NOVEMBER News 2004 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Nate Dorward, Stephen Griffith, Richard Hutchinson, Wayne Spencer, Dan Warburton, Kristoffer Westin:

On Revenant: Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost
Akira Rabelais
Noël Akchoté
Roel Meelkop / John Grzinich
In Concert:
Keiji Haino
On Cronica: Ran Slavin / @c / o.blaat / Björgulfsson Pimmon & Thorsson
Rivers, Rudolph & Eisenstadt / Ellery Eskelin / Gary Windo / Noel McGhie / Mario Pavone
Xing Wu / Brett Larner & Toshimaru Nakamura / Sakada / Tim Olive & Fritz Welch / Black Forest Black Sea
Somei Satoh / Tom Johnson / Roger Reynolds
ELECTRONICA: (ext.) / Taylor Deupree & Christopher Willits / Alexander Rishaug / Leticia Castaneda
Last month


As I was putting the finishing touches to this issue, news came through of the death of John Peel (on holiday in Peru, of all places), at the relatively young age - these days - of 65. To those of you reading this mag outside the UK (which I guess means most of you, if I have correctly understood my site statistics report) this might not mean much, but to my generation (haha, showing your age there..) who grew up listening to Peel's nighttime Radio One shows, often with headphones clamped on under the bedsheets with the lights out, it's as if yet another part of our life has been chipped away. OK so I didn't hear that fateful Peel show where he came on the mic and said "Bad news lads, Ian Curtis of Joy Division is dead", and I certainly wasn't listening in when he introduced a then unknown band called, what was it, The Pink Floyd, but as I cast my eyes over the shelves around me almost every record I see in the so-called "rock" section of the collection (let's be frank, Peelie probably never dug Taku Sugimoto and Mathias Spahlinger, so we'd better leave the improv and avant-garde sections out of this) has some kind of connection to John Peel. I still have a huge archive of dusty and decaying cassettes of Peel shows taped back in the 80s, plus a copy somewhere of the My Top Ten he did with Andy Peebles. The list included, trying to recall off the top of my head (because it'd take ages to find the tape) The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" (no surprises there), Stanley Winston "No More Ghettoes in America", Beefheart's "Big Eyed Beans from Venus", Cocteau Twins' "Over The Pavements", something by The Mighty Wah (of course), Misty In Roots "Man kind", Otis Redding "Ole Man Trouble", The Faces "Maybe I'm Amazed", one more I can't recall and the Anfield Kop singing "You'll Never Walk Alone." (Well, nobody's perfect..) If anyone can remember what number ten was please let me know. Meanwhile, bonne lecture.—DW

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Albert Ayler
Revenant 9CD
Well, here it is at last. After months of feverish marketing build-up with black, dramatic full-page ads in all the major new music publications, the long awaited Spirit Box is out, containing, according to Revenant's blurb, nine CDs of "rare and unissued recordings" of saxophonist Albert Ayler (1936 – 1970) recorded throughout his all-too-brief career, from 1962 to 1970. In point of fact the ornate black box (10 x 10 x 2 inches) contains ten compact discs, since it also includes a two-track CD containing recordings of the 76th Army Band (featuring PFC Ayler on tenor) playing "Tenderly" and "Leap Frog" in a rehearsal on September 14th 1960. Nor is all the material unissued, as we'll see later: tracks 6 to 8 on Disc 1, and tracks 1 to 3 on Disc 2 were previously released on Albert Smiles With Sunny (In Respect IR 39501), tracks 4 to 9 on Disc 2 on The Copenhagen Tapes (Ayler Records aylCD-033), tracks 5, 7, 8 on Disc 2 and tracks 2 to 4 on Disc 5 on Albert Ayler (Philology W 88). Tracks 2 to 5 on Disc 5 also appear on Albert Ayler Live In Europe 1964-66 (Landscape LS2-902) and yet again on The Berlin Concerts (Relyable 001). In addition to the CDs and a superbly produced 208 page hardback book, the Spirit Box also contains facsimile reproductions of the Paul Haines pamphlet originally released with the ESP album Spiritual Unity, a handful of articles extracted from The Cricket magazine, including Ayler’s own harrowing "To Mr. Jones - I Had A Vision", a copy of a flier for a show at Slug's, a handwritten note from Ayler to Paul Karting, and, wait for it, a photo of Ayler aged 12, complete with faked ballpoint pen marks to give the impression it was swiped from someone's wallet. Oh yes, and – fetishism bordering on the kitsch – a dried dogwood flower. As rumour has it that 15,000 boxes have been prepared, it's just as well they chose that instead of a lock of Albert's hair.
The book is a veritable treasure trove of information for Aylerologists. Val Wilmer's "Spiritual Unity" is an updated and slightly extended version of the chapter on Ayler from her 1977 indispensable survey of the free jazz scene "As Serious As Your Life". Newark NJ Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka, who lost touch with Ayler by the time the saxophonist released the controversial crossover project New Grass, contributes a rambling essay entitled "You Think This Is About You?" Perhaps significant, that, as he ends up spending more time discussing his Black Arts project than he does Ayler's late work; "centerless fluff" is how he describes New Grass, though it's a pretty apt description of Baraka's contribution itself. Fortunately, Ben Young's "Whence", an essay on the supposed influences on Ayler's playing, and Marc Chaloin's "Albert Ayler in Europe: 1959–62" are more informative, especially the latter, in which Chaloin makes it his business to seek out and interview Ayler's ex-Army friends and a whole host of French and Scandinavian musicians who came into contact with the saxophonist prior to his first recording session under his name. Daniel Caux's recollections of Ayler's appearance at Saint-Paul-de-Vence is followed by a string of eyewitness anecdotes, compiled by Ben Young, whose involvement with the Holy Ghost project at every level has been central. His eyewitnesses are for the most part Ayler's former playing partners, including, surprisingly perhaps, Harold Budd, who jammed with Ayler in California in 1961. One notable omission is Sunny Murray – one imagines due to the slightly strained relations between him and the curators of this project – but there are plenty of Murray anecdotes about Ayler to be found in his Paris Transatlantic interview. The meat of the book is to be found in Young's documentation of and commentary on the sessions themselves, and the collated biographical information on Ayler's various sidemen. Two appendixes also make for fascinating reading for Ayler enthusiasts: Carl Woideck's discussion of Ayler's saxophones and mouthpieces in "Close Encounter with Holy Ghost (and Horn)" and the impressive "Sightings" sessionography.

The three pieces that open Disc 1, recorded for Finnish Radio on June 30th 1962, are a find indeed. They predate what was previously released as The First Recordings, a trio session in Stockholm with Torbjörn Hultcrantz and Sune Spångberg, by nearly four months. Sitting in with a straight ahead, hard swinging guitar quartet led by Herbert Katz, Ayler delivers beautifully executed and – for once – well recorded versions of Sonny Rollins' "Sonnymoon for Two", Gershwin's "Summertime" and, another Ayler favourite, "On Green Dolphin Street". The brief set provides ample evidence of the saxophonist's solid technique – a raised middle finger to those who say the man couldn't play – and of the influence of Rollins, Coltrane and possibly Eric Dolphy. Whether Ayler had already heard Dolphy's Prestige albums (including his own reading of "On Green Dolphin Street") isn't clear, but his tendency to improvise in keys based on degrees of the scale normally avoided by blues and bop, notably the second and the sixth, is remarkably similar to Dolphy's. All the more reason to regret Eric's early death in 1964, which scuppered plans of a Dolphy / Ayler / Cherry / Peacock / Murray dream team quintet that, according to Sunny Murray were in the offing.
There's no shortage of hyperbole in Holy Ghost's accompanying book, but Mats Gustafsson's description of "Four", recorded at a Danish radio session in November 1962 and featuring Ayler sitting in with the legendary Cecil Taylor trio with Jimmy Lyons on alto and Murray on drums, as "the missing link" is probably not too far from the truth. "Historically speaking," writes Young (who's not immune to a bit of hyperbole himself), "this 23-minute performance is the first recording from anywhere in the jazz spectrum of a long-form improvisation with no overt synchronization – of time, structural harmony, or song." Quite a claim, but, important though "Four" is as a historical document, it doesn't find Murray at his best. Especially when compared to his drumming on the other CT trio recordings made around this time, and to the music which follows here: the last three tracks on Disc 1 and the first three on Disc 2 feature Ayler's trio with Murray and bassist Gary Peacock, and were recorded (in stereo) by Paul Haines at the Cellar Café on West 91st St New York on June 14th 1964. Five tracks from the first set were released by ESP as Prophecy, and the entire concert (including the Prophecy material) surfaced a decade ago as a double CD Albert Smiles With Sunny on the German In Respect label in what Ben Young describes as "a nefarious and misleading issue" sourced from an out-of-phase mono cassette in Murray's possession. Ayler junkies will no doubt be familiar with the In Respect release, but the improvement in sound quality on the Revenant version is noteworthy. Quibbles about ownership and talk of lawsuits should be put aside – these six tracks are, for this writer at least, the highlight of Holy Ghost. All three musicians are on awesome form, especially Peacock, and Young's discussion and analysis of the music is exemplary. All in all, it's easily on a par with what the trio went on to record on the ESP classic Spiritual Unity, an album whose subsequent influence over generations of free improvising musicians – Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, John Stevens..– cannot be overstated. One can only regret that Haines wasn't in the Cellar Café a few months earlier to catch the same group with pianist Paul Bley and tenor saxophonist John Gilmore.

Two years ago I was contacted by Ayler Records' Jan Ström to write liners for The Copenhagen Tapes, recordings of the Ayler / Peacock / Murray / Don Cherry quartet made in Copenhagen's Montmartre club on September 3rd 1964 and a week later for Danish radio. It's certainly surprising to see the same music appearing on a different label so soon after that album's critical success, but there seems to be no foul play or piracy involved. The duplication is explained by the fact that Ayler and Revenant each apparently received permission from different parties representing the Ayler Estate. Revenant have apparently negotiated with Curtis D. Roundtree, son of Carrie Roundtree Lucas, who dated Ayler in 1957 and had a son by him in 1958, while Ström signed a four-year lease deal with Desiree Ayler, daughter of Ayler's wife Arlene (the two married in 1964). Once more, it would be nothing short of catastrophic if this messy business ended up in a sordid protracted court case, as the bone of contention – the music itself – is such an extraordinary affirmation of the most noble and uplifting aspects of human creativity. Those who can't afford to spring for the Spirit Box can at least enjoy the music on The Copenhagen Tapes, though hi-fi buffs might moan at Per Ruthström's rather heavy-handed beefing up of Peacock's bass on the Ayler version (personally I don't mind: it's a minor quibble compared to the blatant sonic revisionism of ECM's Jimmy Giuffre reissues).
After the Copenhagen session, the Holy Ghost chronology jumps forward a year and a half. Sadly, no more Ayler recordings from 1965 have been unearthed, though the sessionography mentions some mouth-watering encounters that took place at Amiri Baraka's loft space at 27 Cooper Square, including the first recordings of Ayler with his brother Don, not to mention other luminaries such as Pharoah Sanders, Roswell Rudd and John Tchicai. Disc 2 finishes off instead with a very rough and ready recording made at Slugs in February 1966 of a group led by pianist Burton Greene including Frank Smith on tenor, Steve Tintweiss on bass, Rashied Ali on drums and, apparently, yodelling ecstatically from the audience, Leon Thomas. The brutal fade just seconds into Rashied Ali's solo begs the question as to what happened to the rest of the recording – what it lacks in hi-fi sophistication it certainly makes up for in raw energy, and it's also valuable as documentation of the work of Frank Smith. "The only thing that worked against Frank was that he looked like an Irish cop," recalls Burton Greene. "When he walked into Slugs the cats used to say 'Put your shit away, the Man's here!'"

While we wait for someone to root around (under Alice Coltrane's bed, presumably), find and release the tapes of the Titans Of The Tenor concert at the Lincoln Center on February 19th 1966 (John Coltrane, Don and Albert Ayler, Carlos Ward, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Jimmy Garrison, Rashied Ali and J.C. Moses), discs 3, 4, 5 and the beginning of 6 in the Spirit Box document the Ayler brothers' quintet with Dutch violinist Michel Samson, which stayed together from April 1966 until the end of June 1967. Though the rhythm section changed (bassist Clyde Shy was soon replaced by Ayler's old Army buddy Lewis Worrell and later Bill Folwell, while the drumstool was occupied by Ronald Shannon Jackson, Beaver Harris and finally Milford Graves) the repertoire of the quintet remained relatively stable, and the recordings presented here, which include two full nights recorded at Cleveland's La Cave on April 16th and 17th 1966, two concerts from George Wein's touring Newport Festival, recorded in Berlin and Rotterdam in November 1966, and the incendiary set recorded at Newport itself the following June, are a fascinating document of how the music evolved during a period usually described by Ayler fans as "stable". The April 16th set was recorded the day after Samson sat in with the band for the first time – he was in Cleveland at the time to play at the opening of a furniture store, of all things – which explains why the band tended to drop out behind his solos; by the time they recorded at Slugs just two weeks later, the violinist had settled in and was more familiar with the arrangements. Samson's arrival incidentally prompted the departure from the band of Charles Tyler, who refused to share the bandstand with whitey (nothing like a good bit of racism, eh, Charles? Happily for us Albert didn't subscribe to the same Nation of Islam bullshit dogma back then). To be honest though, Samson can't really be described as a jazz violinist – he should be compared not to the likes of Leroy Jenkins and Billy Bang but rather to Mark Feldman (check out the classical technique!) – but his tendency to shadow the Ayler brothers and reinforce the prevailing harmony was essential for the music's stability. After his departure it's notable that Ayler sought to retain a sense of harmonic simplicity and constancy, by recruiting more mainstream pianists such as Cal Cobbs and Bobby Few, not to mention taking up the bagpipes himself.
The April 17th set on Disc 4 is the only known recording of Ayler with tenor saxophonist Frank Wright, described by Ben Young as Ayler's "most renowned disciple", though he was in fact several months older than Albert. Not conversant with the repertoire, Wright rides roughshod over the changes (Samson gets out of the firing line double quick) and takes great pleasure in blowing wild in someone else's band, just as Ayler himself does on the Burton Greene Slugs date and later on the Pharoah Sanders session on Disc 6. It's a fun set, if a little scrappy, and clear proof that despite the so-called influence, Wright's playing, particularly in the upper registers, sounds nothing at all like Ayler's. Behind it all bassist Clyde Shy is true to his name (he eventually changed it to Mutawef Shaheed), and Ronald Shannon Jackson is forceful but nowhere near as volcanic an Ayler drummer as Murray before and Graves after him. The monster driving the Decoding Society forward is still several years away. By the time George Wein took the Ayler quintet across the pond to Europe as part of a touring Newport Festival that also included Stan Getz, Illinois Jacquet, Max Roach and Sonny Rollins (I wonder what they talked about backstage..), Jackson had moved on and had been replaced by Beaver Harris, who is unfortunately a little off mic in the concert recorded on November 3rd in Berlin's Philharmonic Hall – surely the largest venue Ayler ever performed in? Happily, bassist Bill Folwell is clearly audible, even if Samson's muscular and apparently tireless double stops take centre stage. Don Ayler, who also remembers the Berlin event as a career highlight, is also on fine form. Four days later, in the less resonant acoustic of Rotterdam's De Doelen, Harris's contribution is easier to appreciate, though Samson once more (happy to be back home?) is bursting with energy. Comparing the Rotterdam set with the three tracks recorded seven months later after midnight on a rainy June night in Newport Rhode Island is most illuminating. The only difference is the presence of Milford Graves behind the kit, but what a difference it makes (no disrespect to Harris). "We went out there and we BURNED," recalls Graves. "All those people who were leaving were running back in, and we burned that night, and we burned and we burned and we burned." The discovery and release of those tapes is cause for celebration indeed, especially because they feature a rare and superbly recorded example of Ayler on soprano sax. In contrast, the mythic performance of the Ayler / Ayler / Graves / Richard Davis quartet at John Coltrane's funeral just three weeks later on July 21st 1967 is a letdown. Graves' contributions are mere background roars, and bassist Davis might well not have been there. Ayler's wild vocalisations towards the end of the six minute track are still spine tingling, but, well.. I guess you had to be there.

The fifth track on Disc 6 is what Young describes as "the fabled pairing of Ayler and Pharoah Sanders that was to have been released on Amiri Baraka's label Jihad." Recorded – very well too – at a political rally at Harlem's Renaissance Ballroom on January 21st 1968, it features Ayler guesting and blowing wild with a group featuring Sanders, pianist Dave Burrell, trumpeter Chris Capers, Sirone on bass, Roger Blank on drums and one or maybe two unknown saxophonists, one on tenor, one on alto (the jury's still out whether it's not Ayler on alto). It's certainly curious that, given the fact that the recording was originally supposed to have been released, and that many of the participating musicians are alive and well, nobody, as in NOBODY can remember the names of the other two musicians.. Surely a bit of hardboiled private dick snooping on the part of Revenant could have unearthed the missing information? Be that as it may, it's very much Pharoah's gig. Nice to have it on the shelves, but on perusing that sessionography, Ayler and Sanders played together on several other occasions, and (I know, I know, I shouldn't moan, but..) I would have preferred hearing the two men with Coltrane at the Vanguard in May 1966 instead.
The rest of Disc 6 fast forwards several months and is taken up with outtakes from the New Grass sessions, kicking off with a real, hard swingin' 12 bar blues, the only example of the genre in Ayler's discography apart from an early version of "Billie's Bounce" in 1962. Eventually dropped from the album, perhaps in favour of the funkier "Sun Watcher", it is, as Young says, a veritable "Rosetta Stone in sheep's clothing." The demo fragments of "New Ghosts" could, on the other hand, have been dispensed with, and "Thank God for Women", though a fine example of Ayler's singing, sounds boxy and unpolished. New Grass has always been the most controversial album in the Ayler discography and after its release was soon spat on by activists like Baraka as a sell-out. These raw outtakes give us an idea of what the album might have sounded like if producer Bob Thiele hadn't recommissioned arrangements from Bert DeCoteaux and redone Mary Maria Parks' lyrics. It would, however, have been nice to have some eyewitness testimony from someone on Impulse's side of the fence to respond to the allegations of corporate whitewash.

If musically unfinished, at least Disc 6 was well recorded. Disc 7 plunges into murky lo-fi with two live sessions, one from New York Town Hall (January 11th 1969) featuring a sextet led by Don Ayler and featuring his brother along with Sam Rivers on tenor, Richard Johnson on piano, Richard Davis and Ibrahim Wahen on basses and Muhammad Ali on drums. At least so it says here.. both Aylers are recognisable, but the rest of the band comes across as nothing more than an apocalyptic angry blur. The recording is of historical interest, as it documents Ayler's last appearance with his brother, but the reputation of Donald Ayler, currently resident at Cleveland's Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare Center pending a hearing on charges of gross sexual imposition and sexual battery, could be better helped, one imagines, by Baraka finally releasing the album he apparently recorded for Jihad. The final four tracks on Disc 7 were recorded by Steve Tintweiss on a cassette recorder in a campsite outside Saint-Paul-de-Vence after Ayler's appearance at the Nuits de la Fondation Maeght on July 27th 1970. These feature Ayler's last group, with Tintweiss on bass, Call Cobbs on piano and Allen Blairman on drums, probably with some tambourine and handclapping from Parks, but apart from some astounding upper register blowing from Ayler, add little to the currently available and much better sounding reissues of the Maeght gigs. On the second (untitled) track Cobbs' cheesy cocktail piano is mercifully cut short in its prime by Tintweiss' hitting the pause button, and when the music returns Ayler is in full flight. It's a shame that Holy Ghost has to end with a roughly recorded jam session. In its own way it's as inconclusive and unsatisfying as the story surrounding Ayler's own death several months later.
Wait a minute? End? We're only on disc 7, right? Right, but the last two CDs two contain no music at all. Instead they're given over to interviews with the saxophonist, two with Danish journalist Birger Jørgensen, (one from December 1964, another from November 1966), and two recorded during Ayler's stay in the south of France, one for Swing Journal with Kiyoshi Koyama and another two days later for French radio with Daniel and Jacqueline Caux. Disc 9 closes with a brief extract from an interview with Don and Mocqui Cherry. Though it's nice to hear Ayler's voice, none of the interviews really imparts any information of monumental significance, and his strange biblical ranting in the 1966 is as unsettling as his tract in The Cricket. All could quite easily have been transcribed – the text of the Caux interview has after all been around for some time – cleaned up and included either in the book or on one single disc in .pdf format (it works just fine for Bernhard Günter's trente oiseaux releases), with the audio versions as mp3 files. As for the voyeuristic soundbites of Ayler negotiating a gig over the phone, or haggling with airport customs officers over baggage (included – horreurs – as a ghost track).. they should have been left in the bottom of the box along with the dried flowers.

To summarise in two words: mixed feelings. While the discovery of hitherto unreleased Ayler material as good as the Helsinki 1962 and Newport 1967 sets is certainly cause for celebration, one wonders whether Revenant's energies might not have been better spent burying the hatchet and working with Bernard Stollman on a definitive and correctly mastered box set of Ayler's ESP recordings. Ayler may be gone, but many other musicians who recorded for Stollman's label in the 1960s and who have seen their work reappear time and again without seeing a penny in remuneration are still around, and growing old. More than three quarters of all the extant recordings of Albert Ayler appeared in shoddily packaged, badly recorded and at best legally dubious issues and reissues, and there is as much work to be done remastering the existing master recordings of landmark albums like Spiritual Unity, New York Eye and Ear Control and Bells as there is unearthing new recordings of even worse sound quality. If there is anything to be dug up, it should be the real story, the true story of Ayler's death, but I imagine the Spirit Box will have to sit on my shelves and gather dust for many moons before we ever find out what really happened.—DW (black & white photos by Val Wilmer)

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Akira Rabelais

Samadhi Sound ss003
In case you're wondering how that title should be pronounced, try "spell wavering shard" – Texas-born laptop whizkid Akira Rabelais' fondness for Middle English is also apparent in the titles of the album's seven tracks, each of which originates in definitions culled from the Oxford English Dictionary, which he describes as one of his favourite books. "1382 Wyclif. Gen. ii.7" (track one) refers to the year in which John Wyclif, who was responsible for the first complete version of both Old and New Testament in English, was excommunicated, and its full title incorporates a quotation from the Book of Genesis. The "Glower" of track two (as printed on the CD sleeve: "1390 Glower Conf. II.20") should in fact be "Gower", referring as it does to the poet John Gower, whose Confessio Amantis was one of the first epic poems in Middle English. "Promp. Parv." (track three, "1440 Promp. Parv. 518/20) is the standard abbreviation for Promptorium parvulorum sive clericorum, lexicon Anglo-latinum princeps, one of the first important Latin / English lexicons dating from, yes, 1440. 1483 (track four, "1483 Caxton Golden Leg. 208b/2") was the year printer William Caxton published the first English version of Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend or The Lives of the Saints. 1559 was the year of publication of William Cuningham's The Cosmographical Glasse, a treatise on mathematical methods for depicting the universe, hence "1559 W. Cuningham Cosmogr. Glasse 125". After the sixth track, which revels in the name "(Gorgeous curves lovely fragments labyrinthed on occasions entwined charms, a few stories at any longer swrn to gathered from a guileless angel and the hilt edges of old hearts, if they do in the guilt of deep despondency)" – actually a pretty good description of what goes on in the piece –, the final "1671 Milton Samson 1122" refers to Milton's Samson Agonistes, published in 1671 in a volume also containing the four books of Paradise Regain'd. The quotation "add thy Spear / A Weavers beam, and seven-times-folded shield" indeed comes from line 1122.
Intrigued? Wait until you visit Akira Rabelais' wonderful website (go to:, a veritable treasure trove of similar semantic puzzles, including sizeable extracts from works by Galway Kinnell, Petronius Arbiter, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Bruno Schulz, Jorge Luis Borges, Shinmen Musashi and, of course, a couple of chapters by the original Rabelais, François (1483 – 1553). In an introductory commentary on this album available for consultation on the Samadhi Sound website, his younger American namesake writes: "It's interesting how words and meaning evolve over time. It's like a secret natural history of human thought." The same could be said of Rabelais' work both as a poet, musician and software designer – his Argeïphontes Lyre has been enthusiastically taken up by several notable figures in the electronica world, including Robin Rimbaud and Terre Thaemlitz. While on Eisoptrophobia (2001), Rabelais used his self-designed filters to rework piano music, and ...benediction, draw two years later was sourced in his electric guitar, the raw material here is a collection of forlorn, windswept archive recordings of a cappella Icelandic folk music he came across in a closet in Valencia CA. "I didn't want to abstract it so much that it lost its essential quality," wrote Rabelais of the source material: "I didn't want to damage the fabric of the original language, I wanted to set it, cast it in a certain light." The resulting music is quite extraordinary: a curious and compelling mixture of the medieval and the modern, which, as one critic puts it rather memorably, "despite its resonating sadness [..] grows on you like moss."
On the opening track a single vocal line slips gently into a kind of canonic imitation of itself as a cloud of reverberant resonance drifts in from afar. It's alarmingly simple and direct, yet headscratchingly complex at the same time – try humming along and see if you can manage it. "1390 Glower Conf. II. 20" is, at least at the outset, more straightforward, but Rabelais' filters work in mysterious ways, giving the illusion that time is slowing down, and erasing memory along the way. This curious and unnerving sensation continues in the third track "1440 Promp. Parv. 518/20", and on the centrepiece of the album, the 21-minute "1483 Caxton Golden Leg. 208b/2", time seems to grind to a halt altogether, the voices gathering into an eerie microtonal cloud that recalls the Ligeti choral music ("Requiem" and "Lux Aeterna") used to such memorable effect in 2001 – and Rabelais' music is every bit as mysterious and beautiful as Kubrick's inscrutable black obelisk. After this, the simplicity of the brief (44 second) "1559 W. Cuningham Cosmogr. Glasse 125" is a masterly touch, clearing the air perfectly for track six, the most melodically and harmonically daring of Rabelais' "seven sisters", in which his treatments dimple the surface of the music with wider, more expressive intervals. The closing "1671 Milton Samson 1122", apart from a brief reprise of the song that had featured in track two (transposed a semitone down, and not the same recording, apparently), floats inside the reverb cloud.
"I try to connect to something ineffable and then transmit it in some way," writes Akira Rabelais. As his titles and texts reference a period of human history when developments in human thought and language were inextricably linked with liturgical practice, it's not surprising perhaps to find a Russian icon adorning the CD cover, though in Lia Nalbantidou's photograph – which predates the album and which was specifically selected for it by Samadhi Sound's David Sylvian – it hangs above dowdy wallpaper in a room full of drab furniture. "Organic is what I go for," said Rabelais in an earlier interview. "I don't like sanitized, too-clean sound; it doesn't seem real to me." Real or imaginary, clear or confusing, mundane or ethereal, ancient nightmare or modern dream, Spellwauerynsherde is one of the most original and beautiful musical works of recent times.—DW

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Noël Akchoté
Noël Akchoté
Blue Chopsticks BC13
Winter & Winter Music Edition 910 108-2

Though it's perhaps a bit early to talk about a career retrospective when it comes to French guitarist Noël Akchoté – born in 1968 – it's a fact that his recording career began 21 years ago with a rough and ready demo made with several unknown (thankfully) musicians in the sleazy HBS rehearsal studios about five minutes walk along the street from where I'm writing this, on the rue des Petites Ecuries in Paris. "First demo" is one of twenty tracks handpicked by Blue Chopsticks' David Grubbs from ten hours of archive recordings. Eight of them were recorded by the guitarist in his adopted home town of Vienna, where he moved after getting married to photographer Magda Blaszczuk (whose work adorns the CD's back cover); with the exception of "Framus Swing 1917", which finds Akchoté at his most Baileyesque, alternating resonant harmonics and tight clusters of notes, these are all standards, ranging from a straight and touching reading of Bechet's "Petite Fleur" to a delightfully self-destructing "Woody 'n You", a rough, meaty take on Paul Chambers' "Whims of Chambers" and a splendidly concise version of Cole Porter's "I Love You", in which Akchoté allows himself to get tangled up in the chromatic curves of the melody, revealing a subtle and distinctly musical sense of humour.
Like the guitarists he's had the great good fortune to play and record with, including Derek Bailey, Fred Frith, Marc Ribot and Eugene Chadbourne, Akchoté's hopelessly head over heels in love with the guitar, meaning the sound of guitar, all of it, not just the notes it produces but its extraneous twangs, tweaks, buzzes and crackles. The live tracks from Marseille in 1998 ("Catalogue 67", "Modèle 63" and "Antenne 62") and Nantes 2000 ("Montée 74") are tantalising glimpses of the world he explored in the trilogy of albums recorded between 1999 and 2001 and released on his (now defunct? if not, certainly damn quiet) Rectangle label, Alike Joseph, Simple Joseph and Perpetual Joseph. Akchoté's idea of laying the guitar flat is closer to Hendrix's – prostrate victim on the ground awaiting lighter fuel – than Keith Rowe's patient etherized upon a table, and any resemblances to the world of eai / lowercase are superficial (play back to back with Rowe's Harsh and listen to the difference). "Numéro 122" was recorded live in 2001 by the indefatigable Jean-Marc Foussat (a raid into whose archives would yield literally hundreds of hours of music recorded live in the French capital since the glory days of the early 1980s) at L'Atmosphère in Paris. For those of you who are – mercifully – unfamiliar with the venue, it's about the size of three phone boxes, hence the very prominent audience noise, though Akchoté seems to be doing his best to send the clientele running out of the café and headlong into the nearby canal.
The set also includes a 1989 home recording on a 4 track Tascam of Ornette's "Macho Woman" (Noël becoming a one man Prime Time Band, Tacuma, Nix and Ellerbee rock 'n' rolled into one), a rather forlorn droopy ballad culled from a Didier Levallet masterclass, a 26 second snatch of "Autumn Leaves" prefaced by Dave Liebman telling the guitarist to "just do it, don't worry about what it is," a New Wave-inflected soundtrack called "L'arrivée des", and the spiky, spunky "Profile Bas", recorded in Toby Robinson's Moat Studios in London during the 1997 sessions that yielded My Chelsea, Akchoté's album with Lol Coxhill and Phil Minton. If your French isn't quite up to understanding the nuances of the extract of an interview Akchoté conducted in 1996 with legendary drummer Jacques Thollot (on whose Nato comeback Tenga Niña he also plays), I wouldn't worry about it: Noël does most of the talking, and as anyone can verify who's traded fours with him in his capacity as a journalist – he writes for the Austrian mag Skug – he's quite a talker, Thollot's contribution consisting of filling up a glass with something, grunting a little and finally coming out with a not exactly earthshakingly profound aphorism like "there are fewer limitations these days" (this in response to a remark from Akchoté to the effect that there's no difference between Louis Armstrong and Don Cherry). Amusing, but hardly essential. But coming from a man who once spoke of his desire to create disposable albums – play once and throw away – in character nevertheless.

Sonny II is the latest in a string of Akchoté releases on the Winter & Winter label, and once more he takes full advantage of W&W's fondness for quality packaging (quite a contrast from the flimsy all white sleeves of the old Rectangle LPs, eh?) to incorporate some beautiful archive (1937 – 42) photography by Dorothea Lange, and a choice quotation from the Pensées of Pascal ("Let no one tell me that I have said nothing new.. I will also be content to hear that I used words employed before.") Quite what it all has to do with the life and work of Warren "Sonny" Sharrock isn't immediately clear, but musically at least Sonny II is about as direct and affectionate a homage as you're likely to get to the man Akchoté describes as "the only free jazz guitarist". In addition to nine Sharrock originals, including all four that appeared on Sharrock's legendary 1969 Black Woman album (plus "Bialero", an arrangement of a traditional French folk song from the Auvergne), there's his wife Linda's "Soon" (memorably performed on the BYG Actuel classic Monkey Pockie Boo), along with five Akchoté compositions, and music by Daniel Humair, Donovan Leitch and the Hague / Horwitt chestnut "Young and Foolish," apparently recorded in a bar in front of a public completely oblivious to the fact.
Though he's got the crazed strumming down to a tee, Akchoté is actually at his most Sharrockish on his own "Number one free". There's also a rough, tough reading of Sharrock's "Dick Dogs", whose frantic scrabble to the finishing line is perfectly in character with Sharrock's own gnarly recordings of the song. (If you'll allow me the luxury of an anecdote by way of digression, a story told me by Sharrock's keyboard player during the 1980s, Mitch Rothschild: in rehearsal, Mitch was surprised to hear Sonny jamming on and around F natural in a piece that vamps solidly in E major. When the band paused to take a breath, he said: "Sharrock what you doing?" "Harmolodics, man," came the reply..) Elsewhere, multi-tracking himself and soloing over his own energetic rhythm, Akchoté gives a choppy reading of Leitch's "There is a Mountain", which Sharrock aficionados will recognise as the opening cut from the Herbie Mann Windows Opened album. Sharrock's stint in the otherwise conservative and distinctly commercially-minded Mann's band is one of jazz's great mismatches – the guitarist's utterly insane solo in "Hold On I'm Comin'" on Memphis Underground has to be one of the most wildly incongruous yet utterly thrilling moments in recorded music history – but it's the kind of extreme juxtaposition of styles and aesthetics that Akchoté goes out of his way to explore. Who else in the rarefied stick-up-the-ass world of improvised music would dare to release a piece of pop fluff like æ's Love Your Smile? (the answer to that question is probably Oren Ambarchi, but never mind, you get the point). The closing "Long Tale" finds the guitarist fingerpicking his way gently through a cloud of fuzzy distortion into a clear blue F major sky. More Fahey than Sharrock, it fades out just when it seems to be moving away into pastures new, an enigmatic but curiously haunting end to an exquisitely paced and poised album.—DW

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Roel Meelkop
onkyo ok
cmr 5
John Grzinich
cmr 7
The six tracks on onkyo ok by Dutch sound artist Roel Meelkop (THU20, Kapotte Muziek, GOEM..) were sourced in field recordings he made with Hitoko Sakai and Frans de Waard during a Japanese tour in 2001. As ever, that world "field" is misleading – unlike Kyoshi Mizutani's exquisite Yokosawa-iri, which launched New Zealand-based Richard Francis' CMR label has a couple of years ago, Meelkop's sonic raw material is predominantly, though not exclusively, urban in origin. Meelkop is not the first Western sound artist to be seduced by infernal clatter of the slot machine (Jonathan Coleclough, Janek Schaefer and Bernhard Gal have been too), but his pachinko parlour processing is more abstract and complex, with filters and effects teasing out subtle ghostly frequency strata. Though obviously drawn to the acoustics of the teeming, information-overloaded media-saturated Japan we all think we knows, Meelkop also documents the sound world outside the city, where the blabber and smoke of human life is replaced by the bleak cawing of crows in a windswept field. The final track's draughty rumbles – rolling thunder, an advancing subway train? inside or outside? urban or rural? – are progressively and disconcertingly intercut with snatches of conversation until the roaring suddenly ceases just before the six minute mark, leaving us adrift on what sounds like a desolate station platform, just like the discarded empty cigarette packets that adorn the CD insert.

Where Meelkop keeps the secrets of his locations and his processes very much to himself, the long essay accompanying John Grzinich's Intimations goes into a little (though not much) detail about how some of the source recordings of a grand piano were recorded in an unheated and unlit chapel. But it's a long way from the raw recordings of attackless piano clusters, birdsong and footsteps to the dense, rich tapestry of sound that Grzinich weaves from them. Like his friend and occasional collaborators Seth Nehil and Michael Northam, Grzinich works slowly, building a labyrinth so irresistibly beautiful (the end of "Kinetic Sense") we walk inside ("Sinking Tides") without a second thought. "Lying in complete darkness with the locus of a stereo sound field positioned in the direct center of the head, the music sinks in deeply to saturate the senses," he writes. "In time the body settles into a stasis somewhere between being awake and asleep. Hearing takes over in its totality as touch, taste smell and sight manifest through a complete 'listening' body. A conscious being, immobilized in a quantum reality, is left without doubt as to the singular inseparable relation of time and space." It's the kind of writing that will have the Ben Watsons of this world reaching for their well-thumbed copies of Adorno, but if you ain't tried it, don't knock it. Whether or not you consider such so-called deep listening as some trippy, hippy cop-out, the fact remains that the only way to engage with music such as this – not to mention much latter-day sound art and electro acoustic improvisation – is by getting inside the sound, either by clamping a set of headphones on (a shame in this case, as Grzinich's sounds need space to breathe) or by finding a time and place where the sensory stimuli of the rest of the world can be filtered out as far as possible. If approached in the wrong frame of mind, the slow, shifting drones of "Sun in hand, stone in water" would likely as not come over as mere soporific ambient fluff, but pay attention and you'll find they reveal a sense of timing and structure as impressive and moving as Eliane Radigue's.—DW

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In Concert: Keiji Haino

Fylkingen, Stockholm (Sweden) 8th August
A silent, dark room with three dimmed lights, nothing in particular to focus on, really – a sparse environment like the set of a Beckett play. A small Japanese man, dressed from head to toe in black, creeps into the hall like a possessed Artaud figure, banging a wooden log hard on the ground. It’s an introduction to Keiji Haino's take on the notion of ma – the empty spaces or electric silences between the sounds – one of the cornerstones of the complex philosophy behind Haino's work, though the audience was obviously more concerned with the sound itself and the magic surrounding the theatrical spectacle. Multi-instrumentalist Haino, who claims to be able to play more than 30 instruments, from traditional Japanese instruments to oscillators, is, after all, a key figure in new music, maybe even a one-man avant-garde. In Stockholm he used his many talents to maximum effect, moving between a wide variety of expressions, tempting the listeners in with lovely, inviting lullabies and then shaking them awake with a display of ultra-rapid string bending, black-guru-beast evoking an intense, distorted, psychedelic landscape. Maybe the oddest occurrence was his occasional use of a drum machine, one of those models produced during the 1990s complete with terrible, cheesy sound. Despite its limitations Haino succeeds in using this plastic, dated machine to build some impressive abstract beats, and when he joins in singing it actually gets pretty catchy, like some futuristic pub music for demented Arts students.
Haino's sound sculptures are abstract for much of the time, but always honestly and rewardingly reference rock. Apart from his own compositions the concert included covers of chestnuts such as “Satisfaction” and “Purple Haze”, but Haino certainly didn't interpret them in a traditional manner, instead letting his own creativity reign. Long-gone country blues legend Blind Lemon Jefferson was also on the menu, with Haino performing a dignified and respectful selection of his work, all the while proving how much he values originality when it comes to artistic expression. His take on “Satisfaction” is over the top in its intensity, with spastic guitar playing that transcends any Western concept of possible structure. Upon entering Haino's music the listener is liberated from consciousness and steps out of time. When he returns to his more fragile, melodic pieces we get to hear Haino's incredibly beautiful, clean voice – no trace of cigarettes, booze or the United States of America. Instead a concept of Beauty more concerned with the Beast, Xenakis's “Persepolis” meets Hendrix in the spirit of Artaud. The Audience sits silently – polite, well behaved and remarkably patient. Only a few people leave the battlefield to recover, in silence.—KW (photo by Marten Sahlen)

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On Crónica
Ran Slavin / Ran Slavin
Crónica 009-2004
Crónica 010-2004
Crónica 012-2004
Björgúlfsson / Pimmon / Thorsson
Crónica 014-2004
Crónica 's "Product" series was launched last year, the idea being (not a terrifically original one at that) to juxtapose works by two different artists on the same disc. The first outing featured work by Sumugan Sivanesan and Duran Vazquez. For some inexplicable reason, for the second chapter of the saga the good folks at Crónica have invited Israeli sound artist Ran Slavin to share the CD with himself. The disc contains two works, "Tropical Agent", a nine-movement composition, and "Ears In Water", separated by thirty seconds of "Product Silence". There's something smooth and seductive about Slavin's work, which manages obliquely to reference ambient techno – the terraced mix, the nearly regular click backbeat, the lush string carpet (check out "Search for Compassion") – without ever jumping across the fence into em:t territory. His samples are exquisitely selected and skilfully combined (I especially like the snatch of the Brahms Violin Concerto that drifts in and out of "Silent Siren") and it's all as sleek, streamlined and suggestive as the accompanying photography by Jewboy Co. The only reservation, if it is one, is that "Ears in Water" isn't all that different from "Tropical Agent". A little frostier, perhaps, especially the treated vocals of Lin Chazolin Dovrat on "Girl In Water" but just as finely tuned and well-crafted.

@c (try Googling that one and you won't get very far.. go to instead) is the duo Pedro Tudela and Miguel Carvalhais, and v3 is, as you might guess, their third album. Or perhaps the "3" refers to the fact that these nine tracks were sourced from three different performances in Palmela, London and Huddersfield, in which the duo was joined by Manuel Mota, João Hora, Vitor Joaquim, Andy Gangadeen and video artist Lia – for details of who played what where go to It's an odd mixture of laptop electronica (think early Pan Sonic, when they used to have that "a" in the middle of their name) and lowercase improv. Not unsuccessful but rather subject to the kind of concept-heavy information overload that's dogged previous Crónica releases. The Quicktime movie (Lia's v3/G.S.I.L.XXIX) is fun though.

There's a Quicktime movie on Two Novels too, an evocative hand-held camera night ride on the BMT Jamaica elevated subway. Brooklyn-based o.blaat, real name Keiko Uenishi, is best known for her interactive audio environments (including the reasonably self-explanatory "beat piece (with Ping-Pong game)" and "audio coat check") but has laptopped her way throughout North America and Europe in the company of, to name but a few, Kaffe Matthews, Toshio Kajiwara, DJ Olive, Aki Onda, Akio Mokuno, Ikue Mori and Eyvind Kang. These seven make cameo appearances in the nine-movement "Gaze", a varied and inventive survey of the electronica landscape, from field recordings to the cut'n'splice of "egg salad sandwich" (as chopped up and scrambled as its title suggests), from de rigueur crackles and crunches to booming drones and explosions of vicious noise. All very listenable, even if it is hard to detect Uenishi's own personal signature. That said, stylistic plurality has long been a hallmark of the so-called Downtown scene; Ikue Mori, Zeena Parkins and Marina Rosenfeld are just as eclectic. "In the Cochlea", the second so-called novel, is, as its title suggests, more intimate. In fact, it's best appreciated on headphones, though if you think that means you're in for nice long stretch of onkyo pianissimo, you haven't heard "eight-o" yet, heh heh. Though there are plenty examples of par-for-the-course low-volume whispers, crackles and whooses ("miminohome"), Uneishi does come up with some real and very beautiful surprises. "nightvision" is particularly haunting. Like the video.
Björgúlfsson / Pimmon / Thorsson sounds like a bit of a mouthful, and so does the title of their album Still Important Somekind Not Normally Seen (Always Not Unfinished). Heimir Björgúlfsson and Helgi Thorsson, formerly of the group Stilluppsteypa (whatever happened to Stilluppsteypa?) teamed up with Australia's Paul Gough, aka Pimmon (whatever happened to Pimmon?) for a couple of live dates at De Melkfabriek in Den Bosch (Netherlands) on October 5th and 6th 2002, the recordings of which were subsequently reconfigured and mixed a couple of months later by Main's Robert Hampson in his Thirst studios. Not that the result sounds anything like Main, though. It's a strange Cageian soup kitchen of an album, as colourful and confusing as the lollipops, stripy ties and drooling tigers of Thorsson's artwork, and similarly haunting. Track seven has been locked on repeat play here for the past half hour and it's still grooving. We might know where these characters are coming from, but it's hard to figure out where they're heading. Tag along for the ride, though. One thing is for sure: "when in Den Bosch, Björgúlfsson / Pimmon / Thorsson ALWAYS stay at the Golden Tulip." It says here. So now you know.—DW

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Sam Rivers / Adam Rudolph / Harris Eisenstadt
Meta 009
It recently came to light that saxophonist / flautist / pianist Sam Rivers was born not in 1930, as has often been stated, but seven years earlier. Which means he was a sprightly 80-year-old when this fabulous session was cut in September 2003. Now I doubt whether many 80 year olds of my acquaintance could even summon forth a squeak from a tenor saxophone, but Rivers not only knows how to blow, he blows the bloody thing way up into Arthur Doyle country, i.e. the stratosphere. Even overlooking the Elliott Carter factor, Vista is an extraordinary album documenting the encounter between the man who once famously said “I listened to everyone I could to make sure I didn’t sound like any of them” (one of my all time favourite quotations, that) and not one but two power percussionists, in the form of Adam Rudolph and Harris Eisenstadt. Rivers fans may moan that their man has been somewhat overlooked in recent times, now that once obscure figures of free jazz history have been picked up, dusted off and given a bit of long overdue attention. Too far out to swing with Miles but too technically proficient to be claimed as an authentic wild man (à la Frank Wright, Arthur Doyle), and seemingly untouched – though most definitely not uninvolved – by the political turmoil of the times, Rivers, like that other great loner original Steve Lacy, continued to tend to his own isolated yet fertile patch of land throughout the 70s and 80s. Though perhaps best known for his tenor work, the opening “Susurration” and the later “Plumaseria” are timely reminders that he is arguably the best flute player since Eric Dolphy, with a strong tone throughout the entire register of the instrument. His soprano playing’s pretty jawdropping too. Rudolph and Eisenstadt complement each other magnificently and accompany Rivers to perfection throughout. Listen to how the soprano sax snake wiggles on “Motivity” are picked up and developed on the unpitched percussion, and how Rivers takes off when Eisenstadt suddenly starts swinging furiously. An even more spectacular groove kicks in towards the end of “Plumaseria”, on which, with no bass to anchor the music and no piano to thicken the stew (shame though there isn’t an example here of Sam’s own terse, muscular piano playing), Rivers’ working methods are clearly audible. Like Lacy, he’s a bloodhound of a horn player, pursuing musical material, be it a melodic cell or a mere interval, relentlessly across the landscape until he’s able to corner it and rip it to pieces. It’s a thrilling ride, and I look forward to the next chapter; damn it, if the Queen Mum could clock up the century, I’m sure Sam Rivers can carry on blowing us all away until his 120th – or 127th – birthday.—DW

Ellery Eskelin
hatOLOGY 592
Forms, tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin's second disc as a leader, recorded back in 1990 for Open Minds with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Phil Haynes, is now seeing the light of day again as the latest in a string of releases for HatOLOGY. The track titles are as bare and self-explanatory as the album title: “Blues”, “In Three”, “Ballad”, “Latin” and, after two standards, Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine” and Gillespie’s “Bebop”, a closing original "Vignettes". Given the nature of these pieces, it would be easy to dismiss them in advance as dry formal exercises primarily of interest for how they anticipate Eskelin's subsequent explorations. But not to worry: this band is hot, and Eskelin, Gress and Haynes just cut loose when the tape starts rolling. A blindfold-tested listener might well mistake it for something along the lines of Joe Henderson’s State of the Tenor recordings. It’s that good.
Given the constant stream of new releases in the jazz market, many may wonder whether revisiting a fourteen-year-old session is worth the trouble. Well, despite how far Coltrane traveled into Interstellar Space, I still gravitate back to Giant Steps (despite Tommy Flanagan’s flailing around on the title track). Eskelin’s originals on Forms, like Coltrane’s on Giant Steps, have surprisingly catchy heads and feature interesting alternative harmonic structures for improvisation. They haven't subsequently turned up in the repertoire of Eskelin's other amalgamations either, though “Vignettes” provides a tantalizing early view of the compositional style that has characterized his subsequent work. The standards meanwhile provide interesting interpretations without overtly playing the “tradition” card. The only downside to this release is that it doesn’t include the trio’s only other recording, the long out-of-print Setting the Standard. But even so it's another fascinating and highly enjoyable glimpse of Ellery Eskelin's music.—SG

Gary Windo
Cuneiform Rune 189
This fourteen-track compilation, lovingly assembled by Michael King as was the earlier His Masters Bones, documents the work of tenor saxophonist Gary Windo from 1971 in London with his early Symbiosis sextet – the dream line-up of Windo, Mongezi Feza on trumpet, Nick Evans on trombone, Steve Florence on guitar, Roy Babbington on bass and Robert Wyatt on drums – to 1981 in New York, where he played with the Carla Bley Band and NRBQ (Windo's last gig before his untimely death in 1992 was with NRBQ). Anglo-American is the title of a song written by Gary's partner Pam, suffering from homesickness for Blighty after following the saxophonist across the big pond, but also a good name for the album as a whole: the contrast between the sprawling free jazz jams of the Soft Machine / Brotherhood of Breath personnel and the dry, tight rhythm section of Windo's US quartet (also the Carla Bley Band’s: Steve Swallow on bass and D. Sharpe on drums) is clear. Windo’s playing is impressive throughout, from the gritty blowouts of “Carmus” and “Spiderman”, recorded with Ron Mathewson, Dave MacCrae and Wyatt in 1973 to the punchy cocktail jazz of “Baxter”. This and the penultimate “Lassie Breaks Out”, culled from the Hal Willner-produced 1981 outing on Europa Records, Dogface, are at one and the same time perfect illustrations of Windo’s strengths and possible explanations for his music being unfairly neglected since his death: he tapped into that rich source of energy that bursts forth when hard honking rhythm’n’blues goes over the edge into free screaming, but his work was often dismissed out of hand due to its zany sense of humour. Like the magnificent Lol Coxhill compilation Spectral Soprano that came out on Emanem back in 2002, Anglo-American is good solid proof that free music can also be great fun to play and listen to.—DW

Noel Mcghie And Space Spies
Esperance / Jazz’in
In some ways, it might be surprising for the connoisseur of expatriate jazz to hear Trapeze, the only LP (to my knowledge) led by drummer Noel McGhie, the Jamaica-born percussionist who occupied that chair in Steve Lacy’s European quintet of the early 70s. McGhie drove those classic Lacy (not to mention Mal Waldron and Clifford Thornton) sides on America, Victor and other labels, and was also in at least one incarnation of Alan Silva’s Celestrial Communications Orchestra. But Trapeze is a highly creative excursion into funky jazz-R&B fusion, which might seem like a bit of an anomaly unless one considers the fact that McGhie (and his successor in the Lacy group, Oliver Johnson) displayed a fairly overt funk in his contributions to the Lacy band, driving such off-kilter compositions as “Jump for Victor” (cf. Mal Waldron with the Steve Lacy Quintet, America 6124) with not only pulse but backbeats and breaks galore. McGhie’s drumming was a major contributor to the ever-present tension between structure and freedom in that context.
Originally recorded in 1975 for the rather obscure French label Disques Esperance, which also released a pair of uncommon "spiritual" jazz sides by trumpeter Ray Stephen Oche, McGhie is joined by Georges Edouard Nouel (electric piano), Louis Wavier (electric bass), Brazilian saxophonist George Joao and Japanese trumpeter Itaru Oki, who would later become somewhat of a staple in the FMP studios. Far from being typical funk, the head arrangements, all composed by McGhie, offer all the subtle harmonic nuance of early 70s Keith Tippett or Soft Machine, or for that matter, any of the complex modal groovers that Lee Morgan was recording later in his career (check Oki’s tone on “Ubet,” introduced by a wonderfully involved percussion solo). The title track, after a somewhat hesitant and disorganized introduction, settles into a stately horn arrangement over a wonderfully infectious Mike Ratledge-esque piano riff. Like the disparities between McGhie’s free-time funk and the Monkish, singsongy heads of Lacy’s compositions, there is a similar off-kilter nature present between the movement of these pieces and the rhythms that drive them – until one realizes that a real Afro-European synthesis just might have been achieved.—CA

Mario Pavone
Playscape PSR#J091003
Boom features bassist Pavone and his regular accomplice, pianist Peter Madsen, plus the ubiquitous Tony Malaby and Matt Wilson, who’ve become first-call players for this kind of inside/out gig. The disc opens quietly with “Julian”, which sports a slinky odd-metered groove but comes off as fragile, almost fearful – full of spiderweb piano and whistles and ghostly murmurs. (There’s a slight – but violent – return to this piece later on, a 20-second soundbite called “Po”.) The rest of the album is punchier stuff, mostly – it doesn’t so much swing as stomp. Pavone is dark and pungent and a bit ominous, preferring knotty, assymetrical lines to anything resembling walking bass. Surprisingly averse to giving himself solos, he instead throws a lot of the weight on the underrated Madsen (who makes sure Monk is on the agenda), and the polymorphous, almost monstrously adept Malaby (who does the same for Ornette). Pavone’s originals are a well-turned lot, but the knockout performance is a scorching cover of “Bad Birdie”, one of two previously unrecorded Thomas Chapin tunes included in the program. (Well, that's what it says here: wasn't "Bad Birdie" on Chapin's Menagerie Dreams?) I’m not sure the rest of the album quite lives up to that track, but no matter: it’s still plenty tasty.—ND

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Various Artists
Xing-wu XWU5001CD

Xing-wu is a new experimental-music label from Malaysia – the name means “insight”. They’re off to a cracking start with their first release, a two-disc compilation of tracks by a shrewdly chosen cast of international contributors and a sprinkling of Malaysian musicians, all of the latter new names to me. The emphasis is on solo work, drawn from a range of interrelated musics: e.a.i./lowercase improv, electroacoustic composition and collage, environmental recordings – plus a hair-raising track from Reynols that sticks out like a sore thumb (but so what). What links there are between the tracks have to do with the musicians’ interest in the sonic equivalent of “found objects”, whether the sound-source is a dobro (Tetuzi Akiyama), a patch of script lichen (Loren Chasse), a flock of grackles (Jeph Jerman), a gutted piano (Andrea Neumann), a deserted train station (Eric La Casa, Jean-Luc Guionnet and PT’s own Dan Warburton). It’s often hard to tell the difference between human and natural sources: Yannick Dauby’s “Formless Walking” and Lee Kwang’s “Stormy Weather”, for instance, seem to be studio manipulations of environmental recordings, but that’s just a guess. In this context the occasional plunderphonic collage seems as comfortingly humane and old-fashioned as a quilt, offering a good old blast of sonic referentiality (quotation!): indeed, Volcano the Bear’s handsome “Clayslaps” contains more identifiable “music” – snippets of free jazz, chanting monks, fiddles, &c – than the rest of the entire album. (Less satisfactorily, Matt Shoemaker’s “Pantai Ayu” contains the most annoying cut-up of a lecture since the Kronos Quartet recorded that awful I. F. Stone setting...) There’s fine work here by the usual suspects: Axel Dörner’s solo piece “Marchlai” is a typically intense little sonata for valves and escaping air; Neumann’s “Innenklavier” is a small collection of sonic dust-bunnies; Oren Ambarchi’s “Freeze Out” is basically five minutes of Star Wars light-sabres; Toshimaru Nakamura’s “Preset #4 (nimb#28)” (like Neumann, Toshi approaches titles like a scientist labelling test-tubes) starts off briskly, with a dollop of crackle’n’whistle noise, before turning strangely soft and languorous; Akiyama contributes the gorgeous and searing “Sword” (dobro-playing from the inner circles of Hell). Taku Sugimoto’s sterile “Bells 2” is the disc’s one big disappointment, but otherwise the quality is pretty consistently high, and the Malaysians turn in some of the strongest and most unusual work here – aside from Lee Kwang’s fine piece, there’s also Yin Pin’s eruptive “Psalm 3:4”, full of buffetings and body-blows (the text in question runs: “I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill” – make of that what you will!); a notably ugly live performance by the quartet Zai De; Yandsen’s “Jargon”, which resembles a collision between a troupe of road workers and a classical pianist; and Tham Kar Mun’s patient encounter with “wood, glass, pen, pencil, container, paper”. I won’t do more than enumerate the rest – in addition to the tracks already mentioned, there are also contributions by the Climax Golden Twins, Thuja, Carl Stone, Eric La Casa, Anthony Pateras/David Brown, Janek Schaefer and mnortham – but suffice it to say the album comes strongly recommended. Let’s hope Xing-wu (the label) follows it up with full-length releases by some of the Malaysian players sampled here.—ND

Brett Larner / Toshimaru Nakamura
Impermanent Recordings ire005
Since he began studying the koto at Wesleyan University in 1992, Brett Larner has been extensively involved with contemporary Japanese composed and improvised music, both as a player and as a director of the Deluxe Improvisation Series and Deluxe Improvisation Festival in Tokyo, a city in which he lived for several years. One of the many Japanese musicians with whom Larner has worked over the years is Toshimaru Nakamura, though previously the record of their work together was rather desultory, being restricted to single tracks as members of Yoshihide Otomo's Portable Orchestra on the Deluxe Improvisation Festival 2001: Day Two CD-R (ASE / and a quartet with Tetuzi Akiyama and Ami Yoshida on Meeting at Off Site Vol. 1 (Improvised Music from Japan). Now, however, after school activity provides us with 44 minutes of the two playing as a duo. The disc contains three tracks, each recorded in a different setting in Oakland, California. The first, "your naif", is a studio cut that consists of single plucked notes or chords from Larner on koto every 15 or so seconds plus an array of generally quite quiet high-pitched tones, crackles and throbs from Nakamura’s no-input mixing desk and what might be the quiet rumble of environmental sound or recording noise in the background. The music is not uninteresting in the way it combines a humanised transformation of some of the electrical and electronic sounds that increasingly preponderate in the oppressive contemporary soundscape with the very different timbre, rhythm, attack and decay of the koto, thereby creating a delicate sonic alternative that demands a focus and attention all too often lost in our habituation to the noise and frenzy of capitalist society. Ultimately, however, it is rather routine. One particular disappointment is Larner’s playing; traditional Japanese music contains a number of what in Western terms would be called extended playing techniques – such as the suritsumi (scraping a pick along two adjacent strings) and soetsumi (plucking a string under which a fingernail has been placed) – and modern Japanese composers have devised many more. It seems a pity then that Larner chooses to restrict himself to a focus on "pure" tones reminiscent of Western art music's fetishistic approach to pitch and timbre. Fortunately, Larner’s exploration of the possibilities of the koto is slightly wider on the rest of the album. The second track, "knuckle", is a composition by Nakamura and was recorded live at the Thursday Night Special. It is a relatively short and slight work featuring scattered notes and runs on the koto and a few crackles of static. The recording also captures quite a lot of sounds of movement and more distant background noise. But this is as nothing to the final title track, which was recorded on the deck of the Artship, a 491-foot long ship that has in its career served as a cruise liner, troop transport, and training ship and is now a floating arts centre that regularly hosts improvised and experimental music performances. Larner and Nakamura’s exposed position ensures that the roar of traffic, planes and boats is forcefully present. From the outset, the two musicians seem hampered by this: their playing appears rather disconnected and perfunctory and Nakamura’s sounds in particular are partly masked by the lo-fi sonic smog, robbing them of nuance and discrimination. Things only get worse, for some 16 minutes in a party of teenagers puts in an appearance, adding their ceaseless babble to the urban cacophony. The duo makes some rather ineffectual attempts to be heard over the top of the maelstrom but in the end they sink beneath the enveloping acoustic waves. The music itself may not be inspiring, but its fragility in the face of the sonic pollution that assails it is a poignant demonstration of the fate of delicate and distinctive sound in the contemporary industrialised and commodified soundscape, and of the inhumanity of contemporary social conditions from which such an alienated sonic world emanates.—WS

Antiopic AN006/LS002
Fargone FAR-008
During a recent performance by Sakada in London, Mattin periodically abandoned his laptop in order to attack the fixtures and fittings of the squatted venue with metal bolts, a wooden plank and an iron bar. The appearances recorded on these two new CDs were evidently somewhat more sedate occasions. The 17-minute mini-CD Never Give up on the Margins of Logic documents the appearance at London’s 2003 Freedom of the City festival of an expanded version of the group that featured Rhodri Davies (harp), Margarida Garcia (double bass) and Mark Wastell (amplified textures) alongside the core duo of Mattin (computer feedback) and Eddie Prévost (percussion). From where I was sitting, the group’s sounds on the day were somewhat lost in the cavernous space of Conway Hall; it is something of a revelation, therefore, to have the benefit of this beautifully clear, intimate and vivid recording courtesy (I presume) of the BBC’s engineers who were present throughout the festival and Tim Barnes, who mastered it. What can now be heard is a rich improvisation in which the bowings of Davies, Garcia and Prévost (the latter mainly on tam-tam) combine with the resonant clunks and subtler rustles and tones of the amplified textures and electronics in a captivating and diverse sequence of transient configurations and subdued moments. It is very much a recording for those who enjoy following labile, transparent and collective cooperation in the moment and are content to let form be merely a function of a fluidly extemporized content. It will doubtless not appeal to listeners who prefer music to exhibit neat structural principles.
Bilbao resiste, resiste Bilbao is a limited edition (75 copies) CD-R that comes in a jewel-case to which crudely printed texts and pictures have been attached by black masking tape. The music is derived from a live performance in Mattin's hometown in August 2003. On this occasion, he and Prévost were joined by Xabier Erkizia on computer and accordion. For around the first quarter of the 44-minute session, the group presents a sometimes quite dense texture of scrapes and clatters from Prévost and rumbles and fairly harsh electronic tones from Mattin and Erkizia. Thereafter, the music becomes generally quieter and more spacious, as the group gives itself over to evolving collective constructions erected out of a multiplicity of pulses, sustained tones, clatters, taps and rubbings, and occasional eruptions of more violent sound from one or more members. Although there are passages where electronics are deployed in such a way as to leave the acoustic instruments little room to contribute, this is nonetheless another improvisation that it is engrossing to follow in its unwinding. There is a very real sense of musical negotiation between the participants – albeit one that may not always be entirely amicable – and of the music as a collective journey and struggle that dispenses with the aid of a map and fashions its own interesting terrain as it proceeds.—WS

Tim Olive / Fritz Welch
Evolving Ear / Human Sacrifice EE009 / HS 007
Described as "tightly wound non-maximalism combining borrowed electric guitar, percussion, and snow", this intriguingly-titled set of six duets featuring guitarist Olive and percussionist Welch was recorded in an old barn in the middle of winter (though the album says Brooklyn.. are there any old barns in Brooklyn?). Anyway, that probably accounts for the snow. Tightly wound it is, too: despite the musicians' marked preference for tiny sounds and gestures, the music they make – provided you give it the time and attention it demands – creates and sustains a sense of tension often absent from lowercase improv. Which explains the reference to non-maximalism – not the same as minimalism. Not having seen Olive perform, and being familiar only with his two track 3" CD on Infrequency with Jeffrey Allport, I suspect the gritty energy of Sun Reverse comes more from Welch's unconventional and at times hilarious percussion work (imagine Burkhard Beins with Han Bennink's sense of theatre). Whether that's the case or not, it's another compelling and uncompromising outing from the Evolving Ear label.—DW

Black Forest / Black Sea
Last Visible Dog LVD 065
Black Forest / Black Sea is a duo consisting of Miriam Goldberg on cello and voice and Jeffrey Alexander on guitar and banjo (both also play omnichords too). On all but three of these nine tracks they're joined by musicians they met and worked with on the road across Europe earlier this year. The opening track, recorded at Glasgow's Tchai-Ovna Tearoom, features Alex Neilson on percussion, Christoph Hladowski on bouzouki and Daniel Padden on clarinet. Tracks 2 and 6 feature a Finnish incarnation of BF/BS+ with Markus Mäki on guitar, Jan Anderzén on keyboards and Merja Kokkonen on xylophone, clarinet and musical saw. In Bologna Goldberg and Alexander are joined by guitarist Stefano Pilia, in Bristol by Nick Talbot, also on guitar, and on the extended final track (and highlight of the album), recorded in the Talbot Hotel Stoke-on-Trent, by Harry Sumnall on electric tamboura, harmonium and percussion.
If your idea of improvised music is either rapid-fire ultra nervous musical kung fu (Phil Minton, Roger Turner, Mats Gustafsson, Tom Lehn and others too numerous to mention) or super minimal lowercase near-nothingness (Radu Malfatti, Taku Sugimoto et al.) you're likely to be disappointed by Radiant Symmetry. If, like me, you still harbour fond memories of the folksier end of English Experimental Music and wonder whatever happened to the Penguin Café Orchestra, this is probably for you. Coming at improv from the spaced-out post-folk end – this is on Last Visible Dog, after all – Goldberg and Alexander have no a prioris about what should or should not be allowed through the door. Hence the appearance of recognisable tonality, regular repetition and – gulp – singable melodies. Some of the tracks, notably the opener, are vague and unfocussed, but when the vibe is right, BF/BS produce music of great lyricism and beauty.—DW..

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Somei Satoh
Mode 13
Though Somei Satoh was born in 1947 and started working with music in mixed media back in the early 1970s (in one of his more intriguing projects he positioned eight loudspeakers on mountain tops a kilometre apart in Tochigi Prefecture and used music in conjunction with laser beams apparently to influence the movement of fog rising from the valley below), he didn’t complete his first composition for orchestra, “From the Depth of Silence” until just four years ago. Much has been made of the influence on Satoh’s work of Zen and Shintoism, but comparing him to the late great Toru Takemitsu is hardly a wise move. Unlike Takemitsu, Satoh is largely self-taught (and it sounds like it: a crash course in orchestration wouldn’t go amiss), and while Takemitsu’s luscious harmonies and impeccable orchestration revealed a clear debt to late Debussy and early Messiaen, Satoh’s claggy textures sound more like one of those ECM New Series composers with unpronounceable names born in a snowstorm in the middle of a potato field in some bleak Baltic republic. If you’ve had enough of Gorecki and your copy of Barber’s “Adagio” is now too worn to play, this one will suit you fine, but if you think the tempo is slow on “Burning Meditation” (a setting of a poem by Kazuko Shiraishi originally scored for baritone – the indefatigable Thomas Buckner – and string quartet, but here fleshed out for string orchestra, harp and tubular bells), wait until you get to “Kyokoku”. This was also commissioned by Buckner, featured here intoning the words of Lao Tzu as translated by Ursula K. Le Guin – hey, didn’t she write “A Wizard of Earthsea”? I read that when I was a kid, it was fun. Oops, sorry, nodded off there, where was I? Oh yes, “Kisetsu”, with its “universal message of hope to the people of the world” seems destined to become New Tonal Music’s Next Big Thing, though personally if I have a quarter of an hour to spare, I prefer a quick fix of Elliott Carter’s “Piano Quintet”. I wouldn’t want readers to come away with the impression I’m a 100% cynical hardboiled motherfucker (95% maybe) – after all, one feels slightly ill at ease criticising music that is so evidently sincere in its intentions – but let’s just say I hope a copy of this doesn’t end up on Oliver Stone’s stereo system.—DW

Daniel Kientzy / Tom Johnson
Pogus 21033-2
Now that the big names from the first generation of minimalists have abandoned the mathematical rigour of their earlier work in favour of activities as diverse as ripping off mid 70s Bowie albums and providing dull soundtracks to ham fisted home movies about zeppelins and cloned sheep, it’s comforting to know there’s still someone out there willing to get stuck in the rut of an eight-note self-replicating melody. Which is what Tom Johnson, born in Colorado in 1939 and resident in Paris since 1983, does in his “Kientzy Loops”, written for and performed by French sax virtuoso Daniel Kientzy and assisted by Reina Portuondo. It’s also gratifying to report that the piece won Johnson an award at the French music biz showcase Victoires de la Musique in 2000 (about time they found something decent to award a prize to). “Kientzy Loops” is joined on this album by “Tortue de Mer (Sea Turtle)”, a translation into music of the geometrical drawing of the aforementioned creature by the inhabitants of the South Pacific island of Vanuatu, “Narayana’s Cows”, another additive process musical representation of a mathematical conundrum devised by a 14th century Indian mathematician, and four of Johnson’s “Infinite Melodies”, which, as their titles suggest, would go on forever if an instrument with an infinitely large range could be found to perform them. Kientzy’s contrabass sax sounds as ugly and ungainly as it looks, but the saxophonist’s performances of these uncompromisingly minimal works is precise and impressive, even if about three quarters of the way through “Narayana’s Cows” you find yourself praying for an epidemic of foot and mouth to reduce the size of the herd to more manageable proportions.—DW

Roger Reynolds
Pogus 21032-2
Process and Passion presents two versions each of three compositions on two discs – one in conventional stereo, and the other using binaural encoding to produce sound spatialization, and requiring headphones. Two of the pieces have been recorded previously – "Kokoro" for solo violin, and "Focus a beam, emptied of thinking, outward…" for solo cello. These were written for Irvine Arditti and Rohan de Saram of the Arditti Quartet, and can be found on the Coconino 2-disc Reynolds set on Montaigne. The title track is a violin and cello duet that builds on material from the earlier solo works. According to Reynolds, this takes the "assertive and unpredictable" nature of "Kokoro" (based on Arditti’s character) and the more "meditative" nature of "Focus" (de Saram's) and pits them against one another, until they are ultimately reconciled. The violin, then, is passion, the voice of The Furies, and the cello process, the voice of Reason. Reynolds sees this as representing concepts from Greek tragedy, the development of an understanding of justice capable of overcoming endless cycles of violence and retribution, an idea he has addressed in his recent yet-to-be-recorded opera "The Red Act Project". The relevance in today’s world seems self-evident. The performers are Mark Menzies on violin and Hugh Livingston on cello, joined on the title track by computer, programmed by Reynolds. Menzies and Livingston studied with the composer at the University of California – San Diego (UCSD), and are masters of their respective instruments. They clearly spent more time with the compositions than Arditti and de Saram before recording, as the new recordings are more decisive than the originals. As it turns out, Reynolds asked Menzies and Livingston to edit the scores, and they are now credited as co-composers (I wonder if Brian Ferneyhough has ever considered this..?) The binaural technique is quite impressive (if it catches on, people might one day not comprehend the idea that music was ever anything BUT spatially encoded), and further proof that Reynolds, now into his 70s, is still interested in applying cutting edge technology to his music. The disc includes 12 pages of notes with plenty of valuable information for musicians and astute listeners. These are works that reward multiple encounters – works for and by virtuosos. Recordings by Roger Reynolds are far too scarce, and this is a welcome addition to his small but high-quality oeuvre. We eagerly await the release of his unrecorded orchestral works, not to mention "The Red Act Project".—RH

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Helen Scarsdale HMS 002
The good people at Helen Scarsdale may well have a point when they rate this album (only the third by Matt Waldron after 1997’s An Uncertain Animal, Ruptured; Tissue Expanding in Conversation on Fire, Inc. and last year’s Dust Pincher Appliances on Crouton) as highly as The Hafler Trio's Kill The King and Nurse With Wound's Soliloquy For Lilith, but instead of bemoaning the lack of Waldron product on the market – and don’t tell me the name “” has nothing to do with it – they should be standing at the top of Mount Tamalpais or whatever the nearest mountain is to San Francisco and blasting it out over a 60,000W PA because it’s awesome.
“Ozeanische Gefühle”, which roughly translates as “oceanic feelings”, was a term coined by Sigmund Freud to refer to a specific psychological state of well-being and connection to the world. According to an interview with Waldron on the Helen Scarsdale website, Wilhelm Reich, who Waldron lists among his “big five” influences (along with Robert Fripp, Steven Stapleton, Kurt Schwitters and Jim Woodring) “used the term to describe the natural state of every healthy organism: connected to and engaged with the world around it, with its energies flowing from the center outwards. This is in direct contradiction to the prevailing state in most societies: closed, anxious, and rigid, with energies directed inward.” How Reich’s work interfaces with Waldron’s as a sound artist (he is also a talented writer and visual artist) is a subject as complex and rich as the music itself, a stupendous montage of processed recordings of acoustic and electronic instruments and field recordings. More impressive still than the sheer beauty of Waldron’s sounds is the way he weaves them together into a coherent span of music lasting as long as a Beethoven symphony, building to a terrific climax just before the 25 minute mark, before subsiding into an eerie subaquatic Wurlitzer organ, and ultimately the delicate yet penetrating chime of prayer bowls and crotales, the creak of nocturnal insects and distant voices. Plus about a thousand other things – as is often the case, merely describing what’s going on in the piece (not that it’s all that easy to do) totally fails to prepare you for the listening experience. Nurse With Wound fans familiar with Waldron’s skewed remix of NWW’s mythic Chance Meeting album and keen to apply Steven Stapleton’s description of his music as “surrealist” to Waldron’s own work ought to read his comments on the subject first: “I think surrealism as a movement was a failure because it became Surrealism [..], another worthless dogma - and how could it have turned out otherwise?” Adding later: “What I do share with many Surrealists is the willingness to let intuition and accident play an active role in what I create.” Maybe so, but don’t be fooled into thinking this piece, and the shorter but no less impressive “The Demiurge’s Presumption” that follows it, was cobbled together in an afternoon. It’s the result of many hours of painstaking and loving work, and richly repays repeated listening. Buy up all available stocks as soon as you can and give the folks at Helen Scarsdale something to really trumpet about.—DW

Taylor Deupree / Christopher Willits
Plop PLIP 3011
On this, their second album together but their first real extended collaboration, Taylor Deupree and Christopher Willits join a growing number of laptoppers – Sogar, Anderegg, Minamo, Hervé Boghossian, Sébastien Roux – whose work steers away from the bleak wasteland of eai’s snap crackle and plop and instead openly embraces tonality (or, to be more precise, diatonicism, as it’s concerned more with local detail than with large-scale harmonic rhythm). Mujo’s piled-up seventh and eleventh chords recall Reich, Riley and especially Daniel Lentz – hey, whatever happened to Daniel Lentz? – whose fondness for fragmenting a sung text into its constituent syllables predated Willits’ sensuous folding glitches by well over a decade. It goes without saying that all twelve tracks are executed with consummate precision, beautifully mixed and elegantly packaged, but the album’s unrelenting prettiness can become mildly soporific; this makes the more abstract tracks stand out, particularly the all-too brief “Marathon Vowel Shift”, the harmonically ambiguous “Ended” and the closing “Newspaper”, with its oneiric fragments of recorded telephone conversations. All in all, listening to Mujo is like spending a sunny afternoon in a shopping mall in San Rafael, CA – everything’s bright, colourful and clean with shiny, happy people in Esprit T shirts – but about as likely to change your life as a Godiva truffle. But maybe music doesn’t have to change your life. Godiva truffles are fine by me.—DW

Alexander Rishaug
Asphodel ASP 2024
If Lentz’s The Crack In The Bell came to mind on listening to Deupree and Willits (see above), Possible Landscape, the second outing by Oslo-based Rishaug, had me scurrying back to my copy of Shri Camel. Not that the Norwegian’s work reveals many traces of the turn-on-tune-in-and-don’t-bogart-the-joint attitude that (I’m told) leads to a greater enjoyment of Mr Riley’s music, but it does seem to enjoy getting busy doin’ nothing, to quote Brian Wilson, i.e. sitting on one or two chords and noodling. But where Riley threads long self-similar modal lines together, Rishaug fills up the space with what the press release revealingly describes as “classic clicks and cuts” (italics mine). Hmm, when something that’s been around for barely a decade (what is Year Zero for clicks and cuts? The first Oval album?) gets branded with that “classic” tag, it’s a sure sign that stagnation has set in. No amount of bleeps, bloops, crunches, crackles or whatever the latest plug’n’play configuration throws your way can disguise the fact that this stuff is, as an old English teacher of mine used to say, deeply superficial. And unlike the Deupree / Willits outing, there’s not much to tap your feet to either.—DW

Leticia Castaneda
"Inspired by Sirrus, sarcasm and Santa Barbara," it says inside the sleeve – and that's not the only inscrutable thing about this outing from California-based sound artist Castaneda. A brief Google reveals evidence of activity in several domains associated with contemporary sound art, notably installations and site-specific events, but there's a richness and warmth to Castaneda's work that recalls an earlier generation of analogue pioneers; the hard-panned gurgles and swoops of "Crayon Salad and a Glass of Wine" bring to mind the pioneering works of Maxfield, Sender, Subotnick and Oliveros. In the splendidly-titled "Memories of Being Lost", source sounds – some purely electronic, some field recordings, some more easily identifiable than others, but all fascinating – emerge, are looped, and recede into the background. There's not a glitch in sight; unlike much contemporary electronica, which makes little or no effort to cover up traces of the software used to produce it, Castaneda is more interested in the what than in the how. The predominantly serious tone set by the opening "A Dot Concoction" is retained and intensified during the album, especially in the sombre Radigue-like (again) "Statue". Even behind the machine-like bustle of activity of the closing "Untitled 1", a discreet but ever-present drone anchors the music. An impressive debut.—DW

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Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic