FEBRUARY News 2005 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Nate Dorward, Stephen Griffith, Nicholas Rice, Dan Warburton:

Editorial: Interview with JAC BERROCAL
Carlos Bechegas
Harold Budd
Reissue This!
François Tusques
At Carnegie Hall:
George Crumb / Arditti Quartet / György Kurtag
On Nex sound:
The Moglass / Rural Psychogeography /
Tom Carter & Vanessa Arn

On Creative Sources: Charles, Denzler, Mariage, Werchowski / Blondy, Mariage, Warburton
Wassermann, Ulher / Ruth Barberan / Ferran Fages

Henry Grimes / Cor Fuhler / James Finn /
Braxton, Szabados, Tarasov / Simon Nabatov /
Revolutionary Ensemble / Larry Ochs / ECFA

Furt / Rosenboom, Floyd & Sankaran
Yannis Kyriakides / Bernard Parmegiani / Philip Blackburn
Merzbow / Bruce Mowson / Vertonen / Nautical Almanac
Last month


Despite the illusion of feeling increasingly in touch with what's going on thanks to broadband Internet, sometimes a news story slips off the radar and catches up with me when it's too late – and it's not always a pleasant surprise. Pianist Claude Helffer died back in October last year, but I only got wind of the story when PT Publisher Guy Livingston sent me the following obituary at the beginning of January. I only saw Helffer in concert once, as soloist with the Hallé Orchestra back in the mid 1970s – and I'm ashamed to report I can't recall what he played (I think it was something by Stravinsky, but don't quote me on that) – but his recordings of new music, particularly his magnificent reading of the epic Sonata by Jean Barraqué, one of the forgotten glories of post-War music, have been among my favourites for longer than I care to remember. Anyway, over to Guy..

"As a strict teacher and dedicated performer of new music during some of France's most artistically exciting years, pianist Claude Helffer (1922-2004) carved out a niche for himself as an intellectual and brilliant interpreter of Boulez, Xenakis, Messiaen and Boucourechliev. He himself had studied with, among others, Casadesus and Leibowitz. I had the honour to work with Helffer for three years in masterclasses, summer festivals, and private lessons, and his guidance was invaluable. His aloofness was belied by a hidden sense of humour, and he was quietly and enthusiastically willing to support even lunatic projects, such as the Newt Hinton Ensemble (now, alas, defunct), comprised of talented and irresponsible ne'er-do-wells such as my 25-year-old self. He was most appreciated though as a respected master of the serial repertoire, and his knowledge of 20th century expressionist music knew no limits. He will be sorely missed by friends, students, family, and colleagues."

Back to the surf. One of the glories of broadband Internet is that I can now spend (my wife might say "waste") even more time watching video extracts of my favourite musicians in action. Thanks to Potlatch's Jacques Oger then for pointing me in the direction of Sylvain Torikian's magnificent site devoted to the long gone legendary Parisian performance space on rue Dunois. Go to http://www.dunoisjazz.info/ for a treasure trove of video clips featuring some of the greatest names in free jazz and improvised music in action: Steve Lacy, George Lewis, Joëlle Léandre, Jon Rose, Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, Lol Coxhill, John Stevens, Alan Silva, Bobby Few to name but a few – and Jac Berrocal. Talking of Berrocal, this month we also feature the full text of the interview with Jac that formed the basis of my recent Wire feature on the legendary trumpeter. So as always there's plenty to look at and plenty to listen to. Amusez-vous bien.—DW

>>back to top of FEBRUARY 2005 page

Carlos Bechegas
Alexander Schlippenbach / Carlos Bechegas
Forward.Rec 03

Carlos Bechegas / André Goudbeek / Peter Jacquemyn
Forward.Rec 04

Carlos Bechegas / Peter Kowald
Forward.Rec 05
Like his compatriots Telectu – Jorge Lima Barreto and Vitor Rua – whose playing partners over recent years have included major figures such as Sunny Murray, Chris Cutler, Eddie Prévost and Jac Berrocal, Portuguese flautist Carlos Bechegas likes to measure himself against established heavyweights: he inaugurated his own Forward.Rec label in 2001 with a storming set of duos with bassist Peter Kowald (Open Secrets), following it up with Right Off (2002, Numérica), which teamed him up with guitarist Derek Bailey in a thrilling if a little electronics-heavy (on the part of the flautist) session. On Open Speech he's partnered by the founder of the mythic Globe Unity Orchestra, pianist Alex Schlippenbach – looks like we've lost a "von" somewhere along the way – in a set of five pieces, each entitled "Speech", recorded by Jean-Marc Foussat at the Jazz à Luz festival in the French Basque country on July 12th 2003. It's a splendid match, pitting Bechegas' awesome classical technique (I'm still reeling from "Octave Ligatto", from his old Leo Lab outing, also reissued as the opening cut on 1998's Flute Landscapes on AudEo) against Schlippenbach's ever exquisite ear for pitch. Schlippenbach's' "traditional" playing techniques ("Speech II") are the most impressive in terms of engaging the flautist – when he takes to the inside of the piano (I'd have identified the opening of "Speech III" as Fred Van Hove in a blind test if I didn't know better) Bechegas tends to head towards the breathy, shakuhachi stuff, all pitch bends, brassy overblows and gusts of wind. It's in the more conventional cuts that the two musicians find authentic common ground between the worlds of contemporary avant-garde and post-Third Stream jazz; "Speech IV" is all angles and corners, like Gazzelloni (both the Italian flute virtuoso and the Eric Dolphy tune written in his honour) jamming with.. Alex Schlippenbach! Though not exactly prolific in terms of releases in recent years, Schlippenbach is still at the height of his powers, if this and 2003's splendid Broomriding (psi) are anything to go by. His unique vocabulary, somewhere between Schoenberg Op.19, Dolphy, Cecil Taylor and Ran Blake, is the perfect foil for Bechegas's florid explorations.

Eleven months or so earlier, the flautist appeared at the Antwerp Free Music Festival in a trio with local heavies André Goudbeek (alto sax, bass clarinet and bandoneon) and Peter Jacquemyn (bass), and it's this 45-minute set, divided here into five tracks, each entitled "Density" (get the picture?) that makes up the album Open Density. Michel Huon's recording is closer and clearer than Foussat's was at Luz, and his dynamic and detailed mastering reveals numerous details that might otherwise have been lost, from the clatter of the bandoneon keys to the grain and crunch of Jacquemyn's arco work, not to mention Bechegas's every flutter and gasp. The overriding impression is one of sheer urgency, a race against time to get ideas out into the open, debated and voted upon, like a piece of emergency legislation rushed through parliament. Jacquemyn is, like Britain's John Edwards and California's Damon Smith, the kind of player another American bassist of my acquaintance (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) would describe as a "bass jock", a furiously creative and almost absurdly muscular player who approaches the mighty instrument as most people would a two-hour workout in the local gym. Between Jacquemyn's brawn and Bechegas's brilliance, Goudbeek wisely decides not to play the Brötzmann card and turn the affair into an all-out brain fry (though the end of "Density II" is about as scalding hot as improv gets), instead opting for divide-and-conquer tactics, picking up ideas from one musician and hurling them towards the other in a thrilling live translation. It's a truly awesome set, proof that, despite what my pal Radu Malfatti thinks, there's plenty of life left yet in the old cut-to-the-chase improv style.

Rewind a further three years to October 5th 1999. After spending the day in the studio recording Open Secrets, Bechegas and Peter Kowald took to the stage of the Centro Cultural de Belém in Lisbon for a concert that Bechagas has only recently chosen to release as one of many homages to the late, lamented bass player. Open View is best considered as a companion piece to the studio album, though certainly not a substitute for it; attentive listening reveals the same musical ideas in evidence at both sessions, the difference being that on the live takes both musicians, especially Kowald, really stretch out (Kowald was always a firm believer in giving punters value for their money.. last time I saw him a few months before his untimely death his solo set went on over 90 minutes). As a result, perhaps, there's less actual duet interplay on Open View than on Open Secrets too; the album consists of four solos (two each), total time just under half an hour, and three duets clocking in at just 21 minutes. Bechegas's electronics sound more under control than on the abovementioned session with Bailey, probably because the input of the guitarist forced him constantly to rethink his game plan (typical Bailey tactic), and "Solo VI" – can't figure out the track titles at all, since there's neither IV nor V before it – is a technical tour de force, Babbitt-like in its complexity (and synthesizer patches). Kowald completists – if they have any money left – won't want to do without it, but newcomers to the Bechegas / Kowald duo should probably start with the studio date. In keeping with Paris Transatlantic's current wave of enthusiasm for all things Portuguese, though, all three of these albums are warmly recommended; if, however, for any reason your post-Christmas record budget only stretches to one, make it Open Density.—DW

>>back to top of FEBRUARY 2005 page

Harold Budd

Samadhi Sound SS004
Perhaps I shouldn't tell you this, but this is Harold Budd's last album. The 68-year-old composer has apparently decided to call it a day, both as a performer – his farewell gig took place at CalArts towards the end of last year and was reviewed by Richard Henderson in The Wire #249 – and as a recording artist. So why shouldn't you be party to this information? After all, being able to bow out gracefully, quit while you're ahead, etc. (insert your own favourite cliché) is perfectly laudable, and something Messrs Jagger, Richard – Keef and Sir Cliff – and any number of ridiculous sexagenarian teen rockers ought to have done long ago. But Harold Budd never was a garage / grunge punk, acid / Acieed-addled hippy or any other of the endlessly recurring Young Ones stereotypes; in a sense his music was already old before its time, already Ambient while Eno was still scribbling sonic atrocities with his Roxy Music oscillator, already New Age, clean-living and smoke-free at a time when drug-crazed psychos cruised the freeways and canyons of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. Avalon Sutra could quite easily date from the same year as (or before) Budd's legendary outing with Eno, The Plateaux of Mirror; just as Budd's individual pieces are perfectly content to remain where they are, his entire oeuvre is an exercise in sitting in the compositional lotus position. The harmony has never sought to go beyond 1900 (Paris not Vienna); melodies are content to remain aphoristic, even motivic; and Budd dispensed with rhythm a long time ago, replacing it with depth, that unmistakable glowing reverb that bathes his keyboards in a dreamy golden light like a David Hamilton photograph of some eternally fresh-faced nymphet blushing behind a bouquet of flowers. If that sounds cynical, it isn't meant to – it's all too easy to take up the trusty sword of modernism and slash and sneer at Budd's work, but try doing it yourself and you might discover how hard it is to bring off. Musical material has to be sufficiently vacant and pretty to allow the listener space to reflect without switching off altogether – muzak d'ameublement this is not – and arrangements have to be open and airy enough to float free without sounding thin and pale, yet at the same time sufficiently warm and rich to linger like perfume. None of Budd's Californian contemporaries and near-contemporaries ever managed to pull it off quite like he did, and it's probably significant they ended up calling their label Cold Blue – Budd's music might be blue in places but it's certainly never cold, unlike that other celebrated flagship of Ambient, Eno's Music for Airports.

So, again, why shouldn't you be in on the open secret that Avalon Sutra is Harold Budd's swansong? Because it would be too tempting to hear the music differently, as long goodbye, elegant valediction, unburthen'd crawl towards death, whereas in fact Budd's music is going nowhere at all, and never has done. Reverb grows on it like moss, but Budd's characteristic reverb is so deep and rich it seems to extend beyond musical time out into listener lifetime, contemplation and memory – "nostalgia" is too cheap a word for it. Hence the never-can-say-goodbye of the bonus second CD in the set, a 69 minute mix of "As long as I can hold my breath (At Night)" (though insert my copy of the disc in the computer CD drive and the title "Smell-Y Pudding" flashes up) which Budd's eternally receding piano and wistful strings, more viol consort than string quartet, are delicately unravelled by the ingenious software of Akira Rabelais (the same filters and programs that transformed some dusty reel-to-reel tapes of a cappella Icelandic folk into one of last year's most outstanding albums, Spellwauerinsherde) into arguably the richest and dreamiest eternal loop since Eno's Discreet Music.

I used to believe – maybe I still do, I'm not sure at times – in music's ability to step out of its time, transcend the circumstances of the lives and times of those that brought it into being (and before you gather an army of angry Ben Watson fans to storm my apartment and bludgeon me to death with hardback copies of his Derek Bailey biography, hear me out). Like it or not, we still tend to grow up, in the world of Western classical music at least, with the idea of the unassailable masterpiece, the timeless classic, be it the B Minor Mass, the Ninth Symphony, The Rite of Spring, Kind of Blue or the first Velvets album, but as any good Marxist critic worth his/her salt will point out, those works too are products of the prevailing socio-historic and ideological circumstances of the time. So, of course, is Budd's music, but by avoiding (consciously or not) every reference to the isms and idioms that drove twentieth century art to the edge of the abyss, it has in another sense quite simply stepped out of time. The nearest thing to it perhaps is Satie, not the bland furniture music maître d'Arcueil, but the early, veiled mystic. I like to think that if Debussy were orchestrating the "Gymnopédies" with today's technology, they'd end up sounding remarkably like Budd, and the "Gymnopédies" have been in my mind a lot lately, having visited the recent excellent "Sons & Lumières" exhibition at the Pompidou Centre on several occasions before its closure. Those who saw the show or read my write-up of it in The Wire a month ago might recall that the installation in its final room, Pierre Hughes's "L'expédition scintillante Acte 2 (Light Box)", sent wisps of dry ice wafting up into constantly changing beams of coloured light, to the accompaniment of the aforementioned Satie pieces, in Debussy's orchestration. They should have had Avalon Sutra instead. Here's wishing Mr Budd a happy and healthy retirement.—DW

>>back to top of FEBRUARY 2005 page

Reissue This!
François Tusques
Shandar 10.010 1971
In the 1960s it was not uncommon for expatriate American jazz musicians, many of whom had found improved economic and social situations in Europe, to join forces with their French brothers (Sidney Bechet and Kenny Clarke being notable examples – Clarke and Parisian-Belgian pianist Georges Arvanitas worked together in one of the busiest trios in Europe). There were no union laws in the country that required a quota of French musicians to ply their trade in New York before Americans could work in Paris (as was the case in the UK, as many incoming musicians found out), and French and American musicians often played together in clubs and on record dates. By the end of the decade, the trickle had become a flood as a significant number of Americans, especially those on the fringes of the jazz mainstream, made their way to Europe. The economic disadvantages and poor treatment of artists – black and white – in the US necessitated a jump to shores that offered more than passing interest and a chance of steady work. In the summer of 1969, prompted by offers from labels like BYG and Musidisc (America) to record and tour, artists such as Frank Wright, Dave Burrell, Archie Shepp, Clifford Thornton and Alan Shorter made their way to France, where others, notably drummer Sunny Murray, were already settled and finding regular gigs. Yet at the time France was a country of unrest, fueled by the revolts of May 1968, when students and workers rose up in protest against autocratic, capitalist regimes in business and academia. Met with violence by the French police, clashes turned bloody as students from working-class as well as historically more bourgeois universities called for the occupation of factories and enlisted the aid of workers in their cause. The Leftist student movement naturally allied itself with the anti-Vietnam protests and, more significantly, with Black Nationalism in America. Enter the free jazz musician.

Pianist Francois Tusques was one of the first French musicians to wholly embrace the new jazz, releasing two extraordinarily rare dates in 1966 and 1967 for the tiny Moloudji label: Free Jazz (since reissued on In Situ) and Le Nouveau Jazz (with Barney Wilen). Unlike his well-known countryman Michel Portal, Tusques did not split his time between free jazz and contemporary classical music, and refined his Jaki Byard/Mal Waldron-influenced playing in groups with drummer Charles Saudrais, bassist Beb Guérin, saxophonists Wilen and Jean-Louis Chautemps, and, as they arrived, a host of American avant-garde jazz players. When drummer Sunny Murray arrived in Paris in 1968, Tusques was one of the first locals to join him, his infectiously repetitious pianism blending perfectly with Murray’s pulsing washes of sound. By November that year, when Murray’s Acoustical Swing Unit played French National Radio, almost six months to the day after the Paris uprisings, his group consisted of Tusques, Guérin, Portal on bass clarinet and tarogato, Bernard Vitet and Ambrose Jackson on trumpets, and Jamaican tenorman Kenneth Terroade, recently arrived from London. Poet Hart Leroy Bibbs recited at the concert, and joined/barged in on Murray’s group on more than one occasion during this period. The concert was released a few years later on Shandar Records, a companion volume to Tusques’ own Intercommunal Music.
Tusques was, in some ways, a more staunchly leftist counterpart to the Liberationist American improvisers. Throughout the ‘70s, joined by Spanish poet Carlos Andreu, altoist Jo Maka and a host of African percussionists, he fronted the Intercommunal Free Dance Music Orchestra, a very populist-oriented Afro-Latin jazz ensemble. His minimalistic pianism fit the group’s efforts perfectly, a solid rhythmic underpinning to Andreu’s leftist phrases. But back in 1971 Tusques’ music was of a decidedly more vanguard ilk, and Intercommunal Music was the apex of his "out" recordings. Joined by Murray, altoist Steve Potts (several months before he teamed up with Steve Lacy), trumpeter Alan Shorter, bassists Guérin and Bob Reid (at the time leading his own Emergency Sound with Glenn Spearman), Alan Silva on cello and violin, and percussionist/sometime alto firebrand Louis Armfield, the session reads like a Who’s Who of expat American free jazzmen.

Intercommunal Music
is a suite in five parts, beginning with the horns repeating a single note cell, searing like a band saw with Murray, Silva and the two bassists swirling around it. Potts is the perfect saxophonist for this date: he takes the tiny motif and abstracts from it probably his most caterwauling alto solo on record – certainly more vicious than anything he would later record with Lacy – building from rhythmically bent references to grotesque multiphonics. “Intercommunal Music” segues into the second movement, “The Progressive Forces,” with a Tusques solo looking towards Cornelius Cardew’s interpretations of Maoist folk themes as well as Byard and Tatum, stoically insistent in the surrounding maelstrom. Side two opens with “The Reactionary Forces,” a tense encounter between Silva and Murray that builds into stark, roiling chords from the bottom of the piano, a moody stasis before Potts returns with the “Intercommunal” motif. Closing out the record is the shorter “Portrait of Erika Huggins,” whose title deserves special mention. It refers to the young UCLA student whose husband John Huggins, a Black Panther, was set up and murdered by the Los Angeles police in 1969. Erika was tried for conspiracy as part of the New Haven Nine, and though later acquitted, she became a youthful symbol of the Panthers and the fight for freedom. Here, she is immortalized by an anthem-like theme recalling Mal Waldron, with a Murray downbeat implying fisticuffs. For posterity’s sake, the tune’s false start is included on the record – it seems safe to assume that the tape was left rolling from the first notes of “Intercommunal” to the last beat of “Erika.”
Speaking of recording, anyone weaned on BYG and America recordings probably won’t find much to complain about with Shandar, but it's worth noting that both basses and Armfield’s maracas and bells are woefully under-miked. Nevertheless, Tusques and Murray sound, dare I say, spectacular. As a friend put it: “The good thing about those Shandars is that you can feel Sunny. He’s like your heartbeat.” In the liner notes to his own BYG release Sunshine, Murray wrote: “[I want] a music that is no more than education for the young, happiness for people [..]. I don’t want my music to be a political knife, or any capitalist tokenism. I don’t want my music to be anything like that.” One look at Intercommunal Music's jacket though – gypsy children fleeing a run-down shack rendered in red and black, the inside of the gatefold a stark photograph of a Parisian slum – and the urgency and weight of the music contained therein becomes far more than sonic. To improvise is to commune, an act of protest and rebellion, of process and of change. Francois Tusques and his comrades know this, and their art is a joyous revolution.—CA

>>back to top of FEBRUARY 2005 page

At Carnegie Hall
Contemporary music has been very strong at Carnegie Hall in the last few months, with three particularly notable events at Zankel Hall: George Crumb’s 75th birthday concert featuring Margaret Leng Tan (20th November), the Arditti Quartet (4th December) and Peter Sellars directing a theatre piece with Dawn Upshaw and Geoff Nuttall (10th, 12th and 13th January). All three events were united by their strong connection to the music of Bartók, albeit unintentionally so, providing an opportunity to survey how his compositional techniques have been developed and extended since his death in 1945.
References to Bartók were at their most obvious in the Crumb concert, largely because of the title of the work being performed. Makrokosmos, a response to the Hungarian’s monumental piano work Mikrokosmos, consists of two volumes of twelve pieces each. The first volume is dedicated to Bartók himself, while the other is dedicated to Mahler; in his introduction to the work Crumb (photo, left) explains he was inspired not only by Bartók’s Mikrokosmos and Debussy’s 24 Préludes but also by “a sense of the profound ironies of life so beautifully expressed in the music of Mozart and Mahler”, as well as “the darker side of Chopin” and even “the child-like fantasy of early Schumann”. It's an all-encompassing cycle, light and capricious yet frequently cruel, like a child playing with no other supervisor but God. Each piece is named after a sign of the Zodiac and dedicated to someone born under that sign, which helps organize the work’s metaphysical overtones in surprising and inventive ways. For instance, in every fourth piece the staves are arranged in a symbolic pattern around the page instead of being notated horizontally, adding a visual dimension to the score that was fully developed in performance: the stage at Zankel Hall was lit according to the character of each section, which, along with the charisma of Margaret Leng Tan, created some extraordinary and unforgettable effects. Such "cosmic" features are reminiscent not only of Mahler but also of Messiaen, whose music dominates the work to such an extent that Makrokosmos could be described as a postmodern Vingt regards. The postmodernity is largely a highly personal offshoot of two concepts developed extensively by John Cage, the first being his notion of time as the primary factor in a piece of music. Cage argued that in Western music since Beethoven certain passages are given particular weight due to their harmonic and developmental importance, whereas in his view music should be devoid of all such narrative features and emphasize important passages by means of extended duration. The second concept of Cage’s that particularly interested Crumb was the notion of the prepared piano, for which Makrokosmos is written. In fact, the work is one of the most thorough explorations of the sonorities that can be derived by treating the piano as a “non-Western” instrument. Leng Tan, a brilliant Cage protégée, has long been one of the world’s finest exponents of the prepared piano, and her deep understanding of complex resonance was evident in her immaculate feeling for Crumb’s Eastern sense of duration and above all in her superb assaults on the strings of the instrument, which she was variously required to pluck, dampen and thrash. The less convincing sections of the work, the incantations and screams and the direct quote from Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, were phrased with the same energy and grace as the rest and, most importantly, were never melodramatic or sentimentalized. After a generous ovation, Crumb joined her onstage to field questions from the audience, to which both musicians replied with humour and perspicacity.

Similar qualities were on display at the Arditti Quartet concert, which once again proved – if further proof were needed – that they are one of the world's greatest contemporary music ensembles. Of the five works they performed, only one – Ligeti's Second Quartet – had been premièred by another group, and their readings consequently demonstrated the same kind of understanding and intensity that Leng Tan had been able to offer a fortnight earlier. Once more, the shadow of Bartók loomed large, except perhaps in Lachenmann’s Third Quartet, entitled “Il Grido” in homage to the Ardittis, who premiered the work three years ago (G for Graeme, R for Rohan, I for Irvine and DO for Dov Scheindlin). Like Crumb, Lachenmann is fascinated by using traditional instruments in untraditional ways, and his string writing is thoroughly bizarre, featuring all manner of scratching, squeaking and creaks. The harmony was atonal and somewhat monochrome, but there were some interesting structural features, some of which (notably the single-note crescendos) were rather overdone, becoming somewhat mannered and repetitive, recalling his teacher Nono. Bartók's influence was more evident in the other works in the concert, Carter’s Fifth Quartet (1995) being a case in point. It darkens Bartók’s harmonies with wintry, intimate sequences in which the players stammer and pause, trying to start conversations that become unmanageably complex or peter out slowly and inevitably into nothingness. Both in character and stature, the quartet resembles some of the later works of Beckett, who also continued to produce outstanding and relevant work well into his old age. One wonders if the same could be said of Conlon Nancarrow, represented here by 1987's Third Quartet, and an arrangement of one of his Player Piano studies performed as an encore (typical of the Ardittis to end a concert of virtually unplayable music with something really unplayable!). In the quartet Nancarrow takes Bartók’s flexible meters, distorts them even further and pours them into a counterpoint of time signatures and speeds. The three movements consist of canons proceeding in the ratio 3:4:5:6, and in the notorious final section, which the Ardittis mastered with their usual aplomb, the musicians have to perform an accelerando at different rates: 3% (cello), 4% (viola), 5% (second violin) and 6% (first violin). One wonders what rhythmic combinations Nancarrow would have produced had he lived into the 21st century. Though György Ligeti composed his Second Quartet in 1968 before he had discovered Nancarrow’s music (which he has enthusiastically championed ever since), the similarities between the two are evident, particularly in Ligeti's third movement, "Come un meccanismo di precisione", which directly parallels some of the polyrhythmic techniques Nancarrow was exploring at the same time in Mexico. The Ardittis were quick to differentiate between the two styles and sounded far more Bartókian in the Ligeti: the comic-book first movement, the static second, the clockwork third, the brutal fourth and the elusive and cloud-like finale were all captured with idiomatic élan.

Lastly, Zankel Hall played host to a highly unusual event: a production of Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments, directed by none other than Peter Sellars (photo, left), who has tried hard in recent years to adapt major concert works for the stage – witness his Bach cantata sequence with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. There is no reason why such projects shouldn't work, so long as they address every aspect of the music in order to complement it in its entirety. When Sellars announced he was going to adapt Kurtág, there was considerable interest but more than a little concern – he had worked on contemporary Hungarian music before, with controversial results: the première of his revised version of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre was a fiasco immediately disowned by the composer. Critics suggested that Sellars' approach required a good deal more thoughtfulness in order to match the subtle ramifications of the music; he seemed to have taken their remarks on board when he announced that his Kafka Fragments would be modelled on Beckett. Kurtág’s response to Bartók has many parallels with the later Beckett’s response to Joyce: the shared nationality and move towards minimalism and existential alienation are products of similar cultural shifts, which Kurtág has acknowledged through his settings of Beckett’s work. The resemblances between the worlds of Kafka and Beckett are such that a production of sufficient sensitivity would have been able to bridge the gap. Sadly, Sellars failed to deliver. Although he tried hard to extricate Kurtág’s music from the affected exquisiteness with which it is all too often performed, he eventually ended up going to the opposite extreme, producing results that were humorous but trashy. The delicate narrative thread of the piece was sacrificed to a series of entertaining episodes that revealed none of the poignancy of the musical drama, undermining both the tragicomic nature of the work and the Beckettian conception of theatre as vaudeville. Worse still, he sucked Upshaw and Nuttall into the same approach, with the result that Upshaw sang like a diva performing “The Greatest Hits of Alban Berg” and Nuttall did an unfortunate impersonation of a drunken Hungarian fiddler warming up for “The Greatest Hits of Béla Bartók (part IV)”. The intimate lyrical shape of the work was all but lost by everyone concerned, and marred by a series of daily newspaper photographs on the back wall. The influence of a thoughtless version of Pop Art was everywhere, and the gesture at the end where Upshaw and Nuttall embraced was as cringeworthy as the cheapest romantic comedy. Sellars is clearly a director of talent, but he should direct his efforts elsewhere.—NR

>>back to top of FEBRUARY 2005 page

On Nexsound
The Moglass
Nexsound NS 12

Various Artists
Nexsound NS 20

Tom Carter / Vanessa Arn / The Moglass
Nexsound NS 28
First of all there was Ambient, which freed music from the need to impose itself upon the listener – though you can, if you like, pay attention and even sing along to "classics" like Music for Airports –, then Tortoise-era post-rock (since I rediscovered Simon Reynolds' article on the subject in Audio Culture I can use the term with some confidence) loosened the idea of structure, and nowadays more recent practitioners (post-post-rock? New Weird post-folk? what shall we call them?) from JOMF to Vibracathedral to Sunburned Hand Of The Man have more or less dispensed with material altogether, preferring straggly drones or endlessly unravelling, never-resolving melodies. There's a little of all the abovementioned bands in the music of The Moglass, plus traces of Fripp, Harold Budd, Richard Pinhas, Tangerine Dream, the Cocteau Twins (without the voice), Mikhail Chekalin (though that might be my imagination) and, standing back in the shadows, Pink Floyd, Angus Maclise and the Grateful Dead – surely the first post-rock band, if eternal spaced out noodling is what post-rock's all about. Get beyond the bland, watery Orbishness of track one and the spooky noodling of track two and check out the third track. Over a shuffling triple time groove, guitars and keyboards intertwine and drift off into the pale sepia horizon of the album cover (great album name too, by the way), but somehow, magically, the music holds the attention. I say "magically" because there's no real reason why it should: the melodic shapes, though recurring, never quite stick in the mind, there's no harmony to speak of, and even the groove seems to disappear after a while. After the fourth track a more conventionally Ambient (i.e. heavy on the reverb) gentle dip into and out of distant echoing pentatonic Cold Blue pools, track five's rhythmic loop makes the Industrial / industrial connection clearer - though Yuri Kulishenko (guitar), Vladimir Bovtenko (bass) and Oleg Kovalchuk (electronics), were all probably in nappies when Throbbing Gristle set up shop. It's such variety and openness that makes Telegraph Poles such a fine album, and one worth seeking out – though I suspect copies are already hard to find.
If you're looking for one compilation that truly samples the world of electronic music, and the world itself, from Arizona to Argentina, Nijmegen to New Zealand, look no further. Rural Psychogeography features a veritable Who's Who of sound artists in a fabulously recorded and exquisitely sequenced selection of work that kicks off spectacularly with Geoff Dugan's "No Trespassing", an outstanding binaural recording of Lake Otsego in upstate New York (watch yo woofers when dem trucks start rolling by). Francisco López provides yet another inscrutable reworking of field recordings, this time from Patagonia, and Alan Courtis, of Reynols fame, collages sounds of the wind recorded in the Atacama Desert at Antofagasta de la Sierra Catamarca. Judging by the thundering oppressive rumbles that result, neither place is particularly hospitable. Probably just as well we segue right into Jason Kahn's "Kreis 5", which if my Google sleuthing is to be trusted (I guess I could always ask Jason himself but snooping around is more fun) is an industrial estate in Zürich, Switzerland, where's it's clearly raining. Nexsound's own Andrey Kiritchenko is up next, and from the sound of it, the label's home base in Babal in Eastern Ukraine is a pretty wet place too.
Here the album begins to slip its moorings: Kiritchenko isn't content to leave the field recordings alone, adding swirls of laptop and shards of improvised acoustic guitar (imagine CM von Hausswolf jamming with John Russell at a bus stop in the rain). In similar vein, back in Switzerland, Tomas Korber and Günter Müller get busy eai-style on a recording of a crossroads in Beijing. Lunt, aka Gilles Deles, dedicates his "Double Strapontine" to Matabiau subway station in Toulouse – goodness knows how he used the recordings he made there, but the result is absolutely spellbinding. Back in the Ukraine, The Moglass have taken a trip to Koktebel, in the Crimea, and here my Googling took me straight to a Russian-only Website introducing the ex-Soviet Union's most famous nudist beach (you think I'm making this up? Check out the photo.. seems to be the ideal place for cutting edge sound artists to hang out, if you ask me). Their magnificent and spacious track – for once not long enough! – is definitely one of the disc's highlights. Quite what relation Radian's "Unje" has to do with the island of Unije off the Dalmatian coast that gives the piece its name isn't clear (nor is the reason for including the track, which had to be licensed specially from Thrill Jockey, where it first appeared on the Rec.Extern album), but Tom Carter and Vanessa Arn's "Mojave" is a beautiful and evocative portrait of the Arizona desert. After the crackle and grit of Martin Tétreault's "D'après Gaycre #3", dedicated to the valley of the same name in the Tarn department of Southern France and the album recorded there in situ by Jean Pallandre, Xavier Charles, Michel Doneda on the splendid environmental improv Ouïe Dire label, Rosy Parlane's "Nica" returns us to the antipodean poise of Huia (somewhere not far from Auckland, NZ, as far as I can make out). Meanwhile, back in Switzerland, Steinbruchel's laptoppery is as meticulous and unfathomable as ever, as is Kim Cascone's "DMZspace", which is "taken from a Korean spam installation", whatever that means. By the time we get through the Cascone to Kotra (aka Dmytro Fedorenko)'s "Lost River", an agglomeration of oppressive piano samples, we seem to have left "geography" behind and moved firmly into the world of the "psycho". There's not much rural about it anymore either, especially the last track, a decidedly noisy performance by Kouhei and Freiband recorded at a festival in Nijmegen in The Netherlands. It certainly makes a change for compilation albums to go out with a bang – most of them are far too polite and play-safe – and with the feeling that we've really been on a journey; flip track one on again and you'll realise how far we've travelled. The only mildly annoying thing about this collection is the accompanying liners, a rather pretentious (and frankly unnecessary) essay by Natalia Zagurskaya – though then again I'm instantly suspicious whenever I come across words like "schizoanalysis" and "mobile psycho-prosthesis" – who might instead have mentioned (though I guess she supposes we all know anyway) that the term "psychogeography" was first coined by Guy Debord to refer to the effects of the geographical environment on the emotions and behaviour of individuals. Speaking for myself – can't get more individual than that – I think this is one of the most varied and thought-provoking compilations of recent times.
Snake-Tongued, Swallow-Tailed is in fact a split CD between The Moglass, who contribute the third, fourth and fifth tracks, and Tom Carter and Vanessa Arn of psychedelic folk outfit Charalambides. The opening "Mojave" is an extended version of their contribution to Rural Psychogeography – see above – and is followed by the 23-minute "Atmananda". Carter's lap steel sounds as rich and strange as Arn's self-designed "triwave generator" (that's a home-made synth to you), and the track has something of the Edward Hopper melancholy of Loren Connors, who in the long run may well prove to be as influential to the younger generation of transatlantic free folkies and post-rockers as Keith Rowe has been to European and Japanese improvising table guitarists. The accompanying Moglass tracks are, in comparison, quite focused, especially compared to the earlier outing reviewed above. "Untitled (Tawny Owl)" even comes across as intrusive after Carter's spectral fingerpickings. The reverb is cranked up and one half expects some deadly serious English pagan booze-addled cat-loving post punk mystic to intone some Aleister Crowley. "The Map (Webfootprinted)" takes a few jaunty strains of folk fiddle and clarinet (Ukrainian?) and what sounds like opera (hard to tell) and bombards them with radioactive fallout worthy of Chernobyl. A strange distorted guitar-like instrument twangs menacingly throughout. Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Ambient anymore. The folk music also lurks menacingly behind the drones and babble of the closing "Kakerlakische kakerlak", in what would make a better companion piece to Aranos' work with Jon Mueller and Chris Rosenau on Bleeding In Behind Pastel Screens (Crouton) than the oneiric world of Arn and Carter.—DW

>>back to top of FEBRUARY 2005 page

On Creative Sources
Xavier Charles / Bertrand Denzler / Jean-Sébastien Mariage / Matthieu Werchowski
Creative Sources CS015
Frédéric Blondy / Jean-Sébastien Mariage / Dan Warburton
Creative Sources CS016
Ute Wassermann / Birgit Ulher
Creative Sources CS017
Ruth Barberán
Creative Sources CS018
Ferran Fages
Creative Sources CS019
Metz is derived from what I take to have been a May 2003 live performance by this quartet of French improvisers on clarinet (Charles), saxophones (Denzler), electric guitar (Mariage), and violin (Werchowski). Over the course of a single 32-minute track, the group elaborates a restless concordance from the ebb and flow of its members’ contributions of breathy exhalations, microtonal burrs, tinkling from below the guitar bridge, amplified explosions, ligneous cracks, and other products of extended instrumental techniques – plus the occasional descent into silence. At times the playing falls into passages of post-reductionist agitation of little variance, but in general the ingenious shifts in grain and texture, and the close co-operation displayed by the group, make this a good instance of collective improvisation in an advanced, if sometimes quite dense, style. The relatively short running time of the disc may cause a few raised eyebrows, but Metz is no less interesting and enjoyable than discs twice its length – and no-one involved in its release will make more than the most derisory sum of money from it – so why worry?
The recordings on L'écorce chante la forêt were recorded in 2001 by a trio consisting of the French pianist Frédéric Blondy and guitarist Jean-Sébastien Mariage once more, with Paris-based violinist Dan Warburton. In a recent interview with Rui Eduardo Paes, Warburton suggested that “lowercase stuff was very much in the air in 2001, and the three tracks on L'écorce chante la forêt reflect that”. It is something of a surprise, therefore, to find the opening eight minutes of the opening track dominated by relentless agitated flurries of particulate sound. The small gestures that characterize much of the playing in this section may have points in common with elements of what is normally thought of as lowercase music, but there is little of the spaciousness and silence with which Radu Malfatti (with whom Blondy and Warburton performed in 2001) negated the nervous incessancy of older forms of improvisation. This is not music in which every note counts in the listener’s perception; rather, the interest lies in larger scale shifts in the aggregate textures arising out of the rapid accumulation of notes. Unfortunately, there is too little differentiation in much of the playing, creating a rather homogenous impression to the overall sound. However, towards the end of the first track, as well as during sections of the more translucent second, the trio allows more air and contrast into its music, to good effect. Even better is the excellent third and final track, the longest on the disc, in which Blondy unravels a long series of dilated, Feldmanesque figures, around which Warburton vigilantly contributes various creeping and crepuscular scrapes and Mariage worries away at his guitar strings in discordant fashion. At times, the guitar falls into rather limited cycles of monotonous scrabblings, but overall this closing improvisation is gripping in its quiet gravity and transparent nuance. A pity that more work in this vein cannot be heard in the other two tracks.
Kunststoff is the first recording by the working duo of vocalist Ute Wassermann and trumpeter Birgit Ulher. Wasserman, who has studied classical music and is a performer of contemporary composed music, has developed a confident and fluent grasp of a battery extended vocal techniques. Ulher, too, has at her disposal the latest fruits of musical modernism, in form of the hissing circulations of contemporary "reductionism", which she mixes with older, more declaratory techniques. Together, they produce something of a compound of the old and the new, as studied silences, attenuated dynamics and reduced timbres join with echoes of the pointillist free improvisation of the 1970s and well-articulated, even sprightly, passages of call-and-response exchange. There are times when the agitation of the music propels it into the barren airlessness in which the seminal currents of free improvisation finally exhausted themselves, but there is also much to admire and engage with in Wassermann and Ulher’s lithe collaborations. There is still far too little improvised music featuring the human voice available, and Kunststoff is a welcome addition to it.
On her first solo CD, capacidad de pérdida, Ruth Barberán repudiates “the harsh resounding trumpets dreadfull bray” (Richard II) in favour of more microscopic inflections of closely observed wind and surf, thereby aligning her work with that of other innovating brass players such as Matt Davis, Axel Dörner and Greg Kelley. The disc contains four freely improvised tracks, three of which were recorded in her home, the fourth at the Centre d'Estudis Musicals in Barcelona. On the best of these, and especially the title track, Barberán shifts dexterously and adventurously both within an array of timbres, attacks, durations and dynamics, and between more emphatic sound and interstitial pools of silence in which only a few background noises or the quiet panting of her breath are to be heard. On "dos dies and objectes", however, her approach to rhythm is noticeably less radical than the other dimensions of her playing, and the improvisations frequently become trapped within reiterated pulses, ensuring that, despite the small fluctuations within her rough meters, flexibility is reduced and uniformity aggravated. In a musical and social world awash with repetition, the loss of free rhythms for extended periods is something to be regretted, but this remains an intriguing and challenging release that should be of interest to admirers of the adept use of extended techniques in improvisation.
Guitar-driven popular music has served as one of the principal means by which contemporary capitalism has seduced youthful and other consumers into associating their desires, dreams and rebellions with the narrow and conventional products of the system of commodity replication. As each year passes, the inanities of popular music, hopelessly ensnared in the world of corporate power and the delusions of tawdry stardom, increasingly saturate the soundscapes of the planet, forming an ever-more ubiquitous system of ideas, images, affects and actions for the enchantment of the febrile but conformist products of the hedonistic stage of late capitalism. Along the way, the scant resources of rock and pop’s myopic musical vision, ruthlessly depleted by endless minor variations and pseudo-innovations within the iron cage of its stupefying backbeat, have come to resemble an exhausted prison rock face compulsively quarried by a weary band of drugged convicts half in love with the rattling of their rusted chains. If the electric guitar is to emerge from this state of historical aesthetic crisis and distance itself from its degraded position as dealer for narcotic capitalism, the most radical of action would seem to be required. Unfortunately, A Cavall entre dos Cavalls, a solo album of parsimonious but generally quite conventional compositions by Ferran Fages, a self-taught Spanish guitarist perhaps best know for his membership of the group Cremaster, doesn't take us far towards that goal. This is not to deny that, when viewed from within popular music’s reigning aesthetics, there is a muted elegance in the insidious slow drip and decay of Fages’ spare sequences of notes and chords – indeed the album should be keenly sought by admirers of, say, John Fahey and Jack Rose who are open to work that is more austere and less strongly flavoured with folk and blues idioms, as well as anyone who enjoys the early work of Taku Sugimoto – but surely it is not unreasonable to expect much more than this at the start of the 21st century.—WS

>>back to top of FEBRUARY 2005 page

Henry Grimes Trio
Ayler aylCD 028
Much – maybe too much – has been written on the return to the scene of legendary bassist Henry Grimes since he was discovered living in cheap lodgings in LA by social worker Marshall Marrotte back in 2002. When that story broke, there was a gasp of Kaspar Hauser-like amazement at Grimes's apparent ignorance of the death of Albert Ayler some 32 years earlier, which, coupled with Marrotte's appeal for "help" for the bassist fuelled sceptical fears on the part of many of us, myself included, that the bassist's inevitable comeback might not be all it was cracked up to be. How wrong we were. This album is the first to appear under Grimes's name since his phoenix-like return, and it's a scorcher. He couldn't have found better company either, in the form of tenor saxophonist / bass clarinettist David Murray and drummer Hamid Drake – who perhaps more than any other horn player and percussionist have managed to do what Grimes did so spectacularly on the bass before his disappearance back in 1967, i.e. play with consummate virtuosity and astounding musicianship in all styles, in and out from bop to free. Those who doubted whether Grimes, the man who Denis Charles once said could make a bandstand shake ("I thought the bass was going to explode") could regain the strength, the tough skin and sheer muscular coordination, let alone the awesomely swift musical creativity, are invited to check this out at their earliest convenience. Not only can the man still walk – nay run – all over the instrument but the melodic inventiveness that drove Rollins' Our Man In Jazz forward is as bright and alert as ever. He nails Murray's "Flowers for Albert", spurring the saxophonist on to what I'm tempted to describe as one of his most inspired performances of recent times (though having been blown away by Murray on more occasions than I care to remember I'll try to rein in the superlatives). You can almost forgive Ayler Records' Jan Strom's inclusion of two whole minutes of ecstatic audience reaction.—DW

Cor Fuhler
After a few wild and wonderful trips to the outer reaches of hardcore EAI with MIMEO and The Flirts, pianist Cor Fuhler (heard here also on clavinet and organ) makes a solid pitch for the mainstream of Dutch modern jazz with Corkestra, eleven splendid and concise tracks tailor-made to corner the market in the Netherlands for experimental improvised music that also swings hard and isn't afraid to show its affection for Monk, Ellington and Stravinsky, as filtered through Misha Mengelberg, Fuhler's erstwhile teacher (who continues to tower over the Dutch improv scene – though "tower" is the wrong word, as you'll know if you've ever seen Mengelberg: "hunch" might be more appropriate). The line-up is impressive and Fuhler's cunning arrangements exploit it to the full, with distinctive solo and ensemble features for all involved: Ab Baars and Toby Delius (tenor saxes and clarinets), Anne La Berge (flutes), Andy Moor (guitar), Wilbert de Joode (bass), Tony Buck and Michael Vatcher (percussion) and Nora Mulder on cymbalom (making comparisons with Stravinsky's "Ragtime" and "Renard" inevitable). The sequencing of the music is equally thoughtful and impressive; the inane plodding theme of "Green Peppers" (pure Misha) is all the more effective sandwiched between more overtly experimental cuts like "Triangle Sun" and the opening of "Zwerfduin" (the latter half of which, with its driving bass riffs and flashing wind arpeggios clearly reveals the ancestry of Stravinsky's "Sacre"). Elsewhere, on "Lollipops / Woestijntrol" Fuhler shows that the wacky Monky stuff can cohabit perfectly well with spare, wind arrangements, while "Dromedaris" is a kind of Dutch take on Naked City, jumpcutting from leftfield klezmer to sleazy march music. Fuhler's organ sounds so awful it's magnificent, especially on the penultimate "Rockpool", which locks his faux-raï noodling into an eternally cycling chord sequence of crashing root-position banality that Michael Nyman would be proud of. Fortunately for the sanity of all concerned, proceedings close on a more sedate note with the introspective ostinati of "Water Supply". All in all, a superbly varied and ridiculously creative piece of work, strongly recommended.—DW

James Finn Trio
CIMP 308
At the ripe old age of 45, saxophonist James Finn released his first album Opening the Gates last year on Cadence, following the construction of his studio that marked a watershed moment in a musical life full of trials and setbacks. Spurred on by the success of the session recorded there with drummer Whit Dickey and Cadence stalwart Dominic Duval on bass, Robert Rusch brought Finn up to Rossie NY for a CIMP date with the sterling Warren Smith replacing Dickey. The resulting recording reveals a mature player with something to say and a unique way of saying it. Though Finn studied with J.R. Monterose and Arthur Rhames, a stylistic touchstone is late Coltrane – but that’s only a starting point. Finn has a wide vibrato and a much bigger sound, reminiscent, particularly in the lower register, of the David Murray of 3-D Family. On that singular live date for Hat Art with Andrew Cyrille and Johnny Dyani Murray began channeling the boundless rapid-fire motifs that had captured the critics’ fancy into patterns developed in a leisurely but ultimately more satisfying fashion. Finn’s “A Weathered Spirit Resolute” takes a similar approach; he works repeatedly on a phrase for the first half of the 17-minute cut before giving way to a bass and drum interlude, only to marshal his forces and return with a renewed attack that lifts the performance to a higher level. The other tracks are just as captivating and successful, although smaller in scale, proceeding at an organically shifting tempo that ebbs and flows as the performance dictates. From the very first note the listener is drawn into Finn’s world – and it's well worth the visit.—SG

Anthony Braxton / György Szabados / Vladimir Tarasov
Leo CD LR 416
Seasoned PT readers will recall our roving Balkans correspondent Vid Jeraj's splendid review of the 9th Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music that took place in Kanizsa, Serbia Montenegro in September 2003, one of the highlights of which was this trio set featuring Anthony Braxton on saxophones, György Szabados on piano and Vladimir Tarasov on percussion. It's no surprise that it should eventually have been released on Leo Records, given that both Braxton and Tarasov (as one third of the legendary Ganelin trio) are Leo household names. Less well known perhaps – though hopefully this release might go some way towards setting that straight – is Hungarian pianist Szabados, now 65 years old, as important and iconoclastic a figure for progressive jazz in Hungary as Ganelin, Chekasin and Tarasov were in the former Soviet Union. His 32-minute suite "Trioton" forms the backbone of this set, which also includes a shorter Szabados original "Black Toots" and three brief trio improvisations. Vid Jeraj recalled a 40-minute set with "the briefest of brief encores" (one not three – not sure which of the three improvisations he might be referring to) and seemed to indicate a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of the musicians. Fortunately that doesn't come across so much in the music, though Tarasov sounds a little skittery and unfocussed (Barry Altschul or Gerry Hemingway he definitely is not – and Braxton is at his best when supported by a top notch drummer), and Szabados's excursions inside the piano aren't always entirely convincing. Braxton is as quintessentially Braxton as ever, with that unmistakable tone, simultaneously fluffy and gritty like a Brillo pad hidden in a pair of woolly mittens, and is surprisingly adept at following Szabados's Bartók-inflected charts (the two first played together in the early 1980s, recording an album of duets in 1984). But it's the pianist that steals the show, and when those folk rhythms kick in with a vengeance even Tarasov wakes up and starts to swing.—DW

Simon Nabatov Trio
Leo 397
The title suggests restful contemplation, but any such idea is instantly violated by the freeform, fragmented opening of the title track, composed by pianist Simon Nabatov on the eve of an autumn tour with cellist Ernst Reijseger and drummer Michael Vatcher. It's a disconcerting beginning, but not to worry: the second half of the piece switches to the expected sombre minor keys, before a little gospel piano brings things to an upbeat conclusion. Simon Nabatov's uncanny ability to develop solos in a logical and effortlessly engaging manner is the sort of mother lode that Keith Jarrett successfully mined when his career was in the ascendant. It’s hard to believe then that Nabatov has been playing for 30 years in relative obscurity, but since 2000 his output has been on the upswing, primarily thanks to Leo Records. Joining forces with Reijseger and Vatcher is an inspired choice too, building on the earlier piano trio successes of Three Stories, One End and Sneak Preview, while adding a new wrinkle with the substitution of cello for bass. Their disc has a wealth of contrasts. Vatcher’s ethereal cymbal bowing serves as a shimmering soundscape for ice-cold piano raindrops on “for m. f.” (a Morton Feldman tribute), which is followed by a New Dutch Swing treatment of “Lady Sings the Blues”, Reijseger stating the theme over a clip-clop beat before Nabatov steps in to establish some semblance of order. Next up is “Hardly Obliged”, in which cello and drums clatter along like mischief-makers doing their best to disrupt the piano's stately theme. Add a thoughtful Reijseger composition and an obscure Jobim song (“Valsa do Porto das Caixas”), and you have a disc that is easy to recommend.—SG

The Revolutionary Ensemble
Pi Recordings PI 13
After the year 2000's wonderful return to form of the New York Art Quartet with their 35th Reunion outing on DIW, last year saw the reformation of another major free jazz outfit from the ESP era, the Revolutionary Ensemble. After a well-received appearance at the Vision Festival, And Now marks the return to recording of Leroy Jenkins, here on violin, harmonica and bells, Sirone (acoustic bass) and Jerome Cooper on, wait for it, multi-dimensional drums: balaphone, cymbals, drum set, chiramia, tonal activator, bass drum, keyboard and sock cymbal. From the opening rising minor scale of Sirone's "Berlin Erfahrung" – "Berlin Experience", probably referring to the time a decade or so when the bassist relocated to the German capital – we're right back home in Revolutionary Ensemble territory; more than perhaps any other post AACM outfit, this trio has always been able to take a strand of simple, almost naïve, folk-inflected material and build a coherent composition out of it, as opposed to merely trotting it out as a head and then tossing it aside when the heavy blowing gets going. Of course, there was never any question of heavy blowing with this saxless line-up, and nor was the RE ever merely "The Leroy Jenkins Trio": one of the distinctive features of the group is the almost total avoidance of a traditional "rhythm section" way of thinking, firstly because Cooper rarely plays time (apart from his time, of course), secondly because Sirone is more likely to be found up in the violin register as Jenkins's equal. It's a pleasure to hear Jenkins back in action, too; the bow arm may not be as supple as it once was, but his tone is as unmistakable as his impeccable timing and sense of line, and as elegant and satisfying as his two featured compositions, "Rumi Tales" and "Light". The centrepiece of the album is Cooper's monumental "911-544" (no prizes for guessing what the title probably refers to), a 21-minute exploration of Cooper's instrumental arsenal, from gurgly horror movie bass synth to the shawm-like chiramia. It's a splendidly colourful piece, even if it does run out of steam somewhat after the fadeout of the ominous six-note ground bass that dominates its first eight minutes. With a keen sense of symmetry, Sirone signs the final "ism schism", which must be the only C major waltz ever to close a free jazz album – though Cooper's "multi-dimensional drums" loosen the rhythm up so much it almost falls off the harmonic bones altogether. Let's hope that, unlike the New York Art Quartet, who seem to have dropped off the radar once again, the Revolutionary Ensemble will be in this kind of form for the next 27 years.—DW

Larry Ochs / Joan Jeanrenaud / Miya Masaoka
Intakt 092
I don’t know whether this CD was consciously programmed as a suite – that its four tracks were recorded on three different occasions in 2001 and 2002 suggests it probably wasn’t – but there’s nonetheless a very satisfying arch-like structure to the album. The first three pieces have similar openings: simple, forlorn songs with a strong Asian or Middle Eastern coloration. (Ochs can make both tenor and sopranino saxes sound positively non-Western, and Jeanrenaud’s cello can sound like an erhu; conversely, Miya Masaoka’s koto often suggests harp, the strummed insides of a piano, or even a hurdy-gurdy.) Each piece gets progressively further from its starting point, however. “Fly Fly Fly” keeps scrupulously to the spare beauty of its original theme, while “Mystery Street” circles slowly around a murmuring, melancholy theme before converging on a brisk minor key dance, then becomes increasingly tenuous and dreamlike. “The Heart of the Matter”, the album’s centrepiece, opens with yet another evocative songlike melody, but the musicians now move in much tighter circles, and the piece is far more astringent and quick-moving than the first two, a kind of sonic hopscotch between little motivic clusters. Ochs plays with great simplicity – often just a note or two quivering in the air – but the pivotal musician here is Masaoka, whose extended solo at a crucial moment bends the piece back to its starting point. The last piece, “It Happened One Night”, breaks the general pattern, forgoing melancholy tunefulness in favour of mouselike chitterings and peeps – at least until the miniature explosion right before the end; it’s also the one occasion on the disc where Masaoka and Jeanrenaud use (discreet) electronics.
As with his previous project The Secret Magritte (Black Saint), Ochs draws on the Belgian Surrealist René Magritte for inspiration: “The Heart of the Matter” is named after one of his paintings. The results are an album that sounds both archaic and new – like listening to half-forgotten folksongs, or chamber music burning down to embers, or some sonic equivalent of Magritte’s paintings: spare, elegant and thoroughly uncanny.—ND

Pecan Crazy PC 24
Despite the German album title, the members of ECFA. – which stands for "Emanation Creation Formation Action" (yikes) – are as American as the nut immortalised in the name of their Texas-based record label. The instrumentation – saxophones (Carl Smith), viola (James Alexander) and drums (Jason Friedrich) – and the trio's intricate quasi-serial compositions inscribe Die Fäden solidly in the lineage of post-Third Stream / AACM chamber jazz composition; fans of Messrs Lake, Threadgill, Braxton and Leo Smith will find something to appreciate here. The fact that Friedrich's drums are set a little back in the (distinctly home made) mix imparts an unfortunate flatness to the overall effect, but shouldn't detract from the music's identity. One wouldn't normally expect music that bears the scars of its compositional labour so openly to sound so appealing, particularly the instantly attractive lope (rather than swing) of "Waters Variations", and I hope the group will continue the good work in 2005. Adding some extra instrumental colour – a couple more horns, strings, maybe even a piano – might not go amiss either.—DW

>>back to top of FEBRUARY 2005 page

psi 04.09
Forgive me for quoting yet again from my favourite PT archive interview: "I know Evan Parker hates Ferneyhough on the grounds that he just can't see the point of writing music which is completely unplayable. But if you have a close look at Evan's own work, you realize that [..h]is work also is 'unplayable' – at least for others – and he seems to be as interested in virtuosity as good old Brian is." Radu Malfatti speaking, of course, and I can tell you I got some irate mail about the bit quoted above, but I wonder if Richard Barrett, New Complexity composer par excellence and one half of the live electronic improvising duo Furt wouldn't agree, though probably not entirely. Malfatti, for his part, would hate Furt's music, describing it no doubt as "gabby", which would be the understatement of the year – this stuff is so action-packed it's curiously slow moving at times, recalling that famous line of Christian Wolff's about the stasis of total serialism's non-stop change. In a typical ten-second extract from either of these two extended pieces, Barrett and Paul Obermayer, the other half of Furt, produce something that probably would have taken Stockhausen and the early electronic music pioneers literally months to splice together. That shouldn't give the impression that it's easy to do (or, for that matter, easy to listen to), but it's certainly quick compared to the scissors and sticky tape used half a century ago. The first piece, "mice", was recorded in Durham electronic music studio on June 27th 2004, whereas "sad fantasy" comes from Furt's performance at Freedom Of The City in London in May 2002. Of the two, "mice" is far more satisfying (dare one guess that there was a bit of judicious editing involved?), in terms of both its convincing overall shape and the sheer variety of material sampled and mangled, a veritable treasure trove of stock new music sounds including hysterical Berberianesque sopranos, rough, farty trombones (shades of Paul Rutherford), springy and splattery Barry Guy-like double bass, and all manner of swoops, glitches, crunches, splats, rasps, boings, crackles, wheezes, scratches, plonks, bumps, beeps, screeches, rumbles, growls, thuds, squeaks, groans, gurgles, pips, thwacks, plunks, whacks, buzzes and toots. The live track is just as active but not as varied and comes across as less convincing, despite its (supposedly humorous?) incorporation of an extract from a speech about computers given by a woman who, when slowed down a little, sounds rather like Margaret Thatcher. Even so, it's mighty impressive stuff, and about as exhausting as Thomas Lehn and Marcus Schmickler's amazing Erstwhile duo a few years ago, Bart – which, as it happens, is another four-letter word ending in "t". Mention of Thatcher reminds me of another one too, but that's another story.—DW

David Rosenboom / J.B. Floyd / Trichy Sankaran
Mutable 17517-2
Originally released on a now long out-of-print LP, this album documents an evening of music recorded at Northern Illinois University on April 19th 1975, when pianists / composers David Rosenboom and J.B. Floyd crossed swords with Indian mrdangam vidwan virtuoso Trichy Sankaran for what the press release boldly describes as a "milestone event" (though one wonders how many more similar milestone crossover encounters that decade went unrecorded). "Structured improvisation" might be the best way to describe the pianists' work, based as it is partly on existing compositions and having more in common with the work of Reich and Riley – and, standing in their shadows, Stravinsky and Bartók – than with the free improvisation of the period. Both approach the pianos with rampant grad student enthusiasm, firing volleys of clusters across striding motoric ostinati - the old Cecil Taylor line about "88 tuned drums" has never been appropriate. Sankaran's percussion work is crystal clear and beautifully paced on its own on the solo third track, but it's quickly swamped by the pianists' testosterone-fuelled Petrushka-on-speed comping (whomping, more like) of "Is Art Is". For all its muscular bravura, the music tends to fall back all too easily on time-honoured formal patterns of climax and decay; however, if period poly-keyboard pieces like Reich's "Six Pianos" have always seemed too cool and calculating for you, this is probably right up your street. The "Suitable Bonus" track – can't get more explicit than that as far as titles go – is earnestly energetic and sweaty, but despite all its exuberant fisticuffs remains firmly trapped in its 15/8 prison.—DW

>>back to top of FEBRUARY 2005 page

Yannis Kyriakides
Unsounds 09
Originally written for the VeenFabriek production in 2002 of SPINOZA: I am not where I think myself to be, Yannis Kyriakides' exquisitely understated setting of Spinoza's Affectio (Definitions of the Emotions) and Epistola (Letter on Free Will), for contralto (Ayelet Harpaz), harpsichord (Anne Faulborn), percussion (Tatiana Koleva), voices (Carola Arons and Bert Luppes) and live electronics (Kyriakides himself) comes with typically snazzy and beautifully produced liners detailing the origin of the project, explaining and translating the texts and even supplying a helpful and informative biography of Baruch Spinoza himself. Though the CD contains a bewildering 98 track indexes, the musical content divides neatly into two 48-movement (!) suites. Kyriakides' work as an improviser, notably with The Ex's Andy Moor, is well-documented on the Unsounds imprint they run together, but this is his most accomplished release to date as a composer, a work that effortlessly blends ancient and modern, Latin and laptop, spiky harpsichord and Raster Noton-like click'n'cuts, with none of the snarky PoMo knowingness one normally associates with the Dutch. Kyriakides, Greek Cypriot in origin, was, like many others, drawn to Holland by the music of Louis Andriessen, but while his former teacher never managed to shake off the influence of Stravinsky (not that he ever actively sought to), Kyriakides brings a rich vein of Byzantine folk and an impressive working knowledge and experience of today's electroacoustic improv to bear on compositional problems. His word setting is as articulate and elegant as the texts he sets – and Spinoza is as deceptively simple as he is profound – and the performance and recording is just as impressive. Check it out.—DW

Bernard Parmegiani
Fractal 28
If you've ever taken a plane from Charles De Gaulle Airport, you'll have heard the music of Bernard Parmegiani. He's the one who wrote that twinkly little arpeggio jingle that rings merrily round the place every time a flight is called (or part of the roof falls in, or whatever). And if you don't believe me, it's just been released as part of a splendid 5CD box set entitled Archives GRM, of which more later, no doubt. To aficionados of new music, however, Parmegiani's better known as the composer of the mighty "De Natura Sonorum" (1975), one of about half a dozen pieces of musique concrète that probably deserves the appellation "masterpiece" (though as I'm not particularly interested in masterpieces myself I'll leave that to others). Parmegiani was very much part of concrète's inner circle, having joined Pierre Schaeffer's Groupe de Recherches Musicales back in 1959. Placed in charge of GRM's Music / Image division, he worked closely with several filmmakers in the 1960s and experimented with video himself in the early 1970s. The music on JazzEx dates from between 1966 and 1973. Apart from the hitherto unavailable live recording of "Et après" this is apparently an official reissue of an album that appeared about four years ago called Pop'eclectic (one which promptly disappeared too, several questions having been asked about its legitimacy). It's good to see this music out and about again, for sure, even though much of it is for the completists. Particularly the title track, dating from 1966, in which Parmegiani worked with recordings made by a free jazz quartet consisting of Jean-Louis Chautemps on sax, Bernard Vitet on trumpet, Gilbert Rovère on bass and Charles Saudrais on drums. Crossover projects were the rage back then, and the pioneers of electronic music (Henry and Ferrari as well as Parmegiani) were as interested in exploring film, theatre and dance as they were improvised music. "Experimental" was the buzzword: "any Experiment, even one that failed, was preferable to a Work, even one that succeeded", writes Chautemps in the liners. Whether "JazzEx" succeeds is certainly open to question; the piece does seem to run out of steam after about ten minutes, and Chautemps and Vitet's attempts to revive it are drowned out – droned out, rather.
"Pop'eclectic" and "Du pop à l'âne" are, like their titles, also very much of their time, which is my polite way of saying they've aged rather badly. For a wonderful minute, "Pop'eclectic" starts out sounding like some prehistoric Acid House remix, but when the symphony orchestra comes crashing in at 1'22", followed by chipmunks in the Métro at 3'34", we're back in the world of collage once more. Coller of course means "to stick", which is fine as long as the glue holds: in the best collages of the period, either symphonic (Berio's "Sinfonia", Zimmermann's "Photoptosis") or electronic (Ferrari's "Music Promenade", Stockhausen's "Telemusik"), the quoted / sampled / borrowed / swiped material never sounds out of place, but here, apart from a rather wonderful collision between a coloratura soprano and some swoony Mantovani strings, it never quite hangs together. Even so, "Pop'eclectic" is better than "Du pop à l'âne", which is as duff as its title, and ends up being little more than a "spot the quote" exercise. OK the Messiaen bits are cool, but do we really need "The Rite of Spring" (no prizes for guessing which bit of it too)? And The Doors? "You're Lost Little Girl" indeed.. come back Pierre Henry, all is forgiven. Fortunately, by the time Parmegiani wrote "Et après" for the bandoneon of Michel Portal – maybe the only French musician who managed to keep one foot in the world of contemporary classical and the other in jazz without getting groin strain – he'd cleaned most of the skeletons out of the studio closet and was able to handle a large-scale structure far more convincingly: listen to "Et après" right after "JazzEx" and you'll see what I mean. That said, those coming to Parmegiani's discography for the first time should head straight for De Natura Sonorum.—DW

Philip Blackburn
Innova 203
Described as "a soundwalk through Old Havana, Cuba", Habanera is Innova Records' head honcho Philip Blackburn's second mic-in-hand aural documentary, after his trip to Vietnam, Stilling Time (Innova 112). (After Vietnam and Cuba, we await forthcoming instalments from Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Iraq..) It's a veritable treasure trove of wonderful sounds, from the 9pm nightly boom of the canons across the harbour to the flush of toilets, the blare of radios, the interminable speeches of the Lider Maximo (where would Cuba be without Castro?), the roar of traffic, the chatter and bustle of street vendors and above all the indigenous music, from the sweaty mambos and cod flamenco of the cheap tourist restaurants and bars to an authentic blast of Cuban musique concrète courtesy Juan Blanco and Juan Pinera. Blackburn's montage is as clear, skilful and beautifully executed as his recordings, and the package is as elegant and glitzy as its silver and gold packaging. A worthy companion to the Sun City Girls' South East Asian and Middle Eastern sound documentaries, not to mention Robert Millis' spectacular recordings from Laos, Cambodia and Thailand released on Anomalous last year.—DW

>>back to top of FEBRUARY 2005 page

SHA MO 3000
Essencemusic ESS 003
To celebrate his first release on a South American label, the good people at Essencemusic (based in Juiz de Fora in Brazil) apparently presented Masami Akita with some recordings of obscure South American psychedelia, including one imagines some Módulo 1000 (reissues, anyone?) – hence perhaps the album title – but it's unclear whether any of the five tracks on Sha Mo 3000 is in any way a direct remix of the earlier stuff. It certainly sounds that way though at times, as once again the new user-friendly digital Akita has turned out an album that's as instantly likeable and colourful as its cover artwork. Recorded as ever in "bedroom" on his ma-computer, guitar and EMS synth, its montage of alarm clocks, fuzzy Metal and (it says here) recordings of pet animals is thoroughly enjoyable, and arguably in the spirit of Tropicalismo's more surrealistic leftfield adventurers (Tom Zé, Os Mutantes..), even if it's not quite what you might want to play if you invite your neighbours round for a caipirinha. Whether it ranks amongst the "great Merzbow albums" is debatable (as I don't own enough of the man's prodigious output myself I don't feel able to comment on such a claim, but I do find the last track gets lost in its maze of snarling guitars), since everyone who releases a Merzbow album these days says the same thing, but there are enough Merzfreaks out there to ensure that the beautifully produced miniature gatefold sleeved edition of 900 will sell out fast, so get moving before it becomes as rare as the name of that closing track: hen's teeth.—DW

Bruce Mowson
Cajid Media CD 002
"Headphones not permitted" it says on the record. Don't you fuckin' tell me what not to do, matey! If I want to listen to Merzbow at bernhard günter volume or vice versa (choose Scumtron and you can have both at the same time!) that's my business! Actually, the Cajid Media press release is a little more diplomatic: "headphones not recommended." Anyway, they've got a point. On a set of cans this stuff would be completely without interest, as listener participation (i.e. a slight move of the head left or right, or up and down, or a brief trip to the smallest room to vomit if you play it loud enough) is what Mowson's three pieces are all about. Not exactly a new idea (try it out with any sustained unchanging music and you'll find it works – particularly recommended are La Monte Young, Phill Niblock, David First and Sachiko M, of course) but always good for a few minutes' worth of fun. The first track lasts 12'30" but the music (I'm not sure that's the right for this stuff, but we'll stick with it) stops at 9'00". Similarly track two (total duration 13'05") falls silent, though not for long, after 9'36", and in track three your head stops spinning before the album itself does. Great review, eh? Well, there's not much else to say. If this is the kind of acoustic research that you like to indulge in, this is right up your alley. Here in my smallish living room I can't really push the volume high enough to get the thrill of it all, relations with neighbours being tense enough as it is. I rather fancy I'd enjoy it more in a gallery installation context. But the choice is up to you.—DW

Vertonen / Nautical Almanac
C.I.P. 014 / SNSE40
C.I.P. CD 012
The work of Chicago-based sound artist Blake Edwards has been evolving steadily since he took up the name Vertonen in 1991, and these two latest instalments reveal further evidence that Edwards, like fellow label mate Jeff Wrench (otherwise known as Brutum Fulmen) and Matt Waldron (who's stuck with the name irr.app.(ext.) whether he likes it or not) is someone to watch. What all three have in common is first and foremost a great pair of ears (no matter how cute concepts might be, if they don't sound any good when realised, why bother?), an almost magical / alchemical ability to create extraordinary sounds from the most surprising and at times surprisingly banal everyday objects, and an apparent willingness to step resolutely out of the space provided and produce music that refuses to be pigeonholed into any of the dozens of microgenres that have sprung up in contemporary electronica over recent years. Return of the Interrobang is a case in point; after "Toroidal Circulation 1&2" (the track displays a different title when you pop it in the computer, but never mind – it's all part of the music's obscure charm), a beautifully paced and well-wrought cavernous glowing dronescape, the Cold Wave early 80s synth blast that pulses through "Burn The River" might come as a surprise. The final trilogy of "Medicated Turntable Variations" finds Edwards looking affectionately back to the world of classic minimalism (albeit slightly smudged, more Recchion than Reich, on "A Glimpse of the Oasis" and the magnificently self-erasing "We're in the Wrong Piano") and fucked-up Easy Listening à la Boyd Rice. The Interrobang, by the way, was a hybrid punctuation symbol first introduced in 1962, a kind of cross between the exclamation mark and the question mark (it never caught on) – a raised eyebrow perfect for Edwards' simultaneously inquisitive and surprising music.
The three tracks Edwards contributes to the split 12" with Baltimore-based Nautical Almanac (James “Twig” Harper and Carly Ptak) are also built on loops, this time of more overtly menacing post-Industrial (!? where's the Interrobang on this keyboard?!) material. "Bride's Blood" and "Retaking the Throne of Dirt" are as gritty and gory as their titles would have you believe, after which the crackly loop of vintage mambo that runs through "Connie's Lament" is surreal and disturbing – so is the damage Edwards inflicts on it. For their part, Nautical Almanac, whose work was memorably described by the good folks at Dusted as "the sound, sight, and smell of wired garbage played by giant rats", head back to Noise's more recognisable screes of screaming feedback as Harper and Ptak send their home made instruments to hell and back. My dictionary definition of "infibulate" runs as follows: "To close off or obstruct the genitals of, especially by sewing together the labia majora in females or fastening the prepuce in males, so as to prevent sexual intercourse." That should give you a good idea of what "Hot Process Infibulator" sounds like. As for "Tympanum Dolts", I'll leave that for you to discover at your leisure.—DW

>>back to top of FEBRUARY 2005 page

Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic