JUNE News 2005 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Nate Dorward, Stephen Griffith, Walter Horn, Vid Jeraj, Massimo Ricci, Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg, Wayne Spencer, Dan Warburton:

Akio Suzuki
Taku Sugimoto
On Mode:
George Crumb / John Cage / Morton Feldman / Iannis Xenakis
In print:
Jazz In Search Of Itself
On Creative Sources:
Fages, Costa Monteiro, Barberan / Pocket Progressive / Wade Matthews / Akiyama, Kahn, Kawasaki / Kinoshita, Okura, Ezaki / Stefan Keune / Davies, Hayward, Eckhardt, Capece
On Clean Feed:
Jumala Quintet / Charles Gayle / James Finn
POST ROCK: David Sylvian
Orchestrova / Ribot, Grimes, Campbell, Taylor / Scott Rosenberg / Eugene Chadbourne / Respect Sextet / Mezei Szilard
Brötzmann & Bennink / Chen & Beresford / Civil War / Grubbs & Veliotis / Weston, Edwards & Sanders / Louis Moholo-Moholo & Roger Smith / Benat Achiary
John Zorn / Eliane Radigue / Kasper Toeplitz / Rick Cox / Jim Fox / Kyle Gann
Elliott Sharp & Merzbow / Lawrence English / Daniel Menche / Sébastien Roux / Nicolas Collins / JARL
Last month

Akio Suzuki

Catalogue + CD
Les Musées de la Ville de Paris
ISBN-2-87900-875-1 ISSN 1272-2103 12€
If you're in Paris now or coming here in the foreseeable future, a visit to Russian émigré sculptor Ossip Zadkine's former loft on the rue d'Assas near the Jardin du Luxembourg is certainly worth considering. And while you're there, pick up one of these souvenir catalogues for last year's Résonances exhibition – now unfortunately over – in which Japanese sound artist Akio Suzuki was invited to contribute two site-specific installations and map out a special sound walk around the Montparnasse district. A review of the exhibition appeared in The Wire #249 (November 2004), and is reprinted here with the kind permission of Tony Herrington:

"At first impression there might not seem to be much in common between sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1890 – 1967) and Japanese sound artist Akio Suzuki (born in Pyongyang, 1941), but just as music was a recurring influence on Zadkine – he sculpted no fewer than nine versions of Orpheus – the deceptive simplicity of Suzuki's work is as much about space and light as it is about sound. "Come and see," wrote Zadkine, inviting a friend to the studio on rue d'Assas he moved into in 1928, now the museum bearing his name: "You'll understand how a man's life can be changed by a dovecote, by a tree." Or by a piece of bamboo: Akio Suzuki's "From one bamboo" and "Bamboo Harp" occupy a bright, spacious room in the museum's secluded gardens. Visitors are encouraged to pick up and put down (gently) the 25 irregular bamboo cylinders on their concrete plinths to discover their individual sonic identities. "It is very important that each segment is different," Suzuki comments: "People are different, one from another; each comes with his/her imagination and sensibility. Everyone becomes a musician." A basic human gesture – what could be more commonplace than just picking something up and putting it down again? – becomes a rich aural adventure, and the space soon fills with the delicate clatter of wood on stone.
Suzuki's second contribution to the Résonances exhibition is in the form of a soundwalk or oto-date, the third such event he has been invited to curate in France, after similar outings in Enghien and Strasbourg. Oto-date roughly translates as "open air sound ceremony" – so the distinctive forlorn echoes of the Métro and the crisp, metallic chatter of Montparnasse's bustling cafés are, sadly, excluded – and the map provided by the museum retraces Suzuki's exploration of the district around Zadkine's studio. Walkers are invited to head southwards, skirt the Montparnasse cemetery (appropriately, Zadkine's last resting place) and cross the Jardin Atlantique, a rooftop garden built above the platforms of the Gare Montparnasse, eventually ending up in the narrow streets between Saint Sulpice and the Jardin du Luxembourg. Along the way fifteen specific listening points are identified, a pair of ears in a circle painted on the pavement to indicate the precise location of the listening point and orientation the listener is to adopt. Though several of these are time-specific – the schoolyard on rue Joseph Bara is best appreciated at playtime – and others light-specific – the Place des 3 Martyrs seems to have been included for the spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower it affords at night time (during the day it's a particularly noisy traffic intersection), Suzuki has found some extraordinary spots, from the Jardin Atlantique's surreal sound window opening from leafy tranquillity and birdsong onto the roaring trains and blaring loudspeakers of the station below, to the traffic island between rue Falguière and rue Armand Moisant, where a magical acoustic reveals itself, the resonance of the crossroads and a nearby playground amplified and focused by adjacent high-walled buildings. Suzuki himself, however, would be the first to recognise that some of the most memorable experiences in life occur along the way, between the oto-date, in those fleeting moments that only chance can throw your way: a concierge sweeping dry leaves across the yard of the Musée Zadkine, a furious cavalcade of police cars in the Avenue du Maine road tunnel, a cat yawning and stretching on the gravel path of the Musée Bourdelle. And, "a song wrapped in dusty gas rises towards me from the street [..] the hot, heavy breathing of thousands of cars, fleeing, colliding, a mighty exodus." Not Akio Suzuki's words, but those of Ossip Zadkine, on his first visit to Tokyo in 1959."

Accompanying the book, with its fine explanatory essay by Catherine Grout (in French) and splendid collection of photographs documenting the exhibition and the oto-date, is a CD featuring Suzuki performing on a stone flute (shades of the great Watazumido), a glass harmonica, plus his own inventions, the Analapos and the "D'un seul bambou" installation itself. These were recorded at the Nuit Blanche at the Musée Zadkine that took place on October 2nd 2004, by Eric La Casa, who also took his mics out in the streets to record Suzuki's oto-date in situ. One can think of no finer sound artist for the job – La Casa's extraordinary ear (and his extraordinary mics!) catch the essence of the place perfectly (having walked the circuit several times and recorded it myself, I can vouch for his pinpoint accuracy) and his editing and mastering are simply faultless. Whether you saw the exhibition or not, I strongly encourage you to get hold of this if you can – this is the real sound of Paris! —DW

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Taku Sugimoto

A Bruit Secret ABS 11

Cut 012
Anyone who's followed the career of Taku Sugimoto from the florid lyricism of Flagments of Paradise, with its Loren Connors-like melancholy strains, through the ever more sparse guitar duo releases with Kevin Drumm, Annette Krebs and Burkhard Stangl to the austerity of Futatsu with Radu Malfatti can't have failed to notice that the further Sugimoto advances the fewer notes he plays. Interesting parallels could be drawn with the oeuvre of Samuel Beckett, in which case Sugimoto's "Hum", which calls for nothing more than amp buzz, could be the equivalent of Beckett's infamous "Breath", a "play" that many Beckett-watchers took to be the point of no return in the author's career. Of course it wasn't: Beckett continued to produce a substantial body of work after "Breath", and similarly, since "Hum", Sugimoto has launched himself into an extensive series of compositions using a notational system of his own, which he calls (Bertrand Russell must be smiling in the hereafter) Principia Sugimatica.

The Principia doesn't specify what to play in terms of precise pitches, though it would be relatively easy for the notation to include this information. Actual sounding musical events are either long notes (semibreves), which are allowed to decay, or short ones, which are not allowed to resonate. The former are represented in the notation by "°", the latter by a simple dot, "." Duration is specified in minutes ("m") or seconds ("s"), and subdivided by the use of the slash "/". Events or groups of events can be repeated, singly or in groups, which is indicated by the multiplication sign "*". To take a straightforward example, then: ". 1m/3" indicates that a duration of one minute is to be divided into three equal units (of 20 seconds), each beginning with a short sound. Whether the sound is to be the same each time isn't specified, though that's the approach Sugimoto adopts on the Principia Sugimatica album. To thicken the plot slightly, ".1m/center" requires the performer to "put a dot in the center of one minute," which, as the composer admits, "is not easy. What I am aiming at is that, if the duration of the single dot is 0.4 seconds, it is played at 0.2 seconds before 00'30". Thus, "1m(30s .30/1)" is not completely equal to ".1m/center".." Fair enough.

If this is beginning to look confusing, you might be reassured to know that you're not alone. Even producer Michel Henritzi seems to have overlooked a couple of typos – misplaced slashes – in the title of the first piece on the album, which reads: ".1m/3 .1m/4 .1m/4cen . 1/m4 .1/m3" (it should, of course, be ".1m/3 .1m/4 .1m/4cen . 1m/4 .1m/3"). What this amounts to is a symmetrical five-minute piece whose first and last minutes each consist of three regularly spaced dots every twenty seconds, the piece's second and fourth minutes each consisting of four dots, one every fifteen seconds, and a central third minute whose four dots occur in the middle of each fifteen-second sub-unit (at roughly 2'07.5", 2'22.5", 2'37.5" and 2'52.5"). My own approach to this notation, were I performing the piece, would be to prepare a conventionally-notated performing score (as David Tudor did with some of Morton Feldman's graphic pieces – see John Holzaepfel's splendid essay "Painting by Numbers" in The New York Schools of Music and Visual Arts (Routledge, 2002) – by the time you have worked out what "3m (1m (20s . 10s/1 . 15s/1 .15s/1)*3) 3m (1m (15s. 15s/1 .10s/1 .20s/1)*3)." means (and don't forget that dot right at the end!) the piece is nearly over.

Sugimoto builds more flexibility into the system by his concepts of "aug" and "dim" – the score / title of the final piece on the album reads as follows:
1m ° 1maug5/1*9 (left)
1m ° 100secdim5/1*12 (center)
1m ° 1m/1*12 (right)
Which means that on the left channel, after a minute's silence, the first semibreve is sounded at 1'00", the second at 2'05" (1m + 5s), the third at 3'15" and so on, while the semibreves in the centre of mix become gradually more frequent and those on the right channel appear regularly on the minute. Once more, anyone with a smattering of normal music notation capable of reading a 4/4 bar at quarter note 60 could notate the entire thirteen-minute composition without any difficulty whatsoever. I suppose one advantage of Sugimoto's notation would be that he could send you an entire score by SMS on a mobile phone, but performing it would still probably involve quite a bit of preliminary transcription.

So much for the notation – what does the music sound like? Well, if I might be permitted a flight of fancy, assuming that a simple hyphen "-" represents a second's silence, the first piece on the album is as follows:

. -------------------. -------------------. -------------------. --------------. --------------. --------------. ---------------------. --------------. --------------. --------------. -------. --------------. --------------. --------------. --------------. -------------------. -------------------. -------------------
As each of those dots lasts, Sugimoto estimates, not a whole second but only about four tenths of a second, there are in fact no more than 7.2 seconds of music in the entire five-minute piece. This, along with the fact that each of the dots corresponds to the same sound (Toshimaru Nakamura's mixing, editing and mastering is absolutely meticulous, certainly in the first piece – there seems to be greater rhythmic flexibility in the final three-channel composition quoted above) means that it's a pretty extreme experience. What you get out of it as a listener depends to a large extent then on where and when you choose to listen, as 97.6% of what you'll hear when you press play on track one will be the sounds surrounding you. If Sugimoto had chosen to keep the same rhythmic notation but vary the pitch and timbre of each dot and semibreve, it would be possible to experience the work as a melodic line (albeit a very fragmented one), which is how I approached his work with Radu Malfatti, both on the album Futatsu and in concert (reviewed in The Wire). But since he's gone to great pains to assure that each note is identical, such a linear pitch-focussed listening is no longer possible. Nor, unless one listens with stopwatch in hand or eyes glued to the track time display on the CD player, is it possible to perceive the larger symmetrical structure of the pieces, unless they're sufficiently short to be grasped as a whole (this is true of track six on the album, which clocks in at just one minute and whose seven discrete events can be heard as a hocketing dialogue around a central sustained tone).

In its concern for austere mathematical beauty apparently for its own sake, Principia Sugimatica recalls some of Tom Johnson's more radical compositional stratagems (Music for 88, The Chord Catalogue), and like Johnson's work, it is relatively easy to understand and admire, but hard to love (I've had my copy of The Chord Catalogue for four years and never managed to play it through all the way once). But the same compositional method system applied to another sound source can yield surprising and beautiful results. As percussionist Jason Kahn related in his recent interview with PT, one of his recent projects was to commission Sugimoto to write a piece for cymbal. He sent Sugimoto a selection of soundfiles showing what different sounds his cymbal (amplified and mounted on a floor tom) could produce, and the composer responded several months later with a score. "It's 70 minutes long and everything is timed," commented Kahn. "I'm free to choose which sounds on the cymbal I play, but I have to adhere to the dynamic and rhythmic indications." Don't – no, on second thoughts do! – do as I did and crank up the volume in anticipation of another selection of eternal pianissimos – when Kahn's thudding roll comes in at the three minute mark (that presumably means the score begins with "3m"!) your ears will thrill. In comparison to the cloud of rich harmonics that the cymbal produces, Sugimoto's own guitar tones on Principia sound somewhat anaemic, and Music for Cymbal also brings dynamics into play: the aforementioned roll beginning at 3'00" diminuendos over four minutes (I'm reminded of the famous opening of Stockhausen's "Klavierstücke IX") – and that's not as easy to pull off as it sounds. Kahn's attention to detail throughout the 72-minute span of music is exemplary. Sugimoto completists (I suppose they must exist – I only hope for their sake they live in a very quiet neck of the woods) will want to check out both these albums, but if you value the sounding result more than the process behind it, Music for Cymbal is the one to go for.—DW

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On Mode
George Crumb
Mode 142
"Makrokosmos", George Crumb's "24 fantasy pieces after the Zodiac" – the homage to Schumann is clear – is, as Steven Bruns notes in his accompanying essay, performed quite frequently these days. And understandably so, as they're eminently accessible, quotations of Beethoven and Chopin and poetic extra-musical programme notwithstanding, using a musical language sufficiently close to the composer's role models – Bartók, Debussy, Messiaen – so as not to send uninitiated concertgoers screaming for emergency exits. Margaret Leng Tan performs the two twelve-movement cycles (each of which is subdivided into three groups of four pieces, each piece dedicated to someone born under the corresponding sign of the Zodiac) with exemplary precision. Even the "Cadenza Apocalittica" in Book II, with its lusty cries of "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and the Dies Irae doodles of the ensuing "Prophecy of Nostradamus", which can all too easily come off as bombastic and over the top, work remarkably well. Alex Nowitz's wobbly theremin-like whistling (what? couldn't Maggie handle that herself?) is a bit hard to take though, and the whispered Latin plus whole-tone-overload of the closing "Agnus Dei" rather trite, but it's too easy to be blasé and snipe at Crumb. His meticulous sketches are proof that an approach to set theory as rigorous and uncompromising as Babbitt's can coexist perfectly well with a deep affection for the unashamedly tonal and heartfelt romanticism of bygone days.
John Cage
Mode 144/5 2CD
Cage's "44 Harmonies" were originally written to form part of the sprawling bicentennial commission "Apartment House 1776", and take as their starting point late 18th century anthems and hymn tunes by William Billings, Jacob French, Andrew Law, James Lyon and the wonderfully-named Supply Belcher. Cage's compositional – or rather decompositional – method was to remove certain tones and extend others, and as James Pritchett points out in the (excellent as always for Mode) liners, he was delighted with the result. "You can recognise it as 18th century music, but it's suddenly brilliant in a new way. It is because each sound vibrates from itself, not from a theory," he commented. Irvine Arditti's arrangement of the Harmonies for his quartet forges a direct and clear link between this work and the earlier "String Quartet in Four Parts" (1950): both pieces explore pure yet totally non-functional diatonicism with refreshing openness and astonishing clarity – and no vibrato. As always the Arditti Quartet's reading is spotless, as is Irvine Arditti's own version of "Cheap Imitation", perhaps Cage's most beautiful homage to his beloved Satie. Taking the vocal line of the latter's "Socrate" – a highly influential if pale, often tedious, piece – and systematically transposing it up and down, note by note or bar by bar, Cage managed to retain the phrasing and rhythmic shape of Satie while producing something very much his own. Arditti's wan, flat tone is perfect – the second movement sounds as if it was recorded on one of those mass-produced half size Chinese fiddles they used to give to school kids, and the strange phantom glissandi of the third movement's col legno is as haunting as Cage's endlessly unravelling strands of melody.
Morton Feldman
Mode 146
This ninth volume of Mode's Feldman Edition brings together 13 of the 17 works the composer notated using graph instead of normal manuscript paper (between 1950's "Projection I" and 1967's "In Search of An Orchestration", though Feldman temporarily abandoned his graphic notation after 1953's "Intersection IV" and only returned to it five years later with "Ixion"), performed with customary aplomb by the Amsterdam-based Barton Workshop under the baton of Jos Zwaanenburg and their music director James Fulkerson, who also provides the perceptive liner notes. Feldman collectors had better get their credit cards ready, as the disc includes the first recordings of three ensemble works: "Intersection I", "Marginal Intersection" and "In Search of An Orchestration". (1961's "Out of 'Last Pieces'" is also billed as a first, though my Feldman database http://www.cnvill.demon.co.uk/mfrecs.pdf lists another recording of the work conducted by Leonard Bernstein as part of Sony's Bernstein Century edition.)
1951 was quite a prolific year for Feldman – he composed no fewer than 14 works, of which "Intersection I" and "Marginal Intersection" call for the largest forces – but while his graphic scores for chamber line-ups are no longer surprising to our ears, having been performed and recorded relatively frequently (five commercially available versions exist of "Projection I" and there are several readings of the later works in the "Projections" series, even including another by the same ensemble), the same compositional techniques used with a full ensemble lead to a rather thick, chromatically saturated texture at odds with the quasi-Webernian sparsity of the chamber pieces. The music is uncompromising, and, though recognisably Feldman, not always attractive. It's surprising, though, that "Marginal Intersection" hasn't been released before, as it's remarkably colourful, if atypical. In addition to the instrumental ensemble, in which percussion features quite prominently, the piece calls for two oscillators – one senses the influence of Varèse somewhere in the background, though the once more rather claggy pitch world is far removed from his razor-sharp set theory. In contrast, notes in Frank Denyer's version of "Intersection II" sound so good I'm tempted to wonder if Denyer, a talented and woefully underestimated composer in his own right, didn't prepare his own performing version of the score (à la David Tudor, as mentioned in the review above) prior to the recording session. His muscular bravura in "Intersections III" also gives the lie to the idea that Feldman's music must, of necessity, be slow, quiet and fragile. A comparison of the two solo cello works, "Projection I" (1950) and "Intersection IV", dating from three years later, both splendidly performed by Taco Kooistra, reveals how sophisticated Feldman's graph paper notation had become by the time he abandoned it later in 1953. When he returned to the medium at the end of the decade, the results were deceptively complex, and strikingly beautiful. Compared to the rather muddy textures of "Intersection I", "Out of 'Last Pieces'" and "The Straits of Magellan", both written in 1961, positively shimmer – and I thought the Turfan Ensemble's reading of the latter on Mode 103 couldn't be equalled – and it's wonderful to finally hear "In Search of An Orchestration". Not that Morton Feldman had to search all that far: his mastery of instrumentation is evident throughout this fine disc.

Iannis Xenakis
Mode 148
"Music is not a language. Any musical piece is akin to a boulder with complex forms, with striations and engraved designs atop and within, which men can decipher in a thousand different ways without ever finding the right answer or the best one," wrote Iannis Xenakis in his introductory notes to the performance of his sound-light Diatope installation at the Pompidou Centre in 1978, for which he composed the seven-channel tape work La Légende d'Eer (after Plato). A few years ago, thanks to the no doubt well-intentioned but somewhat suspect attentions of DJ Spooky (amongst others), Xenakis's music became, for a short while, radically hip, with a whole generation of noiseniks jumping into the back catalogue and claiming it as their own heritage, resulting in Asphodel's opportunist and decidedly dodgy – in terms of both content and ideology – repackaging and remixing of Persepolis (of which the less said the better, lest I get any more gratuitously offensive email from Zbigniew Karkowski, who "curated" that project). But in their undoubtedly sincere enthusiasm for the composer's work and its impenetrable, uncompromising soundworld (hardly surprising he should compare it to a boulder), they overlooked a crucial detail: Xenakis was first and foremost an architect, and the formal aspects of huge sprawling electronic works like Persepolis and La Légende d'Eer were worked out in meticulous detail and are as solid as a Gothic cathedral. This extraordinary sonic universe of thumb pianos, Jew's harps, Japanese drums and bricks banged and rubbed against each other is as impressive as it is expressive, and impossible to ignore – it's most definitely not background music, and its power to disturb can't be removed just by turning the volume down – but what makes the 47-minute span of music so effective is the composer's unerring precision in combining these "concrete" elements with his own computer-assisted electronic music in a superbly proportioned and aesthetically satisfying formal design. As always there's plenty of additional information to be had, both in the accompanying booklet and on the DVD version (which includes Bruno Rastoin's striking archive photographs of the original Diatope multimedia extravaganza, and an entertaining if rather woolly chat between Xenakis and Harry Halbreich), but it's the music that matters most – when the Spookys, Karkowskis (and Warburtons) of this world are no more than footnotes in dusty back issues of old magazines, this extraordinary work will still be out there, blowing the hearts and minds of a whole new generation of musicians and non-musicians alike.—DW

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In Print
Larry Kart
Yale University Press
ISBN 0-30010-420-0 2004
I have to admit that reading the introduction to Larry Kart’s new anthology of jazz reviews, interviews and essays only added to the prior apprehension I had about the book, a mood induced by the title of the work. Certainly the ponderousness of the idea of a particular art subspecies looking hither and yon for itself wasn’t dampened by the introduction, with its opaque quotations from Ortega y Gasset and various proclamations to the effect that “jazz is a meaning-making activity; its acts ask to be read, and have even come to be at various times and places hungered for.” Thinking of my duty to read the tome, I once, calling upon Isiah Berlin, even issued a silent prayer. “Please,” I petitioned, “even if Kart is no hedgehog (knowing one big thing) let him at least be a fox (who knows many little—perhaps occasionally interesting things)!”
I needn’t have worried. Jazz in Search of Itself is not only interesting and fun to read, it’s perceptive, thoughtful, and evenhanded. Best of all, it’s chock full of careful dissections of age-old puzzles. Kart, who has worked for both the Chicago Tribune and Downbeat, is a sympathetic interviewer and critic, but no pushover: he’s willing to point out failings even in his biggest heroes. The ellipticality of Wayne Shorter and what might be called the rhythm-centricity of Warne Marsh are two examples of shortcomings he finds in a couple of his avowed gods. He can admit when he may have overstated a bit, too: both a 1978 overly-psychologistic piece on Cecil Taylor and a 1983 critique of Bill Evans, in which Kart basically accuses the pianist of the occasional manufacture of pure treacle, were subjected to recent reassessment. His deepest preferences seem to be for saxophonists and singers, with the most fervent tributes directed toward Lee Konitz, Ornette Coleman, Shorter, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan. But Kart also has ample sympathy and understanding for composers, pianists, and trumpeters. Several of his pieces lovingly describe how he got the bug himself, telling of his youthful encounters with the new music in his hometown Chicago; others, like his review of Count Basie’s autobiography, Good Morning Blues, are moving and elegant.

To his credit, Kart is not embarrassed by his descriptions of being blown away at some of the many gigs he’s attended—whether or not the player doing the blowing is currently supposed to be a top-notch artist. For example, in a 1982 piece on Oscar Peterson, he tells us that “Overdrive [is the pianist’s] most effective gear….[H]is music begins to make sense only when he wheels his screeching keyboard right to the edge of a cliff.” But unlike many contemporary heavy-breathers on the music-writing scene, several of Kart’s essays provide considerable evidence of a depth of understanding of music's complexities. His careful discussion of the similarities and differences between Lennie Tristano and Bach is a case in point, and certainly one can tell how hard he has thought about the issues surrounding Tristano’s use of tape manipulation on some of the pianist’s recordings:
"The process whereby Tristano speeded up the tapes of his piano playing on “Line Up” and “East Thirty-Second” to match the prerecorded (and also fiddled with) bass and drum work of Peter Ind and Jeff Morton inspired a fair amount of controversy at the time, and while it died away when “C Minor Complex” made clear again what ought to have been obvious from the first—that Tristano could execute at the speed of [those tunes] without electronic assistance—perhaps his justification for what he did (“the result sounded good to me”) ought be taken literally. That is, by recording bass-register piano lines and speeding up the tapes until the pitch of the piano lines was raised on octave, Tristano not only made the lines move faster, but he also made a new sound. The lower in register a note on the piano is, the more slowly it “speaks” and the less rapidly it decays. By forcing that effect upwards, Tristano altered the attack-decay relationship of each note—adding a tremendously propulsive, Chu Berry-like buzz or whoosh to tones that couldn’t possibly have had that effect, that sound, if they actually had been played in the piano’s middle register."

As illuminating and riveting as many of his one-off pieces are, however, the centerpiece of his Jazz in Search of Itself is constituted by the seven related pieces that make up the section of the book Kart calls “The Neo Con Game.” Here, the author delves deeply into some of the thorniest questions in the history of music criticism. Perhaps I can rephrase them this way: “What is (or would be) wrong with somebody writing (or playing) music like Mozart’s (or Miles Davis’s) today? If the composer/performer is highly skilled and the original forms have intrinsic value, mustn’t the latter-day replicas also be valuable? Why should Stravinsky’s or Hindemith’s neo-classicism be considered a step forward – if indeed it should – while the Wynton/Branford Marsalis approach to jazz over the past 20 years is derided as little more than a sort of facile mimicry?" While I can hardly do justice to Kart’s extremely discerning commentary in a review, I think it will be illustrative to provide a couple of excerpts. Before doing so, however, I want to point out that Kart’s critique of the “neo-cons” is far less polemical than it could be. His earliest piece on Wynton, “Marsalis at Twenty-One” [1983] is sympathetic and hopeful—Kart obviously believes that the trumpeter’s astonishing gifts might, over time, result in a jazz titan. Kart can’t be criticized for being a partisan avant-gardist, in any case. While an avid admirer of Coleman’s harmonic advances, Evan Parker’s circular-breathing chops, and Roscoe Mitchell’s affinities with the fifteenth-century contrapuntalist Guillaume Dufay (!), Kart clearly prefers Konitz and Stan Getz to Cecil Taylor, and never even mentions Sun Ra, Anthony Braxton, or Derek Bailey in the book. In fact, though he devotes an essay to Frank Zappa, a piece on prosody makes it abundantly clear that Kart has much more affinity for Cole Porter than for either Lennon or Dylan. Each page of the book reestablishes how deep the author’s roots are in swing and bop. However, as the Marsalises’ fame and influence increase over time, one can almost see Kart shaking his head in discouragement. Branford, he says, “seems to be playing at jazz instead of just playing it—as though his involvement with the music were based on a paradoxical need to fend off its emotional demands.” Again, he chides, “What Coltrane left behind was not a ‘hip’ style, but a drive toward ecstatic transcendence.” And, by the mid-eighties, Kart is willing to judge that “the effect of [Wynton’s] music is oddly and disappointingly bland.” He concludes that “there would seem to be something illusory in the hope that solid ground can be found in the jazz styles of the mid-1960s (particularly the music of the Miles Davis Quintet)—which is where most of today’s would-be neoclassicists plant their flags—for that music was always unstable, an art of emotional and technical brinkmanship.” Kart is nearly as hard on David Murray, of whom he says that the turn towards orthodoxy after experimental early work seems a sign of conscious guile, an “eagerness to gratify his and his audience’s desires to experience in the present a way of playing jazz that a short while ago seemed to belong only to the past.” The final nail in the neo-con coffin comes in a contemporary summing-up in which Wynton Marsalis is made to be nothing so much as a modern-day Paul Whiteman, “not in terms of the kinds of music they made but of the cultural roles they filled....the tuxedoed Whiteman, wielding his baton like Toscanini [and] Marsalis, the articulate whiz kid, equally at home with Miles Davis and Haydn and foe of rap and hip-hop.” It’s a devastating critique.
Kart devotes one graceful piece to Jack Kerouac’s relationship to jazz—his use of it both as subject matter and as inspiration for prose style. Unsurprisingly, the essay is as fertile as those on the musicians Kart discusses:
"[I]t is the sound of men like [Brew] Moore and [Allen] Eager, not the heated brilliance of Charlie Parker or the adamant strength of Thelonious Monk, that he managed to capture....‘These are men!’ wrote William Carlos Williams of Bunk Johnson’s band, and he certainly was right, as he would have been if he had said that of Louis Armstrong or Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter or Thelonious Monk. But there is something boyish in the music of Allen Eager and Brew Moore—and in the music of Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Teschemacher, for that matter—a sense of loss in the act of achievement, the pathos of being doubly outside. That is an essential part of their story; and when he was on his game, Jack Kerouac knew that it was an essential part of his story too."

To conclude, Jazz in Search of Itself is a very satisfying book. Although most of the pieces are short—none more than three or four pages—not a single one is without some valuable kernel that can be reflected on at length. How is it possible to pack so much thought and feeling into these little essays? Well, it’s a bit like Arnett Cobb’s solo on “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” As Kart explains, Cobb "began a chorus with a seemingly simple two-note phrase, which might be rendered onomatopoetically as ‘Yah-duh.’ Now I suppose you had to be there to hear what that ‘‘Yah-duh’ did, but let me assure you that within its apparent simplicity there was more musical meaning than words could exhaust. Aside from the way he attacked the first note, creating a catapulting sense of swing, there was the way its relative density—its heavy, centered sound—contrasted with the grainier, more oblique tonal texture of the second note. The effect of this might be compared to a gymnast’s second, more easeful bounce on a trampoline....The creation and control of such effects, in which the abstract and emotional aspects of jazz become one thing, is what Cobb’s music is all about. And if the principles at work in that ‘Yah-duh,’ which lasted no more than a second, are expanded to cover an entire performance, it is easy to imagine just how richly varied this master’s language can be."—WH

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On Creative Sources
Ferran Fages / Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Ruth Barberán
Creative Sources CS 023
This follow-up to last year's Atolón on Rossbin, recorded live just a month after that splendid piece of work, features Ferran Fages (acoustic turntable), Alfredo Costa Monteiro (accordion) and trumpeter Ruth Barberán in two more slabs of (not so) soft noise entitled "fehyst" and "ikhto" – seems like the good folks at Creative Sources are on a mission to outdo Autechre for strange album and track titles. All three musicians are regular visitors to Ernesto Rodrigues' label – it's Costa Monteiro's fourth outing on CS, Barberán's third and Fages' second – and one only has to dip back into the austere palindromes of I Treni Inerti's Ura, recorded just a year before this, to appreciate how far they've moved away from the discreet introspection of reductionism. Barberán's solution to the problem of being compared to a whole slew of lowercase trumpet poppers and ploppers – Axel Dörner, Greg Kelley, Franz Hautzinger, Masafumi Ezaki and Matt Davis (formerly of I Treni) – is to take the instrument back to its caveman basics, raw horny blasts replacing the now-standard vocabulary of hisses and gurgles (though there are still plenty of those too). Costa Monteiro's accordion playing is as weird as it was on his CS solo Rumeur, but he's not averse to using the old squeezebox in a more conventional manner to lay down some ugly, reedy minor ninth drones. Meanwhile Fages' so-called acoustic turntable, which treats the venerable machine as a kind of amplified circular saw, spits out the kind of noise that wouldn't be out of place in an iron foundry. It's a music of texture rather than substance, surface instead of structure, and listening to it is rather like dribbling your ear down a stucco wall: not exactly pleasant but it sure leaves an impressive scar.—DW

Rochetti / Fhievel / Sigurtà
Creative Sources CS 024
For those wondering where reductionism could go after the extreme near-nothingness of three or four years back, here's one possible direction – soft noise. As if the tiny sounds made by musicians in between those all-too-rare notes were all that remained, a strange assemblage of mildly disturbing rustles and crackles, as the focus shifts from the musicians themselves to the world around them, with an increased use of field recordings. There are some dogs woofing and sniffing somewhere in the background at the beginning of the first of these two tracks (total duration just over 34 minutes), but the accompanying photography is ugly urban high rise – let's hope this wasn't where the music was recorded – and if you can imagine what it might sound like to contact mic a rat and record it scurrying around inside a metal dustbin full of sweet wrappers, paperclips and those polystyrene worm things they use to protect electrical appliances in transit, you'll have an idea of the music. The performers are Claudio Rochetti (turntable, small percussion, radio), Luca Sigurtà (cymbals, objects and toys) and Fhievel (electronics and field recordings), and the name they've chosen for the album is quite a good one, at least the "pocket" bit of it, since most of the music on offer here sounds as if it was recorded by tiny microphones hidden inside a plastic anorak. Whether or not "progressive" is an appropriate epithet is open to question – tiny sounds have, after all, been around for some time already (Morphogenesis, anyone?) – but the other possible way out of reductionism, the one favoured by Messrs Malfatti and Sugimoto, leads even further into silence, and if there's one thing Pocket Progressive isn't, it's silent.—DW

Wade Matthews
Creative Sources CS 026
The first word that comes to mind is "attack", even if this nightmarish volley of grenades lobbed our way by Wade Matthews turns out to be, as he explains in the booklet, an intricate circuit of unimaginable pipe dreams that materialize incredibly right in our ear holes. Close miking guarantees fantastic detail in every perceivable nuance of Matthews' bass clarinet and alto flute, generating mesmerizing patterns of circular breathing and percussive tongue clucking that sound like a one-man shamanic tabla / flute duo. Extended techniques raise the curtain on an otherwise invisible world of gremlins and gizmos dancing through a forest of unfathomable harmonics. Horse-like whinnies and tiny shards of regular timbre spring out of the alembics every once in a while to remind us we're not listening to some deranged plumbing system, while growling mixtures of voice and venomous insufflations will have you wondering what possible use there is for the synthesizer anymore. Matthews is an artist whose palette contains so many colours that describing it as "kaleidoscopic" sounds almost offensive.—MR

Tetuzi Akiyama/Jason Kahn/Utah Kawasaki
Creative Sources CS 027
Taking its name from the venue in Tokyo where it was recorded, this is a live document of an improvised set where there's almost no difference between sound and ambience, such is the natural flow of sonic events characterizing this ménage à trois, the second outing (after 2000's Luwa on Rossbin) featuring Akiyama (tape-delayed guitar), Kahn (analogue synth and percussion) and Kawasaki (dismantled Roland synth, cell phone). Those expecting a predominantly static panorama might be occasionally disoriented by this unassuming box of tricks, which, if carefully opened, reveals an intriguing collection of tiny sonic gadgets that the late Roger Sutherland would surely have approved of. Magnetic particles and continuous electric humming mingle with barely audible investigations into instability, and guitar noise, disturbed oscillations and outside car engines are transformed into condensed blurring identities, the perfect representation of an egoless approach which works perfectly in this context.—MR

Kazushige Kinoshita / Masahiko Okura / Masafumi Ezaki
Creative Sources CS 028
For those of you who haven't seen him perform, Kazushige Kinoshita plays laptop violin. No, not a violin hooked up to an iBook, I mean he actually lays the instrument on his lap and plays it horizontally, holding the bow with both hands, placing it on the string(s) and applying pressure until the slightest friction produces sound, a quasi-indeterminate collection of irregular clinks and plinks rather reminiscent of a Geiger counter: you never know when the next clunk is coming, nor how loud it might be. He's joined here by Masahiko Okura and Masafumi Ezaki, who are more interested in using their instruments – respectively alto saxophone and trumpet – as draughty tubes and metallic percussion (though anyone familiar with their work in other projects such as Gnu or Hose will know that they can indeed play the horns perfectly well). Curiously enough, for all its moment-to-moment unpredictability, the music on Kenon is relatively surprise-free once the ear attunes to its microworld of snaps, crackles and pops (plus the odd raspberry). It's concentrated, but not especially intense, quite busy doing nothing, swirling round and round like tiny eddies of dust trapped at the end of a blind alleyway.—DW

Stefan Keune
Creative Sources CS 030
It is impossible not to be immediately floored by the technical command and the overwhelming repertoire of special FX that Stefan Keune brings to the table with this collection of scaled-down invitations to solo sax paradise. A captive nightingale undergoing electroshock therapy singing Xenakis ("Reedcycling"), Keune, rips pages from Alfred 23 Harth's book of schizophonics ("Palate", "The mole") and chews them into a pulp of his own in search of sinuous epileptic martyrdom. There is not a single dull moment; with its acute multiphonics, wrinkled harmonics and lyrical monkey business, Sunday Sundaes is in a class of its own among the many marvels of Ernesto Rodrigues' label, revealing Keune as one of the most resourceful loonies on the current scene.—MR

Rhodri Davies / Robin Hayward / Julia Eckhardt / Lucio Capece
Creative Sources cs031
The two tracks on Amber are derived from studio quartet recordings made in Berlin 2004 by radical Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies, Berlin-based English tuba player Robin Hayward, Julia Eckhardt, a violist working of Berlin and Brussels who has played improvised and composed new music over the last decade in a number ensembles including Q-O2 and Incidental Music and Lucio Capece, an Argentinean reeds player now living in Berlin who plays bass clarinet and soprano saxophone both solo and in various groups. This is improvised music from that realm of extended techniques in which string instruments are scraped, rattled and knocked, brass and reeds yield arrays of hisses and plops, and everyone avoids the notes of the chromatic scale like the horrible plague they are. At its best, it is labile and engrossing, featuring both subtle changes in shifting layers and more abrupt discontinuities as the four players answer or build upon each other’s contributions. However, it is not free of nervous post-reductionist fidgeting and hermetic droning, both of which too often lead the music into somewhat monotonous terrain, but readers tolerant of drone and repetition will not be discouraged.—WS

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On Clean Feed
Jumala Quintet
Clean Feed

Charles Gayle
Clean Feed
Freely improvised music in the US, especially in the post-Coltrane climate, has locked into a tradition of "outsider" improvisers that rivals any in the annals of jazz mythology, and it seems to take its cue from saxophonists. Albert Ayler is of course the Father (rather than Holy Ghost) in this scenario, his music approaching something otherworldly because it is so worldly, thematic material predating even New Orleans jazz and solos built from backwoods grotesques as much as an Ornette/Coltrane tradition. Following in these footsteps are such notables as Arthur Doyle, Charles Gayle, reed-playing brothers Phill Musra and Michael Cosmic, Paul Flaherty, Turkish-Bostonian drummer Huseyin Ertunc, and pianist Lowell Davidson. It is not only the fact that their music falls outside the jazz tradition for often being completely improvised, but that their personas have a very "out" quality to them: Doyle was imprisoned in France for many years after a stint on the American loft jazz scene, and has since returned to music playing piano and singing more than blasting post-post-Aylerisms; Gayle and Flaherty have been street musicians and Gayle was, for a time, homeless; Davidson’s one ESP album belies little about his life as a chemistry grad student who began experimenting with psychoactive drugs and applied color theory to both his piano keys and the parts of the brain these keys were to activate. Flaherty and the Boston triumvirate of Musra, Cosmic and Ertunc sought self-production and distribution as a means to release their art (Flaherty has since been recorded by a number of labels), with mysterious drawings and paintings gracing their covers and adding to the mystique.
Geography has been central to some musicians’ obscurity, out of the New York limelight. Connecticut-based altoist Flaherty has, for most of his recordings, sought to make music in duo format, usually with drummer Randy Colbourne (more recently with drummer Chris Corsano), and this 2000 quintet meeting is thus a far cry from such utterly dense, breakneck sparring contests. Joined by multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, trombonist Steve Swell, drummer Laurence Cook and bassist John Voigt for five collective compositions, Turtle Crossing expounds upon and draws out the ebb and flow of Flaherty’s duets, supplanting them with the constant give-and-take of a full band with varying improvisational pedigrees and aesthetics. Swell, who also appears on Clean Feed’s very first release The Implicate Order, is a contemporary Rudd-Moncur hybrid, melding perfectly the expressive tailgate of a Dixieland trombonist with the fleet facility of post-J.J. Johnson hardbop stylists. McPhee’s searing tenor, microcosmic soprano and bubbly cornet spurts make for an interesting conversational palette as well, and all three are girded by enormously strong rhythmic support – Voigt and Cook are the rhythm section on-call for many Northeast avant-garde recordings.
There is a belief – often one I share – that much of the template for post-Coltrane open improvisation falls either into the dense, caterwauling juggernauts of Frank Wright, Doyle et al. or the more open, "sound-and-space" aesthetic of the AACM. The music of the Jumala Quintet sits somewhere in between these poles, taking its cue from the New York Art Quartet and possibly pre-marching band Ayler, in an ebb and flow of solos, duets, trios, up to an occasional full band statement (such as when McPhee’s bluesy tenor moves the band to fall in line to a darkly languorous theme on the album opener). Following a highly melodic Cook solo, the band breaks into a trading of hushed gestures, chirps and breaths for the title track, a symphony of hissing out of which build plodding, chunky mile markers of rhythm and a fine and squirrelly series of solos (Flaherty’s rather perverse) – McPhee even turning the proceedings into a walk. It is quite rare that, even in a leaderless ensemble, there appears to be no improvisational ego rising to the top, but a balanced string of solos and collective statements from five world-class improvisers. It takes just such an ensemble to show that energy and fire in free improvisation come from allowing the music to breathe and thus live.
Tenor saxophonist Charles Gayle often presents a rather thorny self-portrait. A generation older than most of his cohorts on the contemporary New York improvisational stage, Gayle (born in 1939) grew up in Buffalo playing piano and is self-taught on tenor, alto and bass clarinet. Upon moving to New York City in the late 60s, one would half expect the Trane-Ayler disciple to have quickly found a home in the loft jazz community (he did, after all, play some notable gigs early on and is rumored to have recorded for ESP, possibly with bassist Sirone, who's heard here and on several other Gayle recordings) – but this was not to be the case. He spent the 70s and 80s homeless, playing under the streets of New York for small change. His semi-meteoric rise after being "discovered" by the Knitting Factory is well-documented in the notebooks, and Shout!, featuring Sirone and drummer Gerald Cleaver, is a return to and refinement of form, following piano- and theatre-heavy digressions of the past several years.
Gayle’s recordings have often featured some of the most high-energy, multiphonics-driven free jazz of the past thirty years – on recordings like Touchin’ on Trane (FMP) and, especially, Consecration (Black Saint), this reaches almost unparalleled density in which the wide-open spaces of Ayler are completely filled in. On Shout!, his improvisations are significantly opened up, displaying all the intervallic leaps and bent notes that characterize a "typical" Gayle tenor performance, but this time applied to a laid-back, loosely swinging and highly melodic approach to free-blues tenor playing. Sirone and Cleaver offer constantly variable rhythmic interplay, keeping a pan-rhythmic medium tempo across five openly improvised Gayle numbers and two standards (a third, “I Can’t Get Started,” is a feature for Shepp-like fractured solo piano). “I Remember You” starts off the set, only loosely resembling the thematic material but nevertheless providing a harmonic framework to disassemble (i.e. keep them on their toes). “What’s New,” the Haggart-Burke warhorse, is trotted out for a reading almost as spirited as that given by Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray in 1962 – and it should be noted that the tune’s original moniker was “I’m Free.” These two pieces are separated by a Sirone-Cleaver mean machine, “Glory Dance,” which could – in the most abstract of ways – be Gayle’s “Boody,” with more Newk than Trane being touched on here.
With these latest installments documenting the fast-becoming-overground elements of the American improvisational underground, the myth of the obscure has been replaced by the naked fire of truly sanguine music. There are rewards concurrent with myth and hidden understanding, which Flaherty and Gayle are eager to let bubble to the surface.—CA

James Finn
Clean Feed CF 034
After just a handful of releases, the first of which was eloquently chronicled by own Nate Dorward, tenor saxophonist James Finn has rapidly established himself as a player to watch, or rather listen to. On the strength of Plaza de Toros alone, his trio with bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Warren Smith is one of the most exciting working units in contemporary jazz. Recorded by Finn at his own studio (and very well too – there's definition and depth and just the right tiny dose of reverb), these nine tracks provide ample evidence of enormous talent and great sensitivity: those who rail about free jazz being nasty, brutish and never short enough can go eat their words. Not that there's any lack of passion here – far from it: just check out Finn's command of the stratospheric registers of his horn on the title track and "El Tercio de Varas" – but there's plenty of room in his compositions for intelligent craftsmanship and deft interplay, both melodically and rhythmically. Finn studied, among others, with the late and lamentably under-recorded Arthur Rhames, and tapped in to the deep vein of Coltrane that ran through his work (well documented on Rhames' double CD The Dynamic Duo with Rashied Ali on Ayler). Like Rhames, and Trane before him, Finn likes to take a musical motive and give it a monster workout, building huge spans of music from tiny melodic cells, but he's equally at home taking off into Aylerian flights of fancy. Dominic Duval's virtuoso plucking and bowing has rarely been captured as well as it is here; the superb recording picks up each nuance, and the interplay between bassist and saxophonist, notably on "The Phantom Bull of Seville", is quite exceptional (and given the string of fine performances Duval has turned out with Joe McPhee, that's saying something). For his part, Smith is a revelation, his busy brushwork counterpoint his partners to perfection while never overwhelming them. The impeccable precision and delicacy of John Stevens' work come to mind on several occasions. Even if you refuse to accept that bullfighting isn't as elegant and poetic as it is thrilling and dangerous you should treat yourself to a seat in this particular Plaza de Toros at the earliest opportunity.—DW

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David Sylvian
Samadhi Sound SS 005
When I was young and easy under the apple boughs a remix was a remix – i.e. it worked directly with the individual tracks, subtly realigning various elements of the mix (only occasionally replacing something with completely new material) without ever losing sight of the original song –yep, in those days, it was usually songs that got the remix treatment. For old hands like me with Frankie Says T-shirts still tucked away in the closet, the nine tracks on David Sylvian's The Only Daughter aren't so much remixes of his earlier Blemish album (which inaugurated the Samadhi Sound label a year or so ago and was highly acclaimed, notably by my pals at The Wire, probably because it featured contributions from avant stars Derek Bailey and Christian Fennesz) as much as whole new readings, laptop rhapsodies, with Sylvian's vocal tracks often the only point of reference to the original song. (If indeed we can speak of "original" in the context of Sylvian's recent work, which is very much a work in progress of sorts, with various guest stars here and there contributing elements which the songwriter weaves into a highly idiosyncratic patchwork quilt.) Some are more successful than others: if you thought Ryoji Ikeda could only do cold ultra-high-tech bleeps and beats, you'll be blown away by his Takemitsu chops on the opening title track. The other reading of "The Only Daughter", by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, is pretty, but nowhere near as bittersweet. The song "Blemish" itself also gets two reworkings, one by Burnt Friedman featuring some slinky clarinet from Hayden Chisholm, the other a spookier, spikier affair courtesy of Akira Rabelais, making his third appearance on Sylvian's label (after last year's Spellwauerinsherde and the Harold Budd swansong remix "As Long As I Can Hold My Breath"). Sweet Billy Pilgrim's take on "The Heart Knows Better", despite a whole screenful of pulldown menus full of cute sounds remains trapped by Sylvian's rather repetitive (for once) song form, making the whole affair far more epic than it probably should be. Similarly, where Fennesz's billowing magic clouds made "A Fire In The Forest" a truly moving conclusion to the original album, Readymade PC's tinkly music box dub steers dangerously close to the twee. For his part, Yoshihiro Hanno can't avoid the presence on the original "The Good Son" of Derek Bailey, but his sampled twanging chords sit uneasily on Hanno's gooey sevenths and ninths, and end up sounding not only incongruous but also out of tune. After Friedman and Chisholm return to the fray with a curiously pinched version of "Late Night Shopping" (or late night beep, since for some reason the word "shopping" is mysteriously censored as if it was an expletive), Tatsuhiko Asano turns "How Little We Need To Be Happy" into Brian Wilson-meets-Dave Grusin-meets-Cornelius-meets-Quincy Jones-meets-Trevor Horn epic quite at odds with its lyric. Maybe that's the whole point of Sylvian's remix aesthetic: take the song into a whole new world by completely changing the backdrop – and yet there's a painful, at times too painful, intimacy to the songs on Blemish (compared to the blissed-out peace and love of the earlier Dead Bees On A Cake) that's somehow lost in translation here.—DW

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Atavistic ALP 159 CD
Coltrane's Ascension has, like his A Love Supreme, long been something of an unassailable summit in jazz history, but as any seasoned mountaineer will tell you, there's no such thing as an unassailable summit. A Love Supreme has after all already been scaled by Branford Marsalis, and Nels Cline and Gregg Bendian released an extraordinary version of Interstellar Space a while back, so it was only a matter of time before somebody got round to tackling Ascension. And what a spectacularly good job the Orkestrova has made of it. Joining ROVA's core members – Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs and Jon Raskin, on, respectively, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes – are Chris Brown on electronics, Otomo Yoshihide on turntables and electronics, Ikue Mori on drum machines and sampler, Nels Cline – the same – on electric guitar, Fred Frith on bass, Don Robinson on drums and violinists Carla Kihlstedt and Jenny Scheinman. Wait, Ascension with violins? Yes – and it's a master stroke too: where the Coltrane original was a heaving, turbulent horn-heavy affair, this version, recorded live for KFJC FM in Los Altos CA on February 8th 2003, opens the windows on to a landscape of bright colours and variegated textures that keeps the music fresh and buoyant right through its heroic 64-minute span. The individual and ensemble performances are simply inspired, from Ochs's opening tenor broadside onwards, and the whole glorious edifice is underpinned by Frith's marvellously spacious and melodic bass work, which keeps the flame of the original tiny modal cell burning brightly even in the wilder moments. These, when they come, are indeed noisy and ebullient, but genuinely ecstatic rather than par-for-the-course free jazz big band blowouts. Instead of jumping in and blasting the place to pieces, it's as if the musicians are floating above, able at all times to grasp the overall structure. The duo battle between Raskin's baritone and Otomo's turntables builds with ferocious intensity but remains a jeu de notes (Stravinsky), not a pitched battle, and there's plenty of room for the koto-like pizzicatos and Robinson's airy percussion work (what would Elvin have made of it, I wonder?) and the inevitable ensemble tutti is all the more powerful for it.
I like to think that if Coltrane had lived long enough to incorporate live electronics into his music, especially if performed by players as talented as Ikue Mori and Otomo, he would have done so without a moment's hesitation. The otherworldly textures of the electronics and the Radulescu-like spectra of the violins are perfectly in line with his all-encompassing vision of a planetary music. If the technology had been around at the time and this had been recorded in 1970 instead of 2004, I'll hazard a bet it would now be mentioned in the same reverential breath as The Celestrial Communication Orchestra's The Seasons, Schlippenbach's The Living Music, and the spate of recordings made by Sun Ra on tour in Europe at the end of the 1960s. It's that good. A mighty disc – don't miss it.—DW

Marc Ribot / Roy Campbell / Henry Grimes / Chad Taylor
Pi 15
This is one of those albums I really want to like more than I do, firstly because, like plenty of others, I'm delighted to see Henry Grimes back in business again (and how – his agent / partner Margaret Davis has lined up a touring schedule that would punish someone a third his age), especially playing the music of Albert Ayler, news of whose death in 1970 had apparently not filtered through to the cheap lodgings where the bassist was rediscovered just a couple of years ago by social worker Marshall Marrotte. Secondly because I've always been a Marc Ribot fan, from his fucked up screaming soloing on the Lounge Lizards' Live in Tokyo Big Heart via the dry spunky crackle of his (essential) work with Tom Waits to the tasty licks he slips into Zorn's Bar Kokhba. As for the other members of the quartet, though I'm not the world's biggest Roy Campbell fan, drummer Chad Taylor's work with the Chicago Underground outfits has always been highly competent and sensitive. The problem seems to be not so much one of personnel – that polemic is raging over at PT's half-sister site Bagatellen, where our own "retired" journalist Walter Horn has put the cat among the pigeons – but one of repertoire. Maybe it's the Ayler Overkill Effect again – I'm still trying to digest the hype that surrounded the Revenant box and already the darn thing's coming round again, on vinyl this time – but it does seem to me that Messrs Ribot and Grimes have their own ideas as to how to approach the late saxophonist's compositions, and I'm not sure they're always moving in the same direction. Both are prolix, but where Ribot takes Ayler's fondness for quoting extraneous folk material to the limit by throwing in smart references to "All The Things You Are" and Ayler's beloved "La Marseillaise" (which Albert used to call "la mayonnaise"), Grimes goes for sheer event density, filling up every available cranny with frantic scrabbling, a lot of it bowed. It's hardly surprising that Taylor is, under the circumstances, short of an answer – compare Hamid Drake, who, with David Murray on the recent Live At The Kerava Jazz Festival, just kept swinging sweet and lovely, letting Henry roll along happily in the background – and Campbell fares no better. With the exception of craggy guest spots from Henry Vestine on the last two Impulse! albums, there are no electric guitarists to compare Ribot to in Ayler's discography under his own name, but any trumpeter playing Ayler material immediately runs up against the double Donald dream team – Cherry and Ayler – and Campbell is neither fragile or feminine enough to compete with the former nor sufficiently feral and furious to score against the latter.
It's instructive to compare the version of "Saints" here with that Ribot released on his solo outing of the same name back in 2001. Once Campbell comes in (the theme it seems has to be shared between the musicians – it's called democracy and sometimes in music it sucks) any illusion of intimacy Ribot managed to create is shattered, and by the time Grimes enters it's all over: the bassist spends the entire song scrubbing around the mid to low registers of his heavily-amped instrument, managing to produce neither a discernible string of pitches nor a recognisable rhythm. Quite an achievement. Whenever Ayler himself played, despite the fact that he never left us with a solo recording, the music was so personal it was almost painful to listen to, but there's barely a minute's worth of music on this album that comes remotely close to the album which gives this group its name.—DW

Scott Rosenberg, Jim Baker, Anton Hatwich, Tim Daisy
482 Music 482-1031

New Folk, New Blues, the latest entry in 482 Music’s continuing “Document Chicago” series, has all the boiling intensity of classic free jazz, but also a curiously quizzical flavour that sets it apart from so many solemn blowouts. Jim Baker and Anton Hatwich on keyboards and bass both play admirably, but the key relationship here is that between saxophonist Scott Rosenberg and drummer Tim Daisy. They have an extensive history playing together, going back to Rosenberg’s 2001 disc Owe, and it shows in the group’s instant swerves of direction and ability to develop a coherent structure even over long stretches – the four tracks here range from 9 to 24 minutes in length. Daisy’s chattering streams of activity unspool like tickertape or knitting needles in overdrive, often occupying the foreground; the other three sometimes follow his lead, but more often work at a slant to him. Rosenberg plays tenor and baritone, getting a mordant, knowingly absurd sound out of both instruments, a series of bulbous grotesques perpetually breaking into saw-toothed oscillations between the horn’s extremes. It can sometimes sound as if he’s building an entire language out of those passages of cartoony distortion that turn up in the work of his mentor Anthony Braxton, and like Braxton he has the ability to make curiously engaging music out of sounds that would ordinarily seem harsh. The result is an album rich in event, which finds room for everything from Baker’s epigrammatic piano solos to the glimpse of late-Coltrane apocalypse at the end of “Good Morning, Headache”. Is this sort of energetic but vividly self-aware music “new folk” or “new blues”? Maybe, maybe not – but in any case this is as intense and enjoyable a free jazz album as you’re likely to hear this year.—ND

Eugene Chadbourne
Boxholder BXH 046
A welcome return on the part of Dr Chad to the repertoire he actively promoted as a journalist up in Canada in the 1970s (the track list presents a great selection of post-bop and – to coin a phrase – free jazz classics: Oliver Lake's "Heavy Spirits" and "Saturn", Eric Dolphy's "17 West" and "Miss Toni", Roscoe Mitchell's "Noonah", Sun Ra's "Space Jazz Reverie" and John Coltrane's "Miles' Mode" plus one relative oldie, Tadd Dameron's "Good Bait"), this fine, unpretentious album features the good doctor in the company of Richie West (drums), Brian Walsh (tenor sax), Bill Barrett (harmonica), Dan Clucas (cornet) and Carey Fosse (electric guitar). Those listeners who aren't exactly enamoured of Chadbourne's singing voice and the Country & Western repertoire he's promoted with unstinting relish since the early 1980s may be relieved to see that neither feature here, but Dr Chad's unbridled enthusiasm for horror movies is as evident as ever. The Wes Craven connection goes further than the album title (which, by the way, refers to his 1977 movie The Hills Have Eyes) – it's his vintage Gibson acoustic guitar that Chadbourne uses throughout the album. The story of how the two men hooked up, along with other priceless anecdotes – the Doc still writes as well as he plays – is included in the liners. There's plenty of great playing from all concerned: Fosse's gnarly electric is the perfect foil to Chadbourne's acoustic, Clucas and Walsh turn in some impressive solos, Barrett's slinky harmonica work fits in perfectly and Richie West (the original Camper Van Beethoven drummer, as Chadbourne points out) does a great Roy Haynes on the Dolphy jams. It all adds up to Chadbourne's strongest outing since Insect Attracter.—DW

The Respect Sextet
Roister 2
Two years ago, the Abdullah Ibrahim trio's lackluster performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival put me in a very foul mood, and the evening was only saved by a chance encounter with an unheralded group at a nearby club playing energized versions of Ornette Coleman songs. Recently, while wondering a) if Dave Holland was ever going to produce anything as remotely inspired as Conference of the Birds and b) whether the world really needs a twelve-disc Vandermark 5 live set, this strangely-titled album arrived and I was similarly lifted out of my trough of despond. Instead of Ornette, Misha Mengelberg is the stylistic touchstone for The Respect Sextet; aside from a reading of his delightfully-named “Hypochristmutreefuzz” (which meanders in an engagingly madcap manner before finally getting around to the theme just before the end), they have a habit of throwing in snippets of other Misha songs throughout the rest of the album, as if New Dutch Swing had been grafted and transplanted into foreign soil in an unlikely location – a club in Rochester, New York. But these guys are far more than an ICP cover band: their influences are wide-ranging. The disc starts off with Fred Anderson’s “3 on 2”, and if Josh Rutner doesn’t emulate Fred’s tenor riffs, he has a similarly brawny tone. The group pounds a series of grooves into submission Anderson-style, with trumpeter Eli Asher and trombonist James Hirschfeld getting in their licks while pianist/accordionist Red Wierenga (somewhat buried in the mix) and drummer Ted Poor team up with guest bassist Matt Clohesy to propel the horns through the compositional twists and turns. “Postal (a.k.a. PB&J)” starts as an upbeat Mingus-like blues with fluid tenor sax over a cooking rhythm section that downshifts to a trombone-heavy New Orleans funeral march. As the dirge comes to a halt, Rutner deftly interjects a couple of Mengelberg quotes (a brief “Die Berge Schuetzen Die Heimat” followed by “Rollo II”, for you Mishaphiles), Clohesy lays down a throbbing pulse under Poor’s crisp cymbal work and the band returns to the initial theme. Please don’t take my word for how good this is: go to www.respectsextet.com and sample their generous mp3 offerings, sign the guest book and insist they get their earlier CDRs back in print.—SG

Mezei Szilard Trio
Györ Free Muhely CD
Mezei Szilard is a violist from Vojvodina, Serbia Montenegro's northern region, and this is his debut release. The list of Mezei’s collaborators is long, and includes musicians as diverse as Tim Hodgkinson, Matthias Schubert, Michael Hornstein and Akos Szeleveny, but it's especially worth mentioning his duo with pianist György Szabados and his MAKUZ orchestra, and his original music for Josef Nadj’s “The Philosophers”, a play that was successfully presented in the Avignon Festival. This album makes it clear that he's perfectly at home in his own musical heritage, but other formative influences make their presence felt: Tomasz Stanko, the aleatory counterpoint of Lutoslawski and the group improvisations of Anthony Braxton and Ornette Coleman. There's a distinctly Colemanesque drive to the music, both in the originals and the folksong arrangements (notably "The Dove"), with fat acoustic walls of sound, enthusiastic riffing, plenty of great bowed work from Szilard and bassist Ervin Malina and explosive breakouts from percussionist Istvan Csik. Do yourself a favour and check it out.—VJ

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Peter Brötzmann / Han Bennink
Brö 4 LP
After 2003's The Ink Is Gone with Walter Perkins, the second release on the revamped Brö label –180g top quality vinyl only, with classy silkscreened original cover art by the performers – teams Peter Brötzmann up with longtime road warrior and fellow titan of European improv Han Bennink for the pair's first duo release since 1980's Atsugi Concert. Though neither can be said to have "mellowed" with age, there's real depth and maturity in these superbly-recorded 2004 performances from Cologne's Loft, and Bennink also brings a playfulness too often lacking in Brötzmann's vein-bursting blowouts, tapping out mad Morse code messages on a drumstick jammed into the inside of his cheek and humming a tune by his (and Brötz's) old pal Misha Mengelberg at the same time. The third track might just be the quietest thing either musician has ever recorded, with Brötzmann gingerly investigating the chalumeau register of his clarinet while Bennink flicks around his kit (and elsewhere) with tiny, impeccable brushstrokes. The Dutchman is just itching to swing hard and loud, but Brötzmann takes his time to rise to the bait, concentrating on his clarinet and tarogato and saving the alto and tenor saxes for the finale. But when he takes up the big horn for some vintage gutbucket free R&B, Bennink suddenly lays back and concentrates on his snare, a masterly false retreat before the final push for home, ending not with a machine gun bloodbath but a neat karate chop.—DW

Tania Chen / Steve Beresford
Rossbin RS 018
These ten tracks were recorded in London between December 2002 (the two final cuts come from a live Bohman Brothers event in Vauxhall) and August 2003, and feature pianist Tania Chen (a new music specialist, member of the Apartment House ensemble and student of John Tilbury) in the company of Steve Beresford, who leaves the piano stool to concentrate on his objects, electronics, trumpet and water (!). Chen also plays violin and both make extensive use of toys, so there are plenty of tinny jingles, blurts of lo-fi pop, toots, tinkles, twittering birds, chirping crickets and all manner of videogame bleeps and zaps. Chen is so at home in Beresford's playpen that it's impossible to tell who's doing what most of the time. Beresford's career as an improviser from Teatime to last year's I Shall Become A Bat has epitomised the playfulness associated with the so-called "second generation" of British improvisers – playfulness not being synonymous with superficiality (talking of synonyms, how about the track titles here – "Gel", "Lotion", "Serum", "Ointment, "Balm", "Liniment", "Embrocation", "Demulcent", "Cerate" And "Chrism"?!). That said, Beresford's music isn't to everyone's taste – my pal Brian Olewnick over at Bagatellen found this one rather hard going – and listening to all the album in one go might make you want to raid your kids' bedroom and lock up any sound producing gadgets you can lay your hands on. But as any six-year-old will tell you, you don't have to play with the same toy all afternoon, do you?—DW

Civil War
Longbox LBT 031 3"CD
Chicago's Adam Sonderberg and his Longbox label epitomise the stubborn independence – whatthefuckness, I described it elsewhere – that characterises the best of today's new music. Coming from an improviser who refuses to play by the unwritten rules – check out his compendium of anti-duets with Boris Hauf – it's hardly surprising that this debut ("and, by default, finest recording", deadpans the press release) from Sonderberg's Civil War trio with Amy Cimini on viola and Katherine Young on bassoon consists of three solo tracks (Sonderberg himself is credited as playing bass drum, but his contribution sounds more like bowed cymbals to me). So much for the idea of a group, and recording studios be damned too: this was recorded in an abandoned grain silo, "pregnant with rich textures and overtones that only a relic of American agriculture could help foster" (can't resist another quote from the blurb). It sounds, as one might expect, amazing, and not at all like improvised music's "supposed" to sound: well, OK, Eddie Prévost comes to mind in Sonderberg's offering, but Cimini and Young's offering could easily pass for Scelsi or Radulescu. A copy of this should be sent post-haste to Werner Dafeldecker and Uli Fussenegger – a label like Durian that bridges the gap between improvisation and composition would be an ideal home for a full-length Civil War outing. Live in hope.—DW

David Grubbs & Nikos Veliotis
Headz Vector 5/Headz 38
In my world, dust has never been harmless; in fact it's one of my worst enemies, especially considering how depressed – not to mention allergic – I get when trying in vain to remove it from records and books. As a symbol for our eternal inability to accept the passage of time, dust is invincible and must be accepted as such. This sense of ineluctable dejection permeates the first movement of Grubbs and Veliotis' composition for cello, Hammond organ and piano (both regular and eBowed) in this splendidly packaged release on the Japanese Headz label. Grubbs's infrequent piano chords sprout in Veliotis's slightly dissonant, seemingly unplayable cello stasis, and a delicate, plangent grieving lyricism permeates the acoustic space throughout the first half of the record. It's a sort of multi-layer lithograph where the scarcity of material forces us concentrate on the essential. After 30 seconds of silence at the end of part one, the scenario changes completely and the pair set out on a long exploration of those aural phenomena deriving from adjacent tones beloved of composers like Phill Niblock. But where Niblock builds walls of sound, Grubbs and Veliotis remain close to the ground except for some intense Hammond bursts emerging from the grey mist. It all amounts to an intense listening experience where music and receiver truly become a single entity.—MR

Veryan Weston / John Edwards / Mark Sanders
Emanem 4214 2CD
From Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Thelonious and Bill Evans to Cecil Taylor and Marilyn Crispell, the piano / bass / drums trio is probably the most widely recorded combination of instruments in the history of jazz, and Veryan Weston's trio with Mark Sanders and John Edwards belongs up there with the celebrated line-ups featuring the Taylors, Bleys, Van Hoves and Schlippenbachs of this world. Gateway to Vienna is further proof of it. The nine tracks on the Gateway disc were recorded in 2003 in the studio of the same name in Kingston-Upon-Thames, birthplace of so many fine recordings on Emanem and Matchless, while the two extended tracks on the Vienna disc come from a concert in the Porgy and Bess club in 2002.
Pianists and drummers thrive on tension, in a play of contrasts and similarities (Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg being an extreme example), but Weston and drummer Sanders play as if they shared the same mind. Indeed, it needs some listening to, because Sanders makes no concessions, and no diversions, following the angles, curves and flurries of the pianist. John Edwards' bass brings the vibrations of wood and the elasticity of strings to bear on the percussive metallic web, adding a deep soulful vibration. It's more than a conversation: these men are reading the same text. Weston's fingering is as precise and delicate as the fleet movements of his playing partners. It's time to stop making CT the unique point of reference of improvised piano music: VW has something nobody else does and Gateway To Vienna is a veritable tour de force. Emanem hits big!—JMVS

Louis Moholo–Moholo / Roger Smith
Emanem CD 4114
Louis Moholo and Roger Smith at first might seem like an odd couple. What could the muscular African drummer of Brotherhood of Breath fame possibly have in common with the elusive nocturnal acoustic Spanish guitar player? Dig a little bit though and connections become clear: Smith is best known as the longest-serving member of John Stevens’ Spontaneous Music Ensemble, while Moholo is the only survivor of the South African expat Blue Notes, both groups which fundamentally changed the shape of British jazz and improvised music. Moholo and bassist Harry Miller played in groups led by Keith Tippett and alto sax legend Mike Osborne, while Stevens had a similar relationship with Brotherhood bassist Johnny Mibizo Dyani (heard on SME’s 1969 Marmalade release Oliv, and later in the trio Detail with Frode Gjerstadt). Stevens also recorded a tribute album to Dyani with another now departed South African, alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana. Now that Louis Moholo–Moholo is to return to his country of origin, this encounter with Roger Smith is a fond goodbye to the community of free improvisers Stevens helped establish. From 1975 until Stevens’ death in 1994, the SME had a steady line-up featuring Stevens, Smith and violinist Nigel Coombes. On their last recording Coombes was replaced by saxophonist John Butcher, who released the recording as A Certain Distance on his Acta label (rejoice: an Emanem reissue is coming soon). That was recorded in London's Conway Hall, now home to the Freedom of The City festival, whose 2004 edition welcomed Smith and Moholo's first encounter, almost all of which was released as "For The Very First Time" on the Emanem double Freedom of The City Small Groups 2004.
As his four solo Emanem discs testify, Roger Smith is a true virtuoso of the nylon-string Spanish guitar, but his subtle fingerings and arpeggios were often barely audible in the SME’s acoustic sound mix. On this studio recording, the balance is rectified, and the music flows in full spate. Moholo rattles his snare drum like no one else (he also handles timpani and even a music box) and Smith pounds his lower string dangerously, in a rumble in the jungle quite unlike the conscious call-and-response of more "classic" insect music – even though the album title The Butterfly and The Bee refers as much to that famous description of vintage English improvised music as it does to Muhammad Ali. There are plenty of unexpected turns (to quote the title of Smith's second Emanem outing) in this refreshing exchange of messages and signals that effortlessly transcends fads and frontiers. Bon voyage, Louis.—JMVS

Benat Achiary
FMP 128
Basque vocalist Benat Achiary is a remarkable soloist, with or without his arsenal of rare folk instruments and percussion, and this live recording from 2002's Unlimited Festival, which finds him interpreting texts by various poets along with four of his own compositions is a homage to his erstwhile playing partner Peter Kowald, recorded as it was just a couple of months after the bassist's sudden death. Achiary’s interpretation of "L’ Anti-toi" and "La voie Lactée" by Gherasim Luca (hailed, incidentally, as the greatest French poet by Deleuze and Guattari, of all people) is fragile and sensitive, but the following “Pansori for Peter” is a hard bite. It starts with an animal wail and develops into Tuvan drone via David Moss hum, sounding remarkably like Fred Frith’s prepared guitar of late 1980s – and all that in the first minute. On “Chant d’Exil” Achiary goes to the limits of both vibrato and circular breathing, with an occasional James Chance scream thrown in for good measure, while Jon Mirande’s “Pigalle” is more elegiac and jazzy – there's even a scat solo. The traditional Balearic “Harvest Song” is sung in the dialect and accompanied by the droning stove bass, which imitates the plough at work, and the following “Nuit Sans Sommeil” (Lorca) manages to incorporate verses from Charles Mingus’ “Freedom”. Careful with the track order: “Lullaby For Peter” comes earlier than the liners would have you believe, and is followed by Luca’s “Héros-limite”. Of the many tributes to Kowald that have appeared since his death, this is one of the most touching.—VJ

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John Zorn
Tzadik TZ 8011
I remember reading an interview Lou Reed gave just after Magic And Loss came out, saying something about wanting his music to grow old along with his fans, or words to that effect. They say that rock'n'roll is here to stay, but seeing my contemporaries in fair round belly with good capon lin'd bopping around the living room to "Tainted Love" while their offspring look on in horror isn't my idea of fun (if I want to blast the bloke downstairs with "She's Lost Control" or "William, It Was Really Nothing" I tend to do it when nobody else is looking). John Zorn is now past 50, as we all know, and the souvenirs of his month long half-century birthday bash at Tonic have been filtering out ever since. Also out again (though, thanks to the vagaries of the Tzadik contract, the original albums are still in print and should theoretically remain so throughout the universe until the end of time) is the complete Naked City back catalogue, remastered and repackaged. And it sounds better than ever, the perfect apotheosis of over a decade of Downtown eclecticism – but let's hope Messrs Zorn, Frisell, Frith, Horvitz and Baron resist the lure of filthy lucre and decline to reform for some garishly horrible comeback. Like Joy Division and The Smiths (not like Soft Cell..), Naked City still sounds fresh while remaining very much of its time (fucking horrible expression, but never mind, you get the point), but, to quote Bobby & Shirley Womack, it's all over now. Even Masada and its spin-off projects seem to have receded into the recent past – though nobody can complain that any of them have been under-recorded – as Mr Z concentrates on what he calls "Composition with a capital C". Which is where Rituals comes in.
Written in 1998, it's a five-movement chamber work for soprano (Heather Gardner, exemplary throughout) and ten instrumentalists: Tara O'Connor (flute, alto flute and piccolo), Mike Lowenstern (Eb, Bb and bass clarinets), Peter Kolkay (bassoon and contrabassoon), Jim Pugh (trombone), Stephen Drury (piano, harpsichord, celesta, organ), Jennifer Choi (violin), Fred Sherry (cello), Kurt Muroki (bass) and percussionists William Winant and Jim Pugliese, who "play" wind machines, water, bull roarers, gravedigging, fishing reels, paper, bowls of bbs and bird calls. Don't know about that gravedigging, but the wind machines are certainly prominent, obtrusive even. All the esoteric "instruments" as well as the tosh about "a live owl may somehow play a part in the proceedings" (yeah, right, what are you going to do, release a cage full of white mice too?) might boost JZ's street cred with Aleister Crowley fan club, but it's basically nothing more than a smokescreen to disguise the fact that Rituals is a perfectly normal (traditional, even) post-serial composition. Whether hardcore Zornies who dig the cartoon mayhem of Cynical Hysterie Hour or the adrenalin buzz of Kristallnacht or the smoky noir of Spillane or the punishing workouts of Execution Ground have grown up enough to appreciate what is essentially a competently executed but not exactly earthshaking piece of academic chamber music is a moot point, but they ought to remember that Zorn has always remained deeply attached to the contemporary classical roots he sprang from in the 1970s, rewarding thorny modernists such as Charles Wuorinen and Milton Babbitt with Tzadik releases to boot. Zorn's career has been about building bridges between genres – one wonders how many people discovered Napalm Death and the Boredoms via Naked City and Painkiller (I did) – and it's to be hoped that the traffic across this particular one will be two-way: devotees of The Big Gundown and Godard might end up digging Donald Martino and Elliott Carter, and hardcore Princeton serialists might start tapping their feet to Bar Kokhba. I somehow can't imagine many 50 year olds sitting down with a glass of Chardonnay to the accompaniment of Torture Garden, but Rituals would be perfectly acceptable. Without the owl.—DW

Eliane Radigue
The inaugural release on Kasper T.Toeplitz's new label ROSA (Recordings Of Sleaze Art) is nothing less than a composition by Eliane Radigue, one of the very few artists who can really claim the copyright of the term "minimalism". In a blindfold listening session, one could be fooled into thinking it's a work for electronic tape, but it was recorded live at the Cités Soniques Festival in Paris in 2004 and the clouds of mystery thicken when you read that the only sound maker involved is Toeplitz himself, on an electric bass that I failed to identify throughout the piece – and that's meant as a compliment. Elemental because it's a representation in sound of the five basic elements, but also elemental in terms of the fundamental energy that's been the essence of Radigue's output for decades. As soon as the first waves start, an intense subsonic activity is at work purifying our nervous system, the protective barriers raised by these frequencies constituting a comfortable refuge during a continuously flickering yet slowly changing state of emergency, memories of early human activity evoked in a decaying 8mm film. This cocoon generates electricity, but it also attracts bewildering calls from beyond, purposeful indications of new ways of approaching the reeling holiness that only Radigue can depict. Elemental II is a fresh take on ancient literature, music that moves towards the centre of a gravitational architecture based upon the extremes of the audio range, but it's also a spectacular reproduction of eternal sound, the mass of vibrations that probably gave birth to primitive forms of life itself. Being surrounded by Madame Radigue's undying cycles of slow motion radiance is one of the most wonderful experiences a sensitive listener could aspire to.—MR

Kasper T. Toeplitz
Here's a French music trivia question for ya: which composer has netted most money in royalties from the SACEM (the French equivalent of BMI or ASCAP for you across the pond and PRS for you across the Channel)? Not pop singer – that honour goes, apparently, to Jean-Jacques Goldman ("Who?" I hear you ask.. well, unless you have French blood or French family you're probably better off not knowing) – composer. Give up? Answer: Maurice Ravel. (Or at least it was last time I bothered to check. Monitoring my own SACEM payments is a thoroughly depressing exercise, and usually calls for a drink – in a good year my own royalty check can just about buy one.) Why? Bolero, apparently. Ever since Bo Derek said the "F word" (as they call it on the BBC) in that film with Dudley Moore years ago, it seems countless children have been fathered to the strains of Ravel. Paris-based composer and bassist Kasper Toeplitz's Capture is a kind of Bolero for the 21st century, as it follows the same basic rules: start quiet and get louder and louder. Except that, unlike Ravel's piece, nothing is actually repeated: Toeplitz's work consists of a gradually intensifying swathe of noise, beginning with an almost imperceptible hiss à la Francisco López and, frequency by frequency, building up the kind of huge terrifying wall of sound that KT's pal Zbigniew Karkowski would be proud of. Going back to Bo Derek (not that I particularly want to, mind – she's probably old enough to be your granny by now, and maybe not even as good looking), one of the key attractions of Bolero was that it was the perfect metaphor for the sex act. Somehow I rather doubt you could make love while listening to Capture – first of all it lasts an hour and a quarter, so you'd probably have to be Rocco Siffredi to make it to the end, and secondly because it's so defiantly, brutally unsexy. It's an impressive if uncompromising listen, though.—DW

Rick Cox
Cold Blue CB 0020
Those familiar with the movie "American Beauty" may recognise Rick Cox's cloudy elegies and composed sorrows; "Fade" is yet another classy release by this American artist working in the realms of corporeal abandon and calm desolation. Scored for electric guitar (played by Cox himself), piano (Thomas Newman) and bass (Peter Freeman), this 25-minute minor masterpiece is a continuous stimulation of our most introvert melancholy, through an ever shifting tonal landscape whose radiance carries the same intensity level of those anxious dreams where undecipherable languages and distant scraps of illusory harmony ensure we're breathing heavily when we awake. The closing section is a separate celestial caress, a totally functional coda to one of the most engrossing records this year so far – and one of those instances when, in terms of duration, less is not more.—MR

Jim Fox
Cold Blue CB 0021
Dedicated to the late composer/performer John Kuhlman, "Descansos, past" is a short composition for double bass and superimposed cellos that alternates a sense of poignant regret, not unlike certain works of Gavin Bryars (notably "By The Vaar", written as it was for Charlie Haden) with powerful fingering by bassist Barry Newton, who at decent listening volume is able, through sheer timbral intensity, to solicit some serious glass shaking in the living room. Steering clear of sugary sentimentalism, Fox's concise statements, performed superbly by cellists Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick, Jessica Catron, Aniela Perry and Rachel Arnold, describe a sober celebration whose orchestral flavour is enriched by rewarding aural poetry, like an inscription on a tombstone to be read with a faint smile instead of tear-stained eyes.—MR

Kyle Gann
Cold Blue CB 0019
Pianist Sarah Cahill plays all the three different overlapping manual loops that form the tranquilising architecture of Kyle Gann's "Long Night". Although the music is absolutely not intricate (it works wonders as a source of relaxation while you're immersed in different activities – wasn't that the very concept of "ambient music"?), the cross between the casual intersections of modulating chords and the Satiesque peacefulness of Cahill's keyboard painting, with its beautiful natural resonance, is complex enough to substantiate the creative effort and imagination Gann has put into the work. The thin air moves in and around this mature evocation of events definitively entrapped in a past from where they can no longer return; just being able to have a peek at them through this ancient looking glass brings long nights of aural fascination.—MR

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Elliott Sharp/Merzbow
Caminante Cami 002
I'll admit it right away: the potentially devastating collaboration between Elliott Sharp and Masami Akita is exactly as I thought it might be – minus the groundbreaking factor. Dividing their work into two tracks each as composers and two as remixers, the duo reveals once again the malleability of noise, as material that is commonly discarded becomes an integral part of dynamically overcharged experimentations, deprived of ugliness and "ignorance" and lyophilised and channelled into amorphous conduits, epileptic generators and harmonic disintegrators. Although it's hardly a wasted opportunity, I would have been happier if Sharp and Akita had shown greater interest in their reciprocal trademarks: just imagine adding some shrieking Merzbow to one of Sharp's avant-looking, pseudo-blues improvisations, or putting a serious eBow tapestry of massive guitar and bass magma above Akita's rumbles and thunders.. Instead, the "futurist/cyber/laptop" component prevails, raising hell at times, yet just a tad predictable after 47 minutes. Let's just say that Sharp and Merzbow have chosen a well-defined strategy, planned out their route in advance and decided to explore everything they find along it, without any consideration for eventual detours.—MR

Lawrence English
Cajid 003
This third release on Cajid is the richest and most rewarding to date, featuring seven evocative and superbly crafted soundscapes by Lawrence English (who's usually based in Brisbane Australia, though I read this was recorded in Tokyo and England between 2002 and 2003), using "audio tools" supplied by Mike Cooper (guitar and voice), DJ Olive (turntables), Cat Hope (bass), Tam Patton (keyboards), Gail Priest (voice), Heinz Riegler (guitar), Robin "Scanner" Rimbaud (electronics) and field recordings from Thailand, Vietnam and Tasmania provided by, respectively, John Chantler, Ben Frost and Philip Samartzis. If I might be permitted the luxury of quoting from one of my own reviews (of Keith Berry's The Ear That Was Sold To A Fish), much recent electronic music, "as if ironically commenting on the size of the machine that produced it, a laptop about as large and heavy as a folded Sunday newspaper [..] has explored vast reverberant space." If Jérôme Noetinger ever gets round to reactivating his Metamkine Cinema For The Ear series, Lawrence English should be high on his list of potential contributors; I remember an old track by Opik on a long out-of-print Ambient compilation (Feed Your Head, on Planet Dog records) entitled "Travelling Without Moving", and that's a perfect description for English's work. Which is not to say it's music to turn on tune in and drop out to (though I imagine with a little chemical stimulation the results could be quite extraordinary): like Keith Berry, Matt Waldron, Stephan Mathieu and Akira Rabelais, English has not only a vivid imagination and a great feel for structure, but an instinctive understanding of what music is capable of stimulating on the emotional level. If Wim Wenders had waited fourteen years before making Bis Ans Ende Der Welt he could have avoided Graeme Revell's soppy cello drooling (in part three) and used Lawrence English's music instead: Wenders' ambitious and not always very convincing if quite enjoyable movie tried to imagine what dreams might look like if we could actually see them on a video screen; I like to think that if one could record dreams as purely audio information, they might sound something like this. Magical.—DW

Daniel Menche
Important ImpRec 046
Portland Oregon's Daniel Menche is one of those almost invisible mutating creatures digging holes under the ground of common artistic certainty, describing himself as a "mangler" and a "melter" of sounds from the most disparate of sources, from bodily functions to gorgeous field recordings (check out his work with Kiyoshi Mizutani on Garden and Song of Jike). In Menche's soundscapes, everything is remorselessly modified in dramatically charged lumps of pulsating tones and scorching spectra carrying both a highly engrossing, hypnotizing allure and the power to burn both your mental circuits and your speakers (careful with that loudness button). For Sirocco, Menche has remodelled beyond all recognition materials sent by SETI, Asmus Tietchens, Main, John Duncan, Scanner, Akira Rabelais, Illusion of Safety, Merzbow, erikm, Brandon Labelle and AMT (quite a list), but don't think for a nanosecond that it's a simple helping of "Menche Remixes". Imagine instead an android chef gathering up all aural junk-food leftovers and recycling them in strangely perfumed radioactive gravy. When Menche redesigns harsh visuals and inharmoniousness, transforming rotting thistles into raw symmetry – he calls it "vehement beauty" – his contribution to current evolutional trends in acousmatics can't be ignored. Bear that in mind while you thrill to Sirocco.—MR

Sébastien Roux
Sébastien Roux's Pillow is aptly named – if ever there was an album that made you want to curl up under a duvet with a set of headphones on this is it. That's not quite as negative as it might sound, either, for Roux's work explores the fault lines of easy listening, running luminous electric pianos and guitar chords through his software (Max / MSP I'll hazard a guess) until the gentle glitches impose their own rhythmic identity upon the material. On the other side of the pond Christopher Willits has been charting similar territory, but where his recent work has flirted with song form, Roux remains downtempo and dreamy, inducing a mild drowsiness on the part of the listener in which the myriad tiny scintillations and clicks make perfect subliminal sense. Listening to it too attentively is like peering at a Seurat through a magnifying glass – the individual flecks of colour aren't much to look at close up, but stand back and you'll see how they fit into the big picture. I notice that Roux has an email address at IRCAM.. I wonder what Papa Boulez would say if he found out (not that he hasn't already) that someone's squatting one of his space-age sound labs and using his state-of-the-art gear to produce music as ravishingly superficial and distinctly un-Boulezian as this.—DW

Nicolas Collins
Apestaartje 3" CD
Perhaps I'm confusing it with pease pudding, but I've always associated pea soup with starch, a claggy concoction served up to spotty kids in steamy noisy school canteens. Nicolas Collins' splendid work of the same name (dating from 1974) is nothing of the sort – it's a 16-minute span of diaphanous, luminescent music based on slow sustained tones (none of which ever sits still long enough to qualify as a drone) that move in and out of focus to build a harmonic field that's rich and (for this label) refreshingly non-diatonic. Collins's explanatory note describes the circuitry he uses to "nudge the pitch of audio feedback to a different resonant frequency of the performance space every time feedback starts to build. The familiar shriek is replaced with unstable patterns of hollow tones, a site-specific raga reflecting the acoustic personality of the room." The room in question is the Plasy Monastery in the Czech Republic, where Collins recorded the work live with bassist George Cremaschi in 1999 (why has it taken so long to appear, I wonder?). There's nothing else to add really, especially since the liners and the circuit diagram overleaf explain what's going on far more clearly than I can. The best thing is to follow the single word instruction that appears on the disc itself – listen.—DW

Tantra X21
"Strictly limited edition of 499 units" it says on the elegant hard card cover. For this kind of music 499 is a pretty handsome edition, which is quite fitting since Erik Jarl's electronic music deserves some exposure outside his native Sweden. Each of these six predominantly static sonic tableaux is a rich and rewarding listen, the kind of drone you can "get inside of" (to quote La Monte Young, again), but the overall mood of the album is sombre, like the dark woods and black lakes outside of Jarl's hometown of Norrköping. If CM Von Hausswolf is your cup of tea, serve yourself some of this to go along with it.—DW

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