SEPTEMBER News 2006 Reviews by Marcelo Aguirre / Clifford Allen / Jon Dale / Nate Dorward / Lawrence English / Stephen Griffith / Walter Horn / Roy Morris / Massimo Ricci / Nick Rice / Dan Warburton:

From The Chantels to Milford Graves: The Music of Joe Rigby
On Slowscan:
Henning Christiansen / Al Hansen
In Print:
Blocks of Consciousness and the Unbroken Continuum
On Clean Feed:
Dennis Gonzalez / Whit Dickey
Formed / Cut:
Bruckmann, Dafeldecker, Hauf / Jason Kahn & Jon Mueller / Jason Kahn & Gabriel Paiuk / Seth Nehil & jgrzinich
Frequency / ROVA / Dijkstra & Hollenbeck / Paul Flaherty / Lytton, Vandermark, Wachsmann / Vinny Golia / Bobby Zankel
Joëlle Léandre / Irène Schweizer / Braxton & Frith / Rowe & Wastell / Möslang & Müller / Adam Linson / Michael Renkel / Okura, Müller, Yoshida / Moebius, Mueller, Schoenecker / Sunshine has Blown / La Grieta
Barbara Lüneburg / Peter Lieberson / Pierluigi Billone / Robin Holcomb
Main / Philip Samartzis / Giuseppe Ielasi / Darren Tate / Peter Wright / Coleclough & Murmer
Last month


I was amazed I could actually open the mailbox on returning from holiday recently. The postman – actually I think it's a postwoman, but never mind – had obviously spent a considerable amount of time packing no fewer than 87 CDs (not to mention letters etc.) in such a way that the door could be closed. Needless to say I haven't listened to them all yet, but I'm happy to report that many of our roving reporters have reviewed several of them for this latest (the biggest and best?) issue of Paris Transatlantic. This month I'm delighted to welcome aboard Roy Morris, one of free jazz's mythic expert collectors (who's been plying me with numerous tasty bootlegs of 70s fire music ever since we ran Clifford Allen's review of Norman Howard a while back), who makes his PT debut with an interview / article on one of free music's many unsung heroes, Joe Rigby. I should also say here and now that I tried to get permission to use Peter Gannushkin's photos of Rigby on the Downtown Music Gallery website– the only two I could find online – but didn't hear back in time, so I took them from the Google Image page, hence the rather lousy definition. But chapeau to Peter for taking them: and be sure to check out his fabulous photos online when you can. Also joining the crew this month is Jon Dale, whose fine writing readers will no doubt already know from The Wire and Signal To Noise. From what I can glean from our exchange of emails, Jon's as overwhelmed as I am with new stuff to listen to and review, but I'm delighted he's found the time to cover the latest offerings from two of today's most exciting labels, Formed and Cut.
But, as you'll see, our regular contributors have been nothing if not busy too. Massimo Ricci has come up trumps this time round with no fewer than eleven reviews, and Marcelo Aguirre has taken time out from preparing his forthcoming PT interview with Maurizio Bianchi to dig up some Fluxus treasure on the Slowscan label. Meanwhile, Walter Horn may have given up reviewing albums (sometimes I have to say I envy him) but he's certainly not retired as a book reviewer, as his piece on Blocks of Consciousness and the Unbroken Continuum shows. (I'm especially happy that this bijou book / DVD has been covered in these pages, because I was rather wanting to do it myself but as a contributor to the book I considered myself disqualified.) And shots go out too to Clifford Allen, Stephen Griffith, Lawrence English and Nate Dorward, who, as if all this wasn't good enough, has kindly provided us with a superb interview with guitarist Jim McAuley. Never heard of him? You'll want to after you read the interview.
The PT letters page has seen some action this month too, in the form of a passionate defence of Evan Parker by Jean-Michel van Schouwburg, and some choice nitpicking by Josh Ronsen. On a Bailey-related note, Dominic Lash wrote in to draw my attention to a fine piece of his on Bailey, which I strongly recommend you check out (after you've read all this, of course, heh heh..) at
Meanwhile, on a bitchy note, here's another heartfelt plea to those labels who are kind enough to send in material for review to send REAL albums and not generic CDR promo copies (even if liner notes and what have you are available online elsewhere for consultation). I understand perfectly well, after numerous passionate exchanges with Clean Feed's Pedro Costa, that this is done quite simply to prevent "unscrupulous" journalists from just nipping off to the local record shop, selling them and pocketing the cash without reviewing them (maybe even without listening to them), but let me remind you out there that Paris Transatlantic is, like many similar new music sites, a totally non-profit making ad-free affair, where NOBODY gets paid. The records that we love so much we want to write about are in effect the income we receive. And a slimline cardboard or plastic slipcase with a CDR jammed inside isn't exactly something you want to take off the shelf and cuddle, believe me. Bonne lecture.-DW

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From The Chantels To Milford Graves

The music of Joe Rigby
Photographs courtesy Peter Gannushkin
Does the name Joe Rigby ring any bells? You may have seen him playing without knowing it. Maybe at a wedding in Brooklyn, or perhaps on a cruise liner sailing out of Miami. On the other hand, if you'd seen him playing with Milford Graves, you'd most certainly remember. Graves may not perform in public very often, but every single gig is an unforgettable experience. The forays into the crowd, the nuclear blasts from his enormous multi-coloured kit, the hand signals, switching on and off the intense screaming from his sidemen, usually saxophonists. And usually, Joe Rigby has been one of them, on and off, since the 1960s. With Graves, Rigby and his sparring partner Hugh Glover play music which at first shocks, then overwhelms, and finally converts the audience, Glover providing a raucous bridge between Rigby's often stratospheric sounds and Graves's earthy dynamism.
"I met Milford in my junior year of high school," Rigby recalls, "although we went to different schools. We had a mutual friend who had an idea of forming a social club of guys primarily to meet girls. That was the birth of the Zeusinians. I was the only non-jock." (Even so, Graves remembers Joe, who is well over six feet tall, as a great high jumper.) "Everyone else was very athletic. Milford was on his school track team, as were most of the Zeusinians." Rigby remembers their first gig together well: "It was a Latin gig and Milford was one of four percussionists. I was playing flute, but I couldn't hear myself. That might be what started my interest with the tenor sax."
But let's start at the beginning. Joe Rigby was born in Harlem on September 3, 1940, and his family history is nothing less than fascinating: "My mom's name was Catherine Fedder Harding, and her father, my grandfather, was the illegitimate son of President Warren Harding. My mom was born in New Bern, North Carolina. My father, Joseph Benjamin Rigby, was born in Haiti. His father was Haitian and his mother was Dominican. The word is that my father came to the U.S. with his mother, where they met an Englishman named Rigby and adopted the name. I have two sisters from my father's first marriage, but to my knowledge they aren't musical."
Joe, however, began music young. "My first musical memory was playing at a piano recital when I was six years old. I wasn't too bad!" There were lessons at the New York Schools of Music with a Mrs. Fuchs for 35 cents a time. His father loved jazz. "He played boogie woogie piano by ear. I don't think he was too happy when, as a teenager, I was into R'n'B. I was in the neighbourhood where a lot of R'n'B acts started, like the Moonglows, the Chantels, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Valentines, the Charts, the Paragons, the Harptones and Leslie Uggams. I played piano for the Chantels. We won three Apollo amateur nights. If you won four, you got a week's engagement. But the fourth week they threw a young Jerry Butler at us and we lost!"
There was a lot of jazz in the family house and Joe remembers hearing Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Meade Lux Lewis, Art Tatum and Frank Sinatra. The Sugar Hill neighbourhood of Harlem where he lived was also home to Duke Ellington (and most of his band), Count Basie and Billie Holiday. Billie Strayhorn lived for a while in Rigby's aunt's house, and Joe's father also worked as a waiter on the Pennsylvania Railroad and "met many celebrities of film and music."
Surrounded as he was by music, it's no surprise Joe was smitten. "I went to high school at Power Memorial at the same time as Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar and soon to become a New York legend). When I went there, I would often hear Thelonious Monk practising the piano because he lived near the school." It was there that Rigby picked up the flute, playing with the marching band and orchestra. "Piano was out! I was drawn to the saxophone because I had started playing flute and then I heard such great saxophonists as Johnny Griffin, Charlie Parker and Johnny Hodges, and decided I'd be better on saxophone. My best friend Paul Kappes also played tenor sax. (This was after high school, but he didn't play professionally. Around 1965 he moved to Mexico where I heard he became a millionaire drug dealer.) There was a music store on 48th. St. in Manhattan called Jimmy's. I was able to try five Selmer tenor saxes and make my choice. During the Beatles' invasion, the store stopped selling wind instruments and concentrated on guitars. The owner made a lot of money and moved to Florida."
"Other musicians I was listening to at that time included Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Lennie Tristano, Paul Chambers, Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans and Miles Davis." But there was one musician above all others who inspired Joe. "I knew I wanted to be an improvising musician when I heard John Coltrane with the Miles Davis Sextet at the Apollo Theater. He was playing harmonics, and the crowd actually booed him. I thought he was fantastic, and wanted to play like him."

It was the start of a long journey. "Improvising is very hard work, and I don't think I got it naturally. It's a part of your life's experiences, and I've had a long and interesting life. I've lived in New York all my life, been married three times, and have four sons and two grandchildren." (Fortunately for Joe, his wives have all been very supportive of his musical career.) "It was the womanizing that they didn't like.. Old age, or better yet maturity, has changed that !" At the height of the Civil Rights movement, there was little enthusiasm for America's colonial pursuits. "I was in an age sense too old for Vietnam, but I was drafted during the Korean War," Rigby recalls. "I got married to keep from going in. I was also going to live in Canada, and had met a family I was going to stay with, but it didn't come to that."
It was impossible to survive from music alone, though. Over the years, to support his family, Rigby has worked as a postal letter carrier, bus driver, United Parcels carrier, liquor salesman, taxi driver, garment buyer, and nursery school teacher. He eventually became a music teacher for the New York Board of Education for 14 years until he retired in 2004. "I hope when people hear me they can get a little, actually a lot, of my life experience in my tone. My tone is what makes me me. I developed my own approach primarily because Milford [Graves] was my friend, and he was always searching himself. I learned from him."
But Rigby played a significant part in Graves's development too. Graves (photo, right) recalls he "didn't get into jazz until 1962. It was John Coltrane who did it. There was this place out here on Merrick Road called Copa City. A little Queens club. Joe was a Trane man. He said 'hey man, get your head out of the sand, the greatest saxophone player who ever lived is playing out in Queens, right by your house, and the greatest drummer is with him.' We went down there, young guys, got a front seat. That was the first time I ever saw Elvin Jones, he was so loose... and I said to myself, that's it. I went out and bought myself a trap set."
Graves played some gigs with Giuseppi Logan, and the New York Art Quartet, but then withdrew from the commercial scene. He decided to play the New Music for "the people on the block", confining his activities to the Black community, winning over ordinary listeners to a music that was regarded as way-out and extreme in the jazz world. Joe remembers their first real job together was with Don Pullen on piano and Arthur Williams on trumpet at the Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem. "I think Arthur Doyle was playing tenor sax on the gig too. We played a lot in Harlem. Rockland Palace and the Renaissance Ballroom were just some of the venues. People were very receptive, and we were playing music that fit the period. Even when gigs were thin on the ground we rehearsed up to three times a week. Milford was always coming up with something to keep you interested. He connects with stuff you don't know is there, then you hear it and that's like the way it's always been." The group always featured a core of at least two saxophonists, including Doyle, Rigby and Hugh Glover, who Milford first met at 1964's month Revolution. Sometimes all three saxophonists played together, but unfortunately, no recordings of this awesome gathering have ever emerged.
They were volatile times, and the New Music seemed inseparable from the politics of the day. "Milford's groups played for a lot of political events. I met H. Rap Brown, Ron Karenga, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Stokely Carmichael and others. Angela Davis was also around a lot of the music. A little later I dated a woman who was a Black Panther. I was in the audience when Huey Newton was released from jail. There was a party for him in North Philadelphia... I remember is that he wasn't such a good public speaker, but he had some very good ideas. In 1969, I was president of the Black Students' Union of Bronx Community College. When Kent State University's security guards killed a student, we were the second college to close in sympathy, after Kent State itself. This caused a ripple effect that closed most schools across the country. I'm very proud of my involvement in that protest."
By 1973, Arthur Doyle was in the throes of a nervous breakdown and Don Pullen was swinging the Charles Mingus Workshop. Graves played with Arthur Williams, Glover and Rigby at the Newport in New York festival, and also briefly in Europe before returning to the shadows. There was the occasional gig in the basement of Graves's home in South Jamaica, Queens, over the following years, but it wasn't until 1997 that he, Glover and Rigby re-emerged, to great acclaim. "Milford still tells me I sound too much like Coltrane," Rigby smiles, "but he was my influence, and I'm proud of that. Until recently, he wanted another saxophonist with me." But for the most recent gig, Glover wasn't there. "He had obligations with his family, and it was hard for him to rehearse." Graves has been recording his and Rigby's heartbeats and incorporated them into the performance. As of now, the group still hasn't been recorded. "The record people haven't been knocking the door down. Qbico Records has shown a lot of interest, but they want me to do a duo with Milford, and they're not paying enough money to get him too!" Rigby lives for music, but occasional gigs with Graves, albeit unique and incredibly stimulating, could never be enough. Playing with Graves is just the icing on Joe's musical cake.
Joe Rigby was once described as "the spectacularly ambitious Mr. Rigby with his myriad reeds and flutes". "I started exploring the saxophone family almost immediately after hearing Coltrane play soprano. I was attending Hartnett School of Music in Times Square. I didn't hear Trane's first night at the Jazz Gallery when he first left Miles. Some of the students did make the first night, and the word was that he was playing soprano. I went the second night and I was blown away! I got a soprano, and then I wanted to play the alto. Baritone and sopranino followed. I had someone give me a C-melody but a couple of days later they realised that it was worth something, and took it back!" he laughs. "I've never had the desire to play the bass sax. I did try to trade my Selmer baritone for a bass clarinet, but it wasn't an even trade, so I declined. I tried a bassoon for about three months, but my heart wasn't in it. I would like to try the bass clarinet again. Each horn has its strengths and weaknesses, my weaknesses of course. I feel that there's a time and place for each of them." If asked his favourite, Joe will say the tenor, "but at times it can be the alto, or when I was playing the blues, it was often the sopranino.
Living in New York has always enabled Joe Rigby to immerse himself in music. "My most memorable concert-going experiences include seeing Trane at Olatunji's in Harlem, and Freddie Hubbard with Herbie Hancock at the Beacon Theater. I also can't forget seeing Coltrane with Booker Little at the Five Spot. It was in between his leaving Miles and forming his own band with Steve Kuhn, Steve Davis and Pete LaRoca. I was fortunate to see Coltrane perform at least 200 times, and most of those performances were notable. And I must include Ornette's concert appearance at Town Hall. Carmen McRae opened, and Ornette and Dizzy played together. Sonny Rollins at Lincoln Center was also tops."
"I became aware of the New Music, probably because of my associations with Milford, Pharoah Sanders and Steve Reid. The Cleveland contingent was happening. There were the Ayler brothers, Mustafa Abdul Rahim, Charles Tyler and some folks I've probably forgotten. I remember playing with Norman Howard once at a jam at Steve Reid's house, so I have fond memories of the days with the great Cleveland musicians. Albert Ayler showed me how to play harmonics in a room at the Theresa hotel in Harlem. I remember Fidel Castro was staying there too. At the beginning Ornette's music had virtually no impact on me. I knew how important he was right away, but I didn't really listen to him until the 80s and the 90s. I wasn't really a Sun Ra fan either, but John Gilmore was excellent. I liked Booker Ervin a lot. I was exposed to him before Trane and Rollins." Rigby feels his major artistic achievement to be his "friendships and musical sharing experiences with Milford, Pharoah, Carlos Garnett and Eric Dolphy, who turned me on to one of my teachers, Garvin Bushell." A major performance achievement was with Ted Curson's band where he was able to develop more continuity in his phrasing. "Playing with Ted, who hired me over David Murray, made me concentrate more on my phrasing because I was playing alongside legends like Bill Barron and Nick Brignola. Both Bill and Nick played with such beauty and drive, I had to listen more to what was coming out of my horns."

The so-called Loft Era opened up many opportunities for the practitioners of the New Music to play, even if there wasn't much money involved. Sam Rivers' Studio Rivbea opened in June 1972. "I did a lot of gigging there," Rigby recalls, "and Sam gave me all the freedom I needed. I had the pleasure of playing with Sonny Sharrock there." Other musician-operated lofts included Artists House, the Tin Palace, Studio We, Ali's Alley, the Brook, the Ladies' Fort and Studio Wis. Not only were these lofts leased by the musicians, but musicians made up a large part of the audience, supporting each other, even working the door. And if one got a grant by filling in the right bits of paper, others would benefit from the gigs that followed. Sometimes a group could last for years, sometimes for just one gig. But rehearsals were plentiful. Rigby was involved in several outfits of note, including Ted Daniel's Third World Energy Ensemble ("Ted had close to 20 musicians in the ensemble, and we've remained good friends ever since, and I can say Ted is probably my closest friend, along with Milford Graves. Ted gave me the opportunity to be one of the main contributors in his band"), The Master Brotherhood, with Steve Reid, Ahmed Abdullah, Les Walker, Mustafa Abdul Rahim (who didn't record with the group but who was an important member) and Arthur Williams ("my best musical friend until he died of what was called a drug overdose"), Carlos Garnett's Universal Black Force ("Carlos and I had a mutual admiration for each other. I think he's back in New York now [from Panama] and sometimes performs at the Lenox Lounge in Harlem, though I haven't seen him yet") and Charles Tyler's New World Ensemble ("it was more usually a sextet when I was in it... the only time I ever had a problem being a sideman, was with Charles. He tried to tell me what instrument to play, and when to play it. We almost came to blows!").
Finally, early in 1978, thanks to Rashied Ali, Joe got the chance to lead his own group, which he called Dynasty, at Ali's Alley. He brought in a powerhouse band with Marty Cook, trombone, Amina Claudine Myers on piano, Jerome Hunter on bass and Steve McCall on drums. Stanley Crouch reviewed a subsequent gig, writing: "Rigby plays a lot of saxophones but the tenor is his instrument. He played solos that swung, shouted, made brilliant uses of harmonics and built with an ordered and swelling passion that let you know he is an important voice, in any direction.... I will always remember the way Rigby walked off the bandstand and remained audible as he traveled through the audience, inventing and swinging with an ecstatic mastery." But somehow Joe wasn't able to break through with this group. "There were no recordings with Dynasty. I didn't really know how to do a press kit, and that cost us some bookings. I never applied for grants, although I should have. There was a change in personnel too, with Joe Bowie on trombone, Sonelius Smith, Brian Smith and Rashied Sinan."
By the end of that year, the golden era of the lofts was coming to a close. As suddenly as they had opened, lofts began to shut down. Rents had increased tremendously, so the musicians who ran them lost their leases.
However, as one lot of venues disappeared, others emerged, including Soundscape, the Squat Theater, TR-3, Hurrah, Irving Plaza, CBGB's, many aimed at the new sounds of punk, funk and No Wave emerging on the pop scene. This led to a short-lived synthesis in the New Music (as there had been a quarter of a century earlier when bop musicians had looked for a closer connection with the blues and soul, eventually becoming hard bop), with Ornette Coleman's electric Prime Time and the emergence from James Chance's backing group of Joe Bowie and Defunked (soon to be Defunkt). The driving forces were blues, funk and rock, reflecting the influence of James Brown and George Clinton, as well as a desire to reach a bigger audience. Major players included Joe Bowie, Luther Thomas, James Ulmer, Oliver Lake, Ted Daniel, Henry Threadgill and Steve McCall with LeftHand Frank on a blues tip, and Arthur Doyle and Beaver Harris with Rudolph Grey riding No Wave. But only Joe Rigby did it for real, and did it for keeps. "Johnny Copeland's manager Dan Doyle got in contact with me because he wanted a saxophonist who 'didn't sound like most of the blues saxophonists'. Johnny also gave me all the freedom I needed. I think that the experience working with Johnny's blues band, and briefly with B.B. King, helped make me the musician I am today. B.B. hired me to replace his baritone sax player for three gigs in jails. But I didn't want to just play the baritone so I left." Through the 80s, while Rigby was with him, Copeland's searing guitar enjoyed a surge of popularity. But it was not a good time for jazz musicians, and there were many casualties. Some managed to survive by entering the education system, and Rigby eventually followed suit, going back to college and slipping off the jazz radar screen almost completely.
"I graduated in 1989. Soon after Russell Simmons of Def Jam Records offered me a job. It would have involved a lot of travel, and I was a newly-wed, so I chose to become a New York City teacher instead. The Def Jam job was with hip hop, and I probably would have been more connected with the music scene than I was as a teacher of grades 6, 7 and 8, but I don't regret the decision. But it would have been interesting to see what would have happened." Indeed, Rigby might have become a millionaire, or ended up in jail. Or both, like Death Row's Marion "Suge" Knight! His boys would most certainly have been impressed, though. "My sons, all four of them, are into hip hop. At the time I wasn't, and I'm still not now, although I do listen to it."
Rigby wasn't entirely off the scene during these years, "I was gigging around with a harpist called Karen Strauss, and I was part of a group called The Teachers. We were all teachers, and not too bad! I also worked with a couple of pop singers who had high hopes but didn't manage to reach stardom. Before we appeared at the Vision Festival in 1997, Milford, Hugh and I performed at the Knitting Factory. I played a lot of wedding gigs, too. They paid the bills very often." Was he ever tempted to be a studio musician? "No. I've known a few who've made an excellent living, but I never explored it".

Nowadays, Joe can dedicate himself totally to music, and the different approaches he has to adopt, depending on whom he is playing with, are a constant stimulus. "The contrast of playing spontaneously [with Milford], and playing a more structured format is something that I really like. I don't hardly think of myself as a be-bopper, but one of my favourite play-along, Jamie Abersold, books is a Tadd Dameron volume that I really enjoy playing. That is full of be-bop, and I find my alto sax can handle the uptempo tunes. The tenor is OK, but the alto is faster. I do think that the fact I like to play both [free and structured] is, or could be, a way of critics saying I don't really have a definite style. But I feel that kind of approach to my music. Playing with Johnny Copeland made me really appreciate, and enjoy playing, the blues".
More recently, Rigby is "trying to get a working group that are willing to stick together through thick and thin, much like David S. Ware's quartet. It won't be easy, but I'm optimistic. I've played a couple of gigs with Roy Campbell. One was the closing of CBGB's jazz series. I also played with a quartet of Ted Daniel on trumpet, Ken Filiano, bass and Lou Grassi, drums. We had a few gigs. Then I went to Florida to play on a cruise ship. I came back just in time to fly to London to play with Steve Reid at Cargo. That went well. We were warmly accepted by a primarily 20s to 40s age group. That gig comes right behind a Newport Jazz Festival performance with Milford in 1968 and a Bard College gig with Beaver Harris, Dave Burrell and Jimmy Garrison as my most memorable performance ever! I guess I prefer performing in concerts, but touring the UK playing rock clubs in November 2005 with Steve was a very positive experience. We played on a couple of occasions for more than 1200 people!"
Rigby is also working with pianist Chris Chalfant, playing in a trio with Ken Filiano and Lou Grassi, and working with Rashid Bakr's group with Mark Hennen. "Roy Campbell and I have talked about playing some more together, and I'm also playing with [drummer] William Hooker's group. I might even be doing some things with Cecil Taylor, who I saw recently." And there's his own group, which currently features Charles Eubanks on piano, Hill Greene on bass and Warren Smith on drums. "Maybe there'll be a trumpet too. I've just had a rehearsal with Ted Daniel and Charles and it went well."

What about recordings? "I just found out that there is a record on Utech of a performance I did at the Stone in January," says Rigby. [Live Spirits Vol. 3, also with Walden Wimberley, Matthew Heyner, Todd Nicholson and Jackson Krall - DW] "This is an unauthorized recording as far as I'm concerned, since I didn't know it was happening. It was with Ras Moshe. You might have trouble telling us apart. Ras has just appeared at the latest Vision Festival, and I wish him well. He seems to be on his way, and I feel very good for him."
But after all these years Rigby must have a lot more than one recording in him. "I've written a few new tunes. I'll have to do one [recording] focusing on the New Music. And definitely a blues. I absolutely love ballads and standards. I would love a live recording. I'm okay with focussing on all my instruments. I try to practice every day. Right now, I think my music is stronger than ever. What sustains me both artistically and personally is that through my life, I've had people who have shared their love with me (not necessarily in a romantic sense, but that helps too!). Love is what propels us all. That has kept me going, and will in the future. I have never given up hope. I am very glad to have my health and my ability to play the music that I love. I am a strong individual, and I thoroughly believe in my ability to reach people musically, and I will do that. My ultimate goal as an artist is to play music that makes the listener want to hug the person next to him or her and tap their feet. If everyone were exposed to music, I do believe the healing aspects of music could take over our doubts and fears. War is big business, at least in the United States, but he bottom line is that people can save people... You just have to want it." Amen.–RM

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On Slowscan
Henning Christiansen
Slowscan vol 21
Al Hansen
Slowscan vol 20
That the Internet is still regarded by some with scepticism is beyond doubt. Darren Bergstein, editor of the now sadly defunct (and soon to be sorely missed) e|i + music electronic and otherwise+ publication, reflects bitterly in the editorial-cum-obituary of his final issue (#7) on the changes the Net has wrought in the world of independent publishing, its unstoppable war machinery digitizing the frontierless world. One is hardly able to digest all the information out there; doubtless many of you reading these (virtual) pages have been puzzled by the plethora of voices on a certain topic when confronted with the multiplicity of links provided by search engines. In one of these détournements, grabbing at catalogue comments of vendors (those who dignify their goods by taking the task of "reviewing" them instead of merely quoting the press release) in search of data on Fluxus related artists, I came across former Wolf Eyes turned extreme solo performer Aaron Dilloway's comments on the catalogue of Italy’s finest Alga Marghen label. Here he is on David Behrman’s Wave Train: "Wikkid CD of Early Electronic and Freaked out sound recorded 1959 - 1968. Dude was a member of the KILL ALL group the SONIC ARTS UNION along w/ Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier, & Gordon Mumma Who all make appearances on this CD...along w/ David Tudor and Christoph Caskel. Electronics, Feedback, Prepared Piano, percussion, home-made synthesizers, photocell mixers, field recordings... SHIT!! CD has it ALL! AMAZING... Just look at all that fucked up gear on his table!!!!!" He's even better on Phil Corner’s Word-Voices: "Track one: dude quietly mumbling, Track 2, maybe a couple dudes mumbling...while someone moves some furniture around the room, Track three: Full side of dudes honking on some horns, dudes talkin’ gibber jabber, women yelping like dogs... fucking RULES.. Fans of SMEGMA would dig this shit. KILL!" And so on. It's hard to say how Fluxus is perceived nowadays, with so many noise / nonsense outfits everywhere. To be sure, it shows the new generation is ready and willing to soak up the Fluxus legacy like sponges, seemingly indiscriminately, but there'll always be something that slips between the cracks. Like 's-Hertogenbosch Holland-based Jan van Toorn's Slowscan label. Van Toorn: "Back in 1981 I could not find much interesting stuff and thus decided to publish my own thing and started to invite artists to participate. The label was finished in 1993, re-started in 2000 as a series of LP recordings of which now 12 have seen the daylight. The sound material of the LPs was originally published on audio cassette in the late 80s and early 90s. The label started as a audio cassette magazine, of which 10 volumes have appeared in various edition sizes (100-300 copies)". Quite a apart from the frenzied hunt for copies before they disappear, what makes these records so elusive is often the sheer lack of information on the artists and their works.
Danish Fluxist Henning Christiansen has been all too often overlooked (or ignored) – he's often conveniently tagged as another "obscure European" artist, just for the glory of obscurity’s sake – despite the fact that he has produced a vast body of work and has been distinguished with honours for the groundbreaking magnitude of his contributions to Danish art and music, all the while retaining a special resonance in Fluxus-related circles in and around Germany. His work has been reasonably well documented, notably in the catalogue published on the occasion of the 2001 Venice Biennale when he represented the Danish Pavilion with his wife, German feminist-engaged visual artist Ursula Reuter Christiansen. This contains a copious amount of essays, photographs and manifestos, but little on Christiansen's musical output. Christiansen studied composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen between 1950 and 1954, played clarinet with the Royal Guards from 1955 to 1960, and went on to take lessons with composer Vagn Holmboe. In 1962 he attended the Darmstadt Summer School and went on from there to Wiesbaden, where he became involved with the George Maciunas's Internationalen Festspiele Neuester Musik, which paved the way for the Fluxus anti-art movement. Christiansen became disillusioned with the direction in which composition was heading and made a radical break, embracing a multitude of disciplines verging on the political, including performance, painting and making music with stones, buckets of water, glass bowls, sheep, birds and tape delay. As well as his activities with the Fluxus branch in Copenhagen along with Arthur "Adi" Køpke, Eric Andersen and the "Ex-School" around Paul Gernes, Bjørn Nørgaard and Per Kirkeby, Christiansen became known for his collaborations with Joseph Beuys, co-signing 12 performances in all between 1964 and 1985. In such works as Manresa, Hauptstrom, Eurasienstab, Scottische Symphonie, Celtic or Abschiedssymphonie (featuring Nam June Paik – go to: for aural brainwash) he provided the sonic elements without which Beuys' action-based happenings would have remained naked. By 1985 Christiansen had already reached his Opus 170, and now, approaching 74 years old, he has over 250 works to his name including chamber music, film soundtracks and electronic soundscapes.
This reissue is a truly fascinating journey into the world of slowly evolving and chance-propelled sound production. Released on green vinyl (green being Christiansen’s preferred colour throughout his career, hence the album cover photograph of him – in bright green pullover – with his Stone Age Gramophone.. yes, it plays stones), Symphony Natura carries the subtitle Spazio Musikale con Animale. MUSICA dello ZOO, having been recorded at the Roma Zoo in collaboration with Lorenzo Mammi. As with many Fluxus pieces, there are open references to previous works cited and reframed, and listeners familiar with Christiansen’s work might recognize traces of Abschiedssymphonie and later incarnations of Verena Vogelzymphon/ Schafe statt Geigen in the singing bowls that ritualistically introduce Symphony Natura. An openness to field recording of animals – gibbons, bears, seals, monkeys, red deer, wolves and birds – brings unexpected elements into the mix, and a certain amount of indeterminacy. "We were of course very impressed by Cage when we were in Darmstadt," the composer recalls, "but he has his house and I have mine." Aficionados of Acoustic Ecology might find the overlapping of wolves howling with tape delay and sombre low register piano and the organ-accompanied birdsong somewhat intrusive, but the air Christiansen breathes is rarefied, animal voices superimposed on loosely structured soundscapes of archaic plasticity. As the graphic scores that accompany the edition indicate, the multiplicity of voices superimposed in time frames add drama, underlining the gentle yet omnipresent grain and hiss of tape-work construction.

American artist Al Hansen (b. 1927, Queens, NY, d. 1995 Cologne) was another Cage alumnus who fell in love with Fluxus at first sight. As both performer and Pop Art practitioner (it's claimed that his grandson-turned-superstar, the almighty Beck, has been influenced by his grandfather's teachings) famous for his series of Venuses with large breasts and pubic hair made from cigarette butts, matchsticks and candy bar wrappers, Hansen was hanging around Andy Warhol’s Factory on the fateful day Warhol was nearly assassinated, and also claimed to have introduced Yoko Ono and John Lennon to the loft scene of 60s New York. The remarkable publishing company Something Else Press (Dick Higgins) published Hansen’s account of the performance scene’s formative years, A Primer of Happenings and Time Space Art, in 1965.
In her insightful book Fluxus Experience, Hannah Higgins recalls the ideas Cage exposed in his experimental composition classes in 1958 and 1959, which were attended by Hansen, George Brecht, Allan Kaprow, Dick Higgins and Jackson Mac Low among others: "For Cage direct perception meant depersonalizing the composer’s work, such that sound itself became unmediated in the extreme. The expressive interpretation of musicality by a composer or performer was unacceptable." On this Slowscan album at least, Hansen takes Cage’s "radically empiricist" connotations to heart. Unlike Christiansen, Hansen was more of a visual and performance artist than a proper composer or even musician. Whether that's a point in his favour or not depends on your point of view, but the impact of the recordings presented here is diminished in the absence of additional information explaining what the pieces set out to deal with, which is not only relevant but necessary given the fact that audio documents of happening-related art can capture but a part of a piece's essence. The earliest piece included is Car Bibbe, conceived in 1958 and named after Hansen's daughter, who was involved in his father's work at an early age (she also starred in Warhol’s Prison and several films by Jonas Mekas, and to this day curates the Hansen legacy, organising exhibitions and performances and running the web site with his archives). Conceptualized in the manner of the early event score-card pieces by George Brecht, i.e. by giving written instructions to consummate a determined action ("Car Two – no lights – 1. Knock on hood two times; 2. Enter car; 3.Toot horn three times; 4. Count to fifteen; 5. Toot horn one time; 6. Slam door one time" and so on), Car Bibbe was originally scored for ten or fifteen cars and was a signature work Hansen developed over the years. Though Dick Higgins remembers one early American performance as "a wild affair", this version recorded in Bonn in 1989 amounts to little more than car horns tooting in the air. Balloni Brothers Balloon Work (1987) is almost as straightforward, with its randomly orchestrated weird squeaks of deflating and bursting balloons. Influenced by both Beat poetry and the visual and word constructions of Kurt Schwitters, two further pieces exemplify Hansen's crude delivery of sound poetry. Joseph Beuys Stuka Divebomber Piece (1987) scrapes the bare bones of linguistic absurdity, recreating the roar of a fighter plane, various vocal explosions and a radio dialogue the trouble-stricken pilot has with the military base, all with a quota of witty humour. Legend has it that Beuys was a Stuka radio operator for the Luftwaffe during World War II and was shut down while flying over Crimea. (Beuys went on to mythologize the event by claiming he had been rescued by nomad Tatars who helped him recover by covering him with fat and wrapping him in felt.) Around the same time Hansen himself was a paratrooper with the Allied forces. Beuys went to become an influential and much respected artist for Hansen, who conceived his piece as an indictment of war’s absurdity, pointing out that Beuys was shooting at the Allied forces. Meanwhile, The Futuristic Chattanooga Choo Choo in the Mongolian Desert (1989) is a rough recitative over a backdrop of psychedelic, Jerry Garcia-like guitar, embellished by the singing of Janet Kramer (in Latvian), which gives the piece a volatility and spaciousness through which resonates, to quote Allan Kaprow, "the image of the wandering artist, the hobo avant-gardist Al Hansen cultivated with great style and charm."–MA [Thanks to Bibbe Hansen for generous help in the preparation of this article.–DW]

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In Print
Brian Marley & Mark Wastell (eds.)
Sound 323 (book + DVD)
This compilation of musician statements, profiles, and mini-histories/“think pieces” will, for a number of reasons, be considered a valuable companion for many followers of contemporary improvisation and the sounds and silences formerly called “EAI.” First, and perhaps foremost, there’s its inclusion of a David Reid DVD, which contains fascinating audio-visual recordings of improvisations by, among others, Tetuzi Akiyama, John Butcher, nmperign (in its Rainey/Kelly incarnation), Evan Parker, Keith Rowe, and John Tilbury. As a retiree from the music reviewing business, I won’t comment on the DVD except to say that some of the astute camera work allows impressive detail regarding how the musicians are actually producing their sounds, and that I quite like several of the performances. The book proper is fascinating too, largely, I think, because of its focus on various “unbroken continua”: between sound and silence, improvisation and composition, performer and listener, noise and music. The reader may also find evident within the pages of Blocks of Consciousness a struggle between the poles of comprehensive analysis and what I believe Ernst Bloch once described as the appropriate reaction to the offer of a chicken dinner—just eating it.
One can certainly glean a strong scent of reluctance to cerebral mining from some of the twenty-three contemporary music-makers who responded to Rhodri Davies' apparently simple question, “What are you doing with your music?” Andrea Neumann says, simply, “A lot of the time I’m carrying musical equipment from one place to another. Sometimes on the street while pulling one or two trolleys I feel like a very old person who can only move very slowly. Time passes slowly, the speed in the head slows down.” But then, as if she doesn’t want to sound like she’s complaining, she adds, “This is a very good moment in my life as a musician.” Otomo Yoshihide’s reply consists only of this: “Listen to the non-existent things that may exist in the future.” But others were not so reticent. One respondent, West Coast sound artist Steve Roden, actually felt there would be utility in parsing Davies’ query into 1. What are you doing with your music? 2. What is the purpose of your music? 3. What is the intention of your music? 4. What is the meaning of your music? 5. What is the reason for your music? and providing detailed answers to each variation on Davies’ theme. Spanish trumpeter Ruth Barberan expresses the discomfort many musicians seem to have with the analysis of art when she says, “Some time ago, when I asked myself what I was doing, I was unable to answer and it worried me. Later on, I realized that one of the principal elements of my work was not knowing what I was doing.” British violinist Angharad Davies muses, “When I’m playing my music I know what I’m doing, but when I have to talk about it I don’t.” This uneasiness also reverberates through any number of musician “field quotations” collected by Bertrand Denzler and Jean-Luc Guionnet. Someone grumps, “There shouldn’t be a post-concert autopsy, ever. What’s happened has happened.” Another opines, “You know when it’s good or not. You can talk about it out of politeness, but in fact the real discussion occurs while playing.” But a possibly more curious musician confesses that, “Sometimes I also like it when music makes me ask myself questions. ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’ is too limited.” For this reader, the most endearing response to Davies’ question was made by Takehiro Nishide. After admitting surprise when “musicians cite theories or reasons for playing music” and noting a strong reluctance to “define my music in a certain way,” Takehiro uses his space to give us a short history of his involvement with cassette recording. He writes, “The inexhaustible source from which I draw my material is the most important thing about this process. As I develop my sound using this approach where there are no clear boundaries, I find myself exploring areas beyond the predetermined definition of the medium I choose to work within.” His reflections are both informative and sweet, like a love letter to a technology that may seem anachronistic to some, but has never lost its infinite capacity to surprise for Takehiro: “I have no idea whether I will continue to make music with tapes. They sometimes bring me an invisible something, like smell; in a minute it’s gone, leaving me with new questions for my life. Life seems to be one long day since I was born. This long day is confused by the magnetism of tape, and still has not shown me a sign of the end.”
The historico-theoretical pieces in the collection are also thought-provoking. Brian Marley’s essay on Cage carefully refutes all suggestions that 4’33” was some sort of a joke, or that the composer was trying to put something over on somebody. According to Marley, the real importance of the work lies in its destruction of the proposition that silences are actually bereft of sound. For Marley, this is crucial because it opens up the possibility that music may be silent. If, when closely attended, silences can be observed actually to contain sounds, then since, on Marley’s view, music consists of any sounds which, when closely attended, may be considered “fascinating,” “intensely irritating,” “poly-cacophonous,” or even boring, then, therefore, many silences will indeed be music. Cage’s revolutionary piece forces the audience to pay attention to noises they normally would push out of consciousness—and once they receive the proper focus, on Marley’s definition, they can’t fail to be music. They may, I think, constitute only bad music (Marley talks of various performances of 4’33” being more or less interesting or even “lackluster”) but they will, from this perspective, be music, whatever their quotient of aesthetic merits. Marley obviously formulated his thesis with precision; it seems coherent to me, at any rate. Not all the writing found in this book is quite so clear on this matter, however. Annette Krebs, e.g., in her answer to Davies’ “What are you doing” question, says both that everything that comes out of her instrument is music and that she hopes that (and is very happy when), after rehearsing, traveling, organizing, etc. it’s music that is actually produced. And not all the commentators share Marley’s outlook. For example, Clive Bell’s revealing profile of Sachiko M. contains a quotation from Tomokiyo Yoshisane (1888-1952) that indicates that the Shinto writer was fussier about what constitutes “music” than Marley when he wrote, “Simply listen to a ‘sound’ do not have to listen to music.”
There’s an important sense, of course, in which this whole “Is it music?” question is nothing more than a linguistic quibble. So long as they’re consistent (and don’t fly in the face of everybody else’s usage), people may define their terms as they wish. One may, with Marley, use "music" to describe any sounds attended to in a particular way (not, e.g., as political speech or as a request for a glass of water). Or, one may prefer to restrict the term’s use to some subset of such sounds (or even an overlapping group, as would those who would include some abstraction, like a score, which is never heard at all). In any case, it’s good to know how a particular person is using the word, if we want to avoid hollow, pointless controversies. It is interesting to note that a traditionalist who uses ‘music’ only to describe sounds that can be transcribed using conventional ‘musical notation,’ may consider the (to him/her non-musical) sounds of jackhammers and cement mixers at a construction site transcendently beautiful, while Marley, who prefers to calls these sounds ‘music,’ may detest them. This is true simply because, for Marley, the existence of the concentrated listening, not any aesthetic value, is the critical factor in determining whether or not something is music. “Sonic artist” Lee Patterson seems to agree with this perspective when he talks of the importance of “acute listening.” To him this requires “relative quietude, attention to detail, and considered response.” It is those, according to Patterson, that change the sound of an egg frying into music. Indeed, he claims, “to listen is to compose.”
PT Admiral Dan Warburton (readers take heed: the same DW may have edited this paragraph beyond all recognition [actually I haven't touched it, promise!-DW]), in his discussion of the historical relations between writing and playing music, is also wrestling with a continuum. More than one, in fact, since he even explores the border between improvising music and playing improvised music. Warburton’s main point is that if you think there aren’t many good composers around any more—or in any event good young ones—it may just be because you’re being too restrictive in how you understand the term “composition.” Why, he asks, shouldn’t an improvisation count as a sort of instant composition? (Especially if painting or sculpting a graphic score counts as making music.) My main reservation about this instructive article is that I would have liked to see more discussion of critiques made by those—like Elliott Carter and, as a recent interview right here in PT shows, Tristan Murail—who complain that improvisers are doomed incessantly to repeat themselves, while writers of music can find ways to avoid this pitfall. We might even have been treated to speculations on the relative merits of conscious censoring devices (with or without the embracing of historical forms, serialism or alea) as compared with the "freer" workings of the mighty id.
The other mini-histories/think pieces here—the editors’ introduction (with its helpful digression on early manifestations of “machine music”) and David Toop’s discussion of sonic atmospheres and how they’ve grown—are also engaging, and each demonstrates the extensive knowledge of its author(s). I would, however, have been interested in hearing their thoughts on the extent to which music may have gotten less abstract as it’s gotten more concrete. For example, even a child can tell that certain contemporary works depict nature (they can hear the cicadas and the thunder, for heaven’s sake!), while the inspiration behind Beethoven’s Sixth might not be so obvious. Could it be that Bell’s undefensive, even proud, assertion that—at least at first—Sachiko M. was “not a musician” puts her at least as far into the primitivist camp as Grandma Moses? Is there any truth to the proposition that a healthy portion of what used to be called ‘EAI’ is thus a species of anti-intellectualism, replicating, often with little or no abstraction, such processes as eggs frying, sea-side sunrises, human brainwaves, or concert hall room tones? In any case, my main (if small) regret as I read those enlightening reflections on how the current the incarnation of music came to be, was that that neither Ruth Crawford Seeger nor Harry Partch made it into any of the lists of iconoclasts.
John Wall, Richard Chartier and The Necks are, with Sachiko M., awarded detailed individual profiles here. All are well-written and packed with info, but the choice of these particular artists seems somewhat arbitrary to me, causing the anthology to shift slightly in the direction of a big (say, annual or biennial) magazine, and away from treatise land, where resource books are made to be kept around the house or library for many years to come. For those, like me, who will wish to hang on to it anyways (and maybe even have a coffee table in mind), I should say that its design, by Damien Beaton, is strikingly original and quite lovely, in spite of the fact that its shifting internal hues may sometimes present insufficient contrast between word and background—at least for some of my ancient contemporaries.–WH

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On Clean Feed
Dennis González’s Boston Project
Clean Feed
Whit Dickey
Clean Feed
Portuguese independent label Clean Feed has cast a wide net over its three-year existence and sixty-odd discs, ranging from homegrown post-bop to gritty vanguard European and American free jazz and, on some of the more curious offerings, strong cross-cultural meetings. Lately their unabated barrage of releases has concentrated more on the American jazz underground, including sessions by the longstanding Ken Filiano-Steve Adams duo and bassist Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra, and these two fine freebop offerings from Dallas-based trumpeter Dennis González and stalwart New York free-time architect Whit Dickey.
Well-traveled trumpeter and composer González has long been a leading light of harmonically liberated swing, upholding the dusky urbanity of Bobby Bradford, Ted Curson and Booker Little in a series of highly-regarded pianoless groups. His latest, a quintet culled from Boston improvisers, brings reedman Charlie Kohlhase, drummer Croix Galipault and bassists Nate McBride and Joe Morris into the mix on five originals. González often finds himself paired with extraordinarily versatile reedmen – past sparring partners have included tenorman Charles Brackeen and altoists Prince Lasha and Oliver Lake (Spirit Meridian, also on Clean Feed). Kohlhase triples on alto, tenor and baritone here and brings a defined sensibility to each – a surly huskiness on baritone and an earthy blues tenor somewhat removed from free-gospel Trinity, especially evident on “Hymn for Julius Hemphill.”
“Hymn” is slinky and stately, a terse trumpet call signaling the sketch of a theme. González solos atop a plastic near-rumba, fat phrases open and round, while Kohlhase provides unfettered down-home funk “up through the ground and out through the bell,” capturing Hemphill’s gritty strut and rhythmic nuances perfectly. “The Matter at Hand” is a nod to Bill Dixon, its time-spanning contrast of walks between two basses recalling Dixon’s “Winter Song” (see Savoy MG-12188, Bill Dixon 7-tette). McBride’s throaty, Grimes-like arco and Morris’s deft pizzicato open the piece in oil-and-water dialogue, Galipault erupting into vicious forward motion as trumpet and alto perch “Lonely Woman”-like atop an emerging pulse. Kohlhase’s alto recalls Carlos Ward in its acrid ebullience, while Gonzalez’ trumpet is poised, deliberate and liquid even as it growls, slurs and darts above the thrashing rhythmic stew. A bright and assured performance, a tune like “The Matter at Hand” would not have sounded out of place on the bumpier ride of prime early ‘60s wax.
Since leaving the David S. Ware Quartet, drummer Whit Dickey has come into his own as a bandleader. Sacred Ground is his third date for Clean Feed, featuring regular foils altoist Rob Brown, trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr. and Joe Morris (again on bass) on five originals. Dickey is a unique drummer, his approach only tenuously traceable to figures like Graves and Cyrille; at times he recalls Turkish enigma Huseyin Ertunç, particularly in his oddly suspended cymbal work, which hangs above the music, almost outside time. Dickey's themes alternate between singsong melodies and ominous out-of-tempo mash-ups, and the pieces tend to hinge on the seamless working relationship between the arch Dickey and explosively articulate Brown. Campbell’s condensed fires perfectly complement Brown’s biting, joyous alto work on “Vortex” (I’m starting to think the latter is the Dolphy of our time). On “Soldier of Uncertainty,” Dickey flexes his rock chops as the horns dance in suspended dialogue; Campbell effects a merger between bebop facility and the guttural, painterly smears of Dixon, McPhee et al, while the leader’s solo becomes a profound exploration of mass, space and copper. Sacred Ground shows Dickey’s group and approach becoming tighter and more refined, even as the music gains in nuance and unpredictability.–CA

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Formed / Cut
Bruckmann / Dafeldecker / Hauf
Formed Records
Jon Mueller / Jason Kahn
Formed Records
Gabriel Paiuk / Jason Kahn
Seth Nehil / jgrzinich
Whatever your expectations might be for a Bruckmann, Dafeldecker and Hauf trio – quiet intent, abstract revelation or leftfield creativity – you should probably steel yourself for disappointment when you first listen to Wane. Boris Hauf’s gurgling electronics aren’t problematic as discrete sonic "objects", but they do pose a dilemma for Werner Dafeldecker and Kyle Bruckmann that is never quite resolved: how to work around such concrete blocks of texture/tonality while avoiding both predictable drones or "three-men-in-three-rooms" disjoint? Though he's an agile and adept player, Bruckmann’s rasping, puckered interjections often dry out before the saliva leaves the bell. Dafeldecker tag-teams along, inserting various laconic phrases or paced clangs and strums; he sounds sure-footed, yet somehow uncommitted. It’s at times beautiful, but is somehow more interesting if listened to from the next room, which at least makes sense of the song titles: going, going, going, gone… Wane is best when trailing off into the distance.
Someone recently tried to tell me that Jason Kahn was a predictable artist, but though his lexicon is quite specific, this has never been a limitation: rather, he stretches moments into eternities, setting parameters for his recordings and steadily mapping all of the possibilities within the space. Collaborations might suggest friction, but on Supershells he and Jon Mueller fold their percussion, tapes and synth together in laminal constructs. There are few points of punctuation here – one example of a rising cymbal drone rudely cut by a snare hit seems out of place – but the duo are attuned to each other’s aesthetics, resulting in a performance that repeatedly reaches plateaus of gorgeous evacuated tonal drift. Nothing here is exactly surprising, but it's eloquent. One example of sublime incongruity: that such relative austerity was recorded at the exquisitely named Hotcakes Gallery.
Kahn’s own elegant Cut label is one of the most quietly convincing imprints of its kind. The duo with pianist and composer Gabriel Paiuk sees Kahn scratching away quietly at the edges of your hearing, digital dust collecting around Paiuk’s poised, dampened chords, stray notes and shy preparations like sediment gathering on riverbanks and in rock pools. It takes a minor leap in thinking, at first, to frame Paiuk’s interjections as more than polite commentary, but closer listening reveals strength and patience in his playing: every note is carefully weighed and measured, but not at the expense of the natural tenor of each piece. Kahn’s needling computer manipulations eat away at the body of the piano like glacial striation on surfaces of rocks, marking out patterns of weathering. Paiuk may well have the last and best word, though, when he observes "each piece seemed…like an extended ‘breathing’, each piece as one single breath."
Gyre was originally presented as a four-channel sound piece for Correnti Sonore 05, Tarcento Italy. Seth Nehil and John Grzinich recorded the source material in New York and Estonia through 2005, and the resulting three pieces all cleave fairly strongly to post-processed, gently dislocated field recording "composition." It’s not exactly an under-populated field, and at times Gyre struggles to distinguish itself from similarly-minded recordings. The duo are fascinated with resonance, tracing and testing the properties of spaces through "sound actions" and then building new architectures through juxtaposition and a cool editing hand. These recordings offer a kind of psychogeographic hauntology, the displacement caused by manipulation rendering the original spaces somehow absent, yet present: you’re constantly trailing an idea of an origin without recourse to any "real" referent. Nehil and Grzinich are smart composers, though they do often rely on wind-tunnel atmospherics as scaffolds for their compositions: not a bad thing, but they sometimes risk over-homogenising their creations.–JD

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Thrill Jockey
Am I just behind the times as ever or has George Lewis's long-awaited book on the history of the AACM still not appeared? That and the Tilbury biography of Cardew are definitely at the top of my Books To Read list (there are others, but this is not the time and place to start discussing the final volume of Harry Potter). Most folks reading this scribble will, I imagine, have a good few albums in their collections by the Art Ensemble and Anthony Braxton, as well as (hopefully) Henry Threadgill, Muhal Richard Abrams and Mr Lewis himself, but it's high time we learned more about and heard more from some of the lesser known figures in the AACM. Thinking here of Douglas Ewart, Ari Brown, Ernest Dawkins and Edward Wilkerson, to name but a few. So while we wait for Lewis to dot his i's and cross his t's, here's some music to listen to. Frequency is a quartet consisting of AACM former president Wilkerson (tenor sax, clarinet, wood flute, bells) current co-president Nicole Mitchell (flutes, piccolo, melodica, Egyptian harp, vocals and, erm, plastic bag), Harrison Bankhead (bass, cello, wood flute, bells) and Avreeayl Ra (percussion, kalimbas, Native American flute, vocals), and this debut album, also called Frequency, is a real treasure. Wilkerson and Mitchell complement each other splendidly, especially on the angular freebop of the openers, Wilkerson's "Pitiful James" and Mitchell's "Take Refuge", and the Bankhead / Ra rhythm team is outstanding throughout. Google Bankhead and you'll come up with an article entitled "Bassist with the Mostest", which is a pretty good description of him, in terms not only of breadth of repertoire but also sheer physical power, but Frequency also presents the more intimate side of his playing – and his composition. "Portrait of Light" is delicate and beautiful without ever lapsing into sentimentality, and the scoring – bass clarinet, alto flute, cello and kalimbas – truly exquisite. Sadly, concert goers rarely get treated to this more introspective vein of today's jazz, perhaps because they – or festival promoters, or maybe even the musicians – think that a titanic orgasmic blowout is somehow better value for money. Maybe the presence of a woman in the group (and here IS the time and place to lament once more how few of them there are in cutting edge new jazz) mitigates against the kind of vulgar testosterone that characterises groups like the Brötzmann Tentet, but don't let that give you the impression Ms Mitchell is a dainty, fragile little thing who might snap in two if you pat her on the back. That piccolo playing on "Fertility Dance" is as fiery, spiky and daring as Sam Rivers. Nor should you assume the opposite, that tough guys like Wilkerson, Bankhead and Ra aren't capable of producing music of extraordinary tenderness and subtlety. But such going against the grain and challenging established preconceptions is what the AACM has always been about. Let's hope George finishes that book soon.–DW

Black Saint
Out of idle curiosity I just looked in the Oxford Companion to Jazz, an 852-page tome edited by the estimable Bill Kirchner, to see how many references there were to the World Saxophone Quartet. Answer: four, spread over seven pages, including a central section of Peter Keepnews' survey of "Jazz since 1968." How many entries for the ROVA sax quartet or its individual members? Answer: none. Perhaps this is just a sign of how the WSQ has become primarily a matter of jazz history (even if the post-Hemphill band continues to plug away), whereas ROVA is if anything in its prime right now, spitting out discs like Resistance and Electric Ascension which continue to break new ground. Totally Spinning is a more modestly scaled offering than either of those albums, a post-Mingus exploration of blues and roots (actually, you could imagine WSQ fans responding to this one), though the Piranesian structural complexity is echt ROVA. Jon Raskin and Steve Adams composed all but two pieces and get most of the major solo space; Raskin’s work on the baritone is particularly impressive – check out his Harry Carney/Pepper Adams balladry on "Cuernavaca Starlight (For Charles Mingus)", for instance, or the marvellous unaccompanied solo on "Let’s Go Totally Spinning", in which he maintains both "lead voice" and "accompaniment" on a single horn in kind of a crazed internal dialogue. There’s also a cheeky miniature by Fred Frith, "Kick It", and (most significantly, for those listeners interested in following ROVA’s preoccupation with game-pieces and cued improvisation) two performances of "Radar", Larry Ochs’ "arrangement" of ROVA’s many cued-improv strategies. The second piece in particular shows how "Radar" permits themes and textures to be "stored" and later returned to: the piece includes a raucous exercise in neurotic repetition, a round-robin of face-pulling exercises, and a brief murmuring interlude; the coda rapidly juggles all three textures. My favourite piece, though, is Raskin’s "It’s a Journey, not a Destination", a long seriocomic narrative piece – the absurd contrast between Raskin’s monstrous baritone and Bruce Ackley’s prim soprano is put to good use – that eventually winds its way to a stately passacaglia. Totally Spinning seems to have been sitting around for a while, presumably because of Black Saint’s difficulties in recent years – the first two tracks are previously unreleased material from the 1996 Bingo sessions, and the rest of the album dates from 2000 (according to Ochs – the liner notes get this wrong). It comes off almost as a holiday compared to the sterner restructuralism that populates ROVA's catalogue, but there’s nothing wrong with that – and the musical intelligence and playing are as sharp as ever.–ND

Jorrit Dijkstra/John Hollenbeck
A leftfield disc for Dijkstra, a saxophonist from the fertile Dutch jazz scene now based in Boston: Sequence is about as far as you can go from his screwy cool-school alto sax work with Sound-Lee!, and in fact there’s barely a recognizable sax sound on the album. He's been working with polymath drummer John Hollenbeck since the late 1990s, and they have developed a cut-and-paste aesthetic that mimics the sound of overdubs, edits and studio trickery even though the music is created in real-time. Who knows what to call it – improv electronica? grotesque minimalism? cyborg jazz? soundscapes for human drum machine and autoharp? – but what’s most striking is how Dijkstra and Hollenbeck’s rhythmic layerings find common ground between postmodern glitch-and-loop and the polyrhythms of African musics. The extraordinary 11-minute "Rubber Mitten", for instance, comes off like a post-colonial ritual dance collaged out of whatever sonic detritus is to hand: thumb piano rubs up against clunking robot beats, ticking-clock percussion against cartoon fwips and off-key melodies that sound like a computer's idea of a lullaby. The general principle here seems to be to create textures that never existed before and will never be heard again: "Bubble Wig" sounds like the work of a creature half-animal, half-typewriter, being gradually drowned out by mournful koto thrums and twinkling-star electronics; "Neuron Ringer" is a duet for droning ambient electronics and hyperactive drumset clatter, spiced with computer burps; "Whistle Baby" is an electronica nursery rhyme, complete with wind-up music-box. Weird and wonderful stuff: Sequence suggests that the distance from "Subconscious-Lee" to musical rummaging-around in the subconscious is not as far as you’d think.–ND

Paul Flaherty
Family Vineyard
"Nothingness" isn't exactly the word that comes to mind when you think of Paul Flaherty, as anyone who's heard him on record – and seen him in the flesh (could this be the most famous beard since Castro?) – can no doubt confirm. After ploughing his lonely furrow far too long in relative obscurity, the alto and tenor saxophonist has been riding high lately, thanks in no small part to his teaming up with firebrand percussionist Chris Corsano (whose Byron Coley / Wire magazine connections have certainly been useful), and other notables including Joe McPhee, Thurston Moore, Greg Kelley. But they're nowhere to seen on this date. It's just Flaherty on eight intense solo improvisations dedicated "to all the victims yet to come" and accompanied by a characteristically passionate set of liners referencing Hindu guru Paramahansa Yogananda. "We have pain and suffering as part and parcel of our existence", writes Flaherty, but don't let all that give you the impression that Whirls Of Nothingness is a bleak torture chamber of an album, a kind of New England version of Masayoshi Urabe, because it isn't. What many Flahertyphiles all too easily overlook in their effusive YO FUCK SHIT KILL MAN CAN BLOW rhetoric (the liners to Flaherty's latest offering with Corsano and Spencer Yeh on Important are a choice example) is that underneath that wild white beard is soft, tender skin. There's as much lyricism on offer here as there is fire and brimstone – check out that delicious vibrato, you new musick macho dudes – a beauty that's as fragile as sensitive as it is raw and passionate. "Abstract freeform music to express our joys and sorrows... and ease the pain?" Yes indeed.–DW

Paul Lytton/Ken Vandermark/Phillipp Wachsmann
This limited-edition release issued at the start of a brief US tour earlier this summer features music recorded in concert in France and Slovenia in month 2004. This is collective improvisation, rather than Vandermark’s usual composerly free jazz, and he deserves particular credit for fitting in well with the unique talents of Lytton and Wachsmann. I've often found Vandermark more of an R&B honker than a jazz player per se, meandering around until he happens upon a motif that fits into a groove, then pounding the sucker into submission. What he does very well is find rhythm partners who support his approach, bandmates whose greater fluidity serves as a complement to his soloing. Here there's no Dave Rempis or Jeb Bishop to pass the baton to, and Vandermark's dealings with these wizards of improv are exposed, but they come through effectively even if more understated than usual. There are still times when he'll latch onto riffs and repeat them far more than, say, Evan Parker would, but Lytton and Wachsmann respond in kind, using them as foundations for brief forays of their own. All but one of the selections begin in ethereally amorphous fashion, the exception being the third cut, on which Vandermark plays a growling baritone as Lytton attacks the drums with zeal. Wachsmann is wonderful whether bowing, plucking or electronically enhancing his violin, at times making it sound like a harp. The recorded sound is extremely quiet, perhaps a bit too much so, and there are times in the long fourth cut where things seem to come to a complete halt. But that's a minor quibble about an otherwise very satisfying release.–SG

Vinny Golia
Nine Winds
Saxophone quartets have been wearing out their welcome with me recently; it’s not that what they’re playing is bad, it just doesn’t sound fresh any more. But when I started to listen to Vinny Golia's new clarinet-quintet disc, it took me back to the days of the WSQ’s Steppin’ : it’s that good. Golia is the first among equals, but his four partners, Andrew Pask, Cory Wright, Jim Sullivan and Brian Walsh, are deserving co-stars. The disc starts off with the ROVA-like "Clown Car Syndrome" with the quintet playing the more "normal" clarinets - it's a track that makes you wonder why Golia and Braxton have never teamed up. On the rest of the album Golia characteristically draws on just about every conceivable member of the clarinet family plus tarogato while the others confine themselves to a mix of bass clarinets and standard B-flat models. (The liner notes helpfully keep track of who plays what when.) In his arrangements Golia does an outstanding job of using the dark, woody sounds of the alto, bass, contra-alto and contra-bass clarinets. The unison playing has a stunning timbral depth, and the results are often beautifully moody and resonant. It’s a pity this ensemble is presumably a one-shot affair, just another one of Golia’s series of "like instruments" projects, as the results here are memorable enough to suggest this is a group worth keeping together for more than one disc.–SG

Bobby Zankel and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound
Dreambox Media
Zankel and his thirteen compadres come hard out of the gate with "Choose Hope," a rousing tribute to Nelson Mandela, and never let up for the rest of this album. Ceremonies of Forgiveness is a mix of hard-hammering backbeats and inspired big band charts: think Africa Brass gets harmolodics. These Philadelphia warriors have been playing together since 2001, putting Zankel’s songs through their paces at a steady gig at the Club Tritone. Despite the large group, solo features are kept at a premium, the accent falling just as much on the ensemble behind the soloists. Pianist Tom Lawton deservedly gets a lot of the spotlight, leading off three of the album’s four cuts, and it's difficult to overpraise the rhythm section of drummer Craig McIver, bassist Dylan Taylor and master skronk guitarist Rick Iannacone. But the star of the show is really Zankel. His songs just keep building and building from one idea to the next, effortlessly sustaining interest across the relatively long (13'-15') tracks and typically ending with a climactic feature for his biting yet smooth alto lines. The album's only flaw is the awkward transition between Elliot Levin's excellent flute solo and Taylor's bass solo on "Infinite Potential of a Single Moment" – sounds almost like a bad tape splice. That minor blemish aside, this is an outstanding album, guaranteed to shake you out of your musical doldrums.–SG

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Joëlle Léandre
One of the most extraordinary double bassists of the last thirty years was recorded by Jean-Marc Foussat on January 29 and 30, 2005 at Gasthof Heidelberg Loppem in Belgium, and the resulting double album is simply magnificent. Over the years, Joëlle Léandre has developed a unique style fusing edgy instability with an astonishing adeptness at determining the focal point of a phrase and building a whole instantaneous discourse thereon. Technical virtuosity is stripped of useless gimmickry, and our ears are revitalized by Léandre's peculiar blend of instrumental activism and ferocious irony. On "Parlotte" the call-and-response game between her uttered articulations and the multitude of thumps, plucks and bowed notes that she brings forth from that "great, big, upright, impossible object" (to quote Ms Léandre's Invisible Jukebox in The Wire a while back) is both dialogue and monologue, and fantastic music to boot. Not to mention the physical effects of the bass on the nervous system: Léandre's imperious growl is an experience to be savoured with mucho gusto, a surround sound low-frequency fecundation of the skull. But if I had to choose a single track, I'd say "Spirale", on which Léandre revolves around a barely determined tonal centre like a nuclear powered hurdy-gurdy, playing in and between the harmonics, adding accents, subtracting notes, and letting us gaze at a continuum that leaves us buzzing and reeling.–MR

Irène Schweizer
For this writer, the piano playing of the great Irène Schweizer, that simultaneously angular and sweetly sensuous animal radiance corroborated by the lucid brain of an 88-key mathematician, is a major influence in terms of the way music should be conceived and played. And First Choice, a live recording made in the Kultur und Kongresszentrum Luzern (Switzerland) on month 8, 2005, is a further tribute to the pianist after the Gitta Gsell movie recently released on DVD by this same label. According to the liner notes, the ever-shy Schweizer was initially reluctant to accept the invitation to perform in this 1500-seat concert space, but the wonderful acoustic of the huge hall was the deciding factor in making her accept the challenge. She needn't have been afraid. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Piano Player" pokes fun at the pianist's difficult situation in this world-famous, intimidating concert hall, but Schweizer's Debussyesque whole tone runs and ostinato chordal spinning elicit enthusiastic applause from the audience. As she advances through her impromptu figurations, Schweizer sees and hears something that's already precisely delineated and shaped; all she needs to arrive there is that monstrous technique developed over decades of friendship and collaboration with the likes of Henry Cow, Joëlle Léandre, Maggie Nicols, Han Bennink, Andrew Cyrille, Marilyn Crispell.. the list goes on. The long opening improvisation links the distant points of a complex harmonic network in a kind of luxurious primitivism, an exquisite, introspective analysis that opens up revealing progressions that could just as well appeal to fans of Gordon Beck and Keith Emerson (I'm not being ironic at all), after which the three minutes and fifty-seven seconds of the poignant, reflective "Ballad of The Sad Café" (also on Piano Solo Vol.1 on Intakt) should consign the peacock moves of Mr Jarrett to the trashcan once and for all. The rest is for you to discover, and don't be surprised if you find yourselves smiling when it's all over.–MR

Anthony Braxton & Fred Frith
Accommodating difference comes quite easily for recognized masters of improvisation; Anthony Braxton and Fred Frith are two poles of a globe whose rotation can alter, if not subvert, the order of things, and both studiously avoid bathing in the waters of simplification during these five conversations. But there's also plenty of room for playful free-punk-jazz exchanges: the third track commences with Frith drumming on the strings, Braxton joining him in a destructive heartache of microtones and garrulous fuzz anarchy which, at times in its almost 23-minute length, transports the couple to pre-delirious, divertissement mode in between inquisitive (and more peaceful) intertwining lines. When Braxton travels to rhapsody city, he finds a committee of limpid harmonics, glissando chords and looped fragments waiting to welcome him; Frith's peculiar set-up allows for a continuous shift of the guitar sounds, both real time and delayed, across the stereo space, facilitating dialogue (and argument) within constantly changing frameworks. Sudden dissonant heads ups remind the audience that they're not attending a country wedding. The final track begins with a whirlwind of apparent nonsense, Braxton's spiralling atonality scratched by Frith's nasal mosquitoes and detuned bumps until everything becomes linked in a logical, yet still perplexing amalgam. Duo is a fine example of the way great artists keep us on our toes with music that's hard-headed, stimulating, impregnable but never predictable. Your final judgement depends on where you draw the line between expectation and fulfilment, but to do that accurately you'll have to listen many times. I'm still studying.–MR

Keith Rowe/Mark Wastell
Confront Performance Series
The second outing of this intriguing limited edition series finds Rowe and Wastell playing guitar, amplified textures and electronics over the course of about 28 minutes of rather surprising music, at least in view of both artists' recent work. Not that one should expect something even remotely resembling a "canon" from these people, but after the ominous hum that opens the disc you could have been justified in expecting another exploration of charged stasis in the vein of "Amann", the fabulous closure of the recent and already much discussed Between by Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura on Erstwhile [see MR's review of this at archives section – DW]. While there are hints of that kind of sonority throughout, Wastell and Rowe concentrate instead on the kind of aggressive dynamics and sudden alteration that will frustrate and exclude those who revel in continuity. It's a world of electrostatic incompatibility, air escaping from a narrow conduit juxtaposed with passing cars on a distant road, helicopters and jets powered by dentists' drills falling between the rotating brushes of a car wash. The final minutes are defined by a fixed pulse over which the mutilation of the sources is consumed like a final sacrifice, so that the return to quiet is perceived more as a punishment than a reward, although an overall sense of accomplishment lingers on.–MR

Norbert Möslang/Günter Müller
For 4 Ears
In both their collaborative and solo projects, Norbert Möslang (cracked everyday electronics) and Günter Müller (iPod and electronics) have fathered an instantly recognizable sound that one perceives as familiar after no more than half a minute of careful listening. There's a constant square-or-spastic rhythm in Wild Suzuki, recorded during a brief Japanese tour in 2004 organized by the late Koji Tano, to whom the CD is dedicated, something that crawls under the skin and penetrates the skull to spread in cancerous fashion. This continuous minimal stimulation elicits myriads of quietly piercing timbres, tranquillity somehow restored only to be sweetly raped time and again. In the uplifting succession of "Fukuoka 1/2", "Yamaguchi 1" and "Tokyo 1" the subsonic pulse and bubbling patterns are perfect complements to a recurrence of (heaven forbid) pseudo "tonal" aurorae disfigured by a phalanx of electric razors in a multidimensional apocalypse of abrasive frequencies and corroded metal. This music has too much energy and intrinsic movement to be used as a background, yet drowns its details in an organic totality where interference and abnormality are needles stuck in the dying body of contemporary electronica. Silently attentive, working at the margins of non-commercial hazard, these seekers have grown a fruitful tree without an ounce of compromise.–MR

Adam Linson
Releases on Evan Parker's psi label can be broadly divided into three categories: reissues of long out of print material formerly on Incus, the label he used to co-curate with Derek Bailey, showcase projects for friends of long standing (Alex von Schlippenbach, Aki Takase, Gerd Dudek, Kenny Wheeler, Stan Tracey) and albums that continue along the path of exploration Parker's own Electro Acoustic Ensemble has helped open up, i.e. live electronics and the incorporation of real time electronic transformation of acoustic instruments. These include Furt's Dead or Alive, Paul Rutherford's Iskra3 and now Adam Linson's Cut and Continuum. Bassist and software whiz Linson hails from California, where he studied with, amongst others, Bertram Turetzky and George Lewis before relocating to Berlin in 1999. Parker completists (poor penniless wretches that they must be) will know him as the bassist on the latest EAE outing The Eleventh Hour. Cut and Continuum is the kind of huge, dense sprawling beast of an album (complete with de rigueur quotation from Gilles Deleuze, p'tain d'merde) that inevitably recalls Radu Malfatti's criticism of Parker in his old PT interview: "I know Evan hates Ferneyhough on the grounds that he just can't see the point of writing music which is completely unplayable. But if you have a close look at Evan's own work, you realize that he is moving around in exactly the same category. His work also is 'unplayable' – at least for others – and he seems to be as interested in virtuosity as good old Brian is. Neither of them can get rid of the old structures, the density, the mobilmachung and they both quite willingly follow the path of Beethoven, Boulez and the rest." It would probably take me about as long to figure out what Linson is trying to do here – let alone come to love it – as it would to read all 360 pages of Deleuze's Cinéma 2 (in the Editions de Minuit edition), and neither course of action is particularly appealing. I'll take Trittico per G.S. instead if that's OK with you.–DW

Michael Renkel
Guitarist Michael Renkel might be best known as a member of Berlin Reductionism's most famous outfit, Phosphor, but even the briefest of dips into his discography reveals that his energies go in many different directions, from the leftfield electronica of Urbano Mistica Amplitude and Möwen und Moos Remix to the chatter and splatter of Activity Center, which finds him (and Burkhard Beins) in the company of that most resolutely non-reductionist improviser Phil Minton. Fine though these projects are, Errorkoerper III is Renkel's finest work to date, an extended (67-minute) (instant) composition for electric guitar, fx processor and laptops. Renkel's website explains that "the guitar is not treated as a traditional instrument but as a kind of 'nondirectional loop antenna' transmitting the spatial sound to an effects processor which alienates, boosts and distorts the filtered parameters. On a second layer the musical signal is sent to two notebooks, also the guitar is now being played in a percussive way and with an e-bow, by microphone additional musical material comes into play: wood blocks, stones, harmonica, metal objects, ruptured [sic] paper, etc.. The musical signals are held in a constant state of flux, constant motion and alienation as all elements can be connected / correlated simultaneously or alternatively." Despite such detailed description, it's not always easy to figure out what is going on here: Renkel's processes are at times linear, but more often than not superimposed and interleaved, but the piece evolves with extraordinary coherence and sustains attention and interest throughout its considerable duration (no mean feat, that). And, coming out as it does on Marcus Liebig's bijou Absinth label, you know it looks as good as it sounds. As always, there are only 500 of these, so look sharp.–DW

Okura Müller Yoshida
The first of these four tracks featuring Masahiko Okura (alto sax and tubes), Günter Müller (iPod and electronics) and Ami Yoshida (voice) was recorded live on April 30th 2004 at Koendori Classics in Tokyo, while the remaining three are examples of what's becoming an increasingly frequent practice these days in improvisation, the long distance remix: Okura and Yoshida sent their contributions to Müller to add his contributions to back home in Switzerland. As Massimo Ricci has pointed out above, Müller's tremulous electronic mirage is instantly recognisable, as is the extraordinary noise Yoshida produces (in the latest Wire Clive Bell describes it rather well as the sound of "hatching baby reptiles", but it could just as well be a young seagull being smothered to death inside a sleeping bag or a defective whistling kettle, take your pick). The breathy flutters and tubular gurgles of Okura are perhaps less original, in that there are dozens of horn players these days working in more or less the same territory, but that's not the point: Tanker is not about breaking the mould or rewriting the rules of EAI. When you invest in a Müller album you have a pretty clear idea of what you're in for: predominantly quiet, leisurely yet intense investigations into the nuances of timbre articulating a slowly evolving structure with delicacy and precision. Tanker isn't exactly a surprise, but it is yet another example of accomplished work by three fine musicians, and devotees of this kind of improvised music will find much to appreciate.–DW

Moebius / Mueller / Schoenecker
That's Werner Moebius, not Dieter, by the way. Though if you're old enough to remember Cluster (I am! And the cover of my old vinyl copy of Cluster & Eno still has a cigarette burn on it from my student days to prove it.. at least I think it was a cigarette) and have been following developments in electronic music ever since, you won't be disappointed. Anyway, who says all that old German stuff is old hat anyway? Conrad Schnitzler is still going strong and gracing the pages of The Wire, and how about those wiiiild Asmus Tietchens Sky reissues on Die Stadt, eh? Talking of Asmus Tietchens, there's a link there to Amalgam (bear with me, this is brilliant) in the form of percussionist extraordinaire Jon Mueller, whose own collaboration with Tietchens, 7 Stücke (Auf Abwegen) is well worth a flutter. Mueller, who also runs the Crouton label, also invited Tietchens to remix the three volumes of that label's Folktales project, but that's another story. Like all the releases on the magnificent Utech label, Amalgam is as uncompromising as the brown cardboard cover it comes in, 27 minutes of hard-nosed post-Industrial doom drone in which Mueller and Moebius (on computer) are joined by the shortwave radio and synth of Jim Schoenecker. Gloomy and magnificent. 200 copies only. Buy now or cry later.–DW

Sunshine Has Blown
The suburbs of Brisbane, one of Australia's northern and most tropical capital cities, often produce strangely intoxicating sonic fruits and this edition offers some recent blooms from a few local emerging crops. A combined effort of Adam Park and Joel Stern (with additional sounds from Velvet Pesu, Joe Musgrove and Scott Sinclair) the sound collected here catalogues a series of unstructured improvisations that, with a little editing, have offered a uniquely sculpted excursion through the fringes of Brisbane's growing sonic underbelly. Each piece moves at a reflective pace, a willingness to unpack its sound worlds with patience and care, and it's this quality that perhaps makes this improvised session something more than many of the others issued under similar circumstances. The cicadas featured in the first piece offer a homely backdrop to sounds that swirl and meander through fragmented melodic pastures, occasionally surging into more coarsely textured terrain. This is offset nicely by the second track, which drones and squeals away, tainted with a drowned trumpet that splutters to stay within the auditory waves. The other two pieces again splay out into the sound roads less travelled, with strong and welcome results; the sunshine may be blown, but the light seems to be working that audio chlorophyll just the same.–LE

La Grieta
I've been listening to Hermana Hostia, a joint venture by the duo of Mattin and Iñigo Eguillor, in different conditions and settings, each time finding a way to better appreciate the sneering rants and dyslexic distortions of this bunch of "songs", recorded by the protagonists on a computer using free GNU/Linux software but sounding to all intents and purposes like the cheapest cassette left in a car in a Las Vegas parking lot at 1:00pm in mid-August. On the train to Rome, gazing out at the sad landscapes of the urban peripheries I travel across every morning, La Grieta’s mumbling vocal impasse represents a sort of desperate, anti-social commentary by zombie-like presences that not even a brutal, pluri-overdriven guitar electroshock can revive. And it's a shame that many people won't be able decipher the lyrics: despite my own limited knowledge of Spanish/Basque idioms, there are some nice lines in there, my favourite one being "40 horas a la semana durante toda una vida pueden ser muy destructivas" ("40 hours a week a lifetime can be very destructive" – indeed it can, my friends, and it doesn’t even take a lifetime to realise it). Impregnated with bitter Velvet Underground-ness, abraded by gnarled swing (“Porvenir Desierto” remains fabulously repugnant) and ending with macabre exhalations of feedback poison, Hermana Hostia ("Sister Host", for those who really need to know) is the goodbye letter of a clown who's just lost his job and is about to self-destruct by drinking himself to death.–MR

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Barbara Lüneburg
Barbara Lüneburg is one of an apparently increasing number of outstanding violinist / violists based in Amsterdam, a founder member of the Ensemble Intégrales as well as a soloist equally home with classical and contemporary composition, not to mention improvisation (not surprisingly, she's appeared with local notables Anne La Berge, Yannis Kyriakides, Cor Fuhler and, inevitably perhaps, The Ex). The Refined Ear – and you need one to appreciate the music on offer here – features four compositions, two by Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas (...aus freier Lust... verbunden... and de terrae fine) and one each by Manfred Stahnke (Capra) and Salvatore Sciarrino (6 Capricci). The Sciarrino piece isn't exactly new – it was written back in 1976 for Salvatore Accardo – but is, or rather should be, a staple of the contemporary violin repertoire. Its shimmering harmonics are as difficult to execute as they are fleeting and translucent, and Lüneburg's outstanding reading makes it all sound as if it was improvised, which isn't all that far from being the case, since Sciarrino apparently wrote four of them on four consecutive days.
The Haas pieces are tougher nuts to crack, due in part to their rigorous exploration of microtonal inflections; the solo viola work ...aus freier... – the title comes from Haas' beloved Hölderlin – dates from 1996 and de terrae fine (for solo violin this time) from five years later. Haas might be best known for his ensemble works – notably the stunning in vain – and the viola piece in fact derives from an earlier piece for 10 instrumentalists entitled ...Einklang freier Wesen, but if Bob Gilmore didn't tell you that in his ever excellent liners, you'd probably never guess. Dark and intense, this is probably what Thomas Bernhard would have liked to listen to while doing his ironing, had he lived long enough.
de terrae fine ("about the end of the world") was written in Ireland (which is, as Irish-born Gilmore reminds us, "on the edge of Europe" – though not exactly the end of the world.. ever spent an afternoon in Rochdale, Bob?) but if you're expecting any "local colour", forget it. It starts out as a slow, sometimes agonisingly slow, and fearsomely difficult study in intonation – at times Lüneburg has to handle sixth tones, and she does so with breathtaking accuracy (forget Mat Maneri, check this out) – but ends up with some mindblowing triple-stopped glissandi.
Hamburg-based Manfred Stahnke is also concerned with microtonality, having studied in Illinois with Ben Johnston at the end of the 70s, but prior to that he worked with Klaus Huber, Brian Ferneyhough and György Ligeti (and wrote his university dissertation on Boulez's Third Piano Sonata). Despite that heavy duty Euro-modernist baggage, Capra (1987) sounds like folk music from another planet. The four violin strings are tuned down to F-C-F-C (as opposed to the normal G-D-A-E), giving a whole new colour to the higher strings. When plucked it sounds remarkably like a mandolin, when bowed (once more Lüneburg has to get her fingers round some tricky double stops) it resembles a viol consort. Quite what Ferneyhough would make of it is anyone's guess, but from where I'm sitting it sounds magnificent, and makes for a spectacular ending to a superb disc.

Peter Lieberson
Peter Lieberson, a former stalwart of the New York music scene championed by such conductors as Oliver Knussen and Seiji Ozawa, has had a somewhat checkered career as a composer. After studies with Charles Wuorinen at Columbia University, he turned to full-time composition after winning recognition in the 80s with such dazzling post-Schoenbergian showcases as his orchestral "symphony" Drala, inspired by his prominent membership of the Tibetan Buddhist community. By the late 90s, however, Lieberson's style was drawing closer to Shostakovich than Boulez, thanks in part to the melodious influence of his second wife, the celebrated mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, whom he met when she played the Buddhist philosopher king's second wife in Lieberson's 1997 opera Ashoka's Dream.
The results of this shift are on display on this disc, which features The Six Realms, a six-part suite for amplified cello and orchestra, along with the horn concerto and five Rilke Songs, performed by Lieberson's wife. Though not intended as such, it's also a memorial to the singer, after her death from cancer a few months ago. Hunt Lieberson's singing here is rich and passionate, but unfortunately most of the music isn't. Late Shostakovich cliches are everywhere, with little recompense from either the Odense Symphony Orchestra or the soloists (William Purvis on horn and Michaela Fukacova on the cello). One feels that Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, for whom The Six Realms was written, would have toyed and teased more with their portrayal of the six Buddhist aspects of human consciousness (with titles like "The Hungry Ghost Realm", how could you go wrong?). Similarly, Bill Purvis's horn-playing could certainly have given the straight-laced Horn Concerto a forceful kick, or at least a quirkier rendition of the unusually abrupt final bars. The strongest pieces on the disc are the songs, whose Hugo Wolf-like Austrian pre-abstract expressionism chimes with some of Rilke's early work, creating an effect not unlike a musical equivalent of a Freudian flower by Georgia O'Keeffe. Lorraine admirers in particular will enjoy the slow, pearly syncopations that pianist Peter Serkin spreads out before she enters with the following lines in German: "Flower-muscle, that slowly opens back the anemone to another meadow-dawn, until her womb can feel the polyphonic light of the sonorous heavens pouring down" (translation courtesy of Stephen Mitchell).
There is an interesting analogy between ideological and musical repression in Communist Russia and the repression of Tibetan Buddhism in Communist China, or, in James MacMillan's case, the repression of Catholicism in Scotland or Christianity in Japan, and Shostakovitch's music can certainly be pressed into service as a powerful symbolic device. But, as György Ligeti and Franghiz ali-Zadeh have demonstrated, transforming Shostakovich with unusual rhythms and microtonal harmonies is a good deal more interesting than following Lieberson's lead and serving it up straight.–NR

Pierluigi Billone
A pupil of Helmut Lachenmann and Salvatore Sciarrino, Pierluigi Billone is a musical Actionist to whom the entire microtonal spectrum is by now second nature. He gained acclaim in the 90s for ferocious deconstructions of traditional language and instrumental color like ME A AN and ITI KE MI ("Measure. Two Heavens" and "New Moon. Mouth. Feminine" in Sumerian – any link to the archaeological interests of the late Giuseppe Sinopoli?), which appear here in a suitably pummeling recording by the Ensemble Recherche. The precursor is clearly later Nono, but unfortunately of the long-winded variety. After ten minutes of whistling, whooping and squeaking (at times you think you can’t tell whether it’s computer-manipulated or pre-recorded sound effects, but it’s actually neither; the ensemble does a mean imitation of a rusty gate), you feel ME A AN could come to a suitable close, but it goes on for a further 25 without batting an eyelid, or adding anything of significance. ITI KE MI, a tour-de-force for the viola with an obvious kinship to Nono’s "violin concerto" La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura, at least extends for a quarter of an hour, multiplying its repeated notes from duplets to triplets and tossing around its shards of sound, before settling back to familiar techniques. Like a particularly brutal appointment with the dentist’s, Billone’s music is likely to stick in the memory, but if you’ve already had a double root canal at the hands of Dr. Nono, the novelty should wear off the second time round.–NR

Robin Holcomb
After several intriguing and somewhat unsung albums on which Robin Holcomb revealed her skills as the author of refined songs characterized by her tremulous, meagre yet inimitable voice and by heartfelt homages to her influences, John Brown's Body is a precious collection of piano-based compositions, occasionally with telling contributions from Eyvind Kang (viola), Dave Carter (trumpet), Steve Moore (trombone and glockenspiel), and, on the disc's best track, the Koehne String Quartet. It's Holcomb's most rounded album to date, with music illuminated by the kind of compositional brilliance associated with artists at the height of their powers. The disc's highpoint is "One", a splendid example of contemporary chamber writing that postulates a four-dimensional contrapuntal spell for those of you fed up with the easy-to-peep-into décolletés of famous string quartets transformed into parodies of themselves (if you're thinking Kronos, you guessed right). As one becomes acquainted with the music – it requires concentration and clear-mindedness, because it's deceptively alluring stuff – every single note constitutes a small step along the way to a long-awaited communion between Monk and Satie, not without reference to traditional American music, which Holcomb refreshes with harmonic substitution, beat subtraction and subtle, continuous modal shifts. The "famous" title track is just that, a sublimely (in)formal rearrangement and oblique vocal rendition Mr. Brown would surely approve of. This gorgeous album ends with two attracting opposites, short fragments of Holcomb's literate sensitivity: "Maybe You One Day" is a complicated equation (solved in less than one and a half minute) containing impossible-to-sing melodic configurations amidst spotless modulating equilibrium, while "Pretty Ozu", part of a soundtrack written to accompany Yasujiro Ozu's That Night's Wife, is a relieving, sweetly melancholic half-theme closing the door of this exquisite gallery with a gentle touch of pure class.–MR

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"The end is important in all things". These, besides the track names and the few credits, are the only words to be found on the cover of Surcease, which, in case you still don't get it, represents the final word on Robert Hampson's Main alter ego, as the Englishman has announced that future releases will forthwith appear under his real name. A long road has been travelled since the early 90s, when Main was a collaborative venture. To this day, the Firmament series and the masterpiece Hz are considered (by this reviewer at least) as fundamental pieces in the hypnotic game of looping and droning, which back then was mostly accomplished via opportunely treated/stretched guitar sounds. The other group members eventually moved off until Hampson, whose work had already surpassed the average shamanism of that era, was left alone. After a while, he went acousmatic, first with a growing computer presence haunting his progressively "colder" soundscapes, then by adding found sounds and environmental recordings. Somehow, Surcease's two tracks seem to depict both sides of the coin. "Parallax" shows traces of human activity (voices, urban noises) immediately sent to sleep by electroacoustic vapours. You'll have a hard time figuring out what's electronic, laptop-generated or just concrete sounds undergoing remake / remodel therapy, but the resulting increase in tension is this music's best resource. Imagine a cross between Pierre Henry and the Hafler Trio at its most inspired. Hampson's studio knowledge makes his dynamic overload and quasi-industrial prismatic refractions shine, a major highlight being the extraordinary pregnant stasis about 14 minutes into the piece. "Moraine" is all perturbed rapture and subsonic motion, recalling Main's magnificent past (Transiency, Deliquescence... time for you to dig them out again, dear reader) in some of the more subdued sections, yet it's still new ground for Hampson, who channels his sounds into the centre of a slow rotation of events. The impressive subharmonic pulse heard in the second half of the piece, at times like a muffled bell, announces the definitive detachment: no more a foetus, this creature has evolved its own systems, and just when you think you've understood something, it vanishes.–MR

Philip Samartzis
"Absence And Presence" represents a new mode of working for Philip Samartzis: an engagement with musicians in a semi-composed capacity. With parts of the work completed in 2005, he set about creating using a slightly "random" approach, calling on musicians involved to play from memory in various acoustic spaces. Rather than feeling arbitrary or disjointed, these separate passages of audio are impeccably guided, editing clearly being one of Samartzis' compositional strong points. As one might expect from a Samartzis work, there's a good deal of detail and motion across the stereo field; when the sounds are centred and static, the tension created in the expectation of their disruption is quite sublime. Contributions from players such as Dave Brown and Anthea Caddy remarkably maintain much of their individual character, while still serving Samartzis’s overall compositional plan. This is a welcome result, given the abilities and divergent personalities of each of the five additional performers. By contrast, "Unheard Spaces" revolves more solidly around the use of field recordings collected in 2000 in Venice. The piece seeks to create a sonic portrait, defining and redefining the iconic city through a tour of the ear. The results are, in comparison with the first piece, more sonographic, the qualities of the city caught and collaged into a document that ought to become an important sound-archive for future citizens of Venice.–LE

Giuseppe Ielasi
Such a haphazard, perhaps under-inspired, title might suggest a sub-par release – thankfully this is anything but. Rather the notion of "untitled" here suggests a freedom from thematic engagement, a chance to sidestep focus on content but not compositional process. The clear lack of relationship between the choice of instruments and sounds tracked, offset by the unified approach to composition, mark this record as a welcome change of pace. Ielasi’s work generally conveys a sense of loose cycles and gently familiar, yet refreshing melody, and on this record he toys with these notions generating a sense of intimacy and patience. Each of the pieces is quite frankly beautiful – the fourth, for example, matches slowly cooking electronics against descending tones and a glorious looping ambient mode that eventually gives way to a broken almost post hip-hop groove. It’s a piece that gives and takes with equal vigour and the results are a wonderful flowing sensibility that rewards with every passing bar. By contrast the second track maintains a dub like approach, shifting delays marking out various impressions of time against a churning pulse with a pace resembling clothes spinning on slow cycle in the dryer. Another rewarding offering from the Häpna folk.–LE

Darren Tate
Believe it or not, Darren Tate's very first live performance was at the beginning of this year, a Monos concert in Preston which Colin Potter described as a great personal success for our hero, who was jokingly renamed "Mr. Guitar" after the set, given his (previously unknown) ability in bringing unusual sounds out of the instrument. It's not a surprise, then, that these two recent releases by Tate make good use of the six strings in completely different settings. Clouds Upon Clouds employs three basic sources: a held organ chord, a few touches of electric piano and the guitar plus various effects. The organ's harmonic drone remains static throughout, even if its intensity and mix position change according to the different sections. Tate tortures and caresses the strings in total freedom, confirming his Dadaist approach to guitar playing (and to music at large): distortion, hiss and hum are all part of the equation. In the second movement, chordal shapes are muffled by some kind of compression that transforms their timbre into a choked utterance, while the introspective candour of Tate's art is best showcased in the third and final movement when simple electric piano touches are added to the recipe, spiced up by a short-repeat delay. In a Breeze features an electric toothbrush setting the guitar strings in perennial vibration, the resulting drones filtered by heavy effects (with flanging to boot) in one of the Yorkshireman's best albums to date. Slowly drifting harmonics and gradual morphing of faint auras around the fixed chords are the key to enter a world of pure inner resonance in which Tate's gentle frequency beats are like small angels fluttering, frail wings spreading a magic dust of protective comfort.–MR

Peter Wright
As the title suggests, this is a stripped-bare document recorded directly to minidisc of concerts by Peter Wright in Merry England (the 12 Bar Club in London) and Bonnie Scotland (Aberdeen's "The Tunnels") in March 2005. "Audience noise courtesy of the audience", adds Wright on the sleeve. The music is generated by guitar, various effects and pre-recorded sources (birds, children's voices..), filtered and phased intensively and intensely in two extended tracks slowly crafted into huge consonant buzzing drones. Over this bed, the London-based New Zealander lays a few selected notes to enhance the half-bucolic, half-industrial vibe, leading the music, in the case of the Aberdeen track, to a sheer paroxysmal consecration of the drifting "mother chord". Probably due to the low-budget live feel, this is a slightly different Wright (compared to his most mesmerizing releases): the sound is rawer, at times more distorted, less "suspended" and more "affirmative". But it works fine nonetheless, as the enthusiasm of the crowd clearly demonstrates. Repeated plays at medium volume will help your listening space resonate and erase odd technical flaws and the above mentioned audience noise (with a title like that, don't say you haven't been warned).–MR

Coleclough & Murmer
Besides the evocative photos by Patrick McGinley (aka Murmer) adorning the sleeve, no clue is given about the origins and the meaning of Husk, which signals Jonathan Coleclough's return after Long Heat, his 2005 release with Lethe. The initial title track is a classic of obscure droning resonance, trademark Coleclough, all growing pressure, dark currents and menacing thunder. "Approaching Pucara" is a simpler collage where an agglomerate of low frequencies is disturbed by an irregular emission, while "Fieldwork" is almost musique concrète, a detailed fresco of traffic noise and natural sounds, with some object rustling for good measure. "Germ" is a slow, deep pulse enhanced by the passage of dazzling aural clouds, an addictive track with subsonic refractions changing with our movement in the room, like listening to a ghost choir accompanied by a distant aeroplane. Put your smart money on the special limited edition, though, because it features a bonus CD whose music is just as good, maybe even better. After the humming subterranean energy, irregular pulse and scraping of "Wend", "Freon" juxtaposes an ever-present rumble with fumes of flanged waves extinguished by strings and tiny percussive clatters. The almost ritual percussive pattern about 12 minutes into the piece rings distant bells of early Jeff Greinke. "Pucara" closes the show with more metal percussion over another haunting chorale of undecipherable origin – voices, a processed/looped traffic jam or what? For you to discover.–MR

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