JANUARY News 2007 Reviews by Stuart Broomer, Tom Djll, Nate Dorward, Vid Jeraj, Larry Kart, Richard Pinnell, Massimo Ricci, Graham L. Rogers, Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg, Derek Taylor, Dan Warburton:

REISSUE THIS: Barre Phillips / Marion Brown / Tony Oxley / Roscoe Mitchell / Material / Gil Mellé / John Benson Brooks
On Clean Feed:
John Butcher & Paal Nilssen-Love / BassDrumBone / Roswell Rudd & Mark Dresser / Lisbon Improvisation Players / Amado, Kessler, Nilssen-Love
Walter & Sabrina Group
Francisco López
On DVD: Akira Rabelais & Stephen Mathieu / Blank Plays Duden / John Cage
Iskra 1903 / Chadbourne & Fox / Mattin, Conrad, Barnes / Mattin / Christian Weber / Rob Reddy / Carnival Skin / Dave Burrell / Brötzmann & Zerang
Keith Rowe & Oren Ambarchi / Paul Hubweber & Philip Zoubek / Jim Denley & Peter Blamey / Howlin' Ghost Proletarians / Alan Purves / Sabine Ercklentz / Tilt
Iannis Xenakis / Charlemagne Palestine & Tony Conrad / Morton Feldman / Women in Electronic Music
Deluxe Incinerator / Bhob Rainey / Strotter Inst. / Un Caddie Renversé dans l'Herbe / Janek Schaefer
Last month


You may know of Church Number Nine as one of the rarest and finest albums by the Frank Wright quartet (and if you're still on the lookout for a copy of its reissue on the French label Black Keys, drop me a line – I can help you out), but it's also the name of one of the many wonderful blogs that sprung up in recent times, on which, for a modest fee, you can download albums that you'd probably have to remortgage your home for to buy on eBay. Go have a look at churchnumber9.blogspot.com and, if you're a free jazz nut, you'll toss your cookies, as Jon Rose would say. Some of the downloads have been removed, presumably for copyright reasons, though if the people who are sitting on the master tapes of these amazing sessions are spurred into action and reissue the albums as a result, so much the better. Let's hope they also read this month's lead feature, a selection of no fewer than seven long out of print masterpieces that are just crying out for a deluxe reissue – make no mistake, nice though it is to download the mp3s and images of the original artwork, there's no substitute for a beautifully repackaged, remastered re-release. Keep your fingers crossed somebody reading this might take action: it's amazing music. And the same can be said of the other forty-odd releases covered here this month, thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of our expanding list of contributing writers – welcome aboard Larry Kart and Graham Rogers, welcome back Stuart Broomer, Tom Djll and Jean-Michel van Schouwburg. Thanks also to our regulars: Nate Dorward (now dotting the i's and crossing the t's as Editor), Clifford Allen, Vid Jeraj, Richard Pinnell, Nick Rice, Massimo Ricci, and Derek Taylor, and to the others whose work helped to make 2006 our biggest and best year yet – Marcelo Aguirre, David Cotner, Jon Dale, Lawrence English, John Gill, Stephen Griffith, Roy Morris and Jason Kahn. And thanks most of all to everyone who's sent music in for possible review; I say "possible" because, sadly, there's no way we can cover everything we receive (but I don't think we're doing too badly). Bonne année et bonne lecture!-DW

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Barre Phillips
Opus One
also issued as BASSE BARRE (Futura GER) / UNACCOMPANIED BARRE (Music Man)
This is THE first recording of solo bass improvised music, a milestone which still stands tall today. In 1968 Barre Phillips was performing in London when composer Max Schubel asked him to provide a random selection of improvised double-bass material for later use in an electronic composition. Phillips duly went into London’s St. James’ Norlands church and played spontaneously for three hours with no amplification; upon hearing this spirited, bracing music, Schubel promptly abandoned his original plan and issued it as played on his then-new Opus One label. "This music is my inner feelings, gleaned from three hours of letting my head go", Phillips writes on the sleeve. Engineer Bob Woolford (of early Incus and Emanem repute) was also present, and captured the results superbly. The sound of the bass is close, bright, forward, resonant, with a rich bottom end, and is cast against just the right amount of the natural acoustic of the church. The LP, 38 minutes long, comprises two uninterrupted side-long improvisations, played by a young, vigorous Barre Phillips. A man in love with his instrument.
The performance opens with Phillips instantly evoking the full vocabulary of free bass playing, then virtually an unheard world. He begins the performance with tapping, strumming sounds, leading briskly into stinging harmonics (later more associated with Barry Guy), dark growling low notes (later more associated with Peter Kowald), semi-tones, quarter-tones and rich glissandos (more familiar in Xenakis’s work). Around 10 minutes in, the church bells ring twin notes in the distance, and in a flash Phillips wittily incorporates them into his improvisation. He contrasts scratchy, scraping sounds and searing attacks with perfectly classical arco chordal work, dovetailing them seamlessly and throwing himself into the instrument with a sense of joyful abandon rarely heard from him since. Few traces of the man’s jazz background are discernible; instead, the music twists and turns through terrain which did not become more identifiable in European free improvisation until some time later. After the performance has wound down to a tender ending, Phillips carefully places his bass on the floor with a clunk and audibly walks out of the church, leaving the future of bass-playing to deal with the consequences.
In the liner notes to his 1994 solo CD Testimony, bassist William Parker writes, "This music is for ... Barre Phillips who started it all." This is the disc that started it all. A simple masterpiece.–GLR

Marion Brown
Freedom FLP-40140
Following the signing of Anthony Braxton to the then brand-new label Arista in 1975, producer Michael Cuscuna and Arista launched a new jazz series dedicated to the burgeoning free jazz scene. This series, Arista/Freedom, focused mainly on reissues of milestones of the Afro-American avant-garde. The Black Lion/Intercord label kept the same Freedom logo for their issues. The first of these treasures lovingly re-issued by Cuscuna was Albert Ayler's mythical Ghosts (Debut/Fontana, a 1964 recording featuring Sunny Murray, Gary Peacock and Don Cherry). Rechristened Vibrations and given the catalogue number AL1000, this iconic example of the 1960s New Thing was a fittingly symbolic way to launch the new label. The second reissue, Marion Brown's Porto Novo (AL1001), was obviously selected for its rarity and uniqueness. Like many free jazz albums issued by commercial companies (Impulse! being a notable exception), it had met a sad fate on its original release, spending a while stranded in record-shop racks before ending up in the cut-out bins.
The album's five tracks were recorded by André Van De Water at a December 1967 concert in Holland. At that time, a small colony of US improvisers were living in Western Europe, and a collaboration began with European players. Jeanne Lee, Marion Brown, Barre Phillips, Steve McCall and trumpet player Ambrose Jackson performed in a crisscrossing variety of groups in Germany, Holland and Belgium, playing with Willem Breuker, Gunther Hampel, Fred Van Hove, Buschi Niebergall, John McLaughlin, Han Bennink and others (including the guitar hero René Thomas, though that's another story). Fortunately, one of these meetings was produced and issued by the famous Alan Bates: the label read A.B. Productions, and the vinyl and gatefold cover sleeve were made by Polydor International.
Porto Novo is a port town on the west coast of Africa which was a major hub of the international slave trade until the beginning of the 19th century, the departure point from which African prisoners were shipped to Jamaica and other colonies. The slave trade and commercial activities between West Africa, the colonies, and Europe were known as "triangular commerce", which makes it a doubly appropriate title for this trio album. The combination of Brown, bassist Maarten van Regteren Altena and drummer Han Bennink makes this a fantastically energetic group, with Brown's very beautiful tone put under pressure by Bennink's Panzer Division antics. On "Porto Novo", an agitated calypso that is the album's longest track, the giant Dutchman's full-steam-ahead drumming is positively overwhelming.
The album stands as (in my view) the best work on record of this legendary saxophonist. While Brown was never as technically adept as a contemporary like Jimmy Lyons, he nonetheless forged one of the most original and arresting alto sax sounds in free jazz, as distinctive as Ornette Coleman or Trevor Watts. Porto Novo was also a significant waystation for the two Europeans. It was Altena's first recording, and offered one of the first opportunities to hear Han Bennink blossoming from a straight jazz musician into a nonpareil free-jazz drummer. (Only Bennink's explosive New Acoustic Swing Duo with William Breuker (ICP 001) predates this album.) It remains an album to set beside Ornette's 1965 trio recordings (At the Golden Circle, Volumes 1 and 2 on Blue Note and the Croydon concert that was also reissued on Arista/Freedom) and Trevor Watts' first album with Amalgam, Prayer For Peace (Transatlantic), as an example of 1960s free-jazz alto sax at its most sensitive.–JMVS

Tony Oxley
RCA Victor
Having suffered the indignity of English CBS releasing his first two LPs as corporate tax write-offs (The Baptised Traveller in 1969 and 4 Compositions for Sextet the following year), Tony Oxley, then 33, saw his third recording (with almost identical personnel) appear on RCA Victor in 1971. The two CBS discs finally appeared on CD in 1999. Ichnos did not. The three discs share similar line-ups, though The Baptised Traveller did not include trombonist Paul Rutherford, while both CBS discs had Jeff Clyne on bass. On this disc (and the subsequent untitled Incus 8 LP) Barry Guy replaces Clyne. Remarkably, several of these pioneering affiliations continue to this day, nourished by 35-40 year-old musical roots.
The opening track "Crossing" is a brooding, menacing solo percussion tour de force, a fine example of Oxley’s ability to generate musical tension, emphasizing textures by contrasting metal with skin and minimal electronics with acoustic bowed timbres. By 1971 his preferred percussion set-up had evolved into nothing resembling the conventional jazz drum-kit (see photo), and his instantly recognizable sound is heard here at full throttle. The entire sextet explodes into life on the jagged two-note cue which opens "Oryane", and the band spits out a searing collective improvisation with stinging contributions from a very electrified Derek Bailey, an uncommonly fierce Kenny Wheeler, a wryly stalking Paul Rutherford, and a raging Evan Parker on tenor, all hovering over the rattling of skeletons from Barry Guy’s bass and the thunder of Oxley’s percussion. This is a magnificent, if brief, piece on a par with the finest moments of Ode or The Topography of the Lungs. Trumpet and bass drop out for two "Quartets", which are improvised over minimal structures. Spaces are wider, sounds more carefully placed, and the players breathe as one (a different version of "Eiroc" by the same line-up, perhaps recorded at this session, appeared on Incus 8). The concluding "Cadilla" again features the full sextet, and sounds compellingly like "Iskra 1903 and Friends", with Rutherford mischievously on the prowl and Guy very much taking the lead in the six-way cut and thrust. His replacement of Clyne from the earlier CBS discs contributes tellingly to the gravitas of both sextet pieces on this record. This is powerful work from a time and place when free improvisation was in its youth and talented musicians with uncluttered heads took risks and disregarded rules, creating the spontaneous, imaginative music which came to define the genre.–GLR

Roscoe Mitchell
Inaugurating the long high summer of Roscoe Mitchell's career, the music on the 1977 two-LP set Nonaah (Nessa) consists of a 31-minute solo concert performance of the title piece, two duets (one with Anthony Braxton, the other with Malachi Favors), a trio piece with Muhal Richard Abrams and George Lewis, two more Mitchell solo pieces (one a concert performance, the other a studio recording), and a 17-and-a-half-minute setting of the title piece for four alto saxophonists (Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Joseph Jarman, and Wallace McMillan). There is nothing here that is less than excellent, but the two versions of the title piece are masterworks. The solo "Nonaah" found Mitchell in front of an initially antagonistic Swiss audience that had arrived to hear Braxton and was angry to learn that he had cancelled on short notice. Insisting on fierce restatements of the angular "Nonaah" theme, with eventual slight permutations, for roughly five minutes ("the music couldn't move until [the audience] respected me," Mitchell has said), the challenged soloist, no doubt somewhat angry himself, then places clearly contrasting sections of improvisation edge to edge, each phrase virtually welded in place with his paradoxical blend of explosiveness and objectivity, until we are left with one of the most imposing musical ziggurats that Mitchell or anyone else has ever created. The four-alto "Nonaah" is in three movements – a rapid "cranky vamp machine" (in the words of annotator Terry Martin) that at first seems only to repeat itself but soon can be heard to generate typically fierce, gear-grinding variants; a gorgeously longlined, sotto voce slow movement that one thinks of as fourth-dimensional Ellington (it's as though each timbral strand of Paul Gonsalves' sound were being separated and rearranged with the aid of an electron microscope); and then a whirling, "angular, spacy mobile" in which each player is relatively free to work personal variations on the material within what they, and we, now understand to be, in Mitchell's words, "the 'Nonaah' ... world or atmosphere." Here in the final movement, after a while and without too much effort, one can distinguish each player – Mitchell and Threadgill's roles are especially evident – while the fact of so much exuberant release being at once stimulated and contained/compressed by the total course of the piece is a hallmark of Mitchell's art at its peak.–LK

Those who've only heard more recent Bill Laswell may be forgiven an impulse to pass over this one in the used bins, but don't mistake Memory Serves for the kind of avant-world-freedub that boils albums like Sacred System: Nagual Site into overspiced soup. 1981's Memory Serves stands alone in not only Laswell's output but pretty much head and shoulders above the entire output of the Downtown scene of the early 1980's. (Take that, MacArthur Zorn!) Taken as a whole, Memory Serves is a unique realization of collective composition, an approach that brings forth perfectly apposite improvisations. This heightened interactivity is due to the collaborative talents of everybody on it – taking in a decent cross-section of Downtowners and AACMers – but the thrilling thing about this album is its damned coherence; it feeds off the diversity and pyrotechnics of the assembled talent while avoiding the pitfalls of grandstanding and competitiveness that mar other "supergroup" one-shots. Give due credit to the core of the band, Laswell / Beinhorn and producer Martin Bisi. Perhaps if this line-up had cranked out a half-dozen more albums, we'd have gotten used to / tired of the dazzle, or perhaps the lustre would've faded into routine, as it so often does. But there's just this one document, and as the years recede its brilliant surfaces shine ever more sparklingly.
Henry Threadgill's laughing, shouting entrance in "Disappearing" kicks the record into high gear. Laswell and Maher really Take Care of Business here. The rideout section floats on a faster, pointillistic groove as Maher's fantastic fills and Olu Dara's wackadoo cornet do the disappearing trick. Laswell's froggy bass gives Dara plenty of backtalk with which to parley. In "Upriver" Sharrock and violinist Billy Bang speak in more drawling tongues, humorously recycling Delta blues tropes. (Fans of Sharrock-shred may be disappointed: he's pretty well boxed in on this album; moreover, there are no extended solos.) "Unauthorized": Bang and Threadgill, then Ronald Reagan solos! I salute what you've done for America ... in your work, you build. "Square Dance" provides a good chance to hear Beinhorn's tapes go up against Sharrock and Fred Frith's scorching guitars in a totentanz with Threadgill and Lewis's yelping horns. Frith does his best to push "Metal Test" and "Square Dance" into bleaker Massacre territory with blackboard-scratch violin and a guitar solo in the former that blows the chilly breath of death. On the merciless "Square Dance," he hacks away with a Sharrocking edge with terminal tremolo while horns and tapes gate in and out: little crashing pills of stereo-oids.
The opening (title) track doesn't pack the punch of the rest of the pieces, and his brings us to the album's main weakness: its songs. Lyrics are cut from rather pedestrian "1984" cloth, nerdily bemoaning the desolation and alienation of modern living. These are drearily hammered into the ear by Michael Beinhorn's "singing", which seems a distraction at best, adolescent depressive-wallowing at worst. "Silent Land" fares the best of the three vocal tracks, with Beinhorn taking a falsetto range with overdubbed whispers (and he's back in the mix, which sounds like one of those dripping Tarkovsky cellars, here inhabited by C. K. Noyes' sparse-tic percussion) while Lewis overdubs himself in a mournful chorale. So, ignore the vocals – the rest of Memory Serves is raucous, noisy fun, taking no prisoners. A reissue would serve its memory well.

Gil Mellé
As braggarts go, Gil Mellé was a master. A short list of his self-proclaimed exploits is enumerated in the liners to his Complete Blue Note Fifties Sessions, a seminal collection of his early work now also sadly out of print. They range from the concrete (first Caucasian signed to Blue Note as a leader) to the fanciful (instigator of virtually every innovation in electronic music). Whatever the magnitude of Mellé's ego, he certainly left behind some interesting albums, and the mysteriously titled Tome VI (1968) is one of them, a weird mélange of electronic and acoustic elements that was among the first of its kind in jazz (or the first, by Mellé's measure). Operating under the futuristic sobriquet of The Electronauts, sidemen Forest Westbrook, Benfaral Matthews and Fred Stofflet provide a strong jazz grounding for the leader's explorations on electronic sax and an array of specially designed sound generators. A diaphanous, dream-like quality distinguishes the modal "Blue Quasar", as Mellé's echo-saturated soprano lines snake across a standard rhythm section vamp before the track moves into a dissonant conversation between scribbling strings, gurgling synthetic arpeggios, and cascading drums and piano. "Jog Falls Spinning Song" echoes Indian music in its aggressive cyclic rhythms, metallic string strumming and spiraling soprano patterns, though Mellé's aqueous electronics take centre stage. The other pieces aren't as interesting, and the album's eccentricity means that it's probably very low priority for Verve's reissue program. A shame, as the music certainly stands out in a catalogue better known for mainstream bop and swing.–DT [Since this review went to press the album has been reissued! Hooray! Shows our man Taylor was barking up the right tree! Woof woof! –DW]

John Benson Brooks Trio
Composer and pianist John Benson Brooks is an almost invisible figure in jazz history. In the 1940s he composed pop songs ("You've Come a Long Way from St Louis" might be the most famous) and associated with Gil Evans and others at the "birth of the cool." The connections endured. Evans later recorded Brooks' "Where Flamingos Fly," while in a 1971 memoir Gerry Mulligan described him as "our dreamer of impossible dreams." Brooks made three LPs between 1956 and 1968. Of the three, only Alabama Concerto, recorded for Riverside in 1958, has appeared on CD. It's his masterpiece, a unique balance of baroque form, folk melodies (Brooks was employed transcribing Harold Courlander's voluminous southern field recordings), and jazz execution. Likely because of the band – a quartet of Cannonball Adderley, Art Farmer, Milt Hinton, and Barry Galbraith – and its provenance – Riverside then Fantasy and the Original Jazz Classics line – it's still available, but you'll find it under Adderley's name, not Brooks' (OJCCD-1779-2).
That interest in folk music was already apparent in Brooks' 1956 effort on the Vik label. Folk Jazz U.S.A. has his arrangements of American folk songs famous and obscure played by a band that includes his own piano, Galbraith's guitar and Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, the famous saxophone tandem putting aside their usual tenors for alto and baritone respectively. It's apparent that Brooks was fascinated with stretching jazz in the direction of populist roots and classical form, but he was actually fascinated with stretching jazz in almost any direction, including a 1961 electronic piece called "Bird meets Cage." In 1959 he formed the John Benson Brooks Trio, a free jazz group interested in twelve-tone rows and chance procedures, with poet Howard Hart on drums and jazz critic Don Heckman on alto. I recall reading a Down Beat review of a 1962 performance and wishing I could hear them play. It turns out that was the group's only performance, it lasted 20 minutes, and it did make it to record when I wasn't paying attention.
At some point Brooks played the concert tape for Milt Gabler along with a collage tape called "D.J.-ology." According to John Clellon Holmes' liner note, Gabler had the idea of mixing the two tapes together: the free jazz concert was thus spliced around a tape that includes spoken word excerpts (snatches of poems by Ferlinghetti, Sandburg and LeRoi Jones), civil rights marches, folk songs, and passages from Lightnin' Hopkins and Sammy Davis Jr. Thus a 20-minute concert was conflated into a 44-minute LP. Avant Slant – subtitled "(one Plus 1=II?): A Twelve Tone Collage Catalyzed by Milt Gabler from Two Ideas by John Benson Brooks" – came out in 1968 with a garish psychedelic cover and lettering that makes Brooks' name hard to spot. It's strange indeed, as was so much in that period; what other year might Decca put out a CD by an obscure free jazz pioneer?
I wish I could say Avant Slant is a great record, for Brooks certainly deserved it to be. Unfortunately it isn't. I suspect the two Brooks tapes could have resulted in a consistently arresting work, but thrown in for good measure are some noxious cabaret songs – words by Gabler, music by Brooks – and some actor-performed dialogue that isn't nearly as witty as someone must have once thought it. Despite four engineers and Gabler's editing supervision, the treatment of the material is often simply linear and consecutive. It never interacts, the way it might have if it were layered, but then again, the sequential presentation leaves the original music virtually intact. The Brooks trio plays spiky music in its own compound terrain, with Heckman's intensely vocal alto, Hart's cymbal sizzles, and Brooks' abstract piano managing an intersection of free jazz and serialism. If the music has an apparent weakness in this form, it's that the marked avoidance of triadic suggestion sometimes results in a kind of stasis. And, too, there's a sense that the trio's performance is consecutive, a series of episodes rather than fully interactive dialogue.
The cumulative effect of the complete package is so discordant that you have to learn to listen to it, imagining that some parts are in an unknown foreign language to avoid embarrassment (one of Gabler's songs is called "Love Is Psychedelic"), but it's an opportunity to hear an otherwise unavailable early episode of genuinely liberated free jazz that somehow manages to survive the multiple layers of context. Even on the original release, Holmes suggests that listeners might try to retrieve the improvisations: "The Twelves" (as Brooks calls these works) "are intensely fascinating and twelve-tone aficionados will want to tape them in sequence off this record so that they can hear the original twenty-minute concert as it was presented in Washington." If Avant Slant is ever reissued on CD, the concert might be reconstructed as a bonus track.–SB

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On Clean Feed
John Butcher & Paal Nilssen-Love
Heavyweight combinations usually don't come as counter-intuitive as the one on Concentric. Butcher's made a career out of mining microtones, speaking in alien saxophone tongues that pierce the boundaries of audibility. His early ties to free jazz forms have largely fallen away and any outstanding debts to Evan Parker have long since been paid in full. Twenty years his junior, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love is most renowned for his muscleman persona, propelling energy jazz outfits like The Thing and Free Music Ensemble. This set finds each man bending his style in the other's direction without compromising those core features that set them apart. Just as Butcher can still burn ears with furnace-hot reed blasts, Nilssen-Love is capable of abstract percussive patterns that subvert metric codification. At first, it seems as if the drummer is making most of the concessions, trading power for texture and speed for colour to complement the saxophonist. But Butcher is equally willing to find common ground, even going so far as to flirt with melody and conventional form during segments of "Mono Lake" and the mammoth "Stob". The disc's most extraordinary moment of union comes when they match pitch ranges on "Point Lobos," with Butcher making use of his patented harmonics and split tones and Nilssen-Love contributing metallic bowing and scraping. Their respective fan bases will be reassured, meanwhile, by passages on the disk marked by Butcher's characteristic reed pops and avian flutters and Nilssen-Love's stentorian beats. The results are a highly enjoyable album by two of the most original and flexible players on the current free music scene.–DT

BassDrumBone was among the more unique ensembles of post-Loft Era New York: a trombone-and-rhythm freebop unit that featured the youthful talents of bassist Mark Helias, drummer Gerry Hemingway and trombonist Ray Anderson. Rhythmically this was a very pliant group, each point of the trio providing equal muscle and swing. The group’s most productive decade was the 1980s, when they waxed a few sides for Black Saint and Soul Note; after that, its members soon went in other directions, though they reunited a few times in the 1990s. But the seeds sown in BassDrumBone informed groups like Mark Helias’s post-Newk trio Open Loose and Hemingway’s quintet with trombonist Wolter Wierbos. Now, three decades after its formation, BassDrumBone has returned with The Line Up, an affirmation of the group’s unabated strength.
What separated BassDrumBone from their brethren was a healthy dose of humour (i.e., “fun”) amid the R&B grit and free sprawl. “Rallier,” the final cut on The Line Up, is a prime example of the group’s approach: a mass of slushy tailgate atop a bouncy uptempo walk, wandering through a sped-up Monky wonderland before Hemingway rushes the tempo to breakneck and Anderson dives into metallic wah-wah and auto-dialogue reminiscent of Paul Rutherford. This isn’t to say Anderson is a scene-stealer, for cooperation is always evident. Hemingway consistently ratchets tempos upward, tightening and loosening the rhythmic density in response to every brassy gargle and Dixieland burr, while Helias holds down the bottom-end in consistently creative fashion. “Insistent” yanks the Haden-Higgins funk out of Ornette’s “Ramblin’” and slaps manic trombone vocalizations on the top, with Anderson sounding like Mangelsdorff after he’s been hanging around with Bennink for too long. Helias and Hemingway take brief spotlights before the Bob Wills-via-Brooklyn head returns. Anderson paints a grimy blues soliloquy at the outset of “Rainbow” over arco bass and percussive rustle, bringing to mind the 1966 Roswell Rudd version of Bill Harris’s “Everywhere” for Impulse. But the bright mid-tempo section, marked by Anderson’s lively vocalizations, scuttles any preceding darkness. The Line Up reaffirms the importance and continued power of this trio: it’s good to have them “back”, even if they never were quite gone.

Roswell Rudd / Mark Dresser
It's interesting how recognisable trombonists often are. Paul Rutherford: feline and agile; Gail Brand: plush and cuddly; Johannes Bauer: dry, lean and mean. There's always been a raw, gritty edge to Roswell Rudd's playing, something about the way he attacks notes, most evident of course when he's blasting at full volume – I'll never forget the first time I heard him rip up the JCOA on "Communication #10" – but still discernible in the more tender passages. It's like kissing someone with a beard; nice but it stings afterwards. On Airwalkers (yep, I'll keep you posted about the forthcoming legal battle with Nike) he's joined by the perenially impressive Mark Dresser on bass in nine highly enjoyable if not exactly earth-shattering duets. Worth a listen though, as there aren't many trombone and bass albums out there. Offhand I recall a couple by Radu Malfatti and Harry Miller, Bracknell Breakdown on Ogun and Zwecknagel on FMP, and Dominic Duval recorded a fine set of pieces with Steve Swell as part of his Rules Of Engagement project on Drimala, but I don't think that ever appeared (now Drimala has disappeared too, it seems). And of course there's Dresser's 2003 outing on CIMP with Ray Anderson, Nine Songs Together. But where that album was intense and exploratory, Airwalkers is more relaxed and friendly. The Raz Mesinai studio wizardry that helped make Dresser's recent Clean Feed solo Unveil so impressive isn't necessary, but there's still plenty to marvel at technically. On "Pregnant Pauses" he's a one-man viol consort, and on "Roz MD" he swings the music forward economically and cunningly – you know just where that beat is, you don't need to hear it every time.–DW

Lisbon Improvisation Players
In the early stages of Clean Feed's existence, listeners were treated to a number of world-class Portuguese improvisers – Bernardo Sassetti, Mario Delgado, Rodrigo Amado, Carlos Barretto – who weren't being recorded anywhere else at the time. Though Clean Feed's roster has since become more international in focus, showcasing American talent as well as various European players, the label is helping to keep some of the new Portuguese groups visible.
The Lisbon Improvisation Players (LIP), primarily featuring saxophonist Rodrigo Amado and drummer Bruno Pedroso, is one of the more active groups on the Lisbon scene, and it's notable for often bringing together Portuguese and American improvisers. The latest installment, Spiritualized, features Amado, Pedroso, bassist Pedro Gonçalves, the American trumpeter Dennis González, and (on two tracks) cellist Ulrich Mitzlaff. All three of the LIP's releases so far share a remarkably unified aesthetic: despite being freely improvised, the music's changes of direction are so strongly delineated and its moments of unity so directly nailed that the pieces are almost tuneful. Though elsewhere Amado has engaged with the more austere end of European improvisation – in a trio with Ken Filiano and Carlos Zingaro (The Space Between, also on Clean Feed) – the LIP gravitates more frequently towards loosely-swinging free-bop.
The disc starts with "Tensegrity," which builds from a buoyant conversation between Gonzalez's brassy poise and Amado's husky baritone towards a collective processional. González repeats and abstracts a reveille, while Amado in turn digs in his heels as a subtle, fractured funk solidifies behind and around his earthy fluidity. A brief opening in the trio's thrum allows González a way in with what is now an elegant classicism, buoyant and soulful as Gonçalves and Pedroso steamroll forward and fall away. There are moments of skitter and skronk – the raw blats from the horns that sound over seasick bass/cello scrabble on "Meeting of our Times" – but what really sets the LIP apart from their free-improvising peers is an attention to swing and (dare I say it?) soul.

Rodrigo Amado / Kent Kessler / Paal Nilssen-Love
European Echoes
Teatro represents the champagne bottle shattered against the bow of the new European Echoes label, itself an offshoot of the prolific Clean Feed imprint. The disc teams Portuguese reed prodigy Rodrigo Amado with a rhythm section drawn from the now well-established Chicago-Scandinavia jazz nexus. Bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love are old allies, having most recently served as two-thirds of the furnace crew for the Brötzmann Tentet. Working on tenor and baritone, Amado superficially recalls Ken Vandermark in his highly rhythmic attack and tendency to shuttle between aggression and rumination, though on the whole he's a stronger improviser. The disc offers two lengthy improvisations followed by two shorter ones; the bassist and drummer cycle through complex grooves (both implied and explicit), and Amado surfs the constantly morphing metrics without missing a beat. If there's a problem with this live set, it's that the group doesn't do enough to distinguish themselves from countless other sax-led free jazz trios, a problem particularly apparent on the longer pieces where the trio moves predictably from loud to soft, dense to spacious, and so on. The bubbly on pour here has got plenty of fizz, to be sure, but it's still lacking in distinctive flavour.–DT

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Walter & Sabrina Group

Danny Dark Records
The 45 tracks on this extraordinarily (ridiculously?) ambitious triple album are performed by the Walter & Sabrina Group, a six-piece band featuring Walter Cardew (voice, various instruments), Matthew Dungey (voice, keyboards, oboe), Mette Bille (mezzo soprano), Nima Gousheh (voice, guitar, santur, Persian translation), Dave Baby (Jew's harp, swanee whistle, kazoo, clap) and Celia Lu (soprano and Mandarin translation), augmented where necessary by members of a 14-strong instrumental ensemble. Walter & Sabrina Group was the brainchild of Cardew and Stephen Moore (who writes most of the extraordinary lyrics) and was formed back in the early 90s when Cardew was studying for a Master of Music degree at Goldsmiths College. The members of the group, with the exception of Dave Baby, were Cardew's fellow students.
Just in case you were wondering, Walter is the son of the late Cornelius Cardew, but "any influence he had on me has taken unexpected forms," he explains. "I played with him in the Progressive Cultural Association band in the year before he died. And although I came to realise that the politics of that movement were abhorrent I think it is from that music that I derived the strongest influence. It always surprises me now how similar Walter & Sabrina lyrics are in style to those political songs (although I don't actually write our lyrics – Stephen does)." Cardew came to music "through jazz and pop rather than classical music (which came later), playing various instruments but mainly drums. Cornelius of course encouraged our musical involvement and would sit at a table on a visit and make a more or less instant transcription of our latest favourite jazz tune, and arrange it for sax (played by my brother Horace) and trombone (me), with transposed parts. We used to spend holidays in Cornwall with my grandfather, uncle and cousins, and musical evenings there would range from arrangements of Frescobaldi to Louis Armstrong via 'Colonel Bogey'." Though his first "big loves" were jazz drummers – "Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones – Cornelius used to take us to see them close up at Ronnie Scott's (I looked older than I was)" Cardew eventually developed an interest in rock and soul. In the late 80s he played for a while with The Pasadenas, but left the group to study composition at Goldsmiths, where he started working with Moore on "some very rough and ready recordings, often using home-made instruments. This eventually became Walter & Sabrina and we produced our first album in 1995. Stephen came from an arty/rocky background and turned me on to tons of stuff from Howlin' Wolf to Throbbing Gristle."
By way of putting the Cornelius connection to one side so we can concentrate on the album at hand, it's worth quoting briefly from the huge, sprawling essay cum prose poem cum autobiography cum manifesto that accompanies The Dark Album's 173 minutes of "hymns of hate [..] bedded in songs designed for others to sing": "Forever overshadowed by pseudo famous Father, who died, run down on snowy hump outside Leyton station, before became even less respectable and successful. A grimy supermarket carrier bag knocked from his hands, skid on ice into the gutter."
Cheery stuff, eh? And the opening "Archaeology Part 1" sets the scene nicely: "And it's all dead all dead – everything you see / Everything you hear and eat / Everything you touch just seems to rust / Useless useless, everything useless, never a thing / that you can smell / That doesn't reek of death.." And so on. But behind the verbose Oedipus Schmoedipus noir rhetoric of both text and lyrics, all pain, porn and self-doubt projected out into poisonous guilt trips, this is an oddly attractive if often user-unfriendly collection of "heightened, expressionistic folk" songs. Several of them – "Archaeology", "Mr Pain", "Self Harm" and "Susan Cure" – come in pairs, with one version featuring the text intoned over the instrumental ensemble by Cardew, spitting out Moore's tough spiky lyrics with Cockney venom (Alternative TV's Mark Perry inevitably comes to mind, and a passing reference to "Sniffing Glue" – Perry's legendary punk fanzine, though that was spelt "Sniffin'" – would seem to indicate they're aware of the reference), and the alternative take setting the words to elaborate angular melodic lines. If this album had come out a quarter of a century ago it would probably have been released on Chris Cutler's Recommended Records – it's sort of Art Bears meets 1930s Paul Hindemith with strategic doses of The Residents and Trout Mask Replica thrown in for good measure. Drop the needle (as it were) just about anywhere and you'd be hard pressed to find any of the trappings of 21st Century New Music – there's no laptop drizzle, no sleek post-techno glitch, no dreary New Weird folk noodling, no stoner metal. Or any kind of metal. God knows how a track from it ended up on a Wire Tapper compilation. Instead there's a strange, colourful array of acoustic instruments, mostly traditional / classical, in a set of arrangements that wouldn't sound all that out of place on an early Mothers of Invention album. Primitive – but effective – electronics sit side by side with carefully scored charts, gnarly Zoot Horn Rollo guitar and odd twangs of harpsichords and Jew's Harp. And Cardew's tortured declamations, whose matter-of-fact narration contrasts brutally with the sadomasochistic viciousness of the texts. He reads "I watched someone being brutalised" as if he was discussing the football results in the taproom of a pub on the Isle of Dogs.
For all its charms (sorry, even if I'm not supposed to enjoy it – "it is SuperNormal, relentlessly, boringly, tragically, pretentiously dull" – but I do!), the ear begins to tire by disc three of the set, which is a shame as there are some scorching live versions of songs heard earlier. One wonders whether two discs might have sufficed. But then again, the full power of Moore's bleak vision – forget Neil Hannon, this is the Divine Comedy – is perhaps best appreciated if you grasp the nettle and OD on the whole package.

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Francisco López
Z'ev/Francisco López
Francisco López/Ilios
Francisco López
Z'ev's "Buzzin' Fly" is dedicated to Tim Buckley, but there's not a single sound in there you could associate with Lorca. It's the perfect soundtrack to today's weather: black and grey, wind and rain, headphones full of thunderous slams and cavernous echoes, electronically manipulated into a complex if indeterminable tissue of menace. The third and the fourth movements are the most intriguing, as Z'ev reconfigures his world of suffering through repeated trips to the purgatory of treated percussion. Don't lower your guard even for a split second, in case you're mentally challenged – suffocated, rather – by outbursts of malevolent droney bubbles and sparkles. It's intense, involving stuff not for the fainthearted, like the urgent need to awake from a very bad dream.
"Dormant Spores" also starts with thuds and rumbles, but within two minutes we're in typical López territory, ears shaken by glacial low-frequency subsonic wind like the slow breath of a giant whale a dozen octaves below. This soon becomes an eye of the storm / natural catastrophe recorded 10,000 feet underground inside a sealed coffin surrounded by a cybernetically generated dam-burst. It's a gorgeous moment that tops the whole disc as far as vehemently intangible emotions are concerned, until it stops abruptly to plunge us back into a distant percussive reverberant fog, before a tip of the hat to Z'ev himself in the form of "industrial" clang and clatter.
Ilios and López recorded the sounds of a monastery in the Greek mountains, and then created a fantastic album consisting of two separate versions of the same basic material. Ilios starts with the tranquillity of the monastery garden, followed by an overpowering rainstorm, the lonely sound of manual work and the ever-present sea (it could also be the wind, or both). Footsteps. A hiss. A hammering. More footsteps. Chirping birds and, finally, a compelling subsonic embrace lifts the whole piece up until it becomes a debilitating skull massage. I imagine I can hear a mourning chant from the sea, but no, it's just another aural illusion. Sizzling distortion is added to this intimidating wall of sound – there's no shelter in sight – and it morphs into jet-propelled sensory deprivation, until all that remains is the numbing drone of a motor. Frequencies beat, slow down, someone coughs, everything stops.
López begins with a short segment of looping ghostly harmonics, then immediately puts his assembling skills to work, catching repetition where it's not normally found, juxtaposing birds, insects and environmental forces in alluring traps for our brain to fall into, a peculiar beauty revealing itself to be a hideous yet fascinating being feeding on synthetic oscillations and bad instincts. Peace is restored for a few interminable moments, until another terrifying blast of metallic frequencies comes back to hunt out those who managed to escape the first time. It's the most potent section of the piece, an imposing spatial geometry in constant flux throwing us right back into the strong arms of Nature with a spectacular studio / field recording crossfade. A final murmur; the sea is beckoning me in. If this is "silence", you have no ears.
Untitled (2005) brings together four more excellent pieces. "Untitled #177" was created with sounds recorded "in Bangkok by building transmissions". It's ferociously stomach-gripping, choking our calmness by alternating surrounding peril and more distant, sparsely contoured timbral shades that recall John Duncan. "Untitled #178", recorded in Amazonia "during the dry season of 2005", begins surprisingly enough with violent rain and thunder immediately pierced by extreme high frequencies. Cut to a nocturnal environment, crickets and birds making us feel like unwanted guests in a perfect biosystem. López's electronics provide a haunting background until everything fades to black (or does it?) before a conclusive, splendid entomological choir. "Untitled #111 (for Jani Christou)" is a live recording of the piece's premiere at Berlin Podewil by Zeitkratzer: it’s an impressive roar of masterfully controlled drones, disciplined percussion, pregnant friction and barely repressed energy that makes the composition sound like Hermann Nitsch on steroids. Great stuff. "Untitled #183" features yet another helping of environmental recording, this time from Quebec. Insects are prominent, with a few "megabuzz" soloists approaching the mics, but the overall sensation is once more of a penetrating spiritual wholeness: pouring rain is a symbolic purification from the illusory significance and useless words that only the stupidity of men, the self-proclaimed "most evolved beings", could define as "truth". Then, like all the things they fail to understand (which is more or less everything), they destroy.–MR

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Akira Rabelais / Stephan Mathieu
quien era aquella
I see from the Conv website that this limited edition DVD-R (100 copies) has already sold out, but a little footnote at the bottom of the screen informs us that some copies may still available from the label's distributors. It might be hard to hunt it down, but it's worth the effort. Mathieu handles the music, a slow pan across a beautiful landscape of sustained tones and subtly shifting harmonies. But Akira Rabelais' video is anything but a slow pan: it presents a magic lantern show of some 30,000 images (that's based on my own rough estimate of ten a second; sometimes there seem to be more, and occasionally the slideshow stops temporarily on a shot of what appears to be the surface of the sun). Remember that bit in Yellow Submarine just before they blast off for Pepperland when all those images come thick and fast? Well it's like that – for 49 minutes. Images of almost everything you can think of flash by at breakneck speed: holiday photos, plates of food, film posters, architectural details, lichens and fungi, pottery, paintings by just about anybody from Brueghel to Pollock via Vermeer Turner Monet Renoir Picasso and contact sheets high school yearbooks softporn centrefolds all tits and ass and smiles for the camera stills from Hollywood movies all flashing by at breakneck speed so fast you don't immediately realise that some of the images appear several times like the girl wearing a teeshirt with the words fuck subtlety written across not to mention Sydney Harbour Bridge the Grand Canyon and all the pubs mosques cathedrals interiors exteriors whisky bottles pistols rifles and butterflies. You won't even have time to blink. Not to everyone's taste perhaps (Frans de Waard was decidedly lukewarm over at Vital Weekly), but certainly to mine. Hope you manage to track down a copy.–DW

Oliver Augst / Rüdiger Carl / Christoph Korn
Revolver /Textxtnd
Think turntables and you probably think DJ battles, breaks 'n' beat 'n' baseball caps, noise, sweat. Or, if you're from the new music crowd, cats like Otomo thrashing his Technics to death with a crash cymbal. Not three young to middle-aged guys in neat white shirts and black jackets (all that's missing are the ties and shades and it's Reservoir Dogs) in a squeaky clean modern office building in downtown Frankfurt, idly twiddling faders and knobs, performing to nobody at all except themselves. It's the total antithesis of just about everything turntablism – and all live improvised music for that matter – is normally associated with: there's no interaction with the public (because there's no public), no interaction with the viewer (no information on the disc except for the bald credits scrolling up at the end to inform you that this is the work of Oliver Augst, Rüdiger Carl, and Christoph Korn, aka Blank, filmed by Martin Kreyssin) and no visible expenditure of physical energy on the part of the musicians (Rüdiger Carl spends several tracks slouched in a sofa, nonchalantly flicking switches as if he was brushing a crumb off his sleeve). Just 17 short tracks featuring the three musicians playing with their locked groove LP Duden. The music itself isn't exactly appetising, and the sound is dry and claustrophobic – the signals from the three decks are routed directly into a laptop (visible in certain tracks) and nothing else: we can see the musicians chatting to each other while they play, but can't hear what they're saying. At times one wonders if they can hear what they're playing themselves, as there's very little interaction as such between them; each man pursues his own agenda with curious, stubborn detachment. It's not devoid of humour – on one track they amuse themselves by slowing down the discs with the tips of their noses, and on the final cut Carl gets up to do what looks like tai chi and Korn stands on one leg, balancing his turntable precariously on one hand. But the cumulative effect of the entire disc is oddly cold and as impersonal as the faceless glass skyscrapers of High Capitalism that are as much a part of the project as the music; we might as well be watching three businessmen reading the Wall Street Journal. The fact that it comes in a fabulously produced LP-sized gatefold sleeve designed by Günter Förg and Tobias Rehberger is further confirmation that this a highly collectable art object, beautifully produced and packaged, elegant, colourful and ultimately useless.–DW

John Cage
ONE11 AND 103
In 1992, John Cage declined several invitations to attend celebrations marking his 80th birthday in order to devote himself to the completion of One11, the eleventh work for solo performer (hence the title) in the series of Number Pieces that occupied him during the five last years of his life. The performer in this case was a solo cameraman – Van Carlson – and Cage's ambitious project was nothing less than a full-length film (90 minutes) with no characters and no plot, directed by Henning Lohner and accompanied (or not as the case may be) by the orchestral work 103, which dates from September 1991. It's quite simply one of Cage's great works, and one of the most complex and time-consuming to realise, though as usual the basic idea was remarkably simple: use I-Ching generated chance procedures to determine the placement, angle of projection and intensity of 168 lights in an empty television studio and provide the solo cameraman with a similarly calculated score defining camera movements (a similar chance-generated working plan was subsequently devised for the editing of the film that took place in New York after the film had been shot in Germany in April 1992). The film consists of 17 scenes, each of which is further divided into takes, and Cage's idea was to dispense with editing as far as possible; amazingly only 600m of film were not used, and were duly pillaged to provide the visual backdrop to the opening credits. Andrew Culver programmed the composer's calculations into a computer which controlled the lighting changes – some 1200 of them, each featuring up to twenty different lights – and the full resources of the studio in Fernseh Studio Munchen were put at Cage's disposal.
Shot entirely in 35mm black and white, One11 consists of predominantly slow pans across the blank wall of the studio, illuminated by soft oval patches of light of varying intensity that drift across the screen like clouds. It's a remarkably beautiful experience in conjunction with the rich sustained chords and occasional spiky twangs of 103, two versions of which are included on the disc as alternative soundtracks, one performed by the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln conducted by Arturo Tamayo, the other by the Spoleto Festival Orchestra conducted by John Kennedy. The disc also includes two documentaries on the creation of the film, including insightful explanations by the people involved and some choice quotations from Cage himself. When asked why he'd finally decided to venture into film, he answers: "if I get an opportunity to do something, I jump at it instead of hesitating. Because there isn't much time left." And, later: "In this day of violence, overpopulation, war and economic collapse, it gives us something to enjoy." It does indeed.

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Iskra 1903 (Paul Rutherford, Barry Guy, Philipp Wachsmann)
Emanem (3 CDs)
That gasping sound you hear is a reviewer coming up for air after prolonged submersion. There's no way to listen to this one except repeatedly, indeed obsessively: if one's first reaction to this astonishing 222-minute trove of unreleased material is that it's simply way too much to digest, the second reaction once you start sampling it is that it's almost seductively easy to get plugged into it. The highly focussed documentation four of the six dates compiled here were recorded inside a single packed week in December 1983 encourages such obsessiveness, offering one of the finest opportunities for compare-and-contrast sonic archeology since Leo's series of double-CD sets from Braxton's 1985 tour.
In its two different incarnations, Iskra 1903 represents trombonist Paul Rutherford's finest work as a leader (as opposed to his equally seminal recordings as a solo performer, notably the 1974 opus The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie). The original group (1970-73), featuring guitarist Derek Bailey and bassist Barry Guy, was perhaps the earliest sustained example of a drummerless free-improv group, even if it wasn't quite unprecedented (in fact, all three musicians had been in an early, drummerless incarnation of Trevor Watts' Amalgam which apparently went unrecorded). The group's name alludes to the revolutionary newspaper edited by Lenin ("iskra" is Russian for "spark"), while the number is Rutherford's personal shorthand: 19 = "twentieth-century music", 03 = "for trio". The Rutherford/Bailey/Guy Iskra 1903 released a self-titled double LP on Incus and were one of the three groups represented on the Deutsche Grammophon Free Improvisation triple LP. In 2000 Emanem released Chapter One, a three-CD set that augmented the Incus LP with a pile of unreleased material, and the following year dug up a further CD of unreleased material, Buzz Soundtrack; the DG recording, meanwhile, remains unfortunately out of print. The music on the existing recordings changes markedly in character from session to session - from the calm beauty of the 1970 studio piece "Improvisation 0" to the aggressive buzz of activity on the 1972 live recordings from Germany - but is characterized by the tug between Rutherford's endlessly furling/unfurling ribbons of melody and Bailey and Guy's spiky contributions, which downplay determinate pitching in favour of sound-as-shape (ranging from amorphous sonic blobs to stiletto-thin plings) and extremes of duration, velocity and attack.
So much for Chapter One. The group lay fallow for a few years before Rutherford revived it in a new form, with violinist Philipp Wachsmann replacing Bailey. This trio lasted from roughly 1977 to 1995, and until now the only documentation was from near the end of its lifespan, on Frankfurt 1991 on Emanem and a self-titled album on Maya (1992), as well as some appearances on London Jazz Composers Orchestra albums as momentary subsets of the larger group. (LJCO had a symbiotic i.e. two-way relationship with the longstanding groups enfolded within its lineup, such as Iskra 1903 and the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio; Chapters One and Two both include pieces recorded at concerts of small-group LJCO subsets.) Chapter Two at last fills in the two-decade gap in the extant documentation with a 1981 performance (the LJCO sub-group date), a March 1983 date which features Evan Parker sitting in for one track, and the series of concerts from December 1983. All but one of the recordings are by Wachsmann, and the sound is consistently good across the set - a pleasant change from archival recordings that sound, well, archival.
This is slippery music, with a marvellous "how did we get here from there?" quality. Improvisations typically start with the kind of chain-reaction density of event that is a trademark of UK improv momentary provocations and rejoinders shooting off like sparks from a flintstone. But the players are also masters at sifting a mass of ideas down (when they so choose) to something worth exploring at length, and it's usually not long until some temporary oasis or sturdier sound-sculpture is established among the welter. Stretches of squeezed-down minimalism gritty electronic textures, stringy drones and languorous microtonal snowdrifts frequently take over, and in one case (on "Stoleri") the musicians sustain this idiom for nearly 20 minutes of continuous, winding development. Every so often, the group's fractious interplay and grainy soundscaping sideslip into vulnerable glimpses of sublimity, as a submerged melody or whiff of tonality breaks through to the surface: listen, for example, to how the buffo opening of "Eiverl" leads to a Rutherford/Wachsmann duet of unusual simplicity and fragility (strikingly different, in the violinist's case, from his usual quickchanges of mood and style) while Guy supplies soft thumb-piano-style accompaniment.
Such transitions and linkages are the heart of this music, and they have a subtle way of leaving you wondering if it's the sound itself that's changed, the musical context around it, or (in a kind of duck-rabbit illusion of change) just your own perspective as a listener. On "Vendia", for instance, fierce knocks erupt from one of the strings just before the 12-minute mark; initially this seems an isolated outburst, but half a minute later, all three players return to the idea, first smoothing it out into a calm pulse then later flipping it back in the direction of hammering mayhem. The motif seems completely absorbed and disposed of by this point, but a minute or so later Wachsmann now spins it off in a different direction, mimicking (with pizzicato and detuning) the woody pluck and pitch-slides of a Chinese instrument, then plingy ukulele.
Aside from the tracks I've mentioned, it's worth singling out "Phelgstar", a performance of unusual formal cogency and ease from within the spacious acoustic of the Southampton Arts Centre: the arco strings and Rutherford's euphonium (the only track on the set to feature the instrument) repeatedly expand outwards into rich tapestries of sound then contract to the tiniest gestures. "Epis", the 16-minute track that concludes the entire set, is a notable encounter between the trio and a guesting Evan Parker, whose tenor sax playing is at its most curt and guttural; it's fascinating to hear how the trio's aesthetic changes in response to his presence, with Wachsmann and Guy virtually slashing through the performance. But there's ultimately no way to summarize this set, even in an extended review: it's music that won't be rushed into yielding up its treasures. The fairly rudimentary electronics may sound a bit dated in this age of laptop wizardry, but otherwise this is (as they say) timeless stuff. Enjoy it, study it, wonder over it well, just listen.–ND

Eugene Chadbourne/Dave Fox
Umbrella Recordings/Assembled Sound
This is an understated disc by the good Doctor's standards, but that's not necessarily a bad thing: the pairing of Chadbourne's wonky guitar and banjo and the lush classical-piano chops of Dave Fox is still exquisitely absurd. On the opening track, "The Plumbers", the players check out the resonance of the performance space (a chapel in Greensboro, N.C.) with delicate plings and twangs. Next up, four solo features: Chadbourne genially desecrates Bill Evans' "Time Remembered" and Nick Drake's "One of Those Things", while Fox ripostes with the pastorale "Chantarelle and Chardonnay" (as delicious as its title) and a handsome reading of "Secret Love" that wouldn't cause a Keith Jarrett fan to blink. But the meat of the album is Fox's four-movement "Sonata for Banjo and Piano (Semi-Improvised)". Part I, "Theme and Variations", resembles bluegrass slowed down to nursery-rhyme speed; part II, "Epic", is a series of Nth Stream miniatures with titles like "The Zombie within Purcell", with a bonus pair of (simultaneously delivered) lectures on music history from Stravinsky to Carlos Santana. The sonata closes with a "Rondo" (Stephen Foster interrupted by occasional mudslides) and a hushed "Funeral March" for Patsy Cline. In total, the entire album comes in at a pithy 41 minutes, all of them exceedingly enjoyable, barring Chadbourne's tuneless vocals on the Drake tune. What's next? A Chadbourne-with-strings album? Banjo arrangements of the Concierto de Aranjuez and the Billy the Kid Suite? We can only hope.–ND

Tony Conrad / Tim Barnes / Mattin
Celebrate Psi Phenomenon
Another month, another Mattin album.. (or two – see below). What I like about Mattin is you never know what you're in for – which as far as I'm concerned is, or should be, what improvisation is all about. It's very much a question of hit or miss, and if the last Mattin platter that came my way, Berlin with Axel Dörner (reviewed here last month) was a smash hit, this one is more of a miss. Or should I say less exciting. Less exciting, that is, unless you play it at at FEROCIOUS volume to imagine (as far as possible) what the concert in Conrad's home base Buffalo NY might have sounded like live. Label head honcho and proprietor of the Birchville Cat Motel Campbell Kneale waxes lyrical about it all in his press blurb, but it remains nonetheless an hour of unruly, ugly snarling noise. Conrad's trademark in-yer-face thick drones are replaced by shuddering screes of feedback, and Barnes' contributions on gong and electronics are unceremoniously buried under a layer of nasty gunge from Mattin. Not for the faint-hearted, but judge for yourself: like all of Mattin's albums this is – or soon will be – available for free download from his website. Or you can buy it for a snip at $7 from the CPP site. But I wonder how many times your neighbours will want to listen to it.–DW

Azul Discografica
It's a shame Jacques Derrida definitively deconstructed himself and left the planet a couple of years ago, as this might have made an ideal Christmas present for him. Mattin has, after all, made as much of a career out of deconstruction as the dear departed maître penseur; for a start, he's deconstructed rock and roll with Billy Bao and La Grieta, deconstructed the rulebook of free improvisation by popping up with playing partners as wildly different in orientation as Radu Malfatti and Tim Goldie, deconstructed his own record label by making everything he does available as a free download, and arguably deconstructed himself – put it this way, if you booked Mattin for a gig, would you know what to expect? Nah, neither would I. This is the fourth volume of his Songbook series, in which he totally deconstructs the idea of the pop song (though he's hardly the first to do so – pop and rock have been unravelling slowly for the past quarter of a century in case you hadn't noticed), improvising the whole gritty mess direct to disc, or rather, straight into the mono input of his Thinkpad. He's joined on these six "songs" (I suppose we should use the inverted commas) by Taku Unami on bass and piano, Anthony Guerra on guitar and, in the toilet (it says here) Jean-Luc Guionnet on sax and Tomoya Izumi on "shouting". God knows what was going on in the toilet.. next time I see Jean-Luc I'll try to find out. Meanwhile, this disc – only 22 minutes long but nicely produced with good liner notes by Toné Gorgoron, whoever s/he is – comes with a mission statement outlining the, um, ethos of the Songbook project. It ends with the line "Release the recordings on different labels and laugh at different people's reactions." Including, presumably, mine. So I'd better shut up. Suffice it to say I might keep this one a bit longer than Volume 1.–DW

Christian Weber
3 Suits & a Violin is the result of two days of recording at Radio Studio Zürich in 2002 by a quintet led by double bassist and composer Christian Weber. The other members are Hans Koch (bass clarinet, saxophones, electronics), Michael Moser (cello), Martin Siewert (guitar, lap steel, electronics) and Christian Wolfarth (drums). This music swallows its influences with elegant nonchalance and spits them out with imperious intelligence; the results are as vivid, pungent and up-to-the-minute as any EAI milestone in recent years.
The opening track, "Pony Music", is a study in the management of unconventional harmonic directions, an allegorical war of attrition between sheer noise and more refined forms of discordance. "Sun Perspectives" begins with scrape-and-hit strings, irregular electronic patterns and a guitar (?) loop; Weber’s fingerbombs and fragmented oscillations eventually yield to an underworld of groans, tweets and drones, in one of the disc’s most vehemently dramatic moments. On "Buzz Aldrin" squealing cymbals and roaring arco bass occupy opposite ends of the spectrum but soon enter into a nervous cohesion, amidst ululating cello whistles and an electronic guerilla war, the whole ending with cavernous bass notes tolling like a funeral bell. "Camping Light Night" breathes with anxious rasps and exhalations, a burrow of invisible fears and impenetrable proximities which can only be heard by putting the ear to the ground. It's a genuinely mysterious entity, its strained percussive logic and thin-skinned reed/string conflict pushing beyond the reach of descriptive language. "Frogmouth", the longest track at over 15 minutes, is launched by pricking highs from cello (?) and sax, which are soon opposed by shadowy bass and guitar outbursts. After a tightly controlled first half, a snarling low-frequency creature emerges from its soiled chrysalis for a few unnerving moments, to be replaced by a stunning cluster of electronic rumbles; the looping background of unintelligible voices leaves the final word to a string of underwater firecrackers and spellbinding cymbal repetitions. The album closes with "Lone Star", where strings and weak reeds hesitantly disturb a desolate landscape of timbral deterioration, which neither Siewert's volume swells nor Koch's chirping clarinet can turn into a sunny morning. It’s an unhappy ending that works deep into the psyche, leaving us confined in a tiny room of buried autism, naked and full of doubts. After Polwechsel's splendid Archives of the North, HatOLOGY has served yet another ace: 3 Suits is one of the best releases of 2006, and comes very highly recommended.

Rob Reddy’s Gift Horse
Reddy Music
The album comes with an ambiguous epigraph, William Carlos Williams’ vision of the climb up the slopes of Parnassus as a Dantesque uphill battle against the “hundred jumping devils” of seductive ideas and images (which are at once helpers and betrayers). The conceit is neatly complemented by the cover art, a Renaissance-style fresco of the damned and their horned and winged tormenters that is all earthy browns and yellows. The music has a similarly warm but sombre, slightly archaic palette: Reddy’s soprano sax playing is nasal, almost shawm-like, and when he joins in with violinist Charles Burnham and french horn player Mark Taylor the results are rich and plangent, swelling into hurdy-gurdy drone or conjuring up echoes of mournful/joyous African or Cuban song. But this rather cool and melancholy beauty is only one element here: there’s also the gracefully bubbling grooves laid down by bassist Dom Richards and percussionist Mino Cinelu (Reddy’s use of [quieter] percussion rather than the conventional drumkit is a smart move that totally upends the usual jazz-ensemble dynamics), and the cat’s-paw guitar of Brandon Ross, bobbing up and down and throwing in spindly little interjections that have a disproportionately striking impact. Reddy’s indebtedness to Henry Threadgill is obvious, not just because of the presence of HT stalwarts Ross and Taylor but also in Reddy’s own alto sax playing and some of his compositional devices, but the music is strong enough to stand the comparison; indeed, sometimes the music’s at its best when the debt is most obvious, as in the slinky Beckett tribute “The Unnamable”, which is constructed over a very Threadgillish sequence of modulations. If there’s a complaint here it’s that the music is too consistently elegant – a little disarray and fervency would have lifted it to another level altogether – and that the longer tracks tend to fall into string-of-solos patterns rather than working towards a climax. Excellent stuff, nonetheless.–ND

Eisenbeil / Kugel / Robinson / Evans / Greene
It's a total bummer that The Wire magazine (and most of the others for that matter) asks their contributing writers to select the best discs of the year as early as late October, considering the volume of new releases that hits the streets in November and December. I'm wondering whether or not I wouldn't have chosen this one as album of the year had I received it in time (as it happens that dubious honour went to Loren Connors' Night Through) – it's that good. Carnival Skin is a killer quintet formed by guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil and drummer Klaus Kugel, who recruited bassist Hilliard Greene, trumpeter Peter Evans and clarinettist Perry Robinson to make one of the hottest line-ups in free jazz of the past ten years. Maybe twenty. Perry Robinson needs no introduction to aficionados of free music – he's been a driving force in free jazz for over half a century, while never quite achieving the top billing he so richly deserves. If you thought the clarinet couldn't hold its own in a fire music outfit, think again: Robinson burns. And when he's not burning he's swinging, and when he's not swinging he's singing. In Peter Evans, whose solo trumpet debut More Is More on psi raised many eyebrows last year, he has the perfect foil. Evans was impressive enough all alone, but you should really hear him get down here. The six tracks are driven effortlessly forward by the Greene / Kugel rhythm team, with meticulous and expert punctuation from Eisenbeil, who's never sounded so good. His solos spit fire and sweat (somewhere Sonny Sharrock is looking down approvingly) and his accompaniment counterpoints the work of the horn players to perfection. There's an urgency to this music that's all too often lacking in today's so-called free jazz, much of which has settled into the kind of comfortable orthodoxy it originally set out to challenge, but also a tough, unsentimental lyricism not always on offer in the work of other firebreathers. It's a truly outstanding disc and if you don't get hold of copy at the earliest available opportunity you're a damn fool.–DW

Dave Burrell
High Two
Following on from 2004's Expansion, which teamed him up with William Parker and Andrew Cyrille, pianist Dave Burrell is joined here by bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Guillermo E. Brown on seven well-executed and superbly recorded tracks. Maybe too well recorded (is't possible?), at least Brown's kit, which on the opening "Downfall" as if it ought to be driving a ten-piece funk band. Though he does occasionally let fly with rollerball clusters à la Don Pullen (not as often as he used to, mind), Burrell by and large solos with single lines sparely accompanied by the left hand – Mal Waldron comes to mind, as does Andrew Hill – and he comes close to being stomped into the ground on the opener by Brown's muscular slow sweaty funk. Not that the pianist seems to mind: Billy Martin also gave him a good pummelling on Consequences. Burrell's frequent forays into the lower octaves can present a problem for a bassist – William Parker didn't always strike me as the best choice on Expansion – but Formanek wisely leaves most of the action to the pianist and the drummer, though he's always there when there's any danger of the root being lost. The only reservations I have about this otherwise fine disc are a) there's not more of it – for once 43 minutes doesn't seem like enough – and b) it'd be great to hear some of Burrell's finely crafted tunes performed by larger forces. Maybe the good people at High Two can get a Dave Burrell Sextet off the ground, and perhaps persuade Mr B's old saxophone colossus pal David Murray to come along and thicken the plot. Just a thought.–DW

Peter Brötzmann / Michael Zerang
Douglas S. Kahn's history of sound Noise, Water, Meat finds its primary example of the scream in Lautreamont's Maldoror. Hard to believe there's not a single reference to Peter Brötzmann, the saxophonist whose existentialist scream can freeze the blood in your veins. Here's another addition to the enormous Brötzmann discography, a duo with percussionist Michael Zerang recorded during the 2005 IRTIJAL festival and released on Mazen Kerbaj's Al-maslakh label. Both musicians start in predictable energy-music mode for the first ten minutes of "Illusion of Progress", then shift to elegiac Eastern-sounding melody before Zerang's astonishing drum solo. Next comes some intriguing microtonal dialogue, and the track ends with a version of Brötzmann's tribute to Fred Hopkins, "Master of a Small House," originally recorded on the Hatology disc Tales Out of Time. On "Yalla Kholoud", Brötzmann picks up his tarogato, lending the music just the right oriental timbre, but the track's high-point is Zerang's solo on darbouka – the Lebanese national instrument, Kerbaj explains in his liner notes – and cymbals, which comes at you from the speakers like an electric cobra. "A Daytime Nightmare" is of less interest, and "Banyan Revolution" is a blues for clarinet and assorted finger-rubbed platters, on which Brötzmann's emotional power is strongly to the fore, though it's Zerang who sounds most exploratory. The track itself sounds like an encore from a physically exhausting performance, filling it out to exactly an hour in length.–VJ

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Oren Ambarchi / Keith Rowe
One of the most remarkable things about the body of work Keith Rowe has released in recent years is how damned difficult it is to review. He's not alone in totally redefining the entire vocabulary, technique and aesthetic of an existing instrument, but whereas it's not all that hard to trace some kind of evolution in the work of, say, Jason Kahn or Axel Dörner, Rowe's work remains stubbornly resistant to analysis. In fact, it's impossible to analyse it in any conventional way. As any Music Theory major will tell you, analysis involves the representation of what a piece of music consists of – its basic material and the transformation and development thereof – in condensed (usually graphic) form, the better to understand its internal workings. A musicologist, on the other hand, will seek to examine the work in a larger context, as part of the artist's entire oeuvre, or as representative (or not) of an existing genre / trend. Both theorists and musicologists would find Keith Rowe's work is frustratingly hard to pin down. It has no interest whatsoever in traditional musical parameters such as pitch and rhythm, which means you can't transcribe it with any accuracy, and while serious EAI heads (for whom this review is superfluous in any case, as they tend to rush out and buy anything Rowe does without question) might detect some kind of evolution in it in terms of the kit being used, the fact remains that this duo with Oren Ambarchi recorded in 2002 sounds similar enough to the one that preceded it, 2001's Flypaper on Staubgold, as to render more or less redundant any question of stylistic evolution, at both the theoretical and musicological level. As the French say, "c'est une évidence", which I guess Phill Niblock would translate as "it is what it is". We're left with a simple, bald description of the music (not that it's easy to describe), and even that fails to do justice to the nuanced and beautiful sounds these two musicians create. The upshot of it all is that if you know Rowe's work, you'll love this; and if you don't (though goodness knows how you've managed to pass it by for so long), Squire is as good a place to start in as any.–DW

Paul Hubweber / Philip Zoubek
The album title might seem to indicate that both the artists – trombonist Hubweber and pianist Zoubek – and the perennially wonderful Nurnichtnur label don't give a monkey's about world fame (or even a Wire review, haha), which is a shame considering this is one of the best improv albums to come my way for a long time. No frills, no bullshit, just trombone and piano (lightly prepared) in the kind of improvisation that has, unfortunately, dropped off the radar as far as the so-called hip zines are concerned (i.e. no drones, no laptops, no noise). To quote that memorable line of Fred Frith's, it's as much about virtuoso listening as virtuoso performing, though it's clear from this – and from his earlier Emanem outing Papajo with Messrs Edwards and Lovens – that Hubweber can blow the trombone inside out. Zoubek's no slouch as a pianist and composer either, from what little I've been able to gather from German websites, and he's got an acute ear for pitch and a sense of timing that would make Misha Mengelberg chuckle. That said, this is no whacked-out platter of New Dutch amuse-gueules: it's thoughtful, pitch-sensitive and accomplished music and anyone interested in today's improvised music should check it out.–DW

Jim Denley / Peter Blamey
Jim Denley is perhaps best known as a flautist, notably in Machine For Making Sense, Australia's foremost improv outfit (unless you think that particular honour should be bestowed upon The Necks), and he's studied both the contemporary classical repertoire and the Japanese end-blown instrument, the shakuhachi. But on these four brief but pungent tracks, each entitled "Kept", he's on alto sax. Though you'd probably never guess. His crumbling gurgles and airy blasts mesh so well with the electronics of his playing partner, Peter Blamey, that it's often hard to tell who's doing what. Blamey explores feedback generated by "ageing audio equipment" (it says here), and produces a fog of dense sizzling hiss through which Denley's disembodied sax shines its hollow, breathy pitches. Findings is a more extreme and concentrated outing than the last Split that came my way – Denley's splendid duo with Joel Stern, Tape and Paint Game, in which the extended techniques workout took place against a backdrop of colourful field recordings – and it's a tough but rewarding listen, the kind of wall of sound you want to scrape your ears down until they bleed.–DW

Howlin' Ghost Proletarians
If I ever win the lottery – EFL students please note the use of the First Conditional, implying that I confidently expect it to happen one day, fool that I am – one of the things I intend to do is release the complete catalogue of Absurd records in a ludicrously expensive 60 (65? 70? still counting!) CD box set – forget the Merzbox, here's the Absurdbox! – with facsimile reproductions of the original packaging, as almost everything Nicolas Malevitsis has ever released is total gold (though I shouldn't say that since he's put out a couple of my own things in his time, but whatthhell blow your own trumpet). And most of them have now sold out. Let's hope this one does too, as I see its predecessor, also on Absurd, Dead Roads, already has. Once more unto the breach with guitarists Fabrice Eglin and Michel Henritzi, The Singer comes with more cover artwork courtesy Patrick Boeuf – last time it was Robert Mitchum, this time it looks like Johnny (Cash, not Hallyday, you cretins) – and it's another moody, magnificent, 3am alone at the bar of Jack Ryans Atlantic Ave Rochester NY with thick pasty snow falling outside and a near-empty pitcher of Genesee Twelve Horse in front of me with Cash on the jukebox existential epiphany of the highest order. Henritzi has released enough intense guitar shit on his A Bruit Secret label(s) – Taku Sugimoto, Tetuzi Akiyama, Bruce Russell – to know by now that there's no point playing a note unless you really mean it. And both these guys really mean it. Best One Note Blues album of the year (this year and last year).–DW

Alan "Gunga" Purves
Scottish drummer/percussionist Alan Purves is one of the many expatriates on the Amsterdam jazz scene, and while not as ubiquitous as Michael Vatcher or Han Bennink, turns up in a variety of aggregations, notably Joost Buis's brilliant Astronotes, the spirited New Dutch Western Swing of Bite the Gnatze, and the rather dodgy Dutch-Canadian band Aros. All By My Shelf is an overdubbed solo album of music originally created for a theatre production for the deaf – and if that sounds like a complete absurdity (along the lines of spazz guitarist Billy Jenkins' recording the theme song of a TV show for the deaf), then maybe the joke's on you, as you listen to these meticulous assemblages of junkshop / toyshop trouvés and try to imagine what it looks like to see Purves working over (e.g.) "Brim Bram, School Bell, Nails, Toy Siren, Squeekie Toy, Broken Perc." (the instrumentation of "Not By My Shelf on a Train in the Kitchen"). Worth comparing this disc to Hans Reichel's Lower Lurum (what is Reichel doing nowadays, by the way?) or to Terry Day's belatedly released meisterwerk of overdubbing, Interruptions. But the difference between Day and Purves could be summed up by one of PT's touchstone quotes: "Does he care about his pitches?" Melodic precision isn't exactly top priority amidst the delirious spatter-paintings of Interruptions, whereas Purves's squeaky toys are arrayed in disconcertingly melodious choruses – it's a different kind of dementia, closer to that guy on The Muppets picking out melodies from a row of cute furry creatures with a pair of mallets. Which brings up the obvious question: what exactly was that theatre piece this stuff was meant to accompany?–ND

Sabine Ercklentz
Steinschlag is another solo trumpet album full of flplpbrrr noises and escaping hisses of air. This time they come from Sabine Ercklentz, a Berlin based experimental trumpeter who is relatively under-recorded (2003's Charhizma album Oberflächenspannung with Andrea Neumann being her only notable release before this). Steinschlag differs from other recent solo trumpet outings by the likes of Axel Dörner, Mazen Kerbaj or Matt Davis in that its tracks are composed and pieced together on a computer using fragments of (untreated?) trumpet sounds recorded by Ercklentz in 2005, and it's precisely this break from the unprocessed extended techniques of her peers that succeeds in making the album more inviting than it might seem on paper.
Although Ercklentz's sounds are immediately recognisable, they are constructed into awkward tumbling collages of sound that have a distinctly inhuman feel. The four tracks each focus on different sonic areas, the first three all having in common a stuttering, fractured structure, superimposing abrupt bursts of skewed trumpet occasionally underpinned by extended tones. But Ercklentz is no John Wall, and her pieces are built up in a seemingly rough, unpolished manner which, when coupled with the natural instrument sounds used, gives the music a sense of immediacy, as if it were live trumpet improvisation. Yet as one side of your brain considers this idea, the other points out its sheer impossibility.
At just half an hour long Steinschlag doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the closing "Mäusemilch", barely two minutes in length, is a little gem that veers about as far from the rough and tumble of the rest of the disc as possible. Thirty seconds of silence are intruded upon by a stream of the faintest of tiny tinkles and clicking that flits past in a few brief beautiful moments before the disc ends. It's a promising first full-length solo from Ercklentz and another strong entry into the L’innomable catalogue.

Tomaž Grom / Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec
Finally, a homegrown entry in L'innomable's catalogue! Slovenians Tomaž Grom and Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec have been working together as Tilt for 10 years now. Grom has played bass with the Alzheimer Trio, Lolita Libre, Bast, Zlatko Kaucic, GAP and Sonny Simmons, and also works in electronic composition for dance and theatre. Vrhovec Sambolec studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, curates a music series at the Galerija Kapelica, and nowadays divides his time between Ljubljana and Amsterdam. This self-titled disc is their second, following a collaboration with poet Primož Cucnik released as Dvojnik ("Double") (Sploh, 1996). The first three tracks are from a 2004 performance at a festival in Alicante, and find them in sound-arty EAI mode, with Grom's acoustic bass embraced by the clicks and glitches of Vrhovec Sambolec's live electronics. It's raw, confrontational music, but excellent stuff, never succumbing to overplaying or self-parody. Tracks four to seven were recorded the same year at home in Ljubljana. The music is quieter and more relaxed: ambient drones are weighed down by looped sonic interventions (Thomas Lehn or Anthony Pateras come to mind), and Vrhovec Sambolec's electronics complement the percussive sounds Grom gets out of his bass's prepared strings and body. It's good to hear that the musicians are living in the 21st century: there are even some references to club culture, and a few quotes (Steve Reich via Autechre on the last track). An excellent release, well up to the high standards of the L'innomable label.–VJ

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Iannis Xenakis
A few years ago the music of Iannis Xenakis suddenly became radically chic, thanks to the well-intentioned efforts of the likes of DJ Spooky and other Deleuze-toting hipsters. More recently a younger generation of fun lovin' noiseniks have been singing the praises of pieces like Bohor and Persepolis as if they were the latest offerings from Merzbow, Prurient and Sickness. But this attraction to the visceral, violent side of the composer only addresses half of the Xenakis enigma, as percussionist Steven Schick makes clear in his informative and eminently readable liner notes to this 3CD set. There was also Xenakis the mathematician, master of the impenetrable FORTRAN, creator of UPIC. Any of you out there read Formalized Music (me neither – I got as far as page 100)? It's easy to thrill at the swarming glissandi of Metastasis or succumb to the apocalyptic intensity of Kraanerg, but without the serious theoretical underpinning, those extraordinary works wouldn't sound the way they do. And without the background and years of study, none of the distortion pedal abusing wolf-eyed teens currently tearing round the alt.music racetrack will ever get remotely close.
As Schick points out, the striking contrast between the brutally impersonal world of advanced mathematics and symbolic logic and the spine-tingling raw emotion is no more evident than in the body of works Xenakis wrote for percussion (with or without added instruments): Persephassa (1969), Psappha (1976), Dmaathen (1976), Pléïades (1979), Komboï (1981), Kassandra (1987), Rebonds (1988) and Oophaa and Okho (1989). No recording could possibly capture the sheer power of this pieces in performance – I caught Pléïades in Paris shortly after its premiere, and can still remember the utterly devastating experience of being surrounded in the Auditorium of Université Paris II Assas by six sets of sixxen (specially created instruments consisting of tuned metal plates) – but until you get a chance to see and feel it in the flesh, you could do no better than get hold of these excellent recordings by Schick and the red fish blue fish percussion ensemble (lowercase intended.. Dr Seuss plays Xenakis, dig it).
Schick is also joined by Philip Lanson (baritone and psaltery, on Kassandra), Jacqueline Leclair (oboe, on Dmaathen in the most thrilling double-reed / percussion battle to come my way since Kyle Bruckmann went the distance with Weasel Walter on his Musica Genera album and) and harpsichordists Shannon Wettstein (on Komboï) and John Mark Harris (Oophaa). Not all the pieces are as spectacular as the percussion ensemble pieces Persephassa and Pléïades – the rather plodding Okho once more raises the question as to whether the composer was losing his touch a little in his final years – but that's one of the risks you take when you release a complete set of anything. This one's worth the price of admission alone for the spectacular ending of Persephassa, in which Schick and his crew use multitracking to realise, for the first time on disc, the ferocious near-impossible complexity of the score's final pages. I say near-impossible, because, as Aki Takahashi once wryly noted, "if Xenakis's music is truly impossible, why are so many people playing it?"

Charlemagne Palestine/Tony Conrad
Sub Rosa
Recorded in October 2005 at Bruxelles' Mercelis Theatre, this album is Palestine and Conrad's first meeting in 30 years. According to Palestine's liners, his wife Aude was struck by the fact that, after all that time, it took less than five minutes for the two old friends to elicit "a natural musical chemistry of beauty and power" when they played together again.
The single piece lasts about 50 minutes and is sustained by a constant electronic drone which counterbalances the most raucous sections. Palestine and Conrad approach each other circumspectly, testing each other's responsiveness via meditative piano arpeggios and sinuously dissonant violin lines that immediately show a willingness to break the tranquillity. Conrad's avoidance of "clean" playing can be sublimely thrilling or (as one sound artist remarked) akin to "undergoing chemotherapy". Yet even in the most jarring moments, he shows complete respect for the ritual of the moment, his verge-of-distortion lyricism clinging to Palestine's hammered crescendos like a belltower's shadow at sunset. The musicians raise their game until the music becomes riveting, full of scorching, abrasive power. In the midst of all this, Palestine breaks into shamanic chanting, which effectively adds to the ritualistic atmosphere, though his untrained voice has never appealed much to this writer (no, I didn't like Karenina one bit). Still, the fervent crescendos here are utterly impressive and vital to the music’s success. Having reached its emotional apex, the music slowly descends into post-coital stillness; everything slows down, the vocals get less excited and more reflective, and it's back to square one until the applause.
Overall, a pretty satisfying album. Conrad is more or less his usual self, but this nostalgic curmudgeon of a reviewer missed the soul-stirring halos of piano resonance of Palestine's Strumming Music and Four Manifestations, to which I instantly came back after four spins of this CD. But that was truly music from other spheres, and not even Palestine (or Conrad, for that matter) can possibly match that radiance every time.

Morton Feldman
New World
I've been waiting for years for this one to appear on CD, as my old CRI vinyl (which I bought at Harold Moore's on Great Marlborough Street in London during an insanely irresponsible first term at university when I managed to blow my entire student grant on discs and end up with a whacking great overdraft to boot) has a huge pothole halfway through side one, which totally ruins Karen Phillips' sublime Webernesque wisps of melody on Part II of The Viola In My Life. You can see why the advent of the CD led to an explosion in the Feldman discography: no annoying clicks or scuffs to scratch the surface of the near-empty canvas, and no need to get up every twenty minutes to turn over the LP. In point of fact, The Viola In My Life (1970) and False Relationships and the Extended Ending (1968) each fit comfortably on one side of an album, but at 30'27", Why Patterns?, which rounds out this magnificent release in a recording from 1978 featuring the composer on piano, probably wouldn't, or at least not without some loss of sound quality. It's a fine choice to fill up the CD, charting the path from the suspended sonorities of the late 60s pieces to the long distance runners of the last decade via the supremely accessible Viola In My Life. Apart from the celebrated ending of Rothko Chapel, Feldman's gift for melody isn't often discussed, but it's precisely this that makes Viola such a touching experience. And the performances, by what was then a stellar crew of new music virtuosi including David Tudor, Paul Jacobs and Yuji Takahashi, have been lovingly remastered by Joseph Dalton and Tim Tiedemann (using DCS 900 20-bit a/d converter, whatever that is). There's a huge amount of Feldman out there on CD these days, but if you can afford to splash out on this one you'd be daft to let it pass you by. Go have a friendly chat with your bank manager.–DW

Various Artists
New World
New World's CRI reissue mission continues with the welcome return of an album that originally appeared on Charles Amirkhanian 's 1750 Arch label in 1977. Despite that mouthful of a title, it's a splendidly accessible compilation, which kicks off in style with "one of the first composed pieces of electronic music" (quoth Amirkhanian), Music of the Spheres, written as far back as 1938 by Johanna M. Beyer (1888 – 1944), one the forgotten pioneers of American new music who studied with Dane Rudhyar, Ruth Crawford, Charles Seeger, and Henry Cowell. Performed by the quaintly named Electric Weasel Ensemble – Allen Strange, Stephen Ruppenthal and David Moore on Music Easel synthesizers, Brenda Hutchinson on pulse control, Don Buchla on "frequency shifting and mix" and Amirkhanian on triangle (!) – its swooping oscillators and pure waveforms still sound remarkably fresh thirty years on from the original release. Quite what instruments Beyer actually intended the music to be performed on isn't all that clear ("electric" instruments could mean just about anything), but Allen Strange's realisation of these haunting canons is sensitive and impressive.
Annea Lockwood's 1975 World Rhythms features recordings of "pulsars, earthquakes, volcanic activity, geysers and mud pools, rivers, peepers, fire and crows, storm on a lake, wave lapping on a lake shore and human breathing", and should normally last between 39 and 90 minutes, but this eight-minute clip still sounds fine; Pauline Oliveros attacks Puccini with gleeful abandon and two Hewlett Packard oscillators in Bye Bye Butterfly (1965); and the pristine Bell Labs sound of Laurie Spiegel's Appalachian Grove I (1974) is as clean and clear as Kraftwerk, even if the piece seems to show no real desire to break out of its pentatonic prison. The tribal drumming and cathartic yelling of Megan Roberts' I Could Sit Here All Day (1976) have aged a little, but the impeccable, fragile sinewaves of Ruth Anderson's Points (1973–74) haven't.
The disc ends up with, unless I'm mistaken, the first appearance on record of a certain Laurie Anderson (unless the 7" single produced by the Holly Solomon Gallery, It's Not The Bullet That Kills You – It's The Hole came out earlier – maybe someone could enlighten us). New York Social Life (1977), which also appears in Part 3 of Anderson's epic United States project, makes for a rather amusing comparison with "New York Telephone Conversation" (by Anderson's then future husband Lou Reed), and Time to Go (1977) is a touching tale of a museum guard who had to "snap people out of their art trances" at closing time. As usual the CD comes with a superbly researched and informative 28-page booklet. Time to go – to your local record shop.

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Goat / Sixes / Xome
Here's a small but deadly package to warm you up on a cold winter evening, a triple three-incher of scorching noise courtesy Xome, aka Bob Scott, who is (as I can never resist quoting Blake Edwards' website) "a highly regarded noise artist from San Francisco, perhaps best-known for his live shows – fantastic displays of split second timing and rapid jumps between drenching feedback and gristly distortion"; Goat, from Texas, whose "infrequent and incendiary five minute live sets are the stuff of lore"; and Sixes, "a demonic action figure from Oakland, CA who alters air pressure in any given room with his saturation tests of fuzz and distortion chaos." Quite what constitutes a "highly regarded noise artist" as opposed to an aspiring or second division or frankly hopeless sound artist is open to debate, as is where these days one is supposed to draw the line between noise and music. And trying to decide what is a good, even great, noise album as opposed to a bad one reminds me of that old joke – Q: What's the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut? A: Two weeks – maybe it's just a question of pumping up the volume a couple of notches. Noise is a musical genre (maybe we should say noisy genre) that has managed to dispense with value judgement altogether. So this lethal little set is as good as you want it to be.–DW

Bhob Rainey
Evolving Ear
Though best known for his duo (+) nmperign with trumpeter Greg Kelley, Bhob Rainey has (like Kelley) in recent times diversified into electronics, and has finally finished a long-awaited collaborative project with Ralf Wehowsky (of which more later). By way of aperitif, this seven incher on Evolving Ear presents two all-too-brief examples of the exquisite craftsmanship of his solo electronic composition. There's no indication of what speed you're supposed to play the disc at, but the wail of cop car sirens at the end of "The Summering Unsound" would seem to indicate 33rpm is right (actually, it sounds pretty cool at 45). "A Desert Of Consolation" starts out with spacious glistening drones quietly punctuated by soft pillows of flanged cooing, and then treads through a pile of fallen leaves into what sounds like a recording of the bowel movements of a small mammal, before tiny skittering loops crash into a wall of radio static and the crackle of empty vinyl, a faux run-out groove before the vrai run-out groove. "The Summering Unsound" (great title) features the gurgles of what sounds like a contrabass clarinet, followed by distant rain (or is it the sizzle of a summer barbecue?), snippets of conversation, metallic clangs and the final emergency of approaching sirens, in a cunning mix of the mundane and the mysterious, an elegant restatement of the question that has preoccupied musique concrète for over half a century: can an instantly recognisable sound like a police car be heard out of context and appreciated as a purely musical object in its own right? You decide. Cinema for the ear, indeed. Let's have some more.–DW

Strotter Inst.
Implied Sound
The title sums up perfectly what's on offer on this latest offering from Christoph Hess and his mousetrap-surrounded Goldring Lenco turntables: it's a double palindrome – there are two tracks on each side of the seven incher, one that plays from the edge of the disc inwards, the other from the centre of the disc outwards, meeting in a locked groove in the middle of the side. Pretty nifty, eh? And I bet he had to spend quite a bit of pocket money to press it up. Musically, we're in the same ballpark as Strotter Inst.'s Monstranz CD: objects strategically attached to his customized dubplates whirr round, snag and pluck elastic bands suspended above the turntables, building up a layer of polyrhythmic clunks and twangs that Hess mixes live with the rough hiss and crunch of vinyl. It's kind of like an instant lo-fi Steve Reich phase piece, but its raw pulse also breathes the evil fog of early 80s New Wave / Industrial (yep, Mr Hess knows his Boyd Rice), a kind of home-made Martin Hannett sound above which you're half expecting some sepulchral angst from Ian Curtis to appear. But no: the four tracks (once more, like the Rainey reviewed above, all too brief – I could go for another whole album of this stuff) topple into the pit of their locked groove prison and lie there battered and bleeding, begging to be released. That's where you come in. Great stuff.–DW

Un Caddie Renverse dans l'Herbe
I'd been looking forward to another full-length outing from Didac P. Lagarriga for a while, having thoroughly enjoyed Like A Packed Cupboard But Quite and the earlier three-incher Now There's A Weird Taste In My Mouth on Dekorder. But I wasn't expecting this. It's an unedited (at least I think so) recording of a birthday party for a two year old – the lucky lass in question being a certain Maria-Amaryllis, whose first birthday, you may recall, was celebrated by Klimperei's La Tordeuse à Bandes Obliques – which Lagarriga accompanied with his balaphone, mbira, berimbau, piano, cello, guitar, bass, melodica, laptop and various recordings of well-known children's ditties. From time to time one or more of the kids (and maybe a parent or two) pops up in the mix with a gurgle of delight, but they don't get in the way of Lagarriga's supremely artless noodling. It's a refreshingly light montage of tinkles, pings and giggles, and comes in an ingenious bit of rainbow packaging which took me about as long as the album lasts to figure out how to close (reminds me of that Groucho Marx line "run out and find me a four-year-old child; I can't make head or tail out of it"). Fortunately, help is at hand: www.ideaspot.gr/demos/lalia. Happy Birthday Maria-Amaryllis! I wonder who'll be playing at your party this year.–DW

Janek Schaefer
Sound artist Janek Schaefer, writing on his ever entertaining website (www.audioh.com), describes In The Last Hour as his "finest hour". And he's probably right (though I'll admit I haven't heard everything he's done recently, and Chris Sharp's Wire review of his collaboration with Stephan Mathieu, Hidden Name, certainly whets the appetite): it's a beautifully crafted four-movement work for field recordings, piano, wind organ, music box, bell, clarinet, turntables, minidiscs, loop pedals, mixer, editing software and sound reactive light and organs (of the electric, wind and pipe variety) which was premiered at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2005 (there's a terrific photo of the audience lying on the floor on Schaefer's website). Each of the movements takes its title from Iain Banks's postmodernist science fiction novel The Bridge, but Schafer's work, though undeniably more romantic than it used to be (that's fatherhood for you.. but then again, once you've designed a turntable with three arms and released a disc that skates in all directions, what else is there to do?) is no mere programme music. It does, however, tap into a rich vein of English minimalist melancholy, its chiaroscuro bass clarinets and solemn church organs often recalling Gavin Bryars. There's even a touching quote from "Nimrod", from Elgar's Enigma Variations. The instrumental sounds are carefully mixed with Schaefer's impeccable field recordings and sprinkled with vinyl crackle to make a rich, moving and mature work. You might not hear it at the Last Night Of The Proms just yet, but who listens to the Last Night Of The Proms anyway?–DW

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