by Clifford Allen, Jason Bivins, Nate Dorward, John Eyles, Stephen Griffith, Natasha Pickowicz, Massimo Ricci, Michael Rosenstein, Dan Warburton|
On Another Timbre : Magda Mayas / Stephen Cornford & Rodgers / John Tilbury & Sebastian Lexer / Chris Burn, Philip Thomas & Simon H. Fell
In Concert: Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio
On Entr'acte: Tomas Korber & Ralf Wehowsky / Jacques Beloeil & Michael Anacker / Mecha Orga / Adam Asnan / Pauwel De Buck / Joshua Convey / Adrian Democ / Michael J. Schumacher
VINYL SOLUTION: Animal Hospital / Jac Berrocal & Andrew Liles / Bill Dixon, Aaron Siegel & Ben Hall / David Grubbs & F.S. Blumm / MAP / Joe Morris, Chris Riggs & Ben Hall / Frank Rosaly / Gil San Marcos / Uncle Woody Sullender & Seamus Cater
JAZZ & IMPROV: Activity Center / Russ Bolleter / Circulasione Totale Orchestra / Nels Cline Singers / Jorrit Dijkstra / Axel Dörner & Erhard Hirt / Food / Foster, Chulki, Kawaguchi & Hankil / Burton Greene / Nick Hennies / Jason Kahn & Jon Mueller / Konatus / Dave Liebman, Evan Parker & Tony Bianco
Giuseppi Logan / Sei Miguel / Manuel Mota & Afonso Simoes / Sunny Murray / Sainkho Namchylak & Nick Sudnick / New York Art Quartet / Nörz / Nos Phillipé / William Parker / Roland Ramanan / Tell / Vertex
CONTEMPORARY: Alessandro Bosetti / John Cage / Noah Creshevsky / Francis Dhomont / Yannis Kyriakides / Lola Perrin / James Tenney
ELECTRONICA: Andrew Chalk / Eleh / Ido Govrin / Illusion Of Safety / Kouhei Matsunaga / RPM Orchestra
This latest issue of PT has been slightly delayed (originally I wanted to post it on the first of May, maybe as some kind of obscure gesture of support to international socialism - though it's odd that folks here should celebrate their status as workers by not going to work, but, anyway, it's never been a public holiday back where I come from - or as a reference to the commonly used maritime distress signal) due to a hugely time-consuming but rewarding back-and-forth of edits and rewrites with this issue's featured interviewee, Charles Curtis. Many thanks to Charles and Natasha Pickowicz for taking the time to put together what is, if I'm not mistaken, the longest interview that's ever appeared here.
Also this issue a warm welcome to John Eyles, the latest recruit to the Whole Sick Crew, who took a walk on the wild side with Lou Reed's MM3 and sent us his own feedback, as it were. Thanks as usual go out to the other Purple Prose Peddlers, to Nate Dorward for his patient and meticulous editing, and to all the musicians and labels who sent material in for review. One small point – several readers, posting over at IHM, have complained in the past that the journalists' names aren't appended to the review. It's been my practice these last few years to use initials instead (seasoned PT readers will know by now who "ND" and "CA" are, anyway – and if you can't remember a quick click to the top of the webpage gives you the full names of all the contributors), but I decided to ask everyone's opinion on the subject just to make sure. They all seem to be quite happy with the initials, so that's what I'm sticking with. BL !– DW
Another Timbre Piano Series
Stephen Cornford/Samuel Rodgers
TURNED MOMENT, WEIGHTING
John Tilbury / Sebastian Lexer
Chris Burn / Philip Thomas / Simon H. Fell
THE MIDDLE DISTANCE
Simon Reynell has been increasingly grouping releases on his Another Timbre label to focus on particular themes, first up being a series of concert recordings by groups of musicians developing out of the weekly workshop run by Eddie Prévost (see the Autumn issue). Reynell has now extended that concept to an examination of particular instruments, beginning with a Piano Series (a Guitar Series is scheduled to follow later this Spring), which continues his commitment to documenting younger lesser-known musicians as well as established names like Chris Burn, Philip Thomas and John Tilbury. Slap on Magda Mayas' Heartland and it's hard to believe that it's a recording of solo piano music. Mayas' training as a classical musician has helped her develop a highly attuned sense of touch for the keyboard, which is still in evidence but now extends to the percussive treatment of strings, arresting control of attack and resonance, and the real-time orchestration of timbres. Like Cor Fuhler, Andrea Neumann and Sebastian Lexer, she's developed an approach to the piano that grapples with the entire instrument, from strings to soundboard, keys to frame.
The first piece on the disc, "Shards", fuses bell-like struck keys, smears of string abrasions, resonant clusters, gamelan-like percussives, dark rumbles and sheets of sound which hang like ominous storm clouds, Tony Buck's mix perfectly capturing the way she arranges her shards of sound into rich striations. Structure is slowly teased out, choreographed from the physical engagement with the piano; it's a piece built from the essence of the instrument, in the same way that musicians like Greg Kelley or Seymour Wright delve in to the core components of their instruments to shape their improvisations. On the second piece, "Slow Metal Skin", recorded live at Roulette in New York, Mayas uses the same sonic palette but the pace is stretched out. Textural motifs are introduced and then slowly repeated, extended and transformed across an engulfing swell of activity. It wanders a bit in the central section, but the concluding passage, with ringing strings coursing over the burred pulses of damped notes opening into long sustained textures, brings the album to a captivating close.-MRo
Stephen Cornford and Samuel Rodgers' Turned Moment, weighting is a new entry in the Byways series of CDRs, created to quickly disseminate music by up-and-coming musicians. Cornford is credited with piano feedback and Rodgers uses piano and objects. For this recording, the two spent a weekend in the studio with two pianos and Cornford's bank of lo-fi speakers, pickups, and electronics. The pianos were placed side-by-side so that Rodgers' string and keyboard treatments on one instrument created sympathetic vibrations on the other which became the input for Cornford's electronic treatments. Attack, resonance, and timbral manipulations serve as both input and output, and the three improvisations gather weight from the accretion and processing of sonic events, moving between precise control and chance-driven feedback loops. Each explores a different set of sonic qualities, from crystalline, sine-like oscillations to gritty treatments and overtones. Percussive tones, pinpoint flutters, bell-like rattles, abraded textures, and the jangling buzz of damped strings are looped in to the quavering drones and hanging scrims of electronics. The pieces flow with a drawn-out sense of time and progression, letting pools of sound gather and then methodically modulate resonance and decay. It's a rich and resourceful offering from two new voices to keep an eye out for (also worth checking out is the insightful interview with the two at the Another Timbre website – http://www.anothertimbre.com/page41.html).-MRo
"Listening again and again to these incredible recordings, I have the unmistakable feeling of coming into contact with something necessary that has been lost," writes Michael Pisaro in the liner notes to Lost Daylight, which brings together five hitherto unavailable piano pieces by Terry Jennings and a rarely heard work by John Cage, Electronic Music for Piano (1964), all performed with exemplary precision by John Tilbury, with electronic transformations on the Cage by Sebastian Lexer. It's an important release, especially since so little of Jennings' music has ever made it to disc – in fact, apart from the pleasant but rather slight Terry's G Dorian Blues on Jon Gibson's 1992 In Good Company (itself pretty hard to get hold of these days) and a few bootlegs with La Monte Young of dubious sound quality, this is all we have – let's hope that more will surface in the months and years to come, including (hopefully) Charles Curtis's reading of Piece for Cello and Saxophone.
Terry Jennings (1940-81), thanks in no small part to his association with La Monte Young (who, I suspect, has quite a few unreleased recordings of his friend's music stashed away too), is often described as a major figure in American minimalism, but the five brief pieces on offer here owe as much to Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff as they do to Young. The difference between the two early Piano Pieces is striking: in the earlier work (1958), Webernian roots are still evident, but by 1960 we're clearly in a whole new world, the music seemingly looking for pitches that lie between the notes (recalling Tilbury's own perception of the major sevenths and minor ninths in Webern's music as "displaced octaves" – see http://www.jstor.org/pss/952794), and concerned more with resonance, decay and the distance the tones recede into. Jennings' harmonic language is as subtle as his timing: 1965's Winter Trees moves effortlessly from modality to chromaticism, while For Christine Jennings (1960), with its melody line vaguely recalling "All The Things You Are", feels so loose you feel it could be transcribed improvisation (Scelsi comes to mind). Tilbury's performance, notably his use of the sustaining pedal, is outstanding. So is his reading of 1966's Winter Sun, articulating the constituent notes of Jennings' delicately arpeggiated chord in such a way that we feel that each one is not only part of the chord and part of a melody but also a world in its own right.
For the Cage piece, essentially a set of instructions for a 1964 performance by the composer and David Tudor of a live electronic version of 1956's Music For Piano 4 – 84, Sebastian Lexer inserted "stationary and movable" mics and pickups in Tilbury's piano, transforming his playing according to instructions in a score "devised from lines printed on transparencies and star maps." He catches Tilbury's fleeting sounds like butterflies in a net, tiny moments captured and stretched into timelessness as events topple into each other, and into silence. "This organic, 'performed' version," writes Lexer, "was then subjected to further similar randomised processes and editing to derive the order and time placing of segments, the mixing between tracks, and panning." However involved the preparation might have been, the result is remarkably fresh and uncluttered, breathing as naturally as the Jennings pieces it complements so perfectly.–DW
Jo Fell's photograph of a bleak, snowbound country road in what I assume to be deepest Creuse in central France, where she and partner Simon have been based for a few years now, probably explains why we haven't seen much of Mr. Fell here in Paris. Happily, the five tracks on the album itself, recorded in Huddersfield, Yorkshire in February last year, are nowhere near as grey and forbidding as the cover – quite the opposite, in fact. Fell's double bass is strategically positioned dead centre in the mix, playing umpire in a musical tennis match (Mauricio Kagel's Match comes to mind on a number of occasions) between pianists Chris Burn (on the left) and Philip Thomas (on the right). The latter is credited as playing "prepared piano" while Burn's instrument is just indicated as "piano", but as he spends as much time inside it as he does tickling the ivories, the stereo placement is often the only way the listener has of figuring out which pianist is doing what.
Simon Fell is still perhaps best known for his volcanic free jazz work with Paul Hession and Alan Wilkinson, or for the intricate modernism of the compositions that make up the catalogue of his Bruce's Fingers label, but it's also worth remembering that it was Fell, in a trio with Graham Halliwell and Simon Vincent, who inaugurated the Erstwhile imprint over a decade ago. Similarly, the albums Chris Burn has released with his own Ensemble have often been loosely filed away under "lowercase", though despite their considerable delicacy they're much closer in feel to mainstream European Free Improvisation than anything on, say, Hibari. Philip Thomas's Comprovisation on Bruce's Fingers (2007) concentrated on the more complex end of the contemporary piano repertoire, but also included, alongside pieces by Burn, Fell, Mick Beck and Paul Obermayer, a nuanced – if rather brief – reading of Cage's Variations II.
It's clear then then we're talking three musicians with wide knowledge of several areas of new music, the boundary lines between which are as hard to detect here as the edge of the road in Jo Fell's photograph. The interaction is subtle and complex, and the listening – ours and theirs – is tense and intense. There's no need to fly off the handle and smash the ball out of the court (come to think of it, chess might be a better metaphor than tennis in the paragraph above): restraint is the name of the game. And despite the considerable timbral intricacy of the preparations, there's a keen ear for pitch at work throughout, best appreciated on the ebullient centrepiece of the disc, "All Moved". One wonders whether the album's five tracks haven't been sequenced deliberately to form one of Bela Bartók's beloved arch forms (a central scherzo bookended by slow movements bookended by outer movements recalls the Hungarian's celebrated String Quartet No. 5) – this, and the track titles' references to Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, is further evidence of the musicians' breadth of knowledge and deep engagement with several parallel traditions of musical thought and practice. It all adds up to a truly outstanding album, one that any self-respecting fan of new music in whatever form can't afford to be without.–DW
Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio: MM3
April 17th, Cambridge, The Junction
April 19th, London, Royal Festival Hall
Metal Machine Trio (MM3) consists of Lou Reed on guitars and electronics, Ulrich Krieger on saxophone and electronics, and Sarth Calhoun on live processing – and electronics. Although named after Reed's notorious 1975 album of guitar feedback, Metal Machine Music, the trio does not attempt a faithful live recreation of it, as has been done with so many classic albums from Pet Sounds to Reed's own Berlin. Instead, they play music inspired by the album, and in a similar vein. These two gigs were the beginning and end of the UK leg of a nine-date European tour (in between, on April 18th, they played Oxford, and moved on to Paris and beyond afterwards). Previous MM3 gigs in America had taken place in October 2008 at the Redcat Theatre in Los Angeles – available as a live double CD, The Creation of the Universe – and in April 2009 at the Blender Theater in New York, footage of which is readily available on You Tube.
Billed as "Lou Reed's MM3", the tour publicity boldly advertised "A NIGHT OF DEEP NOISE" and, just in case anyone missed that and bought a ticket expecting to hear "Perfect Day" or "Walk on the Wild Side", it added "NO SONGS. NO VOCALS". Interviews ahead of the tour stressed the point; as Ulrich Krieger told me, "In MM3 I include traces and influences from R&B and rock saxophone, which I normally don't use in [his group with Lee Ranaldo and Alan Licht] Text of Light, for example. This is surely an influence coming from Lou, a space which had opened up, and a part of my musical interest I had not really ventured into much until we started to play with MM3. Of course, all my interests in ambient, noise, drones, post-free jazz, post-rock, metal, contemporary art music, extended saxophone playing techniques, amplified saxophone, etc. are audible in MM3. It feels like in MM3 everything is possible at any given time." Lou Reed's interview with The Times in London echoed that: "Industrial rock, noise rock, drone rock, all these things that young people have gotten into have made it so that Metal Machine Music is not far out now." What Reed modestly omitted to say was that without MMM those categories would probably not exist today.
From the moment that the audience entered, any misplaced hopes of hearing songs were challenged, and soon dissipated. At the back of the stage, four electric guitars leant against speakers, feeding back in a recreation of the methodology and sound of the original MMM album. Initially, the resulting sound wasn't the high-pitched screech many would associate with the word "feedback", but a more reassuringly organic throbbing, full of variety and detail. It separated the audience into two camps: some – presumably those who had come hoping for songs – looked baffled or uneasy, with a few eventually deciding to leave, while others (the majority) looked pleased to be hearing this recreated live, with many seeming to enter a trance-like state and nodding along to its pulses. Intermittently, one or more of the musicians would visit the stage to adjust the levels, shifting the characteristics of the feedback. As the time came for the trio to take the stage, the feedback became louder and more bass-heavy (cue increased levels of nodding), to get the adrenaline pumping and set pulses racing. It was a perfect warm-up for what was to follow.
When the trio eventually came on for the live performance, they played an unbroken improvised set that encompassed a diverse range of music, as hinted at by Krieger above. The result was a multi-layered collage made up of three elements: ongoing feedback from the four guitars, real-time playing from the trio and Calhoun's live processing of the trio's playing. Taken together, this pair of gigs demonstrated how wide-ranging and unpredictable the music on the tour was likely to be; at the Royal Festival Hall, in addition to the usual instrumentation, at the rear of the stage were a large gong and a big bass drum (possibly remaining after a concert of Varèse the night before?), which the musicians would intermittently play to add further variety and drama to the performance.
Reed was positioned centre stage on a swivel chair, with three electric guitars close to hand and a bank of electronics in front of him, partly obscuring the view of his playing. Calhoun sat stage right, surrounded by two PowerBooks, electronics and keyboards. Krieger stood stage left, his saxophone miked-up both near the mouthpiece and in the bell, each controlled by its own volume pedal. As well as performing, Reed was in control of events on stage throughout, indicating to the mixing desk or road crew to alter levels, particularly of the four feeding-back guitars and signalling to Calhoun to add some elements or cut out others. During the performance, Calhoun was a constant hive of activity but he never sought the limelight, preferring to let his playing speak for itself. For much of the time the focus was on Reed and Krieger, with the guitarist producing some stunning feedback passages that brought to mind his solos on Velvet Underground tracks such as "I heard her call my name". But it was the saxophonist who was the more extrovert performer. It's more difficult to get a saxophone to feed back than a guitar, and Krieger had to perform some intricate manoeuvres to get his to do so, including holding it up in various positions at different angles, at times looking as if he was offering it as a sacrifice. Once it did feed back, he exploited it to the maximum, at one point kneeling in front of the monitor playing full-tilt into it to create a screaming blast of sound. In his more straightforward jazz-inflected solos, he looked and moved like someone in a Stax horn section, but closer examination indicated this was because he was simultaneously operating two volume pedals, one with each foot. Saxophone and guitar interacted well together, at times adopting that classic rock musician posture, leaning towards each other, heads almost touching, each focussing on and responding to the other's playing. Once it was over the trio also displayed their camaraderie in true rock star style, all smiles, taking a bow with their arms around each other amid some good-natured jostling. The audience gave them a prolonged standing ovation, calling for more. But it was difficult to see what more could have been given.–JE
Tomas Korber / Ralf Wehowsky
WALKÜREN AM DORNENBAUM
Jacques Beloeil / Michael Anacker
Michael J. Schumacher
Please excuse the lack of decent album cover images for all of these offerings from Entr'acte, but, as you may know, releases on the label aren't always the most exciting things to look at, anyway. They're always great to listen to though, and the label has solved the perennial problem of dealing with those (few, I hope) unscrupulous journalists – who take unsealed promo copies to the nearest available record shop and convert them into hard currency – by heat-sealing their releases (always wondered whether there was a Spiritualized Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space influence there) – the only way to listen to the music is by effectively sabotaging the packaging, thereby rendering resale impossible. In any case, once you've heard them, I doubt you'll want to sell them.
For some reason, I associate the music of Ralf Wehowsky with that of Arnold Schoenberg, not because Eggenstein-based Wehowsky has ever invented a system to "assure the supremacy of German music for another hundred years" (yikes!) or ever been seen as the leader of a so-called "school" (though many musicians have sought him out as a collaborator over the past couple of decades), but for the simple reason that it can often seem rather and dry and intimidating at first, yielding up its secrets only over time, after many concentrated listens. Wehowsky hasn't performed live for a long time now, and shows little interest in doing so either (the logistics of a day job have as much to do with it as the aesthetics of improvisation): his preferred working method is slow, patient treatment of raw material, either his own or that of his many collaborators. If architecture is "frozen music" (Goethe), then Ralf Wehowsky's music is audible sculpture, with each sound fussed over, chiselled, dusted and polished and right where it should be.
On Walküren am Dornenbaum his working partner is Swiss guitarist and composer Tomas Korber, who spent a few days chez Wehowsky back in April 2006 recording instrumental source material that was subsequently augmented by the addition of various field recordings and batted around between the two musicians in a process of extended manipulation, both men using "the same software which allowed them to exchange the pieces at any stage of the compositional process, so that every detail of the music could be shaped in a truly collaborative manner. The result obliterates the borders between improvisation and composition, spontaneity and careful planning."
Indeed it does, and also defies any reviewer to write anything sensible about it other than "listen". It's often dense, almost opaque in its accumulation of rumbles and drones, but also, when you're least expecting it, spare and angular; at times instruments and processes are easy to identify (Wehowsky's queasy old organ pops up on a number of occasions, and there's some harmonica and stuttering table guitar at the opening of track five), but it's often quite impossible to work out what's being played, or what's been done to the source material. Sure, one could describe it, I suppose, to a point – this happens, and then that happens – but that would be about as useful as describing a piece of sculpture. "Le Penseur shows a man sitting on a rock resting his chin on his right wrist folded inwards, his left forearm lying across his left knee.." Tells you fuck all, doesn't it? Get hold of these exquisite pieces, live with them for several weeks or months (or years), and write your own review.
My copy of the Korber / Wehowsky disc came with 30 in the same package, which was a nice touch – though I'm assuming that was just for my benefit (as the two discs are for sale separately on the Entr'acte website): like, eh up Dan, don't just concentrate on the "big names", check out the rising stars too. The title of this joint venture between Jacques Beloeil and Michael Anacker refers to the fact that their composition lasts exactly half an hour, each passing minute signalled by a synthesized voice counting down from thirty to zero, at which point the piece ends. Actually it's a little bit more interesting and irregular than that: the first intoned "thirty" doesn't actually appear until 0'30", and as there are in fact thirty-one spoken numbers (thirty counting down to one, and then a final zero), you can see that each section lasts slightly less than a minute. But, anyway, the spoken countdown serves not only to mark the passing time – it doesn't take long to guess that when it reaches zero the piece will be over – but also to articulate the work's structure, each intoned number triggering off a change of process and texture. Many of these are themselves related to pulse and the idea of number, or extracts of speeches discussing numbers, the whole piece then being a kind of meditation on metre and rhythm. It's enjoyable and accessible (maybe too much so in places – can't say I'm overly fond of the last five minutes, whose hocketing octaves sound a tad too early Mute for me.. "Warm Leatherette", anyone?), and all the more impressive for having been recorded live in December last year at Ghent's wonderful new music venue, De Witte Zaal.
E84 is an entertaining if rather uneven compilation showcasing the music of five different younger composers. Greek dronemeister Mecha/Orga aka Yiorgis Sakellariou's latest offering is brief (as is usually the case with Sakellariou, the title – 8:36 – is also the duration) and, for once, refreshingly active, his trademark sustained tones here embellished with a frosting of jangling metallic strings originating from what sounds like it could be some kind of zither. The timbre is mid-90s Paul Panhuysen, but the harmony is mid-70s Steve Reich – though there's nothing wrong with that, as far as I'm concerned.
London-based musique concrète composer Adam Asnan (though I see he still uses "acousmatic" to describe his work) studied with Denis Smalley, but the rough surface friction juxtaposed with raw field recordings of his Grumbles, Lapses (2009) would seem to indicate he's as familiar with recent developments in improvised music from Tokyo and Berlin (both Burkhard Beins and Taku Unami come to mind) as he is with the back catalogue of François Bayle.
Pauwel De Buck is one of a number of fine sound artists based in and around Ghent in Belgium, in whose Sint-Lukas art school he made some of the field recordings used as the basis for 2008's Neenah Foundry. The others hail from the courtyard of a nearby apartment building, the inspiration for the work being the contrast between the two sound environments. "Due to the enclosed nature of these spaces, the surrounding sounds of the city were heavily filtered," he writes. "Only a residue was audible in the courtyard. The overpopulated cafeteria, in combination with its bad acoustics, created a complex frame of sound reflections and textures." The source sounds have obviously been mucked about with and seriously treated, but they're still recognisable (just), and carefully edited into a coherent and satisfying 18-minute span of music.
Field recordings are also used as raw material in Tone Change on Pops' Farm (2008), by New York-based Joshua Convey, who's also a member of EAI outfit Fessenden with Steven Hess and Stephen Fiehn. I'm not sure if that apostrophe in the title is in the right place, but every sound in Convey's 11-minute composition certainly is, from the inscrutable rattles and roar of passing traffic that try to obscure the delicate pedal points and sustained harmonies to the distant guitar strumming left behind in their wake.
The odd man out here among the knob twiddlers and mouse clickers is Adrián Democ, a young composer hailing from Slovakia who studied across the border in the Czech Republic in Brno. His Dve prosby ("Two prayers") (2003–4) is a traditionally-scored five-minute song setting for soprano, flute and string quartet, in a rather airy live recording somewhat marred by audience noise. I'm tempted to refrain from making the usual remarks about dour, Eastern European new (neo-?) classical music, but let's just say Shostakovich still casts a long shadow. It would be nice to hear more of Democ's work, but not in the company of electronic music that far outshines it in terms of recording quality.
Remember to add the "J" if you want to google for info about NYC-based composer and Diapason Gallery head honcho Michael Schumacher (unless you're a motor racing fan, that is) – but even if you get the right Schumacher you won't find anything online that explains why his work is so arresting and haunting. The music on Weave – there's video too, of which more later – is choppier (funkier, even, if the subtle backbeats on ErosIon are anything to go by) than previous Schumacher outings this century (remember, those gnarly sonic dogpiles with Donald Miller were released before the millennium bug failed to bite). Schumacher is responsible not only for the algorithmic hi-tech wizardry that he uses to sequence his material, but also, here, for the instrumental source sounds themselves – piano, guitars, field recordings – though help is also at hand from flautist Jane Rigler and Polwechsel's Michael Moser on cello. Schumacher wisely credits himself with "composition" too – rightly so, as it's clear that music as coherent and structured as this is the result of human intervention. Indeed, he describes the opening 17-minute cut Loom as "an exploration of song form: intro, verse, solo, verse, outro" – though if you're expecting The Ramones you've got the wrong album. Complexity, more often than not of the kind of polymetrical nature that would have Elliott Carter's centenarian blessing, is the name of the game in Schumacher's music, and there are several ways to hear the abovementioned form in the music itself. The most impressive track in this regard is ErosIon, an 18-minute tour de force featuring guitar, percussion and loops of "traffic, power tools, a cement mixer, a revolving door, staples, hammering, a cafeteria, an elevator, the composer pushing a large subwoofer across a wooden floor" commissioned by the Ear to the Earth festival in 2008. The listening experience is not always comfortable – in fact, Malaise, with its piano scales bludgeoned into submission by dull thudding percussion or hacked to pieces by vicious scything synthesizer, is, as its title suggests, decidedly unpleasant at times – but it's consistently fascinating and always musical. I see that my worthy constituent Brian Olewnick, on his Just Outside blog, compared Malaise to Herbie Hancock's Sextant, but I think he got the wrong piece – I suspect it's the one after he was thinking of, the four-minute scherzo Urge, with its Patrick Gleeson bleeps and bips scattered across a grid of racy pulsing polyrhythms. Schumacher describes the track that follows it, Part Music, as "an algorithmically edited (distorted) version of an algorithmically manipulated two-part acoustic guitar performance" – but don't let that fool you into thinking he's taking a back seat. You can buy the snazziest food processor on the market but that won't make your soup taste better: it's the ingredients that count, and Schumacher's ear for melodic, harmonic and rhythmic hooks is as sharp as George Clinton's.
The disc also includes two brief videos by DRAW, Schumacher's audio-video performance outfit with Nisi Jacobs. Their pulsing, colourful rectangular forms are attractive enough, but would probably work better on a big screen in a gallery space like Diapason. Watching them on my crappy little computer screen is about as daft as listening to Eliane Radigue on an iPod, but I'll happily keep them tucked away on my hard drive until the day comes when I have a complete home cinema / computer / hi-fi set-up. And Schumacher's DVD-ROM Five Sound Installations (XI), which to date I've only been able to dip into with headphones, will be one of the first things I play. Meanwhile, there's enough on Weave to keep us all busy and happy for several months. Enjoy.–DW
Despite the historical importance of "loft jazz," the full breadth of improvised music occurring in 1970s New York has yet to be properly assessed. By the time Alan Douglas's Wildflowers collection was issued on Casablanca at the tail end of the 1970s, only a few lofts remained active and the landscape of self-produced concerts and recordings was entering a lull. In the story told by Douglas's collection (recorded at Studio Rivbea, the space owned by Sam and Beatrice Rivers), loft jazz was an aesthetic result of the relocation of Chicago (AACM) and St. Louis (BAG) musicians to New York, with a resulting stylistic amalgam of post-Ayler fire music and the spacious compositions of Midwestern black players like Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, and Lester Bowie. Bands like the Revolutionary Ensemble (Leroy Jenkins, Jerome Cooper, and Sirone) and Arthur Blythe's AACM-influenced combos were perfect examples of that. But the reality of this music is a sight more complicated.
Historically, the Lower Manhattan lofts were a product of cheap rents in former industrial districts, large spaces occupied by artists and musicians beginning in the 1960s and continuing until rents began to skyrocket in the early 1980s. Musician-owned lofts included Charles Tyler's Brook, Rashied Ali's Ali's Alley, Joe Lee Wilson's Ladies Fort, William S. Fischer's Environ, and Mike Mahaffay's Sunrise Studios. Though "loft jazz" generally refers (and rightly) to black self-reliance projects, the contribution of white musicians like Mahaffay, Fischer, Dave Liebman, Richie Beirach and Barry Altschul shouldn't be overlooked. In the booklet included with alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc's Muntu Recordings, writer Ed Hazell gives a detailed description of this climate in his essays "A Place to Play What We Want: A Short History of the New York Lofts" and "Carved Out of the Hard Dark Ebony of Africa: The Story of Jemeel Moondoc and Muntu." Hopefully the materials contained in this set's liners can be expanded into a book-length analysis, which is what this period needs.
Jemeel Moondoc is one of a number of musicians too frequently left out of the presentation of creative improvised music. After studies with Cecil Taylor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Antioch College in Ohio, the Chicago-born and Boston-bred alto saxophonist relocated to New York in 1972. Along with trumpeter Arthur Williams and pianist Mark Hennen, Moondoc was part of a core group of Antioch associates, also including trumpeter Raphe Malik and drummer Syd Smart, who studied and worked with figures like Taylor and Bill Dixon. On first listen to the music of Moondoc's Muntu, it strikes one as being out of the Taylor-Ornette Coleman axis rather than aligning itself with the more poised structures of AACM-fed New Yorkers. In addition to Hennen and Williams, the group featured bassist William Parker and drummer Rashid Bakr (now returned to his birth name, Charles Downs). The lineup was flexible: Hennen was only present for the first LP, as Muntu was revamped into a pianoless quartet with Roy Campbell, Jr. taking the place of an increasingly ill Williams. When Parker and Bakr were unavailable or, later on, committed to Cecil Taylor's group, other bassists and drummers sat in. Sometimes Muntu was a trio with Moondoc as the sole lead voice (as represented on disc three of this set); one apparently undocumented lineup also featured violinist Billy Bang (then with Parker in the Music Ensemble). The group self-released two LPs on its Muntu label, First Feeding (1977) and The Evening of the Blue Men (1979), along with live records on Poljazz, Cadence, and Praxis, before dissolving in 1985. With the exception of the Cadence release, New York Live, none of this material has ever been on CD.
It's hard not to make a comparison to Taylor's work on First Feeding, especially on the brief title track. At this stage, Hennen is less blocky and more florid in his dusky exploration of cells (by the time of groups like the Collective Quartet and his work with William Hooker, the Cecil-isms would all but disappear). The fat tonal bricks and hot, slow blasts of sound that Williams unspools are indebted to Dixon, while comparisons with Silva and Cyrille are apt in the initial rustling interplay of cello and percussion. Once the improvisation begins, however, it's clear that Muntu is its own group. Sections of sound climb over each other and soon become a whirlwind dance, as the rhythms flit and jump in taut angles, Hennen shortening his phrases into stabs around Bakr and Parker's darting blinks. By the piece's end, there's a folksy revision of the theme that makes the front line sound more Ornette-ish than Jimmy Lyons and Dixon might have preferred.
