JULY News 2004 Reviews by Nate Dorward, Stephen Griffith, Guy Livingston, Walter Horn, TJ Norris, Wayne Spencer, Dan Warburton:



Editorial: Time, gentlemen, please
In print: David Toop
On Erstwhile:
Keith Rowe / Axel Dörner / Franz Hautzinger / Christian Fennesz / Sachiko M / Toshimaru Nakamura / Otomo Yoshihide
Pekka Airaksinen
New compilations
on List, Unsounds, Emanem & psi
Mattin
On Ayler: Michael Marcus / Mongezi Feza / Rashied Ali & Arthur Rhames
In Concert:
Le Trio de Voyage
JAZZ / IMPROV:
Tony Buck & Axel Dörner / Frank Gratkowski / Dietrich Eichmann & Jeff Arnal / Paul Hood / James Finn / Gail Brand & Morgan Guberman /
John Tilbury & Eddie Prévost / amalgam(e) / Liebig, Vatcher, Golia / Carles Andreu & François Tusques / Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Rodrigues Rodrigues Uebele & Oliveira / Berlin Drums
ELECTRONICA:
Dielectric Minimalist All-Stars / Birchville Cat Motel / Asmus Tietchens / Jason Kahn
Last MONTH



Time, gentlemen, please

 

At the end of each year, Wire journalists are invited to submit their Best Of lists along with a brief paragraph listing the year's Pros and Cons. I'm not quite sure why they ask for this, especially considering that the Cons comments are invariably an excuse for run-of-the-mill bitching about the state of the music business (dismal), the state of the planet (dire) and state of US foreign policy (disastrous), but my own personal beef is usually the same: too many records, too little time. Old old story, I know, but bear with me. A number of people wrote in to express surprise that my personal Top 40, a list I compiled last summer to amuse myself, contained only one relatively recent free improv album, Taku Sugimoto's Opposite. The reason for that is quite simple: it's perhaps the only album of the genre that has come my way in the past hectic half decade that I've played often enough to know inside out. I like to think you could drop the needle on any one of those 40 records and I'd be able to identify it after three seconds, but in all honesty I doubt I could say the same for most of the stuff I've acquired (received or bought - yes, I still buy records) since the twin towers came tumbling down.
The question I'm trying to get at here is how many times should one listen to a new album before writing a review of it? I remember Nikos Veliotis staring at me over a beer in wide-eyed astonishment when we first met and recorded together in the summer of 2001 when I told him I made a point of listening (properly listening) to albums five times before putting pen to paper, as it were. Back then that was actually true - today it's still a noble goal I aspire to but one that I almost always fail to reach. (There are exceptions: I remember being taken to task by Jon Abbey for what he thought was a rather racy and flippant review of The Flirts (Erstwhile 017), his suspicion being that I hadn't listened to the album often enough to write something, um, serious about it. In point of fact, I had given The Flirts the regulation five possings but still felt like writing something humorous, because I thought and still think it's a fun album. Go back and listen to it and see if you agree. So, anyway, when Erstwhile's legendary AMPLIFY box came my way, I set aside the necessary time - a lot of it - to listen to each of the 7 CDs five times, and watched the magnificent DVD at least three times all the way through, as I recall. As it turned out, the review I wrote still managed to rub Jon up the wrong way, but that's ancient history. Time to move on..) On average, about thirty CDs (and the odd vinyl, hooray) arrive in my mailbox each week, and if you're keeping tabs, you can tot up how many reviews of mine appear each month, either in PT or on related Websites I occasionally write for - Bagatellen, Squid's Ear - and magazines (The Wire, Signal To Noise). Not many, eh? I'm now at the stage where the average minimum number of attentive listenings a disc receives is down to three - some get many more, some, I'll admit, get two, and I'll even own up to reviewing a few after just one. Very few, though. And I'm not at all proud of the fact. But I'll bet you anything you like I'm not alone.
How many albums have you got, anyway? If you have more than a thousand, how well do you know them? How often can you find the time to go back and listen to old stuff ("old" in my case being something I received last month)? Let's do a bit of mathematics here (though if you're getting bored with this rant scroll down and read something more interesting): SUPPOSE for the sake of argument you're a music journalist who gets up every day at 6am and crashes out at 11pm (that's the case with me). Suppose you don't have a regular day job and can support yourself solely from your writing (excuse me I just fell off my chair laughing). Suppose you're not married or you're divorced (probably highly likely if you have to inflict the kind of music I like on a long-suffering spouse) and have no other daily obligations towards children. Still with me? Not fallen asleep yet? Good, we'll continue. OK you've got 17 hours a day, seven days a week assuming you don't EAT. Most people however do so we'd better set aside a couple of hours a day for sundry occupations such as shopping, cooking (though you could do like Christopher Rouse used to and live on fast food - but look at the music he ended up writing), washing and other necessary acts of bodily hygiene. That leaves us with fifteen hours then. Let's say a CD lasts on average 60 minutes - of course if Martin Davidson produced it you'd better up that to 70, and if it's by Bhob Rainey you can bet on 45 (good man, Bhob: one side of a C90 cassette, perfect for my Walkman) - and you allow yourself an hour to write the review (which hardly gives you ample time to cross check with press releases, the Internet and maybe even dip into earlier albums by the same artist, but never mind). According to my "three times through" rule, it'll take you four hours to turn out the review. If you're really on the ball you might be able to crank out four a day. Multiplying by seven that should in theory be 28 reviews a week, but even God had a rest on Sunday (or Saturday, according to your persuasion) so be generous with yourself and give yourself a day off once a week. You might find you have to clean your windows, or take your car to the garage, or even - heaven forbid - go to a record store and BUY MORE DISCS. On second thoughts, be REALLY generous with yourself and limit it to 20 reviews a week. And don't forget you've got no time to listen to anything other than the stuff you're reviewing, and you have to forego the pleasure of going out in the evenings or seeing any other member of the human race. It's you, the night and the music, pal.
Now, without divulging trade secrets here, if you managed to sell all 20 reviews to the leading publications in the field, you still might not make enough bread to pay the rent (not my rent, in any case). But even that's a mighty big IF, since, as everyone knows, the small world of new music is bursting at the seams with hopelessly addicted scribblers like myself, and the competition to place a couple of reviews a month with a publication like The Wire is ferocious (I think I got four in there once, but just once). So perhaps you'd better get used to the idea that your words of wisdom might not pay for a bottle of wine, or even see the light of day at all (my advice: set up a Website). It's my guess then that, unless they inherited a fortune or married into serious money, most of the writers whose work we know and love have other occupations during the day to help them make ends meet (I do.) But WAIT, that cuts down the listening time, right? If you're working full time - technically 35 hours a week here in France but in reality everyone's still doing 39 and most people more like 50 - you're faced with a difficult choice: either abandon the music journalism altogether (this has been suggested to me, and not so politely, by several correspondents who preferred to remain anonymous) or scale down your activities. You could still trot out 20 reviews a week but it's patently obvious you'd be cheating yourself and doing a massive disservice to your readers and to the artists who've graciously sent you a copy of their work free of charge. Because after all, dear readers, this music matters to us. If it didn't you wouldn't be reading this shit. Reviews probably don't sell many discs unless they're extravagant full pagers in The Wire (and even then that's debatable.. I wonder how many copies of the New Blockaders' Gesamtnichtswerk were shifted by David Keenan's rave in Wire 234), but they do help steer a few individuals towards music that they might not have known before. A well-written review, even by a journalist I don't feel any great sympathy for as a rule, like Ian Penman, can still send me scurrying to the local emporium (case in point being Penman's piece on Jimi Tenor a year or so ago. Can't say I was really blown away by the album, but I bought it within 48 hours of reading Ian's piece. Haven't listened to it much since either, NO TIME… aaaagh rewind to beginning of piece).
Anyway, to try and tie this thing up before we all get much older (gotta dash - just received a new LP from Crouton Music and I'd rather like to listen to it before I have to go off to work in an hour's time), to all the readers out there: please bear in mind that even the finest music journalist out there worth his/her salt, with a good record collection, sound knowledge and the noblest of intentions might not have listened to the albums s/he's reviewing more than a couple of times (if the writing's good it's usually hard to spot such a review, but there are a few telltale signs: "richly repays repeated listening" usually means the guy was sufficiently attracted by the album to play it more than twice). First or second impressions might end up passing as considered judgement, and that's not always a good thing, as many musicians who've written in to bitch about my reviews have pointed out to me (and they're right). But, as Penman would say, what's apawboy to do? Should we continue to stockpile hundreds of discs a year and only review those we've listened to ten or twenty times? (I imagine the discs will soon stop coming..) Is it better to spread yourself wide and listen to as much as possible or put up electric fences and restrict yourself to one particular genre of music, or one label, or even one artist? (There's enough new product coming onto the market from the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Anthony Braxton and Tetuzi Akiyama - to name but three - to keep a dedicated fan busy for a year..) And what about the albums you got last week? Have you forgotten them? I used to amuse myself (masochistically) by asking visiting friends to blindtest me on my own record collection, but I gave up the practice one day when I failed to identify an album I'd reviewed for The Wire just three weeks previously (after FIVE listenings too, and NO I'm NOT going to tell you which one). That was fucking depressing.
The other message I'm sending out here is to the musicians and labels who send stuff in to PT and wonder what happens to it. I'm not going to try and compete with everyone else out there and get a review hammered out and up online just to be the first to review the thing (and believe me, there is intense pressure in the new music press - and in the media in general - to be the first one to break the story). On the other hand, given the huge number of releases, it makes little sense to me to review albums in July 2004 that came out in July 2002. You gotta move on, man. I can but apologise to those good people whose music hasn't ended up being reviewed - rest assured it was certainly attentively listened to - and hope this rambling missive might go some way to explaining why not. In any case, thanks go out as ever to all PT's contributing journalists and to everybody who has submitted material for review. As Signal To Noise editor Pete Gershon sez, "onward and upward". Meanwhile, bonne lecture with this latest issue. Now, where's that Crouton LP…?—DW


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David Toop

David Toop
HAUNTED WEATHER: MUSIC, SILENCE AND MEMORY
Serpents Tail 280pp, + 2CD (Staubgold 52)
It seems to me there are two ways to approach writing a book about music: compose it or improvise it. Plan it out in advance in meticulous detail (one imagines Post-It notes and lists of keywords in fluorescent green highlighter pen in tiny ruled notebooks) or let your pen - cursor, rather - flow and discover the structure as you go along. Of course, as we all know, there is nowadays a genuine middle ground between composition and improvisation - compositions that include improvised elements, improvisations that follow a structural game plan, either conducted or (partially) notated - and the same is true for books on the subject. David Toop, it should not be forgotten, was active as an improvising musician well before he evolved into one of the most articulate and readable critics of his generation, and though it's clear the overall formal plan of his latest book Haunted Weather was sketched out in advance, what makes Toop's writing so enjoyable is its ability to stray off the path into the undergrowth to smell the flowers before resuming its journey.
Of course, such a style might not please everyone. Toop's story is an intensely personal one, and whether one wants to or not one learns as much about the fruit trees in his garden and the hum of the electricity substation down the road as one does about the work of John Stevens, Akio Suzuki, Max Eastley, Rolf Julius, Chris Watson, Christian Fennesz and numerous others whose private emails to the author are prominently featured. Wire readers will spot (and might resent) the slight return to territory previously explored in the pages of that venerable organ, and those familiar with Toop's previous books Exotica and Ocean Of Sound will recognise some of Haunted Weather's recurring themes like an old friend down the pub. Indeed, Toop's prose flows like a conversation over a few pints down at the local (not that I believe the author frequents such establishments): a name pops up in the conversation, and so does a brief biographical detour (unlike the pop-up windows that appear with increasing frequency to thwart Internet surfing, which I close as soon as they appear, Toop's asides are as interesting as they are informative). The narrative moves effortlessly from Carl Weissman's singing dogs to Buchanan and Goodman's "The Flying Saucer" to John Benson Brooks to Man Ray to Hugh Davies to Stockhausen to Steve Beresford to Gavin Bryars to Terry Riley to Junior Walker to John Oswald to Michael Snow to Mickey Spillane to Christian Marclay to Graham Greene, folding back on itself from time to time like one of Toop's own delicate flute arabesques. Like Cage, Toop understands that anecdote is infinitely more powerful than manifesto (one of the reasons why a writer like Ben Watson can't stomach Toop's work) - his stories of Japanese multimedia exhibitions, Thames tugboats and his mum's recollection of Zeppelin raids sit comfortably side by side with Chris Watson's tales of being freaked out in the Kielder Forest, Rolf Julius planting unplugged loudspeakers in the Finnish wilderness and Tom Recchion's tinnitus. Only rarely do things drag - though I'm as big a fan of Toru Takemitsu as Toop is, I did find the twenty-page discussion of his soundtrack work in "Moving through sound" (fascinating though it is) rather long after the excellent résumé of sound art that makes up the preceding chapter "Space and memory" - but in any great improvisation there are peaks and troughs, and Toop is wise enough to trust his instinct and leave such moments in rather than edit the book down into a squeaky-clean but sterile remix.
One acid test of a book like this as far as I'm concerned is whether is excites your curiosity enough to want to go out and hunt down the works the author refers to (to facilitate the task Toop provides a bibliography and discography for related reading / listening, as well as the double CD that accompanies the book, of which more later). As such, Haunted Weather is a runaway success: not only did I actually start rereading the book from page one as soon as I'd finished it (the last time I did that was with Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, which, as it happens is a book David Toop knows well, having namechecked it in Ocean of Sound), but I also ran out and spent far too much money on DVDs of Japanese films (for a second opinion on whether that's a good or bad thing, contact my bank manager). But there's another yardstick of even greater importance, for musicians and non-musicians alike: read attentively a chapter as fascinating (not to mention well-written) as "Space and memory" and you begin to listen to your surroundings differently. I first read this chapter in a park and became progressively more aware of a whole world of sound around me that I had been filtering out, from footballs being kicked across the stereo space (and the echo of the kicks rebounding at me from the wall opposite) to the high frequency chatter of birds high in the sky, from snatches of other people's conversations that I found I was able to focus in on with surprising directionality to the low rumble of traffic near and far. Toop's writing is, after all, like his music: sensual, ambient (since Ocean Of Sound that's not a put-down), very much of-its-world (without being matter-of-fact) but with a subtle and discernible whiff of exotic fragrance (and that could include rotten figs as well as Japanese hotel corridors).
The accompanying Staubgold double CD features 33 tracks, of which 28 are culled from available releases by artists as diverse as Matmos and Taku Sugimoto, though unless you're a hardened new music disc junkie I doubt you'll own them all. And in any case, it's worth the price of admission for the unreleased and not commercially available stuff by Janet Cardiff, Sarah Peebles, Akio Suzuki, David Cunningham and Jem Finer. As compilations go it can stand alone as an excellent survey of many aspects of the new music scene, from free improvisation (Sugimoto and the lowercasers are there, but so too are Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, John Stevens and John Butcher) to the outer reaches of what used to be called techno (Pan Sonic, Autechre and Carsten Nicolai) and sonic research and field recording (Alvin Lucier, Chris Watson, Peter Cusack), but it goes so perfectly with Toop's book that you'd be daft to buy one without shelling out for the other.—DW


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On Erstwhile

Keith Rowe / Axel Dörner / Franz Hautzinger
A VIEW FROM THE WINDOW
Erstwhile 041
Keith Rowe / Christian Fennesz
LIVE AT THE LU
Erstwhile 043
Why do we go to concerts and / or buy records? The simple answer is because we want to, because we like the music. Face it, unless you're a professional sociologist, you're not likely to pay a small fortune to see The Rolling Stones if you hate rock music, or buy a ticket for Berg's "Wozzeck" if you're not an opera buff. And though there are several points in common between a rock extravaganza and a big opera production (lavish décor and costumes, special effects, lighting..), fans spilling out of the stadium after two hours of Jagger and Richard's Greatest Hits feel something quite different from the numbness engendered by a first-class performance of Berg's opera. Enjoying art is not just a question of having a good time, but can also involve being profoundly disturbed, even terrified by it.
Neither of these two new Erstwhile releases from guitarist Keith Rowe is especially terrifying, but I am drawn back to what he said in an interview he gave me in January 2001, which PT readers will by now no doubt be familiar with, but forgive me for quoting it yet again: "I wanted to make something that was not very liked, something that was not obviously a well-rounded performance, something which wasn't aesthetic, something which wasn't that satisfying," Rowe said of his album Harsh (Grob). As Rowe has made frequent reference to his formative experiences in art school in the early 1960s, and willingly namechecks the Cubists (see also Bill Ashline's "The Pariahs of Sound: On the Post-Duchampian Aesthetics of Electro-acoustic Improv" in Contemporary Music Review, Vol 22 No 4, 2003), he won't mind me quoting a remark attributed to Georges Braque: "Art disturbs us; science reassures us." (These days, of course, there's plenty of disturbing news coming from the world of science too, but be that as it may.) These two beautifully produced new releases on Erstwhile provide much food for thought, and even after numerous concentrated listenings raise intriguing and perhaps unanswerable questions about the nature and function (both intra- and extra-musical) not only of electro-acoustic improv, but music in general.
A View From The Window was recorded in Christoph Amann's studio in Vienna at the end of November 2003, and finds Rowe in the company of Europe's foremost practitioners of extended trumpet techniques, Axel Dörner and Franz Hautzinger. The album contains two tracks, "Magenta / Black" (36'25") and "Cadmium Yellow / Turquoise" (21'09"), presumably a reference to the colours used by Rowe in his cover art, a painting based on a photograph taken by Yuko Zama from the studio window, which also led Rowe to the album title, a quotation from Cornelius Cardew's "Towards an Ethic of Improvisation" ("it is impossible to record with any fidelity a kind of music that is actually derived from the room in which it is taking place - its size, shape, acoustical properties, even the view from the window"). Both pieces are slow-burners, but the second track is particularly challenging; while Dörner and Hautzinger's contributions are easily recognisable on "Magenta / Black" (the former's characteristic valve trumpet glissandi and circular breathed noise vs. the latter's trademark gurgles, like soapy bathwater escaping through a contact-miked plughole), their presence is often hard to detect on "Cadmium.." Musical ideas - "ideas" may not be the right word, coming as it does with associations of "motive" - emerge from a cloud of drone / buzz, but never occupy the foreground. In point of fact, there is no foreground, since notions of foreground / background imply a kind of three dimensionality (the image of something situated in front of something else - a soloist standing in front of the orchestra), and Rowe has often expressed a desire to make the music as "flat" as possible. At the same time, one is reminded of the celebrated Zen story of the monk who painted a landscape that was so perfect he walked right into it and disappeared - "Cadmium.." seems to have achieved an elusive goal in improvised music, namely the near-total removal of the identity of the performer. Whereas Rowe's earlier collaboration with two saxophonists, Michel Doneda and Urs Leimgruber, on the Potlatch album The Difference Between A Fish confronted the problem of identity head on, and presented some problematic clashes of idioms between the two horn players (which Rowe was unable - or unwilling - to resolve), on "Cadmium.." it's as if Rowe's playing partners have all but been erased.
As far as personalities go, guitarist / laptopper (in that order) Christian Fennesz is about as high profile as you're likely to get in the small world of eai. The voluminous sales of his Mego album Endless Summer, and his subsequent collaboration with David Sylvian, seem to indicate that Fennesz has become something of a poster boy for the laptop generation, but hopefully those trendy punters who rushed out and bought Venice recently will be tempted to have a go at Live At The LU, a 43 minute set recorded in Nantes in May 2002, as it reveals a thornier side of Fennesz's work that has been less evidence since his groundbreaking Hotel Paral.lel back in 1997. Rowe is on more ebullient form here than on A View From Window - though bear in mind this was recorded eighteen months before that album, and perhaps the fact that he could drive down the road home and fall into his bath in under an hour was reassuring - and chips away at Fennesz's opulent swathes of noise with some judiciously timed blasts of local radio and metallic crashes. It's also perhaps more sensible to compare this music with other live recordings of Rowe in action, notably the two Grob releases Thumb and Honey Pie and the live sets on Erstwhile's AMPLIFY box, rather than with Christoph Amann's impeccable studio sound (though Fabien Guyard's live recording from Nantes, mastered by Earl Howard and Fennesz, is exemplary). Live at the LU - interesting to see Erstwhile opting for a "Live at the" title: after the Lighthouse, the Village Vanguard, the Golden Circle, the Plugged Nickel and the Glenn Miller Café, another mythic venue is born? - is a fun ride, but not always a smooth one. It's likely to be pretty heavy going for anyone accustomed to Endless Summer, but is quite extrovert and loquacious compared to A View From The Window. The more I listen, the more I return to the latter - and I'm anxious to find out why.
Returning to that above-cited Braque aphorism, how are we to approach music like "Cadmium Yellow / Turquoise? Clearly, if one takes the time to listen attentively, there is much to appreciate, both in terms of overall form and moment-to-moment nuance, but its sheer austerity continually forces me to question whether I am actually enjoying it, and if so, what "enjoying" actually means. Perhaps Rowe's goal - not that he necessarily has any pre-determined objective in mind - is precisely that: to get the listener to go beyond traditional notions of aesthetic judgement (success / failure, satisfaction / frustration) and arrive at that rare and privileged state of being able to listen to the music for what it is, unhampered by (outmoded?) notions of value judgement. A noble objective, for sure, but, as my much-discussed review of the AMPLIFY box in January's PT made clear, not a point of view necessarily subscribed to by the musicians and the producer, who obviously spent a considerable amount of time selecting material - what they deemed to be the best material - from the recording session. But exactly how does one decide whether one particular set is better than another? For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed the first of two sets by The Four Gentlemen Of The Guitar (Rowe, Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi and Toshi Nakamura) at the Instants Chavirés recently, only to find out at the break that my great friend Jacques Oger, owner of the Potlatch label and certainly someone who knows his onions as far as free improvised music goes, didn't like it at all. Discussing the matter further, we both realised that neither one of us was able to give precise reasons for feeling the way we did - though for my part I was impressed by the overall coherence of the structure and the music's willingness to try out new ideas - with varying degrees of success - and ultimately having to fall back on positions like "I liked it, erm, because, well I liked it, so there" somehow seems anathema to someone who spends a huge amount of time listening to and writing about new music. I can't honestly say I "love" "Cadmium Yellow / Turquoise" - in the same way that I love Shuggie Otis, or Mingus (or even Franz Hautzinger's duo with Derek Bailey) - yet there's something genuinely disturbing about it that leads me back to it again and again, and I recognise its importance as another landmark document in the recording career of a major artist.—DW
Sachiko M/Toshimaru Nakamura/Otomo Yoshihide
GOOD MORNING GOOD NIGHT
Erstwhile 042-2 2CD
As everyone knows, when Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was premiered in Paris in 1913, it created a scandal. Some people apparently went into trance states and rocked, others jeered loudly, fights broke out, etc. Why was this, and why does the piece not have those effects on people today? People were creeped out by Berg in the 30s and Bartók in the 40s, and later on Penderecki, electric Miles, Cecil Taylor, Pink Floyd, Nurse With Wound, AMM, Evan Parker and many others seemed to reach into our collective subconscious and mess with it in ways that were almost violative. Were they all making "masterpieces"? I'm not sure that matters so much as whether the envelope had been nudged. Time goes on, however, and these works generally aren't so disturbing any more. Most can be listened to and enjoyed while we barbecue. This happens, I think, partly through the expropriation of their styles by film and TV music providers, and partly through a familiarity born of our own obsessive interest: as Freud explained, what has been subconscious may become conscious, and when that happens, such ideas lose much of their power over us. Newly "understood" music is kinder and gentler and can't, against our will, produce frightening images or dangerous impulses. Hendrix may have blown us away back in the 60s, but when we hear a garage band of 14-year-olds covering "Purple Haze" these days, we think it's cute.
What I have called "non-I" music (egoless, non-idiomatic improv) is where I think the most important musical - or at least sonic - investigations of the unknown are currently taking place. Good Morning Good Night, a two-disc set of electronic improvisations by three of the movement's leading exponents - Sachiko M on empty sampler, Toshimaru Nakamura on inputless mixing board, and Otomo Yoshihide on turntables, is, like many of the above-mentioned ground-breakers, a sort of soundtrack to what is really going on deep down below the surface of conscious thought. Some will find this collection of clicks, rumbles, hums and squeals unpleasant to listen to, others may find it peaceful; some hear it as sparse (as I did upon first hearing it), others quite busy. Such descriptions, however, seem to miss the main point: what is most pertinent is whether, for listeners in 2004, the work successfully excavates what was formerly unattended to — not just by chance, but because of forces most of us really aren't in touch with and cannot control. Such unveiling is difficult to achieve these days, but for this listener, Good Morning Good Night succeeds. It's not that all (or even any) of the constituent elements here are entirely new or surprising, but rather that they are specifically not the sounds that we generally pay attention to (unlike material emanating from conventionally played pianos, saxophones, violins, and electric guitars). These four tracks turn a floodlight on the stuff that we shut out — or try to. Think of the high-pitched whistles of tinnitus sufferers, the faint whoosh of a distant highway, or the background hisses, rumbles and static of old LPs. Most of the time, these items only poke through occasionally, and when they do, it's usually either against our will or due to sleepiness. On this recording though such noises are brought to the forefront, not always loudly, but with an unwillingness to be shunted away, and even if they make us uncomfortable or nervous (as they very well may in this unwonted context), we feel as if we've somehow always known them. That's an important part of what makes them so creepy — as unsettling as the "rushes" in Bartok's Fifth Quartet or Evan Parker's circularly breathed soprano solos once were.
Naturally, what is truly new must always be evolving. Once we've grown familiar with them, seminal works like Ascension or Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima and others of their ilk can't have the same effect on us as they did when they were still dripping wet. I now think that when people say "Jazz is dead." or "Rock is dead." or "Blues is dead." or "Classical is dead." what they mean is that, while there may still be skilful and beautiful creations in these fields, they can't be new anymore, at least not in this sense of "new"; perhaps their echoes may be channeled through Keith Rowe's transistor radio, but only as a sort of Ivesian alternative universe, a dream of what once was. It should never be forgotten, of course, that music provides many sorts of pleasures, and newness of this kind isn't everything. Sometimes we want to be able to recognize melodic, harmonic or rhythmic development; sometimes we want to sing or dance or bop. Music can be wonderful or majestic or beautiful without being new. But just as it's difficult to be rocketed off our chair by a 30-year-old disco tune (whether we've heard it a hundred times or just a hundred songs like it), it's a lot to expect a good visual image or full frontal anxiety attack to issue from a twenty-year-old improv (at least if one hasn't been cut off from the accompaniment to our contemporary conscious world). In sum, if you're looking for sounds that can (not necessarily will, of course) upset even the most sophisticated listener, here they are. Like other explorers, these three musicians have swum out into sometimes unsavoury waters in search of dark treasures to place before us, and in both diving deep and dredging up their finds - the two actions take place almost simultaneously - have relied on neither maps nor charts, but used instead a different kind of care / discrimination. Will you like it? Does it "bear repeat listening"? Is it "good music"? "Is it a masterpiece?" Somehow, none of those questions seem to me terribly relevant.—WH


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Pekka Airaksinen

MADAM I'M ADAM
Love Records LXCD 642 2CD
Ever since it first appeared along with their debut album Chance Meeting On A Dissecting Table Of A Sewing Machine And An Umbrella, the list of groups that supposedly inspired Nurse With Wound's Steven Stapleton (and let's not forget John Fothergill) has exercised a strange fascination over subsequent generations in search of the underground, oddball and plain weird (though more mainstream figures like Kraftwerk, Magma and The Mothers Of Invention are on there too). For a while some of the people listed were so seemingly obscure that Stapleton was even accused of making them up, but dig around a bit and you'll find that they all exist. Pekka Airaksinen, formerly of the Finnish art rock / performance outfit The Sperm, and more recently a highly prolific solo artist taking full advantage of the new technology to release a considerable number of self-produced CDRs of his electronic music, is one such, and this double CD is an ambitious (though obviously far from exhaustive) survey of his recorded output so far. Or at least the first of the two discs is, the second being a collection of remixes of the same material by artists as diverse as Simon Wickham-Smith, Curd Duca and Stapleton himself.
The story begins in Helsinki in the early 1960s, where Airaksinen (born in 1945) was apparently already familiar with Cage, Kagel, Stockhausen, Riley (it says in the liners, though I'd be curious to know which pieces of Riley had been performed or broadcast in Finland at the time [see Petri Kuljuntausta's Letter on the subject!-DW]), but also Coltrane, Monk, Mingus and Ayler (though once again, we can imagine that Ayler's music appeared in Finland slightly later in the decade) and, crucially for The Sperm, The Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground, whose feedback-saturated Loop is cited as being a key influence on the group Airaksinen helped put together in 1967. Though the informative notes accompanying the set make great claims for The Sperm, their muddy feedback and rambling improvisations may be intriguing in the light of recent developments in alt.rock but are rather too unfocussed to reward repeated listening. It's here that the remix project sheds some useful light - as opposed to many similar ventures which just seem to be an excuse for the usual suspects to add yet another item to their bulging discographies by tossing off another five minutes of competent but not particularly innovative music - Mira Calix's "The Day Is Done" mix of "Korvapoliklinikka Hesperia" is touching, transforming the fuzzed out guitars of the original into a mournful berceuse. "Organ", recorded in 1968 but previously unissued, features Airaksinen and poet / activist Mattjuhani Koponen (who later ended up in jail for screening home-made porn movies at Sperm concerts) in a deliberate attempt to induce "psychic disorders" in the listening public. Airaksinen's own remix of the track 35 years later is impressive and strange, but to the best of my knowledge my brain hasn't yet been impaired (though feel free to disagree). The 20-minute ramble of "Dodekafoninen talvisota", culled from The Sperm's one and only album Shh!, could have benefited from some judicious editing, and Curd Duca presumably agrees, remixing the sprawling giant into a tight 2'51".
Airaksinen's first solo album One Point Music appeared in 1972 (on O Records), and contained the intriguingly titled "Pieni sienikonsertto - A Little Soup for Piano and Orchestra op 46,8" which, unless the psychic damage referred to above has indeed been done without my realising it, features neither piano nor orchestra, but instead consists of a strange montage of, amongst other things, more or less regular metallic pulses and strands of bottleneck guitar (imagine Miles Davis' "Shhh/Peaceful" rescored for the Dead C and recorded from inside a wardrobe full of fur coats). For once even the mighty Wickham-Smith can't improve on the original in his "Hiljaisuus Remix". "Molybdene" dates from 1975 but wasn't released until 1997 on the CDR Vitamins, under the pseudonym Gandhi-Freud. By the mid 70s Airaksinen had turned to Buddhism, and, it would seem from the modal noodling of the music, to Terry Riley as well, though he might have done well to copy some of the latter's sounds instead of choosing the grating synth patches used here. The remix by Tyrone DC Washington makes no attempt to compete with the polyphonic sludge of the original, sounding instead as if it was recorded inside a bathroom (down the plughole, specifically).
Fast forward to 1983, and the release of
Buddhas of Golden Light (also on O Records, and Airaksinen's first outing in 12 years), and the music has become more focussed. Using the hi hats and snares of a Roland 808 to set up a web of irregularly cycling meters, Airaksinen finally achieves what the liner notes grandly claimed for The Sperm, namely a mixture of "krautrock's motorik monotone [..] free jazz saxophones [and] perennial hippie freeform freakout passages". Of the two tracks from Buddhas included here, "Sukirti" is by far the more impressive (and the remix by Tuomo Ilari Puranen and T.A. Kaukolampi is cool too). On "Ratnasikhin" the cunning 11/8 groove and the oddly out of tune saxophone of Antero Helander are bludgeoned to death by Airaksinen's ugly synth block chords, and Anton Nikkilä's remix is even muddier and bloodier. "Suvarnabhasagarba" comes from 1997's Jewel Comet CDR, and seems to be one of the hundred pieces Airaksinen has completed so far out of a projected cycle of a thousand pieces (fuckin hell!) each dedicated to one of the 1000 Buddhas of the Bhadrakalpika Sutra. It's just as well this album interleaves older and more recent Airaksinen material instead of presenting the material in chronological order, because the ear quickly tires of the aimless noodling solos, the awful synth patches and, for all its apparent complexity, the unchanging rhythm tracks (the remix by Es is similarly circular and seemingly never-ending). Heaven knows what 100, let alone 1000 similar pieces would sound like; perhaps we're supposed to meditate on the infinity of the Buddha state or something, but I'm afraid this one has me reaching for the fast forward button.
By 2002 Airaksinen had upgraded his home studio (thankfully), and the tracks "No Focus", "Mykkä Peili" and "Epistemological Word Error" benefit from a more varied sound palette. Even so, their greater willingness to get into a groove along with the spacey synth patches sound strangely nostalgic, time-warping the listener back past Chicago House into the murky electro shock corridors haunted by the ghosts of Gary Numan and Robert Rental. Steve Stapleton's cunning remix of "No Focus" reveals the latent surrealism of Airaksinen's fragmented musical language beautifully. All of which takes us back neatly to the Nurse List, and its legendary inscription "Categories strain, crack and sometimes break, under their burden - step out of the space provided". Airaksinen is certainly a musician who did just that, and the release of Madam I'm Adam, even if it is an uneven set, is certainly cause for celebration of sorts.—DW


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Compilation OD

Various Artists
INSTRUMENTS
List L5
Kraakgeluiden
DOCUMENT 1 1999/2003
Unsounds 06
Various Artists
FREEDOM OF THE CITY 2003 SMALL GROUPS
Emanem 4212 (2CD)
Various Artists
PISA 1980 IMPROVISORS SYMPOSIUM
psi 04.03/4 (2CD)
I'll admit at the outset that I'm no great fan of compilations, though having just appeared on one myself I know I shouldn't complain: depending on the genre, the same names tend to crop up, and I'd rather sit down to a complete album by the likes of Merzbow, Francisco López, Toshi Nakamura et al. (the list goes on, and it's quite a long one) than encounter their work in snack size helpings alongside that of other likeminded - or not, as the case may be - adventurers. Such reservations aside, compilations are quite effective when it comes to showcasing particular labels, events or venues, and these four are good representative examples.
List is a label run out of Paris by guitarist / laptopper Hervé Boghossian. The first release on the label in 2001 was itself a compilation, Minima-list featuring (here comes the list) Sogar, Charles Curtis, Komet, Otomo Yoshihide, Fabriquedecouleurs, Taylor Deupree, *0, Sol, Speakerine, Richard Chartier, Matthieu Saladin, O/r and Alan Licht. After albums by Mou,lips! and Boghossian himself, INstruments features contributions from Werner Dafeldecker and Martin Siewert, Janek Schaefer, Steinbrüchel, Mou,lips!, Sébastien Roux, Matthieu Saladin and Ivan Solano, Boghossian, Günter Müller, Mitchell Akiyama, Julien Tardieu and Cylens and Colleen. The shift from austere to pretty is immediately evident: out go Curtis and Licht, in come Roux and Akiyama. Trapist fans will know what to expect from Siewert by now, but the opening "Stendec" must be the most accessible thing Werner Dafeldecker has ever produced (more or less E flat major, and nearly even grooves). Janek Schaefer's "Sans La Vue" and Ralph Steinbrüchel's "Tint/e" are beautiful without being cloying, but the glucose level skyrockets with Mou,lips!' "Che ti amerŕ per sempre" and Roux's "Farnsworth House". After that, things begin to unravel. The Saladin and Tardieu offerings are featureless rambles, as is, unfortunately, Boghossian's own offering "Points d'Orgue" ("Pedal Points") - his own solo on List is more rewarding. As for Günter Müller, who has graced the world with some of the best eai albums of the past three years, well, he should have left "Momentary Cymbalized" in a dusty corner of his hard drive. By the time we've got through Mitch Akiyama's swoony, stringy drones and the cod medieval dirge of Colleen's "Slow Flower" (did all these kids grow up listening to Music for Airports or Sinking of the Titanic, or something?), even a blast of dull, grainy, rainy Keith Rowe would come as a welcome surprise. Paradoxically, the compilation compounds the sense of frustration - give Sébastien Roux and Mou,lips! a whole album to stretch out in, and the results are quite enjoyable.
Document 1, by Kraakgeluiden, an improvisers' collective based in Amsterdam coordinated by Cor Fuhler, Anne La Berge and Steve Heather (the name might loosely be translated as "squat sound") is a compilation documenting neither a genre, nor a label, but a concert series - more of an attitude, in fact. It features mainly Amsterdam locals, including Fuhler and Gert-Jan Prins (aka The Flirts), Andy Moor and Rozemarie Heggen (of The Ex), Moor's frequent playing partner and composer Yannis Kyriakides, expat composer / electronicians Justin Bennett and Richard Barrett, percussionist extraordinaire Michael Vatcher, sound poet Jaap Blonk and many others, including couple of escaped inmates from the ICP, in the form of Toby Delius and Ab Baars. As any Ex fan can tell you, squats have long prided themselves on being centres of artistic activity in the Netherlands, and these performances recorded in the Entrepotdok, Overtoom 301 and Zaal 100 fairly bubble with energy. They also provide an illuminating snapshot of the latest trends in improv - from the post-Erstwhile world of laptop glitches, empty turntables, no-input mixers and pitchless saxophones to high speed New Complexity splatter (as represented by Richard Barrett, but also by Koen Nutters' Office-R Extended Project No.4). It's live and direct stuff, and the performers clearly enjoy taking risks, which can result in the music ending up in some odd corners (the Format Killer and Flirts offerings being cases in point, though I suppose one could argue The Flirts started out in an odd corner in the first place). Instead of the glossy six-page discussion of the group - nothing duller than improvisers talking about improvising instead of just doing it - some explanatory notes and bio info for the less well-known musicians wouldn't have gone amiss, on Nutters' piece particularly. But all in all Document 1 is a fine and elegant archive of what is a vibrant and fertile improv scene.
Compilations aiming to document an entire festival are thinner on the ground. By now, especially after Wayne Spencer's piece last month, readers will know something about London's Freedom Of The City Festival (and, as Emanem's Martin Davidson seems to release at least one double live CD documenting the festival each year, you'll probably be able to predict what will be on Freedom Of The City 2004, when that comes out). Davidson has been one of the principal organisers of FOTC since the festival's inception four years ago, so it's hardly surprising that the line-up represents both the latest crop of releases on the label - Alan Tomlinson, Steve Beresford and Roger Turner (Trap Street, Emanem 4092), Johns Butcher and Edwards (Optic, Emanem 4089), Lunge (Strong Language, Emanem 4079) - and various other side projects either recorded by Davidson - John Russell's duo with Stefan Keune - or scheduled for release on Emanem - Free Base (with Alan Wilkinson, Marcio Mattos and Steve Noble) and various groups featuring Milo Fine (including as here with Tony Wren, Hugh Davies and Paul Shearsmith). If you've got the albums, you probably won't need this (unless you're an improv nut), and if you haven't got the albums, this will probably do fine (unless you're an improv nut). Maybe it's listener fatigue, but the tracks I enjoyed most on this double are by the groups whose other Emanem outings I don't already know: Viv Corringham's fragile vocals and Angharad Davies' violin, the Ist trio (Rhodri Davies on harp, Mark Wastell and Simon Fell on bass - FOTC's only apparent concession to the New London Silence crowd, though it's not exactly hardcore lowercase) and the Milo Fine quartet (great trumpet work from Shearsmith). Alan Wilkinson's volcanic free jazz sax contrasts well with John Butcher's (as does Marcio Mattos' bass work with that of John Edwards, who's on awesome form here), but the Russell / Keune duo, the Beresford / Tomlinson / Turner trio and Gail Brand's Lunge are better represented on their individual Emanem releases.
Of these four, not to mention another seven (or was it eight?) compliations that came my way recently, the one I'm most likely to return to is Pisa 1980, on Evan Parker's psi imprint. It's another fine example of the saxophonist digging out and reissuing material formerly available on Incus, the label he ran jointly with Derek Bailey until the two men fell out spectacularly (hence the decision not to mention the Incus name anywhere on this or other Parker reissues resurrected for psi from the Incus back catalogue). The difference being that this double CD set includes no fewer than 94 minutes of material that was hitherto unavailable, including a spectacular trio featuring bassist Maarten Altena, George Lewis and Paul Lovens, bonus tracks by the two quintet line-ups (Barry Guy / Lovens / Paul Lytton / Parker / Phil Wachsmann and Altena / Guy / Lewis / Paul Rutherford / Giancarlo Schiaffini), and restores to its full length - a glorious 33 minutes - the truly awesome duet between Altena and Derek Bailey. Altena, nowadays reportedly not in good health and apparently retired from the improv scene and devoting more time to straight composition (we want to hear some), is truly spectacular, not only with Bailey but in the "San Zeno Trio" (dull Company-style titles, never mind) with Lewis and Lovens. Lewis turns in two duets with Parker, both very impressive but if you've already got "From Saxophone and Trombone" (psi 02.04) you probably know what to expect, and also goes the distance with two other 'bone monsters, Paul Rutherford and Schiaffini in two tag wrestling bouts with bassists Altena and Barry Guy. Francesco Martinelli's informative liners provide useful and interesting background information about the original event, and Jean-Marc Foussat and Luciano Bernini's excellent original recordings have been superbly restored and mastered by Parker and Martin Davidson. Hats off to all concerned - if you missed this one on vinyl first time round, go straight for these two CDs (not that you're likely to find an original copy of Incus 37 anywhere). For once, Pisa 1980 is a good example of more is more.—DW


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Mattin

Margardia Garcia / Mattin
FOR PERMITTED CONSUMPTION
L'innomable 04
Klaus Filip / Radu Malfatti / Mattin / Dean Roberts
BUILDING EXCESS
Grob 651
Taku Sugimoto / Yasuo Totsuka / Mattin
TRAINING THOUGHTS
w.m.o/r 09
In the past couple of years Basque sound artist Mattin has released a number of spectacular albums, including Gora on TwoThousandAnd, Vault (with Mark Wastell) on his own w.m.o. imprint and, on the same label, the recent magnificent Whitenoise with Radu Malfatti (about which I could wax lyrical again here but as I already did so in the July 2004 Wire I won't repeat myself any more than I already do). Mattin specialises in "computer feedback", which sounds more like market research jargon than instrumental resource, so I'm grateful to him for sending this brief email by way of explanation: "I am very interested in making the most of that which you are dealing with, in my case a computer. My computer has, like many others, an incorporated microphone. What I do is to set it up as a sound source, turn up the volume and feedback is there. Then I use simple EQ. I also use the computer as a simple contact mic, or even as a resonance box (without any short of amplification)". Not quite sure about using the computer as "a resonance box" actually means - though amusing images of him attacking his hardware with assorted sticks and mallets spring to mind - but never mind. What counts is that Mattin's music at its best, like that of those other venerable practitioners of feedback, Otomo Yoshihide and Toshimaru Nakamura, is like walking a tightrope stretched across an active volcano, and thrilling precisely because at any moment it can and often does fall off into the molten lava below.
With Radu Malfatti on Whitenoise, it took an almost superhuman effort on Mattin's part to rein the feedback in (though there is one notable explosion). With bassist Margarida Garcia, the beast is let loose from time to time, probably because the set subsequently entitled For Permitted Consumption was recorded live as part of London-based Resonance FM's Instant Music Radio Meeting series in May last year. Those familiar with the cellular minimalism of Garcia's electric bass work with Sei Miguel might be surprised to hear her growling and snarling like some crazed cross between Darin Gray and Fred Galiay, though she's equally fond of Taku Sugimoto-like twangs, which work surprisingly well with the variety pack of crunches, squeals, hums and yelps Mattin cooks up. With material as intense as this, a little goes a long way, and the 33-minute duration is perfect.
Two months before Whitenoise was recorded in September 2003, Malfatti and Mattin teamed up with Klaus Filip (computer) and Dean Roberts (guitar), once more in Christoph Amann's studios in Vienna (which is rapidly becoming for labels like Grob and Erstwhile what Tonstudio Bauer was to ECM), to record a single span of music just under 52 minutes long entitled Building Excess. On the face of it that might seem a curious title for a disc of quintessentially slowmoving and quiet eai (yes kids I guess we're stuck with the term), and perhaps it's intended to refer to the proliferation of high rise office and apartment blocks (in Tokyo) depicted in Mattin's photography, but I'm tempted to read it another way. Face it folks, there's a lot of this stuff about these days, and if you've already shelled out hard currency on copies of Keith Rowe's stuff with Oren Ambarchi (on Grob and Staubgold), or the new Erstwhiles (see above) or last year's Absinth (also on Grob) or the Meeting at Off Site series on IMJ or.. (need we go on?) you are either a) an eai nut in which case you'll probably rush out and buy this one too or b) penniless. It's rather surprising to find Malfatti, someone who's frequently cautioned against stagnation in improvised music and a musician who's managed to remain outside of established "schools" and pushed the silence envelope about as far as it can go with Futatsu, his IMJ duo with Taku Sugimoto, on board for this one. Don't get me wrong: this is a very likeable disc, beautifully paced and exquisitely recorded and mixed, but we've been along this river before (go back to Werner Dafeldecker and Christian Mühlbacher's Diphtongs (Durian, 1997), or Roberts and Dafeldecker's Aluminium (Erstwhile, 2000)) and though it'd be unfair to describe the waters on Building Excess as stagnant, they're flowing slowly enough for you to see your reflection clearly.
If Building Excess was a shrewd choice of album title, Training Thoughts is nothing short of a stroke of genius. Taken from a live set recorded at Emban in Tokyo in February this year (actually the disc says "3.2.2004" which I suppose could mean March 2nd, as the Japanese tend to write the date the American way month first, and since 9/11 nobody makes the difference anyway and it's about time I closed the brackets on this one), this 66 minute set features Mattin in the company of Yasuo Totsuka (computer) and the reigning High Priest Of Less Is More, Taku Sugimoto on guitar. A glance at the album cover - three empty seats in a Tokyo suburban train -and the sporadic appearance throughout the set of distant ghostly trains rattling along in the night (real or sampled? Mattin's giving no clues) reveals one possible interpretation of the album title, but "training" can also be a verb, and therefore describes how we are supposed to listen to this music as much as it does the music itself. As is often the case, alarmingly so in terms of my own sleep-depriving listening habits, I appreciated this one best on headphones at 4am, the sound of faraway trains shunting me in and out of consciousness. You don't have to have read Freud to appreciate the power and imagery evoked by the sound of trains - from Stalker to Spirited Away, the train has long since replaced the old ferryboat as the best way to get across the Styx. Had it been the sound of a departing bus or a plane taking off, the poetry of the experience would be lost (as it is, the sound of one or two passing cars sneaks in and rather spoils the effect of Sugimoto's first discernible note at 22'13", and there's a rather disturbing guffaw about fifteen minutes after that). Mattin is on his best behaviour throughout - just one of Gora's almighty feedback screeches here would derail the train of thought altogether - and the tension is maintained throughout, to superb effect. Listening to this one again back to back with Building Excess makes the difference between the two albums all the clearer - what Malfatti's music since the mid 1990s has revealed, namely that silence is a powerful tool, capable of defining structure and creating tension, is evident throughout Training Thoughts, but conspicuous in its (near) absence on Building Excess. Listening to the Viennese quartet, the mind is apt to wander (maybe no bad thing: "if your mind wanders, let it" - Cage), which Training Thoughts does not allow it to do.
While Malfatti and Sugimoto have long since staked out their territory in new music, Mattin is still able to look both ways - as I wrote elsewhere, Gora namechecks Whitehouse and Malfatti. Which is not to say he hasn't found his own voice; I'd argue instead he's found not one but several distinctive voices, all of which are in evidence on these three releases. If you peruse these Web pages with a view to planning the forthcoming weekend's shopping (I'm flattered), you'll have to forgive me for not making any specific recommendations. Each of these three releases is accomplished and thought provoking, and well worth spending time with, at any hour of the day or night.—DW


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On Ayler

Michael Marcus
ITHEM
Ayler aylCD 06
Mongezi Feza / Bernt Rosengren Quartet
FREE JAM
Ayler aylCD 048/049 2CD
The Dynamic Duo (Rashied Ali / Arthur Rhames)
REMEMBER TRANE AND BIRD
Ayler ayl01 050/051 2CD
Like many other free jazz saxophonists of the 1970s Michael Marcus plays strongly R'n'B-inflected free jazz. A big fan of Roland Kirk and George Braith, he often favours the black sheep of the saxophone family: conn-o-sax, saxello, sopranino, manzello, stritch. But on Ithem, a set of previously unreleased trio performances with William Parker and the late Denis Charles from 1993, he's in a Dolphy frame of mind: he keeps to alto sax and bass clarinet throughout, and his a cappella introduction to "Secret Oceans" pays direct homage to Dolphy's reading of "Tenderly." The standout track is the long reading of "Ithem" that opens the album, recorded live at the (old) Knitting Factory. Marcus turns in a booting alto solo, there's some great hit-you-between-the-eyes drumming from Charles, and Parker's zippy bass lines are strikingly different from his heavier, gravitas-laden work of recent years. The rest of the disc is consistently fine, even if nothing else quite measures up to the opening track. A second reading of "Ithem" from an earlier studio session is placed at the end of the disc, a free blowout this time, though Charles' clubbing drumming has echoes of Max Roach. The disc is brief - 43 minutes - but it's a pleasing discovery: as always, Ayler Records shows a fine knack for uncovering previously unreleased music that sounds as vital as ever.—ND
I have fond memories of driving round dear old Stockholm last November with Ayler Records' Jan Ström as he pointed out various places of local interest ("that's where I first saw Frank Lowe busking.."), and can imagine his enthusiasm when he came across the recordings released as Free Jam. For an indefatigable champion of Swedish jazz and compulsive record collector like Ström - his personal archive includes over a thousand unreleased recordings - being able to bring out two hours of action-packed music featuring expat South African trumpeter Feza and one of Sweden's finest (and largely unsung outside the country) free jazz outfits was an opportunity too good to pass up. The cherry on the cake is the presence of Turkish percussion whiz Okay Temiz, who had been rehearsing in Stockholm at the time with Feza and bassist Johnny Dyani in a short-lived trio called Music For Xaba (if you have any tapes of them, Jan, we're waiting). Recorded in November and December 1972 in a workshop rehearsal space, the discs pit Feza's fiery trumpet and Temiz's percussion against an exemplary group of Swedish musicians, a quartet featuring Bernt Rosengren (on saxophones, flute and piano), Tommy Koverhult (tenor, flute, euphonium), Torbjörn Hultcrantz (bass) and Leif Wennerström (drums). On the strength of this set, I'd certainly like to get my hands on the Rosengren Quartet's 1973 double LP on EMI Harvest, Notes From Underground (if anyone is visiting Stockholm in the near future, check out Harald Halt's awesome record shop Andra at Rörstrandsgatan 25 - though take plenty of cash, as credit cards aren't accepted - I imagine he'd have a copy but I wouldn't like to guess the price). Meanwhile, here are 119 minutes of furious free form jamming, and if you thought jamming was synonymous with noodling or just tooling about, think again. Powered forward by the terrific three man rhythm section - Temiz's credentials are well known, but you might want to know that Wennerström was the house drummer at the Golden Circle in 1960s and played with everybody, and Hultcrantz's name will be familiar to Albert Ayler completists as the bassist on the saxophonist's first recordings in October 1962 - Feza is in his element (the general modus operandi and much of the thematic material is after not dissimilar to that used by Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath), but Rosengren and Koverhult aren't content to play second fiddle to their visiting guest. One might regret not being able to hear the group tackle a more structured composition, but when the music flows as freely as this, it seems churlish to complain.
Back in 1986, at San Francisco International Airport, I was at approached by a young lady selling tee shirts bearing an image of John Coltrane and the quotation "Damn The Rules - You Play All Twelve Notes In Your Solo Anyway" (I bought one and wish I'd bought ten). I later found out she belonged to a kind of sect that actually worshipped - as in saying prayers to - Coltrane; whether that organisation still exists today or not I don't know, but the discovery and release of this 1981 tape from the Willisau Festival in Switzerland featuring Trane's last drummer Rashied Ali and the young and monumentally gifted tenor saxophonist and pianist Arthur Rhames, who died of AIDS-related illness on December 27th 1989 aged 32, serves as a strong reminder of how pervasive Coltrane's influence was (and arguably still is) over the generation of jazz musicians that grew up after Trane's death. This double album has all the fire of a revival meeting, and Coltrane's spirit and music is omnipresent. The Dynamic Duo covers "Mr P.C.", "Giant Steps", "Impressions", "Lazy Bird", "Moment's Notice", "Acknowledgement" (though this sounds like Pharoah Sanders' "The Creator Has A Master Plan" to me), "Resolution" and "Pursuance" (plus Miles' "Tune Up" and Billy Eckstine's "I Want To Talk About You") and references several more Trane compositions and solos. Comparing Rhames' tenor playing to Coltrane's, as my Wire colleague David Keenan did in a recent review, is a little unfair, but Keenan is on the ball when he says that Rhames and Ali nail "Mr P.C." to the wall. Rhames, however, does something that Coltrane never did - he plays the hell out of the piano, managing to reference all of Coltrane's major pianists from Tommy Flanagan to McCoy Tyner to Alice Coltrane, and even turning in a fine solo on the furiously difficult changes of "Giant Steps". Ali sounds less comfortable in the rigid tempi - his funk on "Acknowledgement" is decidedly wooden - but is in full flight on the extended ecstatic workouts. On the tenor (an instrument that Ali persuaded him to take up, according to the drummer's rather rambling and largely unnecessary 16 minute spoken introduction to disc one), Rhames is not surprisingly well-versed in bop (Parker and Rollins are in there) but his playing reveals no direct influence of post-Ascension Coltrane, Ayler, Wright or Sanders. He was a superb guitarist too, playing with, amongst others, Larry Coryell and Slave, and one can only imagine what the Willisau set would have been like had he brought that axe along too. Still, as both Rhames and Mongezi Feza checked out far too early, the (re)appearance of their magnificent performances is cause for celebration indeed.—DW


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In Concert

Le Trio de Voyage
Paris, Monday May 10, 2004
Musicora, La Villette
Pianist Patrick Scheyder has released two fine discs on Leo, one with Evan Parker and more recently Piano Solo II (Leo CD LR 362), a mesmerizing and intensely personal disc, my favourite track being is "Napolitaine", in which a nervously agitated Scheyder juggles just a few notes in endless, not quite minimalist, repetitions of tiny fragments of material which gradually coalesce, disconcertingly, into baroque ornamentations, but still remain weightless, effortless, floating between classical improv - obviously no longer a lost art - and free jazz. During his appearance at Musicora, France's largest public music industry showcase, Scheyder was joined by accordionist Marc Perrone and singer (and percussionist) André Minvielle. During a spacious free piano improv, Scheyder threw in Mozart's variations on "Ah je vous dirais-je maman," aka "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Mischievously, Perrone jokingly announced it to the audience as "la version banlieue" ("the version from the projects"). Meanwhile, he was doing something quite subtle to a very amplified water bottle, which resulted in bizarre gurgling sounds. Although the sound quality was lousy (not the performers' fault), a dedicated and fascinated crowd of wide-eyed classical and jazz musicians crowded into the embarrassingly inappropriate space provided for this quirky trio. The audience was actually divided into two halves by a narrow tiled hallway, which most people were nervous about entering, as it looked like the men's bathroom. Never mind the venue - the music was great, and if you had billed it as "French Chanson meets Jazz meets Classical-Baroque with a veneer of Arabic vocals and Balkan intonation," you still wouldn't be able to find all the bases that they touched in each song. And songs they were: despite rabid improvisational touches and odd bits of electronic distortion (particularly from that water bottle), the Travelling Trio never strayed too far from recognizable folk idioms of the French century. Yet Piaf, Brel, Prévert and their descendents would be shocked by the twisted view that this trio takes of their tunes: Scheyder goes into occasional spasms of noise, paroxysms of nuttiness, and his virtuosity leaves no stone untouched. Perrone switched effortlessly from jazz to gypsy, and Minvielle had the hypnotic look of a religious leader while he transfixes the audience with nonsense scat singing. All three musicians shared Cage's fascination with found sounds, and a non-pretentious love of the music. And it was all the more powerful a show for that: simultaneously refreshing and soothing. A healthy dose of often overt leftist politics, and we can see these musicians are as comfortable on the street as in the concert hall.—GL


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JAZZ / IMPROV

Tony Buck / Axel Dörner
DURCH UND DURCH
TES TESCD0103
Words like "reductionist", "minimal", "lowercase" and "micro" don't apply here. Durch und Durch ("through and through") is a vast, heaving ocean of sound, in which trumpeter Dörner and percussionist Buck, supported and driven forward by additional electronics from Dörner's laptop, have produced music that cab barely contain its own exuberance. Like Franz Hautzinger on last year's Grob outing with Manon Liu Winter, Brospa, Dörner has found a way to incorporate extended trumpet techniques hitherto associated with more intimate settings in structures of imposing sweep and scale. Buck, whose Self_Contained_Underwater_Breathing_Apparatus last year was a heroic display of energy and stamina, is the perfect sparring partner for these forty minutes. It's as if electro acoustic improvised music has reached a point in its development roughly comparable to that arrived at by contemporary classical music at the end of the 1950s, when, after a period of ideological soul-searching and dogmatic systematisation, the arrival of Ligeti's micropolyphony and Xenakis' mass effects led to an explosion of bold, new orchestral and electronic music in which overall effect mattered more than note-to-note detail. In the same way that Krzysztof Penderecki's use of extended string techniques to devastating effect in his 1960 "Threnody" bore no relation to the Bartók-inflected neoclassicism of his roots, Dörner's coruscating blasts of circular-breathed noise are light years away from his tight motivic free jazz playing in The Electrics and the delicate Chet Baker-like understatement of his work with singer Margareth Kammerer. Ultimately, Penderecki turned his back on the aggressively avant-garde style of his 1960s works, opting instead for a retreat into arch-Catholic stolid neoromanticism; whether Dörner and Buck will be making music as uncompromising as this in fifteen years time remains to be seen, but in the meantime, to quote another well known group of rabble rousers, bring the noise.—DW


Frank Gratkowski Quartet
FACIO
Leo CD LR 398
Last year's Spectral Reflections (Leo CD LR 374) is a hard act to follow, but Facio, the second helping from this spectacular quartet (Gratkowski on alto sax and various low end clarinets, Wolter Wierbos on trombone, Dieter Manderscheid on bass and Gerry Hemingway on drums) will do nicely. Maybe it's that contrabass clarinet, maybe it's that Gratkowski's compositional skills are more to the fore here, or maybe it's the Steve Day liner notes, but the Braxton lineage seems more explicit (this compares most favourably with the famous Braxton trombone quartet with George Lewis). Recorded once more at Cologne's LOFT - eighteen months after the date that spawned Spectral Reflections - these nine movements form a continuous suite best appreciated at considerable volume and played through from beginning to end. Mr Day is, as we know, rather prone to hyperbole, but his line about "Facio ratcheting up another new thing" certainly confirms the impression I've had of Gratkowski's music over the past four years, from Quicksand (Meniscus) via Arrears and Kollaps (Red Toucan) to this quartet. Spectral Reflections was my own favourite Leo release of 2003, and this so far is in pole position for 2004.—DW

Dietrich Eichmann/Jeff Arnal
THE TEMPERATURE DROPPED AGAIN
Leo CD LR 390
My last encounter with Eichmann was as the composer of the weighty piano concerto "Entre Deux Guerres", written as a response to the unprecedented violence of 20th-century history; he is also composer of a concerto for Peter Brötzmann and twenty-piece orchestra with the equally formidable title "Prayer to the Unknown Gods of the People Without Rights". I'd not quite anticipated his lightness of touch as an improviser at the piano. The surface is tremulous, sometimes busy as a blackfly swarm; more often it's pointillist taps of a single note, like the proverbial crow dropping pebbles into a pitcher of water. Eichmann works inside the instrument for much of the album, and a lot of the real musical activity here occurs in the overtones, though his use of preparations and the manual damping and bending of notes is subtle, a far cry from the weird Dali soundscapes conjured up by players like Denman Maroney. Drummer Jeff Arnal, a protégé of Milford Graves, is similarly preoccupied with light, microscopic textures, rapid and evanescent. Like Eichmann he likes to tap quietly and insistently, like a sculptor gently chipping away at a block of marble. These performances are fully improvised, but there's still a certain formality to proceedings, since the pieces are arranged into three distinct suites, "The Temperature Dropped Again", "Four French Apparitions" (including the well-titled "L'écureuil ivrogne" - "The Drunken Squirrel"), and "...durch offene Grenzen" ("through open borders"). Only the last section - a single 16-minute track that is free jazz of a more conventionally voluble and forward-moving kind - is a disappointment; the rest of the album sounds fresh as paint.—ND

Paul Hood
cplastsics
TwoThousandAnd 2++8
Using a GP3 record player, amplified objects and mixing desk, London-based Paul Hood's debut album on the TwoThousandAnd imprint (love the jet black CDs) consists of eight tracks, half of which were recorded live at various venues, including London's Hat On Wall and Sound323's tiny basement concert hall. Whereas many turntablists in recent years have drifted away from the venerable object (erikm, dieb13..) towards digital assemblages with strange names, Hood is evidently still in love with the dirty crunch of needles grinding remorselessly through accumulated layers of muck and sludge, and much of his music looks affectionately back to Christian Marclay's early experiments (and beyond, to Cage's "Cartridge Music"). Martin Tétreault's recent work with the "vibrating surfaces" of Xavier Charles also comes to mind. Only on one track "large country building" do any remotely recognisable bits of music appear; the other offerings are more concerned with grit, rumble, buzz and feedback howl. With no other musicians' input to bounce off, things sometimes get stuck in a rut (unfortunate metaphor for a turntablist, perhaps), and Hood's ability to interact with other performers, cf. his appearance on Meeting At Off Site Vol.3 (with Tetuzi Akiyama and Toshi Nakamura), is sadly not on display, but it's another solid and enjoyable offering from a label to watch.—DW

James Finn
OPENING THE GATES
Cadence CJR 1170
It's the kind of sound that makes the skin on the back of your neck prickle: throbbing, resplendent, beatific. These are the cadences of devotion, and surely it's not possible to play the saxophone with such grace and fervour without a serious engagement with the spiritual life? I don't know anything about tenor saxophonist James Finn beyond what the liner notes tell me - that this is his first disc, that his first teacher was JR Monterose, that other teachers have include Andrew Cyrille, Arthur Rhames, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson and Roland Hanna - but I'm not surprised to learn that another of his past teachers was Izzy Heartman, a Lakota medicine man, and that Finn is grateful to all these teachers for instructing him in everything from "harmony and arrangement in music to harmony and arrangement in spirituality." Let's be clear, though: there's nothing fuzzy or phonily ecstatic about Opening the Gates. The music is as visceral and candid as Coltrane's Interstellar Space, a disc whose influence is all over this album, despite the extra presence of a bassist. There's a similar spiring-upwards feel to Finn's playing: like Coltrane, Finn likes to push a motif higher and higher up the horn until the inevitable fall to earth. The rhythm section, bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Whit Dickey, keeps up a vigorous rumble in support of the saxophonist, without quite tapping into the same hymnic vein: while Finn catches light, they catch fire. The eight tracks are spontaneously improvised, and while there's no great effort made to vary the mood from track to track, so what - it glued me to my seat anyway. Half of the disc was originally recorded as a demo: Finn sent the tracks to Bob Rusch in hopes of landing a CIMP date, which Rusch agreed to, also offering to release the demo if Finn filled it out to album length. The sound is surprisingly good, the bass and drums not always ideally registered but the tenor caught beautifully. It's a tremendously promising debut, and I look forward with great interest to Finn's next disc, Plaza de Toros on Clean Feed, which I gather will feature his debut as a composer. —ND

Gail Brand / Morgan Guberman
BALLGAMES & CRAZY
Emanem 4103
Morgan Guberman (bassist with, among other groups, Scott Rosenberg's Skronktet West) in real life is a medium-height, medium-build, soft-spoken, mild-mannered lad with a shy smile and a good line in jokes, none of which I dare print here, but on this album he sounds like Phil Minton and Shelley Hirsch's bastard love child sent away at birth to be raised by an alcoholic great uncle in Hicksville KY and forced three times a day to chug a fifth of Makers Mark and recite USA Today from cover to cover backwards. Recorded at Myles Boisen's Headless Buddha Lab in Oakland CA, where British trombonist Gail Brand had escaped to in August 2002 probably to avoid torrents of fanmail from Ben Watson, Ballgames & Crazy contains ten tracks of brain-bending trombone and vocals, certainly enough to push you right over the edge (though by Emanem standards it's a mini-album clocking in at only 62'35").—DW

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MORE JAZZ / IMPROV

John Tilbury / Eddie Prévost
DISCRETE MOMENTS
Matchless MRCD 58
Q: When is an AMM album not an AMM album? A: Um, dunno, because Keith Rowe's presence is in no way obligatory (witness the Gare / Prévost edition of AMM recently documented on the magnificent At The Roundhouse). But even though Rowe wasn't on board when Discrete Moments was recorded in London's Gateway Studios in January 2004, it's as if his two most faithful playing partners were trying to spirit him into the session, what with handheld electric fans to excite Prévost's tam-tam and seemingly interminable drones from Tilbury's organ. If you'll overlook "E1" (a brief solo percussion flourish), the album's tracks alternate Tilbury's piano (prepared and unprepared) and organ, but the tracks named "S" and "R" could quite easily have been dispensed with and the overall arch form maintained. "R" in particular is a drag at nearly nineteen minutes, and sounds like these two veteran road warriors are trying to outdo the likes of Ilios and Cremaster in the slowmotion grey dirge stakes. "S" is classic Tilbury, and its Feldmanesque repeated cells are instantly recognisable, but despite its poise and beauty it finds the pianist treading a well-worn furrow. There are many great and moving moments, but the freshest and most interesting work on the album is to be found on the opening "D", where the unwieldy thunks of Prévost's stringed barrel contrast splendidly with Tilbury's pristine pianism.—DW

Various Artists
AMALGAM(E)
Red Toucan 9325
Liebig/Vatcher/Golia
ON THE CUSP OF FIRE AND WATER
Red Toucan 9324
"Bird Lives" was perhaps the first case of widespread graffiti in New York following the death of Charlie Parker, and the phrase could have been co-opted by some of the fans of the Montreal-based Red Toucan label after 1999, when it appeared that it was no longer in existence. Fortunately the label is still going strong and amalgam(e) celebrates ten years of providing a forum for improvising artists, originally centered in Quebec but spreading to Vancouver and elsewhere. Releases like this occupy their own little niche; neither complete statements by an artist or group, nor taken from festivals to provide listeners with the essence of the event, they serve as a "this is who we are" type of mission statement. I have no idea what went into selecting the individual cuts for these discs, although time considerations must have been a primary factor, but amalgam(e) should serve as an excellent marketing tool in which to give listeners - both owners of the disc or anyone partaking of radio programming interesting enough to play it - a sampler to use to make future purchases.
I bought my first Toucan in 1998, the wonderful Polish Theatre Posters by Andrew Drury. Since then I've acquired a sizeable chunk of the catalogue but was still open to having my curiosity piqued by this collection. Indeed the songs from the initial release, Papasoff by reed player Charles Papasoff and The Mirror With a Memory by Talking Pictures, merit future attention. The label has had many appearances by the wonderful Joëlle Léandre (present here on five songs), François Houle, George Graewe and Frank Gratkowski, and there are two selections from the associated Cactus label, which concentrates on music of a more composed nature. Ten years and counting; here's to many more.
Red Toucan begins its second decade with In the Cusp of Fire and Water, which documents a July 2001 concert presenting a rare opportunity for electric bassist Steuart Liebig to play with drummer Michael Vatcher. The two had been in sporadic communication after working together in the 70s before Vatcher moved to Holland, where he became an integral part of the music scene in groups such as Available Jelly and the Maarten Altena Ensemble. A flying visit by the drummer to LA (he had to borrow a kit for this date) presented the opportunity for a musical reunion, and Liebig secured his services of his frequent playing partner multi-reedist Vinny Golia for the occasion. Given the slapped together nature of the event, the performances are remarkably coherent. Golia has an extensive discography and anybody familiar with it will not be surprised by his performance here on clarinet, soprano sax, alto flute and stritch. He's always chosen excellent rhythm sections on his recordings and Liebig and Vatcher provide such backing, while supplementing their primary instruments with other percussion devices, "applied tools and technology". Behind Golia's ethereal flute playing on "Prelude", Liebig plays countering lines of meandering high notes while Vatcher bows his cymbals eerily before the bass lines achieve a degree of coherence and the drums enter to move the piece forward. Golia then switches to soprano and the rhythm section ups the funk content to a crowd-pleasing level, all done in a seamless manner with solo and duo episodes that don't overstay their welcome. The other songs proceed in a similar episodic manner (no composition credits are given so I assume all were collaborative efforts) that effectively maintain interest through the twists and turns as all players listen and react very well to each other. A good start for the second decade, Red Toucan.—SG

Carles Andreu/François Tusques
ARC VOLTAIC
In Situ IS236
Arc Voltaic is a suite based on texts by the Catalan Futurist poet Joan Salvat-Papasseit (1894-1924). Salvat-Papasseit is barely known among English readers, and escapes even the capacious Joris/Rothenberg anthology "Poems for the Millennium", but according to the liner notes he is "the most sung of Catalan poets"; the poems range from sonnets to playful calligrammes, often bursting into excited ALL-CAPS lettering when they touch on emblems of modernity like Edison, Chaplin and trolleybusses. A helpless monoglot, I'm stuck with the single extant book of English translations and with the CD booklet's French versions, but enough rubs off to give an inkling of the power of his love poetry, its eroticism shadowed by the poet's intimations of early death: "The earth only turns because I am here and I am a BUFFOON who is dying". Singer Carles Andreu, whose background ranges from flamenco to free improvising, has turned to settings of these poems in an effort to "create a new music free of all influences"; even if he's not achieved that lofty goal he's nonetheless created a genuinely uncategorizable album. Andreu goes in for neither Dada lunacy nor expressionist melodrama, the two favourite options of contemporary improvising vocalists. He has a big voice, is often very funny, sometimes stirring - and he can chill you to the bone: listen to his fearful, half-sung-to-himself rendition of "Missenyora La Mort": "Milady Death / would visit me / in the four walls of my room / entombed...." The album is co-credited to pianist François Tusques, one of the founding figures of France's free-jazz scene (In Situ has also reissued his pioneering Free Jazz, 1965, as significant as Astigmatic, Free Form and Machine Gun in the annals of early European free jazz), and it also features the fine work of soprano saxophonist Daničle Dumas, bass clarinettist Denis Colin and cellist Didier Petit. Though this isn't an improv disc (unlike Phil Minton's Mouthfull of Ecstasy or the Westbrooks' projects, it's basically through-composed), there's a spryness and spontaneity to proceedings that make it equally hard to categorize as chamber music. But whatever generic label you apply to it, it's extraordinary music: graceful and charmingly loopy, but with a trembling uncanniness that intensifies with every spin of the disc. It comes strongly recommended, and I look forward to Andreu's next project, based on the work of Fernando Pessoa.—ND

Alfredo Costa Monteiro
RUMEUR FOR SOLO ACCORDION
Creative Sources CS010
Ernesto Rodrigues / Gerhard Uebele / Guilherme Rodrigues / José Oliveira
CONTRE-PLONGÉE: SIX CUTS FOR STRING QUARTET
Creative Sources CS011
The monotonous sounds and kitsch repertoire with which the accordion is stereotypically associated have doubtless convinced many that Ambrose Bierce was right to define it as "an instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin". Alfredo Costa Monteiro's remarkable solo CD may not serve to rescue the instrument from the opprobrium into which it has fallen, but what it does demonstrate is how this nineteenth century combination of expandable bellows, reeds and keyboard can be used to create vibrantly contemporary music at the start of the twenty-first century. Only one of the five tracks contains even the smallest remnant of the accordion's conventional sound. In its place, Monteiro produces a range of flushing, grinding, sliding and hissing noises, deftly incorporated into what are often mutating patterns of unstable rhythms and complex textures. Like me, you may be left wondering how most of the sounds heard on this CD can possibly be teased from an accordion, but ultimately it is the fascinating unfoldings of Monteiro's rich musical imagination that command attention.
On Contre-Plongée, Rodrigues (violin, viola), Uebele (violin), Rodrigues (cello) and Oliveira (inside piano) continue the radical reinvention of music for strings that has dominated most of the releases on Creative Sources to date. As one component of their exploration of the possibilities of their instruments, the group bring into play extended playing techniques whose exploitation of new gestures and surfaces will doubtless chill the blood of any listener whose notions of musical probity remain defined by the dusty residua of the classical and romantic eras. However, what makes this and other recordings by the string players grouped around Creative Sources especially interesting is the combination of an avant-garde instrumentalism that embraces and develops the innovations of such figures from the world of new music as Helmut Lachenmann with a thoroughgoing repudiation of any element of control by documentary scores, the imperatives of indeterminacy, or other compositional devices. This use of advanced techniques (and a few more conventional sounds) in a free improvised context is seen to good effect on Contre-Plongée. I suspect that the musicians have produced more extreme performances in their time; however, the quartet is alert, engaged, and responsive, and over the course of each of the six improvised "cuts" the collective interactions and constructions that comprise the group's extemporised dialogue prove consistently subtle and invigorating. Both Contre-Plongée and Rumeur are excellent releases that deserve a wide hearing.—WS

Burkhard Beins, Tony Buck, Steve Heather, Eric Schaefer
BERLIN DRUMS
Absinth Records 003 4x3"CD
Berlin Reeds, Berlin Strings, and now Berlin Drums: as before, it's a limited-edition set of four three-inch discs packaged in a hand-sewn, hand-painted sleeve. The champ this time is Burkhard Beins, whose contribution is rather alarmingly titled "NADIR". The rich cymbal wash of the opening is lovely, but lasts so long it becomes almost unbearable: listening to it is like standing under a running tap for seven minutes on end. Next comes another gentle endurance test - a pair of wavery sine waves. Gradually a few grittier sounds are admitted, including what sounds like the amplified gnashing of teeth; and this all paves the way for an honest-to-goodness blast of noise at 15'49". There's a welcome band of silence, a little flicker of noise, and then we reach the piece's long rain-hitting-pavement conclusion, which disperses among the sounds of tingling chimes.
There's not much of that sort of wordless poetry on the other three discs. Tony Buck's "Honey/Tongues" is broken up into discrete episodes. On the whole I prefer those that involve big washes of sound - crickly-crackly noises over a cavernous belly-of-the-beast drone, an outbreak of metallic clatter, cymbals rubbed against each other - to the fussy, pattering ones, such as the overlong central episode resembling a garrulous typewriter's soliloquy. I'm also left wondering about the logic of the piece as a whole, though Buck does stitch things together somewhat by briefly reprising material near the end of the piece. The other two discs are unexpectedly poor. Steve Heather's "Electric Bongo Bongo" actually manages to be more annoying than its title, spending most of its time guying the listener with dumb-as-a-post percussion loops. Eric Schaefer's disc is the only one to feature a set of short tracks rather than a 20-minute piece. The three pieces grouped under the title "Radius 1" are mini-improvs generously seasoned with toy xylophone, too short to go anywhere in particular. "No Brain, No Gain" seems to be a parody of rock'n'roll bombast, offering call-and-response exchanges between surly, distorted guitar - actually, amplified zither - and beefy drums. "Don't Tell Morton" is the longest section of the disc, though it's not any more substantial: part two, for instance, is nine minutes of listening to your neighbour's windchimes. As anyone who's lived next to a neighbour with windchimes can attest, it's not the most soothing sound in the world. For the sake of the excellent Beins piece and the pretty-good Buck piece I wish the other two discs were better: as things stand, Berlin Drums is something of a curate's egg.—ND


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ELECTRONICA

Dielectric Minimalist All-Stars
[!]
DIE-009
Is [i!] the album title, or just the nauseous thought of a group called the Minimalist All-Stars? Ladiiiiiiiies and gentlemen welcome to Madison Square Garden for tonite's wrestling and give it up first of all for the guy in the blue corner, Mister Steeeeeve Reich (who hasn't written anything worthy of the name "minimalist" since "Different Trains" and is still happily performing "Drumming", which was written back in 1971 - though it still sounds great: let's hear no more sniggers about Mick'n'Keef still strutting their stuff to "Satisfaction".. those oooooldies but gooooodies.. tralalala) AND in the red corner let's hear it for Mister Phillllllip Glass (the only composer daft - or rich - enough to write first inversion F minor triads for over a quarter of a century and still claim he's the legitimate heir to the mighty Cage). Actually just joking folks, as there's no chance Reich and Glass would ever agree to appear on the same wrestling bout as they each dispute the other's claim to have "invented" minimal music in the first place, when as any smart kid will tell you, La Monte Young and Terry Riley (both of whom have had the good sense to stay at home tonight, fans) got there first. Instead, put your hands together in an impromptu performance of "Clapping Music" for Mister Jooooohn Adams (taking time off from his latest opera project, what's it's name, erm, "The Monica Lewinsky Affair" or was it "Who's Afraid of Michael Moore?" and who cares anyway as he's been ripping off Stravinsky's "Symphony in Three Movements" since Ronnie Reagan was saving the world from the Red Peril by beginning bombing in five minutes) and, the in opposite corner, his worthy opponent tonite Mister Miiiiiiiichael Nyman (as famous for apparently coining the "M" word in the first place as he is for swiping a couple of bars of Purcell here and a couple of Mozart there, looping them ad nauseam, rescoring for Roxy Music circa 1972 and then peddling the whole affair to an obscure and long-forgotten structuralist filmmaker). Yep, though it might be fun to watch four ageing, balding gents in fair round belly with good capon lin'd going the full fifteen rounds (to the strains of "Spaceship" from "Einstein On The Beach", or "Music for 18 Musicians" or "Harmonielehre" or "Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds" depending on who comes out on top), I think on balance I'd prefer to stay at home and listen to [i!] instead, though God only knows what the hell this music has got to do with minimalism, and as I've spent far too much time in print musing on this subject - see elsewhere - I'm not opening that can o' worms again. Suffice it to say that if this qualifies as minimalism you could make a pretty strong case for including Jackie O' Motherfucker, Polwechsel, Hasil Adkins, Morton Feldman, Bo Diddley, The Vibracathedral Orchestra, John Fahey, Aphex Twin, AMM, the Velvet Underground, the Troggs, Stravinsky, Sibelius, Bruckner, Bach (all of 'em), Palestrina, Dufay, Machaut, the Imperial Court Musicians of the Japan and the entire pygmy population of Africa too. So forget the dumb branding strategy and trade in your old jizz-stained copies of Satyagraha, The Cave, Nixon In China and Drowning By Numbers for a copy of this, because Loren Chasse, Jason Levis and Die Elektrischen have cooked up two discs of electronic music that sound as good as their track titles ("Cocaine Lovin' Orange County Kids", "When in Naples, Eat!", "Bellicose Asshole In Charge", "Cruising Deep Space With Hendrix' Ghost And A Handful Of Green Globe Butter"..). And if any of these three characters thirty years down the line EVER turns out anything as execrable as the "Low Symphony" or whatever the hell it was called rest assured I will swim the Atlantic and insert an iPod fully loaded with the Compleat Works of Steve, Phil, John and Michael right in their USB port.—DW

Birchville Cat Motel
BEAUTIFUL SPECK TRIUMPH
Last Visible Dog LVD 053/54 2CD
As readers know by now, I tend to do a lot of my listening shuttling to and from work (ha, you thought writing album reviews paid the bills? Think again) using a trusty old Walkman. Hardly practical for some of the ultra-lowercase stuff I get - though Radu Malfatti's compositions sound quite interesting in the Metro - but essential. Inevitably, certain pieces of music have become strongly associated with particular places, and return to the mind's ear each time those places are revisited - and vice versa, the music triggering equally strong visual memories. This splendid double album from Birchville Cat Motel, aka New Zealander Campbell Kneale, was on repeat play for a whole sunny afternoon recently in a local park where I took my hyper-energetic five-year-old to burn off some calories, and the sounds of children at play filtering into the Walkman headphones became an essential part of the musical experience, and return to haunt me now as I relisten. Kneale has released quite a body of work under the BCM moniker, and I can honestly say that only a small part of it has made it my way, but the sheer beauty of these elegant drones must rank with the best of his work. (Choice cut: "Speck Fears", which closes disc one with the kind of gently bitonal harmony and elegiac piano Harold Budd fans would do well to check out at the earliest opportunity. As fresh and natural as kids playing in sunlight.). As is often the case with music like this, "drone" is hardly the right word to describe it; though harmonically static, the surface of Kneale's music is peppered with myriad tiny disturbances (here he's credited on electric, acoustic and fake guitars, synth, cheap organ, recorder, clarinet, contact mics, wired turntables, violin, bells, baby rattles, firecrackers, piano, cymbals, melodica, steel pot lid, drums, space phone, tape loops, floorboards), odd crackles, rustles and creaks that make me wonder if a future collaboration with Keith Rowe might not be a bad idea. Then again, Kneale needs nobody at all to help him when it comes to creating the grandiose 36-minute title track that closes the set. It's as epic, vast and moving as a Bruckner symphony, and its sheer volume managed to block out the playground sounds - though I close my eyes and still feel the sunshine on my skin.—DW

Asmus Tietchens
BIOTOP
Die Stadt DS61
SPÄT-EUROPA
Die Stadt DS68
Biotop is the second of Die Stadt's series of 18 Asmus Tietchens reissues, mostly from originals on Sky. Opening with two bonus tracks that are expected to pop up throughout the catalogue (with "Fast Food" this may be the closest to the pop realm I have heard his sound stretch) and influenced by its era of new wave and punk, it shows Tietchens had a flair for wiggly Moogs and Rolands. This playful piece almost mocks the sophistication and development of his overall oeuvre, though it proves he can develop a sound that draws on the immediacy of new developments of technology (even though some of the mixers, decks and oscillators he currently plays are over thirty years old) - and a cheeky sense of humor. These releases reproduce the vibrancy of the original cover art, here in bright Day-Glo pink and green with geometric text design by Tina Tuschemess similar to the straight ahead boldness of Talking Heads' 77. Tracks like the asymmetrically rhythmic "Die elektrische Horde" may have predated similar work by younger contemporaries such as John Foxx and David Van Tieghem, but Tietchens' sound builds a greater tension, excludes unnecessary vocals and choral riffs, then detonates a batch of flavorful short pieces filled with harmony and punctuation. It's a great look at how Tietchens immerses himself in the sound of an era without pinning himself down to particular trends, and while the equipment sounds a bit dated, it gives the work a documentary/historical rather than antiquated feel. On "Blutmund" you can hear the future of say Aphex Twin's Come to Daddy - "I want your soul……" After listening to this I want to break out my copy of Liquid Liquid to contrast: it's that good, despite an endearing awkwardness that wanders a bit. Dare I say that Biotop is a fun record challenging his more academic later works? (What will Beta-Menge sound like in 2015, though?) With all eighteen tracks here at four minutes or under, these may actually be a collection of "songs" in the scheme of things. "Sauberland" sounds like a tribute to early Devo and all its spawn - upright, perky and conceptually edgy. The closing title cut's caustic vibration transcends in a flight of pure, spectral light.

Spät-Europa
, the third reissue of the series, was originally released in 1981, and its opening title track starts like a church service, choir angelically chanting until a churning, dark synth rechannels the sphere of menacing sound into a monster movie, bleeding into the corrosive "Frautod Grafitto." Unlike Biotop this sounds like a lost Jack Smith soundtrack, the intimidating "Poanpo" as a children's novel gone awry. The electronics are sharp and retro-futuristically sci-fi. Most tracks on this 22-track recording are about two minutes in length and have an archived birdlike alter-persona; the crow is watching, waiting, honing in. Spät-Europa plays like a ghostlike fairground after hours, headless operators on "Bescheidenes Vergnügen" winding the machines with celestial muscle; the amusement is in the absence of rational gravity, the ethereal space is accented only by the wisp of icy cold air and lingering stale beer odors left from the revellers of the day. In comparison, the Lene Lovich-like levity of "Schone Dritte Welt" croons and dips like a schnauzer in heat. The gaiety of it all is like being lost in the swirl of PacMan curves while swallowing a larger than mouth-sized dollop of fiery pink cotton candy on a stick - sensory overload. Once you get your equilibrium back out pops the cold, gray dragnet of drone presented by "Erloschene Herzen" and friskier, yet moderately self-indulgent "Endspannung" and its leisure-suit percussion. The Cabaret Voltaire sound-alike "Ausverkauf" bounces metallically and screeches around the sharp curves of its James Bond theme. The mesmerizing choppiness of "Stille Hafen" presents beats by way of the acoustics presented like an orchestra covered in liquid latex, peering out of their cocoon and emerging like baby rats on the following "Epitaph." Here a piano caresses the chaos, brings the tension to a standstill. The two bonus tracks rewind the motor, acting more like an encore re-presentation of some earlier elements heard herein. The closing "Zum Tee bei Frau Hilde" sways intoxicated with a boatload of fermented, archival synth spurts that are as quirky as they are refried. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz...—TJN

Jason Kahn
MIRAMAR
Sirr 2016
Switzerland-based Jason Kahn teams up with Sirr-ecords to bring us Miramar, recorded in Caudeval, France. Beyond the initial blatant warp of drone a tinkling undercurrent of pixie joy is just barely audible. As time passes, and the tone shifts just a hair, the subtlety is erased into a whirring abyss that throbs and spins. Kahn's analogue synth bounces off the bevels of space, with an adroit curvature that ends in deadening silence. When track two flares up, it's more a motor than an instrument, but listen on and the atmosphere quickly erupts into bloated banality with hints of sinister intent. It just hovers, though, mostly balanced, perhaps more focused on the finish line than on the gravity of the moment. The five tracks here sort of act/react in succession: Miramar's intent is not self-evident - it's a bit of a dreary collapsing enigma, actually. It has something in common with what has become known as the classic technical difficulty signals, audible and a bit menacing, repetitive and unnerving, but what sets Kahn's work apart is its very minor tonal shifting that plays with such completely poker-faced dealings. This is complex listening to the nth degree, somewhere in the abyss between dark ambient and electronic noise experimentation, and its retrofit will certainly fend off your casual listener, appealing instead to those specifically interested in perhaps the findings of a forensic acoustician. Let's say he is on to something, though he has yet to find his map - this is his journey.—TJN


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