OCTOBER News 2005 Reviews by Clifford Allen, David Cotner, Massimo Ricci, Derek Taylor, Dan Warburton: 

On Vinyl On Demand: Wahrnehmungen 1980 / 1981
On Clean Feed:
MI3 / Mark Dresser / Paal Nilssen-Love / Robertson, Berne, Courvoisier, Dresser, Rainey
Absolute Funk
Small but Noisy:
Jonathan Zorn / Charlie Charlie / Arnal, Dahlgren & Misterka
Selwyn Lissack
Misha Mengelberg / Rachel Thompson / Barry Guy / Irene Schweizer /
Minton, Van Hove, Blume, Mattos / Rupp, Buck, Williamson / Paul Rutherford / Coleman, Hautzinger, Otomo, Sachiko M / Steamboat Switzerland
John Korsrud / Pierre Henry / Berio, Xenakis, Dashow / Yuji Takahashi / Roland Kayn
Vertonen / Paradin / Troum / John Hudak / Dale Lloyd / Loren Chasse / Piers Whyte / Roel Meelkop
Last month


Thanks go out this month to the good people at The Wire for giving me the green light to run the complete text of the interview with Ralf Wehowsky, extracts from which were used in my article on Ralf, "War On Stupidity", in The Wire 259. Thanks also to Ralf himself for editing our voluminous correspondence with the same patience and precision he brings to his own extraordinary and challenging music. Our man in Minneapolis Clifford Allen would also like to thank Selwyn Lissack for providing background information on his recording Friendship Next-Of-Kin / Facets Of The Universe, a long lost free jazz classic – see below. It's been another hectic month at Paris Transatlantic watching the postman curse under his breath as he unloads another sackful of padded envelopes containing great new music sent from all over the world. I'll take the opportunity again of thanking everyone who has submitted material (full details of how to do so are, let me remind you, available on the FAQs page) and apologise in advance for not being able to review it all. But with our new man Derek Taylor (welcome!) and our indefatigable road warriors Ricci and Cotner on board, the reviews section is reaching epic proportions. Hope you find something in it for you. Bonne lecture.-DW

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On Vinyl On Demand
Various Artists
Vinyl On Demand VOD 18 3LP + 7"
If you've read this month's feature interview with Ralf Wehowsky you'll know by now that Wahrnehmungen was the legendary cassette-only precursor of the Selektion label (not strictly true, actually: the first Wahrnehmungen release in April 1980 was in fact a vinyl, P.D.'s Alltag). And if you haven't read the interview, do so: it'll save me repeating a lot of the band histories and line-ups here. The booklet accompanying this beautifully prepared and lavishly packaged vinyl reissue of five of the original Wahrnehmungens and some hitherto unavailable material provides copious detail of the 19 projects that appeared on the label, plus information about things that were scheduled to appear but for various reasons didn't. There are also comprehensive Wehowsky and Wollscheid discographies – certainly useful considering the volume of work they've produced on a wide range of different labels since.
It's a wonderfully eclectic set of ragged, raw and at times distinctly unappealing visions of the bleak and miserable landscape of early 80s German post-punk, and a strong reminder of how ahead of the game (or way out leftfield, or even out of the ballpark altogether, depending on your point of view) Wehowsky and his P.D. cohorts were compared to the bland pap sell-out of commercial German new wave, or Neue Deutsche Welle. Permutative Distorsion was one of P.D.'s many incarnations, and Brückenkopf ("Bridgehead"), recorded in Mainz in May 1981, features Wehowsky on guitars and keyboards, Joachim Stender on keyboards and vocals and Thomas Memmler on violin (he's hardly likely to give Maxim Vengerov a run for his money, but there's a certain raw charm to his deliciously scratchy playing on "Neue Naivität"). Originally a text-heavy project critiquing the Neue Deutsche Welle, and comparing its decline and fall to the demise of German expressionism, it was successful enough to be re-recorded shortly afterwards (with the addition of Joachim Pense) and released as a separate EP Brückenkopf im Niemandsland – not to be confused with this one. Though a working knowledge of German is probably indispensable to fully appreciate the semiotic nuances, Brückenkopf remains curiously compelling as a vintage example of difficult listening, resolutely unpopular pop music.
Memmler's own solo project, Ertrinken Vakuum, released Landunter as a C-60 in late 1980. The first track, "Herz der Finsternis" (slightly edited) appears here. "A swirling hypnotic maelstrom if ever there was one," Wehowsky comments. Fragments of opera, conversation, what sound like hymns and goodness knows what else are thrown into the pot and reduced to a slowly grinding loop that's as stultifyingly boring as it is aurally unattractive. Fabulous.
Kurzschluss was "not a group, it was a concept." The idea behind the project was for the (unsuspecting?) audience at a No Wave festival in Mainz in early 1980 to create the "music" themselves: microphones were strategically placed in their midst and the volume pushed just high enough to set off a feedback loop which provoked an angry reaction that was subsequently fed back into the system, and.. yeah, you get the idea. The cassette that was released on Wahrnehmungen isn't unfortunately a document of that rowdy event, but a mysterious "telepathic" collaboration between Wehowsky and Stender, on keyboards, radio and drum machine, and a group called Prinz Projecta that has since mysteriously disappeared. It's far from unattractive, at times settling into a kind of monotonously grungy disco beat that sits behind the otherworldly swoops and dives of the primitive electronics (or if they're not primitive they certainly sound primitive).
LLL was Joachim Pense's solo project, and Schlagt Sie Tot! was his second outing on Wahrnehmungen (the first was 1980's Hoffnung). It's a decidedly curious mixture of guitar – at times faux baroque, at times queasy slide – flute and voice apparently recorded in a kitchen somewhere in Warwickshire. Pense's tastes are certainly, ahem, eclectic – the booklet mentions Mingus, Stockhausen and the Sex Pistols – his technical skills debatable (shall we say) and the recording quality pretty atrocious, but the resulting music is endearingly quirky, if not exactly convincing.
Der Apatische Alptraum was another solo project, this time credited to Roger Schönauer (one of the pieces in fact features material culled from the Grauer Oktober sessions with Wehowsky, Gerd Poppe and Achim Scepanski) and the six tracks of the original C-20 (!) release are padded out by two more, "Transparenz" and "Klarheit ist nicht genug", which originally appeared on the later Offene Systeme compilation. Compared to this, your old punk albums will sound like Quincy Jones: it's a viciously lo-fi affair, as grainy and intimidating as the black and white photo that adorns the cover.
In terms of sound quality, Tödliches Schweigen, a collection of previously unreleased recordings by the nascent P16.D4, is in another league altogether. That doesn't exactly make it pretty – the growl of the bass guitar is as unprepossessing as ever – but the component elements of the group sound are more clearly identifiable. "Verfügungsraum" is a minor masterpiece; powered forward by a low, thudding irregular bass ostinato (not unlike The Fall's "Smile"), it's a magnificently moody montage that looks back with caustic nostalgia to the group's roots in psychedelic Krautrock and forward to the groundbreaking musique concrète improvisée the group would make its own later in the 80s.
As a tasty bonus the box also includes (for VOD subscribers) a 7", Disdrafts, two early studies for what would later become Distruct, the first P16.D4 project that incorporated material provided by musicians outside the group. Hence "Black, Black, Always Black. Black" (gotta watch that punctuation there) includes snatches of music by The Haters and Bladder Flask. As this latter outfit featured the mythically obscure noise artist Richard "New Blockaders" Rupenus, you wouldn't expect the result to be especially easy on the ear. It isn't, but its raw power and sheer bloody-minded originality remain undiminished after nearly a quarter of a century. –DW

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On Clean Feed
Clean FeedCF 039
Monk never played the Fender Rhodes, unless there's a private recording out there we've never heard (and how much would you pay to get hold of a copy?). He experimented with celesta on dates for Riverside, but never took the quantum leap to an amplified keyboard. Part of it was probably timing, his retreat from performing coinciding with the Fender's rise in popularity thanks to funk and fusion. But there's a sense too that Thelonious just didn't buy into the newfangled technology, preferring the purity of acoustic ivories to the plugged in variety. Pandelis Karayorgis makes a convincing case for the Fender's fit into a Monkian compositional universe on this new disc by his longstanding trio with bassist Nate McBride and drummer Curt Newton, now operating under the abbreviated moniker MI3. The electric piano's properties mesh with the angular harmonic elements of signature Monk ventures like "Ugly Beauty," here slowed to a snail's crawl and sounding more than a little like a Sun Ra outtake circa "Advice for Medics," and the closing "We See," which switches reference points to Mwandishi-era Hancock.
A basic difference lies in the instrument's layered density and fully mutable pitch sustains, the harmonic crevasses of the Monk terrain filled in with tones that are often continuous rather than craggy or curtailed. This sometimes leads to a sanding of edges, but Karayorgis cleverly injects his own share of floating distortion and dissonance into the action to keep things sharp without forsaking a groove. His own compositions, of which there are three, come in a cluster during the disc's second half and are very much in line with the covers bookending them, especially the hard-swinging "Three Plus Three." McBride and Newton work as equal foils, upending and embellishing the action with ideas of their own, and the snap of gut and the crack of wood on skin make for a lively contrast with the swirling sonorities spilling from the cabinet speakers of the Fender console.
McBride also has a hand in the program including an epic reading of Dolphy's "Gazzelloni" (once again an unexpectedly kosher fit for the keys) and "3/4 vs 6/8 4/4 Time" from the long-forgotten quill of Max Roach confrère The Legendary Hassan, here given a completely Space-Age makeover with a snaking wah-wah-juiced central line and a tempo that as the title so succinctly dictates refuses to be nailed down. In recent years Craig Taborn has championed the Fender Rhodes in his own groups and those of Tim Berne, and with Karayorgis now in the game we might have the makings of a minor, and long overdue, renaissance for the instrument in improvisatory music settings.–DT

Mark Dresser
Clean FeedCF 043
Having established himself as a virtuoso on the unadorned bass since the early 1980s, Mark Dresser has lately been discovering new means of expression on his instrument through experiments with amplification and timbral manipulation. A custom pick-up device embedded in the fingerboard of his instrument allows him to generate up to three different pitches simultaneously from a single string. The aural results often take shape as stacked tiers of drones – particularly when conjured by bow as on the dizzyingly labyrinthine "For Scodanibbio" – that fill the sound space with teeth-rattling vibrations and skyscraping harmonics. When the catalytic agent is pizzicato, as with the galloping jaws-harp rhythms of "Clavuus," the effect is as if Dresser has managed a bit of spontaneous test-tube trickery and cloned himself.
The bassist credits audio engineer Raz Mesinai as a collaborator in his investigations and the latter's home studio was the birthplace of all but one of the eleven tracks. Mesinai's miking captures the totality of Dresser's bass sound, catapulting formerly buried sonic substrata into the realm of audibility. The ricocheting rubber band forest of "Lomus" and "Undula"'s rosin-fueled hornet's nest are just two tracks that benefit from the limpid recording. In deference to his instrument's roots and likely for contrast's sake, Dresser silences the devices on the closing Bach-influenced "Bacahaonne" and pays purely acoustic homage to master Afro-Cuban bassist Cachao.
Essays by Bill Shoemaker and Dresser himself detail the technical and evolutionary aspects of the music, and they make for a fascinating read. But it's the sound patterns themselves that are the true draw, the translations of imagination and fortitude into an extension of the double bass vocabulary. And on pieces like the lyrical and ominous "Entwined" the glimmerings of still more information residing just beyond the reach of the human ear suggest how much sonic territory remains to be explored. That sense of fresh musical frontiers is surely sweet music to the ears of aspiring bassists everywhere.–DT

Paal Nilssen-Love
Clean Feed CF 041
To be honest, I don't know what to make of this one. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love has been attracting glowing reviews from all over of late, and having checked out the man live on a number of occasions, the last being a volcanic set by The Thing at Lisbon's Jazz em Agosto festival last year (which drove my pal John Gill up the wall.. more of than anon, I guess) I could add a few of my own. As it turns out, Thing bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten pops up on this album, along with pianist Sten Sandell and, adding a touch of elder statesman street cred, Evan Parker on tenor and soprano saxes. The problem I have is that it sounds exactly how you'd expect it to sound from reading the line-up – PNL and IHF, the perennially hyperactive rhythm team, Sandell all over the piano (and inside it too a lot of the time) and Parker once more revealing why if he were paid by the note he'd be about as loaded as Herbie Hancock. And he wouldn't have to write "Watermelon Man" or score films by Michael Winner either. Think you can imagine what it sounds like? You're spot on. Without a blast of raw punk à la Mats Gustafsson to kick the rhythm team into overdrive (John Gill might hate The Thing, but it rocks), PNL and IHF remain firmly in mouse-trapped-inside-cheese-box mode (thanks to Bernhard Günter for that one), and without a pianist like Stan Tracey to tease out his black jazz roots, Parker has no need to take out the sable brushes and paint a delicate watercolour. A Pollock will do. Given the generally chattery nature of it all, Sandell has little option but to fill up what available space he can find. On the rare occasions when the activity level drops to medium (it never gets low), shafts of light break through the foliage and illuminate rare and beautiful flowers below, but for the most part the forest is so dense you could probably land a plane on it.–DW

Herb Robertson / Tim Berne / Sylvie Courvoisier / Mark Dresser / Tom Rainey
Clean Feed CF 042
If the "Downtown All Stars" appellation sounds rather dodgy (you're half expecting John Zorn, Elliott Sharp or Ikue Mori to pop up) it's only because both Herb Robertson and Tim Berne have amassed a loyal if somewhat connoisseur fanbase by doggedly ploughing their respective furrows with scant regard for both the star system, Downtown or otherwise, and the international festival circuit – when did either headline a major festival on this side of the pond? Theirs is strong, idiosyncratic music, not inaccessible but making few concessions to popular Downtown trends. There are no 17-in-a-bar post-klezmer pyrotechnics to wow the audience and no savvy nods to punk, funk, punkfunk or any other transgenre virtuosity, just 48 minutes of outstanding and uncompromising structured improvisation. Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier is especially impressive throughout, and Mark Dresser makes full use of his new super duper close mic technique (check out his solo Unveil, see above), while drummer Tom Rainey, notably after the half hour mark, pushes the horns onward and upward into some of Berne and Robertson's most exciting playing on record. But instead of letting it descend into an all out blowfest, Robertson shrewdly pulls back and steers the music into more composed (in both senses of the word) territory, from where it can build again even more convincingly to its conclusion.–DW

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Absolute Funk
Various Artists
Body & Soul BS 2822
OK, so there's this guy called Gilles Pétard (that is his real name, even though "pétard" is the French for spliff) who has one of those awesome five-figure record collections – that's what we see on the album cover along with his smiling wife – and has selected these 20 slabs of vintage funk recorded between 1969 and 1973. Unless you're a die-hard specialist, which I'm not – the soul funk part of the collection here numbers barely 300 – you're unlikely to have heard of any of the artists featured on these old 45s, but I'll bet after checking this out you won't forget them. Absolute Funk is one of those rare and wonderful documents – think Nuggets, or the old Charly Southern Soul compilations – that serve to remind us that music history belongs as much to the little guy as the superstar. That said, it's hard to imagine that the majority of the tracks on this compilation could have existed if Jaaaaames Brown hadn't blazed the funk trail; from the sound of it – and I'm not just talking grunts, screams, Bootsy basslines and Catfish hooks – most of these performers know their JB inside out, and, since Brown's reputation as The Harding Working Man In Show Business frequently found him performing no fewer than 350 shows a year, it's fair to assume that many of them actually saw him live during the period doing the mashed potato and falling over waiting for that legendary cape to be draped about his shoulders. Still one of music history's greatest treasures, that old "Please Please Please" footage.
The booklet comes with an informative (and for once well translated) essay by Florent Mazzoleni, which provides just about all the background information you're ever likely to need. I'm a sucker for stuff like this: "Johnnie Morisette, a Houston gospel scene veteran, began his career as Johnnie 2 Voices at Speciality, where he became friends with Sam Cooke, who then signed him up under his own SAR label. Within his vast repertory, the vindictive funk of "I'm Hungry" is an anomaly, but what an anomaly indeed! Released in 1972 on J&J 300, in this title he's accompanied by the Jennell Hawkins Sextette, an organ-playing singer who's [sic] 1961 "Moments to Remember" was a hit." And so on. The Morisette track, as it happens, is one of the rougher cuts on offer, graced with some mighty fine sax from Clifford Scott but not likely to win any fans among the terminally Politically Correct with lines like "If yo don't get in that kitchen I'm gonna break yo jaw".
Even more breathtaking are the old promo photos of the artistes: if you think Gi Gi (exclusive on Sweet Records if you want to look her up) is positively bursting out of her hotpants, you just wait till you hear "Daddy Love" Parts 1 and 2, whose fiery wah wah guitar backing and slamming groove is as good as Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul's magnificent and much sampled "(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind" (see? I'm doing it myself now). Later in the booklet, Loyce Cotton, hand on hip (also in hotpants by the way) looks quite demure, but her "Try It, You'll Like It" positively burns. Why a song as good as this, beautifully arranged and full of tasty memorable hooks (my seven year old was singing along with it by the time the chorus came round at the end of verse two), never made it big is just another one of life's mysteries. If Aretha had sung it, it'd be a different story.
Elsewhere, the music is as notable for its quirks as its qualities: the jawdropping circle-of-fifths big band middle eight that nearly derails Spanky Wilson's "You", the lean, mean Juju production of Robert Moore's "Everything's Gonna Be All Right" (guitar solo straight outta Africa), the tambourines and organs too high in the mix on Betty and Angel's "Honey Coated Loving", while the orchestra sounds as if it was playing half a block down the street and recorded through an open window. It doesn't for a minute detract from the quality of the songs, though. Sure, a lot of them are derivative, and survival-of-the-fittest musicologists will point out that JB did it better than Robert Moore and Kool and the Gang or Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band easily outstrip Landlord and Tenants (face it, not exactly a great band name..), but this set paints a picture of Black America at the turn of the 70s that's maybe not as much fun as a Pam Grier blaxploitation flick but somehow more honest. Make no mistake: these men and women gave their all in the studio, and these were their moments of glory. And not just the featured artistes either: just listen to the fabulous backing vocals on General Crook's "Do It For Me". Where are these folks now? Most of them must be pushing sixty or maybe past it, probably taking their treasured 45s off the mantelpiece and showing them proudly to Nike-sporting grandchildren who've probably only ever seen JB in a cameo role in Undercover Brother. (Hope I'm wrong there, by the way, not that it wasn't a fun film.) Mad samplers will find much to pillage too – but if you lift a bar or two of one of these gems and hit pay dirt on MTV with it, spare a thought for the Gi Gis, Loyces and Spankys. And raise a glass (or something else) to Monsieur Pétard.

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Small but Noisy
Jonathan Zorn
Experimental Music Research 14

Charlie Charlie
Antboy 06

Jeff Arnal / Chris Dahlgren / Seth Misterka
Generate GEN LE 10
My apologies go out to the good people far and wide who send in 3" CDs for review for taking so much time to get round to them. I've finally learnt to resist the temptation to use them as beer mats (though they do look very snazzy at dinner parties), and yet they still tend to slip behind books and piles of other CDs and get overlooked in the process. Which is unfortunate since a lot of great music in recent years has appeared on three inchers – the most notable example of course being Jérôme Noetinger's Cinéma pour l'Oreille series on Metamkine (about time that started up again, methinks) – and these three examples are certainly worth seeking out and playing loud.
Can't decide if it's a blessing or a curse to be called J. Zorn and work in new music, but don't confuse Connecticut-based composer Jonathan Zorn, currently serving time in the hothouse of Wesleyan (where of course he's performed with Anthony Braxton, amongst others), with the other one. The Tzadik head honcho has produced some pretty extreme things in his time (but seems to have settled down somewhat in middle age and become a serious Composer), but nothing quite like Ginger. This is a 16-minute composition for electronics and voice, the voice belonging to Ginger, a stray dog Zorn found barking itself hoarse while tied to an orange tree in the courtyard of his apartment building in LA (of course, he did what all composers do when confronted with the suffering of an innocent creature: screw animal welfare, fetch the microphones instead). There's certainly a lot of barking going on here, though most of it is transformed electronically into feedback drenched yowls and screams, and hidden in a dense prickly thicket of rather unpleasant crackles and buzzes. Compositionally the work is amusingly traditional: Zorn combines his treated barks and yelps quite canonically, giving the work an almost classical structural coherence and sense of forward motion. It's impressive stuff. Ginger unfortunately isn't available for comment, as she (she?) managed to escape or was dognapped or whatever the word is while Zorn was asleep, recovering from the recording session.
Charlie Charlie is a duo consisting of electronicians Erell Latimier and expat Australian percussionist Will Guthrie, both based in Nantes (France), where they've hooked up with the active apo33 collective (check out one cool website at http://www.apo33.org). If La Respiration des Saintes were a building, it'd be earmarked for demolition; it's a huge, creaking, dangerous structure, caked with grime, full of jagged rusty metal and rotting floorboards and home to a decidedly strange community of squatters, human and rodent, whose disembodied voices flit in and out of the shadows. From time to time someone twiddles the knobs on an ancient transistor and snatches of other music escape, but they disappear quickly into the churning mess of Latimier's dictaphones and Guthrie's lo-fi electronics. Listening to this is like visiting the Haunted House at the local funfair; you're strapped into the Ghost Train and jerked violently into near-total darkness full of cobwebs and skeletons. And, like the funfair ride, it's all over too soon – but there are enough thrills and spills in these thirteen minutes and forty-five seconds to keep you coming back for many return visits.
Saxophonist Seth Misterka has produced plenty of action-packed noisy stuff in recent years, some of it verging on nasty punk, so it makes a welcome change to hear him trying his hand at more overtly melodic (well, modal) playing, and doing it so well. On Red, percussionist Jeff Arnal and bassist Chris Dahlgren lay down a slow but steady groove, slightly Oriental in feel (put that down to the cymbal splashes) over which Misterka weaves long threads of unashamedly lyrical alto, building slowly and surely to an impressive climax. It's a magnificent 15'09", but I wonder if it couldn't have been part of a full-length album by the same trio (who I'd very much like to hear more of) instead of a three incher. That said, the hand painted mustard yellow / crimson sleeve is very elegant. Get yourself one before it's too late (only 50 copies!).–DW

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Selwyn Lissack

DMG ARC 5002
To most historians of the "new music", creative improvisation took a somewhat different turn in Europe during the late ‘60s than it did in the United States, concentrating less on African roots (understandably) and building on both European folk forms and innovations in academic art music and other time arts. Yet in England there was a greater confluence of African musical forms and influence, which is crucial in distinguishing vanguard British improvisation from its brethren in other parts of Europe. Chris McGregor, a white classically-trained pianist from Cape Town, brought the Blue Notes with him to Germany in 1965, finally settling in London. This was the ensemble that, ostensibly "led" by a white South African (though clearly drawing more from kwela and township music as well as jazz), introduced drummer Louis Moholo, bassist Johnny Dyani, trumpeter Mongezi Feza and reedmen Dudu Pukwana and Ronnie Beer to the European jazz community. In addition to the South African scene, expatriate improvisers from Jamaica (reedmen Joe Harriott and Ken Terroade) and Barbados (trumpeter Harry Beckett) were also at the forefront of London’s new music community.
Drummer Selwyn Lissack, though often not mentioned in the same breath as the above, is nevertheless an interesting piece of the British-South African puzzle. Born and raised in Cape Town, Lissack emigrated to England in 1967 (independently of the Blue Notes) on his way to New York – visa problems kept him in Europe until the end of 1969. Lissack was active on the Cape Town scene in the early 60s, despite anti-integration laws that often broke up musical associations (he's white), but the pull of more fruitful work opportunities elsewhere was undeniable. Upon joining the London community, the young drummer began organizing sessions in his apartment with John McLaughlin, Mike Osborne and other luminaries of the scene, while also studying with Philly Joe Jones (at the time living in Kensington). Lissack’s style merges the tidal waves of Elvin and Sunny Murray with the fleetness and occasional bombast of Roy Haynes and Philly Joe, and is more rooted in bop than the expansions and contractions of Louis Moholo.

The result of two years of weekly rehearsals with the cream of the British and South African avant-garde, Facets of the Universe, released in a limited edition by the BYG subsidiary Goody in 1969, features Lissack in a sextet with Feza, Osborne (alto and clarinet), Terroade (tenor and flute), South African expat bassist Harry Miller and American bassist and multi-instrumentalist Earl Freeman, a stalwart on many BYG-Actuel recordings, heard here also on piano, flute and reciting his poetry. Produced by Aynsley Dunbar vocalist Victor Brox, Facets of the Universe consists of two sidelong pieces: Terroade’s “Love Rejoice”, retitled “Friendship Next of Kin” for this LP; and a lengthy collective improvisation inspired by Freeman’s poetry entitled “Facets of the Universe” (though confusingly the poem also includes the line “Friendship Next of Kin”). Yet this music has little in common with strains of British or South African jazz of the time; rather, the approach is somewhere between Sunny’s Swing Unit, the Art Ensemble (of Chicago) and fiercer Brotherhood of Breath dates.
“Friendship” (under its alternate title) appeared in somewhat more frantic form on Terroade’s BYG session (Love Rejoice, Actuel 22, recorded a few months prior to this date), with reedmen Ronnie Beer and Evan Chandley (Cohelmec Ensemble), pianist François Tusques, drummer Claude Delcloo, and Freeman and Béb Guerin on basses. The tune is a weighty, churchy dirge much like those penned by Sunny Murray and Frank Wright that the leader directs into a fast tempo to gird a brittle, smeared Feza contribution, the composer’s paint-peeling tenor pyrotechnics (under which Freeman switches to piano), followed by a collective lead-in to Osborne’s thoughtfully searing contribution (of the three horn players only Osborne maintains the tempo and character of the original theme, however distorted the notes get). After a brief collective improvisation, the joyous processional through the back streets of Cape Town and Kingston returns to close the piece. Apparently, a drum solo from the leader was excised from commercial issues of the recording, though Lissack did replay the solo for a proposed (but as yet incomplete) reissue of the material. To these ears, his solo on “Friendship” is much like the machine gun-fast press rolls that frame his opening contribution to “Aphrodite,” with trumpeter Ric Colbeck. It is both surprising and unfortunate that such a crucial example of the leader’s own work was unceremoniously chopped.
“Facets of the Universe” is something altogether different from the post-Ayler material on side one, and echoes Ra and the AACM in its wide-open spaces, with Freeman reading a highly disparate imagist poem over a stew of tympani, finger cymbals, organ, marimba (courtesy Brian Gascoigne), piccolo and clarinet that recalls Joseph Jarman’s reading on Song For or David Moore’s with Muhal Richard Abrams and Anthony Braxton on Levels and Degrees of Light. Following this otherworldly declamation, Feza, Terroade and Osborne take off into a maelstrom of brass and reed smears over surging bass and percussion, an ecstatic tidal wave of activity brought on by the tension of words and poetic ideation. Such a setting necessarily focuses the attention on Freeman, who went on to lead the Sound Craft Orchestra in the early 1980s, which featured leading lights of the New York underground, and recorded a hideously rare LP with clarinetist Henry Warner and percussionist Phillip Spigner, The Freestyle Band. His poetry and arpeggiated piano on Facets of the Universe add to the mystery of the uniform of aviator goggles and union work suit. “Facets” closes just as sparsely as it began, with the last gasps of tenor and pocket trumpet encircled by castanets, celeste, wooden flute (Freeman again) and gongs as it comes full circle. In a way, this is not surprising, as the session was taped on the night of a lunar eclipse.
The record sank upon its release, even by BYG offshoot standards. Goody was a bootleg label that released unauthorized versions of records on Delmark, Metronome and Clifford Thornton’s Third World imprint, and Selwyn Lissack’s one and only LP as a leader was the closest thing to a "legitimate" release in the series. Unfortunately, Claude Delcloo butchered both the English liner notes and the track listing, leaving some to wonder who the poet was on side two, which along with poor mastering and shoddy pressing and even the omission of a major solo by the leader (!) resulted in nothing less than a shameless mishandling of one of the heaviest slabs of improvised music of the late 60s. Lissack made one more startling appearance as a sideman with Osborne and bassist Jean-Francois Jenny-Clarke on trumpeter Ric Colbeck’s lone LP for Fontana (The Sun is Coming Up, 1970) before finally heading to New York to become involved with holographic sculpture and design (he taught and assisted Salvador Dali in holographics), still practicing music but concentrating his research on three-dimensional forms.
Despite its inconsistencies at the hands of its label, Facets of the Universe is truly a fascinating document of the Pan-African avant-garde captured at a place where European, African, American and West Indian roots merged to create two universal improvisations. What more could one have asked of a single opportunity to record as a leader?–CA

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Misha Mengelberg
Tzadik TZ 7613
Let's get one thing clear: when it comes to Misha Mengelberg, you'd better not expect a coolly objective review from this writer (that doesn't preclude criticism, mind). I've never made much of a secret of the fact that Misha has been a major league hero of mine ever since I finally tracked down a copy of Eric Dolphy's Last Date for an astronomical price at a now long gone London vinyl emporium back when I was 17. (Happily, a quarter of a century later, it's not that difficult to find.) One of the tracks on that album – the only Mengelberg original as it turned out – was "Hypochristmutreefuzz", so it's a special treat to discover that this latest trio outing (Mengelberg's first on Tzadik proper, but let's not forget Who's Bridge on Avant and No Idea on DIW) begins with that piece, here entitled "Hypoxmastreefuzz". On Senne Sing Song he's joined once more by bassist Greg Cohen, and, a newcomer to Misha's gently wacky world, Ben Perowsky on drums. Seasoned Mengelberg watchers will neither be surprised nor disappointed to see a number of Misha standards crop up ("Reef und Kneebus", "Brozziman"..), and that most of the nine tracks plod amiably along at the pianist's by now familiar and ever so slightly stodgy midtempo. The element of danger comes not from the threat that the music will disintegrate altogether, as have several infamous tracks in the Mengelberg discography (usually those where he's partnered by Han Bennink on drums), but from the pianist's unerring ability to find the right wrong notes and follow them wherever they lead, which more often not is back to the theme, though not necessarily where he left it in the first place. For Mengelberg's playing partners the choice is clear: try and follow him and keep your fingers crossed you'll all find your way back to the fold in due course, or sit doggedly on the changes and wait for him to drift back to you. (He will, but might surprise you by coming up from behind and tapping you on the shoulder when you're least expecting it). As I said above, I'm biased. Misha's music remains for me a benchmark example of how to extend and subvert recognisable idioms – from his beloved baroque counterpoint to the Ellingtonian bare fifth left hand plunks and Monkish whole tone flurries – an authentic jeu de notes of the highest order. Senne Sing Song is quirky, touching, impeccably recorded and, for all its delicate humour, musically profound and profoundly musical. I hope you'll be listening to it as much as I will in the months to come.–DW

Rachel Thompson
Set O6
Whatever happened to Polly Bradfield? If anyone knows, please drop me a line. After a few notable appearances on Eugene Chadbourne's Parachute label, including several of the mythic early Zorn game pieces, a stunning duo with Chadbourne, Torture Time (Parachute P 016), and an awesome album of Solo Violin Improvisations (Parachute P 008), she just dropped off the radar. Last I heard – from Dr Chad – was she'd moved to the country to raise a family. Well at least she has a spiritual daughter in Rachel Thompson; It's Hard To Stop When You're Working In Circles could be the most extreme exploration of the solo violin since Bradfield's own a quarter of a century earlier. As a fiddler of sorts myself, I know how some of the sounds here are made – from threading a rod between the strings and twanging Keith Rowe style to extreme scordatura (that's detuning the strings for you non-Italian speakers) – but even so I'm often left scratching my head as to how she makes some of the extraordinary noises she does. Along with the recent highly acclaimed solo sax albums by Stéphane Rives and David Gross, this kind of stuff belongs in a category that can be more accurately described as "sonic research". It's as dry, uncompromising and user-unfriendly as a computer printout of the human genome – and its potential for future development is as great. I look forward to hearing more from Rachel Thompson in the future. In the meantime, someone should send of copy of this to Polly Bradfield, wherever she is.–DW

Barry Guy New Orchestra
Intakt CD 101
The Oort cloud, as I found out when guitarist Jean-Sébastien Mariage chose the word as the title of a track on a record we released together, is "an immense spherical cloud surrounding the planetary system and extending approximately 3 light years, about 30 trillion kilometres from the Sun. This vast distance is considered the edge of the Sun's orb of physical, gravitational, or dynamical influence." Entropy, as anyone who's read Thomas Pynchon will know, is "a measure of the unavailable energy in a closed thermodynamic system that is also usually considered to be a measure of the system's disorder and that is a property of the system's state and is related to it in such a manner that a reversible change in heat in the system produces a change in the measure which varies directly with the heat change and inversely with the absolute temperature at which the change takes place; broadly: the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system." (Whew.) Which means, I guess, that this latest offering from the ever prolific (especially on Intakt) Barry Guy has something to do with cosmic chaos or particle physics, whereas from where I'm sitting it's a tight, sweaty set of three extended compositions played with exemplary verve by a crack squad of improvisers: Evan Parker, Mats Gustafsson, Hans Koch, Johannes Bauer, Herb Robertson, Per Ake Holmlander, Agusti Fernandez, Paul Lytton, Raymond Strid and Guy himself. Pianist Fernandez is particularly impressive, and for sheer force often gives the seasoned hardcore blowers a run for their money. It's a canvas of broad brush strokes and raw primary colours, a kind of aural de Kooning, very much in the tradition of the Globe Unity Orchestra, as well as Cecil Taylor's Orchestra of two Continents and more recent outfits such as Masashi Harada's Condanction Ensemble and the Brötzmann Tentet, but Guy's fondness for thorny serialism shows through just as strongly in the pitch-sensitive arrangements, and the cascading scales and stuttering tremolos of Part I also point in the direction of Ligeti, Lutoslawski and Xenakis. Whatever bag you choose to put it in, though, it'll burn a hole through. There are moments of tenderness – the end of Part I and wistful opening of Part II – but the music is at its most impressive when Guy and his spacemen pump up the volume to deliver a cosmic blast powerful enough to be felt 30 trillion kilometres away.–DW

Irene Schweizer
Intakt CD 001
You don't have to be French to know that good wine improves with age, but if you want to rush out and buy a bottle of one of last year's Grands Crus Classés and drink it tonight, I guess it's your choice. I remember listening to and thoroughly enjoying Irene Schweizer's Live at Taktlos set when it inaugurated the Intakt label nearly twenty years ago (gulp), but I can tell you that today it sounds even better. Pianist Schweizer consolidated her reputation as a performer of prodigious technique and extraordinary sensitivity with this set of improvisations on which she was joined by Maggie Nicols (voice), Joëlle Léandre (bass), George Lewis (trombone), and percussionists Günter Sommer and Paul Lovens (Lindsay Cooper also makes a cameo appearance here on the hilarious "Every Now And Then".. all "jazz standards" should sound like this). These days, now that the molten lava of free improv has cooled to form a number of well-charted islands, it's even more refreshing to rediscover a music that moves effortlessly between high octane free, Darmstadt pointillism, Cathy Berberian theatrics and even stride and boogie woogie. It's also a timely reminder of how awesome these performers were (are): Lewis is all over the trombone, quote John swinging his fucking ass off unquote Zorn, Léandre hysterical and inspired, Nicols superbly poised and devastatingly precise, and Schweizer brings it all together with style. Don't wait another 21 years to crack open this one: it's ready for drinking right now.–DW

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Phil Minton / Fred Van Hove / Marcio Mattos / Martin Blume
FMR CD 156
If you need a new example of classic(al) European improv, this'll do nicely. It's exactly the sort of music Radu Malfatti used to dismiss out of hand as "gabby": five action-packed demonstrations of ten-finger fisticuffs (Van Hove), expressionistic cello scribbles (Mattos), scattery clattery percussion (Blume) and the by now familiar collection of grunts, gasps, growls and gargles we expect from Phil Minton. It's probably my imagination but Mattos and Blume seem to sound more like Tristan Honsinger and Han Bennink here than they have on previous outings, but that may just be the presence of vieux routiers Van Hove and Minton. Van Hove's playing in particular has never sounded so rooted in the classical / Romantic piano tradition (unlike Alex von Schlippenbach and Misha Mengelberg, who he's often been compared to – by me too – Van Hove has no feeling for jazz) – hell, he even modulates at one point. Quite whether you think you need this record in your collection depends on how far you're prepared to agree with Malfatti when he describes such music as "stagnant"; true, it goes down many of the same country lanes these four fine musicians have explored before, but when the landscape is as beautiful as this, who minds a return visit?–DW

Olaf Rupp / Tony Buck / Joe Williamson
Emanem 4119
Anyone familiar with Olaf Rupp's striking suite of miniatures, "Metal Peace" on the Absinth 4x3" CD compilation Berlin Strings, or, better yet, the awesome set of duets he released with Joe Williamson on Musica Genera, Kernel Panic, will recognise the guitarist's distinctively frantic sonic action painting, though these two extended trio performances also reveal (at times) a more contemplative side to his playing, a kind of slowmotion Derek Bailey meets Paco de Lucia. Bassist Williamson, as any Trapist fan will tell you, is quite happy hitting that long lunar note and letting it float, but there's nothing Tony Buck likes doing better than playing Pollock and splattering his drumkit as if was a canvas. There seems to be a lot of Pollock around at PT this month. At times, the music is rather reminiscent of another recent Emanem release, Roger Smith's duo outing with Louis Moholo, The Butterfly and the Bee, though it's less focused, lacking Smith's talent for finding the right note and Moholo's sense of pulse (so I'm not sure the comparison makes any sense at all, come to think of it): playing based on traditional parameters of pitch, harmony and rhythm is replaced by a tangled woolly ball of sound energy. None of the musicians is particularly interested in trying to extract and develop meaningful motives from the amorphous mass – though a more conventionally jazzy rhythm team might have picked up on the early-Chadbourne-plays-Monk angularity of Rupp's playing – with the result that the music doesn't evolve towards its conclusion as much as surprise itself by ending.–DW

Paul Rutherford
Emanem 4118
Though Paul Rutherford's 1974 release The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie (Emanem 4019) still remains the benchmark for free improvised solo trombone, his more recent Trombolenium (Emanem 4072), bringing together recordings made between 1986 and 1995, is just as worthy of your attention. Until Rutherford's second solo outing, 1976's Old Moers Almanac is reissued, Neuph helps bridge the gap between the two discs, even though it's not strictly speaking a solo album. Well, it is and it isn't.. though Rutherford's the only featured performer (unless you want to credit the howls provided by the studio dog Judy on "Paunch and Judies"), six of the seven tracks that comprise the original Neuph, released in 1978, are multitracked: there are three duets, one trio and two quartets. Only "Chefor" is an unaccompanied solo, for euphonium. (As such, Neuph makes for an interesting contrast with the more recent Iskra3 outing on psi, on which Rutherford's trombone is spectacularly reconfigured and recontextualised by the electronics of Robert Jarvis and Lawrence Casserley.) The information level is high throughout, as one might expect – one Rutherford is usually enough to turn a trombone inside out, so you can imagine what three or four of them sound like – but the music is, despite its considerable complexity, instantly compelling and rewarding. "Realign 4", for four trombones, and "Three Levels", for three trombones (one double speed) are almost Xenakis-like in their intensity. Meanwhile, "Paunch and Judies" should be filed alongside Misha Mengelberg's "Instant Composition 5/VI/'72" as a classic example of how animals tend to get the upper hand in improvised music encounters with humans. Judy's timing and intonation are awesome – what a shame she never hooked up with Mengelberg's parrot Eeko to record a duo album.. she died shortly after this recording. Of course, Martin Davidson isn't in the habit of releasing CDs that fit comfortably on one side of a C90, so there's also some extra material in the form of two mindbending trombone solos, recorded in Rome and Pisa in 1980.–DW

Gene Coleman / Franz Hautzinger / Sachiko M / Otomo Yoshihide
Grob 656
No safety or surprise, the end. For some reason that snatch of Morrison's lyrics comes to mind rather often on listening to post-reductionist outings such as this one. No safety because, of course, this is improvisation and, in theory, anything can happen; no surprise because in practice it never does. The music recorded in concert in St Louis's Steinberg Auditorium on October 27th 2002 behaves according to a deontology of its own invention, individually, regarding the sounds the musicians choose to restrict themselves to, and collectively in terms of the places they tacitly agree to avoid. So Coleman for the most part stays down in the reedy low registers, Hautzinger remains firmly in tiger-digesting-large-meal-in-ventilation-shaft mode, Otomo sticks to his tried and trusted turntable rumbles and Sachiko plays Sachiko. There are odd peaks and troughs – "climax" is far too emotive a word to describe the louder passages – and even a few splurges of activity (about half an hour in someone decides it's time to liven things up), but with the exception of a few despairing yelps from Coleman towards the end of the first 51-minute track, there's little to impede the music's stately progress towards nowhere in particular. The second shorter piece (an encore, one wonders?) starts out as a delicate whiff of old vinyl nostalgia from Otomo until Hautzinger and Coleman suck it down into the air duct. As executions go, it's a pristine and perfect as Mozart. You know what I think about Mozart.–DW

Steamboat Switzerland
Grob 655
Not a tribute to filmmaker Lina Wertmüller, but an album of compositions by Michael Wertmüller (late of the drummer’s stool in the anarchic Swiss improv ensemble Alboth!) written for Steamboat Switzerland: Dominik Blum on Hammond organ and analog electronics, Marino Pliakas on E-bass and more electronics, and Lucas Niggli on percussion. Similar to Ruins and Ron Anderson’s PAK, who came out with an album this year so close in approach and spirit as to be its psychic Siamese twin, SS (whose name "stands for our affinity for Art Brut, especially our patron saint Adolf Woelfli”) tour Europe constantly and recently played Patti Smith’s Meltdown in London – but don’t hold that against them. Snatching victory from the jaws of willful nuttiness (cf. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum), they embody the lost strains of psych-blues Kosmische, especially through Dominik Blum’s grunting, heaving cannibalistic Hammond organ. Some may say there's no place for this kind of jazz, but the speed at which the world is revolving indicates otherwise: OCD, the surfeit of nostalgia, imagination and information, all dictate that as long as there are people willing to travel that extra mile to annihilate their definitions of what jazz is, groups like Steamboat Switzerland will appear out of the fog to ferry them across the river to their destination.–DC

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John Korsrud
Spool SPP03
Billed as "an eclectic collection of new music compositions", Odd Jobs is certainly that – compiling two extracts from ballet scores for the Lola McLauglin and Joe Ink companies, a couple of snippets of a concert performance subsequently used for a TV show, three bona fide ensemble / orchestral compositions, "Glurp", "VAP DIST" and "Zippy Pinhead", and a particularly daft song featuring Joe Keithley (aka Joey Shithead if any of you crusties remember DOA) and big band entitled "You Look Like an Angel". With the aid of Canadian luminaries including guitarist Ron Samworth (on fine form) and Paul "L'ivresse de la vitesse" Dolden on 5000mph samples, plus a guest appearance by the Amsterdam-based ensemble Combustion Chamber – attentive PT readers will recall Korsrud contributed a piece to their eponymous album reviewed here a while back – an action-packed adventure is guaranteed. Vancouver-based Korsrud studied composition in Amsterdam with Louis Andriessen, and it shows: the music's full of that muscular post-minimalist energy Andriessen seems to have injected into everyone who's ever worked with him. Two parts Stravinsky, two parts Ligeti, one part Cecil Taylor and a splash of funk, serve boiling hot. It's also no coincidence that Korsrud namechecks Naked City's Torture Garden in the liners – only a hardcore Zornie could have stitched up a stylistic patchwork quilt like "Glurp" (cash prizes for anyone who writes in with a positive ID of the chestnut he swipes at 3'25", heh heh). The one side of Korsrud's musical personality that doesn't get much of an airing is his trumpet playing – he's worked with George Lewis, Butch Morris and Kenny Wheeler – which makes the opening elegiac "Girl on the Grass" all the more welcome.–DW

Pierre Henry
Philips 476 730 0
Reviewing an artist who's been writing many of the rules in the book of concrete / acousmatic music for over half a century - and doing so without conventional studies to burden his fantasy - could result in either sterile celebration or offence, a lurking temptation to classify Voyage Initiatique as "predictable". But Pierre Henry's sound art still has fangs to bare: several of the compositions here are reworked from ritual songs and utterances and, thanks to Henry's skill at placing and linking events, rapidly become keys to unlock powerful emotions. And yet just when you're getting used to a looping fragment or being enthralled by evocative mysticism, in typical Henry style something comes along and changes the slide. The album's spiritual highpoint is "Hypnose" where, after the impenetrable suspension of the introduction, a magnificent montage of pygmy chants with interlocking high-pitched voices and wooden flutes sings a joyous goodbye to any remaining defences and, colliding with the heart, carves wounds of pure beauty. The ensuing "Ceremonial" wraps us in the illusion of sensory immutability, while on "Dualité" and "Multiplicité" it's as if the very walls are closing in. The grieving void of "Solarisation" ends the disc with strata of rarefied matter slowly disappearing before our very eyes; at 78, Pierre Henry knows much about the metaphysical power of sound, that unpronounceable disease we could call "evolution" - and Voyage Initiatique is another - predictable, that's right - masterpiece in the man's career.–MR

Berio / Xenakis / Dashow
BVHaast CD 0605
In accordance with classical music's tendency to sell performers as much if not more than the composers whose music they play, this album bears the name of violinist Mifune Tsuji. Whether or not she's also the person who wrote The Gift Of Japanese Cooking isn't clear (I'll bet she isn't, but that's the joy of Google – hey, I recently found out I was a computer whizkid martial arts teacher and excellent amateur golfer living in California), but she's served up a tasty programme here, including Xenakis's two solo violin outings Mikka and Mikka S and the violin and piano duet Dikhthas, framed by Berio's Corale for violin, two horns and strings and James Dashow's Mnemonics for violin and computer. While I appreciate how time consuming and bloody expensive it is to set up a proper studio recording of difficult new music, and can fully understand the temptation to release live concert recordings instead, I'm not always sure it's a good idea. Quite apart from the fact that live concerts can never be recorded with the same precision (and number of microphones) as studio sessions, there's the perennial problem of the stray cough which on disc becomes unfortunately as eternal as the music it invariably manages to spoil. So it is that a few bronchial splutters manage to invade the pastoral scene of Berio's 1981 extended reworking of Sequenza VIII, in the rather airy recording of a concert in Middelburg way back in 1987 (couldn't some bright eyed studio wizard have given this one a bit of a remaster, decibel boost and short back and sides during the intervening years?). It's a strong and unashamedly lyrical performance, but if you want to hear a bit more of the note to note detail you'll probably have to go back to Maryvonne Le Dizès' benchmark reading of the piece with Papa Boulez and the InterContemporain on the excellent all Berio disc released back in 1989. The Xenakis performances are bold and dramatic, as well they should be coming from the principal violinist of the Xenakis Ensemble, though it's still hard to find anyone to top Irvine Arditti for sheer nastiness. (One bit that does stick out nicely here is the bit at 10'53" in Dikhthas which sounds suspiciously like a quotation from Satie's Parade, though we all know it isn't.) The two Mikkas are short, queasy little affairs – ferociously difficult, those double stop glissandi – hardly "twentieth century classics" but along with Nomos Alpha and Kottos rather useful to have around as album filler material on all Xenakis string music discs. James Dashow's Mnemonics is full of the chilly digital square wave windchiming you'd expect from the former vice president of the International Computer Music Association. Dashow, like his former Princeton colleague Milton Babbitt and the current professor of composition at Eastman, Bob Morris, is very much a note man, using the computer as a kind of super synthesizer to articulate in sound the kind of thorny set theory that makes grad students across the pond go prematurely bald and die without completing their Doctorates, let alone paying off the student loan. After the Xenakis it sounds a little tame – wouldn't it have been better starting with this piece and letting Berio have the last word? – but Tsuji's performance is heartfelt and passionate enough to convince even sceptical old hogs like me.–DW

Yuji Takahashi
Atak 006
Yuji Takahashi, when asked once who he wrote music for, replied memorably: "For the intelligence that will emerge after human beings." The 67-year-old's phenomenal skills as a pianist are well-documented, from his groundbreaking early 1960s interpretations of Xenakis (the near-unplayable Herma and Eonta were written for him) to a recent highly acclaimed reading of Bach's Goldberg Variations, but his own music is long overdue for critical reappraisal. This new release on Keiichiro Shibuya's Atak imprint brings together six recent pieces, the first an affectionate portrait of Gertrude Stein, the others "improvised performances mixed with the syllables of Russian poems, transformed natural sounds and delay feedback", along with 1995's Kumo Rinzetsu 260795 for computer and sampler, 1989's Und flieder in die sonne (based on texts by Kafka), and an outstanding work of vintage electronic music from 1963, Time, a tense and masterly assembly of ticking clocks intended to depict the workday routine of Takahashi's compatriots. The album is worth the asking price for Time alone, a work that surely deserves to stand alongside contemporary period pieces by the likes of Xenakis, Berio, Henry and Ferrari, but what's just as striking is how closely Takahashi's recent works using more recent technology – laptop, sampler – resemble the earlier music in terms of language and gesture. The music is certainly complex, though never muddy and lacking in definition. Nor is it ever cold and technical: the musical background of GS-Portrait is as touching and elegant as Takahashi's text. Pianist Thomas Schultz, in a fine essay on the composer (http://www.thomasschultzpianist.com/Links_/Takahashi_Essay/takahashi_essay.html) recalls advice he received from Takahashi after performing Christian Wolff's music: "I would prefer that it sound not like it was prepared and rehearsed, but rather found on the spot. Also, you must be free from any mood. Every sound is transient, so is the mood. It could change instantly without reason." And that applies just as well to the nine splendid works on offer here.–DW

Roland Kayn
RRR Ky-CD 004 1/2
RRR Ky-CD 005 1/2
The fascination emanating from Roland Kayn's music derives from a series of intangible factors, these two double CD sets being the most recent example of his (and our) never-ending quest for a still unknown explanation. If Requiem Pour Patrice Lumumba starts out in the nightmarish calm typical of many of the German composer's masterpieces, moving through specular nocturnal surfaces and resinoid outpourings to recurring sequences, Interations is an extravagant experiment where Kayn manipulates electronic sound and treated voices to create furious contrasts and scabby dissonance in an almost sci-fi atmosphere. The four movements of Composizione AD shake the basics of harmonic certainty with pitiless intensity, letting pitches, tapes and sibilant malformations coagulate in a morass of scary desolation, as, eyes closed, we pray for damned night to be driven away by the early sunshine. The impressive mass of voices and sounds pushes the air to the limit of acoustic tolerance (my woofers cry mercy), but with the beginning of the third movement the noise tails away in a breathtaking vision of the meanders of silence, the emotional highpoint of the work. Prismes Reflectes is a sharp game of cut 'n' paste where Kayn's cybernetic vision exploits dynamics to the full in an all-out attack against predictability, a patchwork quilt of short, shocking fragments of white light and vocal manifestations.
The same warring forces are at work at the beginning of Etoile Du Nord, where Kayn explores chromatic tensions by alternating profound contemplation and ear-piercing distortion whose searing high-frequencies defy description. The constant struggle between peaceful (if slightly disturbed) introspection and the blinding light of grim dissonant reality is the underlying principle of the second movement, which starts with a slow reiteration curiously similar to Nurse With Wound's Salt Marie Celeste (and continues to warp its angular sonic entities into proportionless rubber monstrosities.. Angry Eelectric Finger Vol.4, anyone?). Out of the blue, recordings of old orchestral albums appear, but in the darkness the crackling vinyl violins are eaten alive by what sounds like a bell tower crossed with a huge engine. The "audio world of the future" definition present on all RRR CD booklets is reductive, to say the least. Finally Ghyress, dedicated to Kayn's daughter, is one of his most mysteriously enigmatic works, a recipe whose ingredients include nebulous drones, guitar feedback (apparently from some dissonant rock set) and touching fragments of an unknown adagio whose melancholy counterbalances the anarchic engineering of the whole structure. Outbursts of drumming and strange Star Trek choirs keep the curiosity level high as Kayn's electroacoustic sorcery shuttles us back once more into our own cryptic inadequacy.

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CIP CD 016
"I do not understand any of it. Or I do, and prefer not to explain it. It is of no consequence or value at this point to describe, dissect, analyze, process or assess any of the events.. [..] Everything is out there: logged, documented. All the information is there – it really is. I have already given you all you needed, and certainly more than I ever wanted to." Not my words, but a snatch of the liner notes – and no author is credited on the album, the strongest outing to date from Chicago sound artist Blake Edwards, aka Vertonen. Like several of the artists whose work he's released on his Crippled Intellect Productions imprint (Z'ev, Skozey Fetisch, Hafler Trio), Edwards has travelled through the darkside of post-Industrial noise and gloom and emerged in a luminescent droneworld that listeners familiar with the work of Mirror and Organum will recognise, though probably never understand. In search of enlightenment, or at least some clue as to what equipment he used to generate these gorgeous swathes of sound, I trawled around the CIP website, but the most interesting thing I found was an extract of Edwards' writing entitled "Excerpts from 1000 Ways to Hurt, Torture, or Kill Yourself", some of which is certainly worth quoting here, just in case you've decided to end it all and can't think of an interesting way to go about it (though I should say here that the following has absolutely bugger all to do with the above review of the album, which you ought to run out and buy at the earliest opportunity). How about "stick your head in a bucket of lighter fluid with your eyes open for a half hour" or "pry off your kneecaps with a crowbar"? If you haven't got the stomach to "try and remove your bellybutton" you could at least try the more gastronomically oriented solutions: "jump into a pool of boiling mashed potatoes wearing cement shoes so you have to eat your way out" and, my favourite, "drink 3 gallons of warm dr. pepper on a hot day then run 11 miles". Bang!–DW

Mystery Sea MS 21
Does the term "space music" still mean anything nowadays? Listening to this heap of shadows by Ben Fleury-Steiner, here hiding behind the Paradin moniker for the first time, maybe there's still a glimmer of hope for the "architects of black holes", as Flesh of Caverns' gaseous currents expand to fill every cranny of the listening space, its enigmatic cascades of drones resonating in reverberant gorges to constitute a pleasing alternative to silence (even if the massive overtones sometimes drift dangerously and inevitably towards the land of Dark Ambient's Old Master - yes, Lustmord - more or less finished today but I still rate Heresy and The Place Where The Black Stars Hang as great records). The somewhat more active closing track "Deep Sea Soil Dredging: A Calcareous Ooze" is an aural picture of frozen, wide-eyed faces trapped under ice desperately trying to attract attention to be delivered from their eternal stillness, ultimately abandoning the attempt when the sun disappears once and for all.–MR

Mystery Sea MS 24
For those who vaguely recall a couple of nice albums by Maeror Tri but (like yours truly) jumped off the post-Industrial / esoteric wagon years ago to escape the putrefaction of the quasi totality of the genre, Troum is the project Stefan Knappe and Martin Gitschel went on to develop after the demise of the aforementioned group. Designed to "stimulate the unconscious", this music envelops us in a cinematic sequence of electronic nightmares where instruments, voices and all kinds of transformed sounds attempt to excavate burrows full of hesitation and anguish. That said, the first half of the disc, "(Pre)Symbolism", offers little more than a series of dark throbbing exhalations, but the layered memories and deformed stasis of "Echoes of a Boundless Existence", with its Basinski-esque loops and morphing hallucinations raises everything to a far superior level. During the final fade-out, a passing aircraft and distant tolling bells seem to nod their approval outside my window.–MR

John Hudak
And/OAR - AND/16
Given today's irrepressible tendency to make classification prevail over actual substance, a work like Sand or Stars is difficult to describe. You could say it sounds wholly unadulterated; Hudak is well known for his personal take on reductionism (not in the lowercase improv sense of the word), usually starting from environmental recordings that capture the essence of a single sound source (he once put contact microphones on the Brooklyn Bridge), transforming it into small molecules and granular self-cloning clusters of indecipherable activity. What appeals to the ear is the barely regular sonic shape and peculiar logic as these bionic manifestations flutter around the listening space, peeking from various angles of a structure with no apparent architecture, moving from a percussive/metallic bouncing via a delicate brain massage of hypnotic buzzing frequencies to a reverb-drenched passage whose nature seems to be aquatic - but I wouldn't bet on it.–MR
Dale Lloyd
Alluvial + And/OAR A19
Thirty-three minutes and forty-four seconds of assertive and beautifully cultivated microscopic detail and great assembling mastery; Semper easily gets my vote as one of the best records of 2005. Dale Lloyd, who's revealing himself as a very talented composer in many ways (check out his recent Amalgam on Conv.Net Lab) brings together "field recordings, electronic sounds, toy xylophone, old coins and other metallic and found objects" in two intoxicating soundscapes in which thunder, rain, birds and insects fuse unconventionally with the eternal subsonics of a distant earthquake rumble in waves whose depth is felt under the muscle tissue. One can only imagine the painstaking process necessary to place every single attribute in the right light, but such meticulous attention to detail pays high dividends, as the slo-mo radiance coming out of the speakers throbs with vital resonance that's almost painful to experience.–MR

Loren Chasse
Naturestrip NS 3004
Loren Chasse (Thuja, idBattery, The Blithe Sons, Coelacanth, Jewelled Antler Collective – the list of his many projects is a long one) has certainly been prolific of late, and I won't pretend to be familiar with everything he's released in the past couple of years, but this latest offering on the new Australian Naturestrip label is worth hunting down. Or rather digging up, as Chasse's music is a kind of sonic archaeology, a reworked aural document of various digs for sonic treasure buried along the California coastline (and elsewhere). Yup, field recording (and I've said before it's high time we dumped that word "field".. are the sounds of underground stations and iron foundries field recordings? I think not) is where it's at, chillun. Even if you can't afford a humdinging pair of mics and a portable DAT like my pal Eric La Casa you can probably treat yourself to a Minidisc recorder and amuse yourself taping the world around you and bouncing the results over to the hard drive for some nifty post-prod on your common and garden music software. That's the difficult bit: crafting the raw material into something more than the sum of its parts, a coherent work that stands as electronic music in its own right. Whether or not the original source sounds are to be identifiable or not is a matter of taste (most of Chasse's aren't), but making sure the resulting structure stands up to repeated listening is a question of skill. On the strength of The Air in the Sand, Loren Chasse has bucketfuls to spare.–DW

Piers Whyte
Ache 17
Piers Whyte joins a rather long line of laptoppers of diverse persuasions, from Peter Rehberg and Florian Hecker to Leafcutter John and Kid606, for whom more is more: the awesome power of the little contraption is there to be exploited to the full. Not surprisingly the most immediately impressive tracks here are those where the information overload meter veers dangerously into the red ("Forest Fire Demo", "Chilly Fountain Warp", "Jacque in the Barbe"), but there's something fascinatingly haunting about the less stormy tracks, especially "Winter '03"'s wheezy harmonium and reedy drones counterpointed against a somewhat disturbing assemblage of sounds. Imagine a contact miked hamster eating a chunk of polystyrene in a biscuit tin. While the post-techno sweat of "Waxing Sentimental", with its crunchy distortion of user-friendly tonal basic material (recalling Pita's Get Out) is distinctly urban, "Spring '04" is evocative open air cinema for the ear, with insects, birds and rain set against a backdrop of velvety glitched harmonics. The closing "Pioggia Viola" takes 70s stadium rock and smashes it to smithereens, its gigantic synth chords and flashy drum fills shot to pieces while the crowd whoops and burbles with delight until it too is sucked into the vortex, supercollided and mulched into screaming digital oblivion. Rock and roll!–DW

Roel Meelkop
Intransitive INT 024
The curious Mobius Strip-like liner notes (a first for the somewhat reclusive Meelkop?) seem to be overly concerned about meaning – how the composer / sound artist creates it, to what extent the material itself defines it, and how the listener might understand it.. whatever it is. For Roel Meelkop's music is nothing if not inscrutable; in its own way it's as abstract and uncompromising as Ralf Wehowsky's, though it tends to be more associated with the kind of leftfield post-techno that Wehowsky apparently has little time for (especially Goem, Meelkop's outfit with Frans de Waard and Peter Duimelinks). That said, ain't no slammin' grooves to be found in the five sensitive and intricately wrought soundscapes that mark the welcome return of Howard Stelzer's Intransitive label, even if an occasional pulse runs deep down below the surface like an underground river in a cave system (see the end of track 2). Indeed, there seems to be water gurgling somewhere in track 4, and elsewhere the strange cries of a nocturnal birds echo through dense forests, but it's well nigh impossible to identify exactly what field recordings (if indeed that's what they are) Meelkop has used as source material. Don't be fooled by the word "ambience" in the album title, either. Before you file this one alongside your copy of The Plateaux Of Mirror you might want to check the dictionary definition of the word: "the special atmosphere or mood created by a particular environment" – and that can just as easily be sinister, even downright scary. The music might be predominantly slow, but it's not without surprises (watch your speakers at 4'53" in track 1). I have absolutely no idea what it means, but it sounds magnificent.–DW

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