi and David Tudor is showing its age rather badly, I'm delighted to see this fine new CD out and about.
The seventh volume of Mode's Feldman Edition features Paris-based clarinettist Carol Robinson in three sensitive and well-recorded readings of 1971's "Three Clarinets, Cello and Piano", 1981's "Bass Clarinet and Percussion" and 1984's "Clarinet and String Quartet". This latter was previously available only on HatHut, but three other recordings of "Bass Clarinet and Percussion" are currently available. Indeed, there's now so much Feldman out and about on disc that would-be completists are either contemplating bankruptcy or faced with some difficult choices - for example, quite why Mode has chosen to release another version of "Three Clarinets, Cello and Piano" so soon after the Barton Workshop's version of the piece on Feldman Vol.5 (Mode 107) is something of a mystery, especially since there are (amazingly) still quite a few Feldman works - admittedly not featuring clarinet, so they'd be excluded here - that have never been commercially available, notably "The Swallows of Salangan" (1960) "Rabbi Akiba" (1963) and several large orchestral works. That aside, the above-mentioned discographic proliferation raises two questions of critical import, namely which version of a given piece should one choose to buy and, more problematic, perhaps, which of Feldman's works can be considered to be more important? Autrement dit, can we speak of "major" and "minor" Feldman works?
There are no truly "bad" recordings of Feldman's music that I know of (though one can admit preferences, especially in the case of the solo piano works, in terms of sound - microphone placing, pianists' use of sustaining pedal, and so forth), so the answer to the first question inevitably comes down to matters of personal taste. Very few reviews I have encountered have actively championed one version of a Feldman work over others, choosing instead to avoid the question by descending into the usual stock descriptions of the Feldman sound universe. The second question concerns on the reception-history of each specific work - one imagines for example that "Rothko Chapel" will remain something of a cause célèbre in Feldman's output, if only for its (atypical) closing section - and as Feldman's compositions are discreet affairs rather than spectacular showpieces (as are many of Stockhausen's works from the mid 1950s to the mid 1970s, for example), it may take some time for that elusive beast, the "canon", to make its own value judgements - arbitrary at times though many of them seem in retrospect. Feldman anecdotes and quotations are hardly thin on the ground, but ultimately the music tells its own story better. One imagines that Mode's Brian Brandt's predilection for Complete Editions is a sign that he already has one eye out on the future, when recordings such as these will be indispensable elements of a comprehensive (as far as possible) archive of late 20th / early 21st century contemporary classical music. —DW


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On Hibari
Costa Monteiro / Barberán / Fages / Okura / Ezaki / Unami
ATAMI
Hibari 03 CD
Kazushige Kinoshita / Yoichiro Shin
EKE
Hibari CDR
Various Artists
from:/to:
ABS201 / Hibari04 / fragm 003 / p:rec 020 / vp0302
What in Japan used to be called "onkyo" (a term that seems to have been around as long as "electronica" and which is just as vague and woolly, but we're stuck with it) has evolved along two markedly different lines during the last three years, as illustrated by the work of two of the movement's principal practitioners, guitarists Taku Sugimoto and Tetuzi Akiyama. Whereas Sugimoto has continued to subtract notes, finally arriving at a piece of music for seven guitarists, "hum", that instructs them to do nothing at all other than create amp buzz (released on A Bruit Secret, ABS 103), Akiyama's playing has become much more combative and noisy - witness his outings recorded in New Zealand and released on Bruce Russell's Corpus Hermeticum imprint (International Domestic, reviewed in these pages recently). The prolific output of Taku Unami, who uses a laptop to transform sounds sourced from various instruments including lapsteel guitar, percussion and other small objects, sits squarely at the fork in the path. His solo recordings - all released on his Hibari label, more often than not as limited edition CDRs - are pretty spare affairs, with silence playing an important role, whereas in larger ensembles, notably the sextet outing Atami, the textures are denser and the sonorities he chooses more abrasive.
Atami was recorded in Barcelona in October 2002, during a hectic European tour for Unami, trumpeter Masafumi Ezaki and saxophonist Masahiko Okura, and teams the Japanese trio up with the locals, in the form of trumpeter Ruth Barberán, accordionist Alfredo Costa Monteiro and no-input mixing board operator Ferran Fages (these latter two also known as Cremaster). David Casamitjana's close-miked recording catches every creak, plop and fizz of the encounter, from Okura's draughty plumbing to the wheeze of Costa Monteiro's accordion. While the sounds on offer throughout are indeed intriguing, there's a certain two-dimensionality and naiveté to the music - Tomoya Izumi's cartoon squiggle cover art is most appropriate. Whereas several notable earlier onkyo outings managed to create an extraordinary sense of quiet intensity (thinking of Sugimoto and Akiyama's solo albums, Toshi Nakamura's Weather Sky with Keith Rowe and Siphono with Bruno Meillier), recent releases seem to confirm that the stylistic conventions associated with the so-called reductionist trend seem to have frozen into something resembling "accepted performance practice". The rules of the game are relatively simple: dynamics remain low (occasional isolated blasts are permitted but not too often); sounds should be as abstract as possible (anything resembling a clear statement of a recognisable pitch is avoided in favour of grainy noise); ensemble playing is a question of simultaneity rather than interaction. Atami is quite dense, texturally - there's relatively little silence to counterpoint the sound events - but otherwise it proceeds according to the rules.
It would seem that the only way to go beyond such rules and avoid stagnation (to quote Radu Malfatti) is to adopt some form of extraneously determined system that prevents performers from falling into the habit of introducing tried and trusted pet techniques, "tricks", as Paul Lovens calls them. Violinist Kazushige Kinoshita has found a novel way to introduce a degree of indeterminacy into his performance - laying the violin flat on his lap, he uses a half-size bow and applies maximum pressure, moving as little as possible. On Eke, a new duo CDR on Hibari, the inevitable friction caused by the tiniest involuntary movements of his bow on the string(s) produces a series of irregular twangs and/or rasps that complement Yoichiro Shin's cymbal work (it makes for an interesting contrast with an earlier live concert recording from 2001, on which Kinoshita's playing seems - ever so slightly - more conventional). Even so, and despite the element of randomness inscribed into Kinoshita's performance, the resulting music soon becomes rather predictable, not to mention soporific; one finds oneself crying out for the occasional surprise, be it an explosion of frustration or even - heaven forbid - a recognisable note (the earlier CDR, Eke / Expo Live at Torii Hall was, after all, at least notable for a throaty cough followed by a bloody great cymbal crash at 28'39").
from:/to: is co-produced by no fewer than five small labels - A Bruit Secret, Fragment, Pricilia, Vert Pituite and Hibari (three of which are based in Metz, in Eastern France) - and takes the form of eight Europe-meets-Japan duo encounters. Jean-Philippe Gross' electric conductors fizz and crackle amiably along with Utah Kawasaki's synthesizer, Olivier Brisson's amplified percussion is paired with Yoichiro Shin's cymbal and laptop, Hugo Roussel's self-input mixing board meets Masafumi Ezaki's trumpet, guitarists Quentin Dubost, Sharif Shenaoui, Norman Mayer and Fabrice Eglin team up with, respectively, Yasao Totsuka (mixing board), Okura (bass clarinet and tube), Unami (banjo) and Kinoshita (violin), and vocalist Ami Yoshida takes on Alfredo Costa Monteiro's accordion. There's a much wider range of music on offer here, and it's a more globally satisfying collection of diverse approaches to collaboration. The Europeans seem more prepared to throw spanners into the works, be they in the form of splashes of colour (Brisson), vicious shards of noise (Roussel) or weird subterranean gurgles (Shenaoui). Yoshida provides further evidence of her extraordinary abilities, producing something that sounds like a small bird with a contact mic stuffed down its throat being slowly crushed to death in a paper bag. It's pretty unsettling stuff, after which the Sugimoto-like plings of Unami's banjo sound positively baroque. Definitely recommended for anyone curious about the latest state of play in French improvised music, from:/to: could end up becoming something of a landmark release. —DW


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Where's Ware?
David S. Ware String Ensemble
THREADS
Thirsty Ear THI57137
The saxophone acquires a particular resonance when backed up with luscious string arrangements, slipping away from its moorings as just another member of a jazz combo and assuming a kind of heroic, Romantic status - you might even argue that the "sax + strings" format has replaced the nineteenth century idea of the concerto. Stan Getz always considered 1961's Focus as his finest work, and Art Pepper's Wintermoon, dating from twenty years later, is one of the late altoist's most genuinely touching documents. After Bird with Strings, Cannonball with Strings and even Evan Parker with Strings (or was it Strings with Evan Parker?), here comes David S. Ware with Strings. Well, sort of. It's perhaps not surprising that Ware, having turned in a monumental re-reading of one of jazz's iconic compositions, Rollins' "Freedom Suite", should also wish to stake out a piece of territory in this corner of the canon (we'll even forgive the fact that many of the "strings" are synthesized, played by Matthew Shipp on a Korg Triton) - the problem is simply that he leaves most of the work to his sparring partners, violist Mat Maneri, bassist William Parker and drummer Guillermo Brown, plus violinist Daniel Roumain. Ware is credited as composer throughout, but his horn is curiously absent on the album's meatiest tracks, "Sufic Passages" and "THREADS" (caps his idea, not mine), and seems oddly placed in the mix on the opening elegiac "Ananda Rotation". "Sufic Passages" in particular is crying out for a strong tenor sax solo; Maneri and Roumain's gypsy arabesques can hardly compete against Shipp's jangly synth and Parker and Brown's stodgy, incessant 4/4 groove. The title track itself is a distressingly pale white-note affair that sounds like some rejected manuscript by one of those professionally miserable composers from the Baltic republics, and the ensuing "Carousel of Lightness" is also all background and no foreground. This velvety soundworld used to sound just fine on mid 1970s ECM productions, but in 2003 coming from a musician as upfront and dynamic as Ware has been for over two decades, it's nothing less than an alarming sign of creative fatigue. Ware only plays on 13 of the album's 44 minutes, and even the two brief sax and percussion tracks, "Weave I" and "Weave II" come across as strangely inconsequential fillers. What little real weight there is on this album comes from Mat Maneri's viola - there's no finer instrument nor musician for music as melancholy is this - which even Shipp's soggy synth patches can't drown out. But compared to Maneri's sublime Sustain, or Shipp's stellar New Orbit, both also on Thirsty Ear, Threads is thin fare indeed. —DW


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Jazz & Improv Roundup
Sun Ra
PIANO RECITAL
Leo GY 21
Golden Years is a sub-label of Leo Records on which Leo Feigin periodically re-releases choice morsels of the Leo back catalogue (notably his beloved Russians), and it's a shame he didn't call upon the services of a distinguished Ra scholar or two to provide liner notes for this set, which was recorded at Venice's Teatro La Fenice on November 24th 1977. Solo Ra sets are indeed thin on the ground, but the discography in John Szwed's "Space Is The Place" lists two others from the same year, both on Improvising Artists, which might have made for an interesting comparison with this set. The recording engineer is not credited, which is probably just as well considering the sound quality is about as flat and wooden as many of the early Saturn releases, but musically it's a treat. Apart from some tasty stride piano in "Blues" and "Honeysuckle Rose", one of several hair-raising covers - recontextualisations might be a more appropriate word - notably "Take The A Train" (Matthew Shipp eat ya heart out), it's intriguing to see how major Ra compositions such as "Love In Outer Space" and "Friendly Galaxy" are scaled down to fit under two hands, not to mention fists and elbows. Needless to say, Ra enthusiasts the world over will be swooping in on this one pretty quickly, so the limited edition (1500) will probably go fast. You've been warned. —DW
Thomas Lehn / Raymond Strid
HERE THERE
Fylkingen FYSP 1005 7"
Martin Klapper / Martin Küchen
IRREGULAR Fylkingen
FYSP 1006 7"
It's nice to see the odd chunky 7" single now and again, especially in these days of the 3" CD, those pesky little things that slip down the backs of your shelves and disappear without trace. The music on these two offerings from the Swedish Fylkingen label, managed and run by Sören Runolf and Martin Küchen, seems perfectly adapted to the medium: aphoristic, scattered earfuls of sonic dust blend perfectly with the background whoosh and crackle of vinyl. German analogue synth whiz Thomas Lehn in his element working with percussionists - one thinks of his excellent duo collaborations with Gerry Hemingway and Paul Lovens, not to mention the ebullient Roger Turner in Konk Pack - and these two six-minute sonic postcards from Malmö with Raymond Strid behind the kit are well up to scratch. On Irregular (which plays at 33 1/3 rpm, as opposed to the 45 of Here There - didn't take me long to find that out), Küchen's baritone sax honks and splatters along with Martin Klapper's arsenal of toys and gadgets most agreeably - it's certainly not as dangerous as the harpoon gun sketched on the back cover might have you think. What might be fun would be to put all four of these guys together for a full-length album session. In the meantime, go to: www.fylkingen.se —DW
Various Artists
FREE ZONE APPLEBY 2002
Psi 03.02 2CD
As summer draws to a close, the attractive English market town of Appleby, on the edge of the Lake District, plays host to a jazz festival curated by Neil Ferber, described here by Evan Parker as "every musicians' dream promoter". On July 28th last year Parker arrived with a busload of Britain's Best improvisers - bassist John Edwards, violinists Sylvia Hallett and Phil Wachsmann, cellist Marcio Mattos, flautist Neil Metcalfe, clarinettist John Rangecroft and percussionist Mark Sanders, and this double CD on Parker's own psi imprint documents proceedings. Of the 152 minutes of music, only one track (sixteen minutes) features all eight musicians; for the rest of the time the octet subdivides into smaller units - there are three quartet tracks, three duos, two trios and solos by Edwards and Hallett (by Parker too if you count the opening thirteen second gong bang as a track - he bills it as such). This is British improv at its best - mature and accomplished, both technically and emotionally, consensual rather than conflictual; one senses that we're far away from the din of the city (though perhaps that's just the fresh timbres of the lively woodwind work from Metcalfe and Rangecroft), in just the quiet and attentive environment needed to produce and appreciate sensitive, top-notch improvised music. —DW
Peter Kowald / Miya Masaoka / Gino Robair
ILLUMINATIONS (SEVERAL VIEWS)
Rastascan BRD 049
Despite the fact that he died suddenly last year, recordings featuring Peter Kowald have carried on appearing at a steady rate of knots, as testimony - not that any were needed - of the late bassist's indefatigable energy and appetite for new encounters in improvised music. Illuminations was recorded in California during Kowald's exhaustive 2000 US tour, and features him with locals Masaoka on koto and Robair on percussion. It's a set of no fewer than sixteen tracks, only two of which go beyond the four-minute mark, vignettes rather than haiku, in which Kowald aficionados will have no difficulty recognising the bassist's hallmark tricks of the trade, from the frenetic scrabbling with the frog of the bow near the bridge to the guttural faux-Tuvan drones of his vocalising. The koto not surprisingly adds a touch of orientalism, and Robair busies himself with his extended kit in fine style. It's all very earnest and no doubt well-intentioned, well-crafted and nicely recorded and mixed, but unless you're a rabid Kowald completist you can probably afford to pass it by. Robair and Misaoka are much more exciting on their outing Guerrilla Mosaics with John Butcher. —DW
Gary Lucas / Jozef van Wissem
DIPLOPIA
BV Haast 0103
Imagine if John Dowland got beamed up à la Star Trek and transferred to the Mississippi Delta ca. 1920 - this is the kind of blues he might have ended up writing / playing. Diplopia combines the renaissance lute of Jozef van Wissem with the inimitable twang of a National Steel, played by ex-Beefheart sideman Gary Lucas, for a brief set of nine pieces, three of which are based on the early 17th century lute repertoire that van Wissem specializes in. It's a leisurely collection, the only urgency provided by van Wissem's occasional accompanying percussion - his foot, presumably - and an eminently listenable (if not exactly envelope-pushing) one. Watch out too for a forthcoming collaboration between van Wissem and the ubiquitous Tetuzi Akiyama. —DW


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Contemporary Roundup
Arne Nordheim
DODEKA
Rune Grammofon RCD2030
Before all things Norwegian mysteriously became hip three or four years ago (I suspect the Wire magazine had something to do with it), Arne Nordheim's music was hard to get hold of, but we can now rejoice that he's been ceremoniously rediscovered as the Grand Old Man of Norwegian New Music, and much of the rare back catalogue is now in print once again. As Rune Grammofon is now part of the ECM umbrella brand, you can be sure that the sound quality is tiptop; the Kim Hiorthøy graphics are cool, too, but not as frosty as the music - Dodeka is, as its title implies, a collection of twelve three-minute pieces of electronic music that will have the hairs tingling in your nose. Finely crafted, if a little too reverbed in places (but since when was that a problem for ECM?), they're strong proof that Nordheim is still a creative force to be reckoned with. And if they manage to wean some punters away from the slew of releases by the grossly overhyped Supersilent, even better. — DW
Ekkehard Ehlers
POLITIK BRAUCHT KEINEN FEIND
Staubgold 41
Staubgold isn't normally classified as a contemporary classical label, but these three compositions by Ekkehard Ehlers certainly qualify as such (despite the accompanying collection of black and white photos apparently taken at some sort of party or clubspace). All three use the composer's by now familiar technique of looping instrumental samples into closed - claustrophobic, even - systems. Ehlers' earlier works revealed a fondness for samples sourced in late 19th / early 20th century instrumental music, which lent a certain historically charged angst to the proceedings; the same morose but far from unemotional climate prevails here in the compositions "Mäander" and "Blind", both dating from 2001 and sourced in the dark, woody tones of, respectively, bass clarinet and cello. The album is rounded out by the inclusion of "Woolf Phrase", originally written as a ballet score for the William Forsythe Company, whose wan, forlorn viol-consort strings recall Basinski's Disintegration Loops, and standing further back in the shadows, Eno's "Variations on the Pachelbel Canon". The album title translates as "Politics needs no enemies", but a little bit of the friction associated with mixed media performance wouldn't go amiss here. — DW


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Electronica Roundup
(the) Dropp Ensemble
THE EMPIRE BUILDERS
Longbox LBT029
Originally created as music to accompany a performance of the play of the same name by Boris Vian - though you don't need to be familiar with that minor masterpiece to appreciate this album - (the) Dropp Ensemble is the brainchild of Chicago-based Adam Sonderberg and Sam Dellaria. In these three utterly exquisite pieces they call upon the services of a community of like-minded spirits scattered throughout the world (Marshall McLuhan would be justly proud), including Wolfgang Fuchs, Steven Hess, Eric La Casa, Aram Shelton, Brendan Walls and Alexander Wallner, to produce music of intense - if austere - beauty. Vast, near-empty sonic spaces resonate with meticulously treated field recordings, occasional tiny fragments of percussion and muffled thuds and rumblings. It's compelling stuff, and at a time when so-called lowercase / laminal / field-recording based electronic work is being released at a positively alarming rate of knots, it stands head and shoulders above the competition. Quite what the hard-living author of "I Spit On Your Grave" would have made of it I don't know, but this one's certainly assured of a place on this year's Best Of lists here at Paris Transatlantic. — DW
Howard Stelzer / Jason Talbot
SONGS
Intransitive INT 021
Mike Bullock, in his liner notes, is probably right to dwell on the album title, but doesn't come to any firm conclusion whether these eight tracks of acerbic tape and turntable improvisation actually constitute "songs" or not. Strictu sensu, they don't, but I guess since Rene Magritte's famous pipe you can call things what you want (I have a composer friend who wrote a piece for six musicians and called it "Quintet"). Voice Crack fans will probably amuse themselves trying to work out which pieces of everyday electronics these two Bostonians have chosen to crack; it's not an easy listen but an intriguing and ultimately rewarding one. — JB


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