In "Flight from the Yellow Dog" (named for Antioch's location, Yellow Springs), the combination of alto acridity and Williams' slightly bent long tones harks back to Booker Little and Eric Dolphy. Hennen's massive, ringing right-hand architecture feeds Moondoc's limber flight, a series of coiled bursts of energy, bitter screams and flat burbles. Bakr is angular, tapping and jabbing the skins amid lightly swirling cymbal work, allowing the front line to build most of the heat in front of a thin, athletic canvas. After a series of strong solos, the ensuing collective improvisation returns to a Taylor-like approach, tufts of brassy screech and yelps shooting back-and-forth over pianistic unit-motifs and Parker and Bakr's interlocking whorl. Moondoc's solo on "Theme for Milford (Mr. Body and Soul)" is a youthful stocktaking of his various influences, Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy filtered through the lens of Lyons, Ornette, and Charles Tyler. With a penchant for digging in and repeating phrasal slabs, Moondoc takes laconic bits of blues and assembles them into a framework of linear movements and harrowing energy just the right side of explosiveness. Williams is steely and darting with sardonic asides of vibrato-heavy growl, crafting a solo of violence, humor and facility that's one of the most exciting in his scant discography. Hennen follows with an ocean of action, a romantic maelstrom encompassing both ends of the keyboard, and Parker's unaccompanied arco and pizzicato work traces a maddening line of ancestry through Paul Chambers and Henry Grimes. Unheard by all but the most obsessive connoisseurs of free music until now, "Theme for Milford" is one of the cornerstone performances of 1970s New York improvisation.
Muntu's line-up was always flexible, and during times of unavailability (of a piano) or instability (of Arthur Williams), they soldiered on as a trio. A case in point is the 1975 performance of "Theme for Milford" recorded at Ali's Alley. The theme is rendered with an insistent lilt, a skeletal work-through of curls and trills that in their naked form bolster the cellular affinity for Taylor's work. Moondoc's sweet-and-sour flights, obsessive eddies, blues rondos and spindly elaborations demonstrate what a truly exciting (and underappreciated) soloist he is. Even when his phrases unfurl into cries and acrid squawks, there is an undeniable crispness and warm swing, and Parker's calloused pluck and Bakr's percussive kindling are unrelenting. While Moondoc has occasionally recorded in trios, there's little to compare to this performance, save perhaps for Live at Fire in the Valley (Eremite, 1996, with Jon Voigt and Laurence Cook).
The classic Muntu lineup, which also appeared on half of New York Live as well as The Intrepid (Poljazz, 1981), is represented in this set by The Evening of the Blue Men, from a concert recording from St. Mark's Church in 1979. Arthur Williams was out of the group by 1978, and following a European tour with Billy Bang that Hennen did not make, Moondoc restructured Muntu as a quartet with trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr. Compared to First Feeding and the Ali's Alley recording, the rhythm section has markedly increased its weight as well as espousing a post-bop sense of forward motion suggesting Garrison/Jones or a more dangerous Workman/Haynes. On the title piece, Bakr's press rolls and thick cymbal crash might be closest to what Sinan sounded like with Muntu, albeit with a free-bop fleetness. "Blue Men" combines a ringing, sectional quality suggesting Cecil Taylor with a singsong Ornette vibe. Moondoc is much more fluid in his exhortations, and though his earlier more ragged style is intriguing, such easy confidence is a gas to hear. As he builds into tortured peals and earthy honks, Campbell swoops in with crackling explosions, joining the incision of Clifford Brown and Donald Ayler to the joviality of Don Cherry. Coupled to the triple-time bombs of Bakr, the accompanying shouts of other band members are understandable.
"Diane" is a dark ballad with echoes of Dolphy's "Serene" or a Gigi Gryce Jazzlab number, saccharine and elegiac by turns. Moondoc's solo quotes "Round Midnight" even as he becomes rhythmically free over the tune's loose, sashaying walk. Campbell is clarion, purring and darting before laying into the material with a sense of bravura à la Lee Morgan. Bass and drums saw and hack away beneath, leading the improvisation to the precipice of squall only to return it to stately iconography. It's a shame that Evening of the Blue Men received such limited circulation at the time, for it might otherwise have been judged a modern jazz classic.
Muntu dissolved in the mid-1980s following – ironically – the hiring of Bakr and Parker by Cecil Taylor, and Moondoc retired for nearly a decade as a result. His return to the scene has been sporadic since the 1990s, though usually with interesting and powerful results. Hopefully the resuscitation of these recordings will pave the way for a more permanent return, as well as restoring him to his place in the history of this music. For anyone wanting a clearer picture of loft jazz, or just some undeniably heavy small-group jazz, the Muntu Recordings are essential.–CA
The story of Joshua Abraham Norton (1819?-1880), San Francisco-based eccentric, ruined businessman and self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, is a great subject for an opera, a real rags to riches American dream – well, the other way around, actually, since he lost his family fortune speculating in raw materials, rice to be exact – and it's good Gino Robair got his hands on it before John Adams turned it into another dollop of postminimalist pulp fiction.
We're not talking La Scala Milan here though – the much-hyped renaissance of opera kickstarted in the late 70s by Glass's Einstein On The Beach (not a traditional opera by any means, unlike Satyagraha, Akhnaten and the numerous projects Glass followed it up with), has more or less fizzled out now, and despite its penchant for media-friendly subjects for operatic treatment – we've gone steadily downhill from Adams' Nixon in 1987 to (gulp) Mark-Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole Smith – contemporary opera has proved an unattractive proposition, being far too costly to stage and nowhere near as popular with the conservative (and well-heeled – seen the price of a ticket these days?) opera-going public as yet another rerun of Aïda or Figaro. Ligeti's Grand Macabre has had limited success, Stockhausen's Licht cycle is already gathering dust, and Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise is receding into history at high speed.
But if one reads "music theatre" for "opera" there's plenty of life in the old beast yet. Gino Robair cites the open forms of Tom Phillips' Irma as an important influence on his work, whose overture begins on the final night of Norton's life, January 8th 1880, when he collapses at the corner of California and Dupont (nowadays Grant Avenue) in San Francisco, "leaves his body and hovers above the scene, with the words from his proclamations bouncing around in his memory." Robair's music illustrates the scene quite graphically, with the buzz of the crowd forming around Norton as he lies in the street, extracts from his speeches and decrees chopped and scattered electronically around the stereo space. Just as well, since, to quote the composer (go to: http://www.rastascan.com/catalog/brd063.html), "a realization of the opera can be completely instrumental. The piece does not require staging, sets, lights, or costumes. It is meant to be performed anywhere, anytime: A 'mobile guerrilla anti-opera,' if you will."
There's not much point going into more detail here, especially since there's plenty of information on I, Norton readily available at Robair's various websites (go Google) and a splendid extended interview with him by Canadian journalist and occasional PT contributor Stuart Broomer in the February edition of Point of Departure (go to http://www.pointofdeparture.org/archives/PoD-27/PoD27Ezz-thetics.html), complete with extracts from the score and textual / biographical background. Suffice it to say that Robair has gathered a crack squad of Bay Area New Music notables for this recording: Norton is played by Tom Duff, with Aurora Josephson taking the role of Miss Minnie Wakeman, and the "Orchestra Dei Gratia" includes Morgan Guberman, Bob Marsh, Damon Smith, George Cremaschi, Matthew Goodheart, Kyle Bruckmann, Matt Ingalls, Dan Plonsey, ROVA, Tom Djll, John Shiurba, Myles Boisen, Karen Stackpole, Chris Brown and Scott Looney. It's an outstanding piece of work, well worth checking out.–DW
As the ambient, post-rock outfit Animal Hospital, Boston-based musician and sound engineer Kevin Micka is a veritable one-man band. Memory, his 2009 debut full-length release for Barge Recordings (he also has records on Mutable Sound and Mister Records), is a tautly constructed, salient work, with sonic elements slathered like concrete into the earth. The effect is of a constructed summit, a man-made elemental force.
Formally, Micka utilizes a versatile hybridic approach, blending acoustical elements — throbbing bass lines, rich string sections, loose drumming, occasional vocals, and plenty of guitar — with a big pile of electronics. He navigates his mixing consoles, amps and delay units like an architect, painstakingly aligning loops into long, supplicating compositions. (Live, his multitasking is even more impressive). Animal Hospital seems to fall somewhere between The Books and Daniel Francis Doyle; fittingly, Micka's indie and math rock background occasionally peeks through the experimental vapors, particularly on the lively, hop-scotching "…and ever."
Memory is loosely arranged around three major tracks, each of which lasts about 15 minutes ("His Belly Burst," "…and ever" and the remarkable closing title track), while the remaining four pieces hover between two to four minutes each. The album begins with the tentative winding up of a music box, the promise of a stuttering lullaby, and ends with fading, sonorous strings signaling towards mortality. The effect is lasting, the tone often elegiac. There is an emphasis on repetition, but also repentance; small, powerful moments, like the shadowy timbres of Micka's vocals or a solitary guitar wash, scatter the album like gut-wrenching landmines. Amidst the cleverly timed loops, virtuostic playing and special effects, Memory is ultimately a deeply felt human record, one that is as hopeful as it is melancholy.
The writer and theologian Frederick Buechner once theorized that the purpose of art is to fortify faith, to spread mystery, to provide significance to human existence. "Maybe it's all utterly meaningless. Maybe it's all unutterably meaningful. If you want to know which, pay attention to what it means to be truly human in a world that half the time we're in love with and half the time scares the hell out of us." Memory asks us to do just that, to get lost in the swell of the past, to reimagine the ache as it spreads in our gut.–NP
Jac Berrocal / Andrew Liles
Even if you didn't know Andrew Liles was part of Steve Stapleton's extended Nurse With Wound family, you could probably guess it on seeing Julien Pacaud's old photo collage artwork and the title of this seven-incher (originally a track from Berrocal's famously weird Parallèles LP, later borrowed by Stapleton for a Nurse album in its own right). Recorded live in October 2007 at Les Voûtes in Paris, an authentically underground sweaty tunnel under the street just down the road from the snazzy new National Library, the only element of this 10'46"-long track (quite a feat, getting all that on a single) that's recognisably "Rock'n'Roll Station" is the boom-de-boom bass line. None of Berrocal's text – memorably intoned by fallen angel rock star Vince Taylor on the 1976 original – is used, and if there is a bicycle wheel whirring along in the background, I certainly can't hear it. Instead there are plenty of bleats and blasts from Berrocal's trumpet (reverbed à mort as always), a few James Chance-like squeals and a, shall we say, well-lubricated version of "Strangers In The Night", but little else worth writing home about.–DW
Bill Dixon / Aaron Siegel / Ben Hall
WEIGHT / COUNTERWEIGHT
Aptly titled, this double LP – two heavy slabs of thick vinyl in a solid, austere gatefold – containing four medium-length improvisations featuring Bill Dixon and percussionists Aaron Siegel and Ben Hall (you're supposed to know, I guess, what Siegel and Hall play, as there's nothing in the packaging to tell you, but if you don't know that Dixon plays trumpet you shouldn't be reading this in the first place). Of course, they could have stuck all four on a single CD, but that would be spoiling the fun. Not that "fun" is the word you'd necessarily use to describe Dixon, especially the shot of him staring gravely out from the gatefold; the 85-year-old trumpeter has pursued his artistic and pedagogical goals with implacable determination and seriousness ever since he emerged on the scene as a comparatively late starter in 1962 (and the continuing lack of availability of that year's early quartet outing on Savoy with Archie Shepp and 1967's seminal Intents And Purposes on RCA is nothing short of scandalous). Though active and highly influential as a teacher through his work at Bennington College in Vermont from 1968 to 1996, Dixon hasn't exactly flooded the market with discs (though recent years have seen a discreet stepping up of his output), but each of his releases deserves and repays close attention, Weight / Counterweight being no exception.
In concert the trumpeter makes extensive use of the kind of cavernous reverb and delay that would have Jac Berrocal turning green with envy, but it's skilfully handled here and expertly mixed by Warn Defever so as not to drown out the percussionists' delicate accompaniments (though there's not much they can do to compete with Dixon's extraordinary low tones on "Hirado"). The pace is uniform and leisurely and the mood contemplative, but there's a sense of underlying tension and extreme concentration throughout, heightened perhaps by the crackle of vinyl. Vibraphones and glockenspiels, struck and bowed, envelop Dixon's velvety tones in a warm glow, but there's not the slightest hint of easy listening chillout here: when the music does explode – as it does, notably towards the end of "Contrapposto" – its power, its weight, is tremendous.–DW
David Grubbs / F.S. Blumm
BACK TO THE PLANTS
These four brief tracks, culled from an improvisation recorded by David Grubbs (electric guitar) and Frank Blumm (acoustic guitar) in Peter Coffin's "Untitled (Greenhouse)" sculpture in Seville in 2008 (hey! join the club! I recorded an album in that greenhouse too, in the Palais de Tokyo in Paris) comes along with a handsomely-produced 36-page book of Blumm's drawings. "The Recording has later been enriched by material that F.S.Blumm found on his hard-drive," we're informed, including snatches of bass clarinet (Ulrich Wangenheim), drums (Jan Thoben) and bass (Marcel Türkowsky). It's a shame it's all over and done with so soon – there are barely twelve minutes of music in all – one wonders why they couldn't have included the complete improvisation on a CD instead of a seven-incher, as there are plenty of intriguing moments, but never mind.–DW
MAP (Mary Halvorson/Tatsuya Nakatani/Reuben Radding)
This new release by the trio of Mary Halvorson, Tatsuya Nakatani, and Reuben Radding is a vital shot of old-school improv. Vinyl only, its pieces paced on the length of an LP side, its conversational three-way improvisational style is solidly in-the-tradition – if your notion of the tradition acknowledges the global approach to spontaneous collective playing developed over the last fifty years. These three have been working together in various combos for awhile now: Halvorson and Nakatani first hooked up to play in a trio setting with bassist Clayton Thomas in 2003, recording a small run CDR, and Halvorson and Radding are part of Crackleknob, a similar-minded trio with trumpeter Nate Wooley.
Their improvisations are compact constructions built around the timbral contrasts. Halvorson's skittering guitar, Nakatani's gestural percussion and Radding's earthy bass complement each other perfectly. Radding grounds the trio with his orchestral arco and rumbling pizzicato, while Halvorson draws on a rich, resonant jazz tone, angular phrasing, and impeccable sense of timing, her steely sound dodging and weaving with grace and agility. Nakatani is the ultimate textural player, coaxing resonant shimmers and clatter from an extended array of bowed, scraped, scrubbed and caressed drum heads, gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, and assorted percussion, moving from pinprick delicacy to tumultuous abandon. Each piece is a study in collective development of gesture and form, informed by the physicality of playing and the act of fine-tuned listening and response. One quickly loses any sense of three distinct voices, focusing instead on how their interactions become inextricably intertwined. There's nothing polite or studied about this playing; it's a three-way adventure throughout. Cut direct to metal and pressed on 200g virgin vinyl, the pristine recording captures every subtle nuance of these detailed, discursive interactions over the course of three LP sides (the fourth is fancifully etched with a lacy design). The beautiful packaging with deluxe printing on heavy stock gets a shout-out as well. Well worth searching out before the 1000-run pressing disappears.-MRo
Joe Morris / Chris Riggs / Ben Hall
You Are Your Only Machine
David Keenan describes it as a "blow-out" over at Volcanic Tongue, and the Eclipse Records update blog talks about "the most brutal and barbed recording in Joe Morris's catalog", but the music of this intriguing trio, in which Morris joins fellow guitarist Chris Riggs and percussionist Ben Hall (again!), is often fragile and pointillist, and rarely rises above what I'd call mezzoforte, which hardly constitutes a blow-out in my book, but never mind. It's certainly an odd release: imagine (if you can) Rudolph Grey guesting with a later incarnation of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, with Morris replacing Roger Smith on electric guitar. But even that doesn't really give you much of an idea of what you're in for. Until Roger goes the distance with Donald Miller, it's hard to think of two more different guitarists playing together – the one-off collaboration between Derek Bailey and Keith Rowe on Laurie Scott Baker's Gracility comes to mind, but Hall's skittery trapset work is an extra ingredient in the stew, not so much accompanying or mediating between the guitarists (not that that's really possible) as sketching rhythmic and timbral grids which mark out the musical space they're exploring. As a result it falls neatly in the crack between free jazz brainfry and intricate EFI workout, neither wild or ecstatic enough to qualify as the former but not sufficiently concerned with motivic interplay and development to count as the latter. But, as you know, I rather like records that fall between the cracks.–DW
Drummer Frank Rosaly has established himself as one of the finest players on the fertile Chicago scene, an indispensable presence over the years at lively spaces like 3030 and the Hungry Brain. He's also thankfully been documented somewhat regularly of late, including on a fine album of duets with Dave Rempis. Part of this documentation includes Rosaly's own label output, most notably the superb solo album (where he plays electronics as well) Milkwork, on awesome white vinyl. Those hesitant about solo percussion will be pleased by Rosaly's taste and inventiveness. The opening "Adolescents" sets the tone with nice hand-drumming, Roach-like polyrhythms and soft splashes. This kind of spaciousness and textural approach characterizes the bulk of the music. Even on tracks like "NY Prices," with its busy rushes of sound and woody click-clack, there are tons of pauses, Rosaly always attuned to pacing and dynamics. This isn't to say that things don't coalesce regularly into glorious grooves. But when they do, the sound is like high life music played by a one-man band, occasionally receding into a backdrop of bells or simply overloading with sound. Beyond its tendency to move between the grooving and the spacious, the music is idiomatically varied as well. He strips back the kit to just hand bells and hi-hat (with what sound like modest preparations) on "Four Bright Red Dots" and dials up some jarring lo-fi electronics and an accordion on "Zoquete." And with the concluding "He Junkin'" Rosaly is at his most energetic, even as he maintains impressive focus, playing around with the idea of staggered momentum, weaving between laser beams. This is one of the better solo percussion discs I've heard in some time. With his slow progression through patterns, Rosaly never overwhelms things with technique, focusing instead on narrative and space.
For those who like it slightly more conventional, Rosaly has also released a limited edition 7-inch (also on milky white vinyl) containing two live tracks from 2005 where he brings the heat alongside tenorist Keefe Jackson. Jackson has a nice big tone and he plays declamatory lines that recall late Trane, as Rosaly brings a kind of Roy Haynes crackle and pop to the music. "Word Made Fresh" is more poised and contained, while "Real Absence" is raw, crying. It's a nice vivid slice of live energy, with each 4-minute track a tonic.–JB
Gil San Marcos
I know very little about Gil San Marcos other than what I've been able to scoop up online (two references, one to the Bombay Cove label, the other a typically uninformative MySpace page – though thanks to Google I have discovered a restaurant called Gil's Broiler in San Marcos TX, not that I'm ever likely to eat there), but on this attractive LP on marbled green / grey vinyl he's pursuing what's described as "a strict no-instruments policy", creating his music with feedback loops, effects pedals and mixing desks. Two of the six tracks were recorded live, in a bookshop in New Orleans and a record store in Nashville respectively, the label is based in Austin TX, and the Thank Yous include the town of San Marcos, so maybe Gil has tried the fried chicken at the eatery that bears his name after all. You're highly unlikely to hear Domes blasting out of the house sound system if you go there, though: its mysterious menacing drones, occasionally spilling over into outright nastiness ("Every Clock and Wristwatch" and "Mass Grave" are my personal favourites) are about the last thing you'd want to listen to in a family restaurant. It's tasty enough in small portions – though from what I hear you don't get too many of them in Texas.–DW
Uncle Woody Sullender / Seamus Cater
WHEN WE GET TO MEETING
Brooklyn-based Woody Sullender has, of late, been developing what he calls an "electroacoustic banjo", with technical assistance from the good people at STEIM in Amsterdam, in which fair city half of this album with expat English harmonica player Seamus Cater was recorded in 2008, but many of the subtleties of the device (notably its ability to catch and retain individual tones from an instrument with a very prominent attack but very little sustain) quickly get lost in the clouds of harmonics Cater sucks and blows from his collection of assorted mouthorgans. An album of music for banjo and harmonica probably conjures up the idea of New Weird Country & Western, whatever that might be, but with its concern for strictly delineated pitch fields this has more in common with gagaku than it does with either blues or folk. Think shamisen and shō instead. I saw these lads in concert a week or so ago, and soon realised that many tiny but significant details were being swallowed up in the din made by the punters (many of whom had clearly turned up to see John Hegre instead and were expecting a set a little more, shall we say, boisterous) – the delicacy of When We Get To Meeting is definitely something to be appreciated in the peace and quiet of your own home.–DW
LOHN & BROT
Activity Center – the long-standing duo comprised of Burkhard Beins (drums and cymbals, objects, table percussion, e-bowed and propelled zither, mixing desk, and handheld electronics) and Michael Renkel (nylon acoustic guitar, preparations, amplified stringboard, live electronics, and percussion) – has come a long way since their earliest recordings. While these were never necessarily idiomatic to their "base" instruments, they were far more recognizably a part of a branch (admittedly remote) of second- or third-generation EFI. Now, with their instrumental allsorts, Beins and Renkel play a duo music that seems to be activated by seasonal change, wind, and wood rather than any recognizable quality of instrumentalism. On lohn & brot they play three lengthy pieces with sherbet between them. There are audible strings strummed and surfaces struck, especially on "Arbeit : Material," where spring-loaded floor toms with their rubbery sound contrast vividly with muted or scratched strings, chiming zithers, and a bestiary of sourceless noise. It gathers itself into a drillbit roar and then relaxes into a pump organ and gently struck hammer chords, unwinding further until the only sounds remaining are a music box and a spinning top on a table. The half hour "zone : produkt" is almost entirely electronic to start, but contains such a multitude of whines and slurs and voicelike elements that the boundary between acoustic and electric is nearly effaced as it morphs ever so slowly into a fantastic twittering machine. And the long slow grind of "station : prozess" is vivid, focused on peeling away the layers of a single territory. A bracing disc, filled with weird wonders like a nineteenth century inventor's shop.–JB
"A piano is said to be Ruined (rather than Neglected or Devastated) when it has been abandoned to all weathers and has become a decaying box of unpredictable dongs, clicks and dedoomps, with not a single note (perhaps excepting D) sounding like one from an even-tempered upright piano." This quote from Ross Bolleter's book The Well Weathered Piano (3rd edition) is vital to an understanding of what follows. Since he first discovered one in the late 80s, Australian composer and improviser Bolleter has become a champion of ruined pianos. He's tracked them down, collected them, played and recorded them, and founded WARPS – the World Association of Ruined Piano Studies – which has its own label and studio. Apart from releases on the WARPS label, the 2006 Emanem release Secret Sandhills and Satellites has been the best way to sample the sound of ruined piano – until now. In the kitchen at the WARPS studio, Bolleter has four of them on which he improvises and composes at night, hence the album title Night Kitchen. Thirteen of the fourteen tracks were recorded there, between 2002 and 2009.
Prior to developing his devotion to ruined pianos, Bolleter worked with the at times similar sounding prepared piano. Doubtless John Cage would have been a devotee of the ruined instrument, as it combines the sound of a prepared piano with an inherent indeterminacy, as another Bolleter quote illustrates: "[I]t's actually necessary to re-learn the Ruined Piano each day that you wish to perform on it. What was a sweet-swelling long ringer on Tuesday can be the merest plink by Thursday." Like Cage, Bolleter is also a follower of Zen. Given the nature of the instruments, his greatest achievement is not that he extracts pleasing sounds from them but that he combines them to produce music that is both coherent and engaging, the instruments complementing each other's oddities to give the music its distinct character and charm. Bolleter relishes eccentricity and turns it to his advantage, playing with and exploring it. End result: this is an album to treasure.-JE
Circulasione Totale Orchestra
The CTO, a large-ensemble project led by Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad, has been sparsely documented up till now, with just five prior releases since its creation in 1984. Voilà: this three-disc set of live recordings from 2008 and 2009. Disc 1 is a May 2008 performance from the Moers Festival in Germany (recorded the day after the session released on the band's previous CD, 2008's Open Port); disc 2 is from the July 2008 Molde Festival in Norway, while disc 3, recorded in May last year, is from Taktlos in Zürich, Switzerland. While the first two discs revisit the "Yellow Bass and Silver Corner" suite previously aired on Open Port and the third contains a suite entitled "Dancing In St. Johann", these are essentially titles of convenience for freely improvised performances.
CTO's sound could be described as "Bitches Brew goes to Norway", with the raucous, percussive electronics of Lasse Marhaug, Morten Johan Olsen and guitarist Anders Hana replacing the wah-wah guitars and keyboards of the Davis group; in addition, Bobby Bradford's cornet features prominently, his Ornettey clarion interjections often signalling a change in direction. The rhythm section is an extraordinary team, pairing bassists Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Nick Stephens and drummers Louis Moholo-Moholo and Paal Nilssen-Love; on the third disc, Nilssen-Love and Håker Flaten (off touring with Atomic) are replaced by Hamid Drake and electric bassist Per Zanussi, and the rhythms are somewhat more rigid and less free-flowing.
This collection is highly recommended. With performances of this duration each incremental listen highlights something new to the listener's experience, whether it's the clarinet interplay between Gjerstad and the remarkably simpatico Sabir Mateen or their scorching alto/tenor saxophone face-off on the second part of disc 2 leading to a free-for-all, or the way Børre Mølstad's tuba supplements Bradford and the rhythm section on the first disc's opening cut. I doubt I'll run out of enjoyable things to discover in these fine performances.–SG
Nels Cline Singers
I got a chuckle when reading the one-sheet accompanying this: Wilco lead guitarist! Well, sure, but Cline has been finding his way deep into the crevices between genres for decades now, his only guide a sheer love of the electric guitar's sonic possibilities. Hauling up treasures consistently, the NCS have released what may be their finest yet: a two-disc whopper, one a relatively laid back studio collection and the other a fire-breathing live date. The studio session largely alternates between groove pieces and trippy abstractions. Its reflective opener could almost be heard as a bridge back to Cline's solo disc The Coward, but it's soon forgotten amidst the stripped down Michael Henderson/Al Foster groove "Floored." Across this disc, Cline takes in a number of his favorite territories: gently complex chordal meditations like "Divining," spacious melancholy as on "You Noticed" (with excellent electric piano from David Witham), and skronky SY-derived anthems like "Mercy (Procession)," which marches shaggily. It's just such a pleasure to listen to Cline play. He's so fluid and imaginative, always coming back to line, even to his own out romanticism, with no frippery or skronk indulged that's not in service of emotion. And of course, his veteran mates are crucial contributors as well. Amendola's gift for High Life rhythms and polyrhythmic invention propel "Red Line to Greenland," while Hoff's affecting lyricism is powerful on "Mercy (Supplication)."
The live set from Café du Nord is mostly high energy, and all killer. The complex threeway rhythms of "Forge" get the set off to a swaggering start, but it really takes flight with "Fly Fly," which crashes forth with the same kind of abandon heard on early NCT discs like Ground but goes deeper, deeper until it finds a mournful space at its core, one with no soft impressionism but deep droning psych intensity and squall. Absolutely glorious. Amendola's rig has plenty of electronics these days, and Hoff occasional buries the needle by running his bass through some gnarly stomp box too, so the noise is pretty deep and heady on this tune and the sheer hessian stomp of "Raze." They ease back for a great reading of Carla Bley's "And Now the Queen," followed by a sweet, fleet dedication to Jim Hall (notable for a great Hoff solo – Amendola also has some time in the spotlight, a tuned percussion workout to start "Sunken Song"). But the fire quickly resumes with the urgent, chiming "Thurston County," an emotional jam, and really explodes with the set's closer, a fantastically funky romp through Zawinul's "Boogie Woogie Waltz," complete with the entirety of Deerhoof on percussion. A barn burner, and it's Cline's best in a while.–JB
Pillow Circles features nine compositions from the leader's "Pillow Circle" series, vividly recorded in Amsterdam by a vibrant group of Chicagoans and Europeans, and one New Yorker: Dijkstra (alto sax, lyricon, analog synth, crackle box), Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano), trombonist Jeb Bishop, violist Oene Van Geel, guitarist Raphael Vanoli, Paul Pallesen (guitar, banjo), Jason Roebke (bass, crackle box), and Frank Rosaly (drums, percussion, crackle box). They have an absolutely fantastic group sound, riotous, joyful, and tight as hell. Resourceful and imaginative, they bring to life Dijkstra's ambitious, complex charts with tons of character and energy. Something about the taut rhythms and urgent chord changes on the opening "Pillow Circle 34" recall Marty Ehrlich's or Tom Varner's writing: there are graceful unisons and counterpoint from the horns, some gruff funk (chank-chank guitars and all) and delicious breakdowns. It's a rousing start, but from there the group moves onto the tiny squiggles and round-the-circle statements of "Pillow Circle 41," which vividly recalls Braxton's early Creative Orchestra pieces. One of the things I really love about Dijkstra's approach to pieces like this is his ear for the deft arrangement or sub-grouping, musical details that completely enliven things: here, as the music verges on a groove, Bishop comes up with low weeping noises as Pallesen's banjo fusses. Dijkstra gets deeper into the sound of the strings – both woody plucks and electric swells – on "Pillow Circle 18," which after a fanfare comes to settle into a gently rippling country lament. "Pillow Circle 65" has a lovely circuitous theme for high horns and guitars, with a more chugging riff for lower register instruments wending its way underneath, all clearing the way for a really gorgeous Malaby solo. There's an interesting dedication to Robert Ashley on "Pillow Circle 88," which is filled with percolations, repetitions, and beeping or crashing guitars. "Pillow Circle 10" withdraws even more intensely into abstraction, with groans, creaks, and whooshes of air. As impressive as these pieces are, I found myself stirred by the gorgeous anthem "Pillow Circle 19" and "Pillow Circle 23," a dedication to Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood, which is shot through with deep Mingus sensibilities. Top shelf!–JB
Axel Dörner / Erhard Hirt
The Axel Dörner discography is, as any reader of this site will know by now, quite substantial, but guitarist Erhard Hirt's is still surprisingly small, especially considering that the first album he appeared on, Guitarre solo: Zwischen den Pausen was released back in 1982, when Axel was still playing trumpet in the high school band. Back then there was also a trio with Radu Malfatti (not documented on disc, alas, though both men do appear on Wolfgang Fuchs' King Übü Orchestrü Music is music is... in 1984) and another with Phil Minton and Willi Kellers. A later trio with Minton and John Butcher was captured live in 1995 (Two Concerts, FMP), but the guitarist has kept a pretty low profile (on disc, at least) since the turn of the century, quietly perfecting his work. And the results are impressive: these two improvisations, lasting respectively 23 and 19 minutes, were recorded live at the Black Box in Münster (hence the title) on July 30th 2007. The instrumentation is listed as just trumpet and guitar, but both musicians also incorporate live electronics, often resulting in considerable textural complexity. Fans of Dörner's more reductionist work might find it all too busy (though his full range of extraordinary techniques is on display), and those who prefer him playing straight à la Die Enttäuschung could be frustrated too; similarly, those familiar with Hirt's spikier early work may be surprised at the density of his playing, but, like fellow German guitar / electronics whiz (and, if I'm not mistaken, Acheulian Handaxe label boss) Hans Tammen, Hirt has never been easy to pigeonhole. This is strong, intelligent, genre-bending improvised music and deserves your undivided attention.–DW
Fight the Big Bull
ALL IS GLADNESS IN THE KINGDOM
Swagger isn't a term often used with respect to contemporary improvised music, and especially large ensembles. One more often comes across it in connection with archival territory band recordings, Mingus or the funkier moments of the Clarke-Boland Big Band. Creative large ensembles are frequently praised instead for either attention to detail or fire-breathing. Both of these certainly occur in the twelve-tet Fight the Big Bull, but neither is necessarily a given. Active in the Richmond, Virginia area since 2005, FTBB centers around guitarist and composer Matt White, and All Is Gladness in the Kingdom is the group's second disc to date. Most of the names here will be unfamiliar to even the most keyed-in modern jazzheads, though trombonist Bryan Hooten, drummer Brian Jones and bassist Cameron Ralston are also three fourths of the oddly groovy Ombak. For All Is Gladness, FTBB are joined on nine compositions by trumpeter and New York impresario Steven Bernstein, who contributes two pieces and one arrangement.
The disc begins with White's "Mobile Tigers," whose breathy reed and trombone textures are punctuated by Jones' vibes (shades of Charles Moffett) and in-the-red wahs and whinnies from Bernstein's trumpet. Those dirty blats engender a sweaty slink that remains consistently on the verge of exploding until tenor and dueling trombones punch through in nasty albeit fleet tailgate, a bar walk on hot coals. There's an intricacy as well that's wholly modern, as ricocheting rim shots support a clean muted trumpet, clarinet and tenor lines. Some of the reed bluster is reminiscent of a husky Vandermark tune, but that's not a slight and the rhythms have an intricacy and metallic tautness derived more from minimalism. Borne on pillowy looped guitar and stuttering saxophones, Bernstein's "Mothra" evolves into a strange merger of crime jazz, Basie hustle and gritty electric bass vamp. A smidgen of Southern indie-rock lineage must have gotten into the arrangement, though, because that vamp does a fuzzy about-face into something straight out of a Polvo song, before White stretches out into wicked metallic skronk over a syrupy horn section.
It seems like Gato Barbieri's Chapter One has collided with Rhys Chatham's guitar army on "Jemima Surrender," but the tune unfolds into wry Canterbury-like horns with snatches copped from Morphine and Klezmokum. Calling FTBB postmodern would be easy, but hardly does them justice – their assemblage hangs together extraordinarily well and is the result of weekly open rehearsals and serious chops. But it's hard to think about anything other than collisions when Hooten's trombone multiphonics evolve into pitch-divided trumpet and swamp riffs somewhere out of Beefheart and Dr. John. Rarely has stylistic dissonance seemed so singular and swaggered with such conviction.–CA
Quiet Inlet is Food's second album as a duo, after 2008's Molecular Gastronomy (Rune Grammofon), following the departures of bassist Mats Eilertsen and trumpeter Arve Henriksen. One consequence of the downsizing is that Thomas Strønen's drums and electronics have expanded into the available space, making greater use of electronics and producing a broader range of percussive sounds and textures. He also samples and processes Iain Ballamy's saxophones and alto flute, reintegrating them into the duo's simpler, more spacious soundscape. The greatest irony since scaling down from a quartet to a duo has been Food's tendency to bring in guest players, as if they feel something is missing that needs replacing. So it proves again here, with the duo being joined by Christian Fennesz on guitar and electronics and Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet and electronics – though we never hear all four as a quartet, given that they were recorded live in different years at different events.
The music on this new release builds upon the template of the last. With extensive use of electronics by all concerned, the provenance of sounds can sometimes be unclear, with underlying drone never far away, but the sound field never becomes cluttered or too busy. There's a clean simplicity and tranquility to it all, largely down to Ballamy's appealing tone and sense of melody. The keen-eyed will have spotted that Food have changed labels from Rune Grammofon to ECM, and it looks like they'll feel right at home on their new label, not least because Ballamy can sound uncannily like Jan Garbarek (catch someone out sometime in a blindfold test). The label shift also seems to signal the end of Food's sequence of jokey food-related album titles, a loss that won't be lamented. Estimable as Fennesz is, he rarely occupies the limelight on the three tracks that include him, opting instead to add background atmospherics. In contrast, the four tracks that pair Ballamy and Molvaer are a revelation. The two have a similar sense of dynamics, sounding natural and comfortable together as they trade and interweave ideas and phrases. Unlikely as it seems, if Food were ever seeking to replace Henriksen, Molvaer feels like a natural.–JE
Joe Foster / Hong Chulki Takahiro Kawaguchi / Ryu Hankil
OSCILLATION / VACILLATION
Balloon & Needle
I was amused and pleased to see that Choi Joonyong and Park Seungjun's Driller got a mention in Chris Bohn's masthead in the April issue of The Wire – put that down to the Michael Jackson connection, I guess – what a shame he didn't mention this quartet outing from Joe Foster (open circuits, oscillators, objects), Hong Chulki (empty turntable), Takahiro Kawaguchi (tuning fork, objects) and Ryu Hankil ("speaker and piezo vibration" it says over at IMJ but it sounds like he's got those clocks ticking again too) in the same editorial, because it's far more intriguing. Very well recorded – in the Kaywon School of Arts and Design in July 2009, whose acoustic is as much part and parcel of the musical experience as the playing itself, as is often the case with EAI – it succeeds where many similar ultra-minimal outings of recent times don't, principally because of its superb sense of pace. And danger: one senses that many of these fragile (but not always pretty: far from it) sounds are on the verge of petering out altogether, or conversely exploding into something ugly and uncontrolled / uncontrollable (Chulki's work in particular has been known to be brutal), but – magically – the performers keep them in check with exemplary precision, and musicality. Choi Joonyong's cover design is classy, too – the disc comes sandwiched between two L-shaped cards which slot together neatly to form the traditional square shape. A great little package, and a great disc inside it. Go get.–DW
Burton Greene Quartet
LIVE AT THE WOODSTOCK PLAYHOUSE 1965
I've never really been much of a hi-fi buff, to be honest, and can't understand why certain friends of mine have spent about as much on their sound systems as it would cost me to nearly double the number of CDs in my collection (not that I have time enough to listen to the ones I've got as it is), especially since some of my favourite music suffers from truly atrocious recording quality and it matters not one iota. I mean, if you're going to moan about the sound on Strange Strings or Spiral Scratch, you're missing the point. And you might as well forget about Charlie Parker altogether. But at times, you can't help regretting the somewhat duff sound on a lot of live recordings, and this newly unearthed set by the Burton Greene Quartet in action at the Woodstock Playhouse in late 1965 is a case in point. It's not the recording's lack of definition and depth (it's a good job bassist Reggie Johnson takes a couple of totally unaccompanied solos, because he's almost impossible to make out when playing with the rest of the band) as much as a truly annoying buzz in the background throughout, which seems to be louder on the third and final track.
The album was mastered from a stereo reel-to-reel tape that had been gathering dust and getting damp on Greene's Amsterdam houseboat for years, one track of which was unusable and the others inevitably slightly damaged. Perhaps if you've got some snazzy software you could load up the music and EQ it out – or at least down – but if not you'll just have to grin and bear it.
I'll admit the first time I gave this a spin I very nearly gave up altogether, though: the first track, "Tree Theme II", is a decidedly lacklustre waltz, whose circle of fifths harmony only Greene seems to understand (maybe Johnson's playing the bass line, but he's barely audible). Saxophonist Marion Brown's solo sticks so close to the contours of the theme you wonder whether he's sightreading it, and drummer Rashied Ali sounds, well, clumsy (an impression not helped by a very present booming bass drum and distant cymbals). Not too many drummers know how to handle 3/4, but the man Ali replaced in the Coltrane quartet, Elvin Jones, did – shame Rashied didn't pick up on his triple time. The Woodstock Playhouse is a long way from Interstellar Space.
Happily, things pick up on "Cluster Quartet II" – it's interesting to compare this version with the one that Greene recorded a few months later for his ESP album, with Henry Grimes replacing Johnson on bass and Dave Grant behind the kit, especially since that's been cleaned up and remastered recently – and Burton flies off the handle as only Burton can as soon as the theme has been punched into submission. Brown's debt to Coltrane is more apparent here than it is on the ESP album, and his snaking post-bop lines are effectively pummelled by Ali (who sounds positively relieved he got through that waltz) and Greene's energetic inside piano playing. Goodness knows what Johnson's up to, but when he finally gets to solo it sounds just fine. The 27-minute closing number "Like It Is" – credited to all four musicians, so I'm assuming it's a free improvisation – is even wilder, but once again the recording can't completely do it justice. When Burton slams that sustain pedal down, everything gets sucked in to the cluster vortex (maybe that was the idea), and the picture gets blurred and fuzzy. Still, we shouldn't complain – let's hope there are more archive recordings of these guys from this period. It doesn't matter if they were recorded through a hole in the wall in the loos or on a tape recorder hidden inside someone's duffel coat, I'll bet they're well worth hearing.–DW
It's fairly easy to file percussionist and composer Nick Hennies under "EAI", but though he namechecks composers like Luigi Nono alongside Radu Malfatti, he's also the principal songwriter and vocalist for the squirrely and often histrionic Austin band The Weird Weeds. The reductionism is balanced by raw emotion, even acute drama; rather than "letting sounds be themselves," he's not afraid to give them a shove if it fits the overarching work. On Lineal, Hennies employs a bevy of sonic materials alongside his trusty snare: amplified ice cubes, a wine glass, no-input mixing board, piano, guitar, snippets of prewar folk recordings and, most importantly, recitations of poetry by his late grandfather Charles Nichols. The first movement is entirely instrumental, clinking glassy loops and treated flecks of piano and guitar giving a sweet, nearly romantic flavor to a landscape that's like a lighter variant of Xenakis's Bohor. Its recurring plucks and veiled scrapes are songlike, simple and winsome, yet have an unsettling undertow. The second and longest movement is structured around Nichols' stately and warmly amateur recitations of verse by poets like Longfellow and MacDonald in a Kentucky drawl. The initial recitation is a capella, clear and unsullied; it's followed by a scraped drum head and electronic whir in an orchestral burial rite, only to be yanked in favor of summery parlor flickers, sounds like frying bacon alongside reverb-heavy acoustic guitar. The quaver of Nichols' voice on "What Christ Said" is positively affecting, surrounded by washes of moist activity. As he recites Edgar A. Guest's "Home" in dedication to his late wife, his cadence slightly halted by emotions, Hennies overlays electronic clusters just shy of envelopment, closing with a swathing hum and sounds of a ghostly mountain band. In terms of depth, power, and evocation, Lineal is about as maximalist as one can get.-CA
Jason Kahn / Jon Mueller
Flingco Sound System
By subjecting audiences to the inhalation of desensitizing fumes derived from the quintessence of drumming, Jason Kahn and Jon Mueller have amassed a number of stunning releases over the years, many of them worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of Static Music with a Brain (theirs – ours is usually pretty much anesthetized by the results). Though my promo copy is virtually note-free (no instruments declared), one supposes that percussion, analogue synthesis and shortwave radio constitute the main sources of Phase. Following a three-minute preliminary section, the VU meters flash to red right away as we're thrown into a hellish intersection of hissing substrata, indistinct tones and indispensable pulse, halfway between industrial din and enigmatic infinity. Sympathetic vibration of the skull is instantaneous. The quavering mass is expertly manoeuvred to reach a nirvana reeking of burnt metal, a painfully invigorating ascension to lysergic bleakness accompanied by the auditory nightmares typical of huge accumulations of entrancing frequencies: I imagine masses of squealing mice amidst hydraulic abortions, and snippets of Luciano Berio's Coro garbled by a persistent army of horrendous dunderheads screaming against beauty with contorted faces. The music's wicked imperiousness becomes its most significant attribute: once used to it, we pray for endlessness. When it's over, it's time to regroup, but the echoes of another extraordinary adventure in the realm of motionless possession linger on.–MR
Originally a duo consisting of saxophonist David Linnros and drummer Niklas Korsell, this incarnation of Konatus features Ida Lundén on piano and electronics and Dror Feiler on saxophones in two slabs of uncompromising rough and tumble improv, respectively just under 17 and 21 minutes in length, recorded (very well too) in the splendid acoustic of Stockholm's Fylkingen in June 2007. As you might expect with Feiler aboard, it's pretty noisy stuff, but at least his playing partners aren't wimps like the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra who boycotted the world premiere of his Halat Hisar a couple of years ago on the grounds that it caused them to suffer ear problems and headaches, the poor lambs. In point of fact, though I see Frans de Waard namechecks Borbetomagus in his Vital Weekly review, it's far from the all-out brainfry you might expect (if Messrs Sauter, Dietrich and Miller's music does come to mind, it's the early stuff, notably their work with Hugh Davies) – you can hear everything quite clearly throughout, and the second track starts out remarkably quietly. But lowercase this definitely is not: don't trust that cute little pussycat on the cover either – it'll scratch your ears off if you let it.–DW
Dave Liebman / Evan Parker / Tony Bianco
According to Dave Liebman's liners on Relevance, he's wanted to play with Evan Parker for a long time, and as Parker has always shown a willingness to make new musical acquaintances on the bandstand (witness the various lineups of his recent two-week stint at The Stone in New York), drummer Bianco accordingly arranged a January 27, 2008 performance at the Vortex. The results, taped by the BBC, were two improvised trio sets of slightly under 40 minutes apiece. Each begins with a long blowout, rounding things off with a shorter, more pensive coda; the saxophonists switch between tenor and soprano, with Liebman adding bamboo flute at the conclusion. In the second set they seem more comfortable with each other's playing, and the performance is perhaps slightly more satisfying, but the initial squaring off of two Coltrane-influenced tenors has its own unique pleasures. Parker is as always adaptable to his partner's approach, sublimating his standard soprano pyrotechnics into a more collaborative form, particularly in the second set, where he introduces some odd Monkish elements that elicit a ferocious tenor performance from Liebman. Liebman refers to Bianco's drumming as "a flowing and consistent carpet": fair enough, though you might want to add "roiling" to that description. Liebman compares this encounter to the "Tenor Madness" meeting of Coltrane and Rollins, which might seem an overweening comparison but isn't all that off-base given the stature of the participants. Like that encounter, Relevance might well be only a one-off, but it's an excellent one, documenting the give and take of two modern masters of the saxophone.–SG
THE GIUSEPPI LOGAN QUINTET
The rediscovery of long lost free jazz saxophonist / pianist Giuseppi Logan busking in Tompkins Square last year was as pleasant a surprise as Atlanta social worker Marshall Marrotte's unearthing of bassist Henry Grimes in a run-down South Central LA housing project a few years ago. Unlike Grimes, whose phenomenal activity since his return to music is almost as astonishing as his mysterious absence, Logan hasn't yet been swept off his feet by a feisty and indefatigable manager / wife (hello Margaret!), but, while he warms up for a projected appearance at the Vision Festival, he has been encouraged back into the studio by producer Josh Rosenthal and trumpeter / bass clarinettist Matt Lavelle, who set up this date with bassist François Grillot and former Logan playmates Dave Burrell (piano) and Warren Smith (drums).
Giuseppi Logan was born in Philadelphia in 1935 and studied at the New England Conservatory, gigging for a while with Earl Bostic before moving in 1964 to New York where he hooked up with the young lions of the New Thing, including Bill Dixon, Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders.
Until this new quintet disc appeared, there were, as far as I know, only four items in his discography: two albums under his leadership for Bernard Stollman's ESP' Disk imprint – The Giuseppi Logan Quartet, with pianist Don Pullen, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Milford Graves, recorded in Bell Sound Studios New York on October 5th 1964, and More, a live concert at Town Hall dating from eight months later, on which Gomez shared bass duties with Reggie Johnson – and two appearances in 1966 on Roswell Rudd's Everywhere and Patty Waters' College Tour.
It's fitting that this comeback album should appear on a label that takes its name from one of Logan's old haunts (there's some footage of him back in Tompkins Square in 1966 at http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2009/01/lost-and-blessedly-found-giuseppi-logan.html if you're interested), but I'm not sure whether the bright, punchy recording and ebullient playing – from Burrell in particular – isn't doing the saxophonist something of a disservice. Burrell's enthusiastic comping and volleys of characteristic fisticuffs only serve to emphasise Logan's rather fragile tone and occasionally dodgy intonation (funny how jazz critics seem to be reluctant to say someone's playing out of tune – Anthony Braxton rarely gets called out for it, and Ornette Coleman fans tend to pass it off as "harmolodics", but, well, if you're out of tune you're out of tune, and there's no other way to put it). To be fair, Logan is nowhere near as breathless and weak as Arthur Doyle was on the embarrassing Your Spirit Is Calling with Hamid Drake (I'll never forgive Qbico for putting that sorry affair out), but he's certainly having trouble getting the pitch right on "Around". His singing on "Love Me Tonight" is touching, but makes you feel slightly uncomfortable; like the old tramp on Gavin Bryars' Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, it's moving precisely because the pain of hard times is burnt into the grain of the voice (which is why the Tom Waits remake of the Bryars piece falls so spectacularly flat). One also wonders why Logan chose to cover "Freddie Freeloader", as his concept of both the twelve bar blues and modality is clearly light years away from the universe of Miles Davis. His spidery soloing works much better on "Over The Rainbow", but once more Burrell's harmonically dense accompaniment seems curiously out of place. Warren Smith is more discreet, obviously keen not to drum the saxophonist into a corner, and Lavelle is a sympathetic and attentive playing partner. Bassist Grillot is solid enough, but doesn't really know what to do behind Logan's piano on "Blue Moon" – one longs for something more adventurous (shame they couldn't have got Henry Grimes on board for a comeback double bill). But there's much to enjoy here, especially the quality of Logan's own compositions: the five originals on offer are easily as rich as source material for extended improvisation as anything on his earlier albums. Instead of trying to get their chops round Coltrane's "Giant Steps", some of the young cats out there should try and work the changes of "Steppin'", and Mingus fans will find much to admire in "Bop Dues." Here's looking forward to more Giuseppi Logan music in the not too distant future.–DW
ESFÍNGO – SUITE FOR A JAZZ COMBO
There seem to be damn few well-kept secrets in the improv world anymore, but Portuguese trumpet phenom Sei Miguel seems to be one. After three decades of tenaciously pursing a personal vision blending jazz sonorities and phrasing, electroacoustics, and compositional forms for improvisation (parallels can be drawn between his work and Leo Smith's in this area), he's still relatively unknown. It doesn't help that most of his back catalog is on tiny-run Portuguese labels and pretty much impossible to find. The 2006 release Tone Gardens on Creative Sources ought to have provided a bit more visibility – that spectacular live quartet outing from 2004 with Miguel, partner Fala Mariam on trombone, Rafael Toral on electronics, and Cesár Burago on percussion presented a singular intersection of floating, lyrical line, subtle electronics, and textural abstraction – but for some reason never quite got the attention it should have.
For Esfíngo, recorded live in 2006, Miguel has assembled the same quartet, with the addition of bass guitarist Pedro Lourenço, for another set of scored improvisational inventions. The trumpeter is unabashed about his allegiance to jazz, and while the sub-title of this release ( "Suite for a Jazz Combo") may not leap out as an obvious choice, it provides the conceptual underpinnings for both how he approaches structure and how the group itself approaches improvisation. Miguel has transposed the small jazz ensemble, placing his clarion tone and the warm musings of Mariam's trombone against the coloristic scribbles and sound blocks of Toral's modulated resonance feedback circuit, while the simmering patterns and pointillistic plucked daubs of bottom end from Lourenço are nicely paired with the spatters of texture from Burago's timbales and small percussion. This is music guided by cooperative interchange, with each line placed thoughtfully against the ensemble, each piece paced around the balance between density and silence, texture and lyricism, and the tactical placement of lead voices against the collective flow. Esfíngo has been on high rotation since it arrived and has egged me on to try and dig up more of Sei Miguel's earlier work.–MRo
Manuel Mota / Afonso Simões
AO VIVO NO ESPAÇO, CENTRO DE DESASTRES
This 25-minute live recording (date not specified) belongs in your collection alongside the two albums by Curia (the eponymous 2007 outing on Fire Museum and the limited edition LP Curia II on Headlights last year), on which, you will recall, guitarist Mota and percussionist Simões were joined by David Maranha and Margarida Garcia. Here, without Maranha's rich organ to fill out the texture and Garcia's velvety bass to anchor its lower registers, the music feels lighter and more spacious, even if it wallows in the same psychedelic mudbath – the slightly woolly recording, in which microphones seem to have been placed at a respectful distance from the musicians, is perfect: miking them up close would have removed the mystery, making it just another guitar and drums improv album.
Mota's guitar playing, as usual, is a real treat (though as you should know by now I'm hopelessly biased) – indeed, this could be his best work yet: it's a solo of remarkable coherence and, despite the fuzz, wah and reverb which blast it into the cold darkness of outer space, intense passion. If his previous albums have invited comparison with Derek Bailey, Roger Smith and Taku Sugimoto, it's Keiji Haino that comes to mind here. Calling it a solo is probably doing Simões a disservice, though (so allow me to apologise): without the need to compete with two other musicians in the band, he flaps and flutters around his kit delightfully (Sean Baxter, Dylan van der Schyff and Aaron Moore – in one of his lighter moods – all come to mind), complementing Mota's flights of fancy to great effect. A great little disc, even if it fades out too suddenly and too soon – try and get yourself a copy.–DW
Sunny Murray / John Edwards / Tony Bevan
BOOM BOOM CAT
Though it's not quite as incendiary as this trio's previous release, The Gearbox, their latest disc (a live date from the Vortex in September 2009) has a celebratory flavour all its own - and well they might celebrate, given the recent release of Sunny's Time Now, Antoine Prum's documentary about the great free jazz drummer (which includes footage of this band in action). The main feature here is the hour-long title-track, paced throughout by Murray's trademark slow-burn hi-hat chomp, which sings out as strongly and persistently as the Bevan's horns and (after a while) gives you the pleasantly dizzy sense of having been shaken like a rag doll. Bevan shows off his penchant for soaring motivic play: when he first enters (on tenor sax) he sketches out an off-the-cuff honest-to-goodness tune that the players toy with for the next 15 minutes; by sharp contrast, on soprano he seems to be trying to draw together several different approaches, migrating from scorching themeless volleys to yammered repetition to his usual blunt tunefulness. When his bass sax comes into play it throws various other things in the mix, giving bassist John Edwards a whole new set of options: laying pinging high-register pizz on top of the horn's beastly mutterings, or letting loose with quivering arco in response to Bevan's gravelly swathes. Throughout the piece there's the exciting sound of three strong but sympathetic personalities rubbing up against each other - listen to Bevan's closing tenor feature, where Edwards insists on warping every harmonic resolution the saxophonist proposes, and Murray pulls against any neat resolution with an enjoyably rumbly coda. The drummer switches to brushes for the closer, "Ballad for G", a deepsea exploration of jazz time in all its infinite variety: as Bevan works over a glum little riff he provokes increasingly ecstatic responses from Murray, ranging from old-fashioned double-time to gnashing hi-hat hyperdrive. It's not really a ballad, more of an exploded riff on West Coast Cool, but (who knows?) maybe Sunny Murray: The Ballads Album is around the corner. Bet that'd be a stunner, too.-ND
Sainkho Namchylak / Nick Sudnick
NOT QUITE SONGS
Not Quite Songs is the latest in a string of duo albums pairing Sainkho Namchylak with different partners that Leo has put out since 2007, which have placed her extraordinary voice in a variety of contexts seemingly designed to highlight it to maximum effect. This has been a smart move by Leo; since she was first heard in the late 80s on the label's influential Document compilation, Namchylak’s voice has too often been treated as a novelty. To some extent this was understandable as her gruff timbre and Tuvan throat singing style initially sounded alien – even demonic – to Western ears, but over time, prolonged exposure has revealed far greater range and variety than was initially obvious. Leo’s Nomad retrospective, released in 2007 to mark her 50th birthday, made the point eloquently.
Having paired up with Roy Carroll, Jarrod Cagwin and Dickson Dee in past duos, this time out Namchylak is joined by Nick Sudnick, leader of the Russian noise group ZGA. It's a match made in heaven. Sudnick plays instruments (or sound objects) he's constructed himself as well as reeds and accordion, generating a wide variety of soundscapes across fifteen tracks. When he produces a brooding wash of percussion, Namchylak responds with her lowest register whispered vocals, a sound chillingly reminiscent of the demon voice in The Exorcist. In total contrast, as he plays a stringed sound object pizzicato, she gives a series of upper register whoops that teeter on the brink of laughter, mirrored by matching sounds on a whoopee whistle, the whole creating a carefree joyous ambience.
Ideas and sounds are batted back and forth throughout, each spurring the other on to fresh discoveries and explorations. Across the album as a whole, there's an incredibly high success rate, with no track falling flat or failing to ignite. As a paradigm of how an improvising duo should interact, this is a textbook case. Another view of this series of duo albums is that Leo has been searching for an ideal duo partner for Namchylak. If that were the case, the search is now over. Let's hope this album is the start of a long and fruitful collaboration. The only duo that would be better to hear than a repeat of this one would be another match made in heaven – Namchylak and Phil Minton, the stuff of dreams. Until that comes along, this will do very nicely, thank you.–JE
New York Art Quartet
My pulse quickened when I saw the news that Cuneiform was set to release the New York Art Quartet's Old Stuff. It's hard to imagine anyone not smitten by this group, whose ESP and Fontana recordings are justifiably still celebrated. However, this current release is valuable not just for the killer music – about which more below – or for mere archival purposes. No, this pair of Danish live recordings from October 1965 (the first half at Café Montmartre, with a slightly imbalanced sound that makes trombonist Roswell Rudd sometimes tough to hear, the second a radio broadcast) features a different lineup, with Rudd and altoist John Tchicai still at the fore, but here backed up by resourceful bassist Finn von Eyben and a young Louis Moholo on drums! Needless to say, Moholo's rhythmic base is entirely different from Graves', still focused on complex intersecting polyrhythms that bring tunes like "Rosmosis" alive (I find myself often concentrating on just his hi-hat work) but also notable (as on "Kvintus T" or "Cool Eyes") for space and tension, a winning and at times mischievous tendency to pull back the reins and slow the momentum to great effect. Roswell sounds particularly garrulous throughout, hollering and playing pranks, with outrageous melisma here and rapid boppish bursts there (he's crazy, all up and down the horn on "Sweet Smells"). Tchicai sounds fantastic as well, gruff and jittery on the first version of the title track, sour and melancholy on a brief "Pannonica," and positively boiling on "Pa Tirsdag." It's fantastic to hear once more how this band went far beyond the expressionism customary for this period. Indeed, their peppery dialogues – in which each player contributes equally – not only pinwheel through various source materials (as on "Karin's Blues," which sounds like it could be an early version of "Keep Your Heart Right") but together create lines of such rhythmic complexity and detail that the potency of Graves' playing on the earlier sides isn't missed overmuch. Ragged and real, this disc is a delight.–JB
(ALSO KNOWN AS) ACKER VELVET
On this latest offering of elegant, austere EAI from the Schraum label, Andreas Trobollowitsch plays tapes, electric guitar and bass, prepared melodica, radio and feedback and Johannes Tröndle cello and live electronics. The pair originally recorded in Vienna (yes, at Amann Studios, though you could probably guess that) in May last year, before taking the tapes away and working on them to produce a carefully structured result, eight tracks in all which run without a break to form a coherent and satisfying 32-minute span of music. The vocabulary is familiar – in addition to the extended tones, high and low (raid these lads' record collections and I'll bet you find Lucier and Sachiko M in there, not to mention Polwechsel and Efzeg), there are the usual crinkles and wrinkles of live electronics – but the music isn't without its subtle surprises (there's a judicious use of silence and some rather intriguing Darth Vader heavy breathing on "me"); the editing is cunning throughout and reveals a sensitivity to pitch (notably on "so" and "ka") in line with the more user-friendly outings of Viennese EAI. I see Martin Siewert handled the mastering, and I'm sure he enjoyed doing it too. Another solid outing from Schraum. Wish I knew what the album title meant, though.–DW
Londoners Robert Hopps and Jonathan Webb's processed field recordings, guitar, turntables, keyboards, percussion and electronics first came to my attention on their 2008 Confront Collector's Series release Shh... Camille, one of only two albums they'd released prior to this one (the other being a self-produced CDR) since they began working together back in 2004. If seeing them on the roster of artists who've appeared on Mark Wastell's label makes you think "quiet" and "lowercase", maybe you should think again. Sure, EAI's still the drawer I'd file this latest offering away in, but the three pieces on the splendidly produced eponymous album (elegantly packaged in a 14x18cm case which opens out to reveal a fine reproduction of Julie Heffernan's "Everything That Rises") are a reminder that so-called New London Silence is as much part of the past as Blair and Blur. The throbbing pedal points of "Deana" are closer in feel to stoner metal than the crackle and drizzle of EAI, and the dense, claustrophobic textures will appeal to fans of Matt Waldron, Jim Haynes and Hafler Trio more than Confront collectors. It's pretty heavy stuff, in fact, and though great moments abound (my favourite being the cloud of wild Xenakis-like squiggles that appear towards the end of "Deacons: Control of the Candidate" like the birds circling in Heffernan's painting), one feels somewhat exhausted when the album ends and the house PA in Café Oto kicks in after the applause for Hopps and Webb's live set dies down (nice finishing touch, though).–DW
AT SOMEWHERE THERE
Somewhere There is a nonprofit performance space a few blocks away from Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel that's been one of the bright lights on the local music scene the past few years: a cozy room, miscellaneous chairs, PWYC drinks, a passable piano, and improv/avant-jazz gigs taking place virtually every night of the week. The bulk of William Parker's solo disc, from a July 2008 gig, is a formidable 48-minute arco bass piece, though there are also a couple of (pleasant, if decidedly supplementary) dedications to Don Cherry and Ella Parker where he shifts to dousn'gouni and double flute, respectively. I'm still parsing my reaction to the bass piece, entitled "Cathedral Wisdom Piece": in its vocabulary, its sonic richness and in the modulations between zones of activity, it's a truly astonishing performance; yet that's not quite enough to overcome my misgivings about how material is organized and developed. The real joy here is the multileveled depth and sheer aliveness of the sound, the honeycombed harmonics that suggest countless little tunes buzzing simultaneously in your ear. In his liner notes Scott Thomson (trombonist with the Monk-centric band The Rent and tireless organizer at Somewhere There) speaks about how the experience at the gig was "so enveloping for me that I could see the sounds William played, first in a billowing cloud and then shooting out like light-tendrils that circled my head." That's the kind of language that I’d normally dismiss as whimsy or mere puffery, but it absolutely makes sense here, even at the greater sonic/experiential distance of a CD. (Jeff Schlager's garish neon splatter-portrait on the cover certainly gets this aspect of the music right.) There are so many absolutely gorgeous moments here it's hard to single them out - the ponticello loop de loops at the start immediately entice you in, and every so often you get a nice surprise, like the stretchy yawns that break in after 12'30", or the speed-wobble games near the end of the piece (41'40"), or the way the Parker's elemental palette unexpectedly throws up a stereotypical country'n'western lick (44'42").
Still, if you're sceptical about the verbosity, repetitiveness and allergy to silence in a lot of free jazz this disc may rub you the wrong way. The basic strategy is iterative growth, a series of obsessively fractured repetitions that aren't really rigorous enough to feel like theme-and-variations. The pace is fast but since few phrases are allowed to just be (rather than get immediately repeated and blurred), things end up falling into a predictable cyclical motion within a fairly narrow rhythmic range, from wobbly seesawings to hobbled arpeggios to intenser shudderings. I do really like it when just before the half-hour mark Parker narrows the focus down and lets some linear melody poke through (there's even a passage of nonstop quarter notes that’s less like walking bass than a Braxton pulse track), and while the music's final stretch does have the usual coming-in-to-land problem of long-form improv (circling around itself more times than a decrepit hound dog in an effort to find a resting spot) there are lots of interesting sights along the way.-ND
Trumpeter Roland Ramanan seems depressingly underrated, given his talents and vision. On London he offers conclusive proof in leading a vibrant cross-section of London players from multiple generations: fellow trumpeter Ian Smith, clarinetist Alex Ward, altoist Simon Rose, tenorist Ricardo Tejero, trombonist Robert Jarvis, cellist Marcio Mattos, bassist Dominic Lash, and drummers Tony Marsh and Javier Carmona. From the outset of "Turning the Heel," Ramanan (who also conducts) manifests a great concern with rhythm and space, using tightly grouped horns and a developmental pattern – gatherings and dispersals, punctuations – that suggests a debt to Braxton's "Composition 98" specifically (imagine Hugh Ragin and Ray Anderson multiplied). As much as I enjoy this kind of graphic score abstraction, I especially appreciated how Ramanan used all the resources of these players to dig into some idiomatic materials too, a fun and wise gesture that makes this recording distinctive. For example, there are several riotous swing sections, with the right balance between cacophony and swaggering groove, and usually lit up from within by Ward's brilliant clarinet. Ramanan likes to let these sections burn away to near silence then rise again in glorious mutant mid-tempo Ellingtonia. It's a treat to hear how deft the ensemble is – for all its energies and inventions – in returning regularly to line, to pulse, to section work even (check the nervous fanfare that arises from the low brass drone on "3 Line"). In the heart of the disc, the music focuses (in "Ever Made Go Cold" most memorably) on successive solo features. There's a terrific passage for drummer Tony Marsh and a head-spinning, riveting Ward feature once more, leading into a rough and ready duet with Tejero (Rose's caustic duet with a drummer gets even more heated). Following this, the ensemble returns to more formal pieces, with "Brass Trio" a different kind of elegance whose continually streaming lines move forward into more and more open space, wrestling, dancing, breaking up, and sewn together by marvelous counterpoint from cymbal and cello. With the brief knotty noise of "Another One," this fine disc is over too soon.–JB
TONAL – NAGUAL
A few years ago a collaboration between lowercase Swiss improvising percussionist Christian Wolfarth and Schimpfluch noisyboy Joke Lanz aka Sudden Infant might have seemed unlikely, but here it is, and it's further heartening proof that the Berlin Wall between Noise and Improv has been well and truly breached. Not only that, but Lanz, currently resident in the German capital as it turns out, is very good at following in his fellow Berliners' footsteps, decorating the remaining stretches of crumbling concrete with colourful graffiti from his turntables. His work with the wheels of steel has always been exuberant and unruly (a few choice cuts from the splendidly irreverent 2002 Gameboy album Sudden Infant's Turntable Cookbook made it to the wonderful and strongly recommended S.I. 4LP retrospective set My Life Is A Gunshot on Hrönir) – one might think then he'd be better off teaming up with a similarly wild percussionist (Roger Turner comes to mind), but Wolfarth's impeccably paced explorations of continuity and friction (see recent issues of PT for reviews of his latest solo work) actually complement it to perfection, forcing his playing partner to slow down a little, freeze-frame the action and scrutinize the expression of his cartoon characters. It's not all one-way traffic, either: Lanz's eclecticism also pulls Wolfarth out of his EAI cubbyhole and steers him back at times towards the more rhythmically active world he used to inhabit with the likes of John Wolf Brennan. A very enjoyable release from the ever surprising Rossbin label.–DW
SHAPES & PHASES
Those Norwegians are pretty extreme when it comes to Black Metal, but there's something quite accessible about this debut album of Trondheim-based Petter Vågan (lapsteel, acoustic guitar, electronics) and Tor Haugerud (percussion, signal generator, field recordings). Well, maybe that isn't the word to describe all nine tracks on Shapes & Phases – there's plenty of aggressive fuzz and buzz and a lot of nasty friction going on in "Attractor", the longest of them – but it certainly applies to Vågan's mournful lapsteel on the opening cut, and there's a real feel for melody in the descending chromatic scales lurking behind the blips and beeps of "Solitary Wave". Elsewhere, the album pushes all the right buttons as far as recognisable influences go, and with its savvy mix of EAI, drone, field recordings and nearly-tonal (well, diatonic) harmony, one senses Giuseppe Ielasi, who's in charge of mixing and mastering here, is one of them. If your personal collection includes Tetuzi Akiyama, Emeralds, Alan Licht, Toshi Nakamura and Oren Ambarchi (Supersilent too, but I guess that goes without saying), you'll certainly enjoy this. For myself, I'm curious to see which of the many avenues this album opens up these lads will choose to explore in the future.–DW
ZWÖLFZUNGEN (TWELVE PORTRAITS OF LANGUAGES I DON'T UNDERSTAND)
Coverage of Alessandro Bosetti in these pages has mostly been focused on his soprano saxophone playing, but he's been increasingly turning his ear toward electroacoustic work, sound art, radio pieces, and text-sound composition. Zwölfzungen can be loosely translated as twelve languages or twelve tongues. Originally commissioned as a radio art piece for Deutschland Radio Kultur in Berlin, the piece is based on recordings of people Bosetti encountered on his travels around Africa, Asia, Europe and the US. He intentionally chose native speakers of languages he didn't speak or understand so that he could, instead, hone in on the musicality and cadences of the speakers. The field recordings were then collaged, processed, and mixed with pre-recorded and real-time electroacoustic materials.
It is telling that Bosetti subtitled this piece "twelve portraits of languages I don't understand," as the recording truly becomes an audio portrait gallery. The results are truly bewitching. Each piece serves as a miniature in its own right, capturing the essence of both the language, speaker, and situation in which the source materials were recorded. The recording opens with the lilting flow and gentle laugh of Dogon women and children placed against multi-channeled warm plucked guitar and ringing electronic tones. This leads into a Basque word game propelled along by an infectious pulse of bass and electronics. The whistled El Silbo language of the Canary Islands is overlaid into a construction of haunting beauty as rhythmic patterns and sliding microtonalities are repeated and played off of each other against placid electronic tones. Percussion, overdriven electronics, and the looped and fractured recording of a Haitian Creole speaker makes for a hyperactive contrast. In a few cases, Bosetti provides a text piece which is translated into the various native tongues, but of course the Urdu reading and the Japanese reading by musicians Kenta Nagi and Tatsuya Nakatani bear no resemblance to each other whatsoever. Instead, each becomes an improvisation for both the participants and Bosetti's treatments. He rounds out the eleven encounters with a quirky recording of Interstitial Shortwave Language, a language he invented himself, with a sing-song cadence accompanied by plink-plonk piano. The recording is a limited edition of 500 and beautifully packaged in a hand-pressed cardstock sleeve so don't hesitate to grab one while you can. Not to be missed.–MRo
[Old School] JOHN CAGE
This program, recorded at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2006, comprises three pieces – two lasting half an hour, the third five minutes – written by John Cage in the final years of his life. Zeitkratzer, on that occasion, were Frank Gratkowski, Hayden Chisholm, Franz Hautzinger, Reinhold Friedl, Maurice de Martin, Burkhard Schlothauer, Anton Lukoszeviese and Ulrich Philipp, with Ralf Meinz taking care of technical aspects. The titles of the number pieces indicate the number of players, a stopwatch regulates the music (which is performed without a conductor), and so-called "time brackets" determine the temporal frame in which a player starts or ends a given sound, the overlapping parts giving birth to a different soundscape with each execution. There's serious discipline at work here, clearly felt throughout the recording, and the level of fulfilment deriving from the exercise of this restraint is quite high.
1992's Four6 – also recently given a brilliant realisation on Another Timbre's Decentred – is executed with dutiful precision, permeated by a sort of inimical imperturbability. The droning character is predominant but far from soporific, with recurrent growls and ear-stabbing acute screeches meshing in uneven intensity, a sense of constant clattering underlining numerous sections, and grittiness delivered in the right doses. Five (1988), an emaciated permutation of stinging sustained tones interspersed with pauses, acts as an interlude before the concluding Hymnkus, which was composed in 1986 (and whose name is a combination of the words "Hymns" and "Haikus"). This is a difficult piece to access, due to a composite architecture which, in addition to its seriously dissonant, clustery temperament, introduces an element of percussive investigation that impedes easy assimilation. But focus the attention on the "space between the events" and the calm sureness with which the musicians generate their notes, noises and textures throughout, and something transcending musical signal and hinting instead at the "perfect imperfection" of the universe's innumerable phenomena almost becomes a material presence.–MR
THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS
It's not hard to see why John Zorn likes Noah Creshevsky's self-styled "hyperrealist" music: it belongs very much in the cut'n'splice, slice'n'dice world of Zorn's work up to and including Naked City, and the fact that the first track on this latest disc, despite its title referencing that well-known anti-Semite Richard Wagner, samples the work of the Klez Dispensers must have warmed the cockles of the Tzadik head honcho's heart even more. Make no mistake, this is virtuoso stuff: if you're one of those music lovers who doesn't give a damn about technique, training or recording quality, and spends their pocket money on cassettes of rough lo-fi noise recorded in piss-stained cellars by sweaty brats who can't even tune a guitar let alone play one, The Twilight Of The Gods isn't for you (nor is the Wagner opera of the same name). Because Creshevsky most certainly qualifies as a conservatory-trained composer – he studied with Nadia Boulanger and Luciano Berio – and he positively oozes technique, not only in manipulating a sampler but in weaving together hundreds, no thousands, of tiny threads of music into aural tapestries of breathtaking precision. It's composition, folks.
My one complaint about Creshevsky's music is that it's so squeaky-clean and action-packed that it can tend to come across as simply flashy and clever. It's all too easy to be impressed (and/or irritated) by the composer's brilliant reconfigurations of klezmer, flamenco, Tom Buckner, Ellen Band and goodness knows what else (yeah, you can play Spot The Sample too if you're a smartass), and fail to take in the big picture: there's a large-scale structure to each of the pieces on this disc, but you'll need to spend some time listening to them to figure it out, and the music's surface hyperactivity can be offputting. I strongly recommend you make the effort, though: there are a hell of a lot of notes here, but every one of them is there for a damn good reason.–DW
ÉTUDES POUR KAFKA
These studies, says Francis Dhomont, are "self-standing compositions prefiguring Le Cri Du Choucas, a long work on the world and character of Franz Kafka initiated twelve years ago." As such, they constitute a good opportunity to enter a riveting universe of disquieting sonorities that reveal a portion of the magnificent mental picture of this 84-year old visionary, born in France but equally present and active in Quebec. This is strikingly disturbing music that you wouldn't want to give as a birthday present to an inexperienced friend. "Premières Traces Du Choucas", dedicated to composer Hans Tutschku, starts with baffling electronic spirals. It soon turns into an even more obscure dramatization, morphing drones and modified vocal elements cooperating in an aggravating soundscape that can't decide between idiosyncrasy and hopeful anticipation, alternating nearly immobile tendencies and samples in perennial turnaround that imply omniscience while recalling the turmoil of a psychotic brain. "Brief An Den Vater", based on the text of Kafka's unsent letter to his father written in 1919, uses voices (Tutschku again plus actor Martin Engler's) to augment the listener's perceptivity amidst fragments of forlorn non-harmony and cacophonous injections, transforming the listening environment into an entanglement of different thoughts, most of them negative. The official commentary of this mayhem (the above mentioned Engler) appears as a faceless, German-accented grave tone symbolizing the end of all hope, directly connected to the impossibility of knowing what the future will bring. In terms of spectacular affirmations, the conclusive "À Propos De K" is the record's highpoint, snippets of church choir and elongated bell resonances introducing a mixture of brutish utterance and divine stasis, bizarre units (including liquid matters, orchestral openings, human steps and ping-pong balls) becoming visible throughout. Yet it's the black-hole quality of Dhomont's chosen materials - instability generated via waveringly imprecise harmonies - that leaves a definitive mark on the mind. Overall, a hard to swallow but outstanding release. Headphones are a must.–MR
This magnificent 2CD collection of works by Dutch-based Cypriot-born composer Yannis Kyriakides comes with typically informative and eminently readable liner notes by PT's own Bob Gilmore (watch out for a full-length interview with the composer coming soon to a PT near you), and is a fine introduction to his music, taking full advantage of excellent performers in Kyriakides's country of adoption to showcase a body of work that's rooted not only in the folk music of the Eastern Mediterranean and in that particularly quirky brand of Dutch minimalism (Kyriakides studied with Louis Andriessen, and it shows) but which also integrates technology old and new.
In such a hi-tech world, it's easy to lose sight of Kyriakides's harmonic train of thought, but the subtle non-tonal diatonicism (to quote Ligeti) of Antichamber (2002) is as original and affective as the computer programming that chops the music up and scatters it around the stereo space. Telegraphic (2007) routes the sound of a six-piece ensemble (recorders, violin, clarinet, synthesizer, trombone and double bass) into a mixing desk where their amplification is gated by telegraph keys controlled by a computer. "It's like switching the instruments on and off as they are playing," notes the composer. Exactly how the computer does its work isn't clear, but the stuttering, seemingly random melodies it generates do tend to deflect attention from the slowly shifting harmonies they're plucked from, which I would have liked to have heard more of.
Zeimbekiko 1918 (1995, revised 2001), as its title suggests, takes samples of an old recording of "Zeimbekiko Aivaliotiko" recorded in New York in 1918 and mucks around with them ("manipulated and distorted [..], overlaid on top of each other, moments are stretched out and re-sampled") to create a "soundtrack (on vinyl)" (does this mean Kyriakides had a dubplate specially pressed? I'm assuming it does) over which violinist Anna McMichael floats some exquisite high harmonics and Wiek Hijmans adds flecks of electric guitar colour. It's a beautiful and touching homage to the composer's distant musical roots. The pale, vibrato-free modal austerity of As They Step Into The Same Rivers (2007), which uses a Polybius Square to encrypt and translate a phrase from Heraclitus ("as they step into the same rivers, other and still other waters flow upon them") into a five-note melody, recalls Cage's String Quartet, but Kyriakides thickens the plot by adding "silences, static and shifting drones, physically modelled string sounds" which are selected randomly by using, guess what, an iPod shuffle.
But it's when Kyriakides complicates things by introducing an element of microtonality, notably in the form of glissandi, that the music gains depth and colour, more so than through the use of technological gadgetry. hYDAtorizon (1998) is a simple piano quintet, with pianist Nora Mulder – playing both on the keyboard and plucking notes inside – picking out single pitches from the string quartet's slowly morphing tetrachords. Its stately pace and Lucier-like simplicity contrasts well with the polyrhythmic chatter of Chaoids (2001), in which the regularly and not so regularly cycling pockets of notes played by a trio of violin, alto sax and vibraphone are set against a grid of pulsing "raw wavetable" sounds. It's here that the harmonic line of thought seems to drift a little – one senses that perhaps eight or nine minutes of this kind of fizzing post-minimalism would have been enough.
Fortunately, U (2005), for eight-part choir and sweeping sinewaves, doesn't overstay its welcome. Originally written to be performed in the cavernous acoustics of Lab 5 in the disused military testing ground of Orford Ness in Suffolk (shame it couldn't have been recorded there, but the studio recording from London is still magnificent), it's a simple and glorious setting of words by Georges Perec ("space melts like sand running through one's fingers. Time bears it away and leaves me only shapeless shreds").
PNEuma (1999), a virtuoso outing for bassoon (bravo Stefanie Liedtke!), piano and soundtrack consisting of percussive noise sourced from Lorenda Ramou's piano, makes for a splendid contrast, in terms of both rhythmic activity – a 15-beat pattern, influenced by the composer's research in Balkan folk music – and simple pentatonic harmony. Similarly impressive for its technical accomplishment is Marco Blaauw's double bell trumpet playing on DOG SONG (Cerberus Serenades Orpheus) (2006), the mythical three-headed dog represented musically by a complex computer-driven soundtrack.
But Kyriakides saves the best until last: ATOPIA (hyperamplified), written in 2004 after a visit to Cairo during which the composer experienced the eerie drones of the khamsin desert wind sweeping through the streets of the city. It's scored for alto flute, viola, vibraphone and computer, the instruments tuned in sixth tones (well, presumably not that vibraphone) and "amplified to such a degree that they lose coherence and identity." The performance, by flautist Anne La Berge, violist Elisabeth Smalt and percussionist Tatiana Koleva, is exquisite.–DW
PIANO WORKS REVISITED
The daughter of Algerian multi-instrumentalist Errol Parker, an associate of Frank Wright, Byard Lancaster and Sirone, Elodie Lauten was born in Paris in 1950 and moved to New York in her early twenties, where her associates included cellist Arthur Russell and trombonist Peter Zummo, both of whom appear on this collection. Piano Works Revisited contains her first two records – 1983's Piano Works and the following year's Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory, both originally issued on her Cat Collectors label in small runs, along with two previously unissued pieces, 1991's Variations on the Orange Cycle and the mid-80s Sonate Modale, comprising disc two.
The Piano Works mostly feature acoustic piano in counterpoint with subtle fields of loops, synth washes and found sounds – a bedrock of constant environmental activity for Lauten's anthemic whole-tone extrapolations. Revelation recalls the meditative seesaws of early Charlemagne Palestine, depressed pedals expanding the resonance of a simple rocking back-and-forth and slow melodic descent as the left hand provides a slick, rubbery bassline. A gurgle of water provides a context for the pianist's delicately carved but forceful meditation. There's a folksy lilt to the player-piano precision of Adamantine Sonata; the opening salvo is nearly formalistic, but instead of rigorous additions and subtractions, Lauten's piano becomes alternately rhapsodic and grubby as telescoping lines launch off the piece's basic rondo. Alien Heart returns to some of the basic textures of Revelation, surrounding the piano with hissing washes and anchoring it with a metronomic, albeit terse and glassy bottom, but here Lauten's right hand skitters and glides in continuous motion, a series of raspy elegiac wisps bound together with fuzz and resonance. Her piano is at its most naked in the 35-minute Variations on the Orange Cycle, which, in its embodiment of temporality and exploration of cosmic music, hints at forebears like Mal Waldron (for a further Waldron comparison, dig the groove-heavy sixth movement of Concerto) and Burton Greene as East European blues and lilting half-buried quotes meander through a gradually unfurling modal landscape.
Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory operates within a similar vein as the solo piano works; here, Lauten is joined by cello, trombone, violin and viola, all processed to some degree, amid the constant twitter of found and synthetic sounds. The piano parts were not written, but improvised from spindly motifs, and rather than providing pedal-pointed weight or a spiky counter to the piano's earthen flesh, the string trio and trombone increase ambiguity by their distant, thin and nearly microtonal mewling, a scratchy layer of dissonance that picks at the pianist's clarity and drive only to be summarily shoved aside with each clump of tuned physicality. When they advance and recede, as in the fifth movement, their electric wheeze approximates the distorted wah of cheap guitars. The third movement is a harsh meditation for strings, trombone and white noise, creaking and sawing in metallic skirls that totally defamiliarize the instruments' sound. Merry and slightly out-of-phase, the fourth movement dances like Reich at the outset, but soon abandons its conceptual leanings as it mixes battered whole-tone flourishes amid orchestral stew, a hint of "freedom." The Concerto's exploration of contrasts between the piano's orchestral fullness and the skewed distance of the ensemble operates almost like a song cycle, a reminder that Lauten's pedigree includes punk rock as well as jazz. If being called a post-minimalist means that one uses fragments of minimal language to explore a more personal aesthetic, then Elodie Lauten certainly fits that definition.–CA
BY PECULIAR GRACE AND OTHER LOVES
World Quarter Music
Pianist Lola Perrin doesn't rush things. The double album By Peculiar Grace and other loves is only her third release, the first two having appeared in 2004 and 2006. As on those earlier releases, she composes and performs all the music. Classically trained from the age of four, she wrote her first pieces at 14, and though she later became a jazz fan, citing Bill Evans, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrrett as favourite pianists, she shows no inclination to improvise. Her compositions have drawn comparisons with Debussy and Ravel, but there are telltale trademarks that show a clearer debt to minimalism – her strong sense of rhythm and penchant for distinctive melodies displays the influence of Reich and Nyman, both of whom she admires.
Key to her interpretations of the compositions is Perrin's ability to subtly vary her touch and to smoothly move through a wide dynamic range, seamlessly shifting from delicate understatement to percussive chords and back again, taking listeners through as broad a range of emotions. Recorded in February this year on a Steinway Model D concert grand at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios, By Peculiar Grace and other loves was originally considered for release as separate single albums, which is reflected in the music on the two discs. The first, By Peculiar Grace, bringing together ten pieces chosen by Perrin's friends and fans, makes an ideal introduction to her work, both emphasising its variety and highlighting the common threads running through it. With its undulating peaks and troughs, this music has a narrative quality, frequently sounding like a soundtrack in search of a film (Perrin has indeed written soundtracks and often uses short films in her performances), a quality also apparent on the second disc. On the Gradient Road, twelve short compositions that together form a portrait of a musician friend of the composer's who died suddenly at the age of 43, is a fine example of the longer piano suites that have formed the bulk of her work. Despite the sad subject matter it's neither mournful nor solemn, but celebratory and uplifting – adjectives that apply well to Lola Perrin's work as a whole.–JE
[Old School] JAMES TENNEY
"The aggregate harmony is the criteria, single pitches are often non audible as such but only as beat frequencies, amalgamations, sharpness, or the strange power of resplendence", writes Burkhard Schlothauer in the CD booklet. The level of understanding is not the same for everybody, though, the conviction here being that not even comprehensive ear training would be enough to solve the countless problems met by close-minded listeners when tackling works that may be simply conceived, yet which are full of physical and spiritual implications ending in the impossible-to-transmit intuition of cosmic vibration about which clueless "experts" keep babbling on.
James Tenney's interest in pure tunings is well represented by the three minor classics chosen by Zeitkratzer for this edition, the group captured live at Philharmonie Luxembourg in October 2009 in a performance whose confidence reflects the decade-long experience of Reinhold Friedl's ensemble with this composer's oeuvre. Critical Band (1988) starts with a standard A pitch progressively surrounded by "harmonic neighbours", until the massive superimposition (in which Matt Davis' trumpet and Hilary Jeffery's trombone play bodybuilders amidst the grace elicited of strings, bowed percussion and reeds) shifts the balance towards a tonality that remains affirmed just partially regardless of the force of the harmonics, all belonging to the starting tone's series. The result is vacillating certainty, so to speak. Harmonium #2 (1976) is a fine illustration of Tenney's notion of "swell pieces"; the juxtaposition of consonant tones, bordering auras and better delineated elements (the recurring hammered piano notes, for example), whose ebb and flow is proportional to the impact on the receiver's consciousness, places the music where the annihilation of meaning lies just a couple of steps ahead, despite the apparent signs of security furnished by a substantial contrapuntal enlargement. Contrariwise, the diminishing vitality with which the whole ends recalls a fragile organism trying to survive in its oldness, and it is all the more poignant for it. 1971's Koan: Having Never Written A Note For Percussion revolves around the gigantic resonance of the tam-tam. Fusing cavernous rumble and violent metallic clangour – not to mention the distortion generated by the resulting accumulation – it's a hard-hitting, addictive piece that still sounds fresh forty years on, and both Mark Wastell's Vibra cycle and some of David Jackman / Organum's brutal mantras owe at least a little something to it.–MR
THE CABLE HOUSE
Although superficial listening could associate it with "ambient", there's always a silently painful quality in the unpolluted magnetism of Andrew Chalk's music, the kind of unspoken sorrow that defines the afternoons of sensitive children looking through the window and observing their mates playing in the street, at the same time envious of that enjoyment yet aware that there's something more, despite the calls to light-heartedness dictated by a young age. On a strictly musical level, in recent times Chalk has been trying to explicate these intimate details by recurring to the almost complete annihilation of his chosen instruments' timbral qualities. It's hard to tell if that pale luminescence caught in a blur of indistinct reverberation is generated by the stifled harmonics of guitar strings or by sparse piano dewdrops (the concrete possibility being, in the latter case, that Vikki Jackman may be responsible for the gentle incidences). The magic lies in the contrast between the music's inherent calm and the evident movements that it generates inside. Humming mournfulness via faded melodic fragments, these sketches correspond to a plethora of stirring emotions that would otherwise remain inexpressible. Calling Chalk's work an extension of some of Erik Satie's insightful intuitions might sound silly, but the results are frequently comparable.–MR
It seems the only thing we know about Eleh is that s/he hails from Japan [Apparently not, according to Touch boss- DW]. Location Momentum - a first CD released after eleven vinyl albums - represents this reviewer's initial encounter with an intriguing pulse-producing organism. The ground upon which everything is based is analogue synthesis, used in deceptively static pieces almost exclusively characterized by the inside beatings of adjacent waves. It's tasteful and tasty food for lovers of serious throbbing – one listen to "Circle One: Summer Transcience" and you'll be hooked. Without swearing to the gods there is also a measure of interest for those who are waiting for news of Eliane Radigue's impending beatification. Eleh manipulates extremely acute frequencies too, so don't be surprised if during a particular section (for example at the beginning of the final track "Rotational Change For Windmill") your ears start ringing, principally when playing the music at substantial volume (though it works fine at low levels too, provided the environment is quiet). Essentially, we're talking about seriously conceived testing of the psychoacoustic qualities of electronically generated sounds, eliciting a clear reaction from the brain and, in turn, a series of peculiar codes sent to the auricular membranes. We have already seen this embodiment of indiscernible acoustic events in the work of past masters – Niblock, Lucier, the aforementioned Radigue – yet what I'm hearing now is not the product of a shallow-minded latecomer's diversion (these experiments actually started in 1999), but a record that requires severe concentration and is ready to reward with large doses of thoroughly mesmerizing phenomena.–MR
As source material for these six tracks of elegant, slowly evolving music – total running time just 37 minutes, but I'm not complaining – Interval Records co-manager Ivo Govrin has chosen not only his own computer-generated sounds but also, amongst other things, Karni Postel's cello and Carmel Raz's violin. The more texturally spare offerings ("Medial", with its ever so discreet violin) and harmonically complex (microtonal) pieces ("Lateral") work best to my mind, though the reverb-drenched timestretched baroque music (hands up if you spot the source material – Bach, I think, but I'm still working on it) on "Terminal" and "Recessional" may appeal to those of you who dozed off happily to Brian Eno's torpid variations on the Pachelbel canon on Discreet Music or sank into subaquatic bliss on Gavin Bryars' Titanic. Or maybe you prefer a cooler upland climate: a moraine, Wikipedia informs us, is "any glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris (soil and rock) which can occur in currently glaciated and formerly glaciated regions, such as those areas acted upon by a past ice age." Not a landscape I'd associate with present-day Israel, where Govrin is based, but that shouldn't stop you enjoying the music.–DW
Illusion Of Safety
I'm delighted to see this album out again, especially since I never managed to snag an original copy of it when it first appeared back in 1992 (has it really been 18 years?). The original Staalplaat release (I saw it around, but, chicken, never thought of buying it.. after all, who'd heard of Dan Burke and Jim O'Rourke back then?) came in a wooden box which also contained some toy money from the former DDR – a hard act for Perdition Plastics to follow. But never mind: the music is still all there and it's surprising, maybe even alarming, how it hasn't aged a bit. Field recordings are now all over the place in new music, not only on labels specially dedicated to them or incorporated into musique concrète but also, processed and treated, as working material for improvisers, but back in 1992 these disembodied fragments of passing traffic and street noise, combined with more pure electronic music (ha! what's pure electronic music? there's no such thing) must have sounded mighty strange. But not as strange as the menacing next-to-nothingness (presque rien, indeed) that takes up the first five or so minutes of the second track. It's commonly assumed that the slow, spacious stuff is O'Rourke's doing – the field recordings and a certain penchant for thudding polyrhythms might point to his fondness at the time for the music of Luc Ferrari – especially when recalling how rowdy some of the pre-Jim IOS stuff was (fingers crossed that some of those early cassette releases might be reissued before long, too), but I'm not sure, and it doesn't matter anyway who did what. According to Burke their input was "50/50", but there's nothing half-and-half about the result: Probe is outstanding stuff, and one wonders how much of the electronic music being produced today, when it seems any clown with a bit of music software can cobble together an "album", will stand the test of time as well. From the inscrutable Eraserhead scrabble of the opening track to the tiny blast of fairground music that brings it to a joyous, smirking close just under an hour later, it's a killer. Don't let it escape your clutches – you might have to wait another 18 years for it to come round again.–DW
This is the first of four projected albums on Important from Osaka-born Berlin-based Kouhei Matsunaga, whose website's concise autobiographical note refers both to a period spent studying architecture and a fondness for hardcore techno and rap. The latter is clearly evident in the infectious beats on "236", "235" and the couple of tracks featuring Brooklyn-based rapper Sensational, not to mention "210409", on which Matsunaga is joined by Dubplates & Mastering maestro Rashad Becker (it's worth remembering that Matsunaga's first solo album Upside Down appeared on Mille Plateaux in 1998), but the former is no less significant: Matsunaga has a real feel for structure and space, and a great ear for arresting sonorities to fill them with. It's not always an easy listen by any means – the collaborations with Lights People ("2m&3x30s"), Ralf Wehowsky ("Material Blah Blah") and Leif Elggren ("Telephatic 170708 From 18 pm") are pretty dense, even forbidding – but it's consistently rewarding and superbly recorded. And you certainly get your money's worth: the disc contains no fewer than 23 tracks and they're all terrific. Check it out while you wait for the next three – I see Important is offering some kind of groovy merchandising deal if you buy all four (check out the label website for details), and if they're all as good as this you're in for a real treat.–DW
Phoenix Arizona-based Pete Petrisko's one man orchestra plays 18 tracks sourced in "field recordings, lost & found sound, old phonographs" on this haunting disc divided into three sections entitled Balance, Movement and Flight, containing six, seven and five brief tracks respectively and each accompanied by an intriguing prose poem (imagine a science textbook written by Robbe-Grillet and cut up by Bill Burroughs) whose relationship to the music is as elusive and tangential as the music itself. Petrisko's sound sources are refreshingly diverse, ranging from archive recordings of political speeches ("life in mumbly muddle") to scratchy old jazz 78s ("linear with intent", "porchlight flickers") and even church services ("tongues bend like bows"), but they're more often than not tucked away under a thick duvet of rumbles and drones, or lightly sprinkled with shortwave signals and distant machine clanks and hisses. At times it's rough and distorted ("circus dusk"), at times outstandingly beautiful ("fields of gavotte" is an irresistible montage of baroque music (on harp), cawing crows, whinnying horses and music boxes), but it's all well worth spending time with.–DW
Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic