by Clifford Allen , Jason Bivins, Nate Dorward, John Eyles, Jesse Goin, Stephen Griffith, Natasha Pickowicz, Massimo Ricci, Michael Rosenstein, Dan Warburton:
IN CONCERT: Freedom Of The City 2010
On DVD: 135 Grand Street New York 1979 / Les Grandes Répétitions / Xenakis Charisma X
On Drip Audio: Inhabitants / Tommy Babin's Benzene / NoMoreShapes
VINYL SOLUTION: The Ames Room / Rhodri Davies & Louisa Hendrikien Martin / Raymond Dijkstra / iibiis rooge / David Maranha / Messages / Paul Metzger & Milo Fine / Oval / Douglas Quin / Bruce Russell / Xela
JAZZ & IMPROV: Air / Martine Altenburger & John Russell / AMM / Pascal Battus & Christine Sehnaoui / The BSC / Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher / Anthony Braxton / John Butcher & Rhodri Davies / Günter Christmann, Mats Gustafsson & Paul Lovens / Sabine Ercklentz & Andrea Neumann / Frank Gratkowski, Simon Nabatov & Marcus Schmickler / The Ideal Bread
William Hooker / Kim Johannesen & Svein Magnus Furu / Kidd Jordan & Joel Futterman / Richard Kamerman / Annette Krebs & Taku Unami / Kuchen, Rowe & Wright / Steve Lacy / Lawnmower / Lewis, Downing & Martin / Dom Minasi & Blaise Siwula / Ulrich Mitzlaff & Miguel Mira / Agnès Palier & Olivier Toulemonde /
Evan Parker / ROVA & Nels Cline Singers / Skif++ / Aki Takase / Rafael Toral / Usurper & Sticky Foster / Free Classical Guitars / Havard Volden & Toshimaru Nakamura / Isa Wiss & Marc Unternährer
ELECTRONICA: @c / Luigi Archetti / Asher / FOURM / Gilles Aubry / Eric La Casa / Jonathan Coleclough / Emeralds / Roel Meelkop / Lee Patterson / Le Révélateur
Thanks again go out this issue to our man in London, John Eyles, who, in addition to taking his horn along to tackle the notational complexities of Christian Wolff's Burdocks, also managed to snag a transcript of the round table discussion between Wolff, broadcaster Robert Worby, composer Howard Skempton and pianist John Tilbury (watch out for an extended interview with John in a forthcoming issue..). Also in London, just a few weeks before the Wolff event, was our roving improv connoisseur Michael Rosenstein, whose extended report on this year's Freedom Of The City is this issue's lead article. And there's the usual pile of reviews for you to enjoy (I hope) while your French neighbours hurl fireworks at you in a drunken Bastille Day orgy (I hope not).
Meanwhile, I received this email from American improviser Michael Johnsen: "I thought our new archiving project for UBUWEB might interest you and/or your readers. Appended below is our formal call for submissions. Please feel free to pass it along to anyone you think might it might interest, and to contact me with any questions.
We're in the process of co-curating a new subsection of the ubu.com archive devoted to historical and rare/unnoticed materials concerning the technical development of experimental / electronic approaches to sound. It seems like there's a real need for this kind of archive and we're wondering if you've got anything in your collections you'd like to share. we're open to suggestions about what would make such an archive "useful".
Specifically, we're looking for information about the actual methods and techniques of electronic and experimental music, not just aesthetic writing. We're interested in instrument design, performance methods, graphic scores, and idiosyncratic techniques. We're looking for technical/historical articles, scores, documents, books, small-press magazines and patents that are either rare (and unlikely to be reprinted) or public domain (but little known - like Hedy Lamarr's frequency-hopping patent), but not things (like most schematics) that are clearly contestable as intellectual property.
Design articles offering analysis of significant circuits of historical value are definitely of interest. However, most other schematics would be off-limits. Besides being a nightmare to sort & evaluate, schematics are clearly property in many cases. It is not within our scope to offer "cookbook" circuits for builders. It is our primary goal to provide perspective, not tutorials. Hugh Davies' articles tracing the history of the ring modulator and optical synthesis are more like it. We also intend to highlight the visual language(s) used in experimental work. visual and also audio materials are strongly desired.
Contemporary work, when already well-documented on personal websites and blogs, is probably not appropriate for inclusion. The purpose of the archive is to offer materials that are hard to find. There are likely exceptions. Please contact us at the address below with submissions, questions,suggestions, or wish lists." Michael's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org – if you can help him out, great. Meanwhile, bon été et bonne lecture à tous. – DW
Freedom of the City Festival
May 2-3, 2010
Conway Hall, London
When something is finished, that means it is dead, doesn't it? I believe in everlastingness. I never finish a painting – I just stop working on it for awhile. The thing to do is always keep starting to paint, never to finish a painting
- Arshile Gorky.
Reaching a ten-year anniversary is certainly cause for celebration, but the organizers of this year's Freedom of the City Festival – Evan Parker, Eddie Prévost, John Coxon, and Trevor Brent – didn't rest on their laurels. As always, the festival offered a diverse snapshot of the London improvisation scene, augmented by contributions from several international guests. The sixteen sets, spread over two days, represented a spectrum of approaches to improvised music, and also reflected the organizers' diverse interests: virtuosic collective improvisation (Parker), overt free jazz (Coxon and Brent), and process-oriented exploration of electro-acoustic sound (Prévost). Things kicked off on Sunday afternoon with a half-hour solo performance by Peter Evans. Switching between trumpet and piccolo trumpet and making use of light electronic treatments, he built up layers of brassy blasts, percussive flutters and cascades of circular breathing; sputters, puffs, growls and gurgles were juxtaposed with processed textures. Dense eddies resolved into crackling flurries and linear threads; sharp eruptions at times saturated the room with slap-back resonance, but were balanced by areas of layered overtones. Towards the end, sheer technique threatened to overwhelm the performance, but Evans' acute sense of form managed to hold things together.
Percussionist Paul Lytton – heard from too rarely these days – was in fine form for a conversational duet with cellist Okkyung Lee. Lytton augmented his pared-down kit with sticks, beaters, brushes, metal scraps, small gongs, wood blocks, and rattles, and his keen ear and sense of structure often defined the improvisation's trajectory. Lee responded to the drummer's finely calibrated fusillades with tawny vibrato and darting bowed work.
Pianist Tania Chen, soprano-sax veteran Lol Coxhill, and up-and-coming bassist Dominic Lash made for an unlikely but compatible trio. Coxhill's impish sensibility is deeply rooted in jazz tradition, Chen's approach is coloured by her experience performing Feldman, Cage, Wolff, and Cardew, and Lash's activities run the gamut from participation in Prévost's regular weekly workshop to out-rock experimentation and work with jazz veterans Steve Reid and Pete McPhail. This was the second time they had performed together; their set started tentatively, with Coxhill snaking out a twisted blues melody before Lash responded with dark, resonant lyricism; Chen then entered with spare prepared-piano chords. Time slowed down and opened up: Coxhill's tart angularities beat against Chen's clusters and textures and Lash's churning bass, and the three steered the music through multiple climaxes. Let's hope this finds its way onto a recording.
The afternoon ended with the annual FOTC appearance by the London Improvisers Orchestra, an ensemble with shifting membership that has been performing monthly for over a decade (most recently at the Café OTO). This was, as ever, a community event, with younger and less experienced musicians sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Steve Beresford, Marcio Mattos, Phil Wachsmann, Lol Coxhill, Harry Beckett, Alan Tomlinson, and Louis Moholo-Moholo. The two sets interspersed free improvisations with conductions and compositions, the waves of strings buffeting roiling drums and basses in broad swaths of orchestral colour. The conducted sections balanced the jumbled energy of the freely improvised segments, making room for subgroupings of musicians and featured soloists. These included trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, whose stabbing, laser-sharp lines provided a riveting focal point for the LIO under Dave Tucker's conduction (check out the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kd3jCyH7G7Y).
Sunday evening kicked off with a set by guitarist John Russell's Quaqua, a longstanding project that like the LIO has a rotating membership. On this occasion the group contained Russell, Chris Burn (piano and electronics), Satoko Fukuda (violin), Matthew Hutchinson (synthesizer), Stefan Keune (saxophone), Henry Lowther (trumpet) and Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg (voice). The hall's acoustics unfortunately tended to bury the ensemble sound, and Burn in particular was often lost in the mix, while Van Schouwberg often bowled over the others with his swoops, gurgles, shrieks, and quacks. Even so, Russell's crisp angularity, Lowther's warm phrasing, Fukuda's earthy microtonality, and Keune's fluttering overtones and harmonics worked well in conjunction with the prepared piano and electronics. Though the music never quite came together, it was nonetheless fascinating to follow its mercurially shifting fields.
Then came a string of diverse trio performances, each excellent in its own way. First up was Wadada Leo Smith and drummers Steve Noble and Louis Moholo-Moholo. Smith, an AACM veteran who recorded a classic series of albums for his Kabell label in the 1970s, is playing as brilliantly as ever these days, and the combination of drummers was inspired: Noble darted across his kit in a hyperactive choreography, while Moholo-Moholo countered with rolling free swing. Smith's clarion lines parsed the drums' tumultuous energy with spirit and a striking sense of pace and space. At one point the music dropped down to warm muted trumpet against gongs and brushes, before opening back up as the two drummers wove textures together. On the encore the drummers created a hushed shuffle, while Smith's plaintive trumpet perfectly married Delta influences, Miles Davis fragility, and freedom.
The trio SUM was a dramatic contrast to the previous set. Ross Lambert (guitar), Eddie Prévost (drums) and Seymour Wright (alto sax) referenced jazz conventions only to remake them. Simultaneous lines floated across each other in shifting layers, the players hinting at standards like "Night and Day" or "Round Midnight" but using them as touchstones rather than harmonic or melodic foundations. Lambert threw out open chords, harmonics, and splintered angular lines, while Wright knitted patterns together out of chopped phrases, skirled notes, and looped motifs; Prévost drove the music energetically, fracturing any conventional pulse but nonetheless flowing along splendidly.
The night was rounded off by a relaxed trio performance by Peter Evans, Okkyung Lee and Evan Parker. Evans and Parker seemed to be mindful of playing over Lee, whose cello sometimes got a bit lost in the mix, but the smoky tenor ruminations, lucent strings, and brassy spatters and smears complemented each other perfectly. When Parker switched to soprano, his cycling vortex of lines was neatly matched by Lee's oscillating arco. The final piece was particularly memorable, full of shadowed interactions, muted textures, and inverted phrasing, building in density before subsiding to the barest glitter. Though the set lacked the electricity of the two preceding trios, it provided a satisfying close to the first day. A performance by saxophonist John Butcher and percussionist Mark Sanders kicked off day two. Butcher began on tenor, slipping effortlessly between sharp trills, quavering overtones, and high chirps. Sanders responded with slowly tolling drums and cymbal splashes, gradually gaining velocity. From there, the two masterfully balanced dense crescendos and open interplay. On soprano, Butcher interlaced breathy streams with Sanders' shaded gongs, bells, and scraped drumheads; both musicians played with palpable sensitivity to the resonance of the concert space. Back on tenor, Butcher unleashed waves of insistent honks and cries against Sanders' fervent intensity, building to a bracing, explosive climax.
Next was a quartet featuring musicians from Eddie Prévost's Workshop. Prévost created impressive orchestrations of bowed and scoured tam tam, cymbal, and snare, while Grundik Kasyansky's electronics mixed pure tones with contact-miked textures, static, and leaked samples. Violinist Jennifer Allum's understated scrims of drones and harmonics peeked out of the ensemble. Baritone saxophonist David O'Connor's hisses, groans, and reed pops sound filled out the bottom end, but he nonetheless seemed to struggle to find a space in the ensemble, and in general the music came in spurts and spikes rather than an organic ebb and flow.
A rambunctious set by Adam Bohman, Phillip Marks (filling in for an ailing Richard Barrett), Paul Obermayer and Ute Wassermann was equally problematic. Their full-on attack red-lined the acoustics of the hall with harsh electronics, crashing drums, and the jump-cut barrage of Wassermann's vocals. While there was a theatrical physicality and sense of spectacle to their set, all this bluster was ultimately monochromatic.
The afternoon finished off with a trio set by Workshop regulars Ross Lambert (guitar and electronics) and Philip Somervell (piano) along with guest Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto sax). Somervell spent more time inside the piano than at the keys, scraping, bowing and plucking, as well as applying a variety of preparations. Guionnet moved between serrated overtones, explosive skirls and extended oscillations, displaying phenomenal control throughout. But it was Lambert who really brought things to life, his steel-string guitar playfully augmented by clattering mechanical gadgets, which injected all kinds of ticks, rattles, and buzzes into the music. Despite a few incoherent patches, the set offered a winning combination of energy and transparency.
The final evening jumped around stylistically, starting out with a captivating performance by the Stellari String Quartet (violinist Philipp Wachsmann, violist Charlotte Hug, cellist Marcio Mattos and bassist John Edwards). The musicians' unimpeachable technique and finely honed listening guided them through a series of pieces that moved from lacy delicacy to dark lyricism via spritely interactivity and coursing intensity. Individual musicians' knotty exchanges frequently shot through the rich, swirling layers of string sonorities.
Lack of balance is rarely a good thing in improvisational settings, but the set by Paul Abbott, Frédéric Blondy and Ute Kanngiesser positively revelled in it. Abbott's crunching, agitated electronics and yawping feedback crashed against Blondy's hammered and prepared piano and the cellist's cooler, more considered textures and lines. Their improvisations were structured around push-pull tensions, exploring disruptive contrasts between deliberation and turmoil.
The set that followed, by three musicians from Prévost's Workshop, was a festival highlight. Pascal Battus (electronics), Jamie Coleman (trumpet), and Sebastian Lexer (piano+) delivered a performance imbued with multi-threaded detail, exploring nuances of gesture, resonance, and decay. Coleman contributed breathy, long tones, fluttering arcs, and biting phrases, while Battus elicited crunchy, rattling volleys from his table-top setup. Lexer used microphones to capture the sounds of his piano and the other two musicians, manipulating them with real-time processing, filtering, and modulation. This led to constantly evolving feedback: the musicians responded to Lexer's spectral threads, which were in turn fed back into his computer's dynamic system. The result was a series of overlapping waves of sound – highly enveloping and variegated in their interrelations.
The festival ended up on a celebratory if ragged note with an ad-hoc meeting of Wadada Leo Smith, John Coxon, Paul Lytton, Pat Thomas, and Alex Ward. The raucous assault – piercing trumpet, scratchy electric guitar, caroming clarinet, pummeling keyboard clusters, and exuberant percussion – wasn't served particularly well by the hall's acoustics. The group also battled to find a collective sound, and Ward in particular took a while to find his way into the fray. By the second piece, the group had found their footing, with Ward's clarinet snaking around Smith's gracefully muscular trumpet, but the set was unfortunately cut short due to closing time.
As with any festival, one might quibble with certain inclusions and omissions. But I was thrilled to be able to hear musicians from multiple waves of UK-based free improvisers, as well as discovering several new players (I'm now on the lookout for more from Tania Chen, Jennifer Allum, and Pascal Battus, to name but a few). And I also had a chance to finally meet people I'd only known through correspondence, like Martin Davidson, Hazel Miller, Sebastian Lexer, Seymour Wright, and particularly Richard Pinnell, with whom I spent several enjoyable breaks and dinners (check out Richard's incisive take on the festival at http://www.thewatchfulear.com/?p=3220 and http://www.thewatchfulear.com/?p=3224).
Did this year's Freedom of the City unearth "The New London [something]"? Well, no. But then again, talk to any of the participants and they bristle at the thought that it might. After all, as Georges Braque put it, "progress in art is not about extending its limits, but in better understanding them." Or to paraphrase Arshile Gorky, whose resplendent retrospective I was able to catch at the Tate Modern during my visit to London, the thing to do is always keep starting to improvise, never to finish the process.–MRo
135 GRAND STREET NEW YORK 1979
"If you wanna see what the Soho side of No Wave looked like this is the only place you're ever gonna find it" – Glenn Branca. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he, as he played in two of the ten outfits featured in this film, Theoretical Girls (with Jeffrey Lohn, Margaret Dewys and Wharton Tiers) and The Static (with Barbara Ess and Christine Hahn). The others are UT (Karen Achenbach, Nina Canal, Jacqui Ham and Sally Young), A Band (Joe Gone, Paul and Dave McMahon, Peter Moser and Wharton Tiers again), John Mernit, David Hofstra and Dave Rosenbloom aka Chinese Puzzle (amusingly misspelt "Puzzel" on the disc itself, characteristic of the awful production throughout), Morales (Robert Longo, Robert Appleton and Laurie Morales), Youth In Asia (Steven Harvey, FL Schroder, Taro Suzuki and Stephan Wischerth), Steve Piccolo (with Evan Lurie), Jill Kroesen (with Steve Piccolo) and Rhys Chatham, who turns in a rather laidback two-man performance of Guitar Trio accompanied on drums by, yes, Wharton Tiers.
Shot in Super 8, with no spoken commentary but occasional additional photos in the Chatham piece courtesy Robert Longo (who's much better at taking pictures than he is at making music, if his half-assed playing in the Morales song is anything to go by) and a few token shots of the quartier (unless that's Prague – in any case the place looks horrible) in the Chinese Puzzle song, Ericka Beckman's film is a raw and rough document of the "scene" – but that's not a compliment in this case. I'm not complaining about these guys' near-total inability to play their instruments or sing in tune (or sing at all) – that, after all, was a hallmark of punk – but it's worth remembering that the bands that have stood the test of time from that period are those whose members actually knew how play and sing (yes, Arto Lindsay and James Chance can sing).
Listening to Branca's music is fine – and the TG and Static pieces on offer here give a clear indication of the direction he was heading in – but watching his onstage (if "stage" is the word for a performing space that here seems to be barely eight feet wide and twelve deep) Guitar Hero antics is distinctly offputting. At least Rhys Chatham, the only other musician featured here who went on to do anything worthwhile, doesn't ham it up, but you'd still be better off listening to the album instead of seeing him do it.
Chatham and Branca aside, there's little worth writing home about here. A Band (not to be confused with UK free rockers the A Band) actually managed to get a vibraphone onstage, but their music still sounds like a punked up version of The Doors (except Jimbo would never have penned such an inane set of lyrics as those of "Sand and Sea") and "Mirror, Mirror" bears a striking resemblance to the old Morecambe & Wise chestnut "Bring Me Sunshine" (not that singer Joe Gone would have any knowledge of BBC comedy programmes, I imagine). The later trio incarnation of UT, after Karen Achenbach left in 1979, toured the UK supporting The Fall and The Birthday Party (I wonder what Mark E. Smith thought of them), but don't let that fool you into thinking they were any good. They weren't. Taro Suzuki's fistfuck keyboards in Youth In Asia (cool pun, eh?) liven things up a bit, but we're still a long way from The Contortions or The Voidoids, and Chinese Puzzle's "Great Wall of Prague", complete with faux-chinois pentatonic scales, is frankly embarrassing. Of Steve Piccolo's sub-Talking Heads "Superior Genes", with Evan Lurie's sub-Glass organ arpeggios, the less said the better, and things end on a desperately low note with Jill Kroesen's "Freaks of Nature" – come back Legendary Stardust Cowboy, all is forgiven.
I read in the accompanying essay that Ericka Beckman's films are "being preserved through a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation and The Warhol Foundation." One seriously wonders why. 135 Grand Street is a shoddy document – who, apart from the musicians themselves (though if I'd done something this bad in my formative years I sure as hell wouldn't want anyone to watch it again now) could possibly be interested in preserving such inept mediocrity for posterity? The projectionists of the French experimental performance outfit Cellule d'Intervention Metamkine, Christophe Auger and Xavier Quérel, frequently set fire to old Super8 film stock during performances – a similar career move on the part of Ms Beckman would be a fine thing, and allow the NFPF to invest in something really worthwhile.–DW
Gérard Patris / Luc Ferrari
LES GRANDES REPETITIONS
K-Films / I.N.A.
"It's interesting because there are so many dead people in it," was how Luc Ferrari, with typical pince-sans-rire humour, described Hommage À Edgar Varèse, one of five hour-long documentaries he made with film maker Gérard Patris under the title Les Grandes Répétitions (The Great Rehearsals), just released as a double DVD set. "Varèse had just died, [Bruno] Maderna, who you see conducting, died a few years later..." Indeed, of the five musicians Patris and Ferrari chose to film in rehearsal between 1965 and 1968, only Cecil Taylor is still alive. Conductor Hermann Scherchen, an enthusiastic champion of new music for more than 60 years, from the Bluthner Orchestra in Berlin at the turn of the 20th century to the Darmstadt Ferienkursen in the late 1950s, died only months after the pair captured him in 1966 in the Eglise Saint Roch in Paris, working on his arrangement of Bach's Art Of Fugue. Gone too are Ferrari's erstwhile teacher Olivier Messiaen, whose monumental Et Expecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum is seen being prepared for its world premiere in Chartres cathedral in the presence of Charles de Gaulle on 20 June 1965, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, caught wonderfully off-guard by some impish (Ferrari-inspired?) questions during rehearsals of Momente in Cologne in 1966.
The impetus behind the series was Ferrari's mentor in Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) and Patris's father-in-law Pierre Schaeffer, who, thanks to his position as the head of the Research Service of French National Television and Radio, was well placed to ensure backing for programmes profiling some of the major players in what was a remarkably fertile period of musical history. One is struck by the contrast between the images of the pre-1968 world, when avant garde musicians wore their hair short and their ties fastened, and the extraordinary modernity of the music. From the otherwordly sonorities of Varèse and Messiaen – the former's Déserts alien and futuristic, the latter awesomely apocalyptic – to the furious complexity of Stockhausen and The Cecil Taylor Quartet (the ‘great' quartet with Jimmy Lyons, Alan Silva and Andrew Cyrille), one fully notated, the other seemingly plucked from the dusty corners of the 17th century hôtel particulier it was recorded in in the Place des Vosges, the music on Les Grandes Répétitions is still thrillingly fresh. So is Patris's and Ferrari's film making. The images are tightly framed and edited with composerly precision, crisp and totally unpretentious, unlike the tricksy camerawork of later documentaries like Peter Greenaway's Four American Composers.
Ferrari continued to work with film in the decades to follow, but as a composer, while Patris went on to make several more documentaries on musicians, including Arthur Rubinstein (The Love Of Life, 1969) Isaac Stern (My Name Is Stern, 1972), and, in 1973, Stockhausen again (Trans Und So Weiter, reviewed in The Wire 306). He was also uncredited assistant producer to Martin Scorsese on 1971's long forgotten flower-power road movie Medicine Ball Caravan. Both Patris and Ferrari are dead too. As Ferrari cautioned at the conclusion of his conversations on the subject with Jacqueline Caux and Daniel Teruggi: "Funeral orations are always a bit soppy.–DW [This review was originally commissioned by, and reproduced here with the kind permission of, The Wire magazine]
XENAKIS: CHARISMA X
One wonders who this 62-minute documentary about the life and work of Iannis Xenakis is aimed at, as anyone remotely familiar with the late composer's music and / or the Mode label's extensive documentation of it must have heard these stories before; the traumatic experiences of his time in the Greek resistance, which permanently disfigured him, precipitated his exile to France and resonated through his work until the end of his life, the architecture apprenticeship to Le Corbusier and work with him on the convent of Sainte Marie de la Tourette outside Lyon (a splendid acoustic for clarinettist Lori Freedman and cellist Frances Marie Uitti to perform 1971's Charisma in, by the way), the conception of the UPIC system which allowed Xenakis (and his students) literally to draw music, are all tales that have been told many times before.
It's a treat to see cellist Christophe Roy performing Nomos Alpha, either in Françoise Xenakis's living room or in a ruined amphitheatre halfway up a mountain side, and trombonist Benny Sluchin blasting Keren on the banks of the Seine, but what are we to make of harpsichordist Elisabeth Chojnacka's anecdote of how the composer's invocation of the spirit of Apollo "miraculously" stopped the wind blowing and allowed her open-air concert with percussionist Sylvio Gualda to go ahead (the storm promptly began as soon as it finished)? That Xenakis had some kind of hotline to the Gods? Just as well he was able to command the weather it seems, given his fondness for sailing his kayak in stormy seas ("A blue kayak? The man is insane!" commented a local coastguard) and climbing mountains in the midday sun.
Of course, we know Xenakis's music was extreme – extreme in its search for arresting sonorities ("the difference between beauty and ugliness didn't matter to him", comments his widow), extreme in its emotional impact and extreme in its mathematical rigour. But though not many of us can claim to have read or understood Formalized Music (I'll admit I never got all the way through it), a little mathematical explanation wouldn't have gone amiss. Granular synthesis whizkid and Xenakis student Curtis Roads is a great pedagogue, as is CCMIX director Gerard Pape – what a shame they couldn't have gone into more detail on the subject. Composer George Koumentakis enthuses about the composer's notation, but never gets much further than describing the baritone falsetto screeches of Aïs as "a cormorant plunging into the black waters of death." This kind of line would be fine in a Xenakis for Dummies TV programme but on a label known for its excellent and informative liner notes, it's a little disappointing.
The editing is curious, intercutting black and white and colour, recent and archive footage – we go straight from Sluchin serenading the bateaux mouches to underwater footage (off the coast of Greece? or is it Corsica?) accompanied by an uncredited choral piece (Nuits, I think, but it would have been nice to have been informed) to Christophe hoofing up the side of a mountain with his cello case to extracts from a performance of Oresteia, followed by the composer telling us that the bloke who organised its first performance in Ypsilanti, Michigan, ran off to New York with the money. Like, so what? One feels the job could have been done better – if you're considering investing in Mode's Xenakis catalogue, go for Aki Takahashi's Works With Piano (Mode 217) instead.–DW
A VACANT LOT
Tommy Babin's Benzene
YOUR BODY IS YOUR PRISON
Here are three new missives from Vancouver's Drip Audio, showcasing a couple left-coast outfits and one from central Canada that I'd previously not heard of but clearly should have. Inhabitants work a nice fragile/aggressive vein of fogbound prog-jazz, something like a cross between a Rob Mazurek project and Vancouver's Fond of Tigers collective (with whom the Inhabitants share a couple of members). Heavily FXed trumpet can be an irritatingly self-absorbed sound if it succumbs to those Narcissus pools of reverb, but JP Carter's work is amorphous in all the right ways: he builds entire sonic weather-systems out of cumulative electronic fuzz, plays the quieter bits with a kind of crayon-scrawl lyricism, and adds nifty distorted splatter to the louder bits. Really, it's a great album for sustain, all those billowing ribbons of sound trailing into the air – the glorious opener "Far Away in Old Words" sets the tone, with Pete Schmitt's voice-of-God bass guitar down below and guitarist Dave Sikula doing the searing ecstatic out-of-body stuff, while Carter and drummer Skye Brooks lay down a big pitiless seascape all around. I guess that's a guitar solo there, and there's a trumpet solo on "Whistling Pass" – a nice one, come to think of it, on the closest thing the album gets to "real" jazz, a morbid little waltz – but, really, it's not the kind of disc where individual statements stand out from the general texture. Fond of Tigers fans will love the multi-sectioned multi-metred onslaughts – "Threes" and "Over It Begins" – and "Journey of the Loach" just kills, from its slow-burn triplety rock groove (pt.1) to Sikula's tear-the-firmament-down finish in pt.2. (Yeah, there's a guitar solo.) Very satisfying.
Bassist Tommy Babin has been gradually shifting his base of operations westwards for a while – hailing from Nova Scotia, he spent a while on the Montreal scene and is now a Vancouver fixture; I first caught up with him when he turned up in Guelph in the company of Paul Plimley and Hamid Drake, and whoever is sitting on the tapes of that sublime hour of music had better explain why, and NOW. Despite its all-time-bummer title, his leadership debut Your Body Is Your Prison is a groovy, spirit-uplifting quartet date that runs through nine different tunes in an unbroken 49-minute performance (though it's apparently a studio date?). The estimable Skye Brooks is back at the kit and guitarist Chad MacQuarrie (member of twisted art-rock band DarkBlueWorld, a Drip Audio mainstay) navigates the music's twists nicely from balmy twang to power-chord savagery. Question marks over two things: Chad Makela's baritone sounds kind of one-dimensionally bullish and sticks out sore-thumb-like from the very fluid guitar-trio textures, and, well, one just wishes for a little more breathing space at times – aside from the lengthy segues between heads, the buzzily insistent grooves and generally talkative playing do get a little wearing. Still, there are some pretty brutally catchy things here – "Damaged" is still shimmying in my head as I write – so, on balance, thumbs up.
NoMoreShapes' Creesus Crisis is a Drip Audio/Darker Mythology co-release; the packaging divulges little info but fishing around on the web reveals that it's a collab between three Calgary musicians, Eric Hamelin (drums), J.C. Jones (trombone) and Jay Crocker (guitar). It's sparser and thrashier than the other two releases – and swings harder, too, at least once you get past the middle-finger noise-collage strategically positioned at the start. Apparently their concert repertoire includes Monk, Lacy and (holy Bad Plus!) Black Sabbath – it's all originals here, but the Monk and Lacy influences must have something to do with the Shapes' ultra-economical songwriting: check out how much mileage "If Only My Chin Had Eyes" gets out of a misterioso guitar ostinato and a little murmuring trombone, and the way "Invisible Glasses" scrapes Ellington-style balladry down to a dozen half-notes (someone ought to import it into the ICP's repertoire). Hamelin's up front in the mix, scrappy and intense and rattling around like a bag of dry leaves, unpredictable without being annoyingly off-the-wall; he's genuinely terrifying when the trio veer towards mountain-climbing grandeur ("Twice Bitten", "Tears of the Penix"). Jones and Crocker are both sparing players; like JP Carter, Jones makes savvy use of electronics to smuggle a buzzy fourth voice into the ensemble, while Crocker adds to the general sense of tenuousness with spindly lines and extensive use of tremolo effects. It's a short, sharp, very effective album, by three players who aren't inclined to waste your time – they're in and out in just over half an hour. Excellent.–ND
Smeraldina-Rima Records LP
Nate Wooley / Paul Lytton
CREAK ABOVE 33
Trumpeter Nate Wooley continues to astound, his projects running the gamut from straight-up free-bop to open-form improvisation to compositional frameworks. This latest trio of releases includes two new solo ventures (his first since Wrong Shape to Be a Story Teller on Creative Sources and the 3" The Boxer), as well as a follow-up to his excellent duo LP with Paul Lytton on the Broken Research label.
The Smeraldina-Rima LP is split between acoustic (side one) and electroacoustic (side two) explorations. That said, the glitched outbursts and hissing oscillations of the acoustic pieces seem informed by the sound qualities of analog synths and cracked electronics; on first listening I actually did a double-take to check whether I had tossed on the wrong side by mistake. But the improvisations on side one aren't just hyped-up technique or noise barrage: Wooley is careful to develop the overall structure too, with attention to intensity and momentum. Hard to believe it was all captured real-time with simple close miking in his Jersey City living room. Flip the record over, and you find "Amplifier," a collage constructed from two performances where Wooley used his trumpet to control the feedback of a Fender practice amp. The sonic strata build up with deliberation, then subside into sizzling waves; despite the piece's harsh power, a fundamental sense of breath and brass still peek through. Taken together, the two sides are a powerful demonstration of Wooley's constructivist sensibility. Snap this one up post-haste as it's going to disappear quickly.
The Almond is a download-only release available at the moment as a 25-minute excerpt (from a 65-minute piece) on the Compost and Height website (http://compostandheight.blogspot.com/2010/03/nate-wooley-almond-excerpt.html). It's a lush soundscape of pure trumpet tones, and Wooley explains the mechanics of the piece as follows: "There are 10 major loops running throughout the whole piece. Within each of those large loops there are 3-5 smaller loops that have an element of silence. Within those smaller loops there are 4-10 smaller loops with silence and made up of the basic harmonies that move in and out. Each note of those harmonies [is] made up of 3-6 different recordings of each single pitch, using different mic techniques, room sounds, and mutes." Crank this up and the sounds wash over you, engulfing the room in shimmering harmonics. Subverting any sense of breath or attack and instead focusing entirely on tone and timbre, the music evokes Terry Riley's tape and organ experiments from the 60s. The excerpt fades out as the layers drift away, leaving only the oscillations of a single held tone. Let's hope the entire piece finds a home somewhere before long.
The duo with Lytton is, of course, an entirely different proposition – a full-on improvised conversation with one of the masters of the game. Both Lytton and Wooley draw on their jazz roots, and the four improvisations have a directness and focus that comes from having toured together previously (in 2008), but there's never a sense that they are settling into predictable patterns of response. Some of the pieces bristle with charged activity, others plumb the depths of clanging textures and warped electronics. Then there's a piece like "Filtering the Fogweed", where the two ping-pong ideas back and forth with such agility it's like sitting courtside at the French Open, and the intimate recording picks up every nuance. Nice to see that these two have kept this musical relationship going; though it's clearly still developing, it's also responsible for some very satisfying music on this new CD.–MRo
The Ames Room
Invented by American ophthalmologist Adelbert Ames in 1934, the room bearing his name is a trapezoidal space that appears to be cubic, an elaborate three-dimensional optical illusion in which a person standing in one corner looks like a dwarf while someone in the opposite corner appears to be a giant. It's also the name of this trio featuring French alto saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet and expat Aussies Clayton Thomas (bass) and Will Guthrie (drums). The explanation of the name they've chosen for themselves might lie in the inverted commas Guionnet places strategically around the word "jazz" in the discography on his website – though technically I can think of very few saxophonists in the world today who can hold a candle to him (Frank Gratkowski and Marco Eneidi come to mind), Jean-Luc Guionnet has always, as it were, held jazz at arm's length, as if afraid that his other musical activities as a lowercase improviser, sound artist, organist and composer (not to mention writer and painter – we're talkin' renaissance man here) might be somehow tainted if he were considered to be "just another firebreather" (ten years on, he's still unhappy about the name of the quartet he plays in with me, Return Of The New Thing). But whether you choose to listen to your free jazz in quotation marks or not, make no mistake: his blowing on In is truly spectacular, hounding his motivic material down with the persistence of a Terminator and blasting it to shit once he traps it in the corner of the Ames Room. That shouldn't in any way minimise the contributions of his sparring partners either – it's a treat to hear Guthrie playing on a kit instead of his habitual electronic percussion rig (fans of his EAI stuff should also know that he's also a huge fan of free jazz, and came perilously close to interviewing Roscoe Mitchell for this magazine a couple of years ago.. what a shame that didn't come to pass), and Thomas gives the music plenty of well-aimed kicks to the low end. To what extent you might want to consider this music as free jazz or not, and if so, where you want to put it in the "canon", depends on you: I'm frankly not interested in these pigeonholes very much any more – I don't care what you want to call this music, but music it most definitely is, and damn good music too.–DW
Rhodri Davies / Louisa Hendrikien Martin
Soldercup, like many EAI albums of recent times, is the result of long and patient work: harpist Rhodri Davies and artist and laptop musician Louisa Martin, who first came to my attention on last year's elegantly understated Midhopestones quintet outing on Another Timbre, got together on three separate occasions (back) in 2006 to play together, before taking their original improvisations, transforming and reconfiguring them into more composed structures, playing along with them, re-recording the result and.. you get the idea. As Evan Parker put it, "improvisation is a compositional method" – end of story: let's talk about the music. And very colourful and lively it is at times too. Though there's a world of difference between Davies's stately recent work and the spiky stuff he was doing back in the All Angels days (as Nate Dorward reminds us in his review of Carliol below), the individual sounds he summons forth from his prepared harp are still just as surprising and varied, and Martin attacks them with relish, freezing them, fuzzing them up and morphing them into thirteen fascinating, shuddering, spitting tracks ranging from lugubrious, even menacing low-end rumble / rustle to feathery musicbox flutter. "It's a limited edition (200 copies only) vinyl release, and there will be no repressings," warns the Fourier Transform website. Make that 199: I've got mine – now make sure you get yours.–DW
Dutch sculptor and musician Raymond Dijkstra's discography has exploded over the past couple of years, with more than three dozen limited edition releases on his bijou Le Souffleur label, beautifully packaged in specially designed boxes and adorned with newspaper cut-up collage artwork. This latest outing on Dekorder is the follow-up to last year's L'Opus ch, and the second instalment in a series entitled "de voordelen van schizofrenie" ("The Advantages of Schizophrenia"). The basic ingredients will be familiar to anyone who knows Dijkstra's work: woolly harmonium clusters overlaid with teeth-grindingly ugly scraped metal and glass, with the addition here, "exclusively to his Opus cycle" of tuba, strings and audio effects, the latter mainly primitive reverb. "There is a bit of a problem with most experimental musicians, who are mostly only touching the surface of a subject after which they go beyond to find another experiment," writes Dijkstra in a rare mission statement accompanying the release. "I feel more connected to painters and sculptors who delve deep into the subject and explore it thoroughly, going into every possible direction, to really connect with their world. Even more interesting I find it when one connects with one's own genuine personal world. Just to come home to his self, instead of going out for a journey, what experimenting often is." Admirable sentiments indeed, and a nice finger to those who believe Art must be continually moving forward to and beyond The Next Big Thing, but I wonder how often you're likely to play the record, and what it might conceivably yield on a tenth or twentieth listen. So far I've managed three playthroughs and haven't managed to derive much pleasure from it. But maybe that's the idea, who knows.–DW
On this second outing from iibiis rooge – gee, wouldn't it be grand if band names were allowed as legitimate words in Scrabble? (not that all those i's would add up to much even in a Triple Letter or Triple Word score) – following on from last year's Pink Hybrid CDR, Neil "Astral Social Club" Campbell and the mysterious High Wolf carry on doing what they do best, i.e. following their noses, choosing the sounds they like best, regardless of market forces, clique peer pressure and dogma, and letting them run their course. These lush, multicoloured sonic shag pile carpets, occasionally crisscrossed with infectious backbeats – Campbell's never made any attempt to hide his love for minimal techno – are as enjoyable to listen to as they must have been to create in the first place. What else is there to say? I guess you could try and play Spot The Sample (bloody good luck to you if you do), or fly off on some hip hypnagogic tangent, but it wouldn't make the music sound any better than it already does. "Visible proof that (musical) online dating can be a highly prosperous activity," says the Dekorder promo blurb – not so sure about that "visible", especially since the Wolf is an elusive creature who refuses to reveal his real identity (all I know is he's called Max and he lives in Rennes, France), but audible for sure. A real delight, in fact.–DW
Portuguese multi-instrumentalist and composer David Maranha isn't exactly well-known in the States, though his work in drone-rock ensemble Osso Exótico has spanned the better part of twenty years. Cue Minneapolis's Roaratorio (Paul Metzger, Pauline Oliveros, and Joe McPhee) to bring a snippet of Maranha's work to broader attention. Maranha's violin and organ are joined by guitarist Riccardo Dillon Wanke, drummer Alfonso Simões, percussionist Patricia Machás and bassists João Milagre and Stefano Pilia on two variants on the Antarctica theme, each taking up a side of this beautifully rendered silkscreen-jacket LP. Antarctica is a plodding funereal march, drums and tambourine in lockstep as guitar feedback and violin saw and moan over the top. But this music isn't nearly as harsh as a John Cale or Angus MacLise minimal piece, despite some similarities; the edges are just rounded enough to set it apart from the harsh caterwaul of 1960s New York minimalism. Perhaps it's a geographic thing, too, and the Mediterranean approach to drone music has a more delicate disposition, enveloping rather than confrontational, a slow sunrise rather than a sonic slab; things get positively rocking by the second side of this excellent and no-frills recording.–CA
Messages are the trio of Taketo Shimada (electric bass and tambura), Tres Warren (guitar, shruti box and ukelin) and Spencer Herbst (percussion), and present a series of drone improvisations filtered through contemporary Lower East Side vibrations. Shimada was at one time Henry Flynt's assistant and was associated with Yoshi Wada, and his work has a direct connection to the tripped-out ragas and drones that some Fluxus artists have explored. The first side features the nasal, harmonium-like shruti box as pulsing bedrock for Shimada's sinister, gooey bass improvisations and Herbst's fairly aggressive gong, frame drum and shakers – an ethno-Kraut groove that suggests some 1970s offshoot of Embryo. The opening track on side two is a feature for tambura (at times sounding quite pianistic), accompanied by spiky reverb-drenched guitar and soft conga patter; it might fit well within the Kranky period of Windy & Carl. "Ukelin" involves the early twentieth-century American 32-string instrument of its title, an obscurity/curio of home music-making that sounds like the offspring of an autoharp and a hurdy-gurdy, though it's related to neither. Warren's shrieking arco sets the unearthly ukelin in relief to a rubbery bass-and-percussion lope, a four-minute closing capsule on a defiantly strange yet sometimes quaint LP.–CA
Paul Metzger / Milo Fine
SPONTANEOUS COMPOSITION GENERATOR / CONCERNING "THE OTHER CONDITION"
Milo Fine / Paul Metzger / Davu Seru
A brace of vinyl editions update us on the under-the-radar activities of snoopy multi-instrumentalists Paul Metzger and Milo Fine, here captured in different kinds of setting with equally gratifying results. The split LP on Nero's Neptune comes in a beautiful sleeve made of translucent light brown paper, enough to make a fetishist collector salivate. But the contents are even worthier. Metzger's Spontaneous Composition Generator is named after the self-constructed instrument heard here, which utilizes 37 music box movements (dismembered and modified) and rubber bands, mounted in a wooden painter's box to automatically play a transgendered kind of percussively dissonant sonata. What sounds like water drops, crackling wheels, zinging springs, double bass arco thumps and detuned xylophones are interspersed with mechanically-generated snoring (think Conlon Nancarrow falling asleep in front of his piano player). A great piece, perfectly complemented by Fine's two segments on the other side. On the first piece (making use of clarinet and prepared piano), the Minneapolis maverick turns the contrasts between reed-fueled uncontrollability, hushed whispering and unstructured string resonance into a now intimidating, now intimate proposition full of jarring spikiness and emotion. The final track is solo drumming, showing the incredible energy and schizophrenic propulsion produced by an artist whose intensity – in conjunction with an in-your-face attitude frowned upon in certain well-regarded circles – can only be admired.
In Medusa's Lair, a completely acoustic set recorded in 2009 by Metzger and Fine with drummer Davu Seru, we're the witnesses of an atypical merging between the most flexible emanations of communicative liberty and a series of quieter, almost meditative explorations of moods that frequently revolve around tonal centers – it happens in improvisation, too – shaped by Metzger's guitar, at times recalling Henry Kaiser's early work on Metalanguage, at times sounding like a sitar. Apart from such unexpected references, there's plenty of meat to chew on for anybody interested in fiery instrumental inventiveness. Fine's performances are as cunningly exacerbating as ever, the man absolutely incapable of playing the same thing for more than five seconds, while Seru confounds and stimulates through his ability to maintain a degree of gentlemanliness across unnaturally fractured figurations. The combination of droning repetition, hysterically atonal honky-tonk and agnostic drumming heard at the beginning of the second part is a genuinely inspired improvisational statement. I couldn't care less about who plays what: the sum total is a rewarding listen, and ultimately that's what counts.–MR
It's probably best to approach Markus Popp's latest Oval album as one would a debut. Popp has ditched the software programs and procedures that set him on the path to "glitch" stardom a decade ago plus, and gone for more simple off-the-shelf materials and a standard PC. The glitch music was certainly interesting and yet not too cerebral, and a person without any serious devotion to electronica could get a handle on it. It was crisp, rhythmic, quirky and self-contained and if there was more to it than surface textures, such depths could be reached if one wanted to go there. Oh is a fifteen-track 12" EP with most tracks hovering around the one-minute mark and only one nearing five minutes. At this point, of course, electronic music programs include software that produces realistic-enough sonic materials that Oval sounds as though a real trap set, organ, bells, harp and whatever else have been integrated into the proceedings. The "full band" arrangements are kaleidoscopic and hooky, but with an underlying stuttering clunk, even more apparent in the "solo" pieces that present fractured plinks and strums. Oh is far from traditionally groovy and is most definitely a Markus Popp production, sharp and clear but with a strong sense of humanity.–CA
Douglas Quin is a naturalist, educator and sound designer who's travelled and recorded throughout the world over the past two decades, and Fathom finds him in some of its most hostile environments, Alaska on side A and the Antarctic on side B (exact map references are provided in case you want a family holiday a little out of the ordinary next year). The album is, as usual for Minneapolis-based Taiga Records, immaculately pressed and packaged, with drawings by Mitchell Dose and exquisite embossed printing by the folks at Loaf Nest. It also contains a sealed envelope, to be opened in the event of insatiable curiosity to know exactly what made these extraordinary sounds (a nice touch – but after one listen I couldn't resist, sorry). I suppose I shouldn't spoil the fun by telling you then, but let's just say that most of us have some idea of the animals that live in these places, and I don't think I'm giving too much away by revealing that they were, for the most part, recorded underwater. Even so, the sheer weirdness of the sounds on offer beggars belief – and as most of us are unlikely to see an iceberg except on TV, at least we now know what they sound like. Maybe that's giving too much away: but unless you open that envelope you won't know which track I'm talking about. And you'll be surprised, as I am every time I play this fantastic disc.–DW
The Spring Press
Recovered from the wreck of a ship dating from the second century B.C. off the shores of the Greek island of Antikythera, north-west of Crete, the mechanism that bears its name was an ancient mechanical computer of sorts, designed apparently to calculate astronomical positions, with considerable accuracy too. How on earth teams of scientists over the years have managed to find out so much from studying an object that looks like a Go-Kart steering wheel dredged up from the bottom of the Rochdale canal on a murky November afternoon is beyond me – one wonders also what researchers might conclude about the world ca. 2010 A.D. if they came across these three mighty slabs of sprawling, grandiose, howling guitar and tape loops two thousand years from now. Bruce Russell's playing is as distorted, uncompromising and downright thrilling as it's ever been, either alone – the two pieces on side one were recorded (by Philip Samartzis, no less) in Melbourne in August 2008 – or in the company of Marco Fusinato, on side two's "Unanimity", captured for posterity at Russell's home base in Lyttelton, New Zealand, nearly a year later. But it's no easy listen. In fact, I defy anyone to say they actually enjoy listening to the viciously scything electronics of "Unanimity" – but it certainly leaves a lasting impression, and is another fine addition to the discography of this ever challenging, thoughtful and thought-provoking musician. I have to say it's not my favourite Russell album – that honour would probably go to Los Desastres de las Guerras (wmo/r) or Midnight Crossroads Tape Recorder Blues (A Bruit Secret) with Ralf Wehowsky – but you won't find my copy sitting at the bottom of the sea in the foreseeable future.–DW
I'm amused and surprised to see John Twells, aka Xela, the purveyor of these two beautiful, slowly evolving atmospheric pieces, church bells and hymns slowly decomposing under a layer of mossy tapeloops, extolling the virtues of Twitter on his Wordpress page. Sure, I can think of a few poets who can say more in 140 characters than most of us could do in a five-page essay, but the vast majority of the poor souls I see every day "multitasking" on iPhones and whatnot seem to have the attention span of a gnat – and that's not the kind of listener Twells' music demands. The Divine, originally released as a limited-edition (200) cassette on Digitalis, is the second part of a trilogy which began with last year's The Illuminated, and it's a more luminous affair than its predecessor. Twells has a real feel for the long form (various reviews I've read rap on about Basinski, but this stuff is better) and a fine ear for the sounds to articulate it. OK, you might not go for the ecclesiastical vibe, but even if choirs aren't your thing, you'll love the way the one on side two ("Of The Light And Of The Stars") deteriorates into fuzzy bliss. The LP also comes with a quotation from the second-century gnostic Theodotus of Byzantium: "Now those that dwell in a corrupt body, like those who sail in an old ship, do not lie on their back, but are ever praying, stretching their hands to God." Beautiful, Theo, but at 154 characters it won't make it Twitter. Sorry mate.–DW
The title song's piercing opening note on Chinese musette, over frenzied bass bowing and sizzling cymbals, serves notice that Air Raid is more of a blowing session than the earlier Air Song, with its intricate compositions. Air Song was reissued last year, and with this new CD of Air Raid its companion album is at last available again. Together they contain the earliest recordings of Air (which stands for Artists In Residence, something I hadn't known before reading these liners), which initially appeared in LP form on the WhyNot label and then briefly on India Navigation. In the 80s I was able to secure a copy of Air Raid on cassette from a kind source; the good news was I could enjoy it and the bad news was, well, it was on cassette….
So how do these four compositions build upon the four earlier ones? Following that arresting title track, "Midnight Son" is an uncharacteristically simple song built on a repetitive six note riff that ought to have become a staple of their live performances – although, as it happens, they never recorded it again. The haunting "Through a Keyhole Darkly," however, was a frequent part of their live performances: here, Henry Threadgill's tenor sax explores the nooks and crannies left by Fred Hopkins' bass and Steve McCall's drums. "Release" is a typically ethereal Threadgill flute piece distinguished by his switching during McCall's solo to the hubkaphone, a percussion device made from discarded hubcaps; it sounds alternately like steel drums or gamelan, or sometimes just like what you'd expect a beat up auto-wheel cover to sound like. While Air Raid is perhaps not as fully realized as the celebrated Air Lore – a reinvention of ragtime music that sounded fresh even after the "In The Tradition" wave had crested – or the unjustly overlooked 80 Degrees Below '82 (the last recording featuring McCall), this disc is brimming with creativity, as three up-and-coming musicians tap the seemingly unbounded potential of a reed/bass/drum trio.–SG
Martine Altenburger/John Russell
John Russell is one of those musicians who gets overlooked far too often, unfairly so considering his seminal role as both organizer, instigator of Quaqua, and participant in groups like his trio with John Butcher and Phil Durrant along with various groups led by Evan Parker. He also doesn't record that often, even less so in duo formats, so this meeting with the French cellist Martine Altenburger is a particularly welcome release. Russell's flinty acoustic steel string guitar has an unadorned directness that hits immediately; his playing is all about attack and articulation with no fussy extended techniques, string treatments, or e-bows to be heard. Altenburger, who has been working for the past couple of decades in the Toulouse area with musicians like Daunik Lazro, Michel Doneda, and her husband Lê Quan Ninh, provides the perfect foil. Leaping effortlessly between glissandi and pizzicato pop she keys in to Russell's sense of phrasing and momentum to engage him in intimate, conversational freedom. One gets the sense of two old friends engaged in a relaxed dialogue; nothing is rushed and over the course of the 45-minute extended improvisation, the two interweave sonorous fragments and rough-textured, prickly exchanges. There are few guitarists who can manage as distinctive a sound on an acoustic instrument as Russell, and in this setting he is particularly attuned to the sustain and tone of his instrument, letting craggy clusters ring out and resonate and then countering that with choked percussive plucked strings, damped arpeggios, and brittle flurries. Altenburger is exacting in the way she places dolorous, lyrical arco, scratchy harmonics, and sharp plinks against Russell's playing and the warm sonorities of her cello play nicely against the drier tone of her partner. Some may quibble with the somewhat loquacious nature of this meeting, but the warmth and candor of this one win out in the end.–MRo
Poet Harry Gilonis turns up twice this month (see Evan Parker review below) with some unusual liner notes to AMM's latest CD. His character-by-character commentary on an 8th-century Chinese poem "reads" it through the music on the disc, an act of multilayered creative mistranslation that ultimately results in an abstracted constellation of words (i.e. another poem, which is in turn the source of the CD's rather precarious title). This 51-minute piece was recorded at last year's Freedom of the City festival, by a quintet edition of the group; the occasion was overshadowed by Tilbury's recent health issues – he played the concert one-handed, in fact, due to a stroke. As on AMM's recent CD Trinity, saxophonist John Butcher joins the John Tilbury/Eddie Prévost core; also present on this occasion are cellist Ute Kanngiesser, a young player from the drummer's improvisational workshop, and Christian Wolff, who begins alongside Tilbury at the piano, later shifting to melodica and tabletop bass guitar. Though more discreet, his sly taps, prods and wiggles recall Keith Rowe's scabrous contributions to past AMM recordings, and have a similar slightly disruptive impact.
Prévost's playing here is pared down, even a bit restrictive – he first surfaces with some intriguingly tingly, raspy sounds, but for the rest of the disc he's mostly pulling out long shimmery sound-filaments from stroked and bowed percussion. Kanngiesser is quiet but busy, focusing on tiny scritches and short-breathed bow-work, and as with Wolff's more openly disruptive contributions I found myself changing my mind almost moment to moment as to how effective they were. The scratching/plinging that takes over about 17 minutes in, for instance, doesn't seem to me the most productive turn of events, but when six minutes later the fussiness recedes there's a shocking but perfect moment when Wolff's melodica intrudes, its folksy sentimentality tugging at the velvet drift of Tilbury's chording. In general there's more overlapping insectoid activity here than usual for an AMM disc, and a lot of the drama comes in how Tilbury functions in this sound-environment, his piano soft, necessarily sparing, but insistent in its changes of direction and idiom. Butcher's ability to gently insinuate himself into the cracks of the music is evident throughout – there are several terrific moments where he and Tilbury find themselves in near-duet – and it's genuinely exciting to hear how he mediates between the pianist's lucidity and the drifting cloud-shapes of strings and singing-metal percussion.–ND
Pascal Battus / Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour
Pascal Battus started out as a table guitarist (guitare environée – "surrounded guitar" – is what he called it at the time), but in recent years has, like many other practitioners of the instrument, probably fed up with carrying out a whole suitcase full of gear, downsized his kit. Here he plays "rotating surfaces" ("small motorised components from inside old Walkmans, used as exciters on different objects reacting as vibrators and resonators: sheets of paper, cardboard, plastic, wood, metal, polystyrene pieces and stems connected to cymbals") in the company of alto saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour in a set of five remarkably colourful, even rowdy, improvisations splendidly recorded by the Instants Chavirés sound engineer Etienne Foyer. The variety of sounds Battus manages to conjure forth from his trashed Walkmans is most impressive: from wild stuck pig feedback shrieks to butterfly flutters, from teeth-grinding polystyrene squeals to forlorn whalesong, it's like a heavenly jam session, Burkhard Beins, Ferran Fages, Hong Chulki and Jason Lescalleet rolled into one. There's plenty here for Sehnaoui to get her teeth into (literally, it sounds like): the Lebanese-born saxophonist has rapidly established herself as one of the most exciting voices in contemporary improv, and Ichnites is another fine addition to her expanding discography. An ichnite, by the way, is a fossilised footprint, which might explain the presence of those animals on the album cover.. a couple of stags, a doe, a horse, a squirrel and (odd man out) what looks like a lonely spermatozoid trying to swim under a wooden chair in the middle of a forest. Intrigued? Wait until you hear the music. Oh yes, if you're allergic to high frequency meltdown, you may want to step out for a quick drink halfway through "Fouilles & Rongement" – yeouch!–DW
During the last decade, The BSC was one of the mainstays of the Boston improv community. Nominally "directed" by Bhob Rainey, the octet has had a remarkably stable line-up of Greg Kelley, James Coleman, Liz Tonne, Chris Cooper, Vic Rawlings, Howard Stelzer, and Mike Bullock. During the mid 2000s they performed around Boston on a fairly regular basis, bringing in guest collaborators like Axel Dörner, Andrea Neumann and Alessandro Bosetti, as well as performing graphic scores by Stockhausen, Cardew and Christian Wolff in collaboration with pianist Stephen Drury's Callithumpian Consort. (Unfortunately, only one early performance with Dörner and Neumann was ever released and that one seems to have fallen out of print.) In the fall of 2007, The BSC was invited to perform at the three-day Phoneme Festival, with each night structured around solos, small groups (including nmperign and the Undr Quartet), collaborations with Philadelphia-based musicians, and a set by the full ensemble. This download-only recording documents one of the sets, a concentrated 22-minute improvisation.
Like all BSC performances, the music is structured around the ebb and flow of densities and the constantly morphing tensions that result. Each member contributes some readily identifiable elements: Rainey's fricative wisps, Kelley's burred buzz, Tonne's micro-inflected vocal warbles, Coleman's Theremin tremors, Rawlings' spatters of cello-activated electronics, Bullock's dark overtones, Cooper's restive guitar textures and Stelzer's unstable smears of prepared and manipulated tapes. However, the interest is not in the particular details, but instead in how the group responds to each other, balancing mounting activity against sections of calm and silence; and then, at the end, knowing just when to converge on a resolution. With Rainey's relocation to New Orleans, this group doesn't convene that often anymore, so it is particularly nice to have this record of their music. Head over to Rainey's site, send out a Tweet, and the download is yours.–MRo
Quartet, culled from live performances in 2009 by pianist Michiel Braam's regular trio, with Wilbert De Joode on bass and Michael Vatcher on drums, is a "meets the rhythm section" disc: there are some trio tracks, but a different guest also sits in on each stop of the tour, ranging from fellow members of the Dutch jazz scene (Michael Moore, Peter van Bergen) to unlikelier interlopers such as Mats Gustafsson and Paul Dunmall. Two pieces are presented in multiple versions, which is a good way to get a bead on how the different fourth members affect the music. "Q02", for instance, is a winding Ellingtonian ballad already familiar to Braam-watchers (though his disregard for consistent titles means that you'll have to hunt around to locate it on previous CDs). The trio's playful dissection on disc 1 hardly prepares you for the version with Moore, a venomous hymn to lost love that's alarmingly changeable and often (despite the Johnny Hodges elegance of Moore's clarinet) seething with fear and violence: De Joode's wayward shifts here from pizzicato to strangled arco are particularly unsettling. Taylor Ho Bynum brings out his "trumpbone" for "Q01", one of Braam's wittiest genre riffs – over-the-top piano tremolo over a broody blues vamp – and ends up paying homage engagingly to both Tricky Sam Nanton and Rex Stewart, but the results are far less memorable than the brutal Cecil Taylor-barrelhouse version with van Bergen on tenor sax.
Several guests bypass the "Q" book of compositions entirely and simply improvise. The quintet encounter with Gustafsson and clarinetist François Houle starts off with terrific baritone sax / piano splatter, but turns into a fairly generic rumble, unfortunately. The track with Dunmall is special though, eliciting atypical textures from the trio: Braam responds to Dunmall's bagpipes with swathes of wild glisses, and the closing bass / sax duo is genuinely thrilling, with bits of De Joode's splendidly unruly arco playing constantly flaking off into the soprano's range.
This is a packed double-CD, and it does have its longueurs; also, intentionally or not, there's a definite difference in flavour between disc one, where the trio generally sidles up to the tunes via longish free-improv intros, and disc two, where they mostly just jump in. I'd give the second one the edge – aside from its greater to-the-pointness, it also boasts the Tristanoite minor-key ecstasy of "Q23" (with Moore) – but both show trio and guests fulfilling the pithy musical direction found in the title of a previous BDJV disc: "change this song".–ND
Anthony Braxton / Kevin O'Neil / Kevin Norton / Andy Eulau
19 STANDARDS (QUARTET) 2003
Anthony Braxton / Ann Rhodes
GTM (SYNTAX) 2003
Anthony Braxton / Chris Jonas / Molly Sturges
GTM (OUTPOST) 2003
June 4th 2010 was Anthony Braxton's 65th birthday, which may seem surprising to some: despite his elder statesman status as a university professor, he retains many aspects of the eccentric wunderkind who rewrote the rulebook from the late 60s onwards. In the same month, to celebrate his birthday and the 25th anniversary of their working together, Leo Records released three new Braxton albums. This is fitting as Leo has released more of his music than any other label, with over 40 titles currently in its catalogue, the majority multiple disc sets. So it is with these new releases, one being a 4CD set and the other two doubles (none of which will surprise Braxton aficionados, who are so used to this aspect of his output that a single-disc release comes as a surprise, not to mention welcome financial relief). All three date from 2003, and, as such, they fill gaps in the patchwork quilt that is the Braxton discography, complementing and helping make sense of already available releases.
Homage to The Tradition has been an important element of the oeuvre, exemplified by tributes to Monk, Tristano and Parker. 19 Standards (Quartet) 2003 follows the same format as the similarly titled 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003 and 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (quirky album titles and the resulting confusion is one of the delights of following Braxton). Of the 62 pieces spread across those 12 discs, there are no duplicates. All were recorded in concerts during two European tours in February and November 2003 and feature the same group, Braxton plus guitarist Kevin O'Neil, bassist Andy Eulau and percussionist Kevin Norton, a foursome that sounds easy and trusting in each other's company.
As before, the material includes compositions from the likes of Miles Davis, Coltrane and Monk as well as the Great American Songbook, and strikes a comfortable balance between sounding fresh and staying faithful to the tradition. The rhythm section generates the kind of easy swing that satisfies purists, and O'Neil's guitar is well to the fore, readily sharing the solo spotlight with Braxton. As a soloist, the leader never puts a foot wrong here, reeling off a succession of fresh, fluent solos bristling with ideas. Indeed, the quality is so uniformly high that it is difficult to pick highlights, but Jobim's chestnut "The Girl from Ipanema" serves to illustrate the freshness of this quartet's approach, as it gradually drifts away from the characteristic bossanova rhythm with Braxton replacing the reassuring warmth of Stan Getz's celebrated tenor solo in a more protracted and wide-ranging exploration of the melody, sparking memories of the original while forever expanding upon it. The final reprise of the melody line and the rhythm are magical. Just as audacious is a version of "Body and Soul" that runs for nearly 17 minutes, the first ten of which are taken up by another pungent Braxton solo before he and O'Neil swap phrases and intertwine lines. Straight after this comes the real surprise of the album – a Braxton original, not a standard (the only one in the entire twelve disc set) entitled "G. Petal (Improvisation)", which once more showcases the saxophonist and guitarist at their best, this time in a laid-back, mellow mood. Braxton has never been afraid to innovate and experiment, which has led some – hi, Wynton [don't worry, he's not reading this – DW] – to question his jazz credentials. Anyone in that camp with lingering doubts can have them swept away by spending some time listening to this new 4CD set.
The other two new releases, GTM (Syntax) 2003 and GTM (Outpost) 2003 are valuable additions to the series of compositions written between 1996 and 2006 which Braxton labelled Ghost Trance Musics (GTM). It's been noted before that GTM is a curious name for music which is neither ghostly nor trance inducing. Indeed, in its most clearly defined incarnations – the ninetet recordings at Yoshi's, Oakland, in 1997 (four double CDs, all released on Leo) and 12+1tet recordings from the Iridium, NYC, in 2006 (a 9-CD box on Firehouse 12) – the scored music is highly structured and rhythmically tight. It gets into a groove and stays there a long time, with soloists or subgroups of soloists playing on top of the repeated patterns that define each composition. To quote Braxton: "The Ghost Trance Musics are a continuous state music. There is no development in this music and it has nothing to do with tonality."
GTM (Syntax) 2003 features Braxton in a duo with Ann Rhodes' classically-trained soprano voice performing his Compositions 339 and 340. The most immediately striking thing is how different this sounds to the larger ensemble versions of GTM. Although the music is obviously scored and has GTM's rhythmic structure, this duo interpretation feels looser and freer. This is largely due to Rhodes, whose instrumental approach to singing allows her voice to roam free. In Composition 339, her vocals are largely wordless, so she is not constrained by having to employ the over-precise diction of a classical singer to convey the meaning of lyrics. The end result is that the focus – hers and ours – is on the sound of her voice, not its content. This is the case even when she sings something intelligible, mostly numbers (random or is she singing the phone book?), but in Composition 340, some of the text strays dangerously close to the portentous but opaque libretti of Braxton's Trillium operas. Thankfully Rhodes soon returns to wordless vocals, while Braxton deploys his customary range of saxophones, and switches frequently to subtly shift the mood. Both compositions provide structures within which voice and saxophones interact effectively, tracking each other closely, almost creating the illusion of telepathic communication.
GTM (Outpost) 2003 is a mixture of duo and trio performances. The first half consists of a saxophone duo combining Braxton with Chris Jonas, formerly a student of his at Wesleyan and also a former member of Cecil Taylor's ensembles. The two play Composition 255 which starts in characteristic GTM fashion before becoming more diffuse and loose. From time to time, the two saxophonists are brought back into step, playing scored GTM passages in unison before veering off again into free blowing territory. There's a clear contrast between their approaches, and a playfulness to their interaction, which was clearly as much fun for the listeners as it must have been for the players, as there are occasional spontaneous bursts of applause from the live audience at the Outpost Performance Space, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For Composition 265, they're joined by vocalist Molly Sturges, a frequent Jonas collaborator. The hour-long composition is broken down into eleven sections, again punctuated by audience applause. Sturges demonstrates once more that vocals suit this music well (it's worth remembering that Braxton kicked off the Ghost Trance Musics project with a duo performance with vocalist Lauren Newton), and though it's not yet time to draw a line under GTM, as there are still important recordings waiting to be released, these two offerings stand as important and effective examples. Taken together with the Standards set, they create yet another intriguing portrait of Anthony Braxton. Happy birthday, Prof.–JE
John Butcher / Rhodri Davies
Despite their frequent collaborations in larger groupings, Butcher and Davies' only previous duo recording was the memorably lopsided Vortices and Angels (Emanem, 2001), where the lurch in volume between their tracks and the CD’s second half, a maximally abrasive Butcher/Derek Bailey concert, was enough to shake a few fillings loose. The improvisations on Carliol draw on a typically diverse range of procedures, including various applications of amplification and the occasional use of motors to nudge their instruments. Though it's basically a studio disc, on one track Butcher overdubs soprano sax over Davies' recording of an electric harp outdoors in a stiff wind (a decidedly unpastoral series of searing metallic swoops). Butcher's amplified sax feedback gets a superb showing on "Pandon Bank", and on "Ouse Poppy" he routes his instrument through a speaker in Davies' electric harp – the result is a series of pulsing miniatures, like a tideful of jellyfish. Rather than chatty improvised diologue, these performances offer something more like symbiosis: two musicians, two instruments and the room ambience together making up an elegant ecosystem. Few contemporary improvisers exploit natural sonic phenomena as sensitively as these two – ghost tones, feedback, beat patterns produced by clashing wave forms, etc. – and they're especially alive to the way sounds act like sponges, soaking up bits of whatever else is in the air then bleeding it back. But most importantly, Carliol isn't just about surface effects and intriguing textures: you could write an entire essay on the mutability and entanglement of sonic / personal identity after listening to any of its seven pieces.–ND
Günter Christmann/Mats Gustafsson/Paul Lovens
I was sure that this collaboration had to have been on one of the Vario project releases from the 1990s, since it seemed preposterous that the first meeting of trombonist / cellist Christmann, reedist Gustafsson, and percussionist Lovens back in 1994 hadn't already appeared. So it's nice that, after all of their playing in various configurations, this old snapshot has finally seen the light of day. Back then, Gustafsson was very much in the Mouth Eating Trees mode, all squiggly chirrups and morphed fluteophone, and his language is exciting to listen to precisely because it was still developing at such a rapid rate. He's especially responsive to Lovens' staccato challenges. Elsewhere Lovens settles into the dronescape with Christmann's soft held trombone tones (amazing to hear how Lovens' saw and Christmann's altissimo sound uncannily like Plus Minus from ten years later!) – the denser moments are more like sudden howls or screams rather than tussles, not so much episodes in a narrative as elongated or amplified moments, intense gestures held for dramatic purposes in a Butoh dance. The serrated and rubbed raw materials at times heat up to explosion, but for the most part the mood and ethos of this trio is distinctive: spare but generous and expressive, refreshingly free of either stasis or tentativeness.–JB
Sabine Ercklentz / Andrea Neumann
In case you're wondering whether there's an apostrophe missing between the L and the A, the album cover, with the title in huge white letters on the hillside, makes it clear. Los Angeles meets alien meets nation, I suppose. The cover also shows our two protagonists, trumpeter Ercklentz and inside pianist Neumann, with garlands of – are those onions? - round their necks, decked out in what look like swimsuits and made up to look like Virgil Tracy from Thunderbirds. Not so much Lalienation as Supermarionation, if you like. An eight-minute short film included on the disc as an mpeg video file tells the story of the cover, showing our intrepid lassies emerging from the Pacific (maybe that's seaweed then, not onions) crossing the City of the Angels and setting up the photo shoot. It's fun, and certainly original, but the disc works perfectly well without it. Marion Saxer's nine-page accompanying essay in the booklet is a good read, too, but the music needs no explanation. In addition to their instruments of choice, neither of which sound much like a trumpet or a piano (but you're all hip to "extended techniques" now), Ercklentz and Neumann make extensive use of electronics, not only to incorporate local found sounds – the gurgle of an espresso percolator in "Bialetti" is immediately recognisable – but to transform and sequence them into what are at times remarkably accessible compositions, both harmonically and rhythmically. Yes, you can even tap your feet to "Twin Quartet" and almost hum along with parts of the title track. That said, you're not likely to hear this on your local Top 40 station in the near future, but Ercklentz and Neumann have thoroughly mastered the lingua franca of contemporary improvised music, with its puffs, fizzes, twangs and scrapes, and demonstrate convincingly that it can and should, given the right encouragement, speak to a wider public than it attracts at the moment. Hell, you might even find someone popping it into their car stereo in L.A. one day.–DW
Frank Gratkowski/Simon Nabatov/Marcus Schmickler
Now this is fairly unexpected: a Schmickler appearance with two mainstays of the Cologne scene known more for their elaborate new music variations on free improvisational settings. The contrapuntal energies so voraciously explored by Gratkowski and Nabatov might seem to be a poor match with the computer reimaginations Schmickler specializes in, but recall that the reedist and pianist are equally at home in, and enthusiastic about, cooler, more lambent areas of sound. And this is exactly where they find themselves at the outset of the long opening suite "Allocations," where the metallic sizzle of prepared piano is transformed electronically, coiling about with soft woody overtones from the clarinet in surprising ways. As the drill-bit whine of Schmickler's computer moves from background to foreground, the acoustic instruments get spikier, exchanging volleys of knotted phrases and barks to establish a rambunctious chamber music. Gratkowski's high whinnies approximate rubbed metal, and there's some very tight work between his bird-whistles and Schmickler on "Instance." Nabatov's wide intervals on "Artifact" tumble into oscillating space, and his inside-piano manipulations sound like bouncing glass set against a digital crabwalk.
Compelling as these moments are, things can also be discontinuous. There are times when the music seems little more than a duo with electronic continuo, and stalls as a collaborative experiment. Gratkowski and Nabatov both continually try to shift the emphasis to lower-register dollops to create context for Schmickler (while simultaneously resonating inside his spectral frame), but it doesn't cohere often enough, and the record runs out of steam in the middle. The quavering mouthpiece and computer/piano resonance on "Cluster" sound like another album altogether, heard through the apartment wall. These are game efforts to bring two different approaches to sound and form together, but the record's reach too often exceeds its grasp.–JB
The Ideal Bread
When I first heard The Ideal Bread's debut, a criminally overlooked CD-R from a couple years back, it knocked me out. Not just because I'm one of the many Steve Lacy freaks out there, but because this quartet – baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke, bassist Reuben Radding, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara – played the great man's themes with such personality, invention, and sheer joy that it reminded you not just of why you love Lacy but of why you love jazz, period. It was that good. I'm happy to see the folks at Cuneiform putting out the group's follow-up, but not surprised, since the label has established its bona fides among Lacy devotees – if you don't have 2007's outrageously good Early and Late, with its top-notch Lacy/Rudd summits from their School Days and the early 2000s, rectify that situation right now!
Just as few people (other than Lacy) really knew how to play Monk, few people know how to play Lacy. Aside from the occasional moment of brilliance – Philip Johnston's performance of "Hemline", for example – few dare to engage the man's complex, multi-disciplinary body of work. Consequently, his sound is still misunderstood: the way the deceptively simple, pared-down constructions of his writing and improvising are actually extraordinarily expressive, or how his dry, occasionally tart tone is in fact winsome, joyful, and mischievous. The Ideal Bread gets it, and how – but they are most emphatically their own band. Neither of the horns apes Lacy, yet they've learned key lessons from his approach to improvising, most obviously his subtlety with extended technique, his generosity (not just with other players but with line and theme), and his use of space. Hear this in Sinton's riveting solo in the rarely heard "Longing," one of the handful of lesser-known tunes on the date, and on Knuffke's delirious, spacey solo on "The Breath," at once a nod to the master's duck-calling phase and a statement of Knuffke's own. The band really brings a freshness to this less familiar material, starting with their raggedly graceful reading of "As Usual." After the bright morning chirps that open "Flakes," there's a stunning reversal of momentum, with Radding and Fujiwara dragging and catching up in all kinds of fascinating ways, and the group is just so damn boisterous on "The Dumps," with its jolly vocal contribution and Sinton's baritone providing fresh lilt to the harmony. Transmit is fresh, vital, and moving, a love song to an all-time great and a vivid statement from a killer band.–JB
No Business 2LP
William Hooker Trio
YEARN FOR CERTAINTY
Engine Studios CD
My first exposure to drummer and improvising composer William Hooker was late, once he'd begun playing with figures like turntablist DJ Olive and Sonic Youth guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore. Amidst the guitar squall and Olive's electronics, it was difficult for me to hear what Hooker was working with – I felt the noise-rock elements had obscured the elemental weight he was bringing to a constantly revolving and evolving approach to the kit – and it took a reach back into his discography and an examination of recordings like Is Eternal Life (1977) and Brighter Lights (c. 1982 – staggering sets, and very different from one another, on his Reality Unit Concepts label), and late 1980s sides on Silkheart and Cadence Jazz Records, to begin to grasp Hooker's intent. He combines the rhythmic density of Milford Graves with the fleetness of Tony Williams or Clifford Jarvis, moving an incredible amount of mass with speed and detail. Whether or not one appreciates his work in Downtown improvised-rock contexts, in recent years Hooker has revisited jazz instrumentation with more frequency, including work with pianist Dave Burrell and staggering duets with reedman Sabir Mateen (Dharma, KMB Jazz, 2007). Now, he's released another set with Mateen and a double album comparable in weight to Is Eternal Life.
Earth's Orbit joins Hooker with some of the leading lights of contemporary improvisation on both East and West Coasts. It's a finely-produced double LP on Lithuania's No Business Records, each disc featuring a different ensemble and geographic locale (both are titled "Bliss"). The first is a New York power trio with bassist Adam Lane and alto saxophonist Darius Jones, while current and former Bay Area stalwarts – tenorman Aaron Bennett, bassist Damon Smith and Weasel Walter (on guitar, no less!) – join Hooker for "Bliss (West)." Hooker's ensembles generally have relied on the comparable weight of reed players, such as Booker T., David S. Ware, and Hasaan Dawkins, or electric guitarists. Bassists aren't easy to work into this music – as Hooker said in a May 1991 interview with Cadence, "I've had a problem with the volume of bassists. I just can't hear them. I'm a loud drummer." Here, however, he employs Adam Lane and Damon Smith – both powerful players, who constantly rearrange and subdivide rhythms and phrases.
The first movement of "Bliss (East)" begins with Jones' nagging alto, repeating simple flat phrases until they are rattled and shaken apart into wicked peals. Hooker's constant burble of activity is a loose, round chatter, with surprisingly boppish tom-heavy swing, underpinned by Lane's active pulse and meaty walk. The second movement finds Hooker taking those Roy Haynes-like cymbal crashes and surface-skimming phrases into a vocal-inflected espousal of timbre and action, at once taut and open. When Jones reenters, his squall is egged on by the drummer's shouts of encouragement before he drops his alto to let loose with vocal wails before the piece comes to an exhausted close.
The Oakland session that comprises the second LP is a different beast entirely, and has an immediate and slightly uncertain quality with a special charm. Hooker has long championed the work of younger musicians of various musical backgrounds, and both discs of Earth's Orbit are testament to that fact. The opening moments of "Bliss (West): Tensegrity" find tenor, bass and guitar inhabiting sparse, sharp areas underpinned by percussive roll and hum. Walter's guitar spins out short, dissonant progressions at a medium volume, adding chiaroscuro to what quickly becomes a launching pad for Bennett's hard-bitten tenor skronk. The foursome often find areas of lacy delicacy, only to be jolted back into overdrive when Hooker enters with a crash, chanting "go, go!" as Bennett and Walter splay out over a cymbal and tom rhythm-field. Hooker insists on getting Smith into a walk midway through the first side, goading his cohorts with encouragement and sound-syllables, stopping to query Bennett's phrases with "meaning?" (One can't help but laugh at that little snippet of on-the-stand education.) Walter hasn't been heard on a guitar in a few years, to my recollection, and when he stretches into realms of high-pitched static it's a bold counterpoint to the blistering walks and athletic sound-rhythm-poetry.
Yearn for Certainty teams Hooker up with Sabir Mateen and multi-instrumentalist David Soldier on five pieces recorded live at New York's Roulette. The word has always been crucially important in Hooker's improvisations and phrase constructions, and on "Ingratiated Beam – Leroy" the rhythms of his seemingly free-associated poetry often suggest a verbal equivalent to a percussion solo. The piece also includes beautiful passages of alto-mandolin duets, which add a folksy, lyrical vibe to the proceedings. "Century's Soles" features rakish banjo lines and Mateen's soaring cadences and occasional sputter, buoyed by rimshots and bass drum in a backwoods improvisational commingling. "Commonplace Travel" is at first a fleet and swinging tenor-drum duet that becomes stratospheric with the addition of amplified violin. Low, breathy sighs and string moans accompany tidal cymbal work and malleted rumble on "Magistrait"; a brief percussion solo is followed by a clarinet hymnal/sermon and volumes of agitated cymbal and mandolin work. The closing title track continues the hymnal mood, the electric violin's long, slightly saccharine lines countered by gorgeous free-time jangle that makes one wonder what Hooker would've sounded like in the Ayler brothers' marching-band ensembles. But Hooker's music has a flavour all its own, and he puts his own unmistakable stamp on both these new releases.–CA
Kim Johannesen / Svein Magnus Furu
While the periodic use of motorized appliances on the guitar by Kim Johannesen vaguely recalls the work of Keith Rowe, these two Norwegian musicians also present a broad spectrum of timbres and settings that demonstrate individual character and humour, all deriving from the same sources – guitar, sax and clarinet – yet quite polymorphic in terms of their capricious dynamics and in-depth investigations of particular combinations of altered tones. Furu is a clever reedist, not the least interested in the umpteenth adaptation of subtly hissing emptiness, willing instead to let those pitches be heard, sometimes very loud: certain juxtapositions of extensive quaking honks with the scraped jangle emitted by Johannesen's tormented strings are impressively vicious if listened to at serious volume. The association between Furu’s sputtered quacks and Johannesen’s humid fingers rubbing the wood also brings remarkable results in a who-did-what kind of argument usually ending in a nod of approval. An intelligent record throughout.–MR
Kidd Jordan / Joel Futterman
Pianist and reedman Joel Futterman is one of the musicians most closely associated with improvised music in the American South, not exactly a hotbed of creative improvisation but a region which nonetheless has produced a staggering array of important players. Most of these artists have had to find their fortunes elsewhere, but Chicago-raised Futterman has stuck it out in Virginia since 1972. In addition to solo recitals, he's worked regularly with Jackson Mississippi-based drummer Alvin Fielder and New Orleans-based tenorman Kidd Jordan, whose recordings for the Drimala and Charles Lester labels are the stuff of legend. Interaction is only the second recorded duo of Futterman and Jordan to be released, and consists of two lengthy improvisations sequenced in the order of performance.
The first of these is nearly album-length, a thirty-eight minute workout that encompasses a broad swath of what this duo is capable of. When propelled by Fielder's percussion and a bassist like William Parker, Futterman and Jordan have no trouble stretching out stratospherically for nearly an hour, but without the constant harmonic thrum and devilish tradition-minded swing of the rhythm sections, the twists and turns are significantly more abrupt. The first grubby phrases recall Cecil Taylor's unit structures, a unison feeding between piano and tenor that quickly becomes pointillist tiptoe. Futterman makes an about-face into barrelhouse and clarion repetition as Jordan's dusky tenor takes off. Completely able to hold rhythmic attention, the pianist swings back and forth between furrowed motion and ascending color clash, gospel chords and verbose curlicues. Jordan is right there with him at every step, nodding in romantic asides and multiphonic acrobatics in this choreography of isolated events and timeless paragraphs. They don't stick with one idea or song structure for long, choosing instead to allow the immediacy of cascading ideas to drive the music forward, from passages of modal grooviness to earthy funk and folksy counterpoint. One small point: there's a clear dividing line midway through the first piece, a closing thought from Jordan's tenor that Futterman restates in a short, repeated piano phrase. Whether there are two tracks or three on the disc doesn't really matter at the end of the day, but there's so much activity here that a logical resting place might have given the set a little more polish and continuity.–CA
AND SHE SAT UP IN THE STREET IN THE SUN
A Copy For Your Records
"Mechanical parts, found objects" and "amplification devices" are what Richard Kamerman is credited as playing on this 40-minute piece recorded in February last year. That could, I suppose, encompass just about anything, from a tractor to a trash can, but I suspect most of the parts, objects and devices being used here are small. Maybe very small, since the volume level of most of the piece is low. Most, but not all – if you're tempted to spin this in the wee small hours with headphones on (my preferred mode of listening for music like this), be warned that there are several disturbingly loud squeals of feedback (watch the family dog about the eight-minute mark) and occasional ugly blasts of shuddering amp hum, as if somebody was machine-gunning a Marshall stack. It's just as well Kamerman doesn't go into details regarding his instrumentation, as trying to guess what's making these sounds is often more fun than actually listening to them. Images of whirring, fizzing shozyg-like contraptions come to mind, as do vague memories of that crusty sci-fi classic The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold, 1957). Imagine what the world would sound like if you were the size of an ant and found yourself trapped inside an old Walkman or an alarm clock, or at the bottom of an inkwell under a pile of paperclips and pencil shavings. That kind of scary, what-the-hell-is-that feeling is what makes this music both hard to access (deliberately so, I suspect – Kamerman has a knack for throwing spokes in his own wheels as well as his listeners' ears) and ultimately rewarding, provided you're prepared to give it your undivided attention.–DW
Annette Krebs / Taku Unami
It is the how of motubachii, Annette Krebs and Taku Unami's first release as a duo, culled from a series of recordings made last year in Germany and Japan, around which the online discussions I have seen coalesce. It is indeed a "puzzle box of sound," as the label has it in its press release, and unlike anything else in the Erstwhile catalogue, or anywhere else for that matter. It's understandable then that even seasoned listeners to radical, leading-edge music might attempt to solve the mysteries of such a disjunctive, ambiguous and – without intending this to be in the least bit pejorative – initially unmusical sounding work. Such ambiguities, disjunctions and even, one could argue, negations make a lot of us uncomfortable.
motubachii, at first blush, seems to proceed without flow, logical transitions or even much regard for the musicality of many of its sound sources, most of which are introduced in the terrific opening five minutes. But there are perceptible threads that reveal this 53-minute sonic diary to be quite coherent, and eventually disclose some of its baffling structure. One is Krebs's recurring guitar / mixing board / samples, a clear lexicon of sound treatments, tolling bell sounds, trebly string plucks and sonorous low tones cycling throughout the constantly shifting locations and ambiences. Another is the paradox of Unami's orchestrated panoply of slammed doors, sporadic hand-claps, tossed coins, bursts of hissing pipes, dragged furniture, manipulated cardboard boxes and something sounding like banjo plinks, which, though they sounded random and tossed off for this listener even after many listens, are actually every bit as arranged and intentional as Krebs's relatively more conventional plectrum sounds and samples, some of which are familiar from her other recent duo releases, the excellent Falter I-V (Cathnor) with Ernst Karel, and the Kravis Rhonn Project, (Another Timbre), with Rhodri Davies. Another thread is repetition, suggestive of a sort of circular journey from the first to the seventh and last track, which are, in fact, identical, though the last reiteration enigmatically contains two additional seconds. Repetition provides at least an illusory form, as the duo shuffle and shamble through their shared journey, twinned tricksters upending any toe-hold you manage to gain for a moment along the way.
motubachii sounds to me like a sonic diary of the duo's month or so together
(though initially, no doubt in my own reflexive attempt to establish some sort of analogy, I thought of Takemitsu's soundtrack to Kobayashi's Kwaidan, with its spare percussion, struck strings, collages of captured voices). Its over-arching, kaleidoscopic structure is episodic, the music placed within continually shifting contexts of spaces and ambiences – various rooms, public commons, and both subtly and jarringly-edited inside / outside locations – and shot through with sounds that evoke transience, travel and impermanence. Passing traffic, intrusive radio bursts, out-of-the-frame conversations, snapped-off phrases, and truncated folk music are woven throughout Krebs and Unami's own unlocatable, unfixable sounds. Dislocation and jarring segues are the order of the day: this is the sound of cognition traveling through the shop-worn, well-trodden, banal and intimately familiar landscapes we inhabit, sound turned inside out.
Indulging for a moment in my own speculation as to how it was done, I wouldn't be surprised to learn Unami and Krebs stitched their respective contributions together in post-production, delighting in their parallel play, complementary conjurers, archetypal Reynards of sound travelling together through time, returning and bearing this strange fruit. I'm hard-pressed to imagine who else could have created an experience quite like it. To lift a descriptor from Stanislaw Lem's The Star Diaries, which I am told both musicians enjoyed, motubachii is "absolutely necessary and altogether impossible".–JG
Martin Küchen/Keith Rowe/Seymour Wright
Keith Rowe has had an uneasy alliance with the saxophone: while there have been some intriguing matchups (a duo with Evan Parker and a trio with Michel Doneda and Urs Leimgruber, both on Potlatch) he's usually found more fruitful settings with other instrumentation. On paper, a collaboration with young alto players Martin Küchen and Seymour Wright should be a winner, since both work at the lowercase end of saxophone improvisation. The 35-minute improvisation, recorded at the Church of St. James the Lesser in a small town outside of Sheffield, builds from breathy hisses, shredded reed overtones, wafts of radio, and the restless amplified shuffle of Rowe's excited strings. The three focus on the scuffle of fans and e-bow against strings, fluttered and frayed harmonics and reed overtones, creating stratified textures, vibrations, and buzzing pools of activity. Rowe's radio interjections are unusually aggressive here, inserting snippets of classical music, pop ephemera, and disembodied voices. Wright and Küchen act as colourists, their timbres only hinting at identifiable reed sounds for much of the piece, though when they shift to quavering notes and drones the results are highly engaging. Overall, though, there's a sense of reserve here, as if the three are hanging back in deference to the collective sound.–MRo
Sometimes it is impossible to talk about a CD without delving in to the back-story. This live recording from a November 2003 performance at the Unerhört! Festival in Switzerland captures the last solo performance by Steve Lacy, just three months after he learned that he had cancer and six months before his death. He would go on to perform a handful of times afterwards (including a killer two-night run in Boston performing The Beat Suite which I was fortunate enough to attend), but the solo performances always feel especially close to the heart of Lacy's music, so this concert takes on particular significance.
As always, he assembled the program with care, and it's shadowed by a sense of his own mortality. "Blues for Aida" was written for the young Japanese producer who died shortly after bringing Lacy to Japan in the 70s; "The Rent" is dedicated to Laurent Goddet, a friend from Lacy's early days in Paris who committed suicide; and "Tina's Tune" was written for a friend who died of cancer, based on a haiku by novelist Ozaki Koyo written shortly before his own death. Hearing Lacy chant the poem ("If I must die / Let it be autumn / Ere / The dew is dry") has a chilling poignancy. There's also a cross-section of pieces from Lacy's career, from "The Crust" which he wrote in the early 70s to "The Door" from the late 80s, and as an encore he plays Monk's "Reflections", a piece he first recorded in the late 50s and which encapsulates the reflective mood of the entire session. While the effects of illness are apparent – at times shading Lacy's tone, and also evident when he catches his breath between pieces – this is still very much the work of a master, a final, deeply moving example of his characteristic blend of distilled emotion and cutting directness.–MRo
Drummer Luther Gray knows exactly the sound he's going for: the sound of summer swelter, evoked by the swollen strumming of guitarists Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton, heat-haze and heavy air drenched in their reverb and vibrato, while Jim Hobbs' celebrated alto quaver is all insects in shimmering air, punctuated by the occasional sweat-soaked complaint – "damn, it's hot!" He's great at bending tart notes around like balloon sculptures, as one guitarist does the Ribot twang alongside the other's metallic sawing. The long lines and big thunderheads of pure tone are stretched elastically over Gray's skittering pulse, with the guitars occasionally swerving outward to meet up with the drummer in a choppy second line rhythm (Gray is a model of restrained invention throughout). On the first few spins, I thought it was a bit uneventful, but then, as the temperature approached 100 down here, I started to get it. As the saxophone claws its way through the thickening, oscillating textures of "One," as "Dan" cavorts with night birds and insects, and as "Glass" nods obliquely to one of those old Codona songs with kalimba (specifically "Mumakata"), I began to look forward to new listens, new immersions into this bath of sound. Don't get me wrong – it's not all just texture: "Prayer of Death" could be a 19th century funeral air played by a surf band, and the nicely noisy "Giant Squid" unfurls long saxophone lines, descending and ascending inside the bowels of a machine. But ultimately it all drifts back to the sound on the daydreaming "I Love" and the sweet, wistful "Two" that ends the disc. Lovely. Somebody reach into the cooler and toss me a cold one.–JB
Jim Lewis/Andrew Downing/Jean Martin
ON A SHORT PATH FROM MEMORY TO FORGOTTEN
Lewis, Downing and Martin are three of the sharpest players on the lively but largely unheralded Toronto free jazz/improv scene. Drummer Jean Martin has spearheaded a conversion of abandoned industrial space into an ironically titled Farm, a living space/recording studio that's home to Barnyard Records. Trumpeter Jim Lewis and bassist Andrew Downing add their abundant talents to a disc that harkens back to releases such as Lester Bowie and Phillip Wilson's Duets and the early Leo Smith offerings in its effective use of sound and space in the small group format. Many of the pieces simply have numbers for titles, which are not in sequence but presumably relate to the order of performance: indeed, "Fourteen" and "Fifteen" seem to be alternate takes, sharing a stop and go rhythm, funkish feel and central horn motif, and it's probably just as well that they're widely separated in the track order. Lewis's approach varies from the brash clarion opening duet with Martin on "Seven" to the plaintive yearning sound of "On a Short Path". Downing's bass playing is exemplary, whether he's providing rhythmic impetus or adding tonal colour in a sparse setting. Tracks such as "Groove" and "Four" feature the trumpet and bass playing complementary long tones while the drums clatter and clank away over them. Martin, in addition to providing masterful drumming, also adds some trumophone smears on "Eight" and "Thirteen" that are more interesting in their resemblance to Anthony Braxton's contra-bass clarinet croakings than what they contribute to the music. But that's the only sour note on an excellent CD that should open the ears of anyone unfamiliar with recent developments in the Toronto music scene.–SG
Blaise Siwula / Dom Minasi
LIVE AT THE MATT BEVEL INSTITUTE
I'm not exactly sure how alto saxophonist Siwula and guitarist Minasi scored a gig at the Matt Bevel Institute's Theatre in Tucson, Arizona, in front of an audience filled with warm and enthusiastic septuagenarians, but I'm glad the tapes were rolling. The first thing you notice from both players is tone, pert and buoyant, excited with possibility. And something about that seems also to fit the tunes, which build from deceptively simple Lacy-like structures, buzzing with activity, patiently constructivist, and filled with space even at their most active. Both players draw on a vast range of improvised music, combined with generous listening and intense technique. Minasi is riveting here, with cranked up post-bop runs, meditative drops into the pool of silence, and gorgeous chording. He's got this compelling habit of ending his phrases with little slurs, pitch-bends, and the like, and it works fantastically with Siwula's subtle microtonal vapor trails set in the middle of cooing lyrical phrases. While things frequently get intense and busy, only rarely do they get noisy (there's a bit of a shout on the opening "Tendencies in Tandem" but that's about it). Instead, they seek a more meaningful kind of energy. On "The Vampire's Revenge," they create tension with modest instrumental extensions, string serrations from the pick bathing in wet squeaks from Siwula. But they are mostly interested in pursuing thematic material, combining clarity of line with a vast dynamic range (and, to a lesser degree, variation in tempo) and the right dash of humor. Hear it on the punchy "What Monk" and the tart "King Tut," and especially on "Circle Down," which sounds like a Lacy tune arranged by ROVA then re-rearranged for this duo, with lots of quick scurries always leading back to space. "Strange" is another stairstep piece, making its way tentatively to a jabbing, close-harmony mashup, which is pried loose to reveal a consonant blossom amidst a slow walking section, with Siwula strutting over a sound like springs, dum-sproing, dum-sproing. Best of all is the closing "The Day After Next," a hushed and darkly lyrical piece where the players wend their way to each other with fast, skirling lines as Minasi creates a lovely drone effect with continued resolutions on low E. Great record.–JB
Ulrich Mitzlaff / Miguel Mira
Two different personalities on the same instrument, of diverse backgrounds – Mitzlaff is an "authentic" musician, Mira is described as a "Renaissance man" also skilled in architecture and painting – but regrettably, the result of their alliance is rather disappointing. The good quality domestic recording lets us appreciate the occasional distant echo of birdsong in the background as well as the magnificent timbre of the cellos (one of my favourite instruments) – you can almost smell the wood when enjoying those taps, crackles and screeching harmonics. But the interplay doesn’t sound coherent enough to be published, often lacking structure (which, contrarily to what many people think, is needed in "free" music) and more an accumulation of spurts and instantaneous sketches than the fruit of genuine inspiration. There are intriguing segments, especially when a quietly contemplative vein is highlighted, but they’re related to the loveliness of the tone, not to the actual interest elicited by the improvisations. Halfway through we lose focus and perceive the sounds as repetitive, untailored and unable to trace consistency.–MR
Agnes Palier / Olivier Toulemonde
I'm not normally a great fan of improvising vocalists, to be honest. The few blokes that do it pop up on a few favourite discs of mine – the mighty Minton's Tasting with Sophie Agnel on Another Timbre is outstanding, and my mad buddy Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg's trio outing Sureau on Creative Sources is a fine piece of work too – but I'd sooner listen to them than watch them. The girls are nicer to look at, but I often feel vaguely embarrassed listening to their squeaks, sighs and gurgles, as if I'm intruding on a private moment, arriving uninvited in a bedroom or bathroom. Consequently I have something of a preference for singers who produce the kind of sounds that you would never associate with the human voice – I'd rather listen to Ami Yoshida's inscrutable creaks and tweets than the "usual" gasps, grunts and dry heaves. That said, I find more to like in French improvising vocalist Agnès Palier's latest duo outing with Olivier Toulemonde than I did in Yoshida's impressive but intimidating duo on Erstwhile with Toshi Nakamura last year.
When I saw this duo playing with Jack Wright recently, Toulemonde was playing, well, a customised table, exploring its amplified surfaces with a variety of objects, from slabs of polystyrene to tiny marbles. The sounds he conjures forth from it are surprisingly diverse, and he manages to control them with remarkable precision too, as they teeter on the verge of either silence or noise, like the precariously balanced garden furniture adorning the CD cover. Toulemonde's fragile friction is the perfect complement to Palier's amazing repertoire of vocal noises, which range from the de rigueur throttled gargles to trumpeting splutters and theremin swoops. Still, a little goes a long way – 32 minutes is a fine duration for an album of music as disarmingly intimate yet emotionally bruising as this.–DW
Evan Parker's solo music is a language rather than a style, which is to say that changes in it happen accretively over a span of years rather than through rapid/tactical reinvention. The evil nerve-jangling intensity of Saxophone Solos (1975) has been long since streamlined into the deep-dish bagpipe twiddles of Conic Sections (1989) and its somewhat disappointingly sameish sequel Lines Burnt in Light (2001). Whitstable Solo follows on from those later albums, but it also packs a few surprises. Those looking for new developments should check out the tuneful, entirely monophonic passages that pop up frequently; Parker's tight-knit variations here unmistakably reflect his admiration for Steve Lacy and – going back to the source – Thelonious Monk. On the fifth track, for instance, he explores forking harmonic pathways, first via ultra-lucid dialogic melody and then through a more typical series of self-consuming twitters.
Just as important as the introduction of new material, though, is the way Parker keeps his patented whirlybird polyphonics sounding fresh. Rhythmically, this is some of the liveliest music he's done, and the way the materials are stitched together feels genuinely compositional, getting a lot of mileage out of the tensions and clashes between juxtaposed modular units. Solo no. 2, for example, starts off in characteristic territory, an inchworm three-note melody emerging out of seesawing twiddles, but then he starts shoving around blocks of previously familiar material in ways that make us hear them from a new perspective.
The pieces are mostly quite brief by Parker's standards – often in the four to six-minute range – and I enjoyed the added compression, especially since they never feel merely like arbitrary chunks of a larger body of material: there's an inner logic and narrative to each of them. Harry Gilonis's liner-note poem has an appropriately intricate formal patterning of its own, borrowed from the troubadour Arnaut Daniel (the shade of Ezra Pound nods in approval). At one point he pulls out a Shklovskian chestnut (as well as tipping his hat to Varèse) – "rare densities / making / the familiar strange, / new-found"; but maybe the value of this music is the way its strangeness has become familiar to those of us who've followed Parker over the years, absorbed into the way we listen to and think about music. Gilonis's poem ends by observing that the music's "hurtling prestissimo" leaves "scarce time for introspection"; yet once its initial breathtaking impact has ebbed, Parker's solo music instead invites us to enter into a slower, more intimate dance of the intellect.–ND
ROVA/Nels Cline Singers
THE CELESTIAL SEPTET
The last time the guitarist Nels Cline crossed paths with ROVA (along with a bunch of other folks), the result was the mighty Electric Ascension, the only Coltrane repertoire album in existence that's actually in the same class as the music it pays tribute to. The Celestial Septet is nowhere near as cataclysmic but nonetheless continues these musicians' exploration of 1960s free jazz, taking cues from everything from Aylerian ecstasy/fury to Ornette's prickly lyricism to Sun Ra's cosmic wanderings. (Larry Ochs' "Head Count", an earthy two-minute guitar rave-up whose kicking bari/tenor line has something of a demented Ceilidh flavour, is the disc's sole outlier.)
Members of the Singers (who – just to bring newcomers up to speed – consist of Cline, bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola, but no vocalist) contribute the CD's bookending pieces, both beautifully spacious. Amendola's "Cesar Chávez" is hauntingly simple yet nearly upstages the rest. Aching/caressing sax lines wander across Cline's hushed electronic duststorms and Hoff's soulful pedal point, and after a while Larry Ochs' baleful/tender tenor pushes to the fore. (It's a welcome reminder that he's got one of the greatest, most individual vibratos in the current jazz scene.) Cline's "The Buried Quilt" is jazz as alien visitation: vistas of benign cosmic stillness, the slow mating rituals of planets, Day the Earth Stood Still theremin loftily admonishing mankind, touches of Kubrick (i.e. Ligeti)... Via a few compositional curves, it crashes to earth with a densely cross-cut sequence of duets and trios (tenor/drums burnout weaving in and out of cool-blue soprano/guitar), before the flying saucers abandon Earth and benighted humankind and you hear the original theme echoing across the universe.
Steve Adams' "Trouble Ticket" is a burlesque rondo, its gruffly comic theme (saxes bobbing heads like pigeons, then converging on a "wrong answer!" buzzer) gradually revisited/revised across various solos and duos (including a lengthy Cline feature that goes from electronic slide-guitar cutup to tongues-out raving) then emerging somewhat more serenely at the end. Ochs' other piece is "Whose to Know", a 25-minute tribute to Ayler that stands imposingly at the album's centre. Its gradual shift between emotional poles at the start is genuinely impressive, blossoming across 5 minutes or so from Middle Eastern-flavoured melancholy to quickening joy so subtly it's hard to spot the joins. Indeed, though there are certainly passages of ecstasy and lung-tearing fury, as one would expect of an Ayler homage, the piece seems more centrally concerned with how Ayler's music upends one's conventional emotional associations with certain musical styles and modes. Major-key melodies here can seem intensely sorrowful; collective improvisation can nonetheless express profound solitude. As always with Ochs, "Whose to Know" offers genuine food for thought about one's experience of music, even as it itself offers an involving musical experience.–ND
Skif++, the laptop-handling trio of Jeff Carey, Robert Van Heumen and Bas Van Koolwijk (the latter also in charge of the visual aspects of the live performances), present a difficult-to-approach yet ultimately galvanizing album whose dual nature is manifest from the outset. Framed by the bracing fragmentariness of the first and the last third of the disc, in the form of seven shorter tracks whose sheer quantity of events renders them utterly indescribable, the central nucleus is the longest track on offer, "thinner", whose gradually unfolding static waves, extraterrestrial harmonies and lunar calls, at times reminiscent of the most otherworldly Roland Kayn, are far removed from the sharp, shooting-star schizophrenia of the remaining chapters. The brain reacts unpredictably to these absurdly morphing accumulations of quirky incidents, disconnected rhythms, subsonic throbs and hyper-distorted spirals – I actually fell asleep while listening, twice. With, I'm told, a smile on my face.–MR
A WEEK WENT BY
Pianist Aki Takase has been on a real tear in the last few years, synthesizing influences in a manner as compelling as her peers Marilyn Crispell and Irene Schweizer (yet with far less acclaim). Hopefully that will change once the reviews of this terrific date begin to circulate. With bassist John Edwards and percussionist Tony Levin on board, things are bound to be on the edge where pulse ceases and sheer velocity of ideas sustains the improvisations, but it's the spaces left in the music, the things left unsaid, that are the shaping influences here. Even amidst the clattering energy of "Surface tension," it's the resonance of each statement, the sheer fact that it's allowed to resonate, that so impresses. There is a rich roil of sound on the title track, ranging from soft squeaks to woody thwacks and gentle trinkles, with Edwards a distant car horn cueing up a surprising slice of hard bop that emerges before the piece winds down into a melancholy air. Whew! From the opener to the storm crashes of "Steinblock" to the delicate lattice of "Men are Shadows," blooming like a slowly dawning realization, the disc is packed with terrific, imaginative, forceful music. Saxophonist John Tchicai is sadly around for just a single nine-minute track, but his cellular phrasing on "Just drop in" is totally in sync with Takase's eddies of sound, and their wild whoops flow together gloriously. And it's always such a delight to listen to Tchicai's lightning imagination: he transforms his tone wonderfully, bright at the start, woolly and tart during the swaggering closing minutes (with a snippet of "Epistrophy"). The disc also sports a few Takase solo tracks ("57577", "Ima wa Mukashi", and "Yumetamago"), which are absorbing for the way they combine dense spiderwebs on acid with sudden moments of reflection.–JB
SPACE ELEMENTS VOL. II
When Rafael Toral announced in 2004 that he was embarking on a hugely ambitious series of releases under the moniker Space Programme, you might have been forgiven for thinking Star Trek, or 2001 or Sun Ra, images of satellites spinning in the cosmos to the strains of Strauss (or maybe not), spaceships zapping across the sky with an USS Enterprise whoosh (the starship, not the aircraft carrier).. But as the series progresses – and this latest offering is the fourth instalment, after Space (2006), Space Solo 1 (2007) and Space Elements Vol. 1 (2008) – it becomes ever more intimate, as if the space Toral sets out to explore with his self-designed electronic instruments lies within rather than out there in some dumb jerkoff Avatar 3D parallel universe. Put that down perhaps to his close ties with the (fanatically?) loyal clique of musicians who've orbited the planet Sei Miguel in recent years. Miguel's distinctive Chet / Cage pocket trumpet graces but one track on this album, yet the presence of several notable Miguel alumni – his partner Fala Mariam on alto trombone, Manuel Mota on guitar and the incomparable César Burago on percussion – guarantees the same meticulous attention to detail, specifically to the interplay between sound and silence that has characterised the trumpeter's work for more than two decades now.
But despite Toral's oft-stated enthusiasm for Miguel's work, it would be a mistake to think of this latest chapter of the Space Programme as some kind of fawning homage. Toral is, and always has been, his own man, and is very much the featured player in these eight exquisite tracks, whether on, wait for it, modified MS-2 portable amplifier feedback, modified MT-10 portable amplifier, delayed feedback resonance empty circuit, electrode oscillator with modular filter or sawtooth pulses and noise bursts (shame he couldn't have come up with some snappy instrument names like stritch or manzello..). Quite how these gizmos function, or how they're played, I couldn't say, but he's clearly mastered them, and is able to control their pale shuddering beauty with exemplary precision and enormous delicacy. Oddly enough though, it's not the electronic instruments that leave a trace in the memory, but the good old conventional ones, especially Stefano Tedesco's warm, tasty vibes, João Paulo Feliciano's alarmingly tonal Rhodes electric piano and Evan Parker's soprano sax, the latter aided as usual by a resonant church acoustic. It all adds up to a beautiful piece of work, well worth welcoming into your own personal space.–DW
Usurper and Sticky Foster
USURPER STICKY FOSTER
For the better half of this decade, Giant Tank founder Ali Robertson and ace cartoonist Malcy Duff — better known as the Edinburgh-based improv duo Usurper — have burrowed an delightfully mischievous tunnel within the more refined landscape of contemporary electroacoustic improvisers. On their most recent release, Usurper Sticky Foster, released earlier this spring as a CD-R on Dylan Nyoukis' Brighton-based label Chocolate Monk, Robertson and Duff are joined by the mysterious troubadour Sticky Foster (so infamous that Aaron Dilloway's Chihuahua has his namesake), who currently lives in Bogotá, Colombia.
Formally, the album is cleanly divided between the live recordings of the opening half and the pen-pal correspondence (via Edinburgh and Bogotá) of the closing half. The first two pieces feature performances from Ithaca and Brooklyn, NY, presumably their best sets from a 2008 North American tour with Nackt Insecten and Prehistoric Blackout (full disclosure: I helped organize the free Ithaca concert). During their brief performance, I couldn't look away — like an unsavory group of witches, they brew a potent chemistry indeed — and no one dared utter a word during their racket. Huddled on the ground, surrounded by a semi-circle of tiny toys, including bells, rubber bands, marbles and springs, the trio were like a group of oversized mice transfixed by a fetid piece of cheese.
Usurper occupies a strange place between musique concrete, sound poetry, EAI and free noise. The first time I heard this disc, a friend remarked that the Scottish threesome sounded like "a flock of geese in an industrial slaughterhouse being fed their own giblets and then giving birth to an antique clock." He's not wrong, either; there is a remarkably naturalistic quality to their minimalist acousmatic improv, due in part to the lack of electrical amplification and humbleness of their tools. Their invented vocabulary is vast, often conjuring up the most disparate of images — a pair of babies wailing, a rainforest's early morning din, a few disgusting bodily functions.
Despite the impish attitude and skittish sound, there is an admirable resourcefulness that drives their aesthetic. A few minor fidelity issues towards the end of the disc notwithstanding, the tone is playful, the mood conspiratorial, and their collaborative approach endlessly inventive. Ever wanted nmperign to sound slightly brattier? Your wish is granted.–NP
FREE CLASSICAL GUITARS
Reviewing compilation albums isn't always my cup of tea, as you may well recall (you feel bad about not mentioning everybody, and they do too), but this well produced and intelligently sequenced set of twelve pieces by no fewer than nine different fingerpickers is a fine overview of the current state of play in European free improvised classical guitar. Careful though: "classical" doesn't necessarily mean "purely acoustic" (check out the howling feedback in Jean DL's "sans titre"), nor does it preclude mucking around with the soundfiles (Mikaele Pelegrino's frazzled madness on "Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz" had me incorrectly ID-ing it as Olaf Rupp, who's also featured here), or even adding other instruments and voices (Sebastien Biset's wonderfully eclectic "Pagan love" does all three). Talking of Rupp, he clearly hasn't mellowed much since 2000's Kernel Panic, if "Coagulations" is anything to go by. Indeed, if there's one gripe, it's that there's not much room here for the more spacious, resonant side of the instrument. What a shame they couldn't have got Ferran Fages and Manuel Mota on board. Nicolas Desmarchelier's "Trace" starts out in the lull before the storm, but the storm comes nevertheless. And my good buddy Pascal Marzan, blessed with a feel for interval that Steve Lacy would appreciate, resorts all too readily to his trademark thrumolando. It falls to Roger Smith to prove that there's still plenty of mileage to be had from a good old Spanish guitar; with its exquisite harmony – yes, Smith's one of very few guitarists here who still plays real chords – and sense of line and contour worthy of late Webern (or early Boulez), "D lite" is as good as anything he's ever released, and a damn good reason – one of many – for getting hold of this fine album.–DW
Håvard Volden/Toshimaru Nakamura
Toshimaru Nakamura is so prolific these days that it's hard to keep up – last year alone saw about ten releases. This duo with young Norwegian guitarist Håvard Volden looks to be his first for 2010, so he may be slowing down just a tad. This is the first I've heard from Volden, but his use of treated 12-string guitar fits right in to the "guitar as sound generator" approach practiced so widely these days: steely plucked notes, bowed and mangled strings, various kinds of crackle and hum, and the occasional use of a hand-held fan. Nakamura is as always a sensitive collaborator: he's particularly active and forceful here, deploying glitches, aggressive squeals, static and sine waves across the two extended improvisations. There are captivating moments throughout – notably the sputter and rumbles that start the second piece, which lead to some animated repartee – though ultimately the disc falls short of Nakamura's stellar duos with Annette Krebs and Keith Rowe.–MRo
Isa Wiss / Marc Unternährer
One would not imagine diminutive Isa Wiss performing the kind of amazing growling-and-gargling tones and spiteful hysterics heard in Sopstock. Hailing from Switzerland, like her comrade Unternährer, this girl is a most welcome revelation, possessing the qualities that typically define a worthy virtuoso of the vocal cords. She uses them all in a Shelley Hirsch / Ute Wassermann / Phil Minton hybrid which touches on a multitude of guttural aspects with brainpower and irritability depending on the moment, but also with a dose of grace. Not to mention the irony and the onomatopoeic bravura – the ranting swapping of invectives (Léandre-style) in "Cyn" is a veritable comic masterpiece. Even when a couple of stereotypes try to rear their ugly heads – the Donald Duck-ish "Londing" for example, or the mandatory track with unnatural laughter that seems to be a requirement for every avant singer – Wiss reduces the excess of obviousness with an indescribable plus that renders amusing what was expectable. Unternährer is a very fine, sensitive player, the tuba an ideal complement with lots of invigorating timbral facets, absurd pitch fractioning and equally hilarious traits. But it is clear that his role here is that of creating the ultimate complement and the episodic interference to the clamorous manifestation of Wiss's talent, the actual billboard of this recording.-MR
MUSIC FOR EMPTY SPACES
With an album title like this you might be forgiven for expecting a rerun of Taku Sugimoto's Live In Australia, or something along those lines, but each of the seven tracks on this latest offering from Porto-based sound artists Pedro Tudela and Miguel Carvalhais, sourced from recordings made in several locations over the last couple of years in Belgium, France, Portugal, Scotland and Japan, is jam-packed with activity, much of it recorded so close that I wouldn't recommend listening through headphones - unless you want to turn the wick down quite a bit, in which case you'd miss out on a wealth of background detail. There's also some serious low end here which only a good set of speakers will do justice to – Carvalhais and Tudela aren't just interested in tiny sounds, but in how they can inhabit a more resonant acoustic environment, complete with reverberant keyboards and warm bass tones vaguely reminiscent of Oren Ambarchi. Indeed, the velvety Harold Budd-y piano on track five steers the music dangerously close to ambient quicksand until what sounds terrifyingly like a mosquito soon snaps you out of your reverie, appropriately enough along with a voice telling you to wake up.
Part of the thrill of listening to albums like this, like the Richard Kamerman disc reviewed above, is trying to work out what made these intriguing sounds in the first place. Some of the field recordings are easy to identify (the inevitable birds and bees, wind and water), as are the musical instruments that make fleeting appearances throughout (Raymond MacDonald's quietly spluttering saxophone, the percussion of Nuno Aroso or Miquel Bernat), but most of the foreground is occupied by an assemblage of decidedly strange rustles, crackles and scrunches. Not all the squiggles and bubbles come from the field recordings either – as has always been the case with @c, there's plenty of snazzy post-production in this continuous, ravishing 55-minute span of music. Gostoso!–DW
Zürich-based composer and guitarist Luigi Archetti is probably best known for the trilogy of Low Tide Digitals albums with Bo Wiget on Rune Grammofon, but prowl around the web and bit and you learn he was once part of Mani Neumeier's Guru Guru. Not that there's anything remotely Krautrocky about the 13 austere (and, as is often the case with Archetti) untitled tracks on Null. Not sure I'd go along with the "monolithic, sinister and doomy drone masterpiece" description in the label promo blurb, though; true, sustained sounds are often the basic building blocks of Archetti's pieces, whether forlorn wails from his ebowed guitar, humming generators or blasts of white noise (sourced, apparently, from a blank videotape), but their pitch is often unstable or indeterminate – if a drone is something you can "get inside" (La Monte Young), this isn't drone. It's almost as if the music is trying to repel listeners, or least force them into questioning why and how they're listening in the first place. Individual tracks might be monolithic ("characterised by massiveness, total uniformity, rigidity..") but they go their separate ways rather than combining to form a huge, album-long block. The music is sinister, sure, at times (the grating semitone of track six is pretty scary), but doomy no. Not in the doom metal sense, in any case: it's neither loud, low, thick nor distorted, and about as far from Earth and Boris as you could hope to get. Instead, Archetti's attention to detail reminds me of Alan Splet and David Lynch's sound design on Eraserhead: stare at the radiator long enough and this is what the world might begin to sound like. Masterpiece? Too early to say, but one of the most compelling and accomplished releases of recent times to come my way, and another fine addition to Fabio Carboni's splendid Die Schachtel catalogue.–DW
In case you're confused and can't figure out from the above who the artist is and what the name of the work is, allow me to clarify. Asher is Somerville MA-based sound artist Asher Thal-Nir, and Selected Passages is the name of the five-movement piece he's contributed to this split disc on Heribert Friedl's Non Visual Objects label. Meanwhile FOURM (I don't know if that's supposed to be pronounced "4M" or what, but – unfortunately maybe – I associate it with the French cheese fourme d'Ambert) is one of several noms de plume for UK-based Barry G. Nichols (others include LEVEL, Si_COMM, ECM:323) and set.grey is the name of his piece. Right, now we've cleared that up, on to the music. Or maybe not – it seems I'm doomed to failure every time I play Selected Passages – try as I might I can't find a quiet enough environment to concentrate on its veiled hissy fragments of piano. For my third unsuccessful attempt I got up at 5am and clamped the headphones on in dawn's early light, only to discover that someone in an apartment nearby had left the window open and the radio on and was playing, of all things, a Mozart piano concerto (not sure if it wasn't the same one Robert Bresson swiped a bit from just before the end of Le diable, probablement, but I didn't feel like waking up the other neighbours by shouting across the courtyard for further information), the sound of which, along with the clank and tinkle of teaspoon on saucer and in cup, was far more more aurally compelling than the CD I was listening to. I've enjoyed many Asher releases over recent years, notably his outings with Jason Kahn, but find little to latch on to in the subaquatic Satie-esque doodles of Selected Passages. Same story with Nichols' piece – though the technical side of it is beautifully handled (bernhard günter and Keith Berry both come to mind), the actual musical substance is slight. Quiet is not a synonym for deep – sometimes less is more, but more often than not it's just, well, less.–DW
LES ECOUTIS LE CAIRE
"The place is just crazy!" said a friend of mine about a recent visit to Cairo. "It took me thirty minutes to cross the bloody street!" Well, it wasn't just any street as it turned out, but Ramses Square, through which 35,000 pedestrians and a quarter of a million vehicles pass every hour. If you're interested, there are plenty more alarming statistics to be found online about Africa's largest (population 15 million) city, where noise levels downtown frequently hit 90dB at 7.30am – a 1994 local law stipulating that they shouldn't exceed 52dB during daytime and 37 at night has been blithely ignored – but Berlin-based Swiss sound artist Gilles Aubry's claustrophobic montage of field recordings gives you a pretty clear idea of what the place must be like. Actually, "clear" is the wrong word there – this is the closest thing I can imagine to musical equivalent of smog. Instead of trying to cross the street himself, mic in hand, Aubry recorded its distant angry blur inside spaces with their own specific resonant frequencies, sometimes large (a courtyard, a church, a marketplace, a carpark..) sometimes small (a bathroom, a refrigerator). It's a process Aubry describes as "indirect listening", layering his recordings on top of each other – you can hear the different "voices" entering one by one at the beginning of the disc – to create 54 minutes of dense micropolyphony. Fans of field recording might bemoan the lack of signposts in this urban jungle – where are those muezzins and their calls to prayer, where are those bustling native markets? Answer: they're in there but you have to struggle to find them, in the same way that you have to struggle to work out the name of the album, embossed on the back of the thick grey cardboard sleeve, a red elastic band enclosing a carefully-folded poster containing a "word map" by Swiss poet Stéphane Montavon, which itself may or may not help you find your way around this place – assuming, that is, you can understand French.–DW
Jonathan Coleclough & Colin Potter
Jonathan Coleclough & Andrew Liles
October EditionsMonos & Jonathan Coleclough
October EditionsJonathan Coleclough
Lord Drone is unmerciful, showing those deluded button-pushers hiding behind their towers of Lexicons that amassing stretched lows, booming echoes and scraped metal is not enough. For many years now Jonathan Coleclough has been quietly working on a unique sound world, usually originating from on-site installations or simple compositional illuminations born from everyday objects, his output set apart by a gravity that is inversely proportional to an appreciable dearth of releases, placing him in the restricted pantheon of genuine dronemeisters whose statements cause vital repercussions. As to provide a measure of relief to those who missed some of those ultra-limited recent outings, Coleclough started October Editions to better document at least a part of his activity which, for good measure, includes other renowned luminaries in the field.
Bad Light consists of three tracks by Coleclough and Colin Potter dating from between 2002 and 2008. Featuring various types of raw materials (the first movement begins with gradually detuned steel strings), the adjective that springs to mind to describe it is "imposing", particularly when besieged by the final thirty minutes, an evil-boding mood permeating the environment as you pace the room and feel how its walls and the corners respond to the diffusion of the sonic mass. Given the palpable psychological influence and the sheer vibrational power, this is an excellent starting point for the inexperienced.
Burn combines Coleclough’s creativity with Andrew Liles' visionary mysteries, the couple having previously tested each other in the outstanding Torch Songs (Die Stadt). The surprise deriving from the scalar piano snippets characterizing the opening "Sunburn", amidst the irregular abrasions and the preparations, is soon replaced by deceptively sluggish textures that morph unhurriedly with the passage of time, only partially disturbed by the manual tampering of undistinguished items ("Blackburn"). Vacillating organ clusters characterize large portions of the material, and a wonderful hurdy-gurdy – is it? – appears in "Heartburn", which ends peculiarly with a guitar arpeggio. The concluding "Auburn" is defined by synthetic ghosts in classic Liles fashion. An enthrallingly strange, rewarding listen.
On Slowly Sinking, Coleclough is credited with the "additional processing" of a pre-existent effort by Monos (Darren Tate and Potter), Generators (also on Die Stadt). This is a CD that will appeal to those who just want to experience a pulse pushing at the nape of the neck for about an hour, which is the sensation that the ear-engulfing mix basically offers (excluding sporadic short noises and persistent single-note reiterations), but it doesn’t add anything much to a well known and already reputable album, and is the least essential offering in this quartet of albums.
Finally, Flutter, originally self-released back in 2002, is the ideal representation of Coleclough's talent as an installation artist, being the acoustic outcome of such a construction at Sutton Courtenay Abbey in Oxfordshire in July of that year, in which he made use of recordings by Potter and a pair of fellow pioneers of the genre, Seth Nehil and Michael Northam. Flutter is a double CD set, the discs ideally to be played simultaneously for optimum results. As I write this, a rainstorm is breaking the tranquillity, mixing its violence with the birds, rumbling motors and watery rustles of the record. There must be a reason why things that elsewhere sound helplessly trite appear magnificent when these artists are involved. They merge with the surroundings marvellously, forcing me to stop and stand transfixed for a while.–MR
DOES IT LOOK LIKE I'M HERE?
Damn, I wish I hadn't chucked out all those old Klaus Schulze records a few years ago. A friend of mine told me recently he sold a battered old vinyl copy of Moondawn for €50. Somebody's buying this stuff, it seems, and if it's at a car boot sale in Cleveland Ohio chances are it'll be Steve Hauschildt, Mark McGuire or John Elliot, collectively known as Emeralds. But from the sound of this latest offering, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they had all the Tangos, Popul Vuhs and Ash Ras already.
After a slew of cassettes beginning with 2006's Bullshit Boring Drone Band (!), Emeralds began to garner critical acclaim in 2008 with the Solar Bridge EP on Hanson Records, and since The Wire's resident volcanic tongue and bacon roll connoisseur David Keenan invented yet another catchy name for old wine in new bottles, hypnagogic pop, they've been riding high, and have presumably (hopefully) made enough to buy up all the vintage synths they can lay their hands on.
Like many, I fell in love with Solar Bridge when it came out – it was a breath of fresh air in Noise's cramped, sweaty cellar. But the unremitting prettiness of Does It Look Like I'm Here?, released on Peter Rehberg's Edition Mego imprint this time, both as a CD and as gatefold double LP (I see it's also downloadable all over the place), leaves me cold. Hard to say exactly why, as the basic working method seems to be the same: pick nice, simple tonal chord sequence (two chords are enough, three or four if you're feeling extravagant), thicken up texture with regular pulsing patterns (don't forget to use that Prophet 8 arpeggiator function) and tasty Göttsching guitar licks, and serve with dollops of filter swoop, whitenoise whoosh and any other spacey special effect you can lay your foot on.
Perhaps Solar Bridge worked for me because it was modest in scope, clearly in love with its own sounds but discreet, aware of its own technical limitations. There were just two tracks, and two tracks were enough. Barely halfway through the twelve pieces on Does It Look Like I'm Here? I'm gasping for breath, overdosing on sugar, dying for something dry and gritty, dirty and raw. But no. This is the musical equivalent of the White Lodge in Twin Peaks, with gentle fawns gathering amongst laughing, happy spirits, the sounds of innocence and joy filling the air, and when it rains it rains sweet nectar that infuses one's heart to live life with truth and beauty. Unfortunately, like Windom Earle, I'm much more drawn to the other place. I might not have those Schulze discs any more, but if I want this kind of trip I've still got enough David Borden albums to keep me busy.–DW
Eric La Casa
ZONE SENSIBLE 2 / DUNDEE 2
The work of French sound artist Eric La Casa, either alone or with his frequent partner in crime Jean-Luc Guionnet, has never failed to impress me (though I should, as they say, declare an interest, having had the pleasure of recording with both of them), but this latest outing on Lawrence English's Room40 imprint could just be his best yet. It's also rather atypical, in that the balance tips firmly towards "traditional" musique concrète in Zone Sensible 2 (even if there's always been manipulation of the field recordings in La Casa's work, most of it so subtle you'd have a hard time noticing the compositional sleight of hand at all). Originally commissioned as an installation by Les Instants Chavirés for 2007's Lieux Communs festival in Montreuil, this 25-minute piece takes as its source material the sounds of bees recorded in a hive on a rooftop in the Parisian suburbs, subjecting them to detailed spectral analysis – the "calibration" stage of La Casa's work is always of critical importance – and using digital tools to create electronic "analogies". The result is a truly thrilling journey from the recognisable into the abstract, beautifully crafted and (it goes without saying) spectacularly well recorded.
Anyone with enough ready cash to invest in a good set of microphones and some halfway decent music software can make a convincing album of field recording based music, right? Wrong, matey. Recent years have seen a whole slew of them come my way, and while many are perfectly delightful as aural holiday snapshots, very few stand the test of time as pieces of music. Eric La Casa's do though, even if, oddly enough, many of them started out as mixed media projects: installations, collaborations with writers, painters, sculptors and, in the case of Dundee 2, legendary underground American filmmaker Ken Jacobs, whose images accompanied La Casa's sound walk through the Scottish city, home to the Kill Your Timid Notion festival which commissioned the work.
Magical moments abound in Dundee 2, from typically La Casa-esque explorations of enclosed spaces – lifts, refrigerators and radiators (I do hope David Lynch is reading this) – to the specific local colour of shopping malls, churches and that most bizarre of shrines to contemporary insanity, the bingo hall, but my favourite occurs shortly after the beginning of the first of the piece's three tracks. Fascinated by the Reich-like phasing of ventilator fans in an underground car park, La Casa is confronted by a curious security guard. "Hey, can I help you?" As La Casa turns to face him, we hear the stereo picture change, with the guard's voice crossing to the left channel. "What are you doing in the carpark?" "I'm just recording space," Eric replies. There's a slight pause, and just a hint of a suppressed giggle. "Recording space..?" It's a beautiful moment, and a wonderfully concise description of La Casa's work. Charlie Parker once described singer Sheila Jordan as having "million dollar ears" – listening to this fabulous album yet again, I'd say the same is true of Eric La Casa. Bingo!–DW
When taken to task by snobbish French students of mine poking fun at British cuisine (I invariably have to point out that there's a difference between "cuisine" and "cooking"), I usually counter with "ever try typical local food in the Netherlands?", but, putting aside unpleasant relents of patatje oorlog in a stiff breeze on the seafront in Scheveningen, the grilled side of beef adorning the cover of Oude Koueien does look rather appetising. Maybe though, as Robert Fripp would say, it's just a big hoax hahaha, and Roel Meelkop, like many practitioners of leftfield electronica of my acquaintance, is a card-carrying vegan – but, whatever, there's still plenty to get your teeth into in this fine release. Or rather re-release, as all but one of its eight tracks (the exception being last year's "Echt Dood") originally appeared on vinyl, either on Frans de Waard's Korm Plastics imprint or in association with FdW's Beequeen project.
Listening to this fastidiously crafted and predominantly very quiet music today (for the first time, as, alas, I never caught these releases when they came out), I'm surprised it wasn't released on CD at the time. It's hard to imagine how these delicate puffs and pinpricks of sound could cohabit with vinyl surface noise. But they did. The three "Pieces in the Old Style" were originally released on a ten-incher in 1998 as part of the Korg Plastics series, in which, as the name suggests, all the music had to be made using Korg instruments (though apart from a few telltale squarewave patches and jangles, you'd probably never guess that unless someone told you). Back then, clicks'n'cuts were still the order of the day in minimal techno, and there are numerous subtle hints of backbeat scattered through these tracks, but they're veiled and furtive, as if eavesdropping through a bedroom wall on several neighbours playing their Megos and Mille Plateaux late at night. Indeed, with its fondness for relatively abrupt changes of texture and dynamic, not to mention a penchant for extreme registers ("1(Riktigt Dod") and stacked clusters ("1 (Veramente Morto"), Meelkop's music has more in common with Ligeti (György, not Lukas) than you might think. There's a compositional intricacy to pieces like "2(Jos Smolders)", originally a lathe-cut five-incher containing two tracks of exactly 99 seconds' duration (by way of homage to the 99 tracks on Smolders' Music for CD Player), that sets Meelkop apart from many of his EAI / alt.electronica peers. Ralf Wehowsky's work often comes to mind (is there a cow connection here between the title of this album and P16.D4's Kuhe in ½ Trauer?) - this is music to savour in small mouthfuls, and digest thoroughly. Bon appetit.–DW
EGG FRY #2
Is this a field recording or not, and if so, of what? I can hear frogs croaking, geese honking, twigs crackling in a camp fire.. but no, those regular clicks must be from a turntable, mustn't they? Or maybe it's an elaborately constructed piece of musique concrète – Tod Dockstader and David Lee Myers' Pond comes to mind – with its beautifully handled rise and fall of tempo, pitch and event density, the 21st century equivalent of Elgar's The Wagon (Passes) or Villa Lobos's Little Train of the Caipira. Ah, no. The title and accompanying photograph really spoil the fun: this is a recording of a bloke frying an egg. Imagine "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" without bacon, without Pink Floyd (and without Alan). Lee Patterson also informs us that he lives near a motorway junction in Prestwich, West Manchester (the M62, presumably, which I see from Google is now called the M60.. it's been a long time since I used to drive past Heaton Park on my way to violin lessons) and that some of the traffic noise has managed to make its way into his electret condenser microphones, which, Patterson tells us, died as a result of being clipped to the side of the frying pan – ah, the sacrifices we make for Art! The egg presumably died too – Christ knows what it looked like after a quarter of an hour (three minutes is usually enough) – and I bet Lee had some serious washing up to do too, as it sounds like he must have put about half a pint of oil in the pan. If he'd recorded himself eating the egg afterwards – contact mic attached to the throat in homage to John Cage – it could have made for an interesting sequel, but then again Randy Yau has already recorded projectile vomiting to perfection. Been there, done that.–DW
Earlier this summer, Montreal-based musician Roger Tellier-Craig made his official release debut as Le Révélateur with Motion Flares, a cassette on the San Francisco label Root Strata. Tellier-Craig, best known for his work with post-rock ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Fly Pan Am, began the Le Révélateur project the summer of 2008. (His nom de guerre is a reference to the French experimental filmmaker Philippe Garrel). Motion Flares was recorded over the past year, with the first official Le Révélateur live performances held in the last month (and a notable upcoming appearance at this fall's Root Strata-curated On Land Festival).
At a sprightly, focused 36 minutes, Motion Flares has a peculiar kind of Roman efficiency that evades other modern analog synth enthusiasts like Emeralds, Expo 70, Stellar OM Source or Oneohtrix Point Never, some of whom prefer the hazier, more seductive afterimages of new age and space kraut. It is to Tellier-Craig's credit that Motion Flares — while strewn with plenty of kowtows to Edgar Froese, Dieter Moebius, Florian Fricke, and Klaus Schulze — is never overbearingly referential. (Perhaps that is why he runs the excellent blog Panorama Patchwork, where he professes his love for 60s, 70s, and 80s modern electronica through brilliant rips of weird and obscure new age, drone and ambient records, instead).
Ever the preservationist, Tellier-Craig's sonic vistas may sing of buried times, but the pebbled terrain underfoot operates solidly in the present. A gentle nudge to sonic historiography is envisioned as an archaeological dig through fading kosmische edifices, revealing the brilliant mosaic textures beneath. Naturally, those golden timbres come almost exclusively from analog synthesizers: Tellier-Craig told me that for Motion Flares he used a Univox Maxi-Korg, a Korg Trident, and a Farfisa Fast 4. With both rib-sticking melodies and burbling arpeggios vying for attention, Le Révélateur's rhythm layers sigh in and out of focus like day passing into night. Picture not lens flare, but bokeh — the aesthetic quality of the blur, the way his pieces shift into its melody like a lens clicking into place.
On the starry-eyed "Costiera Amalfitana," Motion Flares loosens up — how'd he get those synths to sound like a pair of steel drums, anyway? — and it's a loose-knit, dreamy end to a tape that gives us a modern and energetic take on the now-classic Kosmische genre. Those who are looking for essential summer Naples haze, Motion Flares is unquestionably it.–NP
Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic