APRIL News 2004 Reviews by Nate Dorward, Vid Jeraj, Wayne Spencer, Dan Warburton, Kristoffer Westin:

Wayne Spencer on Uchiage! Festival, Berlin
Radu Malfatti / Taku Sugimoto:
Fritz Ostermayer:
Kitsch Concrète
On Creative Sources:
Rodrigues Rodrigues Monteiro Garcia / No Furniture
In concert:
Folke Rabe
On CIMP: Steve Swell / Odean Pope & Khan Jamal / Mark Dresser & Ray Anderson
On Cuneiform:
Chris McGregor's Brotherhood Of Breath
Akchoté, Auzet & Ferrari / Warne Marsh / Visionfest: Visionlive / Denman Maroney / BusRatch & Hijyokaidan / Rhodri Davies & John Bisset /
Elliott Carter / David Manson / Kamran Ince
Scanner / Laurent Pernice & Jacques Barberi / Christopher Willits / Komet / Hard Sleeper / Gigi Masin & Giuseppe Caprioli
Last Month


A warm PT welcome this month to new contributing journalist Wayne Spencer, who kicks off with a bang with reviews of the Berlin Uchiage! festival and the two latest offerings on Ernesto Rodrigues' excellent Creative Sources label from Portugal. Thanks also go out - as ever - to all our contributors, and to everyone out there who has sent material in for review - for information on how to do so, please consult our FAQs page. As the World Wide Web continues to grow and prove itself to be at least as effective a medium as print for new music journalism (if not, in some respects, more so), PT readers are strongly encouraged to check out what's happening on other related Websites. For further animated discussion in thread format of some of the material featured on this site, notably January 2004's review of the AMPLIFY02: balance box on Erstwhile, go to Alan Jones' splendid site at www.bagatellen.com (peruse the Bagarchives while you're there). My fellow Signal To Noise journalist pal Kurt Gottschalk also edits a fine webzine at www.squidsear.com , which is well worth checking out (as is the Squidco online store, where many of the releases featured here are for sale). But there's also plenty of music out there available for free download! For a superb overview of the contemporary scene, go to: www.tu-m.com where you'll be able to access the TuMP3 project for new music by a veritable Who's Who of new music curated by our Italian friends Emilio Romanelli and Rossano Polidoro, aka Tu m'. There's also a fine selection of new electronic music (including one of my own things - apologies for gratuitous self-promotion) at John Kannenberg's excellent virtual artspace, www.stasisfield.com (already featured in these pages a year ago). On the subject of past reviews, don't forget that the entire archives of PT are always available for consultation, either by using the pulldown menus above or the Search Engine on the homepage. —DW

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Villa Elizabeth, Berlin
Friday 27th - Sunday 29th February 2004
Berlin and Tokyo have, in recent years, been loci for some of the most innovative and interesting currents in improvised and semi-improvised music. Sometimes referred to respectively as "Berlin Reductionism" and "Onkyo", the musical movements in these two cities were perhaps most clearly distinguished from their predecessors globally by bringing together a marked degree of improvisation and microtonality, radically extended playing techniques, pianissimo dynamics, small gestures, silence, and unconventional sounds and timbres that blur the distinctions between music and noise and in particular utilise for musical ends the sounds of industrial and electronic procedures. Organised by Christof Kurzmann and held over three days in a large upstairs room in the Villa Elizabeth on Invalidenstrasse, the Berlin edition of the Uchiage! festival (a second leg in Vienna in early March featured musicians from Japan and Austria) offered an opportunity not only to immerse oneself in the music of a number of the most prominent figures from these epicentres of musical radicalism but also to step back and gain some sense of the overall vitality of the music several years after its emergence. Now that the initial shock caused by the repudiation of the loquacity and loudness of 1960s free jazz and 1970s free improvisation is beginning to pass, what can be said about this music in its maturity?

left to right: Marcus Liebig (in shadow), Andrea Neumann, Kai Fagaschinski, Fritz Ostermayer, Sachiko M, Robin Hayward. Taku Sugimoto just visible behind piano

The festival began with a performance of "Miira ni Naru made", a composition by Otomo Yoshihide and novelist Shimada Masahiko of which a version recorded at the 1999 Mottomo Otomo festival in Wels was released by Christof Kurzmann's Charhizma imprint three years ago. The piece consists of a narrated diary of a man who has elected to starve himself to death (based on the actual diary of a person who committed suicide in this way) and musical accompaniment. On this occasion, the personnel were Burkhard Beins (drums), Nicholas Bussmann (cello), Axel Dörner (trumpet), Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet), Robin Hayward (tuba), Kurzmann (computer), Andrea Neumann (inside-piano), Sachiko M. (electronics), Fritz Ostermayer (narrator), Taku Sugimoto (guitar) and Taku Unami (computer). The performance was directed by Yoshihide from behind an equipment case by means of a series of hand signals and a cord attached to Ostermayer's left leg used to signal when the narration should recommence after what appeared to be predetermined pauses. For my part, my lack of German made it impossible for me properly to appreciate the narrative component. Viewed simply as abstract sound, there seemed an incongruity between the narrow rhythmic, harmonic and timbral range of the spoken words and the more fragmentary, diverse and abstract sounds produced by the ensemble of musical instruments. (In this respect, the composition seemed less successful than "The Encyclopedia of the Hong Kong Foods", an earlier piece by Yoshihide for voice and radio that appears on OFF SITE: Composed Music Series in 2001 (a bruit secret, 2002) and utilizes as its text a series of isolated words.) I suspect that even for those in a position to understand the meaning of the narrative there was little integration of the linguistic and music aspects of the performance. I gather that the text is entirely conventional in its syntax and relates a linear storyline. In these circumstances, it would seem likely that the focus of the listener's attention would generally be the meaning of the story, with the result that the music is consigned to the background of perception. Perhaps, however, the literary merit of the prose compensates to some degree for this marginalization of the instrumental music.
The next set was by Tetuzi Akiyama (guitar), Boris Baltschun (sampler and electronics), Nicholas Bussmann (cello) and Tony Buck (drums), who seemed happiest when they fell into relatively conventional improvised crescendi underpinned by insistent patterned playing by Bussmann. Between these sections, there were somewhat uncertain and unfocused searches for new directions, and towards the end of the set the quartet seemed to run entirely out of steam. Overall, it was not, I think, an entirely successful set, but there were interesting and engaging moments within it that repaid the audience's attention.
The first day's final set featured Robin Hayward (tuba), Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet), Sachiko M. (electronics), Andrea Neumann (inside-piano) and Taku Unami (laptop), and was one of the highlights of the festival as a whole. Sachiko M's insidious sinewaves and Hayward's breathy tuba playing provided the foundation for the improvisation. Across this canvass, Fagaschinski flashed a series of fervent and vivid microtonal tendrils, while Unami initially placed bowls, clarinet ends and other objects on a laptop-controlled oscillating pad to produce a variety of discordant percussive sounds, before later shifting more towards interjections of white noise and electronic clicks. For her part, Neumann was a model of patience and attention, carefully awaiting her moment and thereby ensuring that her infrequent interventions on her custom-built electro-acoustic inside-piano array retained a forceful impact. Together, these contributions provided an excellent example of the austere yet absorbing interweaving of unconventional sound manipulations that I would suggest is characteristic of the best collective electro-acoustic improvisation.
The second day of the festival began with a performance by Cosmos, a duo consisting of Sachiko M and Ami Yoshida (vocals). Sachiko M's ultra-minimal bleeps, rustles and extended tones unobtrusively but powerfully contribute to the heightened state of concentration and perception and distended sense of space and time through which Cosmos suspends the listener's quotidian state of mind, yet it is perhaps Ami Yoshida who is the focus of attention. In the context of Cosmos, she presents a figure of great vulnerability, standing almost completely still, hands clasped in front of her or held against her throat or face, and fighting under the invasive scrutiny of the audience to produce from the recesses of her vocal apparatus the astonishingly delicate high-pitched screeches, muted howls and distressed animalistic utterances that make up her unique vocal style. Cosmos suggested to me an unostentatious and faltering howl of protest against the surrounding world, as represented in this instance by the sounds of trams, cars, audience noise and witlessly optimistic music that percolated into the group's soundscape on the night. This hushed drama was unfailingly gripping and showed how the seemingly minimal can be used to maximal effect.
The second set featured Otomo Yoshihide (turntables) and Tony Buck (drums). Employing a standard drum-kit scattered with metallic objects, Bucks playing moved from repetitive circular movements and percussive cracks through to extended driving rhythmic passages, at times bringing to mind the junkyard drumming of Paul Lovens. In response, Yoshihide cheerfully abused his collection of turntables and electronics to produce howling storms of sound. The results had a certain crude visceral impact, but in the end I found the performance unsatisfying; an approach that often amounted to little more than gradually increasing the volume and intensity of sound so as to produce a rather undifferentiated ferocity was just too linear, narrow and predictable to challenge either the players or the audience. That said, the set was probably the best received of the whole festival, suggesting that many found much to enjoy in it.
There followed a set by Tetuzi Akiyama (guitar), Boris Hauf (tenor saxophone and computer), Toshimaru Nakamura (electronics) and Michael Renkel (guitar). It was my perception that the quartet struggled to find a shared musical language and vision; once Hauf had abandoned his perhaps inappropriately jazz-infected saxophone for computer, the group largely settled into a deflated, uninspired drone made up of Nakamura and Hauf's static and banal electronics and Renkel's repetitive bowings. Akiyama extended a series of jagged notes to his fellow players that offered some relief from the lifeless rut into which the group had fallen, and also occasionally mimicked what Renkel was playing. Ultimately, however, he failed to elicit any substantive response or interaction from his partners.

Annette Krebs
The night closed with a performance by Axel Dörner (trumpet), Alessandro Bosetti (soprano saxophone), Annette Krebs (table-top guitar and electronics) and Taku Sugimoto (guitar). Krebs had returned from Australia the day before and was suffering badly from jet lag. While setting up her equipment she contrived to drop her instruments twice and trip over an amplifier lead. Moreover, shortly after the group started playing, she called a halt to proceedings, saying that her equipment was only producing white noise. It transpired that this was an error on her part, and the quartet quickly resumed. Once underway, the music was not perhaps the most fluid. Nonetheless, Krebs proved attentive and resourceful, and her battery of hisses, plucked notes, rustles, rubbings and electronic shards worked very well in the context. Dörner too was excellent, producing an astonishing array of modulated exhalations from his slide-trumpet that served as an evocative component in the emerging group sound and had me checking at times that he was not employing electronic modifications. Bosetti perhaps succeeded less well in finding an effective argot for the occasion on his saxophone, yet his occasional vocal hums proved nonetheless surprisingly striking against the background of Krebs and Dörner's playing, and his efforts to make the session work were unstinting. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Sugimoto, for whereas the other three members of the group were improvising freely, he had elected to play a composition, a strategy that palpably estranged him from the struggle to forge an effective collective interaction transpiring around him.

Taku Sugimoto
In his notes to the CD OFF SITE: Composed Music Series in 2001 Sugimoto wrote: "listen to the sound as it is / there is almost no distinction between improvisation and composition / to accept all the space". This performance, however, demonstrated that there is an important difference between improvisation and composition in terms of both process or methodology and the operative conception of what a musical work is. On the one hand, there was an extemporaneous creation of a new and transient musical entity that proceeded by way of an interactive, tentative and flexible engagement that, however shaped it may have been by the players' available repertoires of responses and broad preconceptions as to what is appropriate, was nonetheless substantively the product of responses to the unpredictable contributions of each player and the multiple demands and constraints of the moment. On the other hand, there was an attempt to replicate an already conceived musical structure by following a set of predetermined instructions that evidently had little or no regard to the circumstances in which they were performed or the exigencies of one's fellow performers. In the context of an improvisation struggling to cohere and calling for the effortful collaboration and participation of every participant, Sugimoto's apparent decision metaphorically to turn his back on the predicament of the group and adhere to an entirely unhelpful set of pre-planned and banal minimalist utterances seemed contemptuous, even musically autistic. That the session ultimately proved to be rewarding had nothing to do with his arbitrary and impoverished contributions.
The final day of the festival opened with Taku Sugimoto's Guitar Quartet, consisting of Tetuzi Akiyama, Toshimaru Nakamura, Taku Sugimoto and Otomo Yoshihide performing one of Sugimoto's compositions. It began with the four members synchronising stopwatches, and continued as a series of single notes. Each player played a small number of notes alone, then the focus shifted to the next. Each note was separated by around one to three minutes of silence. The silences evidently had an effect on the audience, making them acutely aware that they were part of an event and that even the smallest movement or utterance on their part would affect the performance. It also sharpened at least my senses so as to make me aware of tiny noises inside and outside the hall. While this may be thought to be a valid and valuable outcome in itself, the proceedings struck me as sterile and contrived. I understand Sugimoto to be a musician who is keen to place his music in a critical relationship not only to established and fashionable musical currents but also to society at large. But the spectacle of four clock-watching individuals constrained by authority (in this instance the authority of the score) to refrain from spontaneous sound and movement and engage instead in inane and stereotypical gestures as and when externally required to do so would seems to replicate rather than challenge the social conditions of alienated labour in the dominant society. Sugimoto's music itself has also become increasingly static, rigid and eviscerated. Whatever may have been the differences between this performance of the Guitar Quartet and others it has made, they were dwarfed by their similarities. Moreover, the music played by the guitar quartet in this session was almost completely conventional in terms of instrumentation, timbre, pitch and harmony; all that distinguished it was its slowness of tempo and paucity of material. The notes themselves - for which one waits in expectant, extended silence - are all too predictable, uninteresting and interchangeable, cheating one's enhanced senses of anything substantive to perceive in the music and provoking an unprofitable irritation. Even the silences themselves seemed mechanistic and even manipulative, ground out as prefabricated units of blind quietude by a procedure that was beholden to a disembodied score and thus indifferent to the circumstances of the performance or the audience. Whatever the original merits of Sugimoto's ultra-minimalism in general or his guitar quartet in particular may have been, I fear that repetition and rigidity have served over time to extinguish them.
Fortunately, the next set proved far more interesting. The participants were Burkhard Beins (drums), Andrea Ermke (electronics), Sabine Ercklentz (trumpet) and Ami Yoshida (voice). The three Germans proved keen and attentive, and the constant shifting of Beins' circular rubbings and bowings, Ercklentz's breaths, rasps and gurgles, and Ermke's low-key electronics challenged Yoshida if not to find wholly new responses then at least to dig deep into her repertoire of vocalizations (she also made good use of the cracklings of a compressed water bottle at one stage). Although I had some reservations as to whether certain approaches - such as Beins' rhythmic movement of a piece of polystyrene around the circumference of one his drums - were at times being over-used, the set displayed to very good effect the dynamic negotiations of group improvisation. And, in singular contrast to what preceded it, the silences introduced by the group possessed a tangible significance, serving not only to let in the sounds of the environment but also to promote a sense of intrinsic drama or reflection within the music.
Next on stage were Robin Hayward (tuba) and Taku Sugimoto (guitar). Hayward possesses a wide range of techniques for moving air around and out of his instrument without producing anything resembling a note recognised by the standard notational systems. He began with two lusty blasts, a clarion call to the improvisation. But if he expected Sugimoto to respond to this invitation, he was to be sorely disappointed. No matter what Hayward did, Sugimoto's mandatory lengthy pauses and arbitrarily restricted set of musical materials prevented any substantive dialogue from emerging. Sugimoto simply played in the much the same way as he now does in every context; Hayward might as well not have been there. In the face of his partner's unwillingness to communicate, it appeared that Hayward at length turned to constructing a solo. Given the circumstances, it was hardly surprising that his playing proved less than inspired and that the set soon expired. In his notes to the AMPLIFY2002: Balance box set, Sugimoto pronounced the death and funeral of "Onkyo or electro-acoustic music". I do not know whether he intended at the time to include his own music in this category, but two years further on, his work in contexts such as this strikes one as having about it something of the quality of a pathological necrophiliac obsession with increasingly skeletal remains.

After what may well have been the nadir of the festival for me, the concluding set by Serge Baghdassarians (table-top guitar), Toshimaru Nakamura (electronics) and Taku Unami (laptop) - left to right in photo below - was a pleasure. All three listened and played extremely well, weaving together a haunting, challenging, inventive, diverse and collaborative musical adventure from their respective abstract, distinct but mutually supportive contributions. It was a fine end to the festival.
After three days, what can be said about the health of the scenes in Tokyo and Berlin? Some of the less successful performances can doubtless be attributed to transient lack of inspiration, unfamiliar playing partners or other uninformative factors. Looking beyond these, it would appear that at present more attention is being devoted to exploring terrain already discovered than to the opening of radical new departures. In some cases the ground has been worked to a desolate exhaustion. In others, the available musical potential, even within what might at first glance seem to be quite narrow domains, is evidently sufficient to support stimulating new work within existing paradigms, at least for the time being. What happens when even the most fecund of the resources being deployed in Berlin and Tokyo falls prey to stagnation remains to be seen. Hopefully there will be further instalments of this thought-provoking and promising festival to allow us to find out.—WS

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Radu Malfatti / Taku Sugimoto

Raku Sugifatti
Improvised Music from Japan IMJ 508/509 2CD
Raku Sugifatti, indeed. I'll bet it was notorious punster Radu Malfatti's idea to fuse his name with that of guitarist Taku Sugimoto, in a kind of ultimate onkyo gesture: the most notoriously near-silent improvising musicians on the planet merge to form a single non-existent character. Futatsu is, at least in this household, one of the most keenly anticipated double albums of recent times; having watched Sugimoto (watching him these days as just as important to listening to him) gradually thin out his exquisite guitar playing from the melancholy blues-inflected Flagments Of Paradise to the near-blank canvas of last year's "hum" (on A Bruit Secret), and having followed Malfatti's career from the raucous and wonderful excesses of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath Live In Willisau through the seminal extended techniques outings on Hat and FMP into the austerity of Polwechsel and beyond, I'll admit to being more than a little curious to see how much further these two musicians could go without stopping altogether and releasing a totally silent album. Except of course, as Cage would say, there's no such thing. If Malfatti and Sugimoto's goal in releasing the first of these two discs, a studio performance entitled "Hitotsu" (Sugimoto recorded his guitar in Tokyo in April 2003, and Malfatti his trombone in Vienna three months later - he also mixed the two together) is for listeners to focus their attention on the sounds around them - a truly Cageian goal at that - then it can probably be deemed a successful venture. There certainly aren't many notes to get in the way of the "silence"; over the course of an hour and twelve minutes, Sugimoto plays just thirteen times - all single notes except for one four-note mini-melody at 42'40" - and Malfatti twenty (including two leisurely glissandi, one downwards at 33'25", one upwards at 47'05"). Allowing for the decay of the guitar sonorities, the total duration of Sugimoto's contribution to the entire piece comes to about 40 seconds, while Malfatti, who concentrates on long sustained tones, contributes 4'50". Autrement dit, 92.3% of "Hitotsu" is "silence", so you have plenty of opportunity to listen attentively to the ambient sounds of your living room, or the gentle friction of your stereo headphones slipping down the back of your head as you wait for the next sound. Or nod off. Of course, all this talk of percentages and statistics is particularly dumb, not to mention mildly vulgar; nobody would think of calculating the area of black pigment as opposed to white primed canvas on a Franz Kline painting (as if more were better - "the thicker the paint the greater the art"; or, returning to improvisation, "the more notes you play the better the music".. maybe that would explain the Evan Parker idolatry..). What makes Kline's art a moving experience is the terrific tension between those thick black lines and the surrounding white space, and one might argue that a similar tension exists in the silences of "Hitotsu". It all depends, I suppose, on how you approach the work - that applies as much to Franz Kline as it does to Raku Sugifatti - but it's my considered view that the balance between sound and silence in "Hitotsu" has swung too far towards the latter.
The second disc brings together two live recordings of the duo in (in)action, the first at Vienna's Rhiz on June 2nd 2003, the second six months earlier at Tokyo's Appel. The most noticeable element of the Rhiz recording is the constant chatter (from an adjacent room?) and the occasional groan of distant traffic. Malfatti creeps in behind the sound of a passing car after several minutes, and the gentle upward glissando he slips in at the 28 minute mark sounds more like a departing motor vehicle than it does a trombone. The concert was staged simultaneously with a chess match, which finished before the music, hence the applause that bursts out after 40 minutes and the loud clicks and clunks that precede it. The Japanese crowd at Appel is much quieter - smaller too, probably - but the passing traffic very much more present. One could almost consider it as an example of environmental improv (there's a very nice album on trente oiseaux recorded by Kuwayama Kiyoharu and Kijima Rina on a motorway sliproad), but I'm nonetheless led to wonder why it was released at all. Insofar as the music on Futatsu is even more extreme in its sparseness than previous outings by both Sugimoto and Malfatti, it can, I suppose, be said to represent an advance, if advance is the appropriate word. It does, however, beg the question as to how much further music can go in this direction - if Malfatti played just ten notes instead of twenty, would that be "twice as extreme" again? The quantum leap, one supposes, would be to go from one note to no notes at all. —DW

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Fritz Ostermayer

Mego 070
Viennese music journalist/broadcaster-turned-crooner Fritz Ostermayer apparently came across the title of this, his debut album, after a performance at the Batofar in Paris where a waitress quizzed him about Pierre Henry, of all people. As titles go it's certainly striking, but also elusive, like the album's cover art: this still from Ulrich Seidl's film "Hundstage" clearly represents an orgy in full swing, but as it's dolled up to resemble a Spanish Old Master the fact intriguingly doesn't immediately register. In a similar manner, the ugly banality of these twelve songs - not all of which are by Ostermayer, by the way - is deliberately smothered under a pink fluffy Jeff Koons cushion: everything is not what it seems. (My German's not exactly up to ordering more than a couple of beers and a sausage at a Christmas market, but I have come across the word "arschloch" before - don't ask where - and therefore suspect that the lyrics to "1000 Dank" aren't quite as nice as the beginning of the song might lead one to expect.)
Ostermayer might profess genuine affection for the tacky synths of early 80s electro, and probably has a whole closet full of Nina Hagen albums, but the swoony synths that swirl in the background on "Skin Fire" are cunningly manipulated on that most up-to-date of gadgets, the laptop. Similarly, Martin Siewert's sickly sweet bottleneck guitar on "Alpharhythmen" is slashed apart by ProTools to become something altogether more sinister. Another guest star from the world of contemporary improv, trumpeter Franz Hautzinger, chooses a more direct form of subversion in his solo on "Ave Little Maria": does anyone out there remember Les Dawson? The late, lamented Lancastrian comic used to close his shows by playing tacky standards Clayderman-style at the piano, with excruciating wrong notes. Not any old wrong notes, but the right wrong notes (to quote Robin Holloway out of context), and not too many of them either. I seriously doubt whether Hautzinger has ever heard of Les Dawson, but his inspired Herb Alpert take-off (in front of a backdrop of synthetic mandolins - remember Bowie's "Fantastic Voyage"?) manages to fuck the track up spectacularly.
Ostermayer clearly knows his pop trivia inside out, choosing juicy samples from the likes of Procol Harum and covering two songs by that most venerable of kitsch acts, Sparks ("Angst In My Pants" and "Fun Bunch Of Guys", which, as I recall, was originally entitled "Fun Bunch Of Guys From Outer Space", though I never kept the album long enough to fall in love with it), but the cumulative effect of his vocals, which descend alarmingly often into Leonard Cohen / Nick Cave low register - as any American politician will confirm, there's nothing more "sincere" than a deep voice - is as overwhelming and queasy as a Koons retrospective. Horrifying though it is to admit it, the squeaky clean Casio horror of the final "Dreamalleinunterhalter Dream", which self-destructs into an anarchic and inept clarinet solo courtesy of Karin Ankele, found me thumbing through an essay by arch-reactionary critic Roger Scruton, "Kitsch and the Modern Predicament", where I came across the following passage: "Having recognized that modernist severity is no longer acceptable - for modernism begins to seem like the same old thing and therefore not modern at all - artists began not to shun kitsch but to embrace it, in the manner of Andy Warhol, Alan Jones, and Jeff Koons. The worst thing is to be unwittingly guilty of producing kitsch; far better to produce kitsch deliberately, for then it is not kitsch at all but a kind of sophisticated parody. (The intention to produce real kitsch is an impossible intention, like the intention to act unintentionally.) Preemptive kitsch sets quotation marks around actual kitsch and hopes thereby to save its artistic credentials. The dilemma is not: kitsch or avant-garde, but: kitsch or "kitsch." The quotation marks function like the forceps with which a pathologist lifts some odoriferous specimen from its jar." A smellier specimen than Kitsch Concrčte is going to be hard to find. —DW

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On Creative Sources

Ernesto Rodrigues / Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Guilherme Rodrigues / Margarida Garcia
Creative Sources CS 008

No Furniture
Creative Sources CS 009
Cesura is the latest in a series of Creative Sources releases that feature Portuguese violinist / violist Ernesto Rodrigues in company with various improvisers. Rui Eduardo Paes reports Rodrigues as saying that Cesura is his least musical work. Maybe so, but it is also one of his best. The instruments listed as appearing include a pocket trumpet and an accordion. No doubt these play essential parts in the group's sound, but it is Ernesto Rodrigues's viola, Guilherme Rodrigues's cello and Margarida Garcia's electric double bass that appear to predominate. Bows are dragged slowly over strings and other parts of the instruments, producing an array of slowly unfolding microtonal creaks, shrieks, groans and howls of different pitches, timbres and textures. Instruments are also plucked, rubbed, struck and twisted, yielding complementary layers of sharp percussive retorts, splintering sounds, and other plangent expressions of distressed wood and steel. At times the music rises to an agitated hubbub, but there is no tedious Bell Curve of intensity and activity; the musicians evidently feel under no compulsion to play continuously, and contributions and interactions are often quickly superseded by pensive intermissions. Repeatedly punctuated by silence in this way, the music slowly unfolds with a claustrophobic vividness and considerable melancholy power. If such description makes the music sound somewhat sepulchral, so be it: "cesura" is Portuguese for "cut", and it is not entirely fanciful to think of Rodrigues and his companions as carving up the decayed corpse of the traditional chamber string ensemble, replete with its putrescent inheritance of conventional instrumental techniques and tonal repertoire, in search of a new and unlovely revenant better suited to desperate and disillusioned times. In so doing, they have produced an excellent recording, full of a dark and sanguinary beauty all its own. Strongly recommended.
No Furniture is the eponymous debut release by a Berlin-based trio consisting of Boris Baltschun (sampler), Axel Dörner (computer and trumpet) and Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet). The presence of Dörner and Fagaschinski might lead one to expect the type of ultra-quiet exploration of skeletal structures and isolated granular tones stereotypically associated with so-called 'Berlin Reductionism'. But even expectations better founded than this can be misleading: far from being delicate and diaphanous, the music on No Furniture is raw, vibrant, energetic, volatile and frequently rather loud. Baltschun and Dörner's electronics are very much to the front. Deep subterranean pulsations, monolithic roars, visceral scrapes, and an array of crackles, hisses, high-pitched swarms, etc., move across the soundscape, sometimes coalescing into extended passages of sustained and urgent intensity, often mutating rapidly in complex involutions and collocations, and occasionally dropping into abrupt calm. Aside from a few quieter passages, Dörner's trumpet and Fagaschinski's clarinet tend to work from the margins of the group's sound, curling microtonal tendrils and breathy exclamations around and across the digital streams. Nonetheless, their contributions are integral components of No Furniture's richly multifaceted sound.
The experience of following No Furniture's vertiginous exploration of a multitude of different dynamics, sounds and moods is an exhilarating one. In principle, electronics open up the possibility of stepping far beyond the limitations of conventional musical instruments and scales. No Furniture make effective use of this potential, harnessing it not to a spirit of arid experimentalism but rather to an abundance of musical ideas and enthusiasm. In general, the group's fecundity of imagination offers a refreshing change from the paralysis and painfully extended monomaniac exploration of single, thin ideas and sounds too often committed to CD and mistaken for profundity. It illustrates what can ensue when the array of advanced ideas and techniques pursued in Berlin, Vienna, Tokyo and elsewhere are taken as elements of a widened musical palette rather than as prescriptions for a uniform, mandatory and quasi-sacred minimalism. In short, No Furniture is an excellent recording, perhaps the best example of electro-acoustic music yet to have emerged from the community of advanced musicians in Berlin. Considered along with Cesura, it also testifies to the expanding range and burgeoning importance of the Lisbon-based Creative Sources label. —WS

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In concert: Folke Rabe

Crescendo, Norrköping (Sweden) 3rd February 2004
After a background playing Dixieland trombone and a frustrating visit to the bastion of European serialism, the Darmstadt Summer School (which he described as "rigid and conceited"), the real epiphany for Swedish composer Folke Rabe (born 1935) was his visit to the United States in 1965, where encounters with luminaries such as Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, Ramon Sender, Robert Erickson, Morton Subotnick and La Monte Young exercised a decisive influence on the young composer's music.
The first part of tonight's concert, in the beautiful acoustic of Norrköping's square-shaped wood-panelled concert hall, leaves us with no explicit references to his American experiences, but the influence of his erstwhile teacher Ligeti is apparent in three compositions for brass instruments performed by members of the local Norrköping Symphony Orchestra. A small but attentive audience filters in to hear Rabe introduce his "Basta" for solo trombone, performed by Jimmy Olsson who arrives onstage at high speed from an adjoining room and produces a roaring sound from the trombone, which, coinciding with a sudden burst of light, has an immediate and powerful effect on the nervous system. The piece employs a wide variety of dynamics; fades in and out, attacks and cut-offs, and as soon as it finishes the trombonist rushes back to the room he came from. This theatrical device gives the impression of a musician as a mere tool for the composer to control, a performer in apposition to authority (as represented by the composer); as if the trombonist were forced to obey and unable to accept the applause - or any appreciation whatsoever. In short, as soon as the piece is finished, so is the player - basta!
Olsson returns along with trumpeter Brynjar Kolbergsrud for "Tintomara" (1992) (each piece on tonight's programme is introduced by the composer), the idea for which comes from a novel by the Swedish writer Carl Jonas Love Almquist, centering on the book's androgynous main character. Sex roles are the subject dealt with and there's a parallel in Rabe's choice of instruments, based on an observation on the part of the composer concerning the instruments' respective characters: the trumpet with its penetrating sound and military associations is categorised as male but its register - soprano - is female, while the trombone with its soft, warm tone, and "motherly associations" is female but its register that of the male voice. The musicians play fast, repetitive figures, but soon retreat into softer, more romantic territory, breaking out later into marching lines when the trumpet surprises the trombone and vice versa (illustrated theatrically by pointing the instrument to the other musician, who jumps in fright).
Kolbergsrud and Olsson are then joined by Stefan Mattsson (trumpet), Lennart Langer, (French horn) and Urban Stenqvist (tuba) for the brass quintet "Escalations" (1988), whose sustained tones and restful arpeggio-like figures, passed between the musicians, draw the listener into an inviting idyll, until it suddenly bursts open with a demonic cackle of anxious trumpets and trombones.
The second half of the concert, devoted to Rabe's electronic music, opens with "ARG, NYC March 5 1965 4-5 P.M.", which dates from 1965. Rabe's visit to the USA that year opened his ears not only to experimental music but also to the brash, incisive radio show format, and his collage of tunes, jingles, radio voiceovers and other pop-related sources, despite the limitations of its two-track mix, is as ambitious as many tape-experiments of the period. Slot machine jackpots pay out, "Downtown" blares, Beatles fans scream hysterically and Rabe s(p)lices up pop classics with Schaefferian glee. Though hardly as subtle as the early Riley and Reich outings, "ARG, NYC March 5 1965 4-5 P.M." is still a very satisfying work that deserves to be heard more often.
In 1982 Fylkingen released an LP to celebrate the 70th birthday of John Cage, for which Rabe supplied a four-minute work called "To the Barbender". Ostensibly based on Cage's groundbreaking philosophical ideas, it sounds more like musique concrčte. Rabe may have had Luc Ferrari in mind, notably his masterpiece "Presque Rien No 1", but where Ferrari takes field recordings out of context and carefully reassembles them to create unique and intimate landscape, Rabe's manipulations of church bells seem somewhat gratuitous. Still, it has its moments, and testifies to the composer's willingness to experiment.
Rabe describes "Cyclone", commissioned by the Swedish Concert Institute in the mid 1980s, as his "dreariest, most negative piece, an unhealthy music from the dark days when the world seemed ready to erupt into something very horrifying. Hopefully you won't like it," he adds with a smile. Its dismal painted space, with sustained electronics symbiotically entwined with contrasting, carefully placed sounds and silence makes a strong impression; the work manages to be both warm and beautiful - even romantic - while speaking of an irremediable, dark world.
Rounding off the evening, 1967's "WHAT??" (in quadrophonic sound!), which was reissued on Jim O'Rourke and David Grubbs' Dexter's Cigar imprint a few years ago, takes us back to brighter times, inspired as it was by that aforementioned US trip back in 1965 when drone music was establishing itself in the underground (La Monte Young being the pre-eminent guru). Though Rabe waxes lyrical about the most inspiring experience of staying at Terry Riley's home, the stasis of "WHAT??" clearly owes more to Young. The piece is further enriched by feedback and references to Indian music, and at its end leaves room for meditation in the silent dark space. All notions of time and experience are lost, as are the words to describe such an awesome end to a splendid evening. —KW

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Steve Swell
CIMP 292
Odean Pope and Khan Jamal Quartet
CIMP 294
Mark Dresser & Ray Anderson
CIMP 295
It's a pity that trombonist Steve Swell squanders the opportunity to say a bit about this suite in the liner notes - instead there is a page and a half of denunciations of the Bush administration, in block capitals as if transcribed from protesters' placards. The titles of the eight parts (including "Calling All Travelers", "Wildflowers Grow Along This Highway Too", "Sailing Home", even "Outside Inn") suggest a travel narrative of sorts, maybe a musical one, given the possible allusions to Sun Ra's "A Call for All Demons" and the Wildflowers loft sessions. It's hard to hear this as a closely-argued large-scale composition, since individual tracks are self-contained and usually follow familiar head-solos-head conventions, but Swell's repeated use of favourite devices - such as having melody and groove grind against each other almost independently - lends the entire suite extra coherence. The sextet includes two rarely seen veterans of the music: altoist / flutist / bass clarinettist Will Connell (born in 1938, largely unrecorded though he has worked with Horace Tapscott, David Murray and others) and violinist Charles Burnham (born 1950, best known for his work with James Blood Ulmer and the String Trio of New York). There's a hysterical, finger-wiggling edge to Connell's work, but when he takes time over his phrases they're pungent and tasty. Burnham garnishes his violin with occasional wah-wah effects and reveals a splendid sense of humour (at one point he comes up with something uncannily like a cartoon bimbo going "Yoo-hoo!"). In this idiosyncratic company trumpeter Roy Campbell is almost the straight man - he plays well but can't help sounding a bit prissy. Best of all though is Swell himself, who turns in some marvellous flying-apart-at-the-seams work on the trombone. With four players passing the baton around, the music can get longwinded: had Swell taken a leaf from Barry Guy and tailored each section around just one or two players the 72-minute running time might have been usefully reined in. But credit is due to bassist Franįois Grillot and drummer Kevin Norton for their brisk and alert rhythm-section work that builds genuine drama across even the longest tracks (check out how they accompany each soloist in an entirely different manner on "Groove Merchants of Redwood"). This isn't a flawless disc, but on balance it's a pretty enjoyable date anyway.
Fans of Odean Pope's stern, fervent tenor will be pleased to see their man back in the studio for his first leadership date since 1999. He seems happy to be there, to judge by his titling a Trane-inspired blues line "The Spirit Room", of which two takes are included. The disc offers a big helping of tough, headlong hard bop - including a fresh revisiting of an early Pope composition, "Almost Like Me Part II" - as well as a mighty blowout on "Nothing Is Wrong". Jamal is busy and rhythmically insistent, sometimes too much so: take one of "The Spirit Room" is marred by his plunky comping, and things go better on take three when he lays out behind Pope, opening up space for a pitched three-way battle between saxophone, bass and drums. But Jamal brings several excellent compositions to the date, and on one of them, "Three" (an eerie four-bar cycle recalling creepy Grachan Moncur III pieces like "Frankenstein" and "Ghost Town") turns in a knockout solo. The album also benefits from the sterling work of bassist Arthur Harper and drummer Allen Nelson, who shines on the brutal climax of "Nothing Is Wrong". Again, not a flawless disc - but one worth savouring.
Bassist Dresser and trombonist Anderson have been regular playing partners since the 1970s, often working in a duet format, but Nine Songs Together is their first duo record. It's a superb disc, whose bittersweet flavour owes much to the personal circumstances of the recording: "Taps for Jackie" is Anderson's memorial to his late wife, poet and tap dancer Jackie Raven, while the closing reading of "I'm Confessin' That I Love You" is dedicated to his new fiancée. "Taps" is a remarkable, unsettling performance: the basic theme is a wistful elegy whose changes and mood recall "Autumn Leaves", but Anderson breaks the piece apart with a stricken, babbling trombone solo. A similarly raw moment comes at the piece's end, where he holds onto the tune's last note as long as he possibly can. Dresser's concert appearances bear witness to how physical - visceral - his sense of swing is: screwing up his face, he registers every beat with a sharp intake of breath or exhalation, even as he cuts across it with a tricky offbeat-laden line. Though he's a consummate groove player, he rarely walks - even on Anderson's blues "Insistent," he sounds more like Bo Diddley than Ray Brown, and he likes complex, dancing grooves that owe something to African music. On swinging pieces such as "One Plate" and "Slipinstyle" there's a wonderful contrast between Anderson's easygoing, lyrical trombone and Dresser's tough, vehement bass. Anderson's virtues shine in the spare format: his lines are slippery, wriggly and very long - like spaghetti - but also have an extraordinary tenderness that recalls Johnny Hodges, or (on an emotional reading of "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free") Albert Ayler at his gentlest. Great stuff. —ND

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Bremen To Bridgewater

Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath
Cuneiform Rune 182-83 2CD
A few months ago Steve Beresford contributed a brief but wonderful piece to PT's "Reissue This" slot, waxing lyrical about Kwela by Gwigwi's Band (featuring Gwigwi Mrwebi and Dudu Pukwana on alto saxophones, Ronnie Beer on tenor, Chris McGregor on piano, Coleridge Goode on bass and Laurie Allan on drums). We're still waiting for some enterprising soul to reissue that goody, but in the meantime rejoice: Cuneiform's release of material recorded in 1971 and 1975 by McGregor's magnificent big band, Brotherhood of Breath, is an opportunity to hear the South African pianist in full flight, along with a veritable Who's Who of early 70s British (and expat South African) jazz - Pukwana's in there, of course, along with fellow Blue Notes Mongezi Feza (trumpet) and Louis Moholo (drums), but so are trumpeters Harry Beckett and Marc Charig, saxophonists Elton Dean, Mike Osborne, Evan Parker, Alan Skidmore, Gary Windo and Bruce Grant, trombonists Nick Evans, Malcolm Griffiths and Radu Malfatti, drummer Keith Bailey and bassist Harry Miller.
The 1971 concert, recorded on June 20th in Bremen, Germany (and therefore predating BOB's second studio album and what was hitherto their first live LP, 1973's Live In Willisau on Ogun) kicks off raucously with "Funky Boots March" (credited to Windo and Evans, and one of only two pieces in the set - the other being Pukwana's "The Bride" not penned by McGregor), followed without a break by "Kongi's Theme", a Brotherhood staple. It's classic BOB, powered forward by Moholo's irresistible drumming, with Evans and Griffiths' rugged trombones doubling Miller's bass, close harmony sax arrangements as sweet and sweaty as a township choir, and Feza riding high above - Feza is awesome throughout the album. The music manages to be at one and the same time as tight as hell and as rambunctious as a pub-crawl - the good people of Bremen had probably never heard anything like it, and probably never will again. In his excellent liner notes, Francesco Martinelli is on the ball comparing "Now" to Tadd Dameron (and Ellington and Basie are obvious references throughout), but the ebullient rhythm section cooking behind Marc Charig's poised solo belongs to another world altogether: only the Gil Evans Orchestra ever succeeding as well in incorporating sheer joyful exuberance into otherwise complex arrangements. And so it rolls on - there's no point giving a blow by blow description of what's on offer, as you'll hear it for yourself - packed full of red hot solos (Skidmore and Windo are worthy of mention) and driven relentlessly onward and upward by the irrepressible Moholo.
Four years later, by which time McGregor had relocated to France (yet another sad reflection on the working situation for musicians in Britain), the BOB line-up had changed slightly: the Blue Note hard core was still present - though Keith Bailey is behind the drum set for the two tracks taken from the February 26th concert - but Windo and Skidmore had moved on, to be replaced by Elton Dean, Evan Parker and American baritonist Bruce Grant, and Griffiths had been replaced by Radu Malfatti. It's curious that this issue of PT should feature the latest example of Malfatti's work - see above - as the austere emptiness of Futatsu is about as far as you can get from the exuberance of the Brotherhood, though I'm happy to report that Mr Malfatti's delighted - for once! - to rediscover some of his old work (he doesn't solo here but contributes a splendid composition "Yes, Please"). Two concerts were recorded at the Bridgewater Arts Centre in 1975, on February 26th and November 11th; it was a venue that the band evidently enjoyed playing at, and led to a running joke in the band "Trouble Over Bridgewater", prompted by some excessive consumption of local beverage, which nevertheless did nothing to detract from the performances, which are both exemplary (the same can't be said for the sound quality on the earlier date, but frankly, when the music's as good as this, who gives a fuck?).
Mongezi Feza died of double pneumonia barely a month after the second Bridgewater concert, and subsequent years saw McGregor, Miller, Dyani and Pukwana all check out too soon. Bruce Grant has dropped out of sight, too (if anyone has any news, contact us). On listening to this tough, rough, wondrously life-affirming music, however, dwelling on tragedy seems singularly inappropriate. Nowadays, when jazz is dominated by smart young men in snazzy suits spouting holier-than-thou crap about The Tradition, and "free" improvisers take themselves so damn seriously you're tempted to spike their drinks with LSD, bands like the Brotherhood and musicians like Mongs, Ozzy and Dudu don't exist anymore. So you'd better get your butt down to your local emporium and buy up all available copies of Bremen To Bridgewater right now. You won't regret it. —DW

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Noël Akchoté / Roland Auzet / Luc Ferrari
Blue Chopsticks BC12 CD
Lately on this site and elsewhere we've been spilling a lot of ink about the inappropriateness of the improvisation/composition binary in the face of current musical trends. It's always nice when one's pet theories get some extra hard evidence to back them up: Impro-Micro-Acoustique couldn't have popped out of the mail at a better time. Happening to see a performance by guitarist Noël Akchoté, composer Luc Ferrari was intrigued by the musical similarities between free improv and musique concrčte. Spurred by this discovery, Ferrari has now (in his seventies!) taken up improvisation himself; this disc, a first-time meeting with Akchoté and percussionist Roland Auzet, is the first recording to document his work as an improviser. His work at the piano is confident and strikingly different from the work of most free-improvising pianists in its unhurried exploration of contrasts of sound-colour. Ferrari's conception of improvisation as "real-time concrčte" is bolstered throughout by all three musicians' use of hand-held mikes and loudspeakers in the studio to create improvised audio collages rather than a naturalistic audio document; the results aren't so far from a disc like Agnel/Marchetti/Noetinger's excellent Potlatch outing Rouge Gris Bruit.
The materials and concerns of the CD's five tracks appear to have been carefully delimited in advance, to judge by their programmatic titles. "Sur Le Contraste" offers uneasy jolts, blats and scrapes, sprinkled with recognizable sounds (such as touch-telephone beeps), building to a more sustained passage at the nine-minute mark. "Sur La Pulsation", the disc's best track, is like a half-effaced memory of African folk music; Auzet's hand drumming suggests Hamid Drake on tranquillizers. "Sur Le Continu" is 15 minutes of creepy bowels-of-the-earth rumble; "Sur Le Minimum", skip-hop-and-jump improv, is faux-naīve as a child's game but also suggests the combinatorics of a Zorn game-piece. "Sur Le Rythme" is the disc's one misstep: cute tick-tock rhythms building to a chug - and whose bright idea was it to throw in samples from Star Wars' C3PO? Ignore that duff track and the disc's clutzy portmanteau title though and you're left with a fine album that continues to delight even after the surprise of encountering Ferrari in this context wears off. Recommended.—ND

Warne Marsh
Nessa NCD-7
Even before the advent of the CD, some jazz musicians spent their lives creating boxed sets. Their music falls into "periods", there are "pivotal albums" and "masterpieces", and there's an orderly progression from record label to record label; the current stream of blockbuster Miles Davis reissues on Columbia and the Coltrane sets on Impulse! and Atlantic were preordained from the start. Other discographies never quite snap into focus, and this has a lot to do with why tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh - whose work is scattered among various, mostly small, record labels, and doesn't divide into stylistic "periods" - remains elusive, despite a sizeable recorded output (see Jack Goodwin's lovingly assembled discography at www.warnemarsh.info). Despite my enthusiasm for Marsh's work I've heard only a portion of that discography; but it's safe to say that All Music, a quartet date recorded in 1976 for Nessa, represents one of its highpoints.
Marsh had been involved for several years with West Coast bop big band Supersax; for this album he drew on the Supersax rhythm section of pianist Lou Levy, bassist Fred Atwood, drummer Jake Hanna. The saxophonist opens proceedings with a themeless improvisation on "It's You or No-One" called "I Have a Good One for You". The alternate takes included at the end of the disc are (for once) actually worth hearing. Though the basic outlines are present from the start, you can hear the rhythm section trying different tacks with each take: they change their minds several times about whether to use half-time or play the head straight, gradually sort out the coda, even try it with an electric piano at one point. Even with these sympathetic partners Marsh is operating on a different level: his approach to the introductory cadenza is sufficiently oblique that he finds it necessary to progressively iron it out from take to take for their sake. The released take comes from the second and final day of the session, by which time Marsh's opening is more leisurely, giving little warning of the barrelling momentum of his solo choruses. At the end of the piece, Marsh returns for a simultaneous improvisation with Levy, a procedure repeated elsewhere on the album - and a welcome change from the usual jazz convention of trading fours.
The rest of the program includes the older Marsh tune "Background Music" (marked by a hair-raising Levy solo), Konitz's "Subconscious-Lee" and Tristano's "317 E. 32nd", a gorgeous reading of the ballad "Easy Living", and two tunes from Levy's pen. "Lunarcy" sounds like what would happen if Carla Bley got her hands on "How High the Moon" - Levy has it descending in half-steps rather than whole steps - and when it kicks into double-time it's as electrifying as any of the classic bop records. The alternate take of Levy's "On Purpose" reveals that it began life as a brisk two-handed blues ā la Red Garland or Wynton Kelly; the released version is taken at an after-hours lope, allowing Marsh more time to chew over the modified blues changes. After Atwood's solo (his best of the album) there's no re-entry of the band, just a single feather-light phrase from Marsh to tie things together.
This reissue of All Music is an important addition to the roster of Marsh CDs: up to this point little of his work except the Storyville and Criss Cross dates of the 1970s and 1980s has consistently made the leap from vinyl to CD. Nessa has gone to a fair bit of trouble to get things right: the tapes have been carefully remastered, there are fresh liner notes by Jim Sangrey and Chuck Nessa in addition to the original notes by Lawrence Kart, and there's a generous helping of session photographs. The music itself is outstanding, and in this model reissue comes across clearer than ever. —ND

Various Artists
Thirsty Ear THI 57131.2 CD + DVD
After a slew of tepid crossover albums it's refreshing to see Thirsty Ear's Blue Series showcasing the wealth of talents that appears annually at the Vision Festival instead of teaming them up with lacklustre backbeats and overrated rappers; this CD brings together excerpts of nine acts that appeared at Vision between May 23rd and June 2nd 2002 in St Patrick's Old Cathedral, New York, namely Muntu (Jemeel Moondoc, Roy Campbell, William Parker and Rashid Bakr), Dave Burrell and Tyrone Brown, the Billy Bang Trio, the Douglas Ewart Quintet, the Matthew Shipp String Trio, the Karen Borca Quartet, the Ellen Christi Quartet, the Kidd Jordan / Fred Anderson Quartet and, to close the set on a poignant note, Peter Kowald, captured just before his untimely death. It's an uneven selection, some of which could and perhaps should have been omitted, but provides a good overall view of the event that William and Patricia Parker have curated with love and affection for several years now. With one exception (the contribution from the Karen Borca Quartet) the DVD features the same cuts as the audio CD, and, although of some value as an archive document, it's an alarmingly low quality affair, especially compared to the quality of the sound recording by Stefan Heger and Don Jacobs. Culled from video footage of the event shot by Raymond Ross, its crude montage, garish colours and (on my computer at least) synchronisation problems between sound and image make for an altogether frustrating experience. —DW

Denman Maroney
New World 80607-2
Denman Maroney is perhaps best known to readers as a virtuoso improviser (on "hyperpiano" - that's prepared piano to all intents and purposes), but Fluxations reveals his considerable skills as a composer. It's a six-part suite based on what Earl Howard calls "pulse fields", i.e. complex cycles of overlapping polyrhythms, and perhaps the most rigorous instance to date of improvised music turning its attention to compositional techniques that have existed in more academic circles since the middle of last century (Bill Shoemaker is right to cite Ives and Nancarrow in his extensive and informative liners, but the list of precursors should also include Elliott Carter and György Ligeti). Recruiting a first-class band including bassist Mark Dresser, percussionist Kevin Norton (who both have in-depth experience of notational intricacy through their work with Anthony Braxton), clarinettist / saxophonist Ned Rothenberg and trumpeter Dave Ballou, Maroney certainly has the men for the job, and his scores, though obviously detailed and notated to a high degree of precision, leave room for the occasional juicy solo (Ballou's the guy to watch here). One slight reservation I have about such a line-up is that it inevitably - perhaps deliberately?- resembles the traditional jazz quintet, meaning that Dresser and Norton are often heard more as a rhythm section (i.e. accompaniment) than as rhythmic elements of equal importance. The other quibble is more strictly compositional; in concentrating his attention on the pulse field, Maroney intentionally focuses the listener's attention on the horizontal rather than the vertical, the melodic rather than the harmonic. The lack of strong harmonic identity in most of the music reinforces the rather dry nature of the polyphony. Braxton, whose own GTM music is not too far removed from Maroney's in its concept of pulse, gets round this problem by building spaces into his compositions that allow for abrupt changes of direction, unfettered free playing, and even the incorporation of other Braxton pieces. One wishes that some of these fine players would just let rip once in a while - it'd make the return to the pulse field even more riveting.—DW [This article was commissioned by and originally appeared on Bagatellen.com. Thanks to Alan Jones]

BusRatch / Hijyokaidan
Monotype MN003
BusRatch is a Kyoto-based turntable duo consisting of Takahiro Yamamoto and Katsura Mouri, whose earlier outing Memorium (PARAdisc PACD010, 2002) is well worth seeking out (thanks to Aki Onda for sending that my way). While many experimental turntablists of recent years - eRIKm and dieb13 to name two - have moved further into the world of digital technology (and face it, you're not likely to treat an iPod or a MiniDisc player quite the same way as a Technics), Yamamoto and Mouri belong very much to the Otomo school of turntablism; nasty feedback hums, distressing crunches and all manner of machine torture abound - it's rough, tough and makes a welcome change from the much overhyped onkyo product currently flooding the market. Their two contributions to this split CD last respectively just over nineteen and just under five minutes, but are crammed with detail and noisy as hell to boot. Just as well, as they're sharing the bill with the heavyweight champions of the genre, Jojo, Junko, Mikawa, Kosakai and Ishida, aka Hijyokaidan, who deliver a positively blistering half hour of insanity. There's really nothing you can say about these guys, and even the most colourful description of their music (if that's the word for it) fails utterly to communicate the sheer intensity of the experience. John Peel once coined the expression "brainfry", and that's about the best I can come up with. Simply awe-inspiring. —DW

Rhodri Davies and John Bisset
2:13 CD010
Originally released in 1999 in a small pressing, Malthouse now returns to circulation in a larger edition. Though both harpist Rhodri Davies and guitarist and 2:13 label owner John Bisset are part of the London improvising scene, they chose to record the disc on holiday in Davies' hometown of Aberystwyth, Wales; there's a lightheartedness to the musicians' exchanges which is surely the product of the occasion. In the booklet the musicians are pictured exhibiting instruments doctored with just about every imaginable preparation - Bisset, for instance, has inserted knitting needles, paintbrushes and even a postcard between the strings of his guitar, and poses for the camera with the proud smile of an acupuncturist showing off his favourite patient. These improvisations are friendly tit-for-tat exchanges: more lively and percussive than Davies' work in groups like IST and the Sealed Knot, they nonetheless demonstrate a similarly minute attention to timbral detail. The disc is quite short - 42 minutes - and most tracks are jeux d'esprits of one to three minutes in length; the standout performances, however, are the two longest pieces, "Un" and "Deg", where Bisset comes up with some of his most surprising playing (including hard-strummed rhythm guitar and what sounds like a mangled tape-recording of his own playing). This is a very welcome reissue, and fans of UK improv will want to check it out. Since its original release Bisset has released other duets recorded in the hometowns of his playing partners: Chapel (with Burkhard Beins, in Wietze-Wieckenberg, Germany) and Crypt (with Alex Ward, in Grantham, England), and they too are both worth getting hold of. —ND

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Elliott Carter
Mode 128 CD DVD
Elliott Carter can be considered as one of the United States' (and the world's) major composers not only of the twentieth century, 92 years of which he has already lived through, but - as he shows no sign of letting up - of the beginning of the twenty-first. This magnificent celebration of Carter's recent music (one hesitates to use the word "late" lest it be misinterpreted - remember JFK and Marilyn..) is therefore a major release. Carter is one of the last great masters - and here the word "last" is, sadly, maybe appropriate - of a school of composition that still believes that pitch and rhythm are of primary importance. Any Carter score from the 1950s onwards provides rich pickings for analysts well-versed in set theory looking for sophisticated applications of pitch class phenomena, but his investigations into rhythm at the micro and macro level are also hugely important, representing as they do an attempt to transpose structural procedures derived from pitch into the domain of tempo, an attempt as theoretically coherent (and arguably more musical) than Milton Babbitt's time point system. Apart from its compositional craftsmanship, Carter's music quite simply sounds great; die-hard modernists who believe that the time-honoured procedures of development towards and away from climax are old-hat should think again. The earliest composition here, "Syringa", dates back to when Carter was a sprightly youngster at age 70; the remaining five offerings were written between 1991 and 2000. It's available as a standard CD or a DVD, the video element of which consists of a beautifully realised if slightly arty film document of pianist Ursula Oppens performing the 1997 piano quintet with the Arditti Quartet, and a 40-minute interview with Oppens, Irvine Arditti and Carter himself conducted by the Sospeso Ensemble's Joshua Cody (who, as readers of PT will know, was one of the founders of this organ, back in the days when it was published in print format as the Paris New Music Review).
"Syringa", which sets fragments of Greek poetry (sung by a baritone) simultaneously with poetry by John Ashbery (sung by a mezzo-soprano), revisits the Orpheus myth. The spiky interjections of the accompanying eleven-piece ensemble, notably the acoustic guitar, fleetingly recall Boulez's celebrated "Le Marteau sans Maître", and Carter is, along with Boulez (and Nono), one of very few composers of his generation able to write highly complex lines for singers that are still eminently singable and comprehensible for the listener. "Tempo E Tempi", dating from twenty years later, reveals the same mastery. Setting a cycle of Italian poetry, by Eugenio Montale, Salvatore Quasimodo and Giuseppe Ungaretti, the work is simultaneously a song cycle for soprano and ensemble (oboe, clarinet, violin and cello - members of the Ensemble Sospeso, making its impressive recording debut) but also a quintet - Carter's ear for pitch and contour is as acute as ever, and despite the work's macro-rhythmic complexity (reminding us that "tempo" translates as "time" and "tempo"), attentive listening reveals the myriad cross-connections and exchanges between the five participants.
Along with Josh Cody and PT Publisher Guy Livingston, I was fortunate enough to have attended the French premiere of the "Quintet for Piano & Strings", and vividly remember us all leaving the Maison de la Radio in a state of euphoria, which I'm happy to report returns with each subsequent listening to this 1997 minor masterpiece (minor only in that it lasts just fifteen minutes - but what glorious minutes!). By now, the music press has practically exhausted the supply of superlatives to describe the playing of the Arditti Quartet and pianist Oppens, so I won't bother to try to find more here. The "Quintet for Piano & Winds" dates from six years earlier, and continues Carter's ongoing investigation into instruments as distinctive dramatis personae. The composer refers to an "interplay of commentary, answer, humorous denial, ironic, supportive or self-effacing", but the work is far from a facile attempt to have musical instruments play out stock dramatic clichés. It's a tough, abstract but supremely lyrical span of music, performed with exemplary attention to detail by Oppens and a wind quartet consisting of Steve Taylor, Charles Neidich, William Purvis and Frank Morelli.
In 2000, Carter penned a tribute to his friend Boulez on the occasion of the latter's 75th birthday in the form a two-minute piano work entitled "Retrouvailles" ("Rediscoveries"). Having already offered musical birthday presents to Boulez for his 60th and 70th (both of which are quoted in this work), one awaits the French composer's 80th birthday celebrations next year with interest, if only to see what Carter will do next. "Retrouvailles", like everything else on this superb release, is proof, if any more were needed, that his skill as a composer and mastery of both short and long forms remain undiminished. —DW

David Manson
EMIT - www.emitseries.org
In the world of music you might already know of two Mansons (Charles and Marilyn), but trombonist David is worth checking out too. Beast presents five works for the beast itself, i.e. the trombone, and electronics. It's a combination that naturally brings the pioneering work of Vinko Globokar to mind - no surprise then that the opener, "Mambo Vinko", was originally written for that virtuoso trombonist / composer by Javier Alvarez back in 1993, on a commission from the GRM in France. It's a real road-movie of a piece, recalling a truck journey the composer took across Mexico as a hitchhiker, complete with incessant Perez Prado on the radio and the roar of the truck itself - another beast, as anyone who's ever seen Duel will testify. Manson is not only adept at handling the complexities of a score, though; he's also a gifted improviser, as the four and a half minute tussle with guitarist Davey Williams, "All Clear Now", amply reveals. The centrepiece of the album, however, is "Confessions of a Virtue Addict", by Dartmouth-based Eric Lyon, who must be the only composer to have studied with Milton Babbitt, Gordon Mumma and written erudite articles on XTC and Aphex Twin. "My compositional strategies favor divergence over unity in response to late 20th century information overload," writes Lyon, and, as in his "Retirement Fund" chamber operas with poet Erik Belgum, there's a bewildering array of styles on offer here, from dreadfully cheesy string synth sub-Messiaen to diseased hiphop to queasy noise, all of which Lyon plays with like a cat torturing a mouse. Imagine a horrific laboratory-created monster, a kind of sick cross between Hindemith, Mike Paradinas and Joseph Schwanter. Even the nice tonal ending leaves a strange aftertaste. Lyon's beast is a hard act to follow, but the shattered plunderphonics of Gustavo Matamoros' "RE:DAVID" will do just fine. Plunderphonics is maybe a misleading description, as the cutting and splicing is here executed in real time by means of interactive gated software; where Lyon lays the 20th century corpses side by side on a slab and lets them rot, Matamoros chops them up. Manson's own "Freund" also uses interactive software (that old fave AudioMulch), feeding in a minute of raw trombone and letting the machine generate a set of canonic patches. Multitracked trombones sound terrific (this one had me running back to JA Deane's work on "Madison Ave." on that old 1981 Indoor Life album); after the twin autopsies from Lyon and Matamoros, "Freund" is the dignified graveside oration. At least the 20th century can have a decent funeral. As for the trombone, David Manson's work is clear proof that there's life in that beast yet. Check it out. —DW

Kamran Ince
Innova 600
The Classes of '86 and '87 in Composition at Rochester NY's Eastman School of Music found various ways to come to terms with the impact of former ESM protégé Michael Torke's "Vanada", which, as far as awards go, had fairly swept the board the year before. Torke's masterpiece - I think the word is not inappropriate - showed that the process and surface energy of minimalism could be harnessed to a tight classical form and crossbred with the rhythm and harmony of funk and disco. Faced with "Vanada", the Masters and Doctoral students in composition had to take a stand - Bill Doerrfeld, Kamran Ince and myself tried to follow Torke's lead, while Todd Levin, Paul Reller and Eric Lyon teamed up to promote an aggressively avant-gardist counterblast of noise in a short-lived but (in the little world of Eastman) notorious electronic improv outfit called Lilacs. Torke hit the jackpot and moved to New York City, where he continues to churn out ballets and operas at an impressive rate of knots, Doerrfeld headed to Yale via the Netherlands to pick up the vibes from Louis Andriessen, and Kamran Ince (born in Montana of Turkish and American parents) moved in with me while he finished his degree. At the time he was writing bold, neo-tonal music, full of dramatic gesture and rhythmic panache, but seemingly uninterested in developing musical ideas into large-scale structures.
18 years down the road, Doerrfeld seems to have dropped off the map (off my Google anyway) after a brief hook-up with the Bang On A Can crowd, Levin switched camps and burnt himself out spectacularly with the jaw-droppingly banal (but technically flawless) orchestral album De Luxe, Reller and Lyon have retreated to safe posts in academia (in Florida and New Hampshire respectively) and now engage in covert operations of information overload warfare on established genres and traditions - see above - and Kamran Ince writes, well, bold, neo-tonal music, full of dramatic gesture and rhythmic panache, but seemingly uninterested in developing musical ideas into large-scale structures. Listening to In White is like stepping back through time to when we used to thrill together to Christopher Rouse's "The Infernal Machine" on repeat play on my cassette deck ("for orchestration this is my Bible, man!" Kamran used to exclaim enthusiastically). Rouse's five-minute orchestral thriller was, like John Adams' "Harmonielehre", scarred for life by Prokofiev and Stravinsky (notably the "Symphony in Three Movements"). Ince's music also clearly reflects the influence of late 70s Reich (though with a short attention span) and Andriessen (saxes, clunky keyboards and clumsy doublings), but also, lurking behind the music's fondness for self-contained sections, Stravinsky and Janacek. This is more apparent in the ensemble works on offer here, "Flight Box", "In White" and "Turquoise" (given Torke's penchant for naming pieces after his favourite colours, Ince is surely asking for trouble with such a title). The solo offerings, "MKG Variations" for cello, and "In Memoriam 8/17/99" for piano, reach back further to the safety of tried and trusted classical forms - notably the chaconne; the cello piece is rather like a romantic gloss on Michael Nyman's "Zoo Caprices". Scratch that lowercase "r", let's call it Romantic (Kamran is and always has been). The nagging question that remains is to what extent music like this can be described as "contemporary", since any one of the five compositions could have been penned at just about any moment in the past thirty years. —DW

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Laurent Pernice & Jacques Barberi
Slovenia's Ars Electronica 2002 prize-winner Marko Peljhan's label rx:tx follows its excellent compilation of Eastern European electronica Progress: The Trieste - Vladivostok CTM03.line with two new releases by British electronician Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner, and the French duo of Jacques Barberi and Laurent Pernice.
The list of projects over recent years featuring Scanner, whose sound art managed to make clubbers think a little (or at least laugh ironically) by playing them recordings of other people's private telephone conversations in concerts, is seemingly endless. His primary source of influence here is a disturbing work by American writer Nicholson Baker, who's found out that some American libraries, disillusioned with having to provide extra room for new titles, have redefined the word efficiency by scanning space-taking paperbacks on microfilm and storing them in new digital databases (Gutenberg turns in his grave). The final touch, a nasty example of history repeating itself, is fire: the same devil's playground that inspired Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451". In other words, BURN them damn Dostoevskies, BURN the Korans, BURN Ibn this and Abu that, BURN Torahs and Bibles… you name it, we burn it. A nice PR campaign for the waste combustion industry, perhaps, but not for a library (or at least a library as we know it). And where there's scanning and books burning there's fireman Scan, asking questions on issues of civilization, progress and technology, with his mouth shut and his Powerbook open. The musical content illustrates Baker's context perfectly: the work is based on Scanner's private sound files from year 1980 to 2002, centred on a steady 128 bpm pulse and organised into one eight-part track. The first and last parts ("The Size Of Thoughts") are identical, covers for the virtual book as it were, and both sound like early 90s Illbient CDR compilations where melody is bricked together but somehow floats effortlessly. The first track oozes into "Microfilm", Deep House with high-pitched tablas in the background, before the cheap organ-like staccato punctuations of "Brittle Fiction" (revealing a soft spot for Soft Cell - well, we were all young once..) quickly dissolve into loopy mantra-like dialogues. These are supposed to psychoacoustically trigger suggestive echoes in the minds of E-addled ravers, but on my fifth listening after barely a minute of its 7'41'' sonic inaction I skip to the next track, the kind of steady trance the Germans used to do better back in 1995. Scanner's conceptual quiz raises two important questions, one about contemporary CD spam and how we recycle lame CD material, the other being whether primers on two last decades of electronic music as lousy as this should remain in the archives or be distributed to the wider world. Even if they're signed by a Guy Called ScaNNdal, works as pretentious as this belong to trendy lo-fi electronica. Then again, we now have Kings and Kid606-like types to reign somewhere over the rainbow.
Drosophiles and Doryphores (fruit flies and Colorado beetles, if you're interested) features Laurent Pernice on electric piano and Powerbook and Jacques Barberi on tenor sax and voice, reading his own science fiction. Sounds interesting enough for fans of downtempo jazz fusion, with Barberi's melismatic tenor resembling John Lurie's broken cinematographic sound, but there are some squeaks and squeals - textbook dramatic wails, rather, effective with desired depth. Pernice, however, is hardly a French Chris Abrams, or even Marseille-based Michael Nyman, and the reverberated chords and ambient melodies give new meaning to the word unpretentious, as if unpretentious has become an individual and untouchable category in its own right. The sixth piece, "Le miroir observe", featuring Barberi's speaking voice clothed in Pernice's electronic processing, divides the CD in two halves. Pernice plays his electronic marbles over Barberi's decadent spoken chill - probably spiced with pastis - murmuring as if he could see himself trapped in a glass tank of Pernice's creation. Things settle down in "Reverie metallique", with its ambient impressionistic electric piano moving out front while the album's rhythmic backbone, computer programming, lurks behind. This album's real kick is its undemanding sound, something like Nosferatu on Prozac. —VJ

Christopher Willits
Fällt F.0032.0001
Bit of a cop-out to quote the press release, but it neatly sums up what's on offer: "Willits plays guitar and uses a series of self-built signal processes that fold smooth guitar lines on top and into each other, generating patterns within patterns." Those familiar with the San Francisco-based musician's preceding outing, Folding, and the Tea (on 12k) - which apparently sold out within two months - know what to expect. As with that album, once you've got used to the gently irregular clicks that articulate Willits' folded lines, it's all too easy to switch off and relegate the music to the background, where it probably doesn't belong. Pollen is harmonically more adventurous than its predecessor (particularly "Stomata" and the final "Surfacing"), but not much more so: one wishes Willits could have applied his folding technique to material of a somewhat more acerbic and arresting nature. Still, high marks for sheer craftsmanship and, as ever, exquisite packaging.—DW

AB-CD F.0018.0003
Fällt's AB-CD series is a neat and elegantly designed solution to the problem of how to release relatively short-duration live CDs without resorting to pesky little three-inchers, and the music of Komet, aka Raster Noton's Frank Bretschneider, is as pristine and cool as Fehler's maths textbook design. Taken from a performance in Freiburg in 2000, Arc finds Bretschneider working directly with pure sinewaves and white noise (i.e. the simplest and most complex sounds at his disposal), the latter giving the music's surface a slightly more textured finish than some of his other previous outings. Bretschneider's mastery of his sonic arsenal and impeccable sense of timing are as convincing as they are enjoyable, and Arc covers more ground in its 22 minutes than many albums do in an hour or more. Shame they included the applause at the end, though.—DW

Hard Sleeper
AB-CD F.0018.0004
Hard Sleeper, aka Peter Maybury, hails from Dublin, where Land was recorded in concert at a performing space called Rausch. Once more, those familiar with the labels 12k, LINE, Mille Plateaux and Raster Noton won't be surprised by the surface of Maybury's music; polished, discreet in volume, harmonically conservative (unashamedly diatonic), leisurely in pace and gently pockmarked with clicks'n'cuts that often imply rather than embody a sense of pulse, it looks back almost nostalgically to the sleek pattern work of 1970s mainstream minimalism, especially Reich (the pulses that fade in at 11'07"). Conceived as a kind of suite - track indexes could have been inserted at several places, notably at 14'45", to mark out the constituent "movements" - it's accessible and accomplished, if not exactly revolutionary. —DW

Gigi Masin & Giuseppe Caprioli
Ants AG07
The only problem with discs, apart from finding the time to listen to them all, is knowing where to put them when one has - especially problematic, that, with this latest outing on Ants, ostensibly a label I'd file under "contemporary", though these nine tracks by Gigi Masin and Giuseppe Caprioli (both credited on tapes and electronics) have more in common with Brian Eno's Ambient music - thinking particularly of the Daniel Lentz-like "Aften" and the closing spacious "Vertical" - than they do with either the static dronery of composers like Phill Niblock (though Caprioli's "First Dream" and "Ipogeo" might qualify) or the laptop flutters of contemporary electronic improv ("Density"). Wherever it goes though, it's pleasant and accomplished (if not exactly groundbreaking) work, though I'm given to wonder whether the two epithets used to market the Italian label - "a new timeless sound" - aren't somehow contradictory. —DW

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