APRIL News 2005 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Nate Dorward, Vid Jeraj, TJ Norris, Nicholas Rice, Massimo Ricci, Dan Warburton:

Special Double Issue!
click here for Page 2

Improvised Music from Japan 2004 / Haco
If, Bwana
Sun Ra / Albert Ayler
On ErstLive:
Keith Rowe & Burkhard Beins / Rowe, Nakamura, Lehn & Schmickler / Burkhard Stangl & Christof Kurzmann / Fennesz, Sachiko M, Otomo, Rehberg
Reissue This:
Keith Tippett
At Carnegie Hall: Boulez, Birtwistle, Dutilleux, MacMillan
Nathan Hubbard's Skeleton Key Orchestra / Sirone Bang Ensemble / Wally Shoup / Frieze of Life / Dominic Duval & Joe McPhee / Peggy Lee Band /
Freedom of the City 2004 / No Idea Festival / Günter Müller & Steinbrüchel / Sinistri / Franz Hautzinger / Manfred Hofer / Rodrigues, Rodrigues, Thieke & Santos
Asmus Tietchens / Anti Group / Mirror / Beequeen / BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa / Xabier Erkizia / Dave Phillips / L/A/B
Last month


Thanks go out this month to Al Margolis of Pogus Records and If, Bwana fame for his help in preparing the review below, and for forwarding a cassette – what else – of his invaluable recollections of the mythic cassette underground that he and his Sound Of Pig label were so central to. This will eventually form the basis of a more extended feature on the 1980s cassette underground scene in a forthcoming issue of Paris Transatlantic (though I'm not making any rash promises as to which one). Also special thanks go out this month to my main man Olivier Flétan who has just launched an exciting new label Pisces and has kindly agreed to give Paris Transatlantic readers a sneak peek of the first ten releases of his catalogue in the form of exclusive mp3 downloads on the site, one a day. All you need to do is log on, click on the Pisces link and download the music. But beware: each album will be posted on the site for one day only! So stay tuned! Anyway, here's the menu of free downloads that will be available starting next Monday, April 4th 2005.
April 4th – Sunny Murray & Henry Grimes "Live at L'Ecailler" – long overdue reunion of two free jazz giants recorded during Grimes' recent visit to Paris for the Sons d'Hiver festival (see our review);
April 5th – Steve Beresford & Phil Minton "Fish 'n' Chips" – Brit improv legends recorded live in legendary Northern jazz venue Harry Ramsden's;
April 6th – "Costes Sings Piaf" – the enfant terrible of chanson française, in concert last year at Le Chat Qui Pète nightclub;
April 7th – Alexander Bellenger "Kurt Cobain Memorial Fish Fry";
April 8th – "La Mer" Jean-Luc Guionnet and Eric Cordier play the music of Charles Trenet;
April 9th – Peter Brötzmann / Radu Malfatti "Live at the North Sea Festival 1962"
April 10th – Will Guthrie "Friday On My Mind" – expat Australian eai percussionist pays homage to the mighty Easybeats;
April 11th – Keith Rowe "Treatise" – mythic AMM guitarist plays all 8064 pages of Cornelius Cardew's graphic score masterpiece in just 11 minutes! A new world record! (All proceeds from the sales of this album will be donated to Eddie Prévost's Village Chippy Preservation Society);
April 12th – Burkhard Stangl "Live at the Oktoberfest";
April 13th – Reynols "Gordura Vegetal Hidrogenada" reissue of first legendary album by Argentinean cult rockers (enhanced CDROM).
Bonne lecture, as always – and for those lucky downloaders with broadband Internet, bonne écoute too.—DW


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Improvised Music from Japan
Improvised Music from Japan 2004
IMJ 304/5 book + 2CD
Superbly produced in a bilingual English / Japanese edition, with quality layout and photography, plus of course not one but two CDs full of music by the featured artists, the third edition of Improvised Music from Japan is certainly attractive, but one wonders whether a similar document entitled Improvised Music from England (or Portugal, Norway, or even California) would attract as much attention. Anecdote can be a hidden gateway to profound thought (Cage) but most of the time it remains, well, rather anecdotal. Significantly perhaps the French see the word "anecdotique" as being broadly synonymous with "unimportant": reading about Luc Ferrari being hospitalised in Sweden or Tetsu Saitoh's fears about contracting SARS or excess baggage charges for Kazue Sawai's kotos or whether Tom Cora's bedroom is haunted is entertaining enough but doesn't really add much to the music, which is presumably what we're all here for. Publishing tour diaries demystifies not only the musician, who's revealed as being like every one of us, complete with frustration, fatigue, fear and worry, but also (unfortunately in my view) the music. After reading Ami Yoshida's bumbling jetlagged narrative about her travels to Austria and Australia, her music sounds somehow less magical; instead of listening to the amazing sounds she produces I now imagine her putting folded T-shirts and toothbrushes into suitcases and yawning in a plastic armchair in a departure lounge. At least Michel Doneda's tour diary is a little more poetic, but it's nowhere near as magical and haunting as the eleven-minute track he plays on included on Disc 1.
The interviews are similarly what might elsewhere be described as "fireside chats", which is something of a mixed blessing. Toshimaru Nakamura begins his interview with Tetuzi Akiyama with the wonderful "What is an ordinary day for you?", which triggers off a highly enjoyable chat about the Captain's wakizashi samurai sword ("I didn't think it was a good idea to bring the sword on the airplane.."), his coffee-loving grandfather and the uncle who died test-driving Honda racing bikes. Not much about the music, but who cares? It's a good read. So is Ed Baxter's "Forget Aki Onda", a rather moving meditation on memory that floats towards to its interviewee after references to Jacques Roubaud, the British Library Reading Room and the cerebral development of the newborn. Toyoki Okajima's interview with Gidayu shamisen virtuoso Yumiko Tanaka is more informative (one regrets that IMJ couldn't have published more than an extract from what seems to have been a long conversation), and Taku Sugimoto provides some interesting insights into his compositional practice, but with the exception of Otomo Yoshihide's chats with Korean musicians Park Je Chun, Mi Yeon and Kang Tae Hwan, the other interviews impart little information that can't be found elsewhere (likely as not on the IMJ website), and the CD reviews scattered through the book read less like exercises in critical journalism than press releases and promo for the IMJ label itself, which, of course, is probably not surprising. An exception is Aki Onda's review of Meeting at Off Site Volume 3, with its shrewd take on history: 'To a large extent, [the Japanese musicians] arrival at this mode is the natural result of a combination of situations, such as the Japanese affinity for delicate textures, and physical environmental constraints like not being able to play loud at Off Site. What happened was that European and American improvisers (media) forcibly tied these questions of sensibility and beauty to their own musical histories, tacking on logical interpretations (reductionism? Is that any different from exoticism?).."

The accompanying discs provide a splendid and varied selection of music, disc 1 being a kind of spin off of recent IMJ releases (I'm tempted to say outtakes but the music is just as good as what made it to the albums): three brief tracks from Samm Bennett, one each from Tanaka, Akiyama, Masahiko Okura and Kazuo Imai (with Han Bennink), plus a splash of "Four Color" from Minamo's Keichi Sugimoto (a remastered version of a track already released on 12k), a snatch of Shuichi Chino's "Envelope" installation and, going out on a high, the aforementioned cut with Doneda, Tetsu Saitoh, Kazue Sawai, Kazuo Imai and Lê Quan Ninh. Disc 2 goes from all out nasty noise from Optrum (Yoichiro Shin and Atsuhiro Ito) to the Good Morning Good Night emptiness of Otomo, Sachiko and Nakamura, via an elusive and beautiful offering from Naoaki Miyamoto, ending up with three fine solos from the featured Koreans: Mi Yeon on piano, Park Je Chun on percussion and Kang Tae Hwan on alto sax. Away from the post-production of Loose Community, Mi Yeon and Park Je Chun's collaboration with Otomo, their originality is more in evidence.
Perusing again my online dictionary definitions of magazine ("a periodical containing a collection of articles, stories, pictures, or other features") and fanzine ("an amateur-produced magazine written for a subculture of enthusiasts devoted to a particular interest") I wonder whether or not the latter might be a more appropriate description of what's on offer here (if you forget about the "amateur-produced" bit). But as fanzines go, this has to be the biggest and best of the lot.
Improvised Music from Japan IMJ 523
I imagine most people's reaction to Alan Courtis's suggestion that I should record my washing machine (with a cassette tape spinning around inside it) was a wry smile, perhaps even a stifled titter. Certainly the idea of clamping a pair of contact mics onto a Macintosh G4 – not to mention a mobile phone, a mini-disc recorder and a wireless router – and using the sounds generated by such friendly electrical appliances as source material for an album of new music is something Messrs Courtis and Conlazo of Reynols fame could quite easily have come up with, having recorded objects as diverse as whistling kettles and gravestones. But there's something clinical, almost deadly, about Haco's work that could only have come out of the techno overload of contemporary Japan (and which has nothing to do with the wacky post-Dada DIY of the Argentineans), even though there's nothing new about using sound reproducing equipment as sound producing equipment – nowadays, after all, turntablists abound. To a certain extent Stereo Bugscope 00 is a kind of field recording, presenting the sounds that surround us in everyday life in a new context – one imagines Cage might have approved of the idea. The liners state proudly that "no post-production processing has been used", but one suspects there was a bit of discreet montage work on ProTools to edit the three opening tracks together into a continuous suite lasting 18 minutes. It's a studio version of a piece Haco had already presented live – the notes amusingly relate how the performance was brought to a close by inserting a blank CDR into the G4 disc drive, onkyo gesture par excellence – and some of the sounds, triggered by "human operation" of basic functions such as "CD Writing" and "Shut Down" are quite thrilling, appearing as they do suddenly out of a cloud of thick buzzing drone. Connoisseurs of recent electro acoustic improv, not necessarily from Japan (and not necessarily Otomo Yoshihide's rather similar compositions for the Portable Orchestra using domestic electrical appliances), will find Haco's slowmoving static drizzle reassuringly familiar. Keith Rowe and Toshi Nakamura could quite easily jam along without sticking out like a sore thumb. By way of an interlude, track 4, appealingly entitled "Click from mobile phone with power off", sounds like a backing track from a Raster Noton release (though it's probably not quite clean enough), which certainly can't be said of the strange swoops and gurgles of the following "Motor and LCD sound from digital audio recorder with running tape" – Toshiya Tsunoda eat yer heart out.

My thoughts on concept albums such as this are well documented, but for the record could be summarised neatly as follows: "fuck the concept, it's the music that counts". Reynolsian high jinx such as Blank Tapes or the 10,000 Chickens Symphony are fine by me because they sound so damn good, whereas some of the arty-farty installation projects that are subsequently released as albums (nah, mentioning no names this time) would have been better off staying put in the gallery. Haco's outing falls somewhere between the two: it's certainly not a sterile piece of art school cleverness wrapped up in reams of pretentious Baudrillard babble, but nor does it stand up well to repeated listening (unlike Nakamura's celebrated eai outings like Weather Sky and Do). After a while, unless you surrender to it entirely and listen really attentively, the relentless hum becomes rather tiresome. There's no way this is ever going to work as background music, unless it's played at really low level (in which case you could just sit back and enjoy the sound of your own computer). Nor is it pure enough to become one of those architectural acoustic mindfucks like La Monte's Drift Study or Sachiko's Bar Sachiko where the slightest movement of the listener's head changes the sound radically. That said, if Haco brought the Stereo Bugscope 00 roadshow to town and jammed along with other eai notables, I'd be standing patiently outside the venue well before opening time. After all, this is a strong and original album, even if my wife politely declined to listen to it, saying rightly enough that she hears the sound of the computer in this house often enough as it is.—DW

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If, Bwana

Ants AG 09


Absurd CDR

XV Parowek CDR

Klang Galerie 7"
My crazy buddy Jérôme Génin of Fractal Records, formerly based in the leafy suburbs of Neuilly sur Seine but recently relocated to Tokyo (it seems), when pushed to come up with one adjective to describe the music he loves, invariably plumps for "underground" (pronounced with peculiar French relish "oondergrrond"). It's an epithet tailor-made for the work – and life, perhaps – of Al Margolis, both as one of the prime movers in the legendary cassette underground scene of the 1980s (between 1984 and 1991 his Sound Of Pig label released over 300 cassettes of music by the likes of Merzbow, Costes, Amy Denio, John Hudak and Jim O'Rourke) and as the éminence grise behind twenty years of music under the name If, Bwana (the name itself an acronym for "It's Funny, But We Are Not Amused"). The earliest manifestations of If, Bwana were (still are, I believe, if you contact Al and send him a few dollaz) released on S.O.P., and subsequently on the Pogus imprint he founded in 1989 with Gen Ken Montgomery and Dave Prescott (who soon went off elsewhere and left Margolis in charge), but more recently, Bwana product – a word Margolis would surely despise, but what the hell – has appeared on other distinctly underground labels in the kind of limited editions followers of Margolis's music like myself have grown to love.
That said, the Italian Ants label is not one of yer home made burn-a-CDR-and-stuff-it-in-an-old-sock operations (shot out to Dr Chadbourne there); since its inception a couple of years back Giovanni Antognozzi's imprint has shepherded into circulation the music of lesser-known but important figures including Albert Mayr, Pietro Grossi, Tom Johnson and David First in beautifully produced editions. Fire Chorus continues the exploration of the fertile territory Margolis discovered on 2001's Pogus double CD I, Angelica (a perfect gateway into the wild and wonderful world of If, Bwana, if you're looking for one), but its opening track, in which eight layers of drones derived from looped recordings of wind chimes enter one by one followed by a vocal loop (of baritone Thomas Buckner), is perhaps atypical of Margolis' work, if only because its structure is so straightforward and transparent. Bwana music generally features Margolis on a wide range of instruments (violin, guitars, trumpet, trombone, Moog Rogue, Akai S-612 sampler, Yamaha DX-9, Korg Guitar Synth, ARP 2600, plus any number of odd instruments and tape recordings thereof), sometimes accompanied by friends including Dan and Detta Andreana, Debbie Goldberg and Adam Klein. It's often dense and sprawling, layering fragments of voices, instruments and electronics, improvised or otherwise, on top of thick, rich drones. Margolis usually starts with a pre-compositional plan and, as he says, "whether the track ends up as planned (which sometimes it does) or if it sometimes takes on a life of its own - or, perhaps more accurately, heads down a different path, most of my work tends to come together fairly quickly. I rarely have a piece that eludes completion for years." "Fire Chorus" and "Day 8: McKenna's Brain", though, did just that – Margolis spent years off and on worrying over "The Railway Station Fire" (1992, on I, Angelica), stripping out the backing tracks and adding and recombining other voices. "Day 8" features extracts of Adam Klein's vocals as well as contributions from Adam Bohman (another great underground legend – time to do something on Morphogenesis methinks), in what sounds like a late 60s archive recording of John Cage's songs accompanied by AMM. The closing "Accidentally Angelica" returns to Margolis's beloved ARP 2600 drones, overlaying them with instrumental improvisations and recordings of birdsong. It's as if one of Eliane Radigue's pristine works had been left out in the garden to accumulate a layer of sonic moss and dirt. In short, it sounds like nothing else you've ever heard.

If you're wondering about the title Moose y Squirrel, I can do no better than leave Margolis to explain it himself: "Named for one of my cats well her name is Mia but we call her Moo – this moose and if you are up on your Bullwinkle that is how Boris and Natasha referred to our heroes as Moose and Squirrel and thus wanting to bring the multilingual element I changed the 'and' to the Spanish and 'y' and thus complete freaking babbling huh." Margolis's music works in a way startlingly similar to the language of the above quotation: simple, even banal elements – the irregular synth pulse throughout "Bike Boy" is as recognisable to fans of 80s synth pop as Bullwinkle is to generations of Americans – are juxtaposed with seemingly incongruous elements (why the hell would you call your cat Moo if its name was Mia?) and strange, inexplicable translations (why Spanish?) to create a musical landscape that is instantly recognisable but totally unfathomable. Even describing "Bike Boy" as Jon Hassell jamming with pre-TG Chris Carter can't prepare you for what it actually sounds like. And you'd be hard pressed to find a better example of "complete freaking babbling huh" than the millefeuille of mangled guitars and violins on "What Do The Experts Say About The Old Testament". The real masterpiece on Moose though is Poppin', on which Margolis returns to his ARP, joined by Dan Andreana (on "amplified bottle pourer" – go figure) and Detta Andreana (on walkie talkies). Margolis's fondness for bringing in one voice at a time harks back to the glory days of 70s minimalism, and ultimately back to the idea of fugue, but instead of making the processes audible à la Reich, he lets them run free and they promptly disappear into the undergrowth. Whatever us going on, the gradually thickening texture, with its superimposed myriad clicks and theremin like swoops, is absolutely haunting. "Wind Forks" returns to the same territory as "Chimes" on Fire Chorus, Margolis this time sourcing his drones in recordings of tuning forks. You may be pleased to learn that he's already contemplating reissuing Moose on Pogus, which is just as well, as the HVEXAS label (that stands for Hudson Valley Experimental Arts Society) has only released, wait for it, 25 copies of the album. That's even more absurd than Absurd.

Talking of Absurd, it's only fitting that Margolis's work should also appear on Nicolas Malevitsis's cult CDR label – the two have, after all, have been hacking their way through the dense undergrowth of the cassette / CDR underground together for some time. Gruntle ("track titles are fairly clear," writes Margolis, "I mean they explain what the pieces really are (so much for mystery): 'Bwana Bass Loops Mit E-Bow', '20 Violins', 'Gruntle' and '(Dis)gruntle'.. Well you know we have all heard of disgruntled employees but never of gruntled ones") is Margolis's response to Malevitsis's request for "a bit of the more raucous side of Bwana", but "Bwana Bass Loops", which dates from 1995, is quite a reflective opener. "20 Violins" is the secondary source tape for a piece originally intended for 400 violins (!). "I started with 4 tracks of violin on my 4 track cassette player then bounced those up to 5 tracks on my 8 track recorder (my 8 track reel to reel recorder only had 5 tracks working any more) which, when mixed down to DAT gave me 20 tracks, then back and forth between decks and ended up with 400 tracks," Margolis explains, admitting that it all "became too dense so I scaled it back to the 20 violin version." You'd have a job identifying the sound source as violins, though, thanks to all the accumulated hiss and grunge of all the cassette overdubbing. The resulting texture sounds more like a Horatiu Radulescu piece performed by Morphogenesis (the mind boggles). "Gruntle" and "(Dis)gruntle", both live direct-to-DAT recordings, are closer to the raucous brief demanded by Malevitsis. Once again, Margolis's vast, seething accumulations of electric grit, 14 and 8 minutes long respectively, are nothing short of formidable. Welcome to the (underground) pleasure dome.

Reefer is a reissue of late 80s vintage Bwana tracks originally released on the German cassette label Irre-Tapes ("Ripper", "Reefer" and "Reaper") and Sound Of Pig ("BCP"). The sound world is quintessentially Margolis, who writes: "'Ripper' and 'BCP' in particular were works where I was moving much more into a structured improvisational situation, where at least the boundaries of the works (the edges of the canvas if you will) were set." The opening track's montage of clanging metal (the Andreanas, Paul Richards and Danielle Reddick are credited as performing saw blades as well as providing vocals) and reverberant distorted vocals is a kind of scary cross between the lunatic fringe of English esoteric explorers (Nurse With Wound, pre-menstrual Current 93) and late 60s AMM (Margolis remains fond of the mythic English improvisers, one of his first releases on Pogus being AMM's Combines + Laminates). "Reefer" features Margolis's voice, violin and various electronic effects in a somewhat disturbing collage of gritty fiddling and queasy loops. Makes you wonder exactly what was in the joint. "Reaper" is even stranger, with Margolis's trombone buried in a dank, gloomy bog of mumbles and moans, quintessentially underground stuff indeed. The same groaning underpins "BCP", which features Rich Clark and Dave Prescott on computers – I take it they're the ones responsible for the montage of random numbers read by a primitive voice synthesizer – and Margolis on tapes, processing and trumpet. As with many Bwana pieces, it takes a while to get going, and its total duration of 31'21" seems to have been dictated by the length of an old C60 cassette, if the sudden ending is anything to go by (one imagines that if Margolis had had CDRs back at his disposal in the late 80s the piece would have gone on over an hour).

If you're still as nostalgic for vinyl as Al Margolis is for cassettes, try and get hold of a copy of the above-mentioned Klang Galerie 7-incher, which, as Margolis helpfully explains, "started life as the finished 'Bird Brain Bath' – was less than thrilled with it originally so took it back apart – it was actually 2 separate live to DAT pieces that were combined, so was easy to go back. Each work I do enjoy and, combined, re-emerge as the full version – also a sneaky way to try to get more people to have to buy two copies – as you see my sales methods leave something to be desired." The two pieces find Margolis at his most Sun Ra-like, their synth swirls and squiggles looking back nostalgically to Ra's otherworldly Moog explorations at the end of the 60s. I wondered if Margolis had a sneaking preference for analogue over digital, whether his working methods were similar to those of Jason Lescalleet, who uses trashed speakers and cheap lo-fi to create basic source material which is then cleaned up and edited on the computer. "I really do not have too much conflict between analogue and digital," Margolis replies with characteristic frankness. "My recording situation really has evolved in terms of 'this is what I have and is working and it works so let's keep using it..' Over the past 20 years I've gone from a 4-track Fostex cassette to an 8-track Otari reel to reel, and as mentioned above even a DAT recorder for 2-track live studio recordings. Now I'm using a 16-track Yamaha workstation, and am really tempted to move over to a computer system soon – I have, on and off, used some computer software (good call on Sound Forge – that was mostly used on the two tortured Fire Chorus tracks) – but I haven't had a chance to use it in my 'regular' set up. There is definitely a different intuitive process used, and I'm not sure that it takes my work in a direction I want to go, but that will come soon enough I think. You can probably also read that last paragraph as 'the cheap fuck doesn't want to buy new equipment' – that may be just as accurate." Whatever Margolis uses in the way of equipment – and the magnificent work produced by other analogue enthusiasts such as Jérôme Noetinger, Lionel Marchetti and Jason Lescalleet is proof that there's plenty of life left in so-called "old" gear – the results are never less than exciting. Here's to the next 20 years – but stay underground, Al: it's best place to be.—DW

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Sun Ra
ESP-Disk’ 4002
Albert Ayler
ESP-Disk’ 4001
Founded in 1964 by artist-rights lawyer Bernard Stollman, ESP-Disk’ was, for the few short years it lasted, the underground music world’s version of Blue Note. Cashing in his inheritance, Stollman funded the recording and/or release of nearly eighty dates, a significant number of them in the first two years of the label’s operation. As with any independent label, the work of a few more lucrative artists paid for the production of more obscure titles: without the charted notoriety of the folk-rock protest of Pearls Before Swine and The Fugs (venerated jazz figures like Sun Ra and Albert Ayler became ESP cash cows later), releasing dates by Alan Sondheim, Marzette Watts and Peter Lemer would have been out of the question.
In stark contrast to the high-dollar graphic design of labels like Blue Note, Prestige and Impulse!, ESP-Disk’ thrived on inconsistency. Jackets carried ordering information in Esperanto (the label was originally to be called Esperanto-Disk, and its first release was a sing-along folk record called Ni Kantu en Esperanto, or Let’s Sing in Esperanto), and covers ranged from Howard Bernstein’s Nouveau woodcut-like drawings or stark Ray Ross photographs to Baby Jerry’s more psychedelic designs. Addresses and information printed on the jackets didn’t always corroborate with what was on the labels, and pressings were often impossibly shoddy (ESP used a faulty pressing plant in the early ‘70s). In 1974, the label was financially spent and suspended operations. Reissue programs by Base in the ‘80s and ZYX and Calibre in the ‘90s were poor, and in spite of – or maybe because of – its later history, the label has now returned under its own mast, releasing archival back catalogue, remastered titles and previously unheard material, starting with the addenda to the Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra sessions (originally released in 1965-66 as ESP 1014 and 1017) and a 1970 recording of Albert Ayler with his last group at the Maeght Foundation in France.

Heliocentric Worlds Volume 3
was recently discovered from a cache of tapes and primarily features music from the April 1965 session that yielded Volume 1 (not, as the disc states, the November 16 octet session of Volume 2). Though the Arkestra’s recordings from the mid-‘60s often tend to falter due to the length of some pieces (inability to sustain direction, and the sameness of some of the blowouts..), which is especially true of Volume 2, the seventeen-minute album opener here, “Intercosmosis,” is surprisingly compelling and one of the most charged examples of free Ra I’ve heard. The piece consists of a series of solos and comments backed mostly by Ra’s piano and Ronnie Boykins’ bass, John Gilmore’s tenor segueing into lyrical Pat Patrick baritone work, followed by an engaging Marshall Allen-Danny Davis alto duel. Davis rarely gets solo spots, and on “Intercosmosis” his less-caterwauling approach is welcome exposure, as is Patrick’s gorgeous, almost Surmanesque baritone. One thing Ra’s music of this period exemplified was how, despite the fact that each musician in the group played additional percussion, the group was often at its most driving without it. As Boykins’ bass steamrolls ahead and Ra picks out a one-note motif with the right hand under Robert Cummings’ bass clarinet solo, the push is really an orchestra of three. “Heliocentric Worlds” is probably from the November 16 session, featuring Ra’s perverse variation on the Red Garland Trio (with clavichord, celeste and tympani added), as less than two minutes in the cocktail party has their proverbial acid drop. “World Worlds” and “Interplanetary Travelers” are again from the April session, the former a fairly throwaway relaxed-pace number were it not for Marshall’s piccolo solo and Teddy Nance’s expressive trombone spots, the latter an alternate take of the “Other Worlds” blowout from Volume 1.

Unlike the Ra disc, the Albert Ayler set is culled from a completely different period from his own ESP sojourn. Ayler’s two-LP set for Shandar, Nuits de la Fondation Maeght (recently reissued by Water), was heralded by many as a return to form for the saxophonist, albeit somewhat of a critical last reprieve before his untimely death just months after the concert. Following the ungainly R&B dabbling of New Grass and the clouded snippets of genius on his last two Impulse sessions (Music is the Healing Force of the Universe and The Last Album), Ayler and his companion, vocalist-saxophonist Mary Maria Parks, made a three-night concert appearance at the Maeght Foundation in St. Paul de Vence, France backed by pianist Call Cobbs, drummer Allen Blairman and bassist Steve Tintweiss (late of the Burton Greene Trio and Frank Wright groups). Cobbs had apparently been left at JFK and didn't arrive until the July 27 concert released on the Shandars, so the July 25 date that yields Live on the Riviera features only Tintweiss and Blairman as the rhythm section. “Music is the Healing Force of the Universe” starts off the set, with Mary Maria’s recitation of the lyrics recalling Barbara Simmons’ poem on the title track of Jackie McLean’s Bout’ Soul (Blue Note, 1968) or perhaps Jayne Cortez’ jazz-poetry explorations. She's accompanied by rustling percussion and bass, punctuated by gritty uptempo R&B fragments from the tenor power trio. What is immediately apparent with these Maeght sessions is that, among the rhythm sections that Ayler employed, Tintweiss and Blairman are the closest approximation of the Grimes-Murray team that graced some of his earlier recordings. Blairman’s approach to time is subtle and loose, a constant wash of sound from cymbals punctuated by orgasmic press rolls, while Tintweiss’ powerful arco throbs and girds the music harmonically. When Blairman cooks on the more lickety-split numbers, Murray’s influence is extended to the elder drummer’s work on “Holy Holy” from the 1964 Debut (Spirits a.k.a. Witches and Devils) session. Mary Maria is certainly more of a force here than on the Shandars, contributing vocal wailing and dervish-like soprano saxophone (compare her playing on “Oh! Love of Life” to Albert’s on “Masonic Inborn”) as well as the aforementioned poetry. The only truly garish and inappropriate number is “Heart Love,” an unfortunate vocal that would have been classic Ayler had it been played instrumentally; the vocal reading of the theme is too discomforting precisely because it is sung with the same dissonance that his saxophone-derived themes contain. “Heart Love” and Ayler’s singing on “Oh! Love of Life” can be heard as a naked expression of what his instrumental music puts forth, but it is precisely that nakedness that makes them so difficult to listen to, turning the stomach rather than chilling the spine. The reasons, commercial or otherwise, for Ayler's more populist late work are well documented – lyrics after all tend to make a message easier to decipher (for some) – but the ungainliness that marks both his tenor playing and his vocals makes it paradoxically harder to approach.
With this first trickle of previously unreleased recordings and reissues (including debut dates by Pharaoh Sanders and Ayler – the mythic Spiritual Unity – plus the first two Heliocentric Ra recordings), let's hope that ESP makes a proper comeback. This is vital music that deserves to be heard, and you can bet that there is more in Bernard Stollman's vaults just clamoring to be let out.—CA

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On ErstLive
Keith Rowe / Burkhard Beins
ErstLive 001
Keith Rowe / Toshimaru Nakamura / Thomas Lehn / Marcus Schmickler
ErstLive 002
Burkhard Stangl / Christof Kurzmann: schnee_live
ErstLive 003
Christian Fennesz / Sachiko M / Otomo Yoshihide / Peter Rehberg
ErstLive 004
Taking advantage of the availability of a top-notch recording engineer in the form of Vienna's Christoph Amann, Erstwhile top gun Jon Abbey was able to return home after the two European legs of his 2004 AMPLIFY festival (in Cologne and Berlin respectively) with a bag full of superb recordings, the first batch of which is now out in the form of these four elegant limited edition slimline jewel box releases. Mean spirited souls could moan and groan at Abbey's decision to release as four separate albums music that could quite easily have been brought out as one double CD (the Rowe / Beins set lasts 28'18", the Rowe / Nakamura / Lehn / Schmickler 38'47", the Stangl / Kurzmann 33'03" and the Fennesz quartet a mere 23'44"), but the quality of these performances and their occasional (welcome) deviations from what was beginning to seem like a rather inflexible Erstwhile norm makes Abbey's decision to release them separately more than justified.

Guitarist Keith Rowe and Berlin-based percussionist Burkhard Beins have appeared on disc together before, on the album Grain on Ignaz Schick's Zarek imprint (Zarek 06, 2001). On paper, Beins's exquisitely-paced friction (check out his work with the groups Perlonex, with Schick and Jörg Maria Zeger, and The Sealed Knot with Mark Wastell and Rhodri Davies) along with the slowmotion grit associated with Rowe's Erstwhile and Grob back catalogue might lead punters to expect an austere Weather Sky-like affair, but this set, recorded on May 10th 2004 in Berlin (not May 13th, as the booklet states, in a rare mistake for Erstwhile) is exhilaratingly combative. Rowe's radio, which has never been all that prominent on his previous Erstwhile releases, is in full effect here, picking up Radio Canada dispatches on the Iraq war (a timely reminder that while punters sat in reverential silence in the clubs of Berlin, dirty deeds were afoot in faraway lands) and, at the 15 minute mark, a chunk of Dusty Springfield's "Son Of A Preacher Man" long enough to have Tarantino fans reaching for their Bibles in awe before Rowe and Beins blast it to shit. The torrential downpour of crippled pop and vicious noise that follows should be required daily listening for any stick-up-the-ass snob who complains about this music's supposed sterility, lack of energy and, most importantly, lack of humour. I'm normally no fan of live recordings that explode into enthusiastic cheering for minutes after the music has ended, but for once the decision to let the tapes roll long enough to catch the whoops and hollers of the delighted audience and the joyful, surprised laughter of Keith Rowe himself is to be applauded.

The quartet line-up featuring Rowe with Toshi Nakamura (on inputless mixing board), Thomas Lehn (analogue synth) and Marcus Schmickler (laptop) is, in contrast, a fine example of quintessentially Erstwhile electro-acoustic improv. While Lehn and Schmickler alone are remarkably good at exploding into apocalyptic noise – their duo outing Bart remains Erstwhile's noisiest release to date – Rowe and Nakamura are perfectly content to watch the clouds drift across the (weather) sky like giant cream buns. Combining the two duos to form a quartet is nothing less than a masterstroke, resulting in music of nail biting intensity and volatility that nevertheless proceeds towards its goal with implacable logic at a stately pace. Anyone who dares doubt that this music has come of age should sit down and listen closely to this one – it's one of those rare occasions where everything makes perfect sense, from the demented snippets of drum'n'bass Rowe manages to pick up to the huffs and puffs of Lehn's big bad wolf synthesizer, from the dangerous squiggles of Schmickler's laptop to Nakamura's chilly loops.

ErstLive 003 is billed as "schnee_live", a reference to the earlier outing on the label featuring guitarist Burkhard Stangl and laptopper / Charhizma head honcho Christof Kurzmann, but the 33-minute set they played as part of one of the AMPLIFY fringe events in Berlin's Ausland on May 19th was far removed from the Schnee project's austere and dense video montage of films by Albert, Fassbinder, Godard and Marker. Once Kurzmann has persuaded the locals to quieten down, he launches into a reading of nothing less than the lyrics of Prince's "Sometimes It Snows In April" (from the 1986 Parade album), using the sung chorus as a springboard into an extended variation. After ten minutes of patient exploration, the second verse appears, the chorus duly leading the musicians back out into the no man's land of experimentation before the Prince song returns again, with Kurzmann joined by Charhizma house divas Margareth Kammerer and Adeline Rosenstein on backing vocals. What's most surprising – and most touching – about this release is its sheer coherence: one might think that the incorporation of an existing song – by Prince, no less – into a context of austere eai experimentation is guaranteed to drag the music down into a swamp of postmodernism bordering on the kitsch (like Heiner Goebbels' pilfering of "Joy In Repetition" in Die Wiederholung), but nothing could be further from the truth. Gentle diatonic harmony was a feature of Stangl's guitar playing long before he teamed up with three fellow post-Connors fingerpickers on SSSD, and Kurzmann's own tastes in music are catholic enough to embrace musicians as diverse as Fleischmann and Fennesz on his label. And even when Stangl drifts off into nostalgic Jim Hall comping, Kurzmann's oppressive loops drag him back into focus. But the best is yet to come, with the incorporation of the Viennese chestnut "Wenn ich einmal sterbe", with lyrics specially adapted to incorporate a reference to "laptops chirping like crickets". Köstlich.

The second quartet release of these four (one can't help but admire Abbey's almost Greenaway-like fondness for symmetry) also looks, on paper, like a double duo affair, a Tokyo vs. Vienna tag wrestling bout pitting Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M against Mego heavyweights Peter "Pita" Rehberg and Christian Fennesz. Though the two Europeans are, when given half a chance, awfully good at taking off on their own flights of fancy – Rehberg into his own supercharged spincycle of fractured glitch punk, Fennesz into a pinky blue pastel landscape that would make even JMW Turner reach for his Ray-Bans – their Japanese playing partners suck them into a veritable black hole. It might last only 23 minutes but believe me it's enough. Fennesz has rarely sounded so tight and tense on disc – his two earlier appearances on Erstwhile (on Wrapped Islands with Polwechsel and Live At The LU with Keith Rowe) sound rather timid in comparison. As for Otomo and Sachiko, like Abbey and Erstwhile they've accumulated so many superlatives by now it's hardly worth adding any more to the list. Just listen instead.—DW

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Reissue This!
Keith Tippett
EEG 2106
I like to think that the music establishment today, for the most part an anaemic cross between academia and ignorance, could, if it so wanted, raise Keith Tippett's status; after all, the Bristol-born master has never been fully acknowledged as the multi-talented composer and (above all) great pianist that he is, except by a select group of aficionados. It's a hard job finding just one album from such a large and important oeuvre that deserves to see the light of digital reworking; as a self-confessed Tippett admirer I could come up with more than a few equally essential records that would fit in this space. For starters there's the graceful, profound double LP The Unlonely Raindancer (Universe, 1979), Tippett's first solo dip into a magnificent world of introspection once memorably described by Piero Scaruffi as "New Ageish" (risking a lawsuit if ever Mr.Tippett sees his website). I'd also recommend the septet A Loose Kite In A Gentle Wind Floating With Only My Will As An Anchor (Ogun, 1984), a rite of passage between the pianist's 1970s exuberance and his subsequent more withdrawn approach. That said, the fact that nowadays you have to fork out several large denomination banknotes to get The Dartington Concert on eBay (assuming you're lucky enough to find it) is a real scandal, as this is really one of the crowning glories of Tippett's solo discography.
At this point in his career – rewind back to 1992 – with three chapters of Mujician and a couple of four-handed beauties with Howard Riley (First Encounter and In Focus) already behind him, the will to celebrate a recently departed friend inspired our man to the highest spheres of creativity in one of the most intense piano recordings you could have the good fortune to experience. Recorded on the 2nd of August 1990 in the Great Hall during the Dartington International Summer School, the 47 minutes and 49 seconds of this disc are taken up with a single piece, a marvellous homage to the late Dudu Pukwana entitled "One for you, Dudu". After a few seconds of silence, polite applause welcomes the artist, who wastes no time in attacking the piano with a series of figurations that are totally decipherable even in their dissonant complexity. Fingers hammer the keyboard but find a myriad of sweet spots, like jogging in a minefield yet somehow knowing there's no danger of being blown away. It's hard to find a pianist capable of generating the rumbling force that Keith Tippett conjures up when exploring the lower registers of this complex apparatus; contrarily to the ultra-rapid detailed counterpoint and bazooka-like clusters of Cecil Taylor (it's a mystery as to why many compare the two, since their two styles are vastly different), Tippett's sound is like hyperventilating strange perfumes in an obscure ceremony, submerging the listener in a harmonic quagmire. After more than 15 minutes of fantastic digital juggling, the focus shifts to the extreme high register in a torrential cloudburst of complex scripts and codes transformed and modelled by Tippett's manual dexterity and abundant inventiveness into a quintessential demonstration of how technique can be bent to heart's desire. After a quotation of Satie's "Gymnopedies" over a roaring cascade of repeated superimposed left hand arpeggios, objects are placed on the strings in classic Tippett fashion for several minutes of prepared piano in which the sound becomes at one and the same time transcendental and extremely concrete, in a sort of post-mortem reflection on his recently deceased friend that slowly morphs into a celestial cloistered zither-like soliloquy featuring one of Tippett's most distinctive colours, that metallic "zing" of prepared strings that underpins his advanced explorations, not only in his solo performances but in his beautiful duets with his wife Julie Tippetts. We're nearing the end of the performance and all begins to slow, vital forces lying spent on tear-stained ground, while our shaman brings this amazing improvisation to its worthy conclusion, the awareness of sorrow and the romantic communion of silence and meaning. He calls out "Doooo-Doooo" and silence falls, only to be broken by the rapturous ovation. An utter masterpiece – reissue it.—MR

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