SEPTEMBER News 2004 Reviews by Nate Dorward, Stephen Griffith, Richard Hutchinson, Jamie Stephenson, Dan Warburton:

Editorial: From Down Under
In concert: JAZZ EM AGOSTO
In print:
Ben Watson on Derek Bailey
On Leo:
Anthony Braxton
Label Profile:
Fencing Flatworm
On Naturestrip:
Tarab / Toshiya Tsunoda / Joel Stern / Lawrence English
On Rossbin: Blue Collar / Fages, Barberan, Costa Monteiro
Cecil Taylor & Mat Maneri / Sunny Murray, John Edwards & Tony Bevan / Orchestrova / Ted Sirota / Atomic, School Days, Vandermark 5
Doneda, Wright, Nakatani / Pateras, Baxter, Brown / Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble / Ben Fleury-Steiner / Noid / Rowe, Ambarchi, Avenaim
Jason Eckardt / Petri Kuljuntausta / Michael Rüsenberg / Ramon Sender / Gal / Tristan Murail / M.A.Doherty
si-cut.db / Ian Andrews / Tu m' / Oreledigneur / 3/4HadBeenEliminated / Thembi Soddell
Last month

From Down Under

There's a distinctly antipodean slant to this issue of PT, which not only profiles Melbourne's new sound art label Naturestrip but also reviews the work of Anthony Pateras, Sean Baxter, David Brown, Oren Ambarchi, Robbie Avenaim and Thembi Soddell. Appropriately enough, a copy of Marisa Giorgi and Michael Spann's excellent magazine xochi23 arrived in time to join the summer reading list, along with Ben Watson's controversial biography of Derek Bailey (see below) and Alain Bancquart's Musique: habiter le temps (of which more later). Xochi23 compiles short fiction by Nabaloum Dramane, Hamri, Jürgen Ploog and Brion Gysin - his "Mountains of London" is not credited as having been published before, which is one good reason for searching it out. Others include a reprint of a hilarious 1971 interview with Charles Bukowski, a more extended chat with the late, great Steve Lacy dating from 1984, and a lengthy discussion with Daevid Allen from 2003. It's amusing to compare Lacy and Allen's very different impressions of Jean Georgakarakos and Jean Luc Young, the eminence grises behind the BYG Actuel label - which helped establish both musicians at the end of the 1960s - Lacy dismisses them as "gangsters" while for Allen they're counter-cultural revolutionaries. It's all very entertaining stuff and recommended reading, but it's only available from and the edition is limited to just 100 copies - so MOVE. Bancquart's book is a tougher nut to crack, like his music. Containing lengthy discussion of, as one might expect, his music and the poetry of his wife Marie-Claire, whose work he has set throughout his career, but also Beethoven, Schubert and Nono, and the microtonal theories of Ivan Wyschnegradsky, it makes useful background reading to accompany his epic Livre du Labyrinthe (released on Mode last year). Expect a bit of mathematics and a dose of music theory. Oh, and it's in French too, of course.
Thanks also go out this issue to Rui Neves and the team at Jazz em Agosto in Lisbon for their kind invitation to attend the festival, and to those who wrote in to the Letters Page, particularly Christian Dergarabedian, who tells us the story of the early years of Reynols - and one I'll bet you haven't heard before, even in our interview with Argentinean crusaders last year. Talking of which, Absurd records has finally released I Am Not Sitting In A Room With Reynols, which features the recording of the PT interview, though you're highly unlikely to be able to understand a word. That's postmodernism for you. Bonne lecture.—DW

>>back to top of SEPTEMBER 2004 page

Jazz em Agosto

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon
August 3rd - 8th
Since he took over the Artistic Direction of Portugal's "Jazz in August" festival a few years ago, Rui Neves has earned well-deserved praise for his daring programming. He could easily fill the thousand-seater auditoriums and amphitheatres of Lisbon's prestigious Gulbenkian Foundation six nights running by giving gigs to the Brads, Norahs and Wyntons of this world - that he manages to have queues stretching halfway down the street for the likes of George Lewis, Otomo Yoshihide and Franz Hautzinger is as commendable as it is surprising. Merely stringing together reviews of the eleven concerts I attended out of twelve (my apologies to Paul Plimley and Lisle Ellis for missing their set on the final afternoon: it was a toss up between them and Nuno Ferreira / Jesus Santandreu - I made the wrong choice) isn't good enough; Neves' choice of artists and his proud and unequivocal billing of their diverse offerings as JAZZ need almost as much discussion. Any visiting African-American would have been bemused (amused, or annoyed) to find only one black man - Lewis - in a line-up of 49 featured musicians; though nobody would dispute the authenticity of jazz's origins as a Black American art form, it was as if Neves' roster of artists had been drawn up with the express intention of showing how far and in how many different directions jazz has moved since the unfortunate term was coined.
This year's edition of Jazz em Agosto had a distinctly Canadian bias, with no fewer than five of the twelve concerts featuring all Canadian line-ups (not to mention turntablist Martin Tétreault's appearance with Otomo Yoshihide). These included the festival's opening and closing acts, the NOW Orchestra and the Paul Cram Orchestra, the former conducted by George Lewis and their resident artistic director Coat Cooke. As luck (i.e. weather) would have it, both of these large ensemble shows had to be moved indoors from the open-air amphitheatre they were originally scheduled in, and somewhere along the way the big band clout got lost in the Gulbenkian Foundation's luxuriant gardens. Percussionist Dylan van der Schyff sounded particularly far away in the NOW orchestra's set, which consisted of five "very long" (you can count on Lewis to give it to you straight) pieces and ran continuously for nearly two hours, requiring quite an effort of concentration on the part of the listener. There was ample room for extended solo spots by each of the orchestra's 16 members (including Lewis) - high spots were Bruce Freedman's incendiary alto saxophone and Brad Muirhead's bass trombone, which even gave Lewis a run for his money - but the length of the performance, complexity of the compositions and density of arrangements led me to wonder whether two 40-minute sets separated by an interval wouldn't have been more impressive. And Lewis himself, despite an extraordinary ability to galvanise the band into action, tended to distract attention from the proceedings by wandering off into the wings when not actually conducting. Paul Cram solved the problem of the eternally visible conductor by dividing timekeeping duties between his band members, and the fact that they occasionally had to beat time didn't stop saxophonist Don Palmer and trombonist Tom Walsh (to name but two) turning in solos of terrific power and coherence.
Both big band shows raised the same problematic question - how far can intricate large ensemble arrangements be stretched to accommodate free playing? The question of where to draw the line between (arranged / composed) jazz and (free) improv was also naggingly present in the sets by the Peggy Lee Band and François Houle's Electro Acoustic Quartet, both of which also featured percussionist van der Schyff and guitarist Ron Samworth. Lee alternated material from a forthcoming album with several "instant compositions" (nice to see her adopting Misha Mengelberg's term), improvised duets, the most satisfying of which featured Samworth and Brad Turner, whose sense of space and gift for limpid melancholy recalled another great Canadian trumpeter, Kenny Wheeler. Elsewhere, it was as if Lee couldn't decide if she wanted to be on ECM or Emanem; putting aside her cello in favour of a twangy (12 string?) guitar, she led the sextet into the kind of territory Metheny and Frisell used to explore a couple of decades ago, while the fidgety, in-the-moment improv of her duo with van der Schyff was just crying out for some spiky multiphonics from John Butcher (with whom both musicians have recorded). Samworth's apparent openness to any and all styles of guitar playing, from 70s prog noodling to gritty improv crunch, was less convincing in Houle's set, which was slowed down and muddied by over-dependence on electronic gadgetry. Houle is one of the most outstanding clarinettists on the planet, which made his all-too-frequent twiddling on an adjacent Apple even more frustrating. At one point, the wretched Mac took over altogether, churning out an annoying montage of speech and field recordings and relegating the live musicians' input to strangely inconsequential background noise. The name Houle has chosen for his band inevitably recalls Evan Parker's outfit (replace "quartet" with "ensemble" and add a hyphen), but he's got some way to climb before he reaches the high plateau dominated by Lawrence Casserley and Walter Prati.
If the Canadians chose to avoid standard repertoire, some of the other groups opted for a full frontal assault. The Thing, a testosterone-oozing Norwegian / Swedish power trio featuring Mats Gustafsson on baritone and tenor saxes, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, took material by musicians as diverse as PJ Harvey ("To Bring You My Love"), White Stripes, Donald Ayler and Norman Howard as well as numerous Scandinavian folk songs and subjected it all to a grilling worthy of Ruby's BBQ, Austin TX (the terrible trio played in matching Ruby's T-shirts). Gustafsson isn't exactly subtle, with clucks, splatters and occasional elephantine trumpetings gritty enough to sand a picnic table, but after the rather precious doodlings of Lee's band he came as a welcome surprise, as did his participation in Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Quintet next day. Their splendid set was the high point of the festival for this listener (hardly surprising, as it included personal favourites such as "Hat and Beard", "Lonely Woman" and "Orange Was The Colour Of Her Dress"), particularly Kenta Tsugami's slow-building solo on the Dolphy composition. Driven on by the decidedly oddball but totally convincing rhythm section of bassist Hiroaki Mizutani and drummer Yasuhiro Yoshigaki (about time we saw more drummers drumming standing up and playing a trumpet at the same time), and riding a wave of wails from Otomo's guitar, Tsugami took the alto sax on a journey from Paul Desmond to Paul Flaherty that had everyone, Mats included, shaking their heads in wonder. And Otomo's solo reading of Ornette's "Lonely Woman" was proof, were any needed, that he's the greatest master of guitar feedback since Hendrix - the segue into the delicate nuances of Mingus' "Orange" was breathtaking. The large crowd certainly appreciated it.
It's hard to say if Otomo's quintet set drew the biggest gate of the festival or whether that honour fell to the headlining band the following night, Franz Hautzinger's Regenorchester XI, but it seems clear that the locals weren't queueing round the block to see the Viennese trumpeter - though in a perfect world elevators and hotel lobbies would be playing Dachte Musik and Brospa - instead they wanted to see the poster boy of the laptop generation himself, Christian Fennesz. As it turned out, Fennesz's swathes of colour were often buried beneath the muscular rhythmics of Alex Deutsch (drums) and Luc Ex (bass), and the man himself was often hidden from view by guitarist Karl Ritter pacing up and down like Rilke's panther. Ritter's incessant toing and froing were visually intensely distracting, but his playing was tight and inventive. Hautzinger, in case you haven't heard his work with Orchester 33 1/3 or his loopy soloing on Fritz Ostermayer's Kitsch Concrete, can play the hell out of the trumpet, but is best known for the subaquatic bloops and plops of his extended techniques work. Rather schizophrenically, he alternated between two mics, one for the straight and one for the weird stuff, and not surprisingly his gurgles and icy breathy blasts often lost out. Imagine Bill Dixon on Dark Magus instead of Miles, electric Miles clearly being the point of departure for Hautzinger's band. One imagines an album won't be long in coming, and let's hope Fennesz will be interested enough in the project to take part, because he must have been bored as hell to light up a cigarette onstage (definitely the uncoolest image of the festival).
Hautzinger's set came at the end of a thoroughly electronic day that started with a solo spot by Supersilent's Arve Henriksen on trumpet and electronics. Removing the mouthpiece and singing into the horn, he sounded like a cross between Jon Hassell and a shakuhachi, looping tiny modal melodies and his own wavering falsetto vocals into the kind of featureless New Age mush Arvo Pärt might write one day if he sells out and goes POP. The trumpeter called for audience participation (clap yo hands, stomp yo feet and hum along with Henriksen), which he got - first time round at least. When he tried again half an hour later, there was no response. The audience had thinned out, and I suspect those that were left in the womblike glow of the Sala Polivalente had nodded off. There was, however, no chance of a quick snooze in the next set, a turntable battle featuring Otomo Yoshihide and Martin Tétreault that was about as far from jazz as Henriksen's noodling was - in the opposite direction. With steadfastness of purpose (happily not without humour though) and objects as diverse as crocodile clips, strips of tinfoil, pan scourers and metal plates they transformed their long-suffering turntables into noisy feedback laboratories in five pieces ranging in duration from five to 20 minutes. Hardcore eai it might have been, but it captivated the audience, proving that in the right hands electronic equipment is a viable and creative resource in its own right and not simply a means to tart up existing acoustic instruments. In short, live electronics have moved on a hell of a way from harmonizers and foot pedals. Unfortunately, Portuguese guitarist Nuno Ferreira and Spanish tenor saxophonist Jesus Santandreu haven't understood this yet, and used their equipment the following day either to pad out their rather lifeless compositions or to avoid paying a live rhythm section by creating bass and drum loops of crashing monotony (though, credit to them, they did come up with a rather attractive take on the fiendish changes of "Giant Steps", which most musicians avoid like the plague).
There were numerous moments of light heartedness during the festival, but few of the artists actively sought to engage with another important aspect of jazz history - the music's sense of humour and entertainment. Many years ago jazz musicians decided they'd had enough of fooling about like clowns and demanded - with justification - to be considered as creative artists, treated correctly and paid accordingly. But jazz and improvised music never lost their fondness for showmanship and spectacle, from Rahsaan Roland Kirk circular breathing an entire concert to the serious fun of Lester Bowie's cover of "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag", from Eugene Chadbourne demolishing Johnny Paycheck to Han Bennink demolishing anything he can get hands on. Bennink's antics came to mind during the solo set by East German percussionist Günter "Baby" Sommer, who drove all the way to Portugal with his home-made drum kit (including an ancient kettledrum, tubular bells, rattles, gongs and some awesomely vulgar car horn trumpets) to entertain the crowd in the small auditorium with his half-composed, half-improvised pieces. Case-hardened jazz journalists (there were several in attendance) groaned, but Sommer achieved something that only a handful of artists at this year's Jazz em Agosto managed to do - break down the barrier between performer and public by revealing an inexhaustible passion for and love of sound and its ability to communicate ideas and emotions both simple and complex, light and deep. It's a shame Sommer couldn't have performed in the Anfiteatro, as the open-air concerts were often interrupted by enthusiastic quacks from the ducks on the pond behind the stage. I'm sure he'd have loved to play along with them. I know I would have.—DW [thanks to Joaquim Mendes for photographs]

>>back to top of SEPTEMBER 2004 page

Ben Watson on Derek Bailey

Ben Watson
Verso, 443pp $30/£20/$45CAN
Any book purporting to tell the story of free improvisation whose index has almost as many entries for Theodor Adorno and Frank Zappa combined (42) as it does for Evan Parker (47) is already off to a bad start. But this particular 443-page tome is coming at you direct from planet Ben Watson, a Marxist manga world where the forces of Good and Evil grapple heroically like black and white on a Franz Kline canvas, and Heroes and Villains - you're either one or the other - gird their loins for the final battle between Modernism and its deadly enemy Postmodernism. "Let it be stated upfront that [this book] is DESIGNED to be contradictory, argumentative and unfinished - in short, improvised and dialectical," writes Watson in his Introduction. "Author and subject haven't reached agreement about anything, especially Free Improvisation." Presumably, however, they did manage to agree on one thing: the near-total exclusion of Bailey's long time playing and business partner Evan Parker. If, as Watson crows, "in opposition to the cosy collusion of the conventional biography, this glowering gap between author and subject is here proposed as a field of play for the imaginative and thoughtful reader," one wonders why he couldn't have seen fit to provide the imaginative and thoughtful reader with some real hard information about the serious differences of opinion that prompted Bailey and Parker to part company acrimoniously several years ago. In choosing to sideline Parker (one can only imagine in deference to Bailey's wishes - surely no writer claiming to be as in love with improvised music as Watson does would just let the matter drop), Watson also misses out on a golden opportunity to provide a serious and well-researched history of Incus, whose mail order manifesto included with the first Incus LP The Topography of the Lungs was a truly revolutionary blueprint for DIY distribution. There's clearly no love lost between the two men even today (when I recently asked him when Topography would be reissued - it's long overdue - Parker replied bluntly: "When Derek Bailey's dead"), but Parker remains a major figure in the history of free improvisation and, arguably, in Derek Bailey's life. The lack of mention of Evan Parker is even more keenly felt when Watson devotes two later sections of the book to Steve Lacy and Anthony Braxton, both important but not exactly frequent Bailey playing partners (reissues excluded, Lacy appears on eight albums with Bailey, and Braxton seven, compared to over thirty featuring Parker). Compare the thorough discussion of First Duo Concert with the one cursory sentence on The Topography of the Lungs (despite the presence on that album of Han Bennink, one of Ben's All Time Heroes) and Company 1. Parker's is not the only absence, though it is the most notable. There is likewise no mention of AMM, and very little of John Stevens apart from an anecdote - in all probability made up - culled from an obscure fanzine called Radical Poetics.
Excluding Watson's introductory and concluding sections, and the three appendices - a Bailey discography, an Incus discography and the complete unedited transcript of Watson's Invisible Jukebox with Bailey for The Wire magazine - the book consists of six sections: Child and Teenager 1930 - 1951 (pp.13 - 32), Working Guitarist 1950 - 1963 (pp.33 - 51), Joseph Holbrooke Trio 1963 - 1966 (pp.52 - 111), Soloism and Freedom 1966 - 1977 (pp.112 - 204), Company Weeks 1977 - 1994 (pp.205 - 310) and Improv International (pp.311 - 373). Of these, only the first two actually tell (something of) the story of Derek Bailey's life, in an informative series of vignettes taken from interviews with the author that took place from 1997 onwards. Luckily for Watson, Bailey is an authentic working class hero from the world of flat caps, fish and chips, outside toilets and adultery, and his memories of sleeping in pubs, threatening his divinity teacher and breaking into houses are as well-narrated and entertaining as an Alan Sillitoe novel.
The third part of the book tells the story of Joseph Holbrooke, Bailey's trio with Gavin Bryars on bass and Tony Oxley on drums. The reputation of this outfit, based on the evidence of their only released recording, a ten and a half minute rehearsal tape of "Miles' Mode", seems to have been exaggerated out of all proportion, and Watson quite happily spins out more hype. (A properly researched book about the history of free improvisation in Britain should mention not only Joseph Holbrooke, but other notable early experiments in free playing by Terry Day, John Stevens, Joe Harriott and AMM, to name but a few. This is not the story of free improvisation, but a story, one of many.) Tony Oxley, of course, is another of Ben's All Time Heroes, but if you weren't familiar with the fact and only had this book to go on you could be excused for thinking he's the single most important drummer since Warren Baby Dodds, and that the work of every other free improvising percussionist from John Stevens to Paul Lytton pales into insignificance. Not content with placing the Hero on the pedestal, Watson has to dig a hole to push the Villain into. So you may be surprised to learn that Paul Lytton's work "sounds more like conventional drum soloing, lacking Oxley's serialist / surrealist ability to open up jagged abysses of resonant silence", and, while you're trying to work out what that last sentence actually means, it's time for Star Trek: "Oxley had found a way of subdividing time so that he could deal with almost any kind of randomness a band member might throw at him [..] whereas [John] Stevens was more interested in warping time itself." Watson manages to all but ignore Stevens' pioneering work, so the uncomfortable question of free improvisation's relations with jazz can be comfortably sidestepped, along with Oxley's allegiance to jazz at the time as house drummer at Ronnie Scott's.
That bit about subdividing time refers to the eighteen-quavers-in-a-bar "horizontal concept" Oxley devised to escape from the tyranny of the beat. "That meant some of the things you could do without losing the pulse would neither be on the beat or off the beat, because you've got 18 over 4." Confused? So's Ben, and yet Oxley explains it perfectly clearly: divide the two half bars into crotchet (quarter-note) triplets (6 against 4) and further subdivide each of those triplets into triplets. For some reason Watson latches on to this idea like a limpet and starts hearing subdivided beats where there aren't any beats at all, for example in Iskra 1903's "Improvisation 11", which "starts as a tight trombone / guitar duet, the two musicians using the super-divided beat pioneered by Oxley to twirl the music about each other's statements." Irony of ironies, the album that best reveals Oxley's subdivided beat concept is one that, for ideological reasons of his own invention, Watson feels compelled to shoot down - John McLaughlin's Extrapolation. Why Watson feels the need to sell Bailey by dissing McLaughlin is a mystery: it's like extolling the virtues of fresh fish by comparing it to drinking chocolate: "What is the real difference between the 'florid, fast and brilliant' guitar playing of Music Improvisation Company and The Inner Mounting Flame?" (Pause for dramatic paragraph break.) "The basic difference is harmonic. John McLaughlin's music is pressed into dramatic modal arpeggios designed to represent the spirit rising towards transcendence." Ah, the dreaded "T" word. Anathema to a Marxist of course, and to be regarded with suspicion, hence snidy asides like the following: "Anything tainted by will to power is evil, so we should all lie on the floor and 'deep listen' while Pauline Oliveros squeezes her postmodern accordion."
"It is possible to cite a battalion of theorists of radical modernism - Theodor Adorno, Clement Greenberg, Asger Jorn - to argue why this shows Bailey is free and valuable in a way McLaughlin is not," continues Watson, and one wishes he would. At least (most of) what they wrote made sense. When it comes to the politics, you can take or leave Watson's thesis, but the total lack of any serious discussion of music as music is frankly inexcusable. "To get a grip on Free Improvisation, music criticism needs a science of the sign, a revolutionary theory. Anything tainted by existentialism, structuralism or post-structuralism will not suffice," he intones gravely on p.9. "All that Parisian nonsense was a product of the failure of 1968: neo-Kantian despair, pseudo-radical Nietzschean sentimentality. We need the theory that emerged in Russia in the 1920s." Well, instead of the gritty chunk of Valentin Voloshinov's "Marxism and the Philosophy of Language", how about Associated Board Music Theory Grade III instead? I'm not asking for Milton Babbitt, Allen Forte and David Lewin, but a brief, cogent explanation of Schoenberg's dodecaphony would not have gone amiss. Watson happily recalls how important Webern's music was to Bailey in the mid 1960s, but instead of confronting the question of serialism head on in a discussion of the Pieces for Guitar, whose importance to Bailey's output is crucial and completely overlooked, all we get is some sleazy anecdote about him playing Webern at full volume in a bedsit in Fulham.
At least the interview with Joseph Holbrooke's third member, bassist Gavin Bryars makes for interesting reading, especially when Watson pushes him to name the bassist - Johnny Dyani - whose playing he had criticised in a memorable passage in Bailey's book Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music, and one begins to regret that more recordings of Joseph Holbrooke haven't emerged (particularly a tape of the trio playing with Lee Konitz that was recorded in Manchester on 19th March 1966). The anecdotes of Mr Andrew Shone, who used to take the door money for Joseph Holbrooke upstairs at The Grapes, are revealing but could hardly be described as top-notch musicology (Q: "Why is Free Improvisation so despised?" A: "Maybe because it's very hard." Well, blimey..). Watson would have done better asking other improvising guitarists to comment on Bailey's technical prowess, but as John Russell (who actually studied with Bailey) is only mentioned later in passing, and Roger Smith amazingly not mentioned at all throughout the entire book, we'll just have to make do with the few - too few - choice quotes from Bailey that explain matters with admirable concision. On p.213: "Tonality is like an argument, and the answers to the questions are always the same. Play Gmin7, C13, and the next chord has to be one of three or four things. If you're looking to get away from that kind of thing you have to use a different language." Would that the book included more such straightforward explanation. Where Watson waffles about "Webern's timbral serialism" (in point of fact Webern never applied serial procedures to either timbre or dynamics, as was mistakenly assumed by some overenthusiastic members of the Darmstadt avant-garde), Bailey's description of his playing technique is crystal clear: "You can play virtually any note, allowing for octave transpositions, in three basic ways, as a harmonic, open string or stopped note. You can play the same notes and do a completely different set of fingerings."
By the time we reach part four, any notion that it is still a biography has gone out of the window, and the book becomes a kind of soapbox for Watson to stand on and shoot wildly into the crowd. Among the targets is Miles Davis (why? for employing John McLaughlin?), whose post-Silent Way work is described as a "crass celebration of electric modernity versus acoustic antiquity". (Watson backs up his attack with an extract from an interview with Eugene Chadbourne: EC: "One of my friends got a copy of Pangaea and said, it just sounds like a Deep Purple album." BW: "But not as good…" EC: "We were critical of the guitar players and we thought it was nothing compared to Derek Bailey or Hendrix even. We just thought it was cheesy." Curious, this, coming from a guitarist who in an interview with me quoted Bitches Brew as one of his all time Top Ten albums, though Eugene is using the past tense here..) Also caught in the crossfire is Manfred Eicher and ECM records ("smug, bourgeois, all-labour-screened-off languor [..] which one wag dubbed the sound of the middle classes falling asleep"), except presumably those on which Tony Oxley plays, Keiji Haino ("an all-thumbs corny thespian who only impresses style victims who think wearing shades, carrying a staff and dressing in black is some kind of existential statement"), Merzbow ("it seems extraordinary that anyone so distant from Kurt Schwitters's homely humour should name himself after his Merzbau [..] Masami should have called himself 'Artaud-in-the-Hole'"), and, surprisingly, myself, in the context of a discussion of Bailey's Limescale on p.372: "[T]he intransigence [..] will doubtless annoy those postmodern critics (like Signal To Noise's Dan Warburton) who deem the jagged, crunchy, unmusical sound of Free Improvisation a 'dead dog'." Not having written anything on Limescale (I don't even own a copy of the album, you may be horrified to learn), I don't know where the quote comes from, but never mind. At least when Ben's running the politburo I won't be the only one to be shipped off to break rocks in Siberia, and look forward to a jolly time in the gulag with many other fine musicians of my acquaintance including David Toop, Keith Rowe and Steve Beresford.
Avid watchers of the London scene know there's a long-running spat between Watson and Beresford, who memorably compared Ben to Julie Burchill in a letter published a while back in The Wire. However, since Watson can't deny the importance of Beresford's work as an improviser and because Eugene Chadbourne and Mark "Sniffin' Glue" Perry (both Ben Heroes) express admiration for him, he chooses instead to take him to task as a political philosopher, of all things. Similarly, it's clear Watson's dying to have a go at John Zorn (I don't know what Watson means by "postmodern" but it's certainly an epithet I'd use to describe Zorn's work), but daren't say too much, firstly because Zorn plays his ass off with Bailey and secondly because it's largely thanks to several high profile releases on Zorn labels that Bailey's career has really taken off in the past decade. Similarly, Watson is forced to show respect for Bryars' work in Joseph Holbrooke though you know he's just aching to put the boot in. On p.169 he criticises Bryars' oft-quoted reservations about improvising, as published in Bailey's book (p.135 of the Moorland edition): "It is characteristic that Bryars should appeal to painting, the art form most in hock to bourgeois property relations." This doesn't stop Watson himself invoking the work of the French Impressionists in his later discussion of Company Week, but never mind, back to Bryars: "His argument runs counter to a whole vein of Black Studies that makes a virtue of the griot: the jazzman as the in-person embodiment of tradition ('in jazz, the musician is the treasure', as Archie Shepp puts it)." Suddenly, after going to pains in the book to separate the two, comparing free improvisation and jazz is kosher then? "Although to mention the word 'jazz' to Bailey is to step into a minefield, he actually adheres to principles established by jazz," Watson writes on p.225. Once more, Bailey's comments on the subject are refreshingly clear: "For me the real connection between this kind of playing and jazz is umbilical: the real possibilities start once you cut the cord. John [Stevens]'s view was diametrically opposed to that. He believed some connection was essential, however tenuous. He would speak of it as being organic. I loved it when John started using words like 'organic'. It meant we were in for a long night."

Thank goodness for the eminently readable and bluntly honest transcript of the Wire Jukebox. Bailey's language positively sparkles, but when Watson tries to add some fizz to his own earnest polemic with some "memorable" imagery, it falls curiously flat: "[T]he duo evoke mice on speed stashing individually wrapped gorgonzola titbits between the wires of a stainless steel egg slicer." (Evoke? Why "individually wrapped"?) Compare Watson's put-down of Parker's trademark soprano circular breathing ("the totalitarian afflatus of his technique steamrollers specific ambience, turning his music into the kind of dependable commodity required by promoters and applauded by the general public") with Bailey's matter of factness: "There's always been this tendency, for the last thirty-five years, to franchise a bit of this music, chop bits off and turn it into a music."
On and on it goes, with Ben sniping at La Monte Young, Keith Rowe and Eddie Prévost ("his use of the jargon of 'community' [..] is sentimental, projecting a rural innocence on musicians who are actually operating in a highly competitive and mediated firstworld metropolis" - hmm, he has a point there), bemoaning the fact that his beloved Hession / Wilkinson / Fell trio never got the international tours and kudos that Naked City did (surely as daft a comparison as Bailey / McLaughlin), and padding the final section out with a tedious compendium of his own reviews culled from the pages of Hi-Fi News. It's certainly amusing that the majority of the reviews penned by Watson, a committed Marxist notoriously vociferous in his criticism of "commodity fetishism", should have appeared in that most commodity-obsessed publication, and it's an irony he's acutely aware of and tries to squirm away from: "After all the claims about Free Improvisation as an anti-commodity operation, this slavering response to Bailey's albums may seem like treachery. However, that depends on whether one's criticism of commodified music is aesthetic or moral. The problem is not that commodities are immoral - in capitalism, our very life essence is reduced to a commodity (labour) - but that commodification has a tendency to weaken and homogenise the music we hear."
One hopes that Derek Bailey is pleased to learn that he too is an Adornoite: "'Works of art then are deficient, regardless of whether they are immediate entities or mediated totalities' (Adorno). This deficiency is what makes art a process rather than a product (Bailey's concept of Free Improvisation is Adornoite without knowing it), and only critical philosophy which relates art to the totality can understand it." For you to swot up on your critical philosophy, Watson has thoughtfully included a list of further reading material, but by the time you've made it to the end of the book you feel like rushing out and buying a copy of anything by Theodor Adorno you can lay your hands on just for the pleasure of burning it. "Derek Bailey. What a card." Watson concludes. Card he might be, but Bailey is also one of the most important musicians to have emerged in the world in the last fifty years, and he deserves something better than this.—DW

>>back to top of SEPTEMBER 2004 page

Anthony Braxton

Anthony Braxton
23 STANDARDS (Quartet) 2003
Leo CD LR 402-405 4CD
Even those with just a passing acquaintance with Anthony Braxton's voluminous discography can't have failed to notice his recurring need to square up to The Tradition by covering - probably not a word he would approve of - material from the whole accelerated history of jazz from Fats Waller to Dave Brubeck, Antonio Carlos Jobim to Sam Rivers. This quartet alone, which features Braxton on (alto, soprano and sopranino?) saxophones with guitarist Kevin O'Neil, bassist Andy Eulau, and Kevin Norton on drums, has already recorded three albums of "standards": Ten Compositions (Quartet) 2000, Nine Compositions (Hill) 2000 (both for CIMP and largely devoted to the music of Andrew Hill) and the more wide-ranging 8 Standards (Wesleyan) 2001 on Barking Hoop. 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003 features material recorded on tour in Europe that year, from concerts in Antwerp on February 19th, Brussels (three days later), Amsterdam's BIMhuis (November 15th), Verona (November 17th), Rome (18th), Lisbon (19th) and Guimaraes (in Northern Portugal, 20th). Quite a punishing touring schedule by anyone's standards - that the music recorded should be, for the most part, of such high quality is quite an achievement. The 23 standards include, in addition to much loved chestnuts as "After You've Gone", "Crazy Rhythm" and "I Can't Get Started", three Coltrane compositions ("26-1", "Countdown" and "Giant Steps", two Monks ("Off Minor" and what is billed rather sloppily as "Round Midnite"), two Dave Brubecks ('It's A Raggy Waltz" and "Three To Get Ready"), a handful of 1960s Blue Note classics (Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance", Sam Rivers' "Beatrice", Wayne Shorter's "Ju-Ju" and Joe Henderson's "Recorda Me", and continuing the bossa nova theme, Jobim's "Desafinado" and Luiz (misspelled here) Bonfa's "Manha de Carnival" (here billed as "Black Orpheus").
In his extensive and well-researched liner notes, Stuart Broomer writes: "The difference between a Braxton performance of a canonical work and the performance by any of the current neo-traditionalists is that the work (its meaning, its messages) is again indeterminate, again liable to new mutations. It is in the imagination of this larger collectivity that the tradition comes alive, and with it the possibilities of risk and meaning." Hmm.. while this undoubtedly applies to the more off-the-wall Braxton covers outings such as the Charlie Parker Project (1993, hatART, featuring the benign anarchy of Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink), or the Knitting Factory (Piano / Quartet) 1994 discs on Leo, it's hard to see what Broomer is referring to here, other than Braxton's own soloing, since Eulau, Norton and O'Neil certainly play things straight throughout - one could easily imagine grafting a straight hard-bop solo by Benny Golson or Warne Marsh over their three-man rhythm section and it would sound just fine (not only are the musicians' contributions respectfully traditional, but the tracks follow the time-honoured head - solos - head structure, and several even trade fours with the drummer from time to time - hardly iconoclastic stuff..). Broomer's not wide of the mark though when he describes O'Neil as "the most remarkable musician to emerge on guitar (that most marketable of instruments) in a decade, and (at 35) as gifted as any musician of his generation," but after over four and a half hours of his playing, even O'Neil's moves, impressive though they are, do become a little predictable. Bassist Eulau sticks resolutely to the changes throughout - no flights of fancy à la Dave Holland, Joe Fonda or Matt Sperry here - and Norton gives no indication whatsoever of the wildly inventive free playing that characterises his other outings with or without Braxton. The furthest "out" he gets is a bit of tinkling on an adjacent glockenspiel.
Braxton's soloing itself is certainly unpredictable, and at times inspired - as you might expect, there are numerous highlights, but his readings of Coltrane are particularly impressive - but I'm not sure it lives up to Broomer's hype. The nagging question that remains after listening to all this is why the saxophonist insisted on releasing a 4CD box. OK, so it's a limited edition of 1000, and there are surely at least that many hardcore Braxton fans out there to shift Leo Feigin's units (at least I fervently hope so: this is after all the 23rd Braxton release on Leo, including eleven double albums), but someone along the line should have raised some serious questions about actual musical quality. Brubeck's "It's A Raggy Waltz" should have been binned outright: quite apart from Braxton's squeaky sopranino having difficulty getting round the theme itself, O'Neil gets lost in the middle eight and Norton's heavy-handed hemiolas sound positively amateurish - in all honesty, if you were majoring in jazz and turned this in, you wouldn't graduate. I imagine the only reason the track wasn't rejected was that it contains O'Neil's wildest and most Sharrock-like guitar playing. Another question mark hangs over the brutal fade that ends "26-1" (come to think of it, shouldn't that be "26-2"?) on Disc One, right in the middle (it seems) of Norton's drum solo. Who pulled down the faders, and why? And why keep the rest of the track then, since there are plenty of equally impressive Braxton and O'Neil solos elsewhere in the set? It might seem mean-spirited to draw attention to such odd glitches and bloopers, especially when there are so many extraordinary moments on offer (my own favourite tracks are the readings of "I Can't Get Started" and Sam Rivers' exquisite "Beatrice"), but I can't help thinking that in choosing to release 23 tracks instead of settling for half as many, Anthony Braxton has missed out on the chance of releasing one of this year's most spectacular double CDs.—DW

>>back to top of SEPTEMBER 2004 page

Fencing Flatworm Recordings

If boredom is the mother of invention then she spawned a monster in January 2000, the month that saw the inception of Fencing Flatworm Recordings (FFR), on Rob Hayler's 28th birthday to be exact. He'd taken the afternoon off work to celebrate the fact, but none of his friends could join him. "A few months previously," explains Rob, "I'd bought a computer with a CDR writer in it so, to kill the afternoon, I started a record company." As one does.. A number of "fantastic creative people" were key to the genesis of FFR, Rob admits, the most important being Sean Keeble, "comrade and tireless friend, introducing himself and asking if he could help." Next they needed a title. "I wanted a name that sounded twee and indie," states Rob, "but when you looked a little closer was alien and screwed-up." Flatworms are beautiful, purple and white creatures that live in warm waters - the fencing part of the equation comes from their peculiar mating practices: usually androgynous, as Hayler puts it, "during the season they all grow cocks which they use to fight each other with. The loser gets impregnated by the winner and becomes female." Nice!
Originally from Truro, Rob Hayler spent his youth in Brighton before moving to Leeds in 1991 to study philosophy. Finding himself "surrounded by fantastic creative people", he soon plugged into the city's thriving underground scene, becoming a Termite Club committee member in late 1999 and organizing and promoting performances of challenging, forward thinking music. The label is intrinsically linked with his "Yorkshire nothing music" recording persona of Midwich. "They began together," he explains, "I'd had the equipment for a while beforehand but the idea really came to fruition the day FFR started. The first FFR release is the first Midwich release, Every Day Is The Same."
The first non-Midwich release was by Neil Campbell of the self-proclaimed "cheap local support band" Vibracathedral Orchestra. Released in April 2000, Excerpt From The Never-Ending Bowed Metal Song was originally recorded as a wedding present for a friend, but Campbell liked it so much he wanted to release it. "I met Rob through Mike (Dando) at the Termite Club and he gave me the first 2 FFR releases. I thought Rob had a nice aesthetic going on, so I gave him the dub I had and asked him to convert it to mono, cut it in half and split-stereo it to make a 37 minute piece." In 2003 Campbell and Hayler collaborated on the 21st FFR release In Luck. "I gave Rob some loop-style recordings and he added his sounds - that's the first three tracks. The remainder is me maximising some minimal Rob pulses and twinkles".
The stark black and white imagery of animal life that adorns the early FFR catalogue certainly made their releases stand out from the pack. Hayler admits the initial artwork was inspired by the ambient/electronica label em:t. Sean Keeble adds: "[Rob] was nicking the images from a dirty great reference book, and I think his conscience got the better of him. I suppose my pestering to do the covers helped too." Keeble's pestering came to fruition on the cover of Hayler/Neil's In Luck CD, although In Brine, an mp3-encrypted CD that featured all 19 previous FFR releases plus artwork as well as the odd rarity and exclusive, released to celebrate the label's third anniversary, was the first to feature FFR's all-new full colour extravaganza of everyday images abstracted into abstruse beauty. Keeble wants his images to have "the same impact as Mark Rothko's paintings or Cy Twombly's work. They're very much about details. I like to think they are in a fine art tradition." But quick to eradicate any hint of pretension, he quickly adds, "Once I've got the image all I do is stick a bit of text over the top. Everything is digital, either scans from photographs or pictures taken with a digital camera, but I don't mess about with them too much." As well as creating the beautiful artwork that has become synonymous with the label, Keeble also designs and maintains the label's website.
There are a number of expressions in the Fencing Flatworm lexicon that may need some explanation. The collective term for the variety of styles released by the label is what Hayler calls "neo-radiophonics". He explains: "I admire the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for the sound they created - atmospheric, experimental, electronic - but also for the work ethic they had: getting the best out of limited resources with inventiveness. I like to think FFR is working with that thought in mind." Neo-Radiophonics was also the name given to the sixth FFR release, a limited edition (15) box set containing the first five releases plus a bonus Midwich CD entitled No Up. Another term is the "no audience" music scene, which includes like-minded micro-labels such as Sunny Days Out, Nid Nod, Evelyn and France's Burning Emptiness (to which FFR is twinned). "The no-audience underground seemed to be an amusing way of summing up the only thing all these disparate labels and performers had in common," explains Hayler. "Not many people are interested!"
A recurring figure in the FFR world is Michael Clough. Originally from Bradford, Clough records/performs under his own name and as Urlich Urlich, and is also bassist in the Post-Rancid Poultry (PRP) group. His first foray into the world of FFR was as part of Klunk, an improvising electronics collective whose core unit also featured locals Ed 1 (of V3ctor DJs and Hannas Barber) and Joe Gilmore (of Plank, Vend and Sumeru). Gilmore explains the idea behind their 2000 FFR CD Infrathin: "I was interested in making something that was completely alien, music-wise, something which was obtuse, random, mutant." Clough describes his part in the process: "I played pre-prepared mini-disc recordings of synth, field recordings, stuff manipulated on my sampler and stuff from Joe's audio-software (mainly Max) on his laptop. The way we worked was to improvise with each other, then re-record bits, run them through software or sampler and re-improv with those bits." Clough's Thrum (one of my personal favourites in the FFR catalogue along with She Looks Like Lisa From Hate by Newcastle-based Posset) came about by accident. "I'd been playing about with sequencing acoustic guitar samples I'd done, and later rediscovered the 13-and-a-half minute long recording of one of those loops. I couldn't decide if it was beautifully minimalist, or simply boring. I gave it to Rob as he knows the difference."

Parallel to Fencing Flatworm is its sister cassette label Ordnance, Tape Only (OTO). The idea for FFR's cassette counterpart had been brewing for a while but wasn't realized until after FFR started. Hayler recalls "Julian Bradley of Vibracathedral pushed me into making it a reality because he wanted to do the first tape!" OTO provided an outlet for the "incredibly diverse no-audience underground" - i.e. material a little more esoteric than that associated with Fencing Flatworm and from further afield - by the likes of Culver, Ceramic Hobs, manherringbone, BackDrumMower, The Prestidigitators,[box] and Dapper (featuring Thurston Moore). The catalogue runs to 50 cassettes limited to 50 copies each and is almost hermetically sealed: the final cassette, by Midwich, is designed to fade into the first cassette in the series thereby completing the cycle. Each one-sided cassette features only the title of the artist and a catalogue number and comes wrapped in a section of map "to dodge the diverting but meaningless packaging and theory that props up many boring releases" Hayler explains.
Fencing Flatworm's fifth release was New Global Vulgar, the debut by Matt Robson under the guise of Random Number. Robson's background had been as a drummer with Leeds bands Coping Saw and Hood throughout the 1990s, after which he decided to change direction and begin crafting techno tracks on his G3 Powerbook, giving the results to Fencing Flatworm. "I just sent some stuff to Rob, because I thought a CDR/7" label would be a good place to make a debut." Since those "first faltering steps into the world of electronic music" Robson has gone from strength to strength with subsequent Random Number output released on Irritant, Mogwai's Rock Action imprint and Cat Mobile of Leeds.
The Leeds-centric nature of the label's first releases was not some hidden agenda, insists Hayler: "The first seven releases all featured people on the Leeds-Huddersfield line because these were the people who knew about it and who I wanted to get involved. As word got around we garnered the vast international roster we enjoy today," he smiles. This "vast international roster" includes New Zealand's internationally renowned avant-drone gang Birchville Cat Motel, and Hayler and Keeble's biggest coup was securing the last ever studio recording (FF028 Cursing Without Killing) by pioneering Netherlands noise outfit Kapotte Muziek.
Apart from the occasional 7" release, FFR's output is CDR based, a medium that has its fair share of detractors, but one that is perfect for the way FFR works. FFR are always interested in hearing material by new talent, and the label has even spawned its own offspring in the form of London-based label sijis. "Our policy now is very much to do with releases on demand," explains Keeble. "We don't have to wait for a release to sell out before we can produce the next. I'm always looking forward to the next one. I'm a fan and if I wasn't helping run the label I'd be buying everything we released." Go to: Contact:—JS

>>back to top of SEPTEMBER 2004 page

On Naturestrip

Naturestrip NS 3001
Toshiya Tsunoda / Joel Stern / Tarab / Lawrence English
Naturestrip NS 3002
Toshiya Tsunoda
Naturestrip NS 3003
The magnificently-named Naturestrip label (nature strip - a strip / slice / cross-section of nature - or nature's trip? both will do just fine) is based in Melbourne, Australia and concentrates on the work of "artists whose aesthetics range from raw documentation to concrete music to instrumental composition in which field recordings form a core element." Sort of like Ground Fault with more ground than fault, as it were. Local sound artist Eamon Sprod, aka Tarab, kicks off the label with Surfacedrift - not sure all these names shouldn't be lowercase.. forgive me if so - which the accompanying press release describes as "traces of sonic texture created by microphones dragged through leaves and gravel / rain pounding against buildings / waves crashing inside of an abandoned factory / surfaces against surfaces, scraping against one another. Marks are left." Reminds me of that Luc Ferrari autobiography: "It took a long time to realise that scraping (frotter) is what interests me most".. Unlike Toshiya Tsunoda, of whom more below, Sprod doesn't provide a blow-by-blow account of the recording process, preferring to let the music speak for itself. The above listed sounds are all more or less recognisable, along with others - the roar and crackle of an open fire, birdsong near and far - but Sprod uses them not as mere local colour, as Ferrari might, but as raw material to build larger, more abstract structures with. The most satisfying piece in terms of form is the opening "surface" (track titles like "iron" and "leaf" hardly communicate the meteorological turmoil that underpins these pieces), but the most exciting sounds are to be found on "bottle". You might have dreamt about finding a message in a bottle, but I'll bet you never wanted to be one yourself - I wonder if this is what it sounds like in there out on the open sea.
Overland is a kind of Naturestrip sampler, featuring more work by Tarab, along with one track each by Toshiya Tsunoda, Joel Stern, who's recently returned to his native Australia after an eventful time in London, and Brisbane-based Lawrence English. Tsunoda's "Reclaimed Land" is a (seemingly) unadorned field recording of an August evening in Heisei Cho, Yokosuka City. The title is significant, perhaps, in that it also refers to the listening experience, which reclaims sounds that almost everyone on the planet can recognise - the roar of distant passing traffic, the fizz of nocturnal insect life - and allows us to appreciate them as musical events in their own right. In stark contrast, Stern's "Saltwort" uses soda water, assorted bottles and electronic feedback systems to create a vivid, glistening world (welcome back inside the bottle). Things very nearly go down the plughole at 5'22" but Stern manages to restart the magical machine. Tarab's "Of hollow traces" is another slow burner, taking its time to move from draughty upper registers to a low rumbling underground stream. It's a good résumé of Sprod's modus operandi, and perhaps worth getting hold of before you take the plunge and invest in Surfacedrift. English's "A Summer Crush" was sourced in recordings made in Tokyo and New York, and cunningly juxtaposes "raw" field recordings with material that sounds like it's been squeezed through some pretty sophisticated software. Tweets and caws of garden birdsong coexist with clattering subway trains; interior and exterior, oriental and occidental, old and new, private and public, "real" and "recorded" (i.e. sourced from TV or radio) sounds are skilfully mixed together into a veritable piece of cinema for the ear, to coin a phrase.
The third album on Naturestrip is Scenery of Decalcomania, the most successful Toshiya Tsunoda outing I've come across since Pieces Of Air on Lucky Kitchen. As ever with Tsunoda's work you can choose to ignore the accompanying explanatory paragraphs and try to work out what's going on yourself, or read his rather sniffy pedagogical notes before or during the listening experience. Both approaches seem to work quite well. This particular outing is a little less arid than his recent Sirr release O respirar da paisagem, but still has its peaks and troughs. The recordings made on a footbridge in Kisarazu Bay, with passing hooting ferries and whistling wind are spectacular, and there's a certain sparking white laboratory beauty to the opening "Unstable Contact", whose use of bottles and sine waves recalls Alvin Lucier's work with mics in enclosed spaces, but the final "Cut Diagonally", a kind of quasi-Xenakis gated remix of Tsunoda's own "bottle at mountain road" (from extract field recording archive #2 on Häpna) overstays its welcome somewhat. Still, these are minor quibbles - each of these elegantly packaged and beautifully produced discs merits your time and attention. Go to:—DW

>>back to top of SEPTEMBER 2004 page

On Rossbin

Blue Collar
Rossbin RS 016
Ferran Fages / Ruth Barberán / Alfredo Costa Monteiro
Rossbin RS017
What's with these ants, then? Seems like ants swarming all over your album cover is the way to go (cf. Matt Davis and Joel Stern's recent Small Industry on L'innomable). A reference perhaps to the fabled "insect music" of the mid 1970s? A metaphor for recent improvised music's tendency to concentrate on the microscopic? (Have you noticed how saxophone innovators are getting progressively quieter, from Butcher to Gustafsson to Rainey to Bosetti? An exaggeration, I know, but forgive me..) Who knows? Who knows what the title of this album means? Blue Collar is a trio consisting of Nate Wooley (trumpet, flugelhorn and voice), Steve Swell (trombone) and Tatsuya Nakatani (percussion) and these eight tracks come at contemporary improv from another direction. Extended brass techniques abound - for every "normal" note there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of squeezes, squeaks, raspberries, gurgles, pops, clicks, whooshes and spits - and Nakatani's percussion work is similarly adventurous, but for all its timbral innovation the album manages to, well, swing. Swell's trombone swoops and dives like George Lewis, and Wooley's throaty growls and grunts are dirty and sweaty - think Lester Bowie and early Leo Smith rather than the clinical plumbing systems of Axel Dörner and Greg Kelley. One gets the impression that if they'd been teamed up with a Jackson Krall or a Jay Rosen they'd start bopping about all over the place, but with Nakatani's ritualistic clanging temple bowls and bowed metals take the music somewhere else altogether. Sometimes decidedly strange (on track 4 Swell sounds as if he's rinsing out a pair of socks in a bathtub while listening to Stockhausen's Mikrophonie I), sometimes aggressively extrovert (no way you could call track 7 lowercase), this is another one of those records that defies categorization.
The same could be said for Atolón, whose four tracks are further proof that the barriers that once existed between free improvisation and noise are coming down fast. And in the sunshine of Barcelona at that. Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Ferran Fages have released several albums as Cremaster (though not using the same instrumentation), and trumpeter Ruth Barberán previously teamed up with Costa Monteiro and Matt Davis in I Treni Inerti (now sadly disbanded, but not before leaving us the splendid Ura album on Creative Sources). Goodness knows what Fages' "acoustic turntable" is or does (answers will be provided to this question in forthcoming issues, fear not), but it makes a hell of a racket. Indeed, one of the distinctive things about this album is its avoidance of silence: from nails-on-blackboard squeaks to hot water spat into your ear to what sounds like seagulls in a paper bag being slowly crushed to death, this is definitely the one you ought to play to your Love Supreme-loving uncle when he comes at you with that dumbfuck "oh yeah well after all free improvisation basically comes from free jazz, dunnit?" line. If he's still alive half way through track three he'll probably kill you. Awesome stuff.—DW

>>back to top of SEPTEMBER 2004 page


Cecil Taylor/Mat Maneri
Bridge Records 9146
A few years ago Cecil Taylor fans were virtually tearing their hair out: where were the new Taylor discs? There was a particularly nail-biting stretch between the 1993 FMP disc Always a Pleasure and the 1998 two-CD set on Cadence, and it's only recently that FMP cleared the logjam by issuing a bunch more 1990s dates. Add to those the big Codanza box of the 1990 trio, that weird trio date on Verve/Gitanes with Dewey Redman and Elvin Jones, and now Algonquin (recorded in 1999), and the picture of Taylor in the 1990s work is falling into place at last - though in the meantime there's the dearth of post-millennium releases for fans to worry about afresh.
The circumstances of this recording are fascinating. Algonquin was commissioned by the McKim Fund at the Library of Congress, which underwrites the composition and recording of works for violin and piano. It's released on Bridge, a label generally known for classical music releases, as part of their ongoing series of releases of material from the Library of Congress. As far as I know Algonquin is the first instance of the McKim commission going to a jazz musician (though perhaps it started a trend - a couple years later Don Byron got the nod). For Taylor, written scores are tools or stimuli rather than narrowly determining structures - according to Bill Shoemaker's liner notes, the basis for this hour-long concert was a few sheets of paper offering "vertical stacks of notes with [a] few symbols and scribbles to suggest attacks, transitions, et al." - and the real groundwork is instead laid down by Taylor's (famously gruelling) pre-concert rehearsals. It's a delight to think that Taylor's score now sits in the archives next to past McKim commissions by the likes of Elliott Carter and Ned Rorem, and he's obviously alive to the ironies of the situation: he ends "Part Two", a gorgeous, lost-in-meditation piano solo, with a loud shake of manuscript paper.
Despite the presence of violinist Mat Maneri, the texture and pace of this disc is closer to Taylor's solo recordings than to his ensemble discs. It's very shapely music. The half-hour "Part One" feels like a journey between sharply demarcated plateaus, transitions between them coming as abruptly and yet logically as a key change. Taylor's circular repetitions come in a myriad shapes - rotating pinwheels, looped birdsong, ratcheted gears turning, elastic bands stretched and snapped back repeatedly - and give a curious sense of suspension to the music even as the surface is constantly in flux. Though the basic call-and-response idiom is familiar enough to Taylor devotees, the performance is still packed with surprises, like the marvellous passage of 19th-century-salon piano morphing into Debussyesque whole tones at 8'20", or the bright, unexpected scatterings of notes like birds laughing from trees at 21'38". (One of the great pleasures of the disc is how clearly you can hear Taylor's sense of humour, often obscured on his stormier recordings.)
Maneri's habit of assembling solos from soft-edged, droopy bits and pieces sits a little oddly with Taylor, and on "Part One" the violinist is audibly unsure of his ground at several points. But he contributes an excellent solo feature, "Part Three," moving naturally from languor to dive-bombing virtuosity to an absurd, shoulder-shrug anticlimax; and the 13-minute duet at the album's close finds him closely attuned to his partner: he's now mercurial and soaring, where previously he often seemed to be lagging behind or fluttering about trying to find a way in. But despite reservations about Maneri’s contribution and the less-than-ideal recording quality – a couple of pieces are briefly marred by feedback – I’d wholeheartedly recommend Algonquin, which is as richly textured as anything Taylor’s done but also has an ease and occasional flashing wit which give it a flavour all its own.—ND

Sunny Murray / John Edwards / Tony Bevan
Foghorn FOGCD004
Home Cooking pulls together three tracks from an April 2003 tour in the UK. "Split Lip" opens with a four-minute drum solo from Murray before tenor and bass enter, bouncing notes around like a rubber ball. Bevan's jittery, running-in-place riffing breaks into Aylerian serenade eight minutes in, and then there's a quick wrap-up and we're done. "Home Cooking" is the main track, a 28-minute improv with Bevan switching to bass sax. After a marvellous sax/bass introduction Murray comes in on brushes, at which point Bevan starts punching out little riffs and things almost get swinging. Murray's drum solo is comparatively uneventful - except for the intrusion of a police siren - but the trio surges back: there's a passage that sounds like Bevan's throttling his horn, and he and Edwards get in a nice feedback loop, throwing increasingly agitated phrases at each other. Things nearly reach a halt at 23'30" but at the last minute the musicians decide to tack on a coda, with Bevan spinning out melismas over droning bass. Bevan returns to tenor for "Split Decision" (with an r'n'b tinge this time - shades of David Murray as well as Ayler) and Murray is back on sticks, bashing away righteously in 6/8 before the guys all pile on for a nice, thudding climax. If the centre of the album is a tad less inspired than the bookend tracks, that's my only quibble. Check it out.—ND

Rova / Orkestrova
Rova fans are still waiting for recordings from the band's 25th anniversary bash to surface - rumour has it that they're hot stuff indeed - but in the meantime there's this formidable studio date, which expands the core quartet into a 12-piece "Orkestrova". Rova has always placed much emphasis on collaborations with likeminded musician-composers, and on this occasion they've invited pianist Satoko Fujii on board, as pianist and as composer. She contributes three pieces. "A Lion In your Bag" is a dialogue between big band and smaller subsets of the ensemble that crossfades between musical styles: the big band moves from yammering freakout to swinging jazz, while the small group bits head in the reverse direction, going from slinky swing to an incendiary Larry Ochs tenor solo. "A Zebra on Your Roof" has a queasy, butterflies-in-stomach opening, but turns out to be a feature for altoist Steve Adams; he moves through a variety of small-group settings before the full band returns for a grandly melancholy close. "An Alligator in Your Wallet" has a twitchy 13/8 groove, and features good-humoured quarrels between the trombones and trumpets and an extended joust between the band's jabbing, smeary riffs and Bruce Ackley's Lacyish soprano.
The last two pieces on the album are by Adams, and feature Fujii more strongly than her own pieces do (on which she was presumably preoccupied with conducting duties). "Survival" is altogether more spacious than the rest of the disc, a series of linked improvisations set off by cues: the most striking soloist is the Tin Hat Trio's violinist Carla Kihlstedt (look out Mark Feldman!). "Chuck" is an exploded view of a single phrase from Mingus's "E's Flat Ah's Flat Too", a burly, saxophone-heavy, inside-out almost-blues that also has intriguing echoes of George Russell's hyper-blues essays for Riverside like "Honesty" and "Stratusphunk".
Rova's twin virtues as a quartet - the precision and fierce eloquence of their improvising, and the almost fearsome intelligence of their compositions - are just as audible in this larger project. It's great stuff, and all the more welcome given that Rova's expanded-ensemble efforts have rarely made it to disc.—ND

Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls
Delmark Records 551
Breeding Resistance is a rhythm-driven slice of r&b and jazz, with brief Coltrane moments the only hints of the avant-garde. Chicago drummer Ted Sirota formed the band in 1995, and this is his third recording, with a shifting line-up, this time Jeb Bishop on trombone, Geof Bradfield on tenor sax, and Jeff Parker on guitar. Sirota is responsible for five compositions and Bradfield three, while Bishop, Parker and bassist Clark Sommers each contribute one. From the music alone, it wouldn't be obvious that Sirota is committed to radical social change, so it's conveyed through the titles and liner notes - and through the emphatic words of Fred Hampton on the cut "Chairman Fred (I Wish Fred Hampton Was Here)." Hampton, the young leader of the Black Panthers in Chicago, was extremely charismatic, which led to his assassination in his bed as part of COINTELPRO, the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program. Sirota builds a piece around clips of Hampton leading a crowd saying "I am a revolutionary!" and "you can kill a revolutionary, but you can't kill the revolution" and other such militant phrases. If this sounds incongruous or alarming, you can relax as the rest of politics is much less in-your-face. The disk opens with an afrobeat number, "Saro-Wiwa," dedicated to an activist killed by the Nigerian regime. "This Is a Takeover" is reggae/dub. "D.C." stands for Don Cherry, though Bradfield's composition is not as adventurous as that of the classic Coleman quartet. "For Martyrs" and "Elegy" are ballads, while the title cut is an uptempo workout, which ends with Sirota bellowing "YEAH!" There are some good solos here and there, especially from Bradfield and Bishop, but this is mainly a rhythm section album. The key influence on the eclectic Rebel Souls sound is revealed first in Bishop's "Knife," probably the best composition on the album, and more strongly in the last two cuts, "Axe" by Bradfield and "Pablo" by Sommers - the Crusaders. It suggests that Sirota would do well to move in an even more populist direction - forget about avant cred, head straight for the pocket, and try to sound more like "Put It Where You Want It" next time around. —RH

Atomic / School Days
Okkadisk OD12049
The Vandermark Five
Atavistic ALP150CD
It gets increasingly difficult to keep up with all the permutations of Ken Vandermark's musical world. The band on Nuclear Assembly Hall is a merger of one of his regular groups, School Days, and Atomic, comprising musicians with whom he has engaged in other projects. School Days initially formed as a tribute to the 1975 Emanem release of the same name (later reissued on Hatology) by Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Henry Grimes and Denis Charles in which they played intriguing Monk covers. On their debut release, Crossing Division, Vandermark's band, including trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love played no Monk compositions but did include two by Rudd along with songs by Bishop and Vandermark. The follow-up disc, In Our Times, (adding vibist Kjell Nordeson) contained no Rudd, Monk or Lacy material but did continue in the adventurous spirit of the source group. In addition to KV, Atomic features Håker-Flaten and Nilssen-Love with trumpeter Magnus Broo, Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor sax and clarinet, and pianist Håvard Wiik. This group was formed as an antidote to the ECM stereotype Scandinavian jazz sound (an unfair stereotype for a number of reasons), taking as progenitors free music hell-raisers in the United States (Shepp, Coltrane and Coleman - their first release was titled Feet Music after a Coleman song) and Europe (Brötzmann).
Combining existing groups provides an expanded tonal palette, and good use is made of it. Everyone gets a composition credit, resulting in consistently catchy melodies over driving rhythms that veer off into differing directions until flying back home, with very few dead spots en route. Bishop is a somewhat underused asset - it isn't until midway through the last song on disc 1, Ljungkvist's "Kerosene", that a swaggering trombone solo grabs our attention - but his "Conjugations" makes effective use of a twining clarinet duet featuring Vandermark and Ljungkvist. All of the songs make use of pared-down groupings (combining Nordeson's vibes with Wiik's piano gives these smaller amalgamations a Bobby Hutcherson Blue Note feel) and Vandermark's baritone sax, which he's been featuring more of late, provides additional weight to the charts.
Since 1997 a release by the Vandermark 5 (founder members Vandermark, Bishop and bassist Kent Kessler joined by saxophonist Dave Rempis and drummer Tim Daisy) has become an annual event, usually supplemented by a tour. The group brings a blue collar ethic to improvised music that may not be everybody's cup of tea, but if you don't like what you hear it's not because of lack of effort: this is a working band in every sense of the word and what appears on studio releases is the end result of songs that have been extensively developed in concert. Elements of Style…Exercises in Surprise contains few surprises for those familiar with past releases. What you get are propulsive riff-driven songs that are interestingly crafted with thematic twists and turns, with Rempis on alto and tenor providing a timbral and stylistic contrast to the Vandermark, whose more prominent baritone changes the nature of the songs somewhat (at the expense of his bass clarinet features). Daisy's contribution sounds understated compared to his live work, where he pounds and clatters away with exuberant abandon, but the undersung Kessler never fails to provide a solid rhythmic underpinning. The performances here mark an improvement over the last strangely lackluster V5 release, Airports for Light, and make for a recommended addition to the group's body of work.
Included with this release, if you order it directly from Atavistic or purchase it at a concert, is Free Jazz Classics Volume 4, Free Kings: The Music of Roland Kirk, recorded live in concert earlier this year. These "bonus" discs have been available in the last four V5 releases (the first two, made up of live performances of songs by Archie Shepp, Frank Wright, Carla Bley and others, were subsequently released separately as a twofer by Atavistic): Volume 3's selection of Sonny Rollins songs improved the Airports release no end. This set of Kirk tunes isn't as successful as prior "classics", but the energy level is sufficiently high to keep V5 fans satisfied.—SG..

>>back to top of SEPTEMBER 2004 page


Michel Doneda / Jack Wright / Tatsuya Nakatani
from between
SOS Editions 801
Might as well nail my colours to the mast here and state from the outset that I think this is one of the best albums of improvised music to come my way this year. Saxophonists Doneda and Wright have been more than busy on their respective sides of the Atlantic over the past twenty years, and each has contributed landmark documents to the solo improvised saxophone repertoire - Doneda's Anatomie des Clefs on Potlatch and Sopranino / Radio on Fringes, Wright's epochal Places To Go on Spring Garden Music - and their eventual collaboration a couple of years ago when Doneda toured the USA turned out to be even better than expected. Both musicians are sufficiently inquisitive and strong (stubborn, rather) not to rest on their laurels and spit out the same old licks with the same old playing partners to the same old audience. Wright, in particular, positively relishes seeking out new playing partners, and is prepared to travel great distances to do so. Doneda is more fussy about who he plays with, but has recently hooked up with Giuseppe Ielasi and percussionist Ingar Zach, with interesting results. On from between it's not Zach behind the kit, but the excellent Tatsuya Nakatani, who studiously avoids the standard Paul'n'Paul'n'Roger rattle-and-clatter of improv percussion in favour of more isolated and sustained sonorities, imbuing the spacious opening track with the feel of Imperial Japanese court music. It's surely no coincidence that Doneda's muted sustained tones, in combination with Nakatani's bowed metal bowls, sound remarkably like the sho, or Japanese mouth organ.
Many practitioners of so-called lowercase improvised music these days just sound like they're going through the motions; saxophonists and trumpeters spit, dribble, gargle and drool, guitarists and percussionists alike scratch their prostrate instruments as if they were pimples, and laptoppers sit statue-like behind their luminescent Apples fizzing like soluble aspirins. They could do well to spend time listening to albums such as this - I could also recommend Signs Of Life (on Spring Garden, with Wright with Tom Djll, Matt Ingalls and Bhob Rainey and Placés dans l'air (on Potlatch, with Doneda with Rainey and Alessandro Bosetti) - to realise that lowercase music is most definitely not lacking in intensity and commitment. In all honesty, if this album doesn't have you on the edge of your seat throughout, I'd say there's no hope for you.
There's an aura of mystery to it all, which the scarcely legible black -on-black (and white-on-white) embossed track listing helps reinforce. For those who have trouble making out what's written, the track titles are "hands behind hands", "of pipes and roots" and "…open this surface to clouds"; the first two pieces were recorded at H&H Studios (Bronx) in May 2003, while track three comes from a set recorded live at Brooklyn's BPM Gallery nine months earlier. Accompanying the music is a poem by Jerome Rothenberg, "The Orators" (from which the title of the closing track is extracted), which is as deceptively simple, direct and moving as the music. All in all, it's a superb debut outing from the rather wonderful SoSEDITIONS label, and perfectly in keeping with their mission statement as printed on the accompanying press release: substance over surface - inscribed by visionaries without dimensional boundaries. Check it out.—DW

Pateras / Baxter / Brown
Synaesthesia SYN009
After last year's Synaesthesia release Coagulate with Robin Fox and several tracks on his Tzadik debut Mutant Theatre, Anthony Pateras (see Wire 240) reveals further evidence of his improvising skills on Ataxia, more dazzling proof that the new music scene in Australia - especially in Melbourne - is going from strength to strength. He's joined by percussionist Sean Baxter (Bucketrider, Lazy, Western Grey), one of a growing band of hands-on junk percussionists worth keeping an eye on, and guitarist David Brown, aka Candlesnuffer, who has collaborated with the likes of Phill Niblock and KK Null, in six riotously colourful tracks ranging from delicate sonic haiku ("Maladroit") to all out stochastic freakout - Xenakis would have loved the end of "St/chi". While improvising pianists since Burton Greene have been delving inside the instrument in search of new sonorities, very few have explored the prepared piano with much rigour - John Tilbury being one - but Pateras' piano, as the album photography makes abundantly clear, is stuffed to the limit with rubber, cardboard, screws, coins and crocodile clips and sounds like a veritable one-man gamelan. It's a truism to say that Bali and Java are as accessible to Aussies today as Blackpool was to Manchester cotton workers a hundred years ago; should globalization one day go beyond exporting Big Macs and Big Brother and the indigenous populations of those islands ever move into free improv, it just might sound something like this. The spicy stir fry of New Complexity and exotic percussion clatter bears more relation to Richard Barrett's "Negatives" - recorded, as it happens in Melbourne ten years ago - than it does to any other recent trend in improv; coming at this music from directions as diverse as extreme noise meltdown and post-Darmstadt composition, Brown, Pateras and Baxter have served up one of the year's crunchiest and tastiest dishes so far.—DW

Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
ECM 1852
The most obvious differences between Memory/Vision and the ensemble's previous recordings are that 1) it's live, a continuous 70 minute recording from the Ultima Festival in Oslo in October 2002, and 2) it adds piano. Memory/Vision is looser and more sprawling, and is performed by a bigger group than either Toward the Margins (1996) or Drawn Inward (1998). The original concept was to take the Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton trio, and link each acoustic player to a real-time electronic processing player. On Toward the Margins these were Philipp Wachsmann (paired with Guy), Walter Prati (with Parker) and Marco Vecchi (with Lytton). Drawn Inward added to both the acoustic and electronic sides, with Wachsmann becoming an equal player alongside the P/G/L trio and Lawrence Casserley, processing the sounds generated by all the other players. Memory/Vision adds yet another electronic player, Joel Ryan on computer, as well as pianist Agusti Fernandez, so the original ensemble of six has expanded to nine.
The first two EPEAE albums were "fast and dense" as Bruce Sterling once described cyberpunk writing. Each relatively short piece (twelve on the first disc, eleven on the second) was distinctive and compact. With 70 minutes of continuous improvisation it is perhaps inevitable that there are some dead spots, but in any event Memory/Vision is neither as dense nor as powerful as its predecessors. With six players on electronics, including Lytton, the music could become incredibly crowded, and the participants if anything seem too aware of this. There is clearly a planned sequence of interactions, though there's no obvious architecture to the overall composition. Wachsmann plays a very prominent role, and with his lyrical violin passages and Fernandez's piano, there's more of a classical timbre than previously, with Parker's role reduced accordingly. Unfortunately, however, there are no passages featuring the entire acoustic quintet, though there are passages of electronics with no apparent acoustic playing (hard to be sure with real-time processing). The "electro-acoustic" hybrid is not always as well integrated as it could be; it's perhaps a shame that the EAE is unlikely to get the chance to play together enough to develop the high level of interaction characteristic of the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio, and break through to a higher level of synthesis - one feels the electro-acoustic concept is far from being fully explored.—RH

Ben Fleury-Steiner
Dissonance Dis 07
Ben Fleury-Steiner uses various guitars and effects / processing (he's a lister, one of those guys who likes to provide a complete inventory of equipment used, even going as far as informing you that his 6-string guitar is missing a string, not that you'd be likely to notice) to create these five spacious tracks. Maybe it's the black and white (grey, in fact) photography - a highway vanishing into the distance, but printed upside down: anyone out there remember Stockhausen's Sirius? - maybe the lazy, hazy diatonic and rather lugubrious nature of the music, but Loren Connors often comes to mind. So does Makoto Kawabata (on downers). Fleury-Steiner comes up with some interesting sounds, but one senses he likes to get carried away by the FX boxes - it would be good to hear him interacting with another live musician instead - but, maybe that's the idea. The last track is, after all, called "Once You Disintegrate, Then You Will Truly Understand".—DW

Monodigmen is the work of Austrian cellist Arnold Haberl, aka Noid, and continues a line of research into extreme minimalism already explored in that country by the likes of Werner Dafeldecker and Radu Malfatti. In essence, each of the 13 tracks on Haberl's CD consists of just one sound - these include bowing on the wood of the instrument, alternating repeated dyads an octave apart, threading a piece of wood between the strings and twanging it Keith Rowe style, exploring the beat phenomenon of near unison - which is sometimes heard alone (tracks 5 and 9 consist of isolated single thunks) but usually repeated, either continuously to form a kind of loop, or interspersed with silence. As anyone who's ever tried to perform La Monte Young's legendary "X for Henry Flynt" can testify, it's impossible - without cheating and using electronics - to repeat exactly the same sound. Excessive determinacy leads, paradoxically, to indeterminacy; the longer one goes on and the harder one tries to play each sound exactly like its predecessor, the more one becomes aware of the difference between successive sounds. Tiny nuances become critically important, and the work's structure depends as much on the listener's memory as it does the performer's ability to execute the physical gesture. Which means as a listener you get as much out of this album as you're prepared to put in: as musique d'ameublement this will drive you crazy, but concentrate intently and it will fascinate and reward.—DW

Keith Rowe / Oren Ambarchi / Robbie Avenaim
Grob 648
The second instalment in a trilogy of live recordings starting with the disappointingly slight Thumb, this 39 minute span of music was recorded at the Musique Action festival in Vandoeuvre les Nancy on May 26th 2001 (it always pays to check actual recording dates, as some of this stuff takes years to come out). Forgive the awful pun, but there's more to get your teeth into on Honey Pie than on Thumb; in many respects it's a straightforward "classical" improv set - start out quiet, build to climax, fade out again, build to bigger climax, fade out altogether (one imagines even Eddie Prévost could enjoy this one) - with Avenaim's percussion work more to the fore, happily. On Thumb, which started quiet, stayed quiet and went nowhere in particular, his contributions were discreet to the point of near inaudibility, but here he helps things get almost funky at the thirteen minute mark. It's a satisfying set, and must have been fun to catch live, but it's not exactly an essential milestone in the Rowe discography. If you want to hear the guitarist in more rambunctious mood, hunt out a copy of his duo with Burkhard Beins from 2001, Grain on Zarek.—DW

>>back to top of SEPTEMBER 2004 page


Jason Eckardt
Mode 137
"The hiker and the listener have much in common," writes Marilyn Nonken in her liner notes. "Eckardt's music offers the listener many pathways, each leading to a different listening experience." It's not exactly a profound remark, nor a particularly original one (and could apply to hundreds of composers and a multitude of different styles of music), but is quite helpful. For over a generation now listeners have been far too intimidated by contemporary music, particularly of the New Complexity persuasion, seeing it as intellectually impenetrable and as "unlistenable" as it is "unplayable". Fortunately, we're approaching the end of that particular tunnel, and, after Elliott Carter, composers as "difficult" as Brian Ferneyhough and Milton Babbitt are beginning to get some long overdue acclaim. Jason Eckardt was born in the city where Milton Babbitt taught for most of his working life, Princeton NJ, and duly passed through Babbitt's hands, as well as those of Ferneyhough, James Dillon, Karlheinz Stockhausen and, principally, Mario Davidovsky, with whom he studied at Columbia. Not before majoring in guitar at Berklee, though - Eckardt is the first to acknowledge the importance of Metal and free jazz in his background. Nonken claims he turned to composition after discovering Webern, but if one composer comes to mind on listening to the opening ensemble work "After Serra", it's Varèse. (Maybe filtered through Birtwistle.) Strong gestures, recognisable contours and vivid contrasts define the music at every level. "Tangled Loops", performed by Nonken and soprano saxophonist Taimur Sullivan, namechecks Parker (Charlie, not Evan this time), Coltrane and Dolphy, and is perhaps closest to the latter, in its dramatic and dogged pursuit of the interval. It's a killer piece, and must be a bitch to play - hats off for Sullivan. Pianist Nonken is no slouch either as performers go, as PT readers may well remember, and "A Glimpse Retraced" is a chamber concerto for her and flute / piccolo, clarinet, violin and cello. Proof that there's plenty of life left yet in the old Pierrot line-up, it's also the most accessible piece on the disc, alternating tough angular lyricism - Birtwistle once more comes to mind - with an exploration of extreme register as chunky and funky as mid 70s Ligeti. The playing throughout by the members of Ensemble 21 is superb (bravo to clarinettist Jean Kopperud for making New Complexity Clarinet on "Polarities" as sensual and thrilling as klezmer) and the album is as strong and solid as Richard Serra's "Tilted Arc", a photograph of which adorns the cover.—DW

Petri Kuljuntausta
Aureobel 3AB-0103
No wonder Petri Kuljuntausta was the one who wrote in last month with that helpful background information on Terry Riley's activities in Finland in the early 1960s, as his own music is as unashamedly minimalist as the works Riley performed and recorded there all those years ago. Working with tiny samples of instrumental sound (the composer freely admits that "these performances are impossible for musicians to realise in live performance"), Kuljuntausta builds structures of deceptive simplicity, either harmonically rich ("Canvas", "Momentum") or more straightforwardly tonal ("Four Notes", "Freedom"). Sorry to be a predictably boring old fart, but the music of Sibelius does come to mind, as does that of Bryars, Pärt and Tavener, and calling your piece "When I Am Laid In Earth" and featuring a harpsichord certainly leads one to believe there might be a Purcell connection in there too, but this is no homage to Michael Nyman's Greenaway soundtracks. Kuljuntausta's looping and phasing has more in common with what Reich and Riley were doing back when young Nyman was finishing up high school. As is often the case with minimal music, you get as much out of it as you're prepared to put in - let it all flow over you and it's pleasant enough, but try to get into how Kuljuntausta has combined his samples and built up the pieces, and it becomes quite fascinating - especially the closing "In The Beginning", where Kuljuntausta adds more colours to his palette in the form of field recordings. Not so sure how you're supposed to get hold of a copy, so you'd better email Kuljuntausta at the address above - as he was most forthcoming with Riley information, I'm sure he'll reply.—DW

Michael Rüsenberg
Real Ambient Vol 04
La Défense is to Paris what Canary Wharf is to London, a sprawl of predominantly corporate skyscrapers spanning the nearby towns of Puteaux and Courbevoie across the Seine three miles to the west of the Arc de Triomphe. In May 2001 sound artist Michael Rüsenberg took his microphones there on a warm spring evening to record everything from the local kids hanging out rapping on the steps of the new Grande Arche to the desolate whirr of escalators and ventilators in the huge railway station under La Défense's central esplanade. His "La Défense - stage urbain" is a 39-minute work in seven continuously running movements, whose titles sometimes - but not always - provide useful clues to the source sounds. "La Défense arrival" captures the enormity of the central access to the station, from the myriad footsteps of massed commuters and the beeps of the new electronic Navigo Métro tickets to the squeaks and whines of dozens of escalators. Elsewhere, Rüsenberg's approach to his source material is more abstract, but in no way averse to explicit pulse. Even before the beatboxing of the closing "Rap d'Arche" and Rüsenberg's descent onto the deserted platforms of the Métro to take him back to Paris, several infectious grooves lurk beneath the surface, notably on "First Flute". Not surprisingly perhaps, the other musicians he chooses to remix his material (though strictly speaking their contributions are not remixes at all, since Steve Argüelles, Eric La Casa, Ned Bouhalassa and Benoît Delbecq each received 76 sound files of both raw and manipulated recordings, and not Rüsenberg's finished work) pick up on the beat, with varying degrees of success. Ned Bouhalassa, born in Le Mans but now resident in Canada, is as happy to be compared to Aphex Twin as he is to his musique concrète mentor Francis Dhomont, and his "Le chœur de la Défense" gleefully jumps on Rüsenberg's implied backbeats to cook up seven minutes of skilfully mixed drum'n'bass. In contrast, Argüelles' "Metro Mix (in the plush seat)" is little more than a flaccid midtempo groove, and Delbecq seems compelled to add some of his own piano playing in a curious and rather inconclusive coda to the album. Only Eric La Casa's "Une rugosité, à la périphérie du gris" resists the beat, preferring to concentrate on La Défense's resonant spaces.—DW

Ramon Sender
Locust 55
Three cheers once more for Dawson Prater's Locust imprint for unearthing these two splendid extended electronic works from the heyday of San Francisco's mythic (mythic because it was so damn primitive, one suspects) Tape Music Center. In his entertaining liner notes, which spend more time talking about pieces that aren't included on the album, but nobody's complaining, Ramon Sender relates how a Mr Eldon Corl of the Ampex Corporation provided the fledgling studio on Divisadero Street with equipment. Much of this would seem pretty primitive compared to the wonders available at the wiggle of a finger on a standard laptop, but, like many composers belonging to the first (and for my money still the most creative, because it had to be) generation of electronic music - Stockhausen, Xenakis, Maxfield, Oliveros, plus numerous concrètes - Sender knew just how to push his resources to its limits and come up with something quite.. otherworldly (one wonders if he started dropping acid before he did these pieces or whether hundreds of hours spent transposing warbling square waves nudged him over the edge). Whatever, "Worldfood XII" is, at 43'15", a real trip. Behind the strange twittering and gurgling lies a relatively simple additive / subtractive musical process, but unlike another milestone in early minimalist electronic music, Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain" - also composed in San Francisco - this is deliciously camouflaged by Sender's bizarre swoops and cheeps. The source sounds on "Worldfood VII (To See Him With My Eyes)" are more recognisable: Sender looped fragments of "a ragged student performance of a chamber Easter cantata I had written in my early year at the conservatory" - the piece's subtitle is plainly audible at times - and wove them together into a thirty-minute luminous tapestry of sound. It's glorious stuff, and you don't need a glass of Ken's Kool-Aid to get off on it, either - though any PT readers who do choose to research this under the influence are most welcome to write in with their findings.—DW

Klanggalerie GG52
Originally an installation project conceived for a museum in Essl, Austria - hence the recommendation to play on headphones in a darkened room - Hinaus:: in den, Wald. takes as its starting point some of the thousands of pages of texts penned by Adolf Wölfli (1864 - 1930) during the 35 years (until his death) he was incarcerated in a psychiatric clinic outside Bern for attempted sexual abuse of three young girls. The 45 volumes and 25,000 pages of his "St Adolf - Giant - Creation" represent a fascinating outpouring of pure schizophrenic genius (go to:, but whether Bernhard Gal's rather primary setting of the texts for speaking voice (his own and that of Stella Kao, a Taiwanese girl "who didn't understand German at all") and recordings of someone out of breath tramping out in the woods (to translate the title) do full justice to the richness and density of Wölfli's work is a question best answered by those more familiar with it. Whatever, it's not something you probably want to slip into the Walkman if you're lost in a forest late one night.—DW

Tristan Murail
Montaigne MO 782175
Tristan Murail studied with Olivier Messiaen and, with Gérard Grisey, was a co-founder of the so-called "spectral school" in the 1970s. Murail taught composition at IRCAM in Paris from 1991 to 1997 and is currently on the faculty of the Computer Music Center at Columbia University in NYC, though you wouldn't know that from the long out-of-date liner notes of this Montaigne reissue. In the three compositions on this disc, Murail explores various possibilities for integrating electronics or techniques derived from electronics with acoustic orchestral music. The harmonic procedures of the orchestral composition Gondwana (1980) are based on frequency modulations of digital synthesizers, an idea developed further in Time and Again (1986) by including a synthesizer in the orchestra. Désintégrations (1982-3), for 17 instruments and computer-generated tape, uses electronics to produce timbres based on orchestral instruments. The disc progresses most impressively from the acoustic waves of Gondwana (16'36") via the prominent electronics of Désintégrations (22'30") to the agitation and distortion of Time and Again (16'47"). These three beautiful, compelling works are strongly recommended to those already familiar with Ligeti and Xenakis, both of whom Murail mentions favorably in a recent interview with Anton Rovner. The common ground with Ligeti is microtonality, characteristic of Ligeti's "middle period" of the 1960s and 70s, and the incorporation of electronics bears comparison with Xenakis - and Boulez. Désintégrations was commissioned by IRCAM, but has little in common with Répons, the first pinnacle of Boulez's IRCAM output. Boulez's electronics are ghostly and subtle real-time processing of the six soloists, while Murail's work is rougher and bolder, and has more in common with Xenakis' 1969 masterpiece Kraanerg. Like Kraanerg (and unlike Répons) Désintégrations uses pre-recorded tape along with acoustic instruments, and Murail also makes use of algorithms to generate sound spectra, rejecting serialism in favour of spectral techniques, which "form an attempt to rebuild a coherent sound world, which was destroyed due to many destructive experiences, such as generalized serialism on one hand and the aleatory experiments of John Cage on the other hand." (see Many thanks to Montaigne for rescuing these recordings and bringing attention once more to an easily overlooked major figure in creative, cutting edge modern music.—RH

Michael Andrew Doherty
That middle name is presumably so we won't confuse Mr Doherty (born Burlington NC in 1973) with Michael Daugherty - of slick, PoMo Jackie O Argo fame - not that there's any chance of doing so once you hear the music. Architecture's subtle exploration of microphone feedback recalls the work of Alvin Lucier, and it's a satisfying and well-structured piece. The only problem is that it lasts but 7 minutes and 50 seconds - a bit short even for a single these days - but we can live in hope that in the months to come Doherty might consider reissuing it along with the Noise Pieces, which present a richer sound palette. Working with recordings of organ (sampled from a vinyl, from the sound of it), paper, a suspended ceramic tile and various other tile fragments, Doherty erased parts of the mix in accordance with a graphic score (included with the disc). The fact that each piece lasts 4'33" is presumably no accident. Hopefully in the months to come Doherty will extend and develop some of the ideas presented here, which often sound more like preliminary sketches for a work than works themselves. In the meantime, his music is worth checking out and will probably do you more good than the glib trash penned by his near namesake.—DW

>>back to top of SEPTEMBER 2004 page


Fällt F.0038.0001
Ian Andrews
Fällt F.0034.0001
Tu m'
Fällt F.0034.0002
Offices at Night is the first full-length release by Douglas Benford (nice to see he's dropped those strange curly brackets in the si-cut.db name), a project that will eventually consist of three volumes, of which this audio CD is the first. As usual with Fällt, there's a whole accompanying network of designer packaging and exclusive online distribution involved - Vol. II will consist of mp3 versions of the tracks by other Fällt artists, and Vol. III versions by Benford himself - but behind the elaborate concept and the elegant black and white cover photography by Kent Knudson, the post-Pole glitch dub is unfortunately a little unadventurous and too easily forgettable. Half of the album's ten cuts could have been shortened without jeopardising their structural integrity, and a couple could have been dispensed with altogether.
More satisfying is Ceremonial, by Sydney-based Ian Andrews' - apparently the first CD under Andrews' own name, though he has been active in electronic music since the early 1980s - which inaugurates another new Fällt venture, a series of burn-to-order CDs (see Here the metrics are more complicated ("Gynoecium" and "Working the hole" rock along in a fast quintuple time, the former shot through with unpredictable cross accents) and the palette more varied ("Libidinal Decay" sounds like late 60s Glass rescored for gamelan and remixed by Autechre), but, like the Benford release, it's as if Andrews is so in love with his sounds that he daren't let them evolve. If "Working the hole" holds the attention by incorporating some decidedly odd field recordings, "Da" and "Andevoranto", despite more complex harmonic and rhythmic material, soon get stuck in a rut. Andrews saves the best until last with the evocative "Jaffa".
Those who already own Tu m's Pop Involved, which Fällt released back in 2002, might be tempted to pass over Pop Involved [Version 3.0], thinking it's "just another remix album" (the fact that the new version has the same index number doesn't help matters), but if you do you're making a mistake. Only a few of the tracks are common to both discs, and even pieces that appear to be the same (i.e. have the same title), aren't. Comparing the two versions is a fascinating exercise, and reveals how far Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli's elegant glitch laptoppery has evolved over the intervening two years. The juxtaposition of treated and untreated instrumental source sounds - frequently bright acoustic guitars, bathing the album in a Mediterranean sunlight -throws up some ravishing sonorities and fascinating perspectives. It's also less overtly "poppy" than its predecessor: in fact, things can and do get deliciously weird, notably on "Humans' Voices", "Nilo" and "The Mouse House", which sounds like a Fennesz remix of Sun Ra.—DW

Giuseppe Ielasi / Renato Rinaldi
Bowindo 05
Bowindo 06
The first wave of Bowindos to roll my way was a welcome surprise, a genuinely challenging set of recordings ranging from the extreme frequencies of Elio Martusciello to the mildly disturbing interior monologues of Valerio Tricoli (see earlier review). Compared to their predecessors these two new outings on the Italian label are beautifully recorded and look great, but are relatively easy listening - which as David Toop will tell you is by no means a put down.
Oreledigneur, which is apparently Frioul dialect for "hare's ears" (now you know) is a duo featuring Giuseppe Ielasi and Renato Rinaldi "playing big and small objects and instruments", though for their now out-of-print first release on Ielasi's Fringes label a while back they were joined by Alessandro Bosetti (samples of another Oreledigneur recording made in a kitchen popped up on Bosetti's own Bowindo release Charlemagne, la vue attachée sur son lac de Constance, amoureux de l'abîme cachée). Like Ielasi's solo release Plans on Sedimental, the five (continuously running) tracks on Oreledigneur intentionally seek to blur the distinction between inside and outside, studio and field recording, improvisation and composition. So much so, and so successfully, that I'm at a loss whether to file the CD under "improvisation", "electronica" or "contemporary music" in my own ever more chaotic archiving system. Incidentally, if some of this sounds familiar, it's because some of Plans was based on Oreledigneur samples. Ielasi's guitar work sounds like a cross between Loren Connors and Keith Rowe, unashamedly diatonic but contentedly static, and drifts in and out of focus among looped clicks and clunks, fragments of conversation, what sounds like industrial ventilators, and, in the final section "recorded live in a garden", insects, passing aeroplanes, distant church bells and Stefano Pilia on double bass (hard to spot). Quite what the connection is between the music and the accompanying images of two men fencing on a deserted runway next to a space shuttle (is it?) taken from a book by Vincenzo Cabiati and Armin Linke called "Baikonur Cosmodrome" and presumably having something to do with the Soyuz space programme's old launch facilities at Tyuratam junction on the right bank of the Syr Darya River in Kazakhstan (honest injun - go Google), I don't know. It's one of the many mysteries of a haunting and evocative disc.
Working with guitars, harmonium, bass, percussion, glass harmonica, resonant pipes, turntables, synthesizer and other diverse electronic objects and treatments, the trio of Stefano Pilia, Claudio Rocchetti and Valerio Tricoli, under the curious appellation 3/4HadBeenEliminated (three quarters of what?) are, to quote their press release, better at "asking useless questions rather than giving useless answers". Tricoli's elusive montage of field recordings (cf. last year's Did I? Did They?) combines with Pilia's fondness for extended guitar drones (Healing Memories In Present Tension on Last Visible Dog) and Rochetti's "Wagnerian turntablism" (here I'm quoting from the PR as I haven't heard his work before) to produce a very listenable and predominantly tonal album but one that, once more, won't be pigeonholed (hooray). Instead of worrying about which shelf to put it on, enjoy the album's many irresistibly beautiful moments, from the gentle triple time guitar chipped away by field recordings on "The soul of the suits" - maybe that's the 3/4 that has been eliminated - via the distant children's voices and drones of "Memory Man" to the disarmingly simple acoustic balladry that closes "My smallest ego." For some reason, Gastr del Sol comes to mind. Don't be fooled though into thinking it's a turn-on-tune-in-switch-off thing: there are plenty of odd twists and turns - the disconcerting thuds and rips in "Bench / Frozen" are superb - the most surprising perhaps being the appearance of a real twanging binary groove in "Bedrock". But of course it doesn't end up going where you'd expect it to - the final minutes of the album sound like someone smashing up an abandoned warehouse. Fascinating, inscrutable and highly recommended.—DW

Thembi Soddell
Cajid CD 001
Based in Melbourne and working predominantly with transformed field recordings as she is, I confidently expect to see a Thembi Soddell album out someday on Naturestrip (see above) - in the meantime here is Intimacy, a suite of sorts of six continuously running movements entitled "Violation", "Withdrawal", "Mistrust", "Discomfort", "Repulsion" and "Expectation". Sounds scary enough to be a kind of imaginary rape scenario you might think (originally the work was designed for an installation performance in a "dark and claustrophobic space lined with red drapes"), but the sound doesn't automatically follow correspond to what the titles might lead you to expect: "Violation" and "Withdrawal" both crescendo menacingly but only (perceptibly) towards the end, "Mistrust" is a 37 second white noise apocalypse (you may curse me for having told you this, but the instruction on the disc "before listening it is recommended the volume be set with track three at maximum loudness" should have tipped you off.. the instruction is a bit theatrical and frankly unnecessary, as the track is, in context, going to bring you up with a severe shock anyway, whatever the volume setting of your system). "Discomfort" also rises in intensity until it peaks in "Repulsion", after which the closing "Expectation" leaves you guessing, which I suppose is what expectation is all about. At just under 26 minutes it's about the length of what these days gets sold as a maxi single; shame it couldn't have been paired with another more contrasting work. I'm inclined to think that Soddell has a good ear and sound sense of timing and structure, but I'd like to hear more of her work to make sure first.—DW..

>>back to top of SEPTEMBER 2004 page

Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic