DECEMBER News 2005 Reviews by Clifford Allen, David Cotner, Nate Dorward, Jesse Goin, Stephen Griffith, Richard Pinnell, Massimo Ricci, Dan Warburton:

Editorial - Interview with JAMES FINN
Reissue This! Norman Howard
Brötzmann & Bennink / Alan Sondheim & Ritual All 770
Label Profile:
On Rogue Art:
Hamid Drake / Rob Brown / Roscoe Mitchell
On TwoThousandAnd:
Broken Hands & Lucky Rabbit / Anthony Guerra & Nisihide Takehiro / Dr Quirkey's Goodtime Emporium Band
Improvised Music by Babies
String Trio of New York & Oliver Lake / Bosetti & Doneda / John Tilbury / Coxhill, Gjerstad, Stephens / Gjerstad; Moholo, Poulsen, Stephens
Graham Halliwell / Joe Giardullo / David Borgo / Agusti Fernandez & Mats Gustafsson
Xenakis / Radigue / Lucier / Mumma
Omit / The Haters / Monos / Tape / Sickness & Slogun / Hafler Trio / Vidna Obmana
Last month



Thanks go out this month to Nate Dorward for putting together one of the best Paris Transatlantic interviews of recent times with James Finn, to Clifford Allen for researching another one of his invaluable Reissue This pieces on Cleveland Ohio's unsung trumpet hero Norman Howard, and to Jesse Goin for his profile of Antboy (that's a journalist in Minneapolis reviewing a record label owned and run by an Australian – Will Guthrie – living in Nantes, France.. what would we do without email, I wonder). Plus of course our other indefatigable scribes Cotner, Ricci, Griffith and a warm welcome to Richard Pinnell who checks in with a fine piece on Graham Halliwell's Recorded Delivery. That's one of those albums that I played over and over again but for some reason never got round to reviewing – Graham was right to email and find out what I was doing – but I couldn't have done a better job than RP. On an unrelated personal note I'd like to thank everyone who helped put together the tour I've just finished with Aki Onda and Jac Berrocal (that's Satoko and Kokeko, Bernard Aimé and the staff at Le Petit Faucheux, Tours, Benoit at Point Ephemère, Paris, Marten at Fylkingen, Kristoffer Westin and Annan Musik at Norrköping, Sixto, Marion and Adrien at Cave12, Geneva, Philippe and Joëlle in Nice). I'm already at work writing up some of the more hilarious events of the tour – there were several – into an extended piece for PT's January issue. Meanwhile, go on tour for a couple of weeks and you come back to a mailbox crammed full of new discs. Chouette! So if you'll excuse me, I have plenty of work to do. Meanwhile, bonne lecture. – DW

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REISSUE THIS! Norman Howard

After some 45 years of free jazz and improvised music, we're well-acquainted with its regionalism – jazz, as much as the blues, is a music of place. New York has its urbane clip, embodied by figures as diverse as Charlie Parker and Giuseppi Logan, Chicago its wide-open spaces and dirty blowing (from somewhere down the Mississippi, no doubt – Joseph Jarman and Cliff Jordan are a tenor kinship if there ever was one), while the West Coast sparkles with a bright lyricism and ebullience that crossed over from Gerry Mulligan to Eric Dolphy and beyond. But these three locales are only part of the story: Portland, Boston, Memphis, Seattle, New Orleans, and St. Louis are just a few cities that have boasted a strong free-music community since the music's heyday – witness the talents of figures like Kidd Jordan, Julius Hemphill, Phill Musra, Mike Bisio and Paul Gresham alongside the progenitors and torchbearers of free improvisation.
Cleveland, though a Midwestern also-ran to Chicago and a far cry from New York, has a higher profile than other cities in jazz history, having produced one of the most important saxophonists of the post-Pres era: Albert Ayler. Ayler's history is well-documented outside of the fervent scene that Cleveland provided his young ears and lungs, but more than one writer has noted that there must have been something in the Cuyahoga River that the musicians were drinking – Frank Wright, Charles Tyler, and altoist Arthur Jones all found their weighty, wide-vibrato lyricism and earthy force somewhere in that elemental city. Most of these figures, like Albert Ayler and his trumpeter brother Don, found their artistic recognition elsewhere, in Europe and New York, but in the absence of these trailblazers there was a small coterie of musicians who expanded upon the "Cleveland sound" by honing their research locally, and much of what the city offered in the wake of Ayler and Wright was found in the music of trumpeter-composer Norman Howard and his frequent alto foil, Joe Phillips.
Howard was born in 1941 and grew up in the same neighborhood as the Aylers. Playing and gigging locally, he was strongly affected by the music Ayler brought back from Scandinavia, and left Cleveland for a brief sojourn in New York in early 1964, as the promise of recognition held sway. With Cleveland bassist Earle (Errol) Henderson, he joined Ayler, Sunny Murray and Henry Grimes on Ayler's first proper "free jazz" record, the watershed Spirits, recorded for Danish Debut in February of 1964 and later reissued as Witches and Devils on Freedom. Ironically, what became the quintessential Ayler tune, the haunting and massive dirge "Witches and Devils," was a Howard composition – though it was not credited initially to the trumpeter – and it stands out as the pivotal piece on the album. Apparently the pace of New York (not to mention the lack of gigs) was too much for Howard and Henderson to handle, and both quickly returned to Cleveland, where Howard continued to work on his compositions, honing an aesthetic of slowly-paced funerary sound-sculptures with various local musicians, including what appears to be his then-regular quartet with Joe Phillips (aka Yusef Mumin, alto), Walter Cliff (bass), and Corney Millsap (percussion).
In November 1968 this quartet recorded nearly enough material for two records in a Cleveland studio session, some of which was sent to ESP but remained unreleased (though there is talk of Bernard Stollman's label revisiting the music on CD in the future), the remainder later issued as a limited-edition cassette by UK collector-musicologist Roy Morris (Signals, Homeboy Music 1, 1989). Both the ESP master and Signals were subsequently reissued together on the Burn, Baby, Burn cassette (Homeboy 2), a release that disappeared underground almost immediately. Rumor has it that Howard's technical abilities as a trumpeter kept his music from being issued at the time, but his conception as a soloist reveals much more. The fat smears of sound on Albert Ayler's "Spirits" prefigure his brother Donald's scattershot explosions and reference a school of brass playing uniquely suited to energy music and complementary to the fire of Ayler and post-Ayler saxophonists. And yet Howard's playing at slower tempi is disarmingly tentative, wrought with the wavering uncertainty of an Alan Shorter translated into a series of pointillistic stabs. With all the conviction voiced in a weighty, measured theme like "Soul Brother Genius", which opens Signals, it is a tense uncertainty that Howard produces in his startlingly brittle opening statements. Howard, Phillips and an arco Cliff voice the minor ghetto dirge over scattered percussive rolls, the composer's solo a series of persistently morbid and instantly shattered statements never more than a few bars in length. "Burn, Baby, Burn" is a manic, brief collective theme very much in the spirit of Ayler's "Bells," in which Howard's quick, blurred solo is followed by Phillips' first alto evisceration of the session (Arthur Jones clearly had precursors in Cleveland), a passionate yet carefully assembled paean to the wild leaps of Ayler and Eric Dolphy. The theme of "Haunted" returns to the measured delicacy of the opener, yet Cliff's perversely bent Silva-isms pull it apart into a psychoactive tone poem, mocking and goading Howard's trumpet. Phillips' huge vibrato follows, sticking close to the theme in a careful soliloquy before Cliff is given his own space to sonically upend the bass, after which Millsap edges in a rare unaccompanied bashing before the theme returns.
Norman Howard's compositions do have their limitations and cracks – there are only two tempi / moods as such, either excruciatingly slow pathos or inordinately fast, raw runs on very simple thematic elements. "Bug Out" introduces a few bars of singsong melody that merely open into a set of screaming solos from the participants (though Phillips's is especially strong), never quite holding the atmospheric weight of the dirges. The exploratory openness in pieces like "Haunted" and its uptempo analogue "Soul Resurrection" makes thematic simplicity an asset rather than a hindrance. Most of the ESP demo, false starts and voice-overs included, is made up of Phillips's compositions (though "Burn, Baby, Burn" does make an appearance):"Sound From There" offers a uniquely delicate pan-tempo ballad, unison alto-bass drones girding and then engaging Howard's glassy trumpet line, while "Satan's Holiday" is essentially "Bug Out" at a slower tempo."Sadness Holiday" also resembles other ballads in the set; though sadly marred by several false starts and voice-overs, the Hodges-like sweetness that characterizes Phillips's tone reveals his versatility as an improviser and his allegiance to his colleague Arthur Jones – also a player of searing intensity and warm delicacy.
After these two aborted sessions, Norman Howard appears to have disappeared from the scene, though he's still alive and well in Cleveland. Joe Phillips, under the name Yusef Mumin, did make one other (albeit similarly obscure) session in the early 1970s as part of then Oberlin-based cellist Abdul Wadud's Unity Trio, which presents several thematic similarities to the music presented on Burn, Baby, Burn. Howard's music was recently revisited by Swedish reedman Mats Gustafsson on The Music of Norman Howard (Anagram), an LP-only affair with an all-star Scandinavian-American lineup of reedman Ken Vandermark, trombonist Jeb Bishop, drummer Paal Nilsson-Love, bassist Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten and vibraphonist Kjell Nordeson. It's sadly ironic that this too received negligible distribution, since Norman Howard's music, and that of his mate Joe Phillips, is a superb example of how Albert Ayler's influence inspired musicians back in his hometown as well as throughout the world. More importantly, it shows how vital the free music scene was – and still is – on the local level.–CA

Hoping these words might reach Norman, Yusef/Joe, Walter and Corney, thanks to Roy Morris ( for providing background information and tapes.

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Peter Brötzmann / Han Bennink
Atavistic/UMS FMP Archive Edition 254
One cold week in early May 1977, Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink met in the middle of the Black Forest near Donaueschingen to record an album of environmental sound-art pieces. Schwarzwaldfahrt ("A Walk In The Black Forest" – not to be confused with Horst Jankowski's piano piece of the same name), released concurrently with Eine Halber Hunde Kann Nicht Pinkeln ("Half a Dog Can't Piss"), is probably the most notorious of the Brötzmann-Bennink duo recordings from that heyday of European free improvisation, if only for the circumstances of its recording – in nature and ostensibly "live", but to the forest. In addition to the array of semi-traditional instruments that both artists use, the sleeve mentions "birdcalls, wood, trees, sand, land, water, [and] air" as part of the arsenal. Bennink left most of his drumkit at home, bringing just a few cymbals and drumsticks into the forest as well as a clarinet, banjo and detuned viola. Apparently, enough material for nearly three LPs was recorded that day, though much of it remained in the vaults until this Atavistic 2CD reissue, which includes an additional twelve cuts (completism aside, though, the impact of the initial two sides and forty-odd minutes is so strong that I can't help but think that they made the right editing choices for the initial release).
From the outset, a clarinet/bass clarinet duet, it's clear there's something different afoot. Granted, Brötzmann and Bennink engage one each other on clarinets on both Eine Halber Hund… and 1980's Atsugi Concert (GuA-Bunge), but there's little to compare with the sheer exuberance on offer here, which goes beyond the usual collective flux-mania that characterizes their other dates – the twosome are into something primal, going beyond process and concept to the origins of music itself, a powerful aesthetic force. The fourth track begins with Bennink shaking and rattling branches, swinging them about wildly in a clearing (I can just visualize him doing it), smacking and smashing sticks against logs, immortalizing on wax what so many ten-year-olds lose to the unrecorded moment. Brötzmann enters halfway through and both men exalt in knocking stones together, scraping them across whatever surfaces they can find – pure sonic research but also damn good fun. There's a touch of Evan Parker in the piercing birdcall duet that opens track six, which inspires what sounds like several real birds to join in until an airplane overhead serves to remind us all that we can never truly escape the mechanized world. Of course, it wouldn't be Brötzmann and Bennink without the ridiculous and the trying of patience – there's an eight-minute exploration of saxophone duets in a babbling brook (yes, the saxophones are in the brook), which is absolutely insane and a total gas to listen to. Confronted as we are today with so many serious slabs of Art Music, it's all too rare to come across two people communicating with branches, tossing stones or pummeling upended cymbals filled with water, making music as if they'd just discovered it. In its primal and very human way, Schwarzwaldfahrt is the highest form of conversation: conversation between two men, and man and nature. In the depths of the Black Forest that day, Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink found music.–CA

Alan Sondheim / Ritual All 770
Fire Museum
Funny I should have mentioned the mythic Nurse List in last month's Editorial, because another one of the impossibly rare platters Steven Stapleton namechecked has just resurfaced (hooray!). Google "Alan Sondheim" and you'll come up with plenty of pages (check out "Philosophy and Psychology of the Internet"), but not many referring to his activities as a musician. Apart from this album, which originally appeared – and I imagine promptly disappeared – in 1967 on a label called Riverboat, there were two outings on ESP, Ritual-All-7-70 (ESP 1048) and T'Other Little Tune (ESP 1082), then nothing until four cassette releases in the late 80s and a CDROM from 2001 (if anyone wants to clue me in on these last five, I'd be grateful). On The Songs Sondheim plays, wait for it, acoustic, electric and Hawaiian guitars, violin, flute, suling, xylophone, alto sax, clarinet, shenai, recorders, mandolin, so-na, koto, chimta, English horn, sitar and pansari, and is joined by Barry Sugarman (tabla, dholak and naquerra), Chris Mattheson (bass), Robert Poholek (trumpet and cornet), vocalists Ruth Ann Hutchinson and June Fellows (Vocals) and a certain J.Z. on "jazz drums" (presumably to differentiate himself from Sugerman, though it doesn't sound all that jazzy to me). Together they formed a improvised music collective, Ritual All 770, based in Providence, Rhode Island, where this freewheeling free oratorio was recorded in March 1967, two months after their first ESP album. It's a single improvised performance recorded live with no overdubs (though Sondheim added some special effects later in the mixing stage) – this is the second of two takes. The singers were given an eight-page libretto for Sondheim's "Oratorio on the end of illusions" but were allowed to pick, choose, repeat and ignore sections of it at will. "The only instruction given to the instrumentalists was this: no playing behind the koto or classical guitar," Sondheim notes in the liners. Musically, it's not hard to see why ESP's Bernard Stollman decided to release Sondheim's music – it's an endearingly ramshackle melting pot of free jazz, blues and folk (if Eugene Chadbourne later described his work as "free improvised country & western bebop" then this is "free improvised Hawaiian flamenco gospel blues music theatre"), right up the same street as the other leftfield oddballs Stollman signed up for his label: The Fugs, Patty Waters, Marzette Watts, and The Sea Ensemble. Forget the duff sound quality – a modest footnote informs us that "this CD was mastered using the best available vinyl source".. Christ, I dread to think what the worst available vinyl source might sound like then – and go for the music: The Songs is one of those wild and wonderful everything-goes experiences from a time and place that now seems all too far away, but its influence resonates (indirectly, one imagines, unless there are more copies of the original vinyl in circulation than I imagine) in the free folk of today's New Weird America scene. If you're OD'ed on Sunburned Hand Of The Man, take a little trip in Uncle Alan's Time Machine and detox back in 1967. You won't regret the price of the ticket.–DW

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Label Profile: ANTBOY
Australian percussionist and Antboy label manager Will Guthrie in conversation with Jesse Goin
Born in 1977, Will Guthrie says he came to his love of music under the influence of his brother’s collection of Led Zeppelin and the Who. Eventually Guthrie took up the drums, playing along with tapes of Public Enemy and the Dead Kennedys. He would go on to study percussion at the University at Melbourne, launching several “free rock/free jazz” bands under the rubric Antboy. After a time, Guthrie stopped playing drums; “…in an attempt to rid myself of predictable habits and clichés, I started playing percussion on objects spread out on the floor, then moved on to playing with microphones and objects on a table.”
Guthrie moved to London in 2003, then to Paris, and currently resides in Nantes. He has organized, promoted and presented numerous concerts and multi-arts events, focusing on the Australian improv scene. He has toured Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and Europe. Guthrie is currently interested in studio composition and group work “that is moving more and more away from improv meetings.” Among Guthrie’s current working projects are Charlie Charlie, his duo with Erell Latimier; trios with Matthew Earle and Adam Sussman, and Ferran Fages and
Jean-Philipe Grosss; [N:Q] with Julien Ottavi, Keith Rowe and Manu Leduc; and solo performances.

JG: When was Antboy launched?
WG: Antboy Music was launched in 2002 when I released my first solo CDR, Rose Coded, from two live performances I did that year. It started as I imagine many musician-run labels start, with the fact that I had recorded material I was happy with, and I was too proud (or stubborn!) to ask someone else to put it out, and too impatient to wait for someone else to put it out (not that anyone was offering!), so I did it myself. I didn't plan on starting a label at all, I just had some material I wanted to make available. In the past I'd had bands called Antboy, and the cover needed a contact on it, hence Antboy Music! It made sense to call it that, as it was a continuation of other projects I had using that name. There was no real concept at that stage of what Antboy was going to be other than an outlet for releasing my own music, which it still is, but that has since changed a little with the release of the Ernie Althoff CD, the first Antboy CD without me on it!
JG: Ernie Althoff's work is in some ways antipodal (pun intended) to yours: on Heliosonics he generates music with solar power, while you compose with junk, motorized metals, Walkman and other electronic detritus.
WG: We both use mainly found materials, junk, and percussion, but I don't use many electronic gadgets except for a Walkman and, occasionally, radio. The rest is just microphones, using the microphones as an instrument in its own right, making the acoustic source "sound" electronic when it isn't.. I also do this by using different little speakers. The other similarity with Althoff (and the rest of the Antboy artists), is that nobody on Antboy really uses electronic or digital effects. With the exception of Greg Kingston and Adam Sussmann (guitar), none of them really play an instrument either, or at least as it is supposed to be played: I play junk, Ernie objects, Matt Earle an empty sampler, the instrument itself is not so important.
JG: You have found a label mate whose work provides a dramatic juxtaposition to yours: Althoff's installation pieces on Dark By 6 depend on the aleatory, while you sculpt by stealth, editing carefully constructed shards of sound. I'm thinking of Spear and Les Respirations...
WG: Yes, but that's my studio work. Recording in a studio is a very different thing to live performance, and Antboy isn't so interested in putting out CDs that simply document a concert. I use the studio as an instrument itself, and it's more composition than improvisation, whereas lots of Ernie's work is more visual / installation / spacial orientated.
JG: How did you get started in improvised music?
WG: In Melbourne from about 1996-1999 I organized concerts of improvised music because nobody else was doing it. There were plenty of jazz gigs at the time, and a few improv things and festivals, but nothing regular. With a few others we started organizing a regular Tuesday night series of improvised music concerts, just out of a need to play, experiment, present our music. At the time I was playing drums/junk/percussion and coming from a more free/jazz/rock background, so there were very few places to play. We just filled a need, it was the same idea with the label. In this music it's pretty rare that people offer you things: more often than not you have to do the asking or do it yourself, so we just did it.
JG: How do you choose the artists for your label? What distinguishes your label from others in the marketplace?
WG: Well, with the exception of the Althoff CD, all the releases so far have documented existing working relationships that I've been involved in. However, Antboy tries to present musicians that sound like themselves, that have their own voice or are working towards it. I've never been interested in "stylistic correctness" in music, people following a set of musical rules, so I guess the musicians on Antboy are kind of in line with that. To my ears they are unique enough to present really strong individual music, and they don't really fit in to any prescribed format. All the releases on Antboy are pretty different so far and I'm happy with that. That's something I want to keep up, instead of creating a strict "musical identity" for the label that will push it into a corner. Again, I am not so interested in any one style or method of making music, and the label is an extension of that. The agenda is to be as different, original and unique as possible. However, with the exception of Charlie Charlie, Antboy has so far released music only by Australian artists, so one of the ideas has been to present music that is kind of particular to Australia.. This is a pretty loaded topic and difficult to describe: "What is Australian music?" But Ernie's work is really unique in its use of Australian materials, and I feel Greg Kingston has a very particular "Australian" sense of humour in his playing. It's crass, un-polite, politically incorrect etc .This may change soon; maybe I'II be releasing stuff from musicians from other countries, so it's not a "rule". It's just been this way so far.
JG: What would you release if you received a handsome endowment for the label?
WG: There have been many artists, most of them Australian, whose work I would have released happily if I'd had the money, but it's been financially impossible for me to invest in any projects other than my own. This is something I really hope will change in the future. I offered Ernie a CD on Antboy because I've loved his work for a long time, and there are others like him that I would love to release something by. But again it's finances that hold it back a little.
JG: What is your distribution network looking like currently?
WG: It's OK, probably the same as most labels! The discs are pretty much at all the major distributors for this kind of music. And if I tour I often take them around to local shops.
JG: Will Antboy continue to be an outlet for your own work? How has your perspective on the experimental music scene and its audience been informed by label ownership?
WG: I think Antboy will probably always be associated with me, my music and my tastes in music, although I would prefer it opened out a little more to other artists. I predict that Antboy will be around for quite a while because it started as an outlet for my own work and will probably continue like that, not necessarily with very a regular release schedule, quite simply because it's an outlet for my own music, it's another aspect of what I do.
Today there's a demand (a small one!) for some of the smaller Australian and New Zealand labels to be distributed here in Europe, so Antboy is now doing a really low-key mail-order service for some of those labels, basically to make and keep this music available for anyone interested. And as Antboy is a small label it's not so much work to keep going. The danger of it falling apart is small; there's not so much to fall apart! I remember reading an interview with Eddie Prévost where he talked about the idea of running a label being just a logical extension of what most experimental musicians do anyway. Most of us at some stage have organized concerts to present our own music, done the CD artwork ourselves, written and printed the press releases ourselves, etc. While sometimes I'd love someone else to do this stuff for me, it's normal and it makes sense to do it myself. Also the situation is really different now, as the cost of making a CD is drastically less than it used to be, and making CDRs is possible, also the whole downloading subject, so record companies in a traditional sense have become irrelevant in terms of musicians needing them to release their music. The last thing I want to do is be writing to labels all the time (I have done it a little, not much), and asking for a release: "Er, did you listen to my music? Did you like it? Would you like to release it? How much will it cost me? Am I going to get ripped off?" I do that enough to get concerts! I just feel that releasing my own music suits the music. [Interview by email by Jesse Goin - Go to:]

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On Rogue Art
Hamid Drake
RogueArt ROG-0001
Rob Brown
RogueArt ROG-0002
Roscoe Mitchell
RogueArt ROG-0003
These CDs from the new French label RogueArt trigger all my collecting instincts – my book-collecting instincts, that is, since they look like gorgeous faux-paperbacks in the classic French style. If Gallimard started issuing American free jazz on CD, the results would look like this: there’s no cover image, just black Bodoni titles on radiant white, and liner notes and a photo of the musicians are tucked inside the equivalent of a French flap. The liner notes similarly tend towards literariness, not to mention effusiveness – take your pick between Alexandre Pierrepont and Steve Dalachinsky’s post-Beat gush and Franck Médioni’s pontifications (“How to ‘be’ together? How to ‘be’ with the other?”). The music itself on these three discs could best be described as “balanced”, emphasizing interplay between composed materials and improvisation, and featuring bands that are, if not working groups, at least musicians who have frequently played together. Some labels favour one-off encounters or eyecatchingly unexpected assemblages of players (often as much the producer’s idea as the players’): RogueArt instead seems to be interested in musicians’ “normal” practice, as expressed within the controlled conditions of the studio. (Of course this focus may change as the label’s catalogue grows.) The effect is of thumbnail portraits of the current methodologies and preoccupations of three notable figures on the current free jazz scene.
Earlier this year Hamid Drake was featured in Downbeat as a “rising star” – a welcome dollop of mainstream recognition, though you’d think that at the age of 50, he’d rate a little higher than a mere up-and-comer. The keynote of Bindu, the drummer’s first album as a leader, is the relation between drums and the human voice, whether raised in praise, prayer or elegy. Drake himself likes to croon or chant occasionally (as on “Born upon a Lotus”), and on the ensemble tracks the emphasis is on the swaying, ragged choral textures of the four horns (Daniel Carter, Ernest Dawkins, Sabir Mateen, and Greg Ward). It’s music more about sound, mood and collaborative jamming than about development – the slightest of riffs is often spun out into ten-minutes-plus – but the results are varied and alluring, whether the languorous world-music vibe of “A Prayer for the Bardo” and “Meeting and Parting” or the tumbling free jazz of “Bindu #2”. Top honours, though, go to the opening duet with guest flutist Nicole Mitchell, and the last track, 13 minutes of Drake alone at the kit. A mixed bag, perhaps, but mostly a successful one, and Drake’s rolling, handwoven grooves are a tonic in this age of jazz drummers hung up on herkyjerky hyperactivity.
Rob Brown’s Radiant Pools doesn’t have the Don Cherryish spirituality and wanderlust of the Drake disc, but the saxophonist shares a similar preference for an inside/outside approach to free jazz that finds plenty of opportunity for grooving. In the past William Parker would be the inevitable bassist on this gig, but this time it’s Joe Morris, and his hardbitten lines (so different from his guitar work, which tends to verbosity) suit the music admirably. Steve Swell, a trombonist who approaches free playing with the clipped precision of a hardbopper, provides a much richer foil than Roy Campbell did on Brown’s last album, The Big Picture (another French release, incidentally, on the Marge label), and the group is rounded out by Morris’s regular drummer, Luther Gray, a player rarely encountered outside the Riti catalogue – a pity, as he’s terrific here, especially on the opening “Boxed Sets”. Brown’s leaps-in-space approach to soloing can suggest Dolphy (especially his work here on Morris’s African-flavoured “King Cobra”), but the mood of his work is the reverse of Dolphy’s confident outlandishness: the way Brown’s solos reach up repeatedly to fragile high notes gives his work an engaging feeling of vulnerability. The album feels almost too shapely at times: a touch of wildness would have made the difference between a very good disc and a truly memorable one. But Brown’s alto remains one of the most appealing sounds in the current jazz scene, and this is a characteristically fine outing, the sort of thing you might lay on an unregenerate hard bop fan to show him what he’s been missing.
The quintet on Roscoe Mitchell’s Turn is made up of players who have been with him for some time – in the case of bassist Jaribu Shahid and drummer Tani Tabbal, since the classic Snurdy McGurdy and Her Dancin’ Shoes (1980), while pianist Craig Taborn and trumpeter Corey Wilkes have taken part in his recent large-ensemble recordings with the Note Factory. Most of the tracks here are very short – fourteen of them within an hour – and the album has a notebook feeling, as Mitchell works through his latest thoughts on some favourite topoi: jingling percussion ensembles, circular-breathing saxophone blowouts, pseudo-baroque music (the beautiful waltz “In Six”), formally scored music labelled as “Pages” and “Quintets” (including the ringing, shimmering “Page Two A”, one of the album’s finest moments) and even a warped funk number that’s over in a mere 1'24". The effect is of an elusive formalism: even the wall-of-noise improv of “Take One” seems to take free-jazz uproar as another mode for systematic exploration. This is jazz rendered unsettlingly transparent or evanescent, as if it were a shimmering surface over a more elusive interior (or nothing at all?), and ultimately I’m reminded of a phrase from my grad-school days: “self-consuming artefacts”. Wilkes is largely surplus to requirements, but the rest of the band are well-attuned to Mitchell’s aesthetic, with Taborn the stand-out player.–ND

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On TwoThousandAnd
Doctor Quirkey's Goodtime Emporium Band
A 6
Broken Hands / Lucky Rabbit

Anthony Guerra / Nishide Takehiro
London, as Martin Davidson will proudly confirm, boast more free improvisers per square mile than any other city on the planet, but even despite the noble encouragement of that most Londoncentric of new music publications, The Wire, many still have to struggle to play for more than five people, five quid and a packet of chips at the end of the gig. So the scene has gone into survival mode: small venues (the studio at Resonance FM where Lucky Hands was recorded is certainly cosy), small groups (with the exception of the awful hydra-headed monster that is the LIO) and small labels, including Wastell's Confront and TwoThousandAnd, this latter co-founded by guitarists Michael Rodgers and Australian (then resident in Britain) Anthony Guerra, who also perform together as a duo, Broken Hands. Lucky Rabbit is also a duo, consisting of Ross Lambert, also on electric guitar, and Seymour Wright on alto sax. Lucky Hands is a joint venture between the two outfits (one imagines the next one will have to be Broken Rabbit), featuring two tracks by each as well as one Guerra / Wright duo, one Lambert and Rodgers duo and one quartet. The influence of Off Site-style Japanese lowercase is still discernible– Lucky Rabbit's debut on the label recorded back in 2002 also featured, you'll recall, Utah Kawasaki, Ami Yoshida and Tetsuro Yasunaga – and there's a whiff of post-Fahey post-Connors take-your-time fingerpicking, but there's also a whimsical and typically British feel to it all, a sense of humour that harks back to second generation LMC improvisers like Steve Beresford and Terry Day and an off-the-wall experimental purity you can also find in Morphogenesis. The recording is so intimate it sounds as if they're all in your front room – you almost feel you're intruding on something simply by listening to it. Shades of Roger Smith playing his Spanish guitar in his kitchen in the wee small hours.
Guerra's outing with Nisihide Takehiro, Scopa Possibilities, was recorded in London in 2003 before the former returned down under and the latter relocated to Japan. Guerra's on guitar and electronics here, but Nisihide is billed as playing "various" (and as most of the links you can dig up on him by Googling are in Russian, good luck trying to find out exactly what that "various" means). His last two releases on the label, Iberian Tour with Guerra, Rodgers and Joel Stern and plastic (released under the name of Popo and clocking in at just nine minutes) are both sold out, so I'm none the wiser. Not surprisingly Scopa Possibilities is a pretty inscrutable 34 minutes of soft noise, with low gloomy drones, vicious clicks and occasional blasts of noise interspersed with threatening silence. It's very much the Mattin aesthetic – Mattin of course being an honorary member of the TwoThousandAnd crew, his Gora being the label's most powerful release to date – somewhere between Malfatti and Merzbow (nearer Malfatti, thankfully). Try setting fire to your house while playing a Sachiko M solo album simultaneously with early Xenakis electronic music – it might just sound something like this.
The most extreme of these three releases though is A6, by the splendidly-named Dr Quirkey's Goodtime Emporium Band, another two-man outfit (hey, three's a crowd..) consisting of Chris O'Connor on drums and Daniel Beban on guitar. It's a continuous 43-minute span of music that, in a strange way, achieves the impossible, managing to be unremittingly static – Beban's basic chord remains the same throughout – and consistently fast-moving, as O'Connor darts around his kit, flailing hi-hat, toms and snare with his brushes like Han Bennink on acid but at a volume level you'd associate with John Stevens' work with the mid-1970s SME. The music is totally distinctive – play it once and I guarantee you'll be able to recognise any part of it again instantly – and yet totally forgettable, containing absolutely nothing whatsoever that could stand out as a structural defining event. At one and the same time then it's a rather neat example of Stockhausen's moment form and also a comment – maybe an ironic one, at that – on improvised music's typical busy-ness. In its own quiet yet flustered way it's an extraordinary and unique document, and, as TwoThousandAnd's elegant hand-made packages tend to sell out fast, I wouldn't let this one pass you by without giving it a listen. The question is, how many listens? How many times do you need to listen to this music? How many times would you want to? For you to figure out.–DW

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Improvised Music by Babies
Various Artists
I guess it had to happen sooner or later. If I had a penny for every time I've heard some wag propped up against the bar at an improv concert say "My two year old could do that" I could probably buy another Fisher Price tape recorder (my son Max, now seven, never had much time for his, and ended up giving it away, preferring to raid my record collection instead). Well, Yoshio Machida's gone one better – no, wait, six months better – none of the ten performers on this album is more than 18 months old. Just as well, since if they could read they might start swotting up on copyright law and suing their parents, or Machida, or whoever it was who instigated this project. OK, so every doting parent takes far too many photos of their mewling puking infants, at least until they stop mewling and puking, learn to walk and start posing for the shot, by which time it's no fun anymore, and many people record the noises they make too (I didn't, in fact, and rather regret not being to go back and listen with detached pleasure to the deranged caterwauling that drove me crazy at the time) – but actually releasing the recordings for public consumption is another matter. A cursory glance at some of the names of the people involved in the recording – electropop fiend Felix Kubin, installation artist Andrew Deutsch and Machida himself – could reveal a sinister plot to exploit poor unsuspecting tots by the trendy avant-garde (though as I stuck a photograph of Max when he was nine months old on the cover of my own first album, I'm in no position to talk).
"Don't Put Your Daughter On The Stage Mrs Worthington", sang Noel Coward in a famous ditty (though I bet you've forgotten how violent it gets in verse 4: "One look at her bandy legs should prove / She hasn't got a chance, / In addition to which / The son of a bitch / Can neither sing nor dance, / She's a vile girl and uglier than mortal sin, / One look at her has put me in / A tearing bloody rage"). W.C. Fields was even more direct: "Children should neither be seen nor heard from – ever again." But here we have ten tracks by ten different babies playing a variety of instruments – toys, organs, tape recorders, electric pianos, zithers and even steel drums. They're all perfectly cute and none of them is very long – after all, kids this age do have short attention spans – but only a couple of them are interesting enough to want to listen to again. Myona Sonobe sounds like she's having fun (apologies by the way if she's a he, but I'm not all that well-up on Japanese first names and the photo on the back of the disc is so tiny it's hard to tell – actually sometimes it's hard to tell even if the baby's right there in front of you) dropping what sounds like a soft rubber ball onto a steel drum, but the track by Bela Elektra Brillowska (is that his real name? Wow. I suppose it's never too early to start using a pseudonym: you ask Baby LeRoy, the kid W.C. Fields booted in the butt in It's A Gift – actually you can't ask him because he died four years ago) is positively scary. Over an organ loop – did the bright young thing set that going himself I wonder or did Herr Kubin lend a hand? – little Bela gives the old Fisher Price mic the shivers with some ghostly (ghastly) groans. Sounds like a pre-school version of The Swans, if you can imagine such a thing. Elsewhere Erophey Dobrovolski twangs a zither and Benjamin Deutsch and Alyssa Elliott tinker with toy pianos and come up with, respectively, one rather interesting descending dominant seventh (after two minutes aimless plonking) and a few inspired seconds before Ms Elliott switches on the hideous built-in drum machine. The rest of the tracks feature the horrid pre-recorded jingles emanating from mass produced kiddy toys – and even a master improvisers like Steve Beresford and Martin Klapper often have a hard time making them sound remotely musical.
I suppose, getting serious for a moment – though I'll admit it's hard: this one's had me in stitches for a couple of days – Machida is trying to make some point about innate creativity. Either that or it's some kind of ironic dig at the snuffles and flutters of lowercase improv (literally "my two year old could do that"), in which case it fails miserably. The tiny vocal noises Ami Yoshida produces might bear some superficial resemblance to Maya Konishi's delightful little gurgles, and Alyssa's plonks very occasionally (and hilariously) recall Misha Mengelberg, but after listening to the kids you truly appreciate Yoshida's superb voice production and mic technique and Mengelberg's impeccable timing and touch. As far as innate creativity goes, I can tell you for a fact that my two year old did things just as good and I'm sure yours could too. So if you feel like buying a copy of this one go right ahead – the cover's really cute – but, well, let's just say it's a novelty. And, as the saying goes, the novelty soon wears off.

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String Trio of New York with Oliver Lake
Barking Hoop
The uncompromising integrity of Kevin Norton's Barking Hoop label is once more on display in Frozen Ropes, featuring alto sax great Oliver Lake and three beautiful string painters, namely violinist Rob Thomas (who's collaborated with artists as diverse as Andy Summers, John McLaughlin and Lee Konitz), guitarist James Emery (formerly one of Steve Reich's Musicians) and bass maestro John Lindberg. The album consists of five tracks – four originals and a Coltrane cover – each with its distinct personality, reciprocal active listening generating magical interplay. Lake's opener "Shiffs" is jazz meets modern chamber music, its score calling for timbral nuances, a graceful entwining of slightly dissonant periods and some articulated soloing, to the delight of those who dream of a cross between Django Reinhardt and Alban Berg. John Lindberg penned the title track, in which a splendid conversation leads to a thought-provoking exploration of instrumental virtuosity and nervous rhythmic energy, Lake and Thomas flying high over a multidimensional foundation laid down by Emery and Lindberg, who swap roles at the blink of an eyelid. Lake's own "Reminds Me" and Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament" are both classic ballads, yet the musicians approach them with reverent savoir-faire, studiously avoiding the deadly boredom of the conventional cadenzas heard in a million jazz clubs, thanks in no small part to Emery's shimmering uncluttered chordal work. The guitarist is also the author of the most peculiar track of the CD, "Texas Koto Blues", which is divided into three parts, the first an overcharged blues that, after three and a half minutes makes way for a raga-like reflection on the many facets of free playing before ending with a bold thematic statement as Lake joins the Trio in a joyously life-affirming orchestral presence.–MR

Alessandro Bosetti / Michel Doneda
I happen to agree with that old Philip Glass quote: "People want to like new music." Indeed they do, and the reason you're reading this now probably has a lot to do with the fact. But does new music want to like people? Or, more specifically, want people to like it rather than just respect it? There's something admirable about artists who refuse to make the slightest concession to listeners, forcing them to challenge their own preconceptions and meet the creator on his/her own terms, but ultimately the music I tend to return to is the stuff I can respond to on something more than admiration level. Soprano saxophonist Michel Doneda's album from:between (with Jack Wright and Tatsuya Nakatani), which inaugurated Daniel Yang's excellent SoSEditions imprint last year, was one of the most thrilling experiences of recent times for this listener, which makes this latest offering from Doneda and fellow soprano explorer Alessandro Bosetti all the more puzzling. Recorded "on the floor" by Pierre-Olivier Boulant (who also recorded Doneda and Bosetti's Potlatch outing with Bhob Rainey Placés dans l'air and Doneda's Sopranino / Radio on Fringes, as well as Bertrand Gauguet's solo debut Etwa on Creative Sources), its seven tracks present a diverse array of New Sax Techniques from breathy rasps, flutters, splutters, gurgles and raspberries to simultaneously-sung groandrones (and even the occasional recognisable note), but I'm left wondering what it's all in aid of. It's too easy to scoff at what you might suppose to be a lack of conventional saxophone technique, as Chris Kelsey did in his withering and misguided recent review of the Gauguet album at One Final Note, and, unlike Kelsey, not being a saxophonist myself, I wouldn't dare to make some dumb blanket statement along the lines of "anybody can do this." But I am led to wonder how Doneda and Bosetti really expect listeners – either neophytes or old improv hands like me – to feel after 44'13" in this chilly, humid, reptile-infested swamp. I've donned wetsuit and goggles four times already and haven't found any buried treasure yet in the pools of phlegm. I guess I'd better keep on trying.–DW

John Tilbury
John Tilbury was once described in a Grob press release as "the Dean of British New Music", and there is a certain almost academic gravitas to a Tilbury performance that justifies the description, not to mention the pianist's track record as an interpreter of contemporary classical music and his principled stand on matters political, notably his much-discussed one-man boycott of the United States (you should read his views on the subject at Though he's appeared on several excellent high profile improv albums, not only with AMM – think Absinth on Grob, with Werner Dafeldecker, Franz Hautzinger and Sachiko M, and the two Erstwhile extravaganzas The Hands Of Caravaggio with MIMEO and Duos For Doris with Keith Rowe – he's perhaps best known in the wider world for his association with the music of composers Christian Wolff, Cornelius Cardew and Morton Feldman. And, despite the immaculately prepared piano and a range of (for Tilbury) new playing techniques, it's Feldman that casts a long shadow over this 36 minute improvisation recorded in December 2003 at L'ESPAI de Música i Dansa de la Generalitat de Catalunya in Barcelona. Most obviously because the music is predominantly slow, spacious and quiet, but also because Tilbury, like Feldman, spends much of his time exploring tiny constellations of notes, or more specifically, intervals. The characteristically gentle chromaticism of Feldman – three or more adjacent semitones (or octave displacements thereof) and a prominent whole tone or third – is also present here, a distinctive harmonic colour that explains why few improvisers seem able convincingly to engage with Tilbury on the pitch level (hence the rather disappointing three piano outing Another Part Of The Story on Emanem a while back with Howard Riley and Keith Tippett), while musicians who are less concerned with pitch as a parameter – Hautzinger, Sachiko M, and of course Keith Rowe – fare better. But there's nothing else to get in the way here, except the audience applause at the end, which unfortunately breaks the spell for this listener and brings me back down to earth with a jolt. But maybe that's precisely what Tilbury intends his music to do, after all.-DW

Lol Coxhill / Frode Gjerstad / Nick Stephens
Loose Torque
This splendid studio date recorded in September 2003 features the distinctive soprano sax of the grand old recedent himself, Lol Coxhill, in a muscular battle with Frode Gjerstad's clarinets and alto sax and bassist and Loose Torque head honcho Nick Stephens. Stephens appears to have some kind of a brush handy to thrum the strings of his bass on "That", but apart from that there's no drummer on the date – and yet the trio really swings, an underlying tough though never explicitly stated groove seeming to propel the music forward. The recording is superb, and really catches the punch and sweat of the session, from Stephens' hefty twangs to Coxhill and Gjerstad's joyous yelps. It's certainly refreshing to hear two saxophonists actually playing their horns, especially since most of the folks who seem to pick up the instrument today to play improvised music seem more interested in huffing and puffing rather than actually blowing the house down. (See above..) Both Coxhill and Gjerstad really know how to carry and develop a line – you can call it technique if you like, I don't mind – and it makes all the difference.–DW

Frode Gjerstad / Louis Moholo / Hasse Poulsen / Nick Stephens
Loose Torque
1996 certainly feels like a long time ago from where I'm sitting. Since bassist Nick Stephens went into Notting Hill's Dubversive Studio in November of that year, the members of the band with him that day have moved on: drummer Louis Moholo has added another Moholo to his name (ancient African practice, apparently) and, I believe, moved back to his native South Africa, Danish guitar whiz Hasse Poulsen has taken up residence in the leafy suburbs of Paris and made quite a name for himself kicking up a psychedelic storm behind Louis Sclavis, amongst others, and Frode Gjerstad has slowly but surely become one of the most original (and most often overlooked) improvising saxophonists on the scene (see above!). But even a casual listen to these eight magnificent tracks (whose titles might not inspire: "Fjord Deep, Mountain High" – aagh – "Drums'n'Bass" – now that's 1996 for ya) reveals ample evidence of the musicians' prodigious talent. It's a lively exploration of strong – but never bruising – free-form playing remarkably free of standard improv dogma: there are no "thou shalt nots" to get in the way of these four gentlemen as they explore the various permutations of their collective instrumentation. In fact, nothing (apart from that track title) that sounds like 1996. Calling Signals may have taken a long time to see the light of day, but it's been worth the wait.–DW

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Graham Halliwell
Confront Collectors Series
Graham Halliwell has moved away from playing saxophone traditionally, using the instrument instead as a resonating chamber to create clouds of feedback which he controls with remarkable precision by adjusting his position in relation to the microphone. The tones generated have a sparse ethereal feel to them, but retain an acoustic warmth that clearly distinguishes them from electronically created sound. Halliwell's work with Mark Wastell and Bernhard Gunter in the group +minus has challenged some of the unwritten rules of improvised music in recent times, notably that group's occasional use of pre-recorded material as a base track to play along with, a practice Halliwell develops further with Recorded Delivery, two of whose three duets use extant material provided by Halliwell’s collaborators.
The opening "Beat" finds the saxophonist working with recordings of Rhodri Davies’ e-bowed harp (and sounding remarkably compatible with Halliwell's feedback) in a beautiful study of languorous, minimal sound straddling the boundaries between lowercase composition and improvisation. The liner notes, included as a pdf file on the disc, reveal that the piece combines edited solo recordings of Davies’ harp with one of Halliwell's own recordings dating from 2002. Halliwell cites the warm drones of Eliane Radigue’s Adnos I as an influence, and the resemblance is clear, but the most interesting element of the track is hinted at in its title. Tones and pulses swell before criss-crossing almost rhythmically to create a resonating throb of feedback that provides a ghostly third element to the music.
"Resonantlighttones" uses the track of the same name from Steve Roden’s Four Possible Landscapes (2000), overlaid with Halliwell’s feedback sax. Roden's clusters of slowly evolving soft electronic chimes circle slowly in an almost hypnotic manner, creating a mass of sparkling sound into which Halliwell's detailed swathes of looped feedback settle, filling in the spaces with fields of vibrant colour. As on "Beat", the two sound sources play off each other, merge and drift apart, in a rare and haunting example of a musical reworking that is more than just the sum of its parts.
"Vibra #3" is a real time duo with Mark Wastell, who caresses his 24-inch hand-beaten tam tam with a soft hammer, allowing deep looming sheets of sound to grow and then decay gently (see reviews of Wastell's Vibra projects elsewhere). The gong is miked dangerously close: every detail of the vibrating metal is captured, and as the sound grows it is also tinted slightly by a natural feedback. Halliwell twists his way into this undulating landscape, his spectral shapes adding a dark, brooding undertone.
Improv purists may baulk at its methods of construction, but Halliwell has set his sights on creating music that fills a void in the current landscape of electro acoustic improvisation. It's unashamedly beautiful, and works with sounds and structures mildly redolent of ambient musical genres, but it's certainly not elevator music. There's a mass of activity beneath the listener-friendly surface that greatly rewards close attention. Recorded Delivery is an exceptional and original piece of work.

Joe Giardullo
Recent months have seen a spate of remarkable solo improv sax albums by the likes of John Butcher, Stéphane Rives, Bertrand Gauguet, David Gross and Martin Küchen, but apart from Sonny Simmons – the wonderful Jewels on Boxholder – few brave hornplayers from the jazz world have gone it alone lately. But No Work Today is soprano saxophonist Joe Giardullo's second solo outing after last year's magnificent Weather (Not Two) and its explicit dedication to the memory of the late, great Steve Lacy invites direct comparison - something not many out there are prepared to risk. Matters religious are definitely not my speciality, but I'm prepared to bet a packet of reeds that if the hereafter exists, Steve is sitting up there digging this album as I write. For Lacy it was all about intervals: no saxophonist, no, scratch that, no musician with the possible exception of Monk (and, I'd add, Misha Mengelberg), explored the magic and mystery of intervals so thoroughly. Transcribe any of Lacy's solos, take it along to your local Professor of Music Theory and watch his/her jaw drop in amazement. It's nice to know that Lacy didn't take his know-how with him to the grave – Joe Giardullo has learnt his lesson well, and done so without copping Lacy's licks (not that that's easy to do). If anything, it's Evan Parker who comes to mind, especially on checking out the circular breathing on "The Touch", maybe along with (though this is perhaps just wishful thinking on my part) the impish melodic somersaults of a Lol Coxhill. Giardullo's readings of Lacy's "Prospectus" and "Hurtles" are masterly, but all nine tracks – the other seven are credited to Giardullo but contain hefty chunks of old chestnuts by Monk and Ellington – are pure joy, and proof, not that any were needed, that there's still plenty of mileage in playing the straight horn straight.–DW

David Borgo
CJR 1181
During the 1960s jazz received a major infusion of new ideas from South African expatriates fleeing the oppression of apartheid. Chris McGregor, Johnny Dyani, Dudu Pukwana, Harry Miller and Mongezi Feza are sadly no longer with us, but Louis Moholo Moholo and Abdullah Ibrahim are still making music. Ibrahim remains a widely celebrated figure from this exodus, even earning the praise of Duke Ellington himself, and his recordings, ranging from solo performance to duets with Max Roach and Dyani, small groups and big bands, have a remarkable scope and power. The influence of Ibrahim and other South African musicians is now widespread. Saxophonist and ethnomusicologist David Borgo (born in 1970) first became aware of it when he was given an album by Ibrahim's band Ekaya, and subsequently visited Southern Africa, further increasing his interest in this music. This disc is the result of his explorations, and features Ibrahim compositions interspersed with other South African songs and a Curtis Clark's “Letter to South Africa”. Borgo has recruited a line-up including two veterans, trombonist George Lewis and pianist Anthony Davis (who also appeared on Borgo's Reverence for Uncertainty), and some fine, less-familiar faces such as percussionist Nathan Hubbard and pianist Rick Helzer. Helzer and Davis provide their own spin on Ibrahim's pieces without emulating his distinctive style, and the performances capture the spirit of the music without being note-for-note recitations: two compositions are even rearranged sans piano. Borgo shows impressive prowess on both tenor and soprano saxophones as well as throwing in a sprightly pennywhistle feature on “Msunduza”, and shares the saxophone duties on four cuts with Tracy McMullen, another distinctive voice. When joined by Lewis, the unison horn lines on the heads (particularly on Harry Miller's “Eli’s Song”) conjure up the passions of the original recordings.–SG

Agustí Fernandez / Mats Gustafsson
psi 05.06
After a slew of muscular free jazz blowouts with the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Barry Guy and, of course, The Thing (whose antics so irritated our resident agent provocateur John Gill a couple of months back), it's nice to see saxophonist Mats Gustafsson back in an intimate (well, sort of) duo setting with Spanish pianist extraordinaire Agustí Fernandez. Mats's titanic explosions are fine by me, but I've always preferred the tight, nervous, cellular cut'n'thrust of his solo and small ensemble stuff. Criticize the apparel, hairstyle, struts and grimaces all you will, Gustafsson on form is a thrilling performer, and more subtle than you might think. When it comes to split-second timing, Fernandez is every bit his match, whether trading volleys of tiny melodic cells or exploring the innards of his piano, which he does with extraordinary finesse (finesse not necessarily implying low volume either: sounds like he's got Han Bennink hidden in the cast iron frame on the opening track). Of course, there are plenty of fireworks too. The third track – they're all called "Critical Mass" by the way – is the musical equivalent of a napalm attack. Gustafsson's vicious baritone blasts and Fernandez's f(e)isty clusters will send not only your earwax but also your hifi into meltdown if you're not careful, and listening to Mats's tongue slaps on track eight at the correct volume (loud) is like being slapped in the face with a leather strap dipped in acid.–DW

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Iannis Xenakis
Mode's Xenakis edition reaches volume 6 with this splendidly-recorded set of works for strings (and, on one piece, tape). The performances by the Ensemble Resonanz conducted by Johannes Kalitzke are exemplary – special mention must be made of double bassist John Eckhardt for his reading of Theraps (more on that later) – but those who harbour lingering doubts as to whether the brevity of the composer's late works was somehow due to his protracted struggle against ill health won't find much to console them here. The difference between the magnificent swirling Syrmos (1959) – it's hard to imagine today the furore that this music must have caused when it was first performed – and the stodgy and decidedly slight Voile (1995) is striking. The earlier work is vibrant, vicious, unpredictable and utterly thrilling (so is 1971's Aroura, which follows it up), while Voile plods along in a stolid midtempo, making the composer's trademark clusters and glissandi sound routine, even manneristic. "I don't need the calculations anymore," Xenakis told Bernard Jacobson in an interview in the early 80s, referring to his decision to abandon the complex mathematical procedures that his early music formalised in sound in favour of more intuitive composition. Well, I beg to differ. Ittidra, written for the Arditti Quartet plus two in 1996, sounds dour and grey, in keeping with the chilling pessimism of the composer's late interviews. A bit of extra-musical discipline wouldn't have gone amiss. But not all of the composer's mathematics-based pieces are unqualified masterpieces: the inclusion here of a rarity from 1959, Analogique A+B, for nine strings and tape, is a case in point. The tape element, painstakingly generated from sinewaves, sounds raw and experimental – as opposed to raw and experienced on other landmark electronic pieces that came before and after (Concret PH, Orient-Occident) – and the fact that it only overlaps with the characteristically spiky string music for less than a minute of the work's 6'38" duration gives us the impression we're listening to a preliminary sketch for a larger work. Apparently, Pierre Schaeffer didn't like it either (though that's no recommendation). Still, Xenakis completists won't want to be without it, especially since, to my knowledge, it's only appeared on disc once before. Without wanting to hurt the feelings of the Ensemble Resonanz, I have to say the most exciting work on the disc is the solo double bass work Theraps, written in 1976 for Fernando Grillo. This should by rights be on a separate disc of Xenakis solo string music with the two Mikkas for violin, Embellie for viola, and the two notoriously difficult solo cello pieces Nomos Alpha and Kottos, but as these have popped up on a number of occasions elsewhere we'll let the matter drop, especially since John Eckhardt's performance is absolutely stunning. The ferocious technical challenges of the piece are evident throughout – the double-stop glissandi and frequent excursions into territory where violinists normally fear to tread – but what makes this version so notable is its sheer musicality: like the greatest of Xenakis's compositions, it's a superbly constructed and moving piece of music, not a mere conservatory study.–DW

Eliane Radigue
Shiiin 1
For the second time this year it falls to Eliane Radigue to launch a new French label – and if the people at Shiiin follow the path traced with this release we can expect great things. [Label manager Stéphane Roux's next project is a Charlemagne Palestine release, and negotiations are still continuing with La Monte Young.. watch this space.-DW ] L'île re-sonante reaches the same intensity level as Radigue's earlier glories. Inspired by a vision of her face reflected in the water of a lake, this single movement opus starts with a gradual oscillation throbbing its way through silence, wave cycles progressively concentrating to become one with the environment in a nebulous ritual nightmare, a mesmerizing section of looping intersections of illusory female voices that constitutes one of the most memorable moments in Radigue's oeuvre, maybe even in the history of minimalism at large. You wish it would last forever, but it doesn't: instead, the basic harmony of the mother drone shifts to another blurred picture, and Radigue's ARP returns with a vengeance to put everything in place again, reminding us where light and darkness meet, gently caressing our head. Don't worry, I'll take care of you. Its quivering synthetic tides mask additional harmonic secrets our ears and brains try to unveil, but.. too late: the island has disappeared, together with the image of Madame Radigue's smile, and we're left alone, trying desperately to find words to describe what this beautiful lady has been doing for decades, looking inside the heart of sound.–MR

Alvin Lucier
New World 2CD
my way is in the sand flowing
between the shingle and the dune
the summer rain rains on my life
on me my life harrying fleeing
to its beginning to its end
my peace is there in the receding mist
when I may cease from treading these long shifting thresholds
and live the space of a door
that opens and shuts

The smallest interval available on a good old piano is, as we all know, the semitone. But in the world of Alvin Lucier a semitone is about as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon. Over the past couple of decades Lucier has been living the space of a door that opens and shuts, to quote the Beckett poem above, in numerous works that have set out to explore the subtleties of micro acoustics, both physical and spatial, many of his works using stable pitch elements generated by pure wave oscillators against which "real" instruments play exquisite sustained tones. Tiny differences in pitch between the instrument and oscillator manifest themselves in the form of acoustic beats, and what might seem on face value to be simple verging on banal reveals itself to be rich and elusive. Happily, Lucier fans have had quite a lot to celebrate in recent times, with a string of excellent releases of his music, on Mode (Navigations for Strings / Small Waves), Lovely Music (Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas), Wergo (Matthias Kaul's excellent Nothing Is Real) and New World, who follow up their recent Vespers with this splendid double CD set, Wind Shadows, which brings together nine Lucier pieces written between 1984 (In Memoriam Jon Higgins) and 2003 (Bar Lazy J). The music is performed with customary precision and dedication by the Barton Workshop – special mention should be made of clarinettist John Anderson and trombonist James Fulkerson for their extraordinary microtonal precision – and the BW's co-director Frank Denyer provides excellent and pertinent notes to accompany the set. Lucier's work, he writes, "has been more often described in terms of science than of art, as if it were a series of quasi-scientific experiments, but to put the emphasis here is to miss the point, for its purpose is never 'explanatory' (the goal of science) but, like all art, 'revelatory'."
Two of the pieces here were written specially for the Barton Workshop – 40 Rooms, which takes pitches played by ensemble and channels them to 40 different "rooms", simulated performance spaces with differing reverberation conditions, and Q, which places the instruments (clarinet, violin, cello, bass and trombone) literally between two stable drones a whole tone apart. While this latter is, as Denyer eloquently describes it, "an incredibly rich dish" – from simple means Lucier constructs a work of considerable density and subtlety – the nuances of reverberation of the instruments in the former are often hard to appreciate. The problem is that the notes the instruments actually play in 40 Rooms are essentially of little importance, and "only exist for what they divulge through the quality of their decay" (Denyer). This rather flies in the face of normal listening, which seeks – inevitably – to create some kind of melodic or harmonic logic between the sounding elements. It's rather like showing someone a drawing and telling them not to look at the lines but at the impression they leave on the paper itself. Lucier is at his best exploring long tones, which is what the other works in the set, with the exception of Letters, do and do very well (Letters is a charming conceit, a literal transcription into conventional staff notation of the letters of the alphabet – the "text" is a congratulatory message to the work's dedicatee Björn Nilsson). The two In Memoriam pieces for clarinet and oscillator are magnificent, and complementary – in In Memoriam Stuart Marshall the sinewave remains static and the bass clarinet weaves microtonally around it, while In Memoriam Jon Higgins takes the opposite tack: the oscillator sweeps upward in a very slow glissando and the clarinet plays sustained tones around it, exploring the beat phenomenon. The four works that close disc 2, the five part A Tribute To James Tenney (for double bass and oscillator), Bar Lazy J (for clarinet and trombone), Fideliotrio (for piano trio) and Wind Shadows (for trombone and two oscillators) explore the same territory with precision and patience. Patience is needed on the part of the listener too: it's not easy to listen to this complete set right through and maintain the concentration necessary to appreciate the details of Lucier's compositions. So take your time – Wind Shadows is a disc to live with, and you'll find a wealth of new wonderful experiences each time you return to it.

Gordon Mumma
New World
When I was a spotty drunken undergraduate at Cambridge, I used to entertain my friends by preparing the most lethally hot food imaginable and inviting them round to suffer what Thomas Pynchon once memorably described as "a Götterdammerüng of the mucus membranes". Chili was a personal favourite. My own take on this speciality was decidedly Tex Mex, making heavy use of pre-packaged spices in the form of the Carroll Shelby Texas Gourmet Chili Mix ("if you're fixing on feeding any women and sissies, forget the Cayenne pepper", it said inside, as I recall), but I was beaten hands down every time by my pal Stuart Atkins, a deranged and utterly brilliant alto saxophonist and composer from Aberdeen, who'd already discovered the deadly weapons known around these parts as Martinique bell peppers. These little motherfuckers may look like cute miniature "normal" red peppers, but if you're one of those precious healthfood pseuds cruising down the aisles of some Californian supermarket in search of baby vegetables, you're in for one hell of a surprise if you pop one of these buggers in your carbonara. (Oh yeah, word from the wiseguy, WEAR RUBBER GLOVES when you're chopping them up, OK? Rubbing the eyes or other sensitive parts of the body with fingers that have come into contact with the fluorescent red flesh is extremely painful, take my word for it.) Eating an Atkins chili was an authentic physical ordeal (even if he did try to insert a little exotic pleasure into the proceedings by adding odd ingredients at the last minute – mushrooms, carrots, even raspberries): diners were provided with full size bath towels, lights were dimmed, candles lit and the ritual dish of pain was traditionally accompanied by the 22 minutes and 34 seconds of Gordon Mumma's Megaton for Wm. Burroughs. The terrifying wall of sound sculpture kicked in with the first forkful, and the thinning of the texture after several minutes corresponded nicely to the deadening of the senses (obliteration of the taste buds, more like) that set in halfway through the plate. But the real triumph was yet to come: the approach of those final few mouthfuls was accompanied by the roar of World War II bombers and, if you timed it just right, the plate was clean by the time the music from The Dambusters came sailing in. La gloire! The final minutes of the piece, in which "a lone drummer quietly rides his traps" was the moment to wipe the tears from the eyes, drink prodigious quantities of iced water and try not to think what damage the lethal compound might be doing at that very moment to the stomach lining, let alone the excruciating rectal burn to come when it made its ceremonious exit from the body. Even today I can't hear Megaton without sweating; its awesome power remains entirely undiminished after 41 years. But the three works that join it on this splendid disc are worthy companions: Conspiracy 8 (1970), a "theatre of communication under hazardous conditions" (Mumma's use of a digitally mauled musical saw provoking much hilarity from the public at this, its premiere on February 20th 1970 at M.I.T.'s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory), Cybersonic Cantilevers, derived from a interactive installation at the Everson Museum in Syracuse NY in May 1973 and the circus hilarity of 1980's Cirqualz – from Beethoven's Eroica to a fatal car smash in just 5'43"! – all provide ample evidence of the composer's enormous creativity and uncompromising experimental rigour. I'd dearly like to invite him round for a chili supper sometime as a token of my appreciation. You out there Stuart? If you feel like doing a spot of cooking, look me up mate.–DW

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Helen Scarsdale Agency
You go for a walk alone late one night in the deserted financial district of a big city, dead leaves and discarded newspapers blowing across your path as you gaze up at empty yet glaringly lit offices high above you, wondering who – if anyone – might still be up there at this ungodly hour. Somewhere, out of sight, a dog barks menacingly, but you can't hear it, because you're listening to Tracer, and it's the perfect soundtrack to your nocturnal wanderings in this land of blank, impersonal ones and zeros. Imagine a cross between the post-industrial desolation of pre-Industrial Chris Carter – The Space Between – and the cold green reveries of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85 – 92, with disembodied voices intoning security clearance codes, PIN numbers, names and addresses of faceless financial institutions, mantra-like, over gloomy minor synth drones and bare, crunchy rhythm loops. The work of Omit – aka Clinton Williams, who lives in the sleepy farming town of Blenheim, New Zealand (about as far as you can get from where you're out walking tonight) – belongs on your shelves alongside other fabled New Zealand dronemeisters Birchville Cat Motel, Eso Steel and Peter Wright. Tracer, originally released as a CDR on SySecular, joins but a handful of Omit releases that have surfaced outside of limited edition lathe-cut singles and hand-dubbed cassettes (notably Deformed, with Dust – aka Bruce Russell – on Corpus Hermeticum, and Rejector, on Anomalous). The music's cold electro sense of foreboding is far from inhuman, though; in fact, it's all too human – as human as the chill you feel in the pit of your stomach when waiting for the last subway as the man at the other end of the platform turns and starts to come purposefully towards you. But maybe he's listening to Tracer too – if he isn't, he certainly should be.–DW

The Haters
“All sounds processed through the Untitled Title Belt, Hollywood May 28, 2005.” The aforementioned Belt is a champion wrestling trophy – and the crackling, grumbling sounds it produced eloquently capture the heartache of the failed Times Square WCW-themed museum venture. I am informed that if you don't enjoy watching WCW / WWF silliness, you just don't get it. I don't. Guess no one “got” the XFL, either – or did we? I was so looking forward to eating at a restaurant where I could slam the waiter through the table and then hit my date with a folding chair doused in lighter fluid. Barring that, we have this CD. There are three tracks, the second of which is silent – becoming its own chill-out room – and the third track repeats the first but may as well be the sound of the belt worn upside-down; it’s similar to the first in the way that a ragman = anagram, with its almost imperceptible shifts in tone from one peak earthquake to the next. One of America’s more underrated conceptualists, The Haters’ G.X. Jupitter-Larsen’s career spans amplified stapling of stacks of records to a silent 7” meant to be scratched before it’s played to “Oxygen is Flammable” – a broken piece of plastic packaged in a small box with instructions stating that the broken plastic is a record and that it’s played by pouring water over it.–DC

Die Stadt
Three longish tracks by Colin Potter and Darren Tate on the first disc, one longlong track on the second. Plus you can order an additional CD-R through the mail that mixes aspects of both CDs, making it two, two, two taste-treats in one. You got your Colin Potter in my Darren Tate! You got your hopelessly obscure English composer in my willfully bizarre British composer! And so on. It’s a remarkably relaxing compendium of fine fuck music with a glossy cover designed by Tate, Helen Potter, and Jonathan Coleclough. Sometimes organic, sometimes organ-ic, its devotional nature may simply be that of a wistful, wishful public wanting something calm to massage overheated cerebellums. One of the nicer side-effects of postmodernism and punk is that one need not be classical skilled or schooled to create beauty and put it out in the world with the blessing of top-40 on-high or the Establishment. Case in point: this album. And, as this review is written, it turns out that it’s the 50th anniversary of the first reading of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. One of our less-traveled dimensions produced by string theory permits a line to be drawn from that poem to this, as echoes spread from the final sound of the door closing in the gallery where the words were read.–DC

For their third album, Tape – the brothers Berthling, Andreas and Johan, and Tomas Hallonsten – outsourced (to borrow a hip and ugly word from business) the production to one of the best pair of ears in the business, Marcus "Pluramon" Schmickler, who recorded the Swedish trio in his studio in Cologne last winter. The sheer finesse of Schmickler's work – opulent without ever being over-produced – transforms Tape's unassuming, gentle minimal compositions into sonic objects of great subtlety and beauty. The second track, "A Spire", with its tinkly glockenspiels and jangly acoustic guitars and rather conspicuous lack of compositional forward motion (one senses the Swedes are so enamoured of their material they'd be quite happy to leave it cycling around ad infinitum) could, if badly handled, easily become dull, or twee, or both, but Schmickler's immaculate layering and filtering of the music's disarmingly simple basic elements is masterly: listen to what he does with the regular piano pulse and how it evolves through the piece. Someone should commission him to remix the Wim Mertens back catalogue with similar panache. If you're looking for nailbiting suspense though, look elsewhere: Tape's music belongs in the tradition of soft post-Ambient minimalism (think Eno, Budd, Cold Blue..) – the uncharitable might call it coffee-table music, something to slip on in the background as you sink into a Terence Conran sofa to sip your cappuccino. But as I have nothing against either sofas or cappuccino – makes a change from the padded cell and 100 proof grain alcohol of Borbetomagus, Kevin Drumm and the Flying Luttenbachers – that's just fine by me.–DW

Sickness / Slogun
Reissuing all of the material issued as a double 3” CD-R in an edition of 100 for the Bastard Noise / Control / Sickness Slogun tour of Japan in 2003, Troniks releases this shrieking, squalling, truly angry beast into the wilds above the city, far enough to get away quickly but near enough to witness the havoc it will surely wreak when it encounters unassuming passersby. “Slogun is a punch in the gut, a kick in the face to the power electronics community.” How about just someone who has no idea what they’re in for when they hear this? That’s who you’ve got to get to: fuck the “power electronics community”, all 100 of them – no offense, guys, but as our hospitals close and vanish and our cemeteries grow taller and taller fences around them, there are precious few things created under the banner of aesthetics today that don’t anesthetize. Perfect example: you run an arts-and-culture magazine. Are you going to keep it in the record shops and the coffeehouses, or get it to the down people, the whores, hustlers, and bums who really need it? The Los Angeles Times just broke a story on sheriff’s officers dumping the dregs of Southern California society onto Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Here's the soundtrack of the removal.–DC

The Hafler Trio
This LP – the first full-length h3o LP for ten years, if we're to believe the Crippled Intellect website – is subtitled "Tricks, Half-Tricks and Real Phenomena", which is a rather apt description of the world of Andrew Mckenzie. To paraphrase Frans de Waard, The Hafler Trio asks questions and never answers them, and even if it did, you wouldn't understand. If there's one word to describe McKenzie's oeuvre (which shows no sign of abating – quite the contrary – despite his recently publicized health problems), it's inscrutable. Both the music, an austere, even chilly, assemblage of drones whose origins are as difficult to fathom as the architectural bigger picture they fit into, and the texts that invariably accompany it, with their strange, slightly surreal juxtaposition of grammatical abstruseness and tired cliché. To a certain extent, as David Cotner noted in these pages recently, there's something almost pointless about reviewing a Hafler Trio album in the first place. It's tempting merely to string together some quotes from McKenzie's liners that may (or may not) shed some light on a music that's as hard to describe as it is difficult not to admire. There's something heroically stubborn about devoting one's life to the production of beautifully packaged works of art (like this one, which comes in a signed edition of 400 with a 16-page trapezoidal booklet) that will probably have sold out and disappeared into lovingly cared-for private collections by the time you read this. As I've managed to miss out on a number of highly acclaimed Hafler Trio releases since the last one that came my way (2003's The Moment When We Blow The Flour From Our Tongues on Crouton), I'm not in a position to say with certainty exactly where If Take, Then Take fits into the h3o canon. Nor am I able to tell just from listening how the continuous spans of music on each side of the LP divide into, respectively, six and four tracks. What's in no doubt though is that it's another rare and elusive dispatch from a singularly original figure in today's new music. Hope you can find a copy.–DW

Vidna Obmana
IKON / Projekt
Pliocene works from the noisier quarters of Dirk Serries’ back catalogue – collaborations with PBK, Big City Orchestra, and Kapotte Muziek (from the “Death Pact International” microedition series of cassettes) on labels like Ladd-Frith and Merzbow’s own ZNS-Tapes imprint. In those days, PBK (Phillip B. Klingler) was out in San Bernardino and Projekt was stuck in Garden Grove CA, behind the Orange Curtain. [nelsonmuntz]Ha ha![/nelsonmuntz] In those days, not many people enjoyed this kind of craziness and even fewer composed it. This is an exceptionally lovely clutch of messy sounds spread gracefully across untold masses of magnetic tape, with factory rhythms, concrète pulses, de-rezzing feedback parasites, 6th-dimensional vocal crumblings and featherlight washes of sound that would anticipate Vidna Obmana and his latest work under the name Fear Falls Burning. More Yo’Mama than Obmana, it’s highly recommended if only because now you know that you should’ve packed those old tapes safely in Styrofoam®™ in a fireproof filing cabinet but you don’t have Organum money to bake them back to health. One nibbling quibble: the packaging seems almost like an afterthought – i.e. cf. e.g. the CD inlay card doesn’t even get the edges scored to fit the jewel case and it’s noticeably smaller than it should be. However, given the inexorable Projekt direction into cosmic dark matter, it's no biggie.–DC

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Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic