DECEMBER News 2004 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Stephen Griffith, Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg, Dan Warburton:

Editorial: Interview with NED ROTHENBERG
Reissue This! Ed Curran
MIO Records
Paul Dunmall
Jason Kahn
Harry Partch
At the Pompidou Centre: Ecoute
Dennis González / Stevens & Rabinowitz / Mop / Raphé Malik / Otomo Yoshihide
eRikm, Müller, Nakamura / Adelheid Sieuw & Jan Huib Nas / Paul Lytton & Jeffrey Morgan / Uncle Woody Sullender / brpobr / Babardah / Phô /
John Butcher / Low Resistance Group / Steve Beresford / Fred Van Hove
Collections of Colonies of Bees / Michael J. Schumacher / Audible 3 / Stephan Mathieu
Last month


A warm welcome this month to our new Brussels correspondent (!) Jean Michel Van Schouwburg, whose writing will no doubt be familiar to readers of Improjazz and whose own poésie sonore is well worth checking out to boot (Orynx, on Inaudible – Inaudible 003). Also clocking in with his first – and I hope not last – feature for PT is Sasha Burov, who has graciously allowed me to butcher his enormous interview with Downtown sax hero Ned Rothenberg (actually, Ned had a hack at it too). If there is any overriding theme to it all this time round it's probably the idea of making a comeback, either in the form of a welcome return to the fray – Stephen Griffith's piece on Dennis González – or a long overdue reissue, realised – the MIO catalogue – or yearned for – Clifford Allen's plea to re-release Ed Curran's 1967 Savoy outing Elysa. The review of the Ecoute exhibition at Paris' Pompidou Centre should perhaps be read alongside my piece on the much larger (and much better) Sons & Lumières upstairs, which features in this month's edition of The Wire magazine (#250). Well worth making a yuletide trip to Paris to see, if you ask me. But if you can't afford to do that, here are reviews of no fewer than 40 albums you might want to fill your – or someone else's – Christmas stocking with. Bonne lecture.—DW

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Reissue this!
Ed Curran Quartet
Savoy MG-12191, 1967
Whatever one’s opinion of the often cantankerous, occasionally visionary trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon, the fact that he worked as A&R man for Savoy in the latter half of the 1960s resulted in two things: surprisingly few Dixon sessions (one and a half, in fact, culled from his private tapes) and a wealth of supremely underground jazzmen given what was in some cases their only chance to record as a leader, much less a sideman. Drummer Robert F. Pozar, multi-instrumentalist Marc Levin, and saxophonists Marzette Watts and Ed Curran all led sessions for Savoy under Dixon’s tutelage and despite the Dixon stamp, all retain a strong degree of individuality. Though Watts’s session is probably the most infamous, both for its rarity and its intensity, altoist / clarinetist Ed Curran cuts a far different path – equally intense post-Ornette free bop that the saxophonist states in the liners to be “[from] the first musician-composer to record who has been influenced entirely by the jazz of the Sixties.” Out of context, this statement may smack of derivativeness – and possibly hubris – but the idea of aligning one’s influences solely with one’s contemporaries is a rare and important statement. After all, Archie Shepp was placed as much (if not more) with Hawkins and Webster than he was with Rollins or Coleman, and Arthur Jones with Johnny Hodges rather than Eric Dolphy. But stating the importance of one’s peers or "scene" is to give credence to experience and environment, something they call the "jazz life."

Curran is joined on these eight original compositions by two stalwarts of the Savoy avant-garde stable, drummer Robert Pozar and Marc Levin, heard here on cornet, flugelhorn and mellophone, as well as Japanese bassist Kyoshi Takunaga. “Cire,” the opener, is an off-kilter boppish tune at the outset, and Curran’s solo shows him to be a disciple not just of Dolphy, but of Eric's children as well – Sonny Simmons stands out as a model for Curran’s alto improvising, all fast runs of bent notes (one might call it an "Eastern" flavor) and wild leaps that somehow always come back to quoting the theme, however obtuse and unexpected the quote might be. Like Simmons, the exuberance is tempered a bit, and a melancholy air more befitting a dirge pervades both the compositions and the improvisations – literally so in the apocalyptic clarinet ballad, “Looking Back,” and in spirit on tunes like “Mid Tempo,” where the gruffness in the saxophonist's tone reveals a clear connecting line between Ayler and Dolphy. As for Curran’s cohorts, Levin is in particularly fine form, his blurred walls of sound on cornet and mellophone warping Dixon (with whom he studied) and Don Ayler into washes of color at breakneck tempos, and yet poised and restrained on slower numbers. Only a handful of trumpeters have ever channeled the improvisational language of players like Albert Ayler into brass, but Levin is one of them, as his solo on “Lady A” proves, taking simple singsong phrases and blurring them into pure sound. Thankfully, Savoy had the foresight to hire someone with as much honest desire to see young musicians record, for one person’s "also-ran" is another’s window into a very important period in American improvised music. Understanding the importance of one’s colleagues was not just Ed Curran’s astuteness, but Bill Dixon’s as well.—CA

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Philippe Besombes
MIO 008
Flamen Dialis
MIO 014
It all started innocently enough when I opened the mailbox and found a package from Israel containing Philippe Besombes' Libra and Flamen Dialis' Symptome-Dei. The former was original, if uneven, the latter 95% plain awful, but as I'm always delighted when people go to the trouble of sending me music I don't know from odd corners of the globe, especially albums recorded in my country of adoption, the least I can do in exchange is pen a review. The following brief text duly appeared in The Wire #247: "Israel-based MIO has reissued two rare slabs of French avant prog, the 1975 OST to the Groupe Pattern film Libra by Philippe Besombes, who abandoned studies in Chemistry to custom-build electronic instruments from material "salvaged" from his faculty labs and ended up with a honorary mention on Steven Stapleton's Nurse List, and the impossibly obscure Symptome-Dei by Flamen Dialis, recorded in rural Brittany in 1978. Besombes' work is an entertaining and accomplished period piece full of spooky vocals, gloomy organ clusters, prepared pianos, sitars, blasts of free jazz and also some inevitable and hideous sub-ELP guitar blues freakout not attributed to Besombes which he does his best to scribble all over. Exactly what you'd expect from someone who used to hang out with both Xenakis and Jean-Michel Jarre, and well worth the price of admission for "La Ville" alone, a cunning montage of Lalo Schifrin thriller groove and concrète information overload. Fast forward three years, and while Alain Pacadis and other jeunes hommes chic in Paris were digging Dolls and Pistols, out in the shadow of the dolmens of Finistère, Didier Le Gallic (who's since disappeared without trace) and seven others were invoking the spirits of the ancient Roman cult of Jupiter – hence Flamen Dialis – with an assortment of instruments including bombardons, Celtic flutes and de rigueur Mellotrons that even then were sounding as dated as the Latin of the group's name. Symptome-Dei's heady cocktail of faux-troubadour virgin vocals, horrible parping synths, cheesy chromatic scales, harmonicas and vibraphones was dedicated "to all extra-terrestrials known and unknown", and the group's one and only single "Découverte / Autre Chose", also included, certainly belongs in outer space with its throbbing queasy modal synth licks and deliciously out of sync drums."

I rather thought that would be the end of it, to be honest (well, admettons, the Flamen Dialis piece isn't exactly complimentary), but to my surprise I got a message from Mio head honcho Meidad Zaharia and his indefatigable publicist Mark Jung saying they'd be in Paris in the autumn and would like to meet up.. to give me more discs. The thought of my seriously-challenged living room shelves collapsing altogether under the weight of more Celtic crud like Symptome-Dei wasn't exactly appealing, but when Mark called on a cell phone and asked to be guided step by step to the door of my building I didn't really have much choice in the matter. I tried to head them off by meeting them in the street, but they dragged me back into my apartment and helped finish off a bottle of Burgundy before the inevitable ceremonial handover of CDs: two more Besombes, Mosaic's Ultimatum, Flutes Libres and Captain Tarthopom by Jean Cohen-Solal, the eponymous outing by Begnagrad and Birgé / Gorgé / Shiroc's Defense De / La Nuit du Phoque / June Sessions. (These were later joined by Danny Ben Israel's Bullshit 3 1/4 and The Platina's The Girl With The Flaxen Hair.) And you know what? They're fuckin' awesome.
MIO 029
I should perhaps qualify that enthusiastic expletive. It's often the case that the most representational examples of a particular period or genre in music history are not the ones everyone ends up knowing. Listening exclusively to Mozart and Haydn, wonderful though they are, won't give you much of a handle on what Charles Rosen is on about in The Classical Style; there's more to Romantic opera than Verdi and Wagner, and bebop didn't conveniently die out when Charlie Parker did. Take progressive rock, for instance (and that must be one of the most spectacularly stupid monikers ever dreamt up) – if you find yourself having to teach a class in the subject one day and need just one album to illustrate the instrumental aspect of the genre, you could do no better than Ultimatum, recorded in a studio just south of Paris in 1978 by the group Mosaic (the brothers Brebion – Hubert and Yves – on drums and keyboards respectively, with Jean-Yves Escoffier on guitar and synths and Philippe Lemongne on bass and synths). All the prog trademark elements are there: the earnest and never-resolving augmented triads and self-consciously clever polyrhythmic riffing of the so-called Canterbury school (not to mention The Mothers of Invention), in yer face guitar embroidery à la Holdsworth / Beck, skittery showcase drumming (Wyatt, Bruford, Vander..), not too many vocals to speak of (does "Le torero d'alu I,II,III, IV" actually count as a song? As far as the bawling on "Mercenaire" goes, the less said the better..) but what there are come straight outta Henry Cow. There are also the obligatory doses of silliness (the garbled phone messages of "Rue Tabaga") and weirdness (the queasy strings of "Souvenirs, souvenirs"), and to top it all off – Meidad Zaharia has that obsessive record collector's passion for ultra-rare and preferably unreleased material – lots of bonuses: three tracks recorded as a demo in 1977, with a certain Valentin Bontchev on violin (very good he is too), one live take and a home studio job called "Spoutnik" from 1976. Unless you're a real prog nut, it's highly unlikely you'll have heard Ultimatum – it was released in an edition of 500 and only 200 copies of the three-track demo Cuvée 77 were made, on cassette only – but Bontchev's solo on "Bonjour Docteur" (forget Ponty and Lockwood!) is one of several reasons why you should.
MIO 006
I like to think of myself as enthusiastically pro-European, but I'll be honest and say that the only things that have come my way from Slovenia are a handful of Laibach albums (which I never play), the first outings on Luka Zagoricnik's wonderful L'innomable label (which I play a lot) and a bottle of ferocious plum brandy that wasn't around long enough for me to learn how to pronounce let alone remember its name, though I recall it did induce a state of euphoria bordering on insanity. From the sound of it, the members of Begnagrad – Bratko Bibic (accordion), Bogo Pecnikar (clarinet, saxophones), Nino de Gleria (bass, mandolin), Aleš Rendla (drums), Boris Romih (percussion, other instruments) – know the beverage well. If you're a fan of Ivo Papasov and his Bulgarian Wedding Band, or of the more rhythmically adventurous edges of klezmer that have popped up in recent times, this one's for you. From the opening "Drinking One" (imagine David Krakauer jamming with Fishbone), it's clear we're in for an exhausting sweaty ride, as the boys abandon clarinets and accordions in favour of lunatic scat freakouts, hoots, toots, snores, gargles and raspberries that explode from nowhere as easily as the ferociously complex sevens and elevens. When this came out back in 1982, Chris Cutler's Rock In Opposition cartel had more or less run out of steam, "otherwise Begnagrad would have been invited to join", Cutler comments in the huge and hugely informative accompanying essay. That the group could do the business live is demonstrated by the album's live tracks and the bonus video footage, 20 minutes of a concert in Ljubljana in 1983 (with Zoran Kanduc on drums). When it's all over you need a drink as much as the band members. Wish I could remember what that plum brandy was called.
Philippe Besombes
MIO 010
MIO 009
Anyway, back to Besombes. I rather fancy one of the reasons the good people at The Wire accepted a review of Libra was because I told them Monsieur Besombes was one of those names that figured on the "legendary" list that included Nurse With Wound's first album. (You know the one.) The Nurse list continues to exercise a curious fascination over people, many of whom weren't even born when Chance Meeting first came out, and seems to have acquired a mythic status all of its own, like a kind of secret Rosetta Stone, a gateway into an alternative, obscure and – because Steve Stapleton likes it – wondrous musical universe. True, there are some weird and wild things in there – isn't it about time someone reissued Radu Malfatti and Stephan Wittwer's stuff on FMP, if only to remind us how Malfatti could (presumably still can) play the ass off his trombone? – but the list also includes some pretty standard fare mainstream stuff, including an unhealthily large dose of prog rock. (By the way, the famously enigmatic text "Categories strain, crack and sometimes break, under their burden – step out of the space provided..." isn't all that original either, being, as PT's own poetry whiz Nate Dorward points out, lifted more or less texto from arch-Conservative T.S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton": "Words strain, / Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, / Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, / Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, / Will not stay still.") Anyway, thanks in no small part to the Nurse list and the dedicated championship of the likes of Julian Cope and the Ultima Thule people, while almost every platter of krautrock, however dodgy, has been lovingly dug up and pored over, a lot of comparable French product has slipped off the radar. When it comes to something as indigestible as Flamen Dialis, that's probably just as well, but there are some real gems buried in the muck if you snout around a bit. The Besombes album that Stapleton was apparently familiar with went by the name of Ceci est Cela, even though the composer insists he always intended it to be called simply Besombes – see the album cover – hence the rather strange deliberate misspelling on the MIO reissue: Cesi est Cela. Financing his more experimental work by producing crossover electronic rock for French TV (he was the first composer to release work on KOKA music's "library music" label, which has become a staple of the advertising industry), Besombes continued to work on what Divox released as Ceci est Cela during 1976. Listening to "Pawa 1", with its slightly voyeuristic collages of spoken voices set over a queasy Moog backdrop, it's easy to see what attracted young Mr Stapleton, whose own use of delay and echo has never been (nor has it sought to be) all that subtle. At its best, this music is the true middle ground between Xenakis and Jean-Michel Jarre – at its worst, it's terrible. Quite why he chose to include "Princesse Lola", an absolutely hideous disco monstrosity, is beyond my comprehension, though at least it's buried as a ghost track 0 (put CD in machine, press play and then track rewind and you'll find 3'36" of vertiginous retching horror, to quote William Burroughs out of context). More interesting by far are the MIO-obligatory bonus tracks, which are fascinating constructions, even if often fatally flawed. "Traversée" is wonderful until it drifts off into cod plainchant and hippy collage, and "Trio" falls so far in love with its Scott Of The Antarctic polar windstorm and ticking clocks that it loses sight of any coherent structure, but "L'or des fous 2" is a real horror flick.
If your Besombes budget can only stretch to one of these reissues, I'd go straight for Cesi est Cela, no hesitation. Pôle – nothing to do with Stefan Betke, younguns – is a more straight ahead Autobahn-like (make that Autoroute) affair – there's even a shot of Besombes and his playing partner on this date, Jean-Louis Rizet, driving along a stretch of motorway. The opening "Haute Pression" chugs along in time-honoured ELP hungadungahundadunga 12/8 time, complete with "impressive" drum fills and aimless modal doodlings. What's more, Rizet really is wearing one of those straggly sheepskin coats – ever seen Jacques Tati's Traffic? Remember the hippies by the canal? yes, like that – and smoking a pipe. No shit. The dreamy flute stuff on "Evelyse" is pretty enough – if Werner Herzog had been French he might have called on Besombes and Rizet to score his pictures instead of Popol Vuh – but the musique concrète cut ups of church bells on "Armature double" are pretty toe curling. "Rock à Montauban" at least shows that these guys had a sense of humour and weren't above making fun of themselves. Would that some of today's po-faced laptoppers had the same attitude; somehow I can't imagine Christian Fennesz turning out such gonzo nonsense. Anyway, you may be interested to know that Besombes is still very active, and that his specially created CDs of music designed to send babies and children to sleep are selling like hot cakes – though as Raymond Scott was traumatic enough for my six year old, I think I'll stick to Harry Potter.
Jean Cohen-Solal
MIO 025
Flautist Jean Cohen-Solal was born in 1946, which means he was 25 when Flutes Libres was released (was the label really called Daphy? how quaint). This is a real tour de force of multitracking: though there are other musicians involved, most of the arrangements consist of overdubbed flutes, with Cohen-Solal often using electronic effects on his solo line – he's got a mean distortion pedal in there somewhere. Asaf Carmali's 24 bit remastering job is spectacular, with every twang of Serge Franklin's sitar and thwack of Marc Chantereau's tabla on "Raga du Matin" crystal clear. After the thoroughly accessible three opening tracks, the final "Quelqu'un" is a masterly and evocative tone poem. It's a shame the cover art shows Cohen-Solal decked out in Stars and Stripes suit and trousers – betcha no French musician would dress up like that today – as there's something quintessentially French about the closing track's elegant mixture of musique concrète and Debussyesque lyricism. Sure, it's not exactly musique spectrale, but it's not as far away from Tristan Murail as you might think.
By the time Cohen-Solal ventured back into the studio to record Captain Tarthopom two years later, the mysterious veiled sonorities of "Quelqu'un" had been replaced by the direct and unmistakable peal of church bells, depiction replacing allusion. It doesn't start out well, but the opening title track's gauche, clunky counterpoint and wooden drumming is mercifully short-lived: "Ludions" grooves effortlessly in 5/4 time (although structurally the piece unravels in the middle), and even the stentorian buzz of the synth bass can't stop the funk on "Ab Hoc Et Ab Hac". What does kill it is the reprise of Bach's first Prelude – yep, that one: Ave bloody Maria again. The faux baroque mood continues on "Intime Panique", until a spastic Sun Ra-like Farfisa organ comes sneaking in to pee all over the place. Instead of carrying on to Saturn and going for all out flute freakout – like Mister Ra did to memorable effect at the Fondation Maeght gigs – the track dries up, though Bach's back on "Memoires d'un Ventricule", until a militaristic binary groove kicks in, behind which scary organ clusters frame overdubbed volleys of key clicks and breathy flutters. The track is such an amazing mishmash of styles and techniques that it's really impossible to figure out which way it's going, so I won't spoil the surprise by telling you how it ends. "Fossette Surprise" ("surprise dimple") ends proceedings on a lighter note. For all its greater concentration on innovation, Captain Tarthopom hasn't aged as well as Flutes Libres, despite the latter's cod Indianisms, but both albums are highly entertaining and perfect illustrations of the musical world as it was back in early 70s France. Oh, and watch out for the ghost track..
Birgé / Gorgé / Shiroc
MIO 026/7 (CD / DVD)
Perhaps the most extraordinary of these reissues is défense de, the first album released on GRRR records back in 1975 by Jean-Jacques Birgé and Francis Gorgé, before they went on to team up with Bernard Vitet to form Un Drame Musical Instantané (whose own first album Trop d'adrenaline nuit was reissued back in 2001, you'll recall). Birgé's instrumental arsenal includes synthesizer, various wind and percussion instruments and stylophone (wow! remember stylophones, kids?), while Gorgé sticks to guitar, percussion and birdcalls. The third member of the trio was percussionist Shiroc – whose identity is known to Birgé but has never been divulged: all we learn is he's now a music teacher somewhere in the south of France – and during the sessions, which took place in the apartment of Sébastien Bernard (later the leading light behind Sun Records), Antoine Duvernet and Jean-Louis Bucchi stopped by to contribute some tenor saxophone and electric piano respectively. MIO's reissue includes not only the four released tracks, "Crever", "La Bulle Opprimante", "Le Réveil" and "Pourrait être brutal", but four alternate and previously unreleased pieces, "Surtravail I" and "II" and two alternate takes of "Pourrait être brutal". Trying to describe this music and where it comes from is well-nigh impossible, but let's say that if CBS had sacked Miles Davis and Tony Williams and recorded In A Silent Way with Sun Ra, Don Van Vliet and Bill Bruford instead, it might have turned out something like "La Bulle Opprimante". Birgé's weird doodlings often recall (again) Ra – put that down to the Moog – but whereas even the wildest Arkestra outings usually orbited back towards Great Black Music in one form or another, Birgé / Gorgé / Shiroc's music has absolutely nothing to do with jazz – that influence made itself more manifest when they teamed up with Vitet. Défense de is one of those rare and utterly wonderful UFO albums, a blast of total freedom that sounds as fresh and wild now as it did then – and how many albums recorded in 1975 can you say that of?
OK, by now you'll have twigged the idea of this MIO thing well enough to know that Meidad Zaharia and his boys aren't just going to stop there. Défense de occupies the first of two discs here, the second being a DVD. In recent years Jean-Jacques Birgé has been acclaimed for his work as a film maker, notably for his contribution to Sarajevo, a street under siege, which won him a British Academy Award for Film and TV Arts, but the story of his career as a director starts back in 1974 with a wild 16mm short film called La Nuit du Phoque that he made as a student at film school with Bernard Mollerat. It is this priceless document of early 70s avant-garderie that Zaharia has had lovingly restored and released on the DVD. Birgé was a classic product of 1968, though he was only 15 at the time – flyposting revolutionary tracts (hence perhaps the opening scene of the film), growing pot on his balcony, namechecking We're Only In It For The Money, the Grateful Dead, Buñuel and Easy Rider. As a student at IDHEC, the French National Film School, he met the absurdly creative and openly homosexual Mollerat, who later committed suicide aged just 24; in La Nuit du Phoque ("The Night of the Seal") they "decided to try everything imaginable"; the 41 minutes are packed to the brim with wild and utterly incomprehensible visual and textual shifts, including special effects, graphic but sensual love scenes, a hilarious Busby Berkeley-style "revolutionary ballet", a superb avant-garde gay cabaret number sung by Philippe Danton – imagine a cross between Rocky Horror and the Trout Mask era Magic Band – and any number of absurd cameos (I particularly like the surprise appearance of Sir Isaac Newton, who scares the shit out of some kids playing in a local park). As a period piece La Nuit du Phoque is unbeatable, and it alone would make an impressive bonus. But this time Zaharia has really outdone himself: the DVD also contains a further four and a half hours (!) of hitherto unreleased music, including 208 minutes recorded chez Birgé between June 11th and 27th 1975, a fifteen minute live set from La Villette recorded in October 1975 (featuring some paint stripping alto sax work from Birgé) and a 47 minute live radio session from early 1976, on which the trio is joined by Gilles Rollet on additional percussion.

If this long-winded effort whets your appetite but you can't decide which one(s) of these platters to invest in, you could do no worse than get hold of the MIO Records Sampler #1 ($5 + postage or free with three MIO CDs), which contains excerpts from all the albums discussed above, and what's more – here's the rub – they're not just thrown in as a grab bag of bits and pieces, but actually mixed together to form a wonderfully coherent and highly enjoyable span of music (yep, even Flamen Dialis sounds good!). And, because this is MIO, that's not all you get: the CD also includes no fewer than 20 extra tracks in mp3 format. Go to: —DW

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Paul Dunmall
Paul Dunmall Quartet
FMRCD 155 i0804

Paul Dunmall Octet
Clean Feed CF 017

Paul Dunmall & the Moksha Big Band
Cuneiform Rune 203
Of the few saxophonists have followed in the footsteps of the great John Coltrane and adapted his language into a personal and original approach (though inexperienced listeners might wonder how these guys are able to fly so close to the Sun Trane without burning their wings and plunging into the copycat sea), Sam Rivers, who began researching modes independently of Coltrane, and David Murray are now reasonably well-known. The same can't yet be said for Worcestershire’s Paul Dunmall, but these three fine discs are as good a place to start as any. Dunmall's vast recorded output looks a bit intimidating, but the man himself is quiet, modest and sincere, with plenty of earthy common sense, and considers himself as a traditional member of the improvised music community (this by way of excuse for not being an "advanced" player à la Doneda, Dörner or Butcher, though he has recently recorded with harpist Rhodri Davies). Even so, Dunmall's work is not easy to pin down at first hearing. Like his fine paintings and woodcuts and his Duns Limited Edition CDRs (39 releases in four years!), his cottage industry focuses on a genuine "folklore imaginaire" whose fabric is woven by the curious guitarisms of Phil Gibbs, the fondness of both musicians for woodwinds, shawms, flutes, drones, handmade and ethnic instruments, autoharp – and a deep spirituality. Whatever Dunmall and his cohorts do, they commit to the dictum of improvising freely with no prior discussion about the unfolding of the performance.

Although a hard blower with the likes of volcanic drummer Tony Bianco, the collective quartet Mujician, or his trio with Mark Sanders and John Adams, Dunmall, on soprano and bagpipes, is in a gentler mode on Love, Warmth and Compassion. Dropping alto and baritone some years ago in order to concentrate on soprano and tenor, his voice on the smaller horn has reached a state of grace – it's astonishingly clear, lyrical and subtle. Love is an extraordinary interplay of four pals playing like one man. Gibbs comps intelligently and contributes some fine solo work after the leader's intense outburst in "Compassion". Percussionist Hamid Drake is at his most sensitive and responsive, the quality recording showing off his soulful polyrhythms to great advantage, while Paul Rogers, when not taking the lead voice with his bowed work, is the perfect bass partner. As an improvising bassist, few match Rogers’ lyricism, physicality, accuracy and invention. Performing on instruments built specially for him by Nîmes-based luthier Alain Leduc, his six and seven-string bass work is a central pillar on these three discs. The fourth and final track "Before Stonehenge" recalls the Duns label drone improv, with Drake's hand-played frame drums, Rogers' arco work and Dunmall's bagpipes. One of the many shared passions in the two Pauls' lifelong friendship is a love of Indian music, and Dunmall's soprano goes with Rogers' new custom-built instruments like the voice and sarangi in Northern Indian vocal music.

Both Rogers and Dunmall are members of Mujician with pianist Keith Tippett and percussionist Tony Levin, and this quartet forms the core of both Dunmall's Octet and the Moksha Big Band, but contrarily to the free-for-all strategy of Mujician, Bridging and I Wish You Peace are well-planned affairs. The Octet outing, an hour-long a live recording from Lisbon‘s Jazz Em Agosto festival, reworks The Great Divide, the suite complete with cues, tempos, thematic devices, horn ensemble voicings and cued solos previously issued on Cuneiform (Rune 142). Each section of the work focuses on one of the Octet's members, and Dunmall's arrangements explore the diverse instrumental combinations within the ensemble: Gethin Liddington’s hard swinging trumpet is strongly backed by Tippett’s provocative comping, Paul Rutherford’s trombone gently harms the bourgeoisie with the bowed metal of Levin and the bowed bass of Rogers, and Simon Picard, one of the most underrated tenor players on the planet, blows full steam throughout (check out his 2001 Emanem outing Utoma with Bianco, Dunmall and Picard for a real journey into interstellar space). By way of an encore, "Wind" features the Mujician quartet chasin’ the Duns, as it were.

I Wish You Peace, a BBC recording of the Moksha Big Band, features, in addition to the members of the Octet, John Adams and Phil Gibbs on guitars, David Prizeman on trumpet, Hilary Jeffrey and Chris Bridges on trombones, Howard Cottle on tenor sax and Mark Sanders on drums. The work has four sections, the first of which is a wonderful 13-minute tenor solo that builds from tampura and autoharp to an intense climax, evolving organically through different emotional states without ever running short of energy and inspiration. The second section begins with an a cappella trombone trio, a cooling interlude after such intense blowing, and is followed by a swinging showcase for the tenors of Picard and Cottle and Liddington’s trumpet with the Mujician rhythm section, with Tippett's piano a regular roller coaster ride. A quieter interlude with the looser Prizeman and Gibbs's autoharp leads into the third section (the CD index numbers unfortunately don't follow suit), with a three-way discussion featuring Adams, Sanders and Dunmall. The last section (track three 19'05") begins with Rogers' arco seven-string bass with its sympathetic strings plus the tampura introducing the drone-like "Moksha Trio" with Gibbs and Dunmall on soprano, while Tippett plucks intelligently inside the piano. The winds enter and the intensity increases until a second fantastic climax is reached, with Dunmall's ecstatic tenor at its most ferocious. The music takes off with a spontaneity that belies the fact that all individual and collective interventions and changes of material are finely calculated (hats off too to the conductor, Brian Irvine). No easy task with a large band and limited rehearsal time, but few do it better than Paul Dunmall. Listen well to the depth, intensity and humanity of his music, and you will be rewarded more than you expect.—JMVS

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Jason Kahn
Jason Kahn / Günter Müller
For4Ears 1552

Jason Kahn / Jason Lescalleet
Chloë 006

John Hudak / Jason Kahn / Bruce Tovsky
Cut 011
Both Jason Kahn and Günter Müller started out as percussionists, and over the course of a couple of decades have gradually replaced their kits piece by piece with various items of electronic gadgetry; on Blinks Müller lists his instrumentation as "iPod, MiniDisc, electronics and selected percussion", while Kahn goes all the way: "Powerbook". The intriguing question with eai practitioners who have drifted into the genre with a background in another "traditional" instrument is to what extent that instrument – e.g. its propensity for harmony as opposed to melody, the physical aspect of its playing technique – influences the direction of new work on laptops and the like. Vestiges of classical guitar technique haunt Keith Rowe, for example, who still tends to use the right hand to excite the strings of his table guitar and the left to apply the transformations; rich splashes of guitar colour guitar are also audible in Christian Fennesz's laptop work – compare to the hard tech crunch of (former DJ) Peter "Pita" Rehberg's. Put another way, could you tell Kahn and Müller were percussionists just from listening to Blinks? The idea of pulse is certainly present: tides of regular and not so regular repeating rhythmic units are in constant ebb and flow throughout, and the distinctive timbre of bowed and struck metal is usually somewhere in the texture if you take the trouble to peel away the layers of superimposed hums, drones, buzzes and ticks. What makes these nine blinks (there's a tenth track from the same session, available only on the Wire Tapper 12 2CD compilation available with issue 250 of that publication – how 'bout that for advertising?) so enjoyable is that they consciously set out to say all they have to say in about the length of a 12" single. The longest track on offer here lasts 7'21" and the shortest clocks in at 4'22", which makes a welcome change from eai's normal 20-minute sprawl. Unlike the short durations of the pieces on Kahn's recent Rossbin outing Songs for Nicholas Ross, which Kahn happily referred to as "snapshots" in his recent PT interview, each blink lasts long enough for the musicians and listeners alike to follow the evolution of material from point A to point B. Not so much snapshots as home movies, as it were. And very beautiful ones too: Blinks is, along with Brackwater (Korber, Nakamura, Otomo, erikm), the strongest release this year on Müller's For4Ears imprint.

Patrons of Baltimore's High Zero festival, which would get my vote for the most ambitious and exciting free music festival in the United States, will know that the Red Room is one of that city's better-known new music performing spaces, and it was there that Kahn, American by birth but now resident in Switzerland, and Jason Lescalleet, who knows lives somewhere out in the wilds of Maine if memory serves me right, recorded these four tracks two months before the Blinks session with Müller, on March 8th 2003. For the occasion Kahn returned to world of analogue, using percussion and a Doepfer analogue synthesizer, probably as a gesture of solidarity towards Lescalleet, who's always tended to favour low budget equipment. Here he's credited on tapes and Casio SK-1, which, if you'll allow me the luxury of quoting a snippet from, is "the cheapest sampler in the world. Followed by the SK-5, the second cheapest in the world." (Yep, Lescalleet's got one of those babies too. Anyway, back to the geek tech shit..) "Its strength is sampling and its weakness is just about everything else. It's monophonic and has just four-note polyphony. The sampling is 8-bit PCM, 9.38kHz, giving about 1.4 seconds. It's so gritty. Also, its memory clears when turned off. Obviously it's designed as a cheap toy for consumers. This is the sort of sampler-toy you end up belching into with your friends and play burp-songs for a laugh! The keyboard uses mini plastic keys. It lacks MIDI, lacks effects, edit-ability, memory, and filtering. However there are 13 envelope shapes that can affect your sample somewhat. There is also portamento, vibrato, and chord accompaniment with the chord selector system. If you gotta make some lo-fi cheese samples then you might want to try the SK-1, after all it is very cheap." Ya can almost hear the spotty little nerds sniggering, can't ya? But make no mistake, this is the perfect equipment for Lescalleet, who's proved on several fine releases (Mattresslessness, on Kahn's Cut imprint, various incarnations of Due Process, and the awesome Forlorn Green with Greg Kelley on Erstwhile) that fine, even great, music can be made with modest means. There's not a cheesy burp in sight here, while Kahn, at his most Eliane Radigue-like – several recent releases of his, including the splendid Miramar on Sirr, have reminded me of the French composer – wallpapers the Red Room with rich, deep tones. Warm ones, too – as Chloë's Mike Bullock writes in his brief but eloquent liners, the space is "suffused both with body heat and the heat rising from the sounds." Lescalleet's sharp-as-a-tack-but-no-bullshit mastering draws us into the heat; in addition to the music, the sounds of the audience and noises from outside the venue (notably a passing police car) form part of the listening experience. Lester Bangs once quipped that "Hell is like Baltimore" – that might explain the red bit – but I sure wish I'd been there when this was recorded. Who wants to end up in Heaven anyway? William Blake was right.

For The Time Being is, strictly speaking, more of a John Hudak than a Kahn outing, bringing together two performances recorded in New York, one at Michael J. Schumacher's Diapason Gallery as part of the installation "Winter" (featuring Hudak and Kahn on laptops) and the other, three months later, at the Performing Garage as part of the Roulette Festival of Mixology, in which Hudak is joined by multimedia artist Bruce Tovsky, both on guitars and Max/MSP processing this time. The first track is more of what we've seen above, but cold this time – huge chilly banks of sound shifting slowly like snowdrifts (forgive the wintry imagery, but it's very much l'air du temps for Hudak right now – and the sound sources for the installation include recordings of falling snow) – while the second steps back somewhat into the world of live electronic minimalism, an unashamedly C / B flat major universe of constantly changing irregular additive / subtractive process (David Behrman's work comes to mind). Though quite different in terms of surface and language – the former dense and woolly, the latter filigree and wispy – both pieces require active listener participation to reveal their charms. Curiously, press reaction to the second piece has been sharply divided, which is a sure sign that the artists are on to something: Frans de Waard (Vital Weekly) and Nirav Soni (Bagatellen) found it didn't sustain their interest, while AMG's François Couture described it as "dynamic and attention-grabbing". As always, the truth probably lies somewhere in between, though I tend to side with Couture on this one. Depends if your kind of minimalism is the static (Young, Niblock, Radigue..) or the note-spinning variety (Reich, Riley, Glass..). What's clear though is that Jason Kahn likes both, having chosen to release them on his own excellent Cut imprint.—DW

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Harry Partch
New World 80621-2 (Vol.1) 80622-2 (Vol.2)
The reappearance of two CDs that originally came out on CRI in 1997, themselves reissues (in part) of recordings that had only been available on rare vinyl, is certainly good news, though diehard Partch fans will probably already have the earlier releases. In any case, we can all now rejoice in the knowledge that almost all the composer's major works are available, lovingly remastered and packaged and accompanied by scholarly yet eminently readable essays by the likes of Innova's Philip Blackburn or Partch biographer Bob Gilmore, who contributes the splendid liners here. Aficionados of microtonal music, especially Partch's, are well-known for their fanatical devotion to the subject and about as tolerant of dissenting opinion as Pro-Life activists and Animal Liberation Front guerrillas, so this might not be the right time to express a certain scepticism with regard to the theory underpinning Partch's oeuvre. I don't want my granny's coffin digging up or my kid kidnapped by the Maneri mafia, thanks. But putting aside the question as to whether or not the Adapted Viola, Adapted Guitar and Kithara are truly capable of pitching Partch's 43-note scale with sufficient accuracy to render audible the theory Gilmore discusses in his excellent Perspectives of New Music articles – "On Harry Partch's Seventeen Lyrics by Li Po" (1992) and "Changing the Metaphor" (1995) – let's just say that Partch's music sounds like nothing else on the planet. And Tom Waits owes him a fucking fortune in royalties. Ain't no Swordfishtrombones without Harry – and Swordfishtrombones is the foundation stone on which the last two decades of Waits' work rests. But that's another story.

Bob Gilmore's fabulous biography of Partch (Yale University Press, 1998) makes for a fascinating read. Frustrated at every turn by lack of interest in and / or funding of his work, the continued existence of his instruments, not to mention Partch himself, was often called into question, and yet, notwithstanding the setbacks, the composer was able to complete several large-scale works. But like Hugo Wolf half a century before him, who dreamt feverishly of outwagnering Wagner, Partch's real strength lay in the mastery of the short form, especially the song (at least Partch got round to writing The Bewitched and Delusion of the Fury – Wolf died disillusioned and half-mad without ever writing his magnum opus). The "intoning voice" of the Eleven Intrusions – similar in concept to but far more natural in sound than Schoenberg's sprechstimme – has a real feel for the speech rhythms of the text. Partch's setting of Willard Motley's "The Street" paints a picture of urban America as stark and moving as Edward Hopper: "Darkness behind the school where you smarten up, you come out with a pride and go look at all the good clothes in the shop windows and the swell cars whizzing past to Michigan Boulevard and start figuring out how you can get all these things." That "get" is a master stroke, and Partch's setting knows it and shows it; not for him the heady symbolist claptrap of air from another planet – a hitchhiker's inscription on a railing at Barstow, California says as much if not more of the human condition.

Partch's music is as simultaneously avant-garde and timeless as the texts he chose to set (with the possible exception of the rather dated splashes of Rimbaud in Even Wild Horses): though harmonically and timbrally far out, it remains rhythmically rooted in the earth, with its fondness for Afro- and Latin American rhythms and simple strophic structures. That said, the rhythmic intricacies are by no means easy to pull off, but the music swings naturally and swings hard in the kind of odd number multiples more often associated with Balkan and Bulgarian folk. It manages to achieve, with absolutely no fuss whatsoever, something that has eluded almost all mainstream contemporary composers since the death of Debussy: new music that is not only accessible but genuinely moving without ever compromising its strict modernist agenda. The supreme irony is that it seems destined to remain unperformed, since the instruments it was conceived for are as rare as they are fragile. These superb recordings, many of which date from the years when the music was written, may be as close as you ever come to Harry Partch's music – treasure them.—DW

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At the Pompidou Centre
Centre Pompidou, Paris
"What relationship do people have to their sound environments these days? What does sound material consist of in the digital era? To what manipulations is it susceptible? What forms do its scoring and performance take? What connections does it make with the plastic arts? These are the questions that this exhibition invites the public to ask," runs the catalogue. Not any public, though: the exhibition Ecoute ("Listen", in homage to Max Neuhaus's work of the same name) is presented on the ground floor of the Pompidou Centre in an area set aside for children, and is therefore specifically targeted at them. Or so it ought to be, for one might be excused for coming to the conclusion that Ecoute's curators are old enough to have forgotten how long the attention span of young kids is – either that or they have none of their own. Inviting Berlin-based Rolf Julius to submit austere sculptures that visually illustrate sound by means of coloured pigment scattered on inverted loudspeakers is laudible enough (or would be if Julius's delicate sounds weren't almost totally swamped by the noise emanating from adjacent sound sculptures by Peter Vogel), but expecting small kids NOT to stick their fingers into the brightly coloured powder and scatter it around the gallery floor is as dumb as it is perverse. The gallery attendant charged with keeping an eye on the Julius pieces deserves a special bonus. Fortunately for him, the youngsters are more enthralled with Vogel's assemblies of brightly coloured photoelectric cells, which trigger all manner of annoying bleeps and tweets when cast into shadow. The mechanism behind it all is no doubt ingenious but hardly excuses the toyshop banality of the resulting sounds. Equally clever is Douglas Edric Stanley's "hypertable", over and on whose surface spectators are invited to run their hands, thereby setting off combinations of sounds specially composed for the installation by Julien Hô Kim, though after twenty minutes of patient stroking and rubbing I was no wiser as to how my movements were being translated into light and sound, let alone what movement triggered what particular sound. At least in the Vogel pieces the relation between cause and effect was clear – though sonically uninteresting.

The rest of the exhibition, like another sound art exhibition put on up the road at La Villette's Cité de la Musique earlier this year (which, apart from the David Toop concert that inaugurated it, was a total waste of time and space), seemed to be little more than an excuse for filling up the gallery with expensive state of the art hardware, much of which seemed, embarrassingly, to be out of order. The "multimedia space" featured a couple of cute CD-ROMs and some follow-the-bouncing-ball graphic scores, including Ligeti's "Artikulation" and Cage's "Aria" (bring on the usual suspects), but Antoine Denize's "Ecouter-voir" installation, though billed as interactive was most definitely inactive, as a forlorn ten-year-old squiggling a mouse in vain in the darkness soon discovered. A shame, as it promised "an acoustic journey through great cities of the world, their surroundings scanned, sampled and recomposed by musicians such as Pierre Henry." More suspicious was the Sonic Object installation, which consisted of nothing more than ringtones specially composed for a Nokia mobile phone by local sound artists and free improvisers. Well, as it's still not sure whether the Intermittent de Spectacle status will be around in a few years time, I suppose you can't blame them for accepting the commission. Elsewhere, Parisian music critic Maxime Guitton had handpicked a selection of electronic music from a wide range of composers and sound artists, including Thomas Köner, Deathprod, Biosphere, Bernard Parmegiani and any number of names familiar to Wire readers, but as these works were to be presented exclusively on a set on seven iPods (firmly fixed to the wall), it's rumoured that outstanding hassles over publishing rights with the Centre Pompidou's legal department seem to have considerably shortened the list of featured composers. So it goes when art and big business dance hand in hand. It all comes across as something of an induction ceremony, dragging and clicking gullible sensory-experience-hungry kids into the world of High Capitalism without their realising it, but I remain convinced that the average pre-teen child with a modicum of intelligence and curiosity can learn more about sound, space, light and texture with a plastic bucket and spade in a sandpit.—DW


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Dennis González NY Quartet
Clean Feed 020CD
Dennis González’s Inspiration Band
Daagnim CD9
One of the more heartening events of recent years has been the return of Dennis González to the world of improvised music. Dennis burst onto the recording scene in 1979 with a series of LPs on his Dallas based Daagnim label but began receiving more extensive critical acclaim in the 80’s with a string of releases on Silkheart. Stefan marked a particular high point of his collaborative relationship with multi-reedist John Purcell, who never sounded better than on this. Debenge-Debenge gave an intriguing glimpse into the melding of regional influences that González incorporated in a double quartet known as New Dallasorleanssippi, featuring the talents of Charles Brackeen, Kidd Jordan, the late Malachi Favors and Alvin Fielder. Subsequent associations in the early 90s with the likes of Carlos Ward, Paul Plimley, Paul Rogers, Louis Moholo, Nels Cline, Andrew Cyrille, Elton Dean and Keith Tippett showed the range of González’s musical interests as well as the level of respect that he’d attained.
Then it stopped. In 1994 González removed himself from the musical scene for a variety of personal reasons. Since performers of this type don’t register on the radar of the mainstream media, or the likes of Ken Burns for that matter, it was left for us paltry fans to wonder what ever happened. Fortunately this exile was of short duration; he formed a group “Yells at Eels” with his sons, Stefan (yes, that one) on drums and Aaron on bass, which gradually added old associates such as reedists Tim Green and Douglas Ewart. In 2002 he formed the New Southern Quintet with Green, tenor saxist Andrew Lamb, Favors and Fielder and recorded Old Time Revival. González was back in the game.
These discs were recorded in a two-day burst of hyper-creativity on November 22 and 23 last year in New York. The NY Quartet had been formed to take part in Dave Douglas’s Trumpet Festival at the Tonic in August 2003 and featured tenor saxist Ellery Eskelin, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Mike Thompson (a late but fortunate addition since the regularly scheduled drummer didn’t make it for the show). They played a set of songs that Yells at Eels had developed shortly before the festival, and the concert was to have been recorded until technical problems arose and this recording date was scheduled instead. González put the Suite together the night before the session in his hotel room, listening to the sounds of the city. The newness gives the performance a spontaneity that is a tribute to the players as well as González’s unique ability to come up with interesting well-suited motifs for the individuals at hand to run with and develop in a free-flowing but well-grounded manner. While everybody is in top form, special mention should go to the playing of the leader. There's a hint of Don Cherry here and a little Bobby Bradford there in his soloing, until you realize that his playing is a unique amalgamation of numerous influences from many genres. Those familiar with Eskelin’s playing only on his Hatology releases should become acquainted with how well he contributes to other peoples’ songs. Helias’s playing continues on the high plateau that it attained over a quarter of a century years ago, but the real surprise is Thompson. Branching out from his regular gig in Roy Campbell Jr.’s band, his drum kit here includes fragments of cymbals. That might seem gimmicky, but his playing effectively incorporates these unusual items into the overall sound. The Suite convincingly portrays the bustle of New York at midnight as witnessed by a solitary visitor in a lonely hotel room. Three additional songs round out a very satisfying listening experience.
While in New York for this session, González decided to take advantage of the players available for another project, one that involved the well-documented return to recording of bassist Henry Grimes following an absence of 36 years. Thompson stayed on board for the Nile River Suite, the remainder of the group consisting of downtown stalwarts Roy Campbell Jr. on trumpet, flugelhorn and flute and multi-woodwind player Sabir Mateen. As with the previous session, the compositions were unseen by any of the players prior to the rehearsal. Whether due to the change of personnel or to the compositions, this is a thoroughly different entity from NY Midnight Suite, despite the sessions occurring on successive days. From the opening notes of “Lyons in Lyon”, written for González as a tribute to Jimmy Lyons and based upon his “Jump Up”, through the concluding notes of “Hymn for the Ashes of Saturday”, Grimes’ contributions never flag, and he gives a very worthy performance both buttressing the songs and soloing with admirable facility. Mateen’s clarinet and flute playing brings some instrumental variety to the mix, while Campbell suffers somewhat in comparison to González’s distinctive voice. For that reason, NY Midnight Suite gets the slight nod between the two. But anyone not acquainted with the music of Dennis González is strongly advised to remedy that situation with either of these.—SG

Michael Jefry Stevens / Michael Rabinowitz
Drimala DR 04-347-03
Continuing the Drimala label's exploration of the art of the duo, Play finds former Mosaic Sextet bandmembers Michael Jefry Stevens (piano) and Michael Rabinowitz (bassoon) together in the studio for the first time in nearly ten years, though you'd never guess. The interplay between the two is impressive, almost telepathic from the outset, as proceedings kick off in style with the opening "Sibling Rivalry". A strong lyrical vein runs through the music, and "jazz" somehow just doesn't seem to be the right word to describe it, firstly because the bassoon is hardly a standard jazz instrument (give yourself a test and see how many jazz bassoonists you can name once you've mentioned Rabinowitz and, of course, Karen Borca) and secondly because Stevens' piano stylings owe as much to Debussy, Bartók and Stravinsky as they do to any post-War jazz pianist you'd care to name. If left to his own devices too often, Stevens can tend to drift into rather manneristic repetition, transposing figures over and over again in the same direction, which is why I prefer him in larger ensembles (check out Aercine, on Drimala, where he's joined by Mark Feldman, Harvey Sorgen, Steve Rust and Herb Robertson), but with Rabinowitz around to keep him in check, this happens comparatively rarely.—DW

Chief Inspector CHIN200408
Chief Inspector is, as French jazz labels go, the best news in the past couple of years, and Mop could well be their strongest outing to date. It's a trio consisting of Bettina Kee on piano, Jean-Philippe Morel on bass and Emiliano Turi on drums, and although they don't look very friendly in the inner sleeve photograph, in which Morel and Turi stand dourly behind Ms Kee like bodyguards protecting a Mafia princess, they can play their asses off. The least convincing moments occur when Kee scrabbles around inside the instrument (there's also a toy piano in there somewhere, and, if I'm not mistaken, an alarm clock) – she should leave the inside piano stuff to Sophie Agnel and Fred Blondy and instead concentrate on what she does best: muscular but highly pitch-sensitive work at the keyboard itself. There's a whole history of jazz piano in there, from Paul Bley to Matthew Shipp – the early Shipp, before he started buggering around with second rate hiphoppers – and Kee also signs all but two of the album's twelve tracks (two are co-written with Turi), revealing her composition chops to be equally impressive. Morel and Turi form a supple yet powerful rhythm section (Dresser and Black come to mind), and the bassist in particular turns in a couple of strong sinewy solos that had me reaching for the Henry Grimes back catalogue. The recording, made at La Muse En Circuit, is superb – one can only regret Bernard Stollman didn't have access to this kind of technology when he took Bley and his boys into the studio back in the 60s – and well worth checking out, especially if you're one of those hardboiled sceptics who turn up their noses at the mention of French jazz.—DW

Raphe Malik Quartet
Boxholder BXH 042
Recorded live in a small club in Cambridge MA on September 13th 1984 (very well recorded too, for the most part), this album is a snapshot of trumpeter Raphé Malik's working trio of the time, with William Parker on bass and the unsung Syd Smart on drums, augmented for the occasion by Malik's old chum "Reverend" Frank Wright on tenor saxophone – and incomprehensible abstract blues vocalising. Malik is, as ever, razor sharp, turning his ideas inside out, methodically and passionately – not hard to see why he was co-opted into Cecil Taylor's outfits – Parker is a powerhouse of energy, a master of arrhythmic swing (shame he's turned in such stolid and unadventurous stuff on Thirsty Ear of late), and Smart's pure freebop really cooks – shades of Denis Charles and Edward Blackwell. Wright's playing is rough and rubbery, but somehow lacks the finesse of the other three. Those who round on him accusing him of not being able to play – ha! how many times have you heard that one? – might find fuel for their argument here. On the closing blues "Chaser" his contribution is pretty basic, and while his solo on "Companions #2" is more adventurous, it's nowhere near as electrifying as his mid 70s work with Center Of The World. "Sad C" is competent, impressive at times, but hardly essential listening like Malik's Looking East twofer on Boxholder a while back. Still, Frank Wright completists will be jumping for joy. If one of them could tell me what he's rapping on about, I'd be grateful.—DW

Otomo Yoshihide New Jazz Quintet
DIW 946
While it’s unclear whether the cover photo of the rear end of a donkey is supposed to be a pun in dubious taste on the word ass or an invitation to pin the tail on the aforementioned beast, there’s little doubt that Tails Out is the strongest ONJQ outing since its 2001 debut Flutter on Tzadik, from the noble arching theme of Charlie Haden's "Song for Che" to the closing title track which, discreetly enhanced by Kumiko Takara’s vibes and Sachiko M's sinewaves, gently collapses in on itself like an overripe peach. The guitarist’s choice of playing partners is as fresh and surprising as his songbook: the ecstatic sax front line of Kenta Tsugami and Naruyoshi Kikuchi – the latter since replaced by Alfred Harth – might recall Noah Howard and Frank Wright, but the rhythm section of bassist Hiroaki Mizutani and drummer (and trumpeter) Yasuhiro Yoshigaki sounds like nobody else in the business. Otomo, for his part, is more interested in feedback and vicious snarling wah pedal – imagine a cross between Pete Cosey and Rudolph Grey – than he is in the impenetrable harmolodic guitar clefs of James Blood Ulmer’s “Moons Shine” [sic]. He makes no attempt to disguise his influences as a composer either, from the sweaty electric Miles groove of "Reducing Agent” to the circle-of-fifths Mingus swoon of "Solvent Waltz". The reading of Mingus’ own "Orange Was The Color Of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk" is as straight as it is exquisite and heartfelt, following a particularly raucous and joyful version of "Strawberry Fields Forever", with Yoshigaki’s trumpet blasting merrily away behind the horns in vintage Art Ensemble testifying. The Mingus ballad slips gently into "Tails Out", on which the music floats free from its harmonic and rhythmic moorings – Yoshigaki's cymbals and light dusty snare recall Tony Williams' Silent Way timekeeping – until it’s sucked into a black hole as a reversed soundfile, to emerge phoenix-like thirty seconds later.—DW

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eRikm / Günter Müller / Toshimaru Nakamura
For4Ears CD 1553
Nowadays probably the most surprising thing about new eai albums are their titles, which often have apparently nothing to do with the music. Maybe Why Not Bechamel is an anagram of something, but the cover art (string? wire? spaghetti? who knows) doesn't provide much of a clue. About sixty years ago composers were suddenly smitten with the idea that they were some kind of scientific researchers (we can blame Varèse for this), and started calling pieces things like "Nexus 16" and "ST/4-1,080262". Toshi Nakamura's tendency to call things "nimb#" – "nimb" of course referring to his no-input mixing board – continues the tradition, and perhaps he could have persuaded his two partners here, eRikm (on 3k.pad 8 system – how about that for techy gobbledigook?) and Günter Müller (MiniDiscs, iPod, percussion and electronics) to come up with something more, erm, technical than "keburu", "kabel" and "cable" as track titles. I mention this because each of the three tracks is glorious proof that eai – yes, dear readers, I might as well embrace the term because it looks like it's here to stay – has finally attained a kind of Mozart-like perfection. In a review for The Wire a year or so back I compared Nakamura's Cubic to Steve Reich, and there's something of the "Music As A Gradual Process" aesthetic here too (damned if there isn't even a bit of phasing in the central track too). "Once the process it set up and loaded it runs by itself," Reich wrote, and there's something of that here – for whatever reason Müller, Nakamura and, well, does he have an official surname? "m" I suppose (make that lowercase too so we don't confuse the Marseille-based turntablist-that-was with Sachiko or the geezer in the James Bond films) are quite happy to let the music roll inexorably on. It also seems that the tracks have been "reorganized" (aka remixed), 1 and 3 by m and 2 by Müller, presumably to further streamline them and eliminate surface irregularities and imperfections. My problem is I rather like a few surface irregularities and imperfections – give me Beethoven over Mozart every time – there's something annoying about Why Not Bechamel. It's too damn good.—DW

Adelheid Sieuw / Jan Huib Nas
Inaudible 002
This collection of nine brief duets for flute / bass flute (Sieuw) and guitar (Nas), recorded back in 2001 but just seeing the light of day now, is as fresh and direct as its hand painted golden cornfield cover art. Both Brussels-based musicians (husband and wife) reveal a wide knowledge of the repertoire of their respective instruments – and I don't just mean improv repertoire: Sieuw's bass flute work, which was awarded a prize at the Panufnik Music Days in 2001, is as close to classical shakuhachi as it is to Brian Ferneyhough's "Mnemosyne", and Nas, a graduate of the Conservatory in Antwerp, performed as a soloist with the new music ensembles Zeiklang and the Nieuw Belgisch Kamerorkest before turning his attention to free music. Not surprisingly then their music casts its net wide for influences and references, from the gentle rustle of the opening "Frontal" to the flamenco-on-downers of "Watch the tree", from the energetic scrabble of "Learning to swim" to the lazy bottlenecking of "Behind every corner". On "Traffic lights won't work" Nas manages to sound like a cross between Jean Sébastien Mariage and Eugene Chadbourne, and if that sounds improbable how about the dream gig pairing of Watazumido and John Russell on "Where is my cruise-control?" Inaudible? Not a bit. Irresistible, more like.—DW

Paul Lytton & Jeffrey Morgan
Konnex KCD 5128
Recorded in 2003 in Cologne's Loft, this duo evokes the questing spirit of Paul Lytton's duo with Evan Parker from 1969 to 1976, one of early free improvisation's major and radical performing units. With the frontier between noise and musical sounds abolished, listeners will find the same volatility, unstable equilibrium and tangential conversation in this, Lytton's first recording with American expat altoist Morgan. Too many seem to think that Paul Lytton's work can't exist outside his lifetime partnership with Evan Parker, taking it for granted he'll continue to replicate the polyrhythmic juggling act that has driven the trio with Parker and Guy forward since 1983. On learning that Lytton has teamed up with Morgan, New Orthodoxy improv rationalists could be forgiven for expecting a truly regressive expressionist free jazz mess. Morgan is after all a terrible alto sax wailer; you only have to hear his Sign of The Raven (Uton15), another Loft recording made in 1998 with drummer Mark Sanders and bassist Peter Jacquemyn, or his Dial Log with redux/noise icon Keith Rowe on Matchless.. But Terra Incognita, also the title of a half-hour duo improvisation followed by two shorter pieces, reveals Lytton to be first and foremost a 100% authentic écriture automatique sound poet. He has no problem resisting his playing partner's tendency to blow reed and mouthpiece white-hot. And he does it without a drum kit – there's a snare drum and a few cymbals, but the rest is just contact-miked wires and objects played with spoons, toothbrushes, forks and bows, the wires sometimes bent with the help of bass drum foot pedals. With one foot lowering the pitch of a string, one hand scratching a wire and the other outlining a rhythmic figure evaporating in surreal metallic sounds – sounds I've never heard in more than a thousand albums of improv that have passed through my hands – Lytton's lo-fi electronics and percussion leave plenty of room for us to appreciate Morgan's multiphonics and air-column squeezes. And what a clever sax player he is, spontaneous too. Avoiding obvious quasi-conversational exchanges, both men reinforce their own sonic idiosyncrasies in astute improv ping-pong behaviour that creates unsuspected tension, softening the exchanges and slowing down the music's unfolding. Lytton becomes delightfully erratic when Morgan saturates his mouthpiece; excited at the wonderful poetry of his partner's surrealist noise calligraphic embroidery, Morgan casts strange metallic amalgams out of his alto sax, and Lytton once or twice has to refuse his pleas for more agitated gestures at the end of "Moth Wing Attachment". I've rarely heard more speaking noise practitioners than this consummate drummer and fire-eating reedman, and my listening time was well spent, without wondering if it was ten, twenty or forty minutes. I hope yours will be too.—JMVS

Uncle Woody Sullender
Deadceo dceo 006
Woody Sullender – goodness knows where the "Uncle" bit comes from but if it manages to fool some of the dumb hick redneck idiots who've just re-elected George Wanker Bush into buying the album, all the better – is a Chicago based banjo player, which means you can just hear Sheriff Eugene Chadbourne whining something about this town ain't big enough for the both of us. Well, my fellow Americans (I don't know why the hell I said that, because I'm English, even though AMG's François Couture doesn't seem to think so.. but I digress) if I have to choose between the two duelling banjos, I'm afraid I'll have to side with Dr Chad. Despite the guest appearances from Fred Lonberg-Holm, Jason Soliday and Carol Genetti, and the fact that on "Sallie Goodman Breakdown" Sullender actually invents a whole new genre (call it country noise), the best thing about this album is its title – and the name of the label too, come to think of it. Admit it folks, as musical instruments go, the banjo is, despite its noble African heritage, rather limited. Unless you hook it up to all kinds of effects pedals and fuck it up altogether with electronics, which is what Uncle Woody ends up doing, the only way to get any note to sustain for long enough to sketch out a coherent harmonic movement is to strum frantically away, which can if you're lucky fool people into thinking it's the last twenty seconds of Ligeti's Continuum (Woody nearly gets away with it on "Groundhog in the Courtyard") but more often than not unfortunately sounds like, yep you guessed, Eugene Chadbourne. Oh well at least Woody hasn't tried his hand at covering Johnny Paycheck songs. Yet.—DW

aRtonal aRR 07
brpobr (no, I can't pronounce it either) is a trio consisting of Bernhard Breuer on drums and guitarists Fabian Pollack and Michael Bruckner, and it's also the name of their debut album. Unlike the dozens of austere lowercase outings that have been recorded at Christoph Amann's studio in Vienna, this one's quite active, kicking off with "life", an energetic workout that Noël Akchoté compares favourably to early SME but on which to my mind Breuer sounds more like Mark Saunders. It's probably not surprising that the eclectic Akchoté likes these lads, as their music goes in about as many directions as his does, from the gloomy clangs of the detuned guitars on "as" to the Loren Connors noodling of "by now" (the five track titles spell "life as we see it by now" – shades of SSSD's "home is where my hard disc was"..). It does make the album as a whole rather hard to pin down, though; while the guitarists often seem quite content to hit that long looming note and let it float, drummer Breuer seems to be just itching to get busy. His insistent tapping and banging sound remarkably like Reynols' Miguel Tomasín at times (hey, there's praise for you), which is fine on "life" but makes "we see" a rather unsettling experience. Still, I look forward to seeing where these cats go from here. And if I figure out what the name means, or how to say it, I'll let you know.—DW

Abzu 002
Wow, what with Mop and Brpobr, we've certainly come up with some band names this month. A quartet this time, Babardah is Piotr Michalowski on saxophones and bass clarinet, Mike Khoury on violin, James Ilgenfritz on bass and Sarah Weaver on trombone, and the nine tracks, entitled "Peliczaple", "Nyicnyac", "Rathi", "Krvilak", "Tauton", "Rostador", "Raparossi", "Giuggio" and "Galumfuja" (does anyone out there remember the old BBC series Call My Bluff? Frank Muir and Denis Norden would have had a ball with this lot) were recorded in the slightly less exotically named (but culturally significant) city of Ann Arbor, Michigan in April 2004. Mike Khoury is also the éminence grise behind Entropy Records (whose reissue of Griot Galaxy's Live at the DIA was one of last year's indisputable highlights.. woe betide you if you didn't get your copy), which might go some way to explaining the free jazz inflections of much of Babardah's music. Khoury in particular sounds well-versed in the Leroy Jenkins back catalogue, and there's a terse, spunky attitude to Michalowski and Weaver's blowing beautifully backed up by Ilgenfritz's bass, which in a blind test I would probably have guessed as Sirone (assuming the violinist was Jenkins etc. etc. – remind me never to agree to do a real blind test). This is direct, open and strong free music, just the ticket if, like me, you want to restore your faith in the good people of the United States of America.—DW

Humbug 040
Take 5lb beef bones with marrow, 5lb oxtails, 1lb flank steak, 2 large onions (unpeeled, halved and studded with 8 cloves), 3 shallots (unpeeled), 1 2oz piece of ginger (unpeeled), 8 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick, 4 parsnips (cut in two-inch chunks), 2 ts salt, 1lb beef sirloin, 2 thinly sliced scallions (spring onions if you're from this side of the pond),1 tb chopped cilantro (aka coriander), 2 onions (thinly sliced), 1/4 cup hot chili sauce, 1lb rice noodles (1/4-inch wide or banh pho), 1/2 cup Nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce), freshly ground black pepper, 2 cups fresh bean sprouts, 2 fresh chili peppers (sliced), 2 limes cut in wedges, 1 bunch of fresh mint, 1 bunch regular basil. Soak bone overnight in cold water. Place bones, oxtails and flank steak in a large stock pot. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, drain and rinse pot and bones. Return bones to pot, add 6 quarts water and bring to a boil. Skim surface of scum and fat. Stir bones at bottom from time to time. Add 3 more quarts water, bring to a boil again and skim scum. Lower heat and let simmer. Char clove-studded onions, shallots, and ginger under a broiler until they release their fragrant odors (you can tell this was written by an American, can't you?). Tie charred vegetables, star anise, and cinnamon stick in a thick, dampened cheesecloth. Put it in stock with parsnips and salt. Simmer for 1 hour. Remove flank steak and continue simmering broth, uncovered pot, for 4-5 hours. Add more water if level goes below bones. Meanwhile, slice beef sirloin against grain into paper-thin slices, about 2-by-2 inches. Slice flank steak the same way. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine scallions, cilantro, and half the sliced onions. Place remaining onions in another bowl and mix in hot chili sauce. Soak rice noodles in warm water for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside. When broth is ready, discard bones. Strain broth through a colander lined with a double layer of damp cheesecloth into a clean pot. Add fish sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. In another pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add noodles and drain immediately. Do not overcook noodles. Divide among 4 large soup bowls. Top noodles with sliced meats. Bring broth to a rolling boil, then ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with scallions mixture and black pepper. Serve the onions in hot chili sauce and remaining ingredients on the side to add as desired. Also, you can add Hoisin sauce as a dip. Serves 4. While you're eating you may like to listen to the album by the group of the same name, consisting of Morten Olsen and Nicolas Field on drums, Bjornar Habbestad on flutes and electronics, and John Hegre guesting on guitar. Or maybe not, as it's a regular brain fry of noisy splatter bang improv, tough, loud and about as subtle as the album's cover art, which shows a pig with some sort of butt plug inserted. If it's supposed to be a radical animal rights kinda pro vegetarian statement, maybe someone should tell these guys that phô is made with beef, not pork.—DW

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John Butcher
Weight of Wax WOW 01
Having wound down and subsequently wound up his Acta label – though several Actas are screaming out for reissue (A New Distance, News from the Shed..) – John Butcher has gone ahead and.. started up another one, Weight of Wax. One can't help thinking the name was chosen for the thrill of seeing the abbreviation "WOW" on the spine of the disc, and much of the music on WOW 01 certainly elicits that exclamation. Cavern with Nightlife brings together material recorded on two occasions during a tour of Japan in November 2002; four solo tracks ("Ideoplast", "Ashfall", "Mustard Bath" and "Ejecta") recorded in the extraordinarily resonant acoustic of the Oya Stone Museum, a 20,000 square metre space 60 metres underground, and a 19 minute duet "Practical Luxury" with the no input mixing board of Toshimaru Nakamura in the warmer and more intimate surroundings of SuperDeluxe in Tokyo. The solo tracks are, as might be expected, preoccupied – obsessed might be a more appropriate word – with the acoustics of the space. Like other notable albums recorded in seriously reverberant environments – Carlos Zingaro's Solo on In Situ comes to mind – the music needs time to breathe (Phil Minton and Roger Turner would be well advised to turn down a gig here) and maps out the acoustics of the chilly museum to perfection. Butcher is, after all, a dab hand at getting the venue on his side, be it a sweaty club or a draughty church. That said, for Brian Morton to describe "Mustard Bath" as "one of the most remarkable saxophone pieces ever recorded" (in the last Wire) is, well, pushing it a bit – it's the singing in the shower effect: the piercing trills and squeaking barks of Butcher's soprano sax, mighty impressive though they are, would sound pinched and flat if he'd recorded them in, say, SuperDeluxe. Which brings us neatly to "Practical Luxury", Butcher's first and so far only duo with Toshi Nakamura, though one imagines the two have crossed paths on several occasions in Erstwhile-related events. Familiar as I am with certain reservations expressed by the saxophonist in person about the phenomenon of lowercase improv and its practitioners, Nakamura being one of the most important, I'll admit that on opening the envelope I went straight for this one. Now, after listening to it about a dozen times, I still can't decide if it works or not. Slow moving it is, but hardly static; Nakamura is, by his own standards, quite active, and his dangerous explorations right at the cliff edge of feedback give the music a bite and intensity often lacking in the genre. Even so, Butcher sounds more like he's researching the sax as opposed to playing it (and if you want to talk extended techniques, today's splutterers and flutterers have still got a hell of a way to go before they match him), complementing Nakamura rather than engaging with him. (It's not just a question of acoustic vs. electronic instruments, either, as his duos with Steve Beresford – see below – make abundantly clear.) But such are the unwritten rules of today's improvised music – don't you dare say it's non-idiomatic – and John Butcher understands them as well as anybody. "Practical Luxury" is intriguing, and will have you coming back for more, but I have a sneaking suspicion that in years to come I'll be more likely to return to his other solo albums – Thirteen Friendly Numbers, Fixations and Invisible Ear.—DW

Low Resistance Group
Paradisc PACD 012
Michael Rodgers is right: it's a great start to an album. Performances of improvised music very often begin – and almost invariably end – with a whimper, rather than a bang; very few pieces start mid sentence, as it were. (Scott Walker's "Patriot" comes to mind, though that's not improv.) Low Resistance Group is a trio featuring Anthony Guerra (guitar and electronics), Paul Hood (GP3 record player, amplified objects and mixing desk) and Joel Stern (field recordings, contact mics, electronics), and these six tracks were recorded in London in 2002, one of them at Resonance FM. Hood, as both broadcaster on ResFM and performer in his own right, is an enthusiastic bridgehead of Japanese improvised music, hence the release of this album on Kyoto-based Paradisc (plus of course Hood's own appearance on Meeting At Off Site Vol.3 on IMJ), while Guerra and Stern have since returned down under after a relatively brief but fruitful stay in the British capital – their joint outing Stitch on Impermanent is well worth hunting out, as are Stern's other field recording / improv collaborations with Matt Davis (Small Industry on L'innomable) and Michael Northam (Wormwood, Ground Fault). The music of Low Resistance Group is a superb and convincing résumé of several trends in contemporary improv: the aforementioned incorporation of sound material recorded in the outside world and used as raw material for live transformation (Luc Ferrari's description of DJ Olive and eRikm as "les nouveaux concrets" applies just as well to Stern), an increasing reliance on contact microphones to reveal the secrets of surfaces and objects (not exactly new – Hugh Davies's pioneering work comes to mind – but certainly l'air du temps) and an openness to diatonic harmony and a readiness to accept the influence of folk, pop and rock as willingly as early European improv incorporated – and ultimately subverted – jazz. Certainly the most convincing outing of its kind since last year's Open on Erstwhile, with Mark Wastell, Phil Durrant and Matt Davis, this is a beautifully recorded and superbly mixed album, instantly captivating yet rich in detail, and worth getting hold of this side of Christmas.—DW

Steve Beresford
Qbico 18 (LP)
I'll never forget day I bought my copy of Steve Beresford's The Bath Of Surprise, originally an LP on David "Flying Lizard" Cunningham's Piano label (Piano 003), but happily recently reissued on CD on Amoebic thanks to the good auspices of one Otomo Yoshihide. As a miserable 18-year-old undergraduate away from home for the first time, two things kept me going through my first term at Cambridge. One was Garon Records, on King Street, the other the Cricketers Arms across the park in the district known as The Kite, and I still wonder which one of those two venerable institutions saw more of my first grant cheque (yeees, youngsters, back then they used to pay you to go to college). The impact of Beresford's title track, on which he "plays" bath water, nailbrush, body, whistles, tubes, reeds and balloons (and presumably invited Cunningham into his bathroom to record the event), on a cold, rainy November afternoon as I sat facing an overflowing ashtray and a mindnumbingly dull exercise in Palestrina-style four-part counterpoint was cataclysmic. Beresford was, without doubt, as certifiably insane as my life at the time, and instantly became something of a hero. A couple of years later I watched, awestruck, as he climbed into a grand piano on a warm summer night somewhere near Tring in rural Hertfordshire, where Alterations, his group with David Toop, Peter Cusack and Terry Day, opened for (I think) Kip Hanrahan. Or was it Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra? Can't remember and don't care – the Alterations gig was what I'd come for.
Though I've since discovered several activities just as futile, frustrating and time-consuming as late 16th century counterpoint and given up smoking, I'm happy to report that I Shall Become A Bat is as instantly enjoyable (if not as immediately surprising – I've heard plenty of stuff weirder than this) as The Bath Of Surprise was 23 (gulp) years ago. It looks as good as it sounds too, adorned with one of Marcel Duchamp's Rotorelief pieces (a clear precursor of Op Art, back in 1935!). Though it might be tempting to perch above your turntable as it plays, spacing out to the groovy images man, you'd better watch out: the music is about as far from tune in turn up and trip out as you're likely to get. Side one features four duets recorded in April 2003 by Beresford (on "electronics and objects" and I think we'd better leave it at that.. an exhaustive inventory of the man's arsenal of toys and gadgets would probably end up longer than the rest of this review, and might even be more interesting) and John Butcher (on tenor and soprano saxes, of course) at Finsbury Park's "legendary" Red Rose. It's a classic slab of great British improv to file away with other notable recent excursions in the genre (Lunge's Strong Language, Phil Minton's duo outings with Roger Turner..), fast moving, hilariously inventive and technically impressive. Butcher can, as we've seen above, take the time to explore the nuances of extended techniques while he goes the distance with the likes of Toshi Nakamura, but somehow he seems to be in his element here, as Beresford's constantly surprising changes of direction and instrumentation force him to use every ounce of musical intelligence.
Side B is taken up with an extended duo, the album's title track, recorded back (back!) in 2000, when Mark Wastell and Rhodri Davies organised and taped a whole series of improv concerts in St Michael and All Angels Church, West London, where on August 23rd that year, Beresford was joined by Richard Sanderson. The pace of the music might have slowed somewhat from speedy sax to leisurely laptop, but the invention level is just as high, and the ear just as acute. The range of sounds on offer is wide and fantastic, from gloomy drones (did someone give these guys the keys to All Angels' organ loft too?) to snatches of birdsong to toy guitar Metal licks to what sounds like those annoying grainy beeps you pick up in your Walkman when someone's trying to use a mobile phone next to you. Sanderson's work here, as in Ticklish with Phil Durrant and Kev Hopper, flirts deliciously with the fringes of soft techno in much the way that Beresford used to play fast and loose with doowop and dub reggae, but the overall sonority of the music remains firmly in the eai scheme of things. It's eai with a twinkle in the eye, though. The extraordinary freshness of Steve Beresford's music a quarter of a century on from when he first started scaring the shit out of the likes of Braxton and Leo Smith at Derek Bailey's Company Weeks is a joy to listen to. Unlike many big names in improv, including (arguably) Bailey himself, Beresford has not, to paraphrase Ned Rothenberg in this month's feature interview, "created an idiom out of what he's not going to do." Nor has his musical language ever atrophied into a goody bag of sure-fire "tricks", as Paul Lovens calls them. Any young improviser in the British capital will tell you how committed Beresford is in his support for the London scene, and that same infectious enthusiasm spills out into everything he does, from slopping the bathwater all over David Cunningham's Uher to hooting and squealing along with John Butcher in the Red Rose. Great stuff.—DW

Fred Van Hove
Wimpro CD 030304 2CD
Like Dan and the Steve Beresford LP above, I remember all too well buying my first Fred Van Hove vinyl during the antwerpse King Kong fest, and ever since that lost Monday – Verloren Maandag – whatever solo piano (or organ) recordings of Van Hove that are released invariably end up in my collection. Thirty years after the Vogel solos and the SAJ vinyls, the Nuscope and Potlatch labels each issued one in 1998. Flux, the Potlatch offering, was a double CD containing two extended live recordings, and the second of these two CDs likewise contains one long improvisation, "Roll-Over" (46'30"). The rest of that disc and the first CD Spraak concentrates on shorter studio pieces superbly recorded by Michaël W. Huon in Brussels in August and September 2003. Spraak is Flemish for speech, hence the lips on the cardboard Wimpro gatefold. And that's what Fred's piano playing is about: letting the instrument speak. The shorter cuts speak better, perhaps, telling stories and concentrating ideas and meanings that could be extended and stretched into hour-long concerts. Like the strand of blond hair on the Roll side of the disc, the three "Roll" outings stretch ideas into the long form. Van Hove is a true master of his own idiosyncratic kind of form, one as far from academic composition as it is from scholarly jazz. Spraak & Roll moves and speaks for itself. Genuinely expressive, movingly brilliant, deeply felt, truly living.—JMVS

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Collections of Colonies of Bees
Polyvinyl PRC 077
For their latest outing, which also comes in an LP version – a composite of the electronic tracks on the US and Japanese CD releases – CCB's Jon Mueller and Chris Rosenau have teamed up with former Pele playing partner Jon Minor and Jim Schoenecker (who themselves perform as a duo called Dartanjal.. are you taking notes on this? questions will follow) to produce ten tracks of their habitually elegant postcountryglitchbillyindiepop, nine of which are entitled "Fun", which is what they'll probably end up having when it comes to the grisly business of collecting royalties. The endearingly generic packaging (see above) credits Mueller on "things" – hilarious! – but his trademark splatter'n'scratch percussion is in evidence, and, along with tasty guitar licks courtesy Rosenau and Minor, is beautifully deconstructed and reconfigured by computers in one of the freshest and most satisfying releases of the year. Make no mistake: if this one had come out with Jim O'Rourke's or Dave Grubbs' or Christian Fennesz's name on it, you'd be seeing it on a number of 2004 Top Ten lists. The final track, by the way, is entitled "Funeral", but don't be fooled: these lads are very much alive and kicking. Said it before, I'll say it again: buy now or cry later.—DW

Michael J. Schumacher
Quecksilber 8
Stories continues where last year's excellent double CD on XI, Room Pieces, and the 2002 Sedimental outing Four Stills left off, exploring Michael J. Schumacher's exquisite real time computer manipulated samples. Those familiar with these albums – and if you're not you damn well ought to be – will recognise the ornate drone world of "Still" (2004), the latest in a series of works bearing the title. What might be harder to take for fans coming to Schumacher's work via La Monte Young (the two have worked together off and on since 1989) is the shattered surface of "Two, Three and Four Part Inventions". Sourced in a wide range of samples courtesy of an impressive list of guest collaborators (Tim Barnes, Charles Curtis, Donald Miller, Peter Zummo, and many more), Schumacher's work sounds rather like those wonderful potty early recordings of Cage's graphic scores. More Atlas Eclipticalis than Well Tuned Piano, for sure. Compared to "Still" it's a rather frosty piece, easy to respect but hard to love. Much of Schumacher's work is geared to the installation projects and extended live concerts that he curates at his Diapason Gallery – see Julian Cowley's splendid feature on the place in The Wire (#248) – and one might be forgiven for assuming that some of this music might be easier to approach in situ. But bear with it: "Room Pieces New York" works its charms, constructing a curious logic that links Björk-like gasps (Rebecca Moore, I assume) and disembodied speech fragments with delicate feedback scribblings and distant yet ever-present hums and buzzes. And "Pulse" is perfectly accessible, if a little on the long side, with its Debussyesque waves of MIDI piano.—DW

Audible 3
Quite why New Zealand has produced so much drone-based music – of such consistently high quality – is a mystery, but here's some more: Auckland-based Audible 3, aka Paul Winstanley, John Kennedy and Marc Chesterman (one should also mention Omit's Clinton Williams, who recorded sounds specially for the group to use) specialise in slow moving but rhythmically identifiable eai, the kind of stuff that might be branded as "ambient" if the pulses were a little more regular and upfront and the melodic profile higher. "Transition Place" wouldn't be out of place on an em:t compilation, whereas the opening "Crater", with its integration of strange abstract samples into a predominantly stable harmonic context of has more in common with Michael Schumacher (see elsewhere this issue). Sometimes lugubrious ("Worm"), sometimes playful ("All Saints" – any Eno connection, I wonder? – seems to be trying to break out into a beat) but constantly atmospheric and accessible, it's is a well-crafted and enjoyable debut.—DW

Stephan Mathieu
Hapna H18
In welcoming silence over recent years, improvised music has opened a window onto the world beyond the performing space itself, and improvisers have not surprisingly become increasingly interested not only in the ambient sound of their venues but also, through the use of ever more affordable technology, recordings of the world outside, effectively removing that thick glass panel that used to separate the recording engineer from the performing musician. The career of Stephan Mathieu, originally from Saarbrücken in Germany, illustrates the evolution well. Originally an improvising drummer, Mathieu moved over to working with computers in the late 1990s, releasing notable work on Ritornell, Fällt, Staalplaat and Orthlorng Musork. This 32 minute recording was made live at a concert recorded in Stockholm’s Fylkingen in February this year in which Mathieu presented a work based on recordings sent to him by Andreas and Johan Berthling and Tomas Hallonsten, aka Tape, and saxophonist Magnus Granberg. While his previous electronic work, including his notable collaboration with Ekkehard Ehlers on Heroin, often sought – consciously or otherwise – to disguise the acoustic origins of his source sounds through heavy processing, On Tape is touchingly direct, building its textures through simple superposition rather than complex processing. Mathieu layers Granberg’s sustained saxophone tones into a subtly shifting minor sixth drone and accompanies them with tiny flurries of percussion, delicate metallic ricochets – think Michael Zerang meets Burkhard Beins – and his incorporation of field recordings from insect buzzes to birdsong and children’s voices blurs the distinction between live and pre-recorded, raw and untreated, acoustic and electronic in the same way that Hapna’s typically elegant cover photography plays on the ambiguity between inside and outside.—DW

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Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic