YULE 2010 Reviews by Clifford Allen, Jason Bivins, Nate Dorward, Stephen Griffith, Natasha Pickowicz, Massimo Ricci, Michael Rosenstein, Dan Warburton, Matt Wuethrich:

Joe Colley
Henry Threadgill
Jean-Claude Eloy
In Concert:
Pour Albert Ayler
Songs From Under The Floorboards
VINYL SOLUTION: Bryce Beverlin II / Black Air / James Blackshaw / Harris Eisenstadt / Kurt Knuffke / Kablys / Hisato Higuchi / Giuseppe Ielasi / Suzanne Langille & Neel Murgai / Pauline Oliveros / Our Love Will Destroy The World / Raglani / Outer Space / Vanessa Rossetto / Chris Schlarb / The Pitch
Susan Alcorn / Ballister / Xavier Charles / Charles, Grydeland, Wallumrod, Zach / Chip Shop Music / Lol Coxhill, Enzo Rocco, Roger Turner / Massimo Falascone / Hammeriver / Robin Holcomb / Paul Hubweber & Philip Zoubek / Jon Irabagon / Kahn, Müller & Wolfarth
Adam Lane / Roscoe Mitchell / Mohammad / Muta / Parker, Guy, Lytton + Peter Evans / Stefano Pastor / Syndromes / Jason Robinson & Anthony Davis / John Russell / Wadada Leo Smith & Ed Blackwell / Syndromes / Teatime / I Never Meta Guitar
Cornelius Cardew / Alvin Curran / David First / Alvin Lucier / Zeitkratzer Whitehouse
Failing Lights / If, Bwana / Philip Jeck / Zbigniew Karkowski & Kelly Churko / Richard Pinhas / Rebecca Joy Sharp & Simon Whetham / Asmus Tietchens
Last issue


Better keep this brief, as there's enough here to read without having to wade through another one of my dull editorials. First up, thanks go out to all the contributing journalists, including 2010's new heavyweight recruits Jason Bivins, John Eyles and Matt Wuethrich, and to all of you who have sent material my way and their way for review this year. In 2010 I've listened to over 600 new CDs, LPs and cassettes (yes!) of new music, and managed to review 153 of them here (plus three dozen or so in The Wire). I've also managed to see 235 films (and there are still seven days to go before 2011 so I expect to top 240 easily), not including music DVDs, which I suppose isn't bad going, but apologies to those whose work I've greatly enjoyed but haven't found time to write about (and to those whose work I haven't enjoyed much but have found time to write about.. haha). Two interviews with John Tilbury and Radu Malfatti remain frustratingly incomplete, and many more are in the pipeline. We're still talking Work In Progress here. 85 CDs are perched precariously next to the amplifier awaiting their first listen. Plenty to keep me busy, and you too, assuming you find something you like in this latest issue. Seasons greetings to all and sundry, see y'all in 2011.-DW

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Joe Colley

Crippled Intellect Productions
Here's C.I.P. head honcho Blake Edwards on Joe Colley: "His composition techniques, recording and editing methods, and persistent refinement and redefining of his aural goals has helped to define a body of work that I firmly believe only few artists could hope to match. After a handful of releases on C.I.P., ranging from full-length CD to one-sided 7", my resolve solidified that Joe was a contemporary artist whose work deserved the focus, breadth, and depth of a multiple LP release." Word, as they say across the pond, and Edwards has put his $ where his mouth is with this truly splendid triple LP package.
Joe Colley isn't exactly a recluse (I mean, we're not talking Ted Kaczynski here, holed up in some shack somewhere in the middle of nowhere – Colley co-manages a hip magazine store in Oakland, CA : go to: http://www.issuesshop.com/about.html) but he is one of those cats who prefers to "let the music speak for itself", as it were. Interviews are few and far between, and the ones I've managed to find online date from a while ago, when he used to appear under the name Crawl Unit. No matter – the observations he made over a decade ago still apply to work he's doing now, and we'll dip into them to illustrate various points below.
A three-LP box sounds like a lot to handle, but, although there's enough music here to keep you amazed for weeks to come, it is something I'd recommend you listen to all in one go. You'll need a couple of hours (assuming you can get your butt up out of your chair to nudge the stylus forward a dozen or so times listening to disc three's locked grooves) and a decent hi-fi system. Or headphones – this is something you can appreciate on both.
Side 1's single track, "Mirror at the End of the Road", is perfect introduction to Colley's world of sound. Casual, inattentive listening won't do: what sounds at first like an assemblage of not particularly pleasant dirty drones and inscrutable lo-fi field recordings peppered with the rumbles, clicks and crackles of equipment on the verge of breakdown is in fact a skilfully prepared mille-feuille of musique concrète of the highest order. And if you think you can identify the constituent ingredients easily, think again – the mix is as subtle as each of the layers: what seems to be one sound often becomes several different ones, and vice versa. Eliane Radigue's music comes to mind, especially in the way Colley introduces new material so subtly you really feel one layer is coming from behind another (one is reminded of Giacinto Scelsi's concept of "spherical sound"), but the actual texture of the music is nothing like hers. It's often abrasive, even slightly unpleasant, with numerous unexpected shifts of dynamic and timbre, the most impressive of which occurs shortly before the end of the piece, when the droning suddenly stops dead and leaves the listener in a vast echoing space. There are odd faraway squeaks, the distant sounds of voices, cars starting up and planes flying overhead, but the emptiness is far from depressing or miserable.
"You can learn a lot from studying the past, advances made by early composers like Xenakis, Ligeti, Cage, Stockhausen," said Colley in an interview for Dead Angel way back when. As far as Cage goes, one assumes it was the attitude and philosophy that impressed him more than the music (which he described elsewhere as "a body of work that is extremely dull to listen to.. it's much more enjoyable to talk about his pieces than listen to them"), but with its fondness for dense, multilayered textures there's a clear connection to Ligeti's micropolyphony and the early orchestral and electronic works of Xenakis. And the stuttering, fizzing fuckup of Colley's Untitled Unstable Stereo Circuit is a distant cousin of the precision-mechanisms-gone-wonky in Ligeti's late 60s / early 70s chamber works. Unlike Ligeti though, Colley tries to "set up the equipment and situation in a way that leaves me a bit confused. The results are much better than being familiar with everything."
So it is for the listener too – especially trying to guess what's making these intriguing sounds in the first place. Analogue synth seems to figure prominently, and those field recordings are easy to spot, but Colley is very good at covering his tracks: "Most of my sounds come from tape that has been processed and reprocessed. Most of my materials are constructed simply with effects and mixing. I have no specific criteria for where to get sounds. I don't think it matters what is making the sound. I want to try to get it to a point where it is organic, and hence universal. Most of the sounds are constructed to commemorate a mood or situation. They become history for me."
Great moments abound – I love the way in "One Second or Some Seconds of Light" sustained single pitches and chords disappear into sinkholes in the mix only to re-emerge later (they were, of course, there all along, like subterranean streams); or the mesmerising mix of tonal purity and aural grit in "Lied Into Being", listening to which is like looking through smears of rain on a dusty windowpane. But the best is saved until last, in the third disc, the title of whose seven tracks says it all: "Trance Tapes, Locks and a Fragment." No wonder Blake refused to upload a digital version of the album for promo purposes – the whole point of a locked groove is its endlessness: this music will only end when you take the needle off the disc. But what's best about Colley's locked grooves is not the moment when you realise you've reached them – that tell-tale little slushing sound – but the journey getting there. The trance tapes are simply stunning in their precision and pacing, and as you nudge the stylus gently forward from the locked groove into the next track, you're in for a further surprise – more locked grooves! The music is interspersed with tiny loops of spoken word, some of which seem to be directed at poor souls who try to write record reviews. "Take all the words away" indeed.
"I really don't expect anyone to understand the causes behind the work," Colley says. "Some people need crutches to deal with the world. I use sound as a sort of extension of my body, my perception. It's like a palette or a tiny environment which I control. I use it as a playground to work out problems and neuroses." Well, problems and neuroses never sounded so good. A limited edition of 45 copies – which contained an original signed drawing, a graphite impression, two loop cassettes, a CD-R compilation of highlights from earlier releases, a DVD-R of three live shows and a text on "expanded listening" (which I'd dearly love to read) – sold out in 16 hours. So make sure you don't miss out on the "normal" 3LP set, whatever you do. My Record Of The Year for The Wire, fwiw.–DW

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Henry Threadgill

Henry Threadgill
Compiling the music of Henry Threadgill in a box set is a particularly challenging affair. Like his peers in Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band, Threadgill is an omnivorous musician who has made a career out of the constant evolution of a singular sensibility, spread across multiple labels with a number of different ensembles, each with its own distinctive sound. While his musical vision has morphed regularly over the course of the last 40 years, there are a few threads that have run throughout. There's that striking sound on alto, that melding of sharp, keening tone, sinuous phrasing, and refracted sense of time. Then there's his way of balancing and contrasting his ongoing explorations of compositional form with spiraling freedom and an earthy sense of groove and funk. Pulling it all together has its logistical challenges. Rather than trying to zone in on any one area, producer Michael Cuscuna has culled this sprawling 8-CD set from recordings by five distinct groups and two record labels, starting out with 1978 recordings from the seminal trio Air, working its way through the multi-reed-string-voice ensemble X-75 and hitting on late 80s recordings of his Sextett, before finishing off in the 90s with recordings by Very Very Circus and Make a Move.
With the recent reissues of Air Song and Air Raid on the Japanese Why Not label, the inclusion of Open Air Suit, Montreux Suisse Air, and Air Lore in this box is a reminder of what a phenomenal collective Threadgill, Fred Hopkins, and Steve McCall were. The three players were a perfect match, able to harness the intensity of a reed/bass/drums free jazz trio, the textural explorations honed during their time with the AACM, and an encyclopedic, polyglot grounding in everything from freedom to funk to stride. Open Air Suit plays out over four expansive pieces with a loose theme built around a card game, showing off Threadgill's keen ear for compositional structures which combine multiple thematic threads while leaving plenty of room for collective spontaneity. "Card Two: The Jick or Mandrill's Cosmic Ass" bounds along over an elastic groove, making the most of Hopkins' lithe sense of melodic pulse, McCall's supple push/pull multi-hued drumming and Threadgill's biting alto. "Card Five: Open Air Suit" explodes the beat into refracted kernels that bounce off of each other with charged tension, and "Card Four: Strait White Royal Flush…" reimagines the march, maximizing the grumbling momentum of the Threadgill's baritone playing propelled along by the cross-pulses of bass and drums, finishing with an extended 15 ½ minute piece with his flute weaving its way across the mutable collective flow.
Montreux Suisse Air captures the group live at the 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival (ah, the days when a major international festival would showcase groups like this..) and the music is a bit looser, all the while retaining the ensemble balance of the studio session. They open up with a piece full of dramatic starts and stops and quirky shifts of direction, with each member actively steering the fluidly modulating direction of the piece. "Abra" starts with one of Threadgill's masterful, simmering slow-strut themes which the three lope their way across, slowly amping up the intensity with particularly searing alto and bass solos. They finish their set with "Suisse Air" a percussive romp featuring Threadgill's hubkaphone, a frame hung with auto hubcaps, gongs, cymbals, and chimes. Hopkins lays down a coursing pulse which Threadgill and McCall play off of with gleefully cacophonous polyrhythms full of chattering energy and clangorous intensity, erupting near the end as the reed player switches to brawny baritone, goosing things to a fiery conclusion.
Threadgill originally started Air at the request of a theater director who wanted modern interpretations of Scott Joplin's work for a play he was presenting, and the trio revisited the Joplin material and added in pieces by Jelly Roll Morton for the recording Air Lore. What might seem like an odd conceit is a perfect fit; there is no hint of postmodern irony, but instead a full internalization of the joy of stride, swing and swagger. The themes of Joplin's "Ragtime Dance" and "Weeping Willow Rag" and Morton's "Buddy Bolden's Blues" and "King Porter Stomp" are internalized, opened up, and transformed into readings that are faithful to the compositions while incorporating collective improvisation. Threadgill pulls out his tenor for a darker sound on the stately amble through "Buddy Bolden's Blues" and the sputtering stop-time of "King Porter Stomp", which crackles with energy as the reed player cranks things up to an R&B wail over McCall's slashing free swing and Hopkins' double-time pulse. The jubilant gambol through "Weeping Willow Rag" is the highlight here, starting out with a stunning drum solo and then sprinting off through circuitous changes in tempo and pulse. The only original in the set is Threadgill's "Paille Street", an introspective musing piece for flute which serves as a somewhat odd contrast to the rest of the recording.
If you need a reason to pick up this box, look to disk 3 of the set which restores the 1979 album X-75 to print, filling it out with three previously unissued pieces. It was with these sessions, his first as a leader, that Threadgill began expanding his sonic palette, orchestrating the pieces for four reeds, four basses, and voice. The use of multi-paired instruments was to become one of his signature modes of operation, but here there's a raw directness that jumps back and forth between tightly composed sections and intricate, contrapuntal, free interplay. Threadgill breaks open the notion of jazz ensemble, dispensing with the rhythmic underpinnings of a drummer and more importantly, the idea of a lead voice. But what holds it all together is his choice of ensemble members, an ace team of AACM alumni with Douglas Ewart, Joseph Jarman, and Wallace McMillan on a full battery of reeds and flutes, Hopkins, Brian Smith, Leonard Smith, and Rufus Reid on basses, and Amina Claudine Myers on voice. The music still swings, with multi-layered bass lines interweaving across surging, propulsive flows, trading back and forth between lush arco voicings and rumbling lines. The haunting use of four flutes is a particular master-stroke, ranging from the deep resonance of bass flute to the piercing cry of piccolo. Blending in free scat vocals can be a chancy decision, but Myers' rich, soulful timbre and graceful abstract lyricism works perfectly. Some pieces, like "Fe Fi Fo Fum" or "Sir Simpleton" bop along with an infectious momentum, while others like the reading of "Air Song" are fluttering soundscapes. The previously unreleased pieces, recorded a week later without Myers, are just as strong. "Luap Nosebor" (read the title backwards), a chilling flute quartet sans basses, is followed by "Salute to the Enema Bandit", which digs down to the bottom registers with the three bassists (Brian Smith on octobass, a three-and-a-half metre high instrument with three monster strings), and pairs of bass clarinets and baritone saxes. The piece moves from structured formalism to agitated frenzy and, while a bit ragged in parts, delivers a truly earthshaking sound. The session closes with the dirge-like "Merlin", which is the closest the X-75 sessions come to a solo/ensemble arrangement, voicing Threadgill's bass flute and Brian Smith's piccolo bass against the bass trio. The ideas germinated here would carry forward in all of Threadgill's subsequent work.
Henry Threadgill was busy during the early '80s, working with Air, David Murray's octet, and forging alliances with Downtown NY musicians like Bill Laswell, but he also found time to advance his work as a leader, forming the Henry Threadgill Sextett, one of the seminal groups of the period. With this seven-member group, he was able to realize the spontaneous orchestration of some of his most infectious, boisterous music, bringing together free funk, calypso, R&B, Second Line strut, lush ballads, and jazz band voicings. As with X-75, he favored the groupings of instruments, with his reeds, trumpet and trombone, cello and bass, and two drummers who he saw as a single entity – hence "sextett" with a double 't'. This box picks up in 1986 with You Know the Number, the fourth release by the group in just about as many years (the preceding trilogy of albums he recorded for the About Time label are all classics and well worth searching out). If this later line-up misses the strong solo voices of Olu Dara and Craig Harris, it makes up for it in a gregarious group focus that comes from working together on a steadily building book of compositions.
You Know the Number and the follow-up, Easily Slip into Another World, recorded a year apart in 1986 and 1987, capture a seasoned group with Threadgill's reeds, a brass section of Rasul Siddik on trumpet and Frank Lacy on trombone and French horn, a string section of Deidre Murray on cello and Hopkins on bass, and the dual drums of Pheeraon akLaff and Roger Nicholson. In the liner notes, Threadgill is quoted as saying "I thought of the Sextett like an orchestra… and that's how I wrote for them. That's why it used to sound so big some of the time. I didn't write for it the way people write for quintets and sextets in jazz." What defines these records is the synthesis of the distinctive range of the ensemble with Threadgill's charts built on anthemic multi-part themes, which draw equally on funky vamp struts, coloristic dirges, and rollicking free counterpoint. Lines are woven through the entire ensemble with intricate hocketing, massing knotty densities and potent solo spots. Threadgill's imposing reed playing is always the guiding force, grouped effectively with the impressive stylistic flair of Siddik and Lacy, but the real foundation of the group is the pairing of Hopkins and Murray. The choice of cello and bass is shrewd, with each of the players moving seamlessly between rhythmic pulse, arco colorations, prickly pizzicato, low-end shadings and arresting solos – and you can't find a funkier bass part than what the two lay down for the slinky groove of "I Can't Wait Till I Get Home", which opens Easily Slip into Another World. Like Ornette Coleman with Prime Time, Threadgill deploys the two drummers to extend the rhythmic groundwork, working in tandem to drive the music along, playing off of each other with careening polyrhythms and a limber, freewheeling approach to time. The second recording also includes one piece with Aisha Putli's singing the leader's mystical lyrics, an element that would appear more often in later sessions. Listening to these two recordings back to back, one is struck by how Threadgill's writing for the group had progressed in the intervening year.
The last studio session by the Sextett, Rag, Bush and All, finds another shift in the band, with Ted Daniel replacing Siddik, bass trombonist Bill Lowe replacing Lacy, and drummer Newman Baker replacing akLaff. More importantly, the charts show another evolution in the sophistication of Threadgill's writing: here he structures the suite-like pieces around shifting motivic themes (a strategy that plays out in even greater complexity of detail in his current group Zooid). The opening "Off the Rag" develops with changeable thematic sections with dramatic shifts in mood and pace, starting in unison, charging double-time swing before moving through a sultry dance-like cadence to dark melodicism, a darting shuffle and a jaunty melody voiced by Murray and Lowe accelerating into a plucked recap of the melody by Murray and Hopkins. Even a shorter piece like "Gift" shows the evolution in the leader's writing, starting off with a quiet rattle of chimes (reminiscent of his hubkaphone) and progressing with collective poise through a quiet lyricism, with a particularly chilling solo by Daniel and the haunting colors of Threadgill's bass flute. The concluding "Sweet Holy Rag" is as ambitious as the opener, full of feints and shifts in colors and densities, fully encapsulating the "big sound" that Threadgill was striving for with the group while making room for stellar solos from all as they ratchet things up to a roiling finish.
Threadgill's next ensemble shift was as dramatic as the move from Air to the Sextett. While keeping the idea of twinned voices, he formed the group Very Very Circus with two tubas, two electric guitars, drums, and an additional brass instrument – originally trombone before settling on Mark Taylor's French horn. (As with the Sextett, to get a full view of the development of this band, you have to look to other labels like Black Saint, Taylor Made – for their killer live recording – and Axiom for one of Threadgill's masterpieces, Two Much Sugar for a Dime, which is still ridiculously out of print). On Carry the Day, he further augmented the band to become Very Very Circus Plus, adding pipa, accordion, violin, Venezuelan drummers and vocals for a multifaceted gumbo of parade music, Afro-pop and vamp-based groove, but also elements of art song, sidestepping traditional notions of jazz vocal phrasing. The other remarkable thing about these pieces is how Threadgill toys with time, speeding things up or slowing them to a crawl before veering off in a new direction in a blink. The notion of groove is abstracted, though the group can still deliver galvanizing stomps like "Between Orchids Lillies Blind Eyes and Cricket" and the closing "Jenkins Boys Again, Wish Somebody Die, It's Hot" (a winner for its title alone).
The follow-up Columbia release, Makin' a Move, is a study in contrasts. Things start out with the chamber-like "Noisy Flowers", in which Threadgill uses the different timbres of a quartet of acoustic guitars – steel string, soprano, nylon string and classical – as a textural foil for pianist Myra Melford's resonant clusters and booming trills. Jumping straight into the funky groove of "Like it Feels" by Very Very Circus is a bit jarring, but this piece too is all about layers and multi-threaded progression, pitting Brandon Ross's shredded electric guitar against Ed Cherry's more rhythmic guitar, Threadgill's acerbic alto, and the churning brew of tubas, French horn, and drums. It kicks ass. The group is featured on three other pieces, along with "Refined Poverty", for Threadgill's alto and three cellos, and "The Mockingbird Sin", for the four acoustic guitarists and the three cellists. The alto-cello piece is timbrally rich, but wanders a little, lacking the textural crispness of "Noisy Flowers", but the guitar-cello sextet's thorny, bracing exploration of contrasting string sonorities more than makes up for it.
Threadgill capped off his brief stay with Columbia with yet another transition, starting the band Make a Move, a quintet featuring Tony Cedras on accordion and harmonium, Stomu Takeshi on 5-string fretless electric bass, J.T. Lewis on drums, and Brandon Ross on electric guitar. The ensemble may have been stripped down to a quintet, but there's still the spiky charge of electric guitar and the bottom end pulse provided by electric bass and drums, and Cedras' rich accordion and harmonium fill out the texture. It's often his reedy accordion that defines the sound, drawing on everything from the music of his native South Africa to tango and country blues. There are even hints of eerie pipe organ. No doubt that Columbia didn't know what to make of this one.
It would be five years before Henry Threadgill was to record again under his own name and his new recordings are only now starting to seep out, courtesy of Pi Recordings. So while this is certainly not the definitive Threadgill collection – that would be next to impossible to pull together – it does provide a crucial view of one of the great writers, leaders, and musicians of the last four decades.–MRo

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Jean-Claude Eloy

Hors Territoires
Jean-Claude Eloy was born in 1938, and studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Darius Milhaud and at Darmstadt with Henri Pousseur, Hermann Scherchen, Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez, becoming the latter's "favourite pupil" at the Musik-Akademie in Basel from 1961 to 1963. But it was another father figure of the Darmstadt avant garde who left the strongest impression on the young Frenchman, Karlheinz Stockhausen. Eloy has been an enthusiastic champion of Stockhausen's music since the late 60s, even extolling the virtues of the wackier stuff like Inori and the Licht cycle long after most folk had given Karlheinz up for dead, or dismissed him as a madman (and long before they started moaning about the budget for the Helikopter Streichquartett or his unfortunate description of 9/11 as "the greatest work of art ever"). You should check out Eloy's article on – and interview with – the composer available for free download at his site: just google "Hors Territoires" and you'll land right on it.
Nowadays, when so many of Stockhausen's major works are hard to find on disc (they are available, but you have to order them directly from the Verlag and they cost a bomb), it's hard to remember the impact works such as Telemusik and Hymnen had when they appeared just as the world seemed to be teetering on the brink of world revolution just before 1968. But you can hear Hymnen resonating in the works Jean-Claude Eloy created in the following decade, two of which have just appeared in their entirety (hooray) for the first time.
Shânti ("Peace") was created in the heart of Stockhausen country, the WDR Elektronische Musik Studio in Cologne, in 1972 and 1973, and like Hymnen, combines purely electronic and concrete sounds (they call 'em "field recordings" these days) into a huge, sprawling four-part work lasting 142 minutes. The piece features texts by Sri Aurobindo and Mao Tse Tung, both of whom were very much l'air du temps at the time, and its incorporation of recordings of Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver, les événements in Paris and German soldiers on the march make sense in the light of comments elsewhere on the disc (Eloy's?) that the concept of peace can only be understood in relation to conflict and war. Vive la dialectique. Even so, Shânti is "meditation music", much more so than Hymnen, whose structural rigour and fondness for the dramatic flourish place it in a European Romantic tradition beginning with Beethoven. Eloy makes frequent references to non-European philosophy and music, and allows his music to stretch out more. It's great to see the entire work available – I grew up with the old edited Erato double LP set – but one wonders why it's taken so long to come out. After all, the advent of the CD a couple of decades ago heralded the discovery of late Feldman, not to mention Phill Niblock, Eliane Radigue and any number of dronemeisters – had Shânti appeared at the turn of the century on some hip imprint like Touch or Asphodel, maybe Eloy would have made the cover of The Wire by now.
Gaku-no-Michi (which could, it seems, be translated as either "The Ways of Music" or "The Way of Sounds") is nearly twice as long as Shânti – and could effectively go on forever, if its final section "Han" is allowed to loop indefinitely. This "film without images for electronic and concrete sounds" was put together in Tokyo's NHK Electronic Music Studio between 1977 and 1978, and not surprisingly takes as its source material many sounds associated with Japan, both ancient – temple bells, Nô theatre, Shômyo chants, Mokugyo percussion, the clatter of wooden Geta sandals – and modern, including the hubbub of a pachinko arcade and the blare of PA systems in stores and stations. But don't let this fool you into thinking it's yet another field recording aural travelogue: many of the sounds are transformed and buried deep under layers of rich, carefully worked sound, and often hard to recognise.
As was mentioned above, this is the first time Gaku-no-Michi has appeared in all its four-hour glory, but it's not the first time on CD – Keith Fullerton Whitman published an edited version on his cult bootleg label Creel Pone three years ago (and I think I know where he got his copy of the old Adès 2LP set from, but that's another story). Comparing the shorter version with the complete work is instructive – one assumes it was the composer who decided where the axe should fall – and I'm still working on it. One thing that does strike me though is that the extra length doesn't always work in the piece's favour: these days we think nothing of sitting through an hour of Niblock, or banging our heads against a wall of sound from Vomir or The Rita or smoking our woofers with Kevin Drumm's Organ. But Eloy's piece in a sense isn't slowmoving or static enough to tune in and drop out to; nor does it set out to blow you away like Hymnen ("Messieurs dames, rien ne va plus" – kaBOOM!). As a result the mind (mine) often wanders. "Let it," said Cage, though I'm not sure that's what Eloy wants. Why not seek out both of these extraordinarily ambitious pieces and decide for yourself? There's enough here to keep you busy for the next six months.–DW

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In Concert

Various Artists
Fondation Cartier, Paris, December 2nd 2010
On a bitterly cold December evening, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Albert Ayler's body being fished out of New York's East River – conspiracy theorists are still murmuring – the Fondation Cartier, Jean Nouvel's glitzy, glassy modern art museum on the Boulevard Raspail in Paris, decided to host what on paper looked like one of the free jazz all-star meetings of the century. Whether the musicians had been chosen by journalist Franck Medioni or by bassist Joëlle Léandre, I don't know, but the original line-up was certainly mouth-watering. As it turned out, dancer Elsa Wolliaston, percussionist Bernard Lubat and saxophonists Peter Brötzmann, Assif Tsahar and Steve Potts didn't show up, and Alan Silva showed up but didn't play (more on that later), but the list of those who ended up participating was still impressive: saxophonists Archie Shepp, John Tchicai, Evan Parker, Joe McPhee, Raphaël Imbert and Urs Leimgruber, bass clarinettists Michel Portal and Sylvain Kassap, trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo, vocalist Lucia Recio, poets Steve Dalachinsky, Yves Buin and Zéno Bianu, percussionists Christian Rollet, Simon Goubert, Ramon Lopez and bassists Barre Phillips, Jean–Jacques Avenel, Didier Levallet and Léandre herself.
I'll admit I had reservations about the idea, remembering the last time Ms. Léandre put together an all-star band to pay tribute to another (recently departed) hero of hers, Derek Bailey. That was at the Instants Chavirés in April 2006, and, as Joëlle was late arriving, I ended up scribbling down the musicians' names and drawing them from my hat to determine who would play together (a lousy idea – some things are best not left to chance). This time round things were better organised, and a running order was circulating among the musicians well in advance of opening time, listing no fewer than 16 items (four solos, two duos, seven trios, one quartet, one saxophone quintet and one big band finale), the whole affair to be prefaced by an introduction from Jacqueline Caux, reading from an interview with Ayler conducted by her late husband Daniel, who organised and recorded Ayler's celebrated appearance at the Fondation Maeght in Saint Paul de Vence in July 1970.
Even so, if I hadn't been covering the event for The Wire, I might well have stayed put instead of crossing Paris in subzero temperatures, and seeing Alan Silva shivering in the queue of people waiting to get in didn't fill me with much hope either. Wasn't he supposed to be playing tonight? Indeed he was, but, on being informed that he'd be offering his services for free, he pulled out. (That was the deal: apparently travelling expenses were covered, and the musicians were fed, watered and lodged, but not actually paid to play – understandably perhaps, considering that the Fondation Cartier offers attractive fees and had the assembled performers been paid at the usual going rate the whole shebang would have cost a small fortune.. but isn't that what we have a Ministry of Culture for, anyway?) Alan had, nevertheless, turned up to see his old pals (and hawk his latest DVDs: I had one thrust into my frostbitten hands), but clearly wasn't happy. "You know this place?" he bawled, gesturing wildly across his shoulder to the plate glass panels adorning the façade of Nouvel's edifice. "This used to be the American Center – I used to run this place, man!" (Hmm, not sure about that, will have to check..) "I was here in 1955 with Braxton, the Art Ensemble, Frank Wright."
Alan got his dates wrong there (of course he meant to say 1975), but the musicians he mentioned did indeed play at the American Center, and Joëlle Léandre (photo), then in her early 20s, was there and remembers it well. "It was a kick in the ass," she said in her impromptu introduction to the proceedings, once we'd all managed to squeeze inside the room where the concert was to take place. Funny, the first time I came to one of the Fondation Cartier's Soirées Nomades (to see Eugene Chadbourne and Jimmy Carl Black), it took place in the huge exhibition space, but tonight 200 of us were crammed into a room opposite that couldn't have been more than 20 metres long and probably not even as wide. There were no chairs to sit on, and squatting for a concert that lasted nearly two and a half hours without intermission (not that you could have done much in one, because there was no bar to prop up either) was not my idea of fun. When Léandre suggested that we should stand up to let more people get in, I feel like frisbeeing Alan Silva's DVD at her. Except I didn't have room to swing my arm to take aim.
Once Jacqueline had finished her recitation, saxophonists Evan Parker, Joe McPhee, John Tchicai, Raphaël Imbert and Urs Leimgruber filed onstage for the opening act. Maybe it was because he was on alto and everyone else was on tenor (except Leimgruber who'd brought his soprano), but it was John Tchicai whose voice I heard above the others. Starting with de rigueur flutters and puffs – de rigueur that is for 2010: I wonder what Ayler would have made of it – it was a pleasant enough little blow, the highlight of which was a brief hiatus in which each of the five players took a ten-second, one breath solo, until it petered out after seven minutes. Clearly Joëlle had learnt her lesson from the Bailey bash four years ago, which overran spectacularly. It was as if she'd had the musicians fitted with tiny hidden electronic devices which administer a short, sharp electric shock if the piece goes on longer than seven minutes. With the exception of the big band finale (14 minutes), only three of the items in this concert lasted more than six. Quite an achievement, but mighty frustrating. Of course, if you're just going to noodle merrily, which is what Sylvain Kassap, Jean-Luc Cappozzo and Christian Rollet did next, that's fine, but one got the distinct impression of great musicians being cut off in their prime, as it were. Perhaps that was the idea: Albert Ayler was cut off in his prime, too.
Throughout the entire evening, the hairs on the back of the neck – the only arbiters of taste worth paying attention to – stood up just two times, the first being when Archie Shepp (photo), a snazzily suited septuagenarian, strolled onstage and took a solo that lasted barely three minutes but which encapsulated a lifetime. This was a special thrill for me, being the first time I'd ever seen Shepp in the flesh, and everything about him – the look, the deep-set eyes, the embouchure (I didn't know you could stick a mouthpiece that far in and still get a sound, let alone that sound), that oh so subtle vibrato – was the real deal.
Poet Steve Dalachinsky, who is to free jazz what John Cooper Clarke was to punk, was next up with bassists Léandre and Barre Phillips, but despite a touching little sung quote from "Message from Albert" (from Ayler's New Grass album, much maligned but I still love it to death), and some nice lines – "in order to give peace you must have peace" – it couldn't erase the memory of Shepp's all too brief appearance. It hit a predictable pedal point five minutes in and faded out.
The next giant to take to the stage, bass clarinettist Michel Portal, sounded good, and was well supported by Phillips and drummer Ramon Lopez, but once more the time constraint was crippling. Lopez, both here, and in a later solo spot, was impressive, but it wasn't his name I wrote in my notebook as the darkness buzzed with force fields of vibrating cymbals and snare. "Where's Sunny?" I scrawled. I couldn't help thinking that while we all sat – squatted, rather – in this swanky, well-appointed state-of-the-art museum, arguably the most influential free jazz drummer of them all, and the man behind the kit on every single seminal Ayler album from 1964 and 1965, was probably sitting alone in his tawdry little council flat barely a mile down the road. Or maybe Sunny Murray had another gig that night – but I seriously doubt it. I like to imagine Medioni and Léandre invited him, and, knowing Sunny's legendary temperament, he refused outright, or refused to accept the Seven Minute Rule, or asked for $20,000. Or maybe they thought about inviting him and, knowing Sunny's legendary temper, decided against it. In any case, his absence was keenly felt. With Silva also boycotting the event, the only musician present who'd actually played and recorded with Albert Ayler was John Tchicai (unless Shepp did once, though I'm not aware of the fact). Couldn't they have got pianist Bobby Few too? Ah, a piano, nope, too expensive, not enough room onstage. Well, whatever.
The next drummer up was Simon Goubert, first in a trio with McPhee (tenor) and former Steve Lacy bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel, who looked like he'd just crawled out of bed but played like a man possessed – for five minutes. Goubert also provided some cool, abstract swing to accompany poet Zéno Bianu's stream of consciousness Ayler fan mail, but his stick-scraped cymbal sounded curiously out of place in context. Make no mistake, the line between (American or European) Free Jazz and (European) Free Improvisation is often hard to spot, but it is there, and it was very much in evidence in the following trio, which inexplicably paired Urs Leimgruber's fluttery, spluttery 100% EFI soprano with Tchicai's straight-from-the-hip 100% jazz alto, while Léandre did her (50% jazz 50% improv) thing in the background. Maybe Tchicai (photo) felt the frustration too, as he abandoned the sax after a couple of minutes and took to the mic, whooping and hollering like some ancient Universal Indian. Joëlle, never one to be upstaged, joined in with her crazed warbling diva act. Thank goodness it only lasted five minutes.
The Seven Minute Rule obviously didn't suit Evan Parker much; it took him nearly three minutes to get into his circular breathing stride, and he was just beginning to burn when he suddenly stopped dead with a skronky multiphonic and walked offstage. The following duo with Cappozzo and McPhee (on trumpet this time) was also a slight affair, starting with mouthpiece pops and huffing and puffing and ending up as a rather twee cat-and-mouse game hocketing pairs of pip pip pitches. We were clearly heading for the circus big top with the next group, with Raphaël Imbert trying to ape Ayler's wide vibrato (baaad move), Goubert flicking around his kit as if he was trying to swat a fly and Sylvain Kassap cheerfully tootling away on clarinets (yes! mum, look, he can play two at once! wow!) while waiting for bassist Didier Levallet who ambled onstage two minutes late and promptly took.. a solo! The French adjective for this is désinvolte. It's in the dictionary, look it up.
But things were to get worse, when Lucia Recio bounced onstage (with Leimgruber – again – and Léandre – yet again), grabbed the mic and launched into the kind of free improv vocal antics that would have had me heading for the exit in a hurry if 200 people hadn't been in the way. All pants, grunts, gasps, gargles, part suffocation, part orgasm (faked or not – can you tell?), it would have been hilarious if Léandre hadn't turned it into a truly hideous waltz (yes, a waltz). At least Leimgruber had the good sense to keep twittering away and steer clear of the action. And, phew, it only lasted six minutes. But it was a looong six minutes.
The second and last time the hairs stood up that night was during the Joe McPhee (photo) tenor solo that followed. Emerging from a flurry of a key clicks, he delivered a simply stunning reading of his own composition "Voices", starting in fluffy Ben Webster nether regions and gradually transposing the line up an octave at a time, ending in the extreme overblown high register of the instrument – but still, amazingly, quiet! I thought of Caux's interview with Ayler quoted earlier. Sure, Albert played some really wild, out there tenor, but he was deeply rooted in the blues, in the church, in the gospel. And he played melodies, melodies you took with you out of the concert hall or jazz club and carried with you preciously through the night and beyond. Melody: that was Albert Ayler's real love cry, and on the strength of what I heard tonight, only Joe McPhee and Archie Shepp had heard it.
It didn't take long for the hairs to fall back into limp submission when poet (he writes poetry at least, even if he reads it like the Radio 4 Shipping Forecast) Yves Buin sauntered on with Portal and Kassap. Buin finished his text and promptly skulked off, soon to be followed by the two bass clarinettists, playing as they went. It was all over in three minutes. Maybe it didn't happen at all and I just imagined it. By this stage, cramp was setting in for real. Never mind about kick in the ass, this was getting to be a pain in the ass. At least, I thought, as I looked over the running order, there's only one piece to go, the final jam. But no, Joëlle couldn't resist.. "I feel like playing a solo," she announced demurely, before launching into an impassioned bowed upper register melody (this was the second time in the evening somebody had actually tried to sound like Ayler, and again, it failed) which finally subsided into one of her trademark Scelsi harmonic drones. That would have been OK if she'd left it at that – but adding her potty vocals was a mistake, especially when they morphed into frankly embarrassing grunting and panting. This was presumably intended to amuse, and most people tittered politely, but, well, as they say over here, the English have a different sense of humour.
So it was we came to the grand finale, with, onstage from left to right, Dalachinsky, Phillips (wearing a nightdress – and he looked half asleep too), Parker, Tchicai, Avenel, Imbert, Cappozzo, Rollet and Recio cavorting about upfront. Dalachinsky ranted heroically away about freedom again, there was the inevitable crescendo – some wag (Imbert, I suspect) threw in Ayler's Ghosts, but thankfully that didn't last long – followed by the obligatory orgasmic blowout. But the tension was not sustained. Tchicai went off to a wonderful world of his own, grooving to his own beat (what a shame nobody followed) but the others fizzled out, and left Recio to get the last word. Or groan. A question mark, instead of an exclamation mark.
Several questions hung in the cold night air as we filed out on to the Boulevard Raspail. Why was the concert held in such a tiny room instead of the exhibition space opposite? Why was it held at the Fondation Cartier in the first place? Wouldn't the Maison Radio France have been a larger, more suitable and comfortable venue (and also one linked with the history of free jazz in this country – that, you will recall, is where Alan Silva and the Celestrial Communication Orchestra recorded the epic Seasons, on December 29th 1970)? Why couldn't more money have been made available to pay these fine musicians correctly? Where was Bobby Few? Where was Sunny Murray? And what, when all was said and done, what did it all have to do with Albert Ayler?–DW

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Songs From Under The Floorboards

Stelzer & Talbot
Vic Rawlings / Howard Stelzer
Kiyoharu Kuwayama / Masayoshi Urabe

Conventional wisdom says that the Internet has killed the album. But rather than giving a death sentence, I'd say that what the Internet has really done is make people more aware of the limitations of the album as it stands, and at the same time offered multiple ways to surpass those limitations. Now, not only are there a multitude of formats available for a release – the download, the cassette, the vinyl LP, CDs of various sizes and quality – but also a host of perspectives on what the content of the album can be. And for this new pluralism you would be hard pressed to find a more decisive collective statement than the first batch of releases on Songs From Under the Floorboards, the new CDR sub-label of Intransitive Recordings.
The five releases include a spectrum of approaches to contemporary experimental sound art, noise and improvisation. There's modern musique concrète from Christian Renou, aka Brume, DIY synth exploration from Ophibre, sprawling environmental improv / composition from Kiyoharu Kuwayama and Masayoshi Urabe and two duo sets featuring Howard Stelzer, head of Intransitive, one pitting him against turntablist Jason Talbot, the other with cellist / open-circuit electronics whiz Vic Rawlings. There's a varied scale of ideas and scope here, with a brief live release, a one-time performance and a single epic composition among them.
Despite the breadth of approaches represented above, Stelzer himself doesn't necessarily see the sub-label as a major departure for the label, framing it instead in more straightforward terms. "Intransitive's release schedule is fairly demanding," he explains. "I tend to take a year or so to plan and publish a new Intransitive title. Some take even longer than that. So while there's so much music I'd like to publish, I realistically can't get to it all and devote the same amount of attention to each one." But he does readily acknowledge the benefits of such an informal channel, saying that Floorboards gives him the flexibility to publish more often and allows him to try new approaches to visual design.
As I work my way through each release, though, it's hard not to think that this small-scale, below-the-radar approach suits this music well. (And it's certainly not as if Stelzer is selling the presentation and recordings short. Each release is professionally pressed – they even come shrink-wrapped! – and features distinctive, well-considered artwork.) The Stelzer discs alone serve up fresh angles on not only his own methodology and tools, but on the vibrancy and potential of modern cracked electronics in general. Recent Work, a live improvisation with Talbot from the early 00s, plays like a short, sharp set of computer music. If you didn't look at the liners, you might think it was an early John Wiese side of in situ MSP patches; that's how far the two stray from the more flowing, long-form works Stelzer's put out recently. Stop-button edits abound, and rapid changes in timbre and frequency are the norm – and it's all done with cassettes and a turntable.
With Rawlings, Stelzer stretches his cassette manipulations even further. He seems to match Rawlings's desire to move past the "musical" side of his tools and get at their physical workings. So tape-speed manipulation and the grind of tape heads feature prominently, just as Rawlings taps into the primal electrical signals of his devices for some gnarly high-frequencies. The cello works as a sort of earthy counterpoint to the more fragmented electronics, but it too is all surface and texture, rough-hewn ones at that. Phrase and line are not what the pair are looking to create with these seven pieces. If Recent Work had an air of humor about it, the atmosphere here is one of research and discovery, which means anything goes but not everything works. Mistakes become the rule and any notion of something finished is laughable.
The same focus on process and tools emerges on Phase Plane Cake Generator, but with a slightly different emphasis. "I am not an electrical engineer," says Benjamin Rossignol. "I am an artist." Rossignol builds all his own devices and, much like fellow Intransitive artist Nerve Net Noise, sees them as a form of personal expression. Also like Nerve Net Noise, this is synth music that is as far away from Kosmische as you can get. Grimy, distorted textures dominate, sounding more like an overdriven guitar or organ played with exceptional control than any classic synthesizer module. Rossignol's pieces are teeming with detail and minute changes, full of activity but clear and balanced. Sometimes the sounds buzz right in your ear (the title track), sometimes they glide by in more muted hues ("I thought you would never ask..."). Each piece sounds improvised but the whole is obviously the product of long hours of practice and reworking.
In contrast to the work-in-progress, more open-ended feel of the above releases, Brume's Draft of Confusion has all the meticulous hallmarks of an INA-GRM release, but without the ponderousness. Christian Renou's discography stretches back a few decades already, but it's hard to say he's slowing down with this one. In fact, it sounds as contemporary as it does classic, and in its hour-long running time acts as a brief history lesson in some of musique concrète's most prominent tools – tape manipulation, voices, mutated percussion and intricate arrangements of analogue synthesizers – and structures (droning, meditative calm mixed with aggressive, startling juxtapositions and cut with bouts of sheer weirdness). Originally a multi-channel work – one can hear it in the judicious and very effective use of panning and stereo placement – this is another piece that overspills the boundaries of the simple album format, its sprawl a little too much to contain on a simple recording.
But it's the extreme-site performance / composition / improvisation of cellist Kiyoharu Kuwayama (aka Lethe) and alto saxophonist Masayoshi Urabe that breaks down the most walls. You're unlikely to hear any room-style recording that captures the room itself in such detail. So much so, in fact, that it's as if the space is an equal partner in the improvisation. Recorded in a port warehouse, it actually sounds like Urabe and Kuwayama are in different rooms, a fact reflected in their playing. There's not dialogue here so much as co-existence, each player in their own world yet unified by the common space. The effect is fragile yet momentous, every gesture magnified, truly free and unconnected to the last. I doubt there's any electronic manipulation, but the space is enough: reverb, distortion and dynamic shifts come seemingly at random, and the various bits of metal, junk and percussion both players use expand the sound as they reveal the space.
Ultimately, each of these releases would've deserved a dedicated review, such is the variety on display here, but there's also something encouraging and engaging about taking them in all at once, like taking a tour through contemporary avant-garde and experimental practices without a guide, just as it should be.–MW

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Bryce Beverlin II
"My main intention in exploring art is to experiment through forms of communication in ways that expand my understanding of the world I live and to present those works for others to experience," runs the rather conventional mission statement on the website of Minneapolis-based sound artist Bryce Beverlin II. I've never understood that peculiarly American tradition of appending a Roman numeral to distinguish you from a father or grandfather with the same first name – it's always seemed rather nostalgically royalist to me, yet at the same time ironically associated with the kind of people who vote Republican and frequent country clubs, but never mind. If, though, by any chance Bryce Beverlin père (assuming that's who BB I is) falls into that category, he might want to think twice before proudly giving out copies of this album to his golfing pals – Seizing Fate By The Throat is pretty distressing in places. Imagine a cross between Eddie Prévost and a rather subdued Randy Yau, as Beverlin howls, growls, gurgles and splutters around (and maybe inside) a collection of percussion instruments large and small for 36 intriguing minutes. The album cover (best set of teeth I've seen on one since Swans' Filth) says it all, and James Plotkin's masterly mastering makes sure every last gob of spit finds its way into the inner ear.–DW

Black Air
Don't you just love Google Images? Type in this album title and search for a jpg of the album cover, and you land on a page full of Nikes, and, inexplicably, a shot of the horrible huge sculptured rhinoceros standing in front of the Musée d'Orsay. Not exactly what Sam "The Rita" McKinlay and Gordon "Oscillating Innards" Ashworth had in mind, I imagine, looking at the grainy black and white silkscreen photos of libertine prostitutes adorning the cover of their album and listening to what the press release fancifully describes as "the broken electronic textures that come to signify the wormholes of used stockings laying [sic] about the 1920s streets." Don't expect your maison close to stay open long, madame, if you pipe this music in to entertain the punters – we're talking Harsh Noise Wall here. The photos and artwork are fine, if you like that kind of thing, but sometimes I think Romain "Vomir" Perrot has the right idea: stick a black plastic bag on your head and just listen to your brain fry. This kind of stuff used to scare the living daylights out of me (the neighbours still aren't so keen on it), but I'm getting rather fond of it now (maybe because I've done irreparable damage to my upper frequency range), either at skullcrushing volume on the old Technics or, turning the wick down a bit, through headphones. There's more to walls than you might expect, either to listen to or think about. Remember George Sanders in Village of the Damned.–DW

James Blackshaw
Young God Records
Six years ago, James Blackshaw burst on the scene like a young, thirsty sapling pushing up through the earth. The prodigious London-based guitarist was a nourishing presence in the experimental music community, and listeners yearning for a new take on the Bull / Fahey / Basho-oriented 12-string guitar tradition eagerly looked to him for his dexterous take on the genre. But in recent years Blackshaw's compositions have grown increasingly ambitious, suffused with an aesthetic complexity that vies with the initial attention given to his uncommon technical skill. On All is Falling, his second full-length album for Michael Gira's label Young God Records, he continues to expand his sonic purview beyond the acoustic-minded Takoma school.
Blackshaw is a patient and precise composer – he doesn't so much tease out melodies as extract them – yet All is Falling rings with an undercurrent of passion. Perhaps a spotlight on the electric guitar is partly the reason (although piano, violin, cello and glockenspiel also contribute to the drama: Blackshaw has often stated his interest in exploring other instrumentation), and its metallic richness parallels this sense of agency. There's also an urge to test new compositional clout, particularly on the second side, which takes an unsettling turn with lively vocal yelps and alarming smears of violin glissandi. Echoes of Glass and Reich still flutter around the edges of Blackshaw's mutating melodic phrases, but their influence, while not subtle, isn't cloying. Separated into numerically ordered parts, the tracks expand and exhale in metronomic rhythm, like a slowly inflating gossamer balloon. All is Falling, like its predecessors Litany of Echoes and The Glass Bead Game, emits a beguiling, golden warmth.
As it inches further away from folk-raga drone, James Blackshaw's music is as evocative and mature as that of contemporary classical composers such as Richard Skelton, Max Richter, and Jóhann Jóhannsson, and as accessible as a soundtrack by Dario Marianelli or Yann Tiersen. If he doesn't add film and television work to his CV within the next year, I'll be surprised.–NP

Harris Eisenstadt
No Business
Kurt Knuffke
No Business
LIVE AT 11.20
No Business
It takes a while for a new label specializing in the diverse strains of creative improvised music to separate itself from the pack. Gone are the days when a few US and European labels chose a small selection of heavyweight titles to distribute among the public. Of course, it's interesting to have more music available, but it does take care and time to sift through already-deep catalogs of upstart labels to find the gems. Though it's not necessarily a marketing ploy, Lithuania's No Business Records, which has been around since 2008, has risen to the top in a very short time, not only because of the general high quality of the music on its releases, but also because they've sought to put out quite a few of them on vinyl. The LPs are pressed in Germany and offer the chance to hear titles by artists like Atomic, Trio X, Joëlle Léandre and Oluyemi Thomas on audiophile wax. The 12-inch square jacket is certainly something that can get titles by young, up-and-coming improvisers noticed easily, especially considering how jazz vinyl is an exercise in, as Bill Dixon might say, "necrophilia."
Drummer Harris Eisenstadt, raised in Canada and a fixture on the West Coast for a number of years, has been a first-call percussionist in New York since his relocation a few years ago. Woodblock Prints is the name of his nonet, which is curiously assembled and works toward middle and lower-register brass and reeds – bassoon, French horn, tuba and clarinet. One often thinks of drummer-led ensembles whatever their size as pushing the sound forward, like Art Blakey, Sunny Murray, or Jeff Watts. Eisenstadt's studies with Wadada Leo Smith and Barry Altschul ensure that his music, though rhythmically-centered, moves differently. In fact, the first piece doesn't feature percussion at all, rather a poised arrangement for trombone, tuba and French horn. Nevertheless, there's an airy swagger carried by guitar, bass, drums, alto and trombone in "The Floating World," buoying Jay Rozen's tuba with a soulful lilt. Michael McGinnis's clarinet burbles up out of the ensemble, klezmer notions among bright ghetto lights, while Sara Schoenbeck's bassoon solo has a delicate keen, leading into gruff spatter while maintaining an even pace. "After Jeff Wall" employs additive density toward a knotty slink, glinting electricity set in relief to Brian Drye's bugle flicks and cyclic repetitions. The presence of spare beat in "Hokusai" upholds an impasto that, while thick, is never without detail. Woodblock Prints doesn't present "free jazz" in any sense, rather gorgeous compositions both economical and stretched-out, that focus as much on color as they do movement.
Trumpeter Kirk Knuffke is another fairly recent New York transplant who has worked with drummer Matt Wilson and co-leads Ideal Bread, the Steve Lacy repertory unit with baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton, bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. Chew Your Food finds him in a trio with semi-regular collaborators in bassist Lisle Ellis and drummer Kenny Wollesen on nine tunes recorded live at Roulette. Trios of brass and rhythm aren't exactly a dime a dozen – Bill Dixon worked in the format in the early 1980s, and Dixon acolyte Taylor Ho Bynum also has recently recorded with a trio – but Knuffke differs quite a bit from the Dixon school of brass playing, focusing instead on high, punchy classicism. In other hands this could easily be called "chops playing," but Knuffke's curious wander and ducky asides give his phrasing enough what-the-hell? to remain intriguing. Wollesen can be a similarly busy player, but in this context his lines seem to drift and coagulate alongside the leader, making them an interesting pair. "The Work" is blistering, with the presence of metallic gong chatter and throaty strum a net for Knuffke's barbed ebullience. Ellis' smoothly pliant pizzicato edges in and out of the foreground and acts as both fulcrum and accompaniment for meaty drum-and-bugle volleys, sometimes coolly halving the rhythm, sometimes shoving the leader into near-bullishness. There's a puckered, darting quality to Knuffke's playing on "That's a Shame," offset by shimmering tom and cymbal fields; when fleshed out with wood and gut, the three-way communion is abundantly clear. Chew Your Food is a rousing little corker of a date, well worth investigating.
Though the No Business discography has followed more closely the recent evolution of American improvised music, several sessions from Lithuanian musicians have appeared on the label too. Saxophonist Liudas Mockūnas is one of the most visible improvisers from Vilnius; somewhat akin to Mats Gustafsson with his penchant for multiphonic bluster (they've recorded together), he's also worked with figures like guitarist Marc Ducret, percussionist Vladimir Tarasov and bassist Barry Guy. Kablys is a cooperative trio also featuring drummer Dalius Naujokaitis and the eminent arco-bass technician Eugenijus Kanevičius, and Live at 11:20 finds them working through five group compositions at the Vilnius punk club of the disc's title. The opening "Hooked" finds Mockūnas on soprano, circular breathing spiraling upwards as percussion and thick pizzicato clatter beside and underneath him. Once the saxophonist straps on his tenor, the three approximate a dirty groove, free-rock slop by way of European free improvisation. Baritone splatter and yelp call out a Thing-like fracas on "Broke," though rhythmically the trio is more painstakingly reserved, at one point settling on a didactic heave-ho beat that would have fit well in the lexicon of Brötzmann / Van Hove / Bennink. A yawing bass pattern and loose, skipping fills back a positively bar-walking tenor solo on "Triumph of Pagans (In Memory of the Great Zalgris Battle 1410)," and if one didn't know better, it would be easy to imagine Mockūnas being raised in Ft. Worth, Texas. The disc's centerpiece is titled "Emphasiastic (Dedicated to Jimmy Giuffre)," and shifts from high-register tendrils and micro-triologue to a pinched straight-arrow blast. Kablys are proof (if proof is needed) of a vibrant scene in Lithuanian contemporary music.–CA

Hisato Higuchi
Family Vineyard
Is Henzai an album of songs for people who like experimental music, or an album of experimental music for people who prefer songs? Many listeners, of course, belong to neither category exclusively, and I'm guessing Higuchi, a guitarist and vocalist, doesn't make this own distinction about his music either. The question, however, neatly frames the zone his compositions and improvisations occupy. With songs we want the change of a narrative, the comfort of repetition and something that triggers, or itself becomes, a memory. With experimental music we want none of these. Instead we look for unique textures, open-endedness, a feeling of the unknown or unheard.
On the 12 short pieces here, Higuchi delivers a very personal hybrid of these approaches. What we get are ethereal ballads (no overdubs) that have no start and no resolution, fragments that are all suggestion and no statement. A melody begins, then fades. As soon as harmony begins to emerge it gets cut off, scattered or confounded. The language he's singing in might be Japanese, might be his own glossolalia – meaning isn't really the point here. But before you think he's avoiding any easy, outgoing expression, Higuchi strings together a couple of oblique phrases into an eloquent whole or more fully voices a chord or two, just enough to draw you in and create a subtle suspense.
This is Higuchi's fourth album, and third for Family Vineyard, and his approach hasn't shown much change or progression over the years. The mood is suggestive of late nights recording in an apartment block, keeping things as hushed as possible so as not to disturb the neighbours, your only companion the comforting hiss of the tape recorder. This atmosphere makes Higuchi's ballads feel more like thoughts scribbled in a journal, one to a page, then a carefully considered whole, but that's part of their appeal. Higuchi turns listeners into eavesdroppers, and lets us hear him whispering secrets to himself – and who doesn't like to overhear a secret now and then?–MW

Giuseppe Ielasi
The stuntman's back, and this third and final escapade from DJ Giuseppe is on Dekorder, but the basic goal's the same: get the punters on the floor (I happen to believe that you can dance to anything if you put your mind to it: hell, I even saw a girl dancing to Mattin and Tim Goldie last year – though she was, I'll admit, pissed as a newt and/or stoned immaculate). Except that it's not one nation under a groove here, but chacun pour soi: find your own beat and get down to it. There are plenty to choose from. Each of these six little pieces – the longest is only 3'48" – follows the tried and trusted technique of mainstream minimalism (Reich, Glass et al.), bringing those layers in one at a time and just.. letting them roll. Goodness knows where Giuseppe has got his vinyl source material from, but it sounds great, an irresistible housy, funky clutter stutter splutter of voices and instruments, everything from accordions, pianos, guitars to tom toms and kick drums, peppered with breaks and beats from his trusty turntable and classily cut and mastered by Rashad Becker at Dubplates & Mastering in Berlin. Shame the trilogy ends here: I could listen to this stuff all day. In fact, I think I probably will.–DW

Suzanne Langille / Neel Murgai
Family Vineyard
Six of the seven tracks on this beautiful but all too brief (that's part of its appeal) album were recorded at Brooklyn's Issue Project Room back in January 2008, where vocalist Suzanne Langille was joined by percussionist Neel Murgai in a set that included Leonard Cohen's "Story of Isaac" and, oddly enough, Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit". Murgai's drumming – on a daf, a large frame drum traditionally found in the countries surrounding the Caspian Sea – is as naked and honest as Langille's voice, its bare no-frills rhythmic underpinning transforming simple songs into powerful invocations. On "Child" and "White Rabbit" he also doubles on tampura, replacing the Bolero build-up of the latter (which I've not been able to take seriously ever since I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – remember Dr. Gonzo's "throw the radio in the bath!" line?) with Vedic poise. Unlike other pop stars who've dug up past treasures from The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, compiled by Harvard professor Francis James Child in the late 19th century, Langille's reading of "Young Waters" (Child Ballad number 94) is about the song, not the person singing it. As such, it's closer in spirit to the Child Ballads in the Harry Smith Anthology than the glitzy pap of Nick Cave.
Amazingly, this is Langille's first album under her own name, though fans of her partner-in-blues Loren Connors will know her well as the voice that graced those early Mazzacane albums. It's not surprising then that her set here includes "Child", which she'd recorded with Connors back in 1993 on Hell's Kitchen Park, and that Connors himself and fellow guitarist Andrew Burnes should appear on the closing "Turn Away" (as Haunted House, this foursome released a superb disc, Up In Flames, on Erstwhile back in 1999). Cynics might scoff and say that this last track was included just to fill up a disc that without it would last just 22 minutes, but they'd be missing the point: the preceding six tracks, even those set against the harmonic backdrop of the tampura, are bare bones, beautiful and bleached. Connors and Burnes provide flesh – but, as Matisse (I think it was Matisse and if it wasn't it should have been) said, to paint a great portrait you have to know, and love, the bones that lie beneath it.–DW

Pauline Oliveros
In 1969, when this piece was composed, feminism was not expressed in contemporary music. Sure, there were several excellent women instrumentalists performing the post-tonal repertoire, but few of them were allowed to profess their stance as "political" in the academy. It's no wonder then that this orchestral piece by Pauline Oliveros didn't receive much recognition at the time, let alone a proper recording and release – though it would not have been out of place on one of the early 1970s CBS Music of Our Time LPs. As its title makes clear, it's an ode to the plight of women as revolutionary figures (Solanas) and vilified celebrities (Monroe) during the nascent years of the feminist movement (one might argue that little has changed in a sense, but that's another discussion).
Each player chooses five pitches to work from, and colored lights indicate movement between them. The piece is designed democratically: all instrumental parts are entirely equal, and the orchestra is instructed to crowd out any sense of instrumental ego if it appears, so potential soloists are subsumed within the field. The shorter Hope College performance from 1970 (the work's premiere), performed by a 12-piece ensemble, is deliciously lo-fi in spots, giving the music an ambient murk, with wind and string events popping out of tape hiss and boomy distance. The half-hour version recorded at Wesleyan University seven years later features a large orchestra, with brass and reeds holding long tones, overlapping in additive leaves underscored by staccato swipes of cello and violin. Deep Listening isn't far away. Seven minutes in, a shift to the second pitch is signaled by a large void of shuffling inactivity (or imperceptible action) which, shockingly obstinate, eventually yields to throaty drones and a seasick aural hall of mirrors. The shift in dynamics and ensemble behavior has a clear result in terms of auditory demarcation, the terrifyingly intense ensuing sputter of electronics and garish bassoon dropping away into hushed long tones.
Much of Oliveros's aesthetic is best understood as environment, areas of aural doldrums providing momentary and slightly queasy resting points, like the requisite standing back from a massive architectural work to take in the whole before venturing back in. In To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe, the hallmarks of Oliveros's later philosophy and aesthetic are brought into direct play with politically-charged expressionism. Kudos to Minneapolis-based Roaratorio Records for uncovering such a significant work, a piece of music that will probably scare the living shit out of you. Valerie Solanas would be proud.–CA

Our Love Will Destroy The World
I remember reading somewhere that Campbell Kneale once torched all the remaining unsold stock on his Celebrated Psi Phenomenon label (I'd be miffed if that bonfire included any copies of Jason Lescalleet's To The Teeth, because that's one I've never been able to track down), about the time I imagine he closed down the Birchville Cat Motel and took to the skies as Our Love Will Destroy The World. No point sitting on your laurels when you can burn them. Kneale is on the record as saying he feels "ripped off by mp3s as a listener [..] I want to distance myself as much as possible from the digital world of music", and has set out to make OLWDTW as analogue a project as possible (though I see there are already quite a few CDRs under the moniker): I Hate Even Numbers is his second vinyl outing on Dekorder, and a much funkier (well, sort of) affair than its predecessor, last year's Stillborn Plague Angels.
Diehard dronehead BCM fans might be a little surprised by "Second Pink Jihad"'s ingenious traffic jam of whirring, squealing, thrumming, wailing guitars and keyboards crisscrossed by a latticework of percussion polyrhythms, but with its ear for great sounds and instinctive feel for larger form, it's clearly the work of the same guy. It's annoyingly infectious stuff, too (your feet will tap, but probably not for long), and the "solo" that kicks in without warning just under five minutes into "Tokyo Modern Magic Twins Like Swans Snipers On Skis" (I suspect this is an anagram of something though I can't for the life of me think what) is a 21st century take on Pete Shelley's legendary two-note guitar solo on the Buzzcocks' "Boredom." Of course, that could just be a wild flight of fancy on my part, but wild flights of fancy are Kneale's speciality, and this is another great example.–DW

Raglani / Outer Space
St Louis Missouri's Joseph Raglani hasn't exactly been overprolific when it comes to putting out records (Discogs lists just 12 releases starting with a two-track CDR in 2004), especially when compared to John Elliott, with whom he splits this LP, whose discography is already in triple figures if you take into account his work with Emeralds as well as various other collaborative ventures, of which Outer Space is but one. Needless to say I've heard barely 10% of it (I wonder how many people other than the band members themselves have got the complete collection), but I'm doing better when it comes to Raglani: haven't got those cassettes and CDRs but I am the proud owner of the split CD with Scenic Railroads (Gameboy, 2005), his full length debut Of Sirens Born (2006, also on Gameboy 2006 and reissued by Kranky in 2008), and the splendid Kvist LP Web of Light (also 2008).
The first of the three tracks that take up his side of this latest offering, "Nothing is Inevitable", finds Raglani pitching his tent firmly in the new synth revival campground (yep, the gear is listed, and if you're interested it's Mini Moog, ARP Avatar, Doepfer Analog Modular System and, erm, bongos). If you like those big chunky chugging grooves, you'll love it – I happen to prefer the scything glissandi of "Polydream Ink" (which actually predates it by four years) and especially the closing "Heart of Glass". As Joe's a big cinema fan I suspect there's a Werner Herzog connection there, but I don't remember Popul Vuh coming up with anything as intriguing as this in their soundtrack to Herzog's film of the same name. Escorted by wailing police cars, Raglani's melodica rides out on a heartbeat rhythm from a murky Moogy mist which clears to reveal itself as C. Spencer Yeh sawing merrily away on his fiddle. The music is beautifully mixed and paced to perfection.
The Outer Space side, in comparison, I find less interesting – though given the right cocktail of illicit substances I imagine it could be one hell of a trip – sure, the squelches and gurgles Elliott and fellow Moogster Jeff Hatfield get from those vintage keyboards are lovely, and they're obviously having a wail of a time with their pink wellies on jumping up and down in the great big muddy puddles, but the attraction soon wears off and one longs for a bit of architecture. Then again, that's not what outer space is about, I suppose. You'll just have to leave me by the banks of the Mississippi listening to Raglani's irresistible banjo-like guitar.–DW

Vanessa Rossetto
At 7.15 this morning, after listening to this album twice (headphones, of course), I was taking a shower when I heard a strange scraping noise, apparently from the other side of the wall. It sounded remarkably like the giant shuttle in Stockhausen's Trans, but on further investigation turned out to be my downstairs neighbour unscrewing a light fixture in the ceiling of his bathroom. Why am I telling you this? Well, ears wide open after an hour and twenty minutes of Vanessa Rossetto's intriguing sonic montage the real world is a richer, stranger, more fascinating place. I feel the same way after watching an Eric Rohmer film – for a brief, magical moment just afterwards everything you do and say could be an Eric Rohmer film (well, depends which one.. maybe not Perceval le Gallois haha). That old Cage quote about blurring the distinction between Art and Life might, in the long run, turn out to have the same planetary resonance as Warhol's "famous for 15 minutes" line.
It's fitting that Rossetto's LP should appear on Graham Lambkin's Kye imprint, as it explores the same territory as Lambkin's highly acclaimed Salmon Run, mixing sounds both everyday and extraordinary, interior and exterior, natural and artificial (not that I'm always able to tell which is which – see the Syndromes review below) with great precision and delicacy. And consummate musicality: check out how she makes a string orchestra appear magically behind the roar of oncoming traffic on "Cebra", or leaves a forlorn piano arpeggio hanging in the air on "Moire Pattern Caused By Dots". "Swim Bladder"'s intimate ecosystem of tiny jingles (cutlery?), pings (a child's toy?) and rustles (zipping or unzipping something) is a secret joy, the aural equivalent of dipping into a box of chocolates when nobody's looking.–DW

Chris Schlarb
Asthmatic Kitty
Psychic Temple is the record that should get Long Beach, CA-based guitarist, composer, producer, and label honcho Chris Schlarb some serious notice. A fixture on the West Coast indie-rock and experimental scenes, he's worked with figures as diverse as Nels Cline, Sufjan Stevens, Mike Watt and Chad Taylor, and the breadth of those collaborations is part of what makes Psychic Temple possible. It's a lush, instrumental record that doesn't overstay its welcome, the two sides clocking in at just over a half an hour, bringing local heavyweights like Watt, trumpeter Kris Tiner (Empty Cage Quartet), bassist Steuart Liebig and pedal steel guitarist Dave Easley into orbit for four atmospheric post-rock explorations. The opening "I Can Live Forever if I Slowly Die" is a vehicle for Tiner's trumpet (as is the closing filmic orchestra of "White Dove in the Psychic Temple"), a cottony free-time landscape with wordless vocals and bitter twang peeking out of stippled texture as trumpet and guitar shoot gradually skyward. "Dream State > Police State" starts with a simple vocal and acoustic guitar progression over a bedrock of toms, bass, piano, vibes and marimba, and slowly dissipates into folksy piano and guitar at play with glitchy refracting electronics. Dusty fuzz and yawning pedal steel open "Daughters of Ursa Major," five minutes of flutter and drift filled in with dewy choral accompaniment. Despite its lofty title, Psychic Temple is an extremely pretty, concise and well-orchestrated slab of wax well worth seeking out.–CA

The Pitch
"The quartet neither plays compositions nor do they improvise," runs clarinettist Michael Thieke's blurb on his latest quartet with Boris Baltschun on electric pump organ, Koen Nutters on bass and Morten J. Olsen on vibraphone. At the risk of sounding rather perverse, I'd say they're probably doing both in these four pieces recorded live in Brussels in November last year. "Their vehicles used for travelling are combinations of pitch sets, dimension sets, superimposition sets and duration sets," continues the text, which makes it all sound rather dry (I think I know what pitch and duration sets are, but am curious about the other two). If you google the band name and album title and scroll down a bit you'll soon find yourself in some pretty heavy duty PC stuff (that stands for Pitch Class, by the way, not Police Constable or Politically Correct), so I'll spare you the details. But if you associate set theory with tough, thorny atonal and predominantly serial music – Milton Babbitt's probably the first name to spring to mind – you might be surprised at the, well, not tonal but certainly diatonic nature of the music on offer here. Harmonically it's closer to Satie via Cage (and hence bears more than a passing resemblance to late 60s English experimental music – Baltschun's reedy organ reminds me of Christopher Hobbs" McCrimmon Will Never Return, which he and Gavin Bryars recorded on one of Eno's Obscure discs in 1975), but its slow tempo (not that one can discern any recognisable rhythm – it just feels slow) and studious avoidance of anything louder than mezzopiano recalls Morton Feldman. Indeed, if Baltschun's descending pattern at the end of the final track, "Position and Drowning" isn't a direct homage to Sexy MF I'll eat my copy of Allen Forte's The Structure of Atonal Music. Transposition Zero is nowhere near as forbidding as one of Forte's K/Kh complexes, but it certainly doesn't make any concessions to the listener. Vibrato is verboten, dramatic gesture is avoided at all costs and the result is as cool and pale as a late autumn afternoon.–DW

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Susan Alcorn
Uma Sounds
Recorded since this pedal steel guitarist extraordinaire relocated to Baltimore three years ago, this is the first Alcorn outing to come my way since 2007's wonderful And I Await The Resurrection Of The Pedal Steel Guitar on Olde English Spelling Bee, and it's been well worth the wait. It arrived here back in August with a handwritten note inside a Mark Rothko card explaining the background to the five pieces on the disc, though I'm rather reluctant to share that information with you, firstly because the poems and notes in the gatefold go over much the same ground, and, secondly, because the music speaks for itself perfectly well.
I doubt you'll find Susan Alcorn mentioned on Bob Adams' lovingly researched website devoted to the instrument she plays http://www.pedalsteel.co.uk/ (though it's so enormous maybe she is tucked away in there somewhere) – after all, the sounds she conjures forth from it aren't exactly what you'd expect to find on the bill at the Grand Ole Opry, but the pedal steel's melancholy glissandi and unmistakable timbre are inevitably associated with a particular genre of music, and if you stand still for a moment you may just feel a distant country breeze blowing gently through the music on Touch This Moment, even the more "difficult" angular tracks like "Gilmor Blue". Alcorn's technical mastery of the instrument is apparent throughout, from the spacious desert landscapes of "Hovenweep" (could this be the best use of a volume pedal since Derek Bailey's Lot 74?) to the "Postlude", a rich, velvety meditation on Bach's C major Prelude (yes, that one). There are many moments worth touching on this splendid disc.–DW

In late November, saxist Dave Rempis, cellist Fred Lönberg-Holm and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, went on a mini-Midwestern tour including a date at a nearby club which I was unfortunately unable to attend. On the basis of what they recorded on June 16th at The Hideout in Chicago, my loss was significant.
Rempis has long been a fluidly melodic member of the Vandermark 5 and various spinoff groups including the trio Triage, but Nilssen-Love's relentless drumming and Lönberg-Holm's skronky electronics take him somewhat out of his comfort zone. But don't think that this is an unrelenting Brötzmannesque squall fest (not that there isn't plenty of that in the three extended improvised pieces, two of them over 30 minutes long): there are numerous unexpectedly subtle parts that don't forcibly bludgeon their way into your cortex. The two longest pieces feature subdued interplay between the drummer and Lönberg-Holm while Rempis sits out (perhaps getting a lung transplant) before returning with some inner earth slurry blats on the baritone as the others marshal their forces for another onslaught. Nilssen-Love has a knack for navigating out of the din with backbeat laden funk motifs that allow cello and sax to reach melodic common ground. It's not all an electric moshpit for Lönberg-Holm, either. He starts the long "Cocking Lugs" with a gorgeous acoustic etude before Rempis chimes in on tenor to shake things up. The ten minute title cut features understated playing from all, with Nilssen-Love employing soft mallets, brushes and fingers striking the drums. Crowd noise is edited out but there's no doubt they enjoyed every bit of it.–SG

Xavier Charles
It's been a good year on the Sofa, 2010. In addition to Tetuzi Akiyama, Toshi Nakamura, Espen Reinertsen, Elvind Lønning and Martin Taxt's Selektiv hogst (one of, alas, over a hundred albums here I've thoroughly enjoyed and not – yet – found time to write about) and Ingar Zach's recent wonderfully orchestral solo percussion outing M.O.S., this latest offering from French clarinettist Xavier Charles is definitely one you might want to pick up in the January sales. Recorded in August this year in Brabant sur Meuse and Châlons en Champagne – you may like to websearch for some images of the local landscape to put the field recordings on "Jaune" in some context – it's another splendid showcase of Charles' outstanding technique on his Selmer A clarinet and his masterly feel for space, both intra- (the pieces themselves are beautifully structured) and extra-musical, i.e. how the sounds belong to the world around them: after the superbly recorded "Rouge", the central "Jaune" is a 23-minute study in sustained multiphonics set in the local countryside, and the outside world intrudes discreetly in the closing "Orange" too (passing traffic, a distant church bell, a door opening and closing in the background). As Charles writes in a brief poem that serves as liner notes: "Listening to the world is a world as vast as the world itself."–DW

Xavier Charles / Ivar Grydeland / Christian Wallumrød / Ingar Zach
Readers of this site will recognize guitarist Ivar Grydeland and percussionist Ingar Zach as the forces behind the Sofa label and as instigators of an active spontaneous improv scene in Norway. The two have also worked with pianist and fellow Norwegian, Christian Wallumrød, who's gained visibility with his sextet and trio recordings on ECM. For the collective group Dans les arbres, the three are joined by French clarinettist Xavier Charles for a set of contemplative improvisations focusing on the textural intersections of prepared piano, extended percussion, prepared acoustic guitar, banjo, sruti box, and the shaded colorations of clarinet and harmonica. While certainly influenced by electronics, this is an all-acoustic setting, building on the melding of delicately controlled attack, decay, resonance and overtones of their respective instruments. There's a limpid quality to Wallumrød's prepared piano, the steely damped, plucked, hammered and treated strings hanging in the typical wet ECM mix. Grydeland's guitar and banjo playing is a bit more percussive, adding a grainy edge, and the buzzing drone of his sruti box is an effective foil. Zach's contributions are subtle but critical as he lays quiet pulses, bowed cymbals, percussive flutters, and rumbling abraded bass drum. Charles is equally vital to the success of the music, layering in quavering overtones, warm chalumeau, and skittering reed harmonics which play off the bell-like tonalities of Wallumrød and Zach. Charles, Grydeland and Zach in particular are all capable of grittier, more active playing and a bit more of that would have added more dimension here, but the eight improvisations do effectively carve out a pensive, contemplative sound-space of pulsing drones and delicate shard-like reverberations.–MRo

Chip Shop Music
Somehow, the previous release by this quartet of Erik Carlsson, Martin Küchen, David Lacey and Paul Vogel slipped by me, but when this one arrived, I used it as an opportunity to hunt down its predecessor and dive in to them both. Küchen, of course, seems to be popping up with regularity these days and the Irish duo of David Lacey and Paul Vogel is starting to get some visibility as well, but hearing these four together pulled me in from the start. What's immediately striking is how much they've evolved a collective ensemble sound out of a shared micro-detailed, gestural sensibility. Listening to how the breathy reed inflections, scratched and scrubbed textures and spatters of electronics coalesce across these three improvisations, one gets lost in the nuances of rustling fields of activity and interactive events arising out of the mix. Wafts of pulse creep in and then veer off, carried by waves of static, sputter, and rumble and you're never quite sure where the acoustic reeds and percussion leave off and the stippling of electronics picks up. What holds it all together is a sense of motion and form that avoids the quiet->climax->quiet trap through constantly overlapping transitions of sonic density and velocity. There's a particularly kinetic quality to this music that comes through in the attack of chiming percussion, burred reeds, and clicks and chatter of the electronics, bringing to mind an almost painterly image of layers on a canvas. Each piece develops with its own sense of trajectory, color, and balance, while all three hold together as a distinctive collective statement. Grab this one fast and dig up the earlier release if you can find it, too.–MRo

Lol Coxhill / Enzo Rocco
Lol Coxhill / Roger Turner
So: take your pick: do you like your free improv with notes or without? Lol Coxhill does it all, of course, but these two duos – one a first-time encounter with Italian guitarist Enzo Rocco, the other a performance with one of his oldest collaborators, percussionist Roger Turner – split pretty neatly along the divide. On The Gradisca Concert you get Coxhill the blatant melodist, scrawly and serpentine, proceeding at an ostentatious flâneur stroll that nonetheless somehow seems totally in tune with the fleeter pacing of Rocco's lines. The guitarist has a light touch, a hushed inquisitiveness, and a general air of modesty, but often it's as if he is the one who's testing and picking away at the saxophonist's rude, sardonic oratory, and though this is a very brief performance – just one 33-minute track – it's a satisfying encounter between two markedly different personalities.
The longish opening track of Success with Your Dog is a reminder of another quality that emerges from Coxhill's playing when he's not in buzzing-bee mode: an extraordinary tenderness. The little wisps, beer-bottle poofs, slender taps and tings of Coxhill and Turner's dialogue in the first few minutes are really very sweet, but even more affecting is the quiet empathy between the players. Turner is minimalist without sacrificing the warm sound of a great jazz drummer – sample the tattooed brushwork and heartbeat bass drumming he slips into the middle of the track, for instance, or his occasional moments of lazy grooving – and there's a pitter-patter delicacy to his playing that can hit with the gentle shock of a fresh spring rain. The main performance (three tracks, 40 minutes) dates back to 2003, a very clearly and intimately recorded performance in the Espace Vauban Theatre in Brest – previous stomping grounds of Sidney Bechet and Charles Trenet, appropriately enough. The final track is a curiously low-key 2008 performance in St Leonard's Church in Shoreditch, in which Coxhill barely rises above a murmur throughout, often dropping out entirely to let Turner gently stir the air in the church's resonant acoustic. Not bad, but it's the superb, perfectly balanced 2003 duo that will keep you listening to this CD with increasing pleasure and wonderment. Long live the recedents!–ND

Massimo Falascone
WORKS 05-007-2008
Setola di Maiale
Hey, it looks like my wish was granted – in the last issue's review of the monumental Die Schachtel Musica Improvvisa box, I wrote that I'd love to hear more from Wintermute's Massimo Falascone, and, would you know it, two CDs turned up a few days later: one a trio outing with Alberto Braida and Filippo Monico, the other this collection of solo (more or less) works. It was apparently released back in 2008, but I'm making no apologies for reviewing it now, as it's a splendid showcase of Falascone's talents as a saxophonist (on alto and baritone), electronician (dude plays a mean sampler) and composer.
The opening "Ottovolante" is a long distance collaboration with San Francisco's Bob Marsh, the Italian arranging a whole lotta sounds Marsh sent his way, including cuckoo clocks, car horns and fragments of speech and field recordings, into a glorious action painting backdrop to his own sax playing. "Che Senso Ha" features "abstract appearances of baritone saxophone" but is mainly another dense collage of radio broadcasts. I may be mistaken, but thought I caught something about Nicolae Ceauşescu and definitely heard someone saying "it doesn't make sense" – though it does, in its own crazy way. "Orpheus" and "Lavamipasta", in which the saxes do battle with a Dixieland band, a whistling kettle and what sounds like a very large knife cutting up vegetables, were conceived as part of a multimedia installation in Crema's Teatro San Domenico. Sounds like fun, wish I could have been there.
On "Discovery" Falascone teams up with Matteo Pennese on Max/MSP (a bit heavy on the delay I reckon, but never mind), while on the other pieces he handles the electronic transformations himself on iPod and loop sampler. "Disarmonica 1" morphs his alto into shapes Adolphe never dreamed of, and "Disarmonica 2" multitracks his baritone, starting out as a stately drone and ending up sounding like a herd of walruses attacking a penguin colony. But just in case you have any doubts about Falascone's abilities as a saxophonist, the closing all too brief cover of "Ericka", from Roscoe Mitchell's Nonaah, will dispel them wonderfully. Great work all round.–DW

Clare Cooper / Chris Abrahams / Tobias Delius / Werner Dafeldecker / Clayton Thomas / Christof Kurzmann / Tony Buck
Looking at the musicians on this CD, you wouldn't think it was a group dedicated to investigating the music of Alice Coltrane. But that's exactly what harp player Clare Cooper had in mind when she originally convened Hammeriver in 2003 back in her native Australia. She revamped the group when she relocated to Berlin in 2007, with original members Chris Abrahams (piano), Clayton Thomas (bass) and Tony Buck (drums), adding Tobias Delius (reeds), Werner Dafeldecker (bass) and Christof Kurzmann (electronics). Those looking for straight recapitulations of the vamp-based modal pieces that Coltrane originally explored as part of her husband's groups, and expanded on after his death, should look elsewhere: what Cooper has done is to put together structures that are informed by Coltrane's music while hardly beholden to it. Things kick off with "Second Stabbing (Ohnedaruth)", based on a piece from the album A Monastic Trio. Starting out with a resonant harp drone colored by electronic grit, the piece slowly builds with rattling chimes and the dark arco groan of dual basses, gaining density with the entrance of hanging piano chords and Delius's crying tenor. But rather than building toward ecstatic release à la John Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders, the music draws out the tension for the 11-minute duration of the improvisation. That idea is taken and filtered through a reductive strategy in "E", in which the musicians are instructed to play in or around the key of E in any register for the 13-minute duration, creating a tensile energy as the music intensifies with waves of myriad colors around its static harmonic center, pushing on with dogged resolve. The recording also includes three collectively improvised pieces which adopt a more conversational approach as textures or motifs are picked up by various members, refracted, and then tossed back in to the mix. As expected, this crew knows how to maintain transparency of group sound, even with seven participants, but while the freely improvised tracks have their moments, they lack the conceptual vision of Cooper's pieces. Still, there's more than enough here to make this worth checking out.–MRo

Robin Holcomb and Talking Pictures with Wayne Horvitz
The ability to depict the convergence of different states of the soul is probably Robin Holcomb's most distinctive attribute, and it's demonstrated in style on The Point Of It All, one of her finest artistic statements to date. Influences are discernible – Charles Ives' superimpositions of dissimilar harmonic planes and early American folk in particular – but the results are hardly imitable; Holcomb's mélange of theatre and dance music, old hymns and improvisation demands our utmost attention, and that we forego our need of archetypal structures and forms. Talking Pictures (guitarist Ron Samworth, trumpeter Bill Clark, cellist Peggy Lee and drummer Dylan van der Schyff) have been working with the pianist since 2006, and their relationship with her and Wayne Horvitz, who's featured almost exclusively on Hammond M3 here, has reached a point where, to quote Holcomb, they've become "great interpreters and extrapolators" of the material. The program includes pieces by Samworth (the conclusive, wonderful "The Rain"), Lee ("Against The Drift") and an intriguing reharmonization of Neil Young's "After The Gold Rush", but nothing beats Holcomb's peerless patchwork of transversal counterpoint flowing into touching openings and the modest dignity of song, characterised by her trademark vibrato. "Electrical Storm" is perhaps the album's high point, the epitome of the deep, magnificent vibe this classy release transmits for well over an hour.–MR

Paul Hubweber / Philip Zoubek
One of the nice things about Brussels is that the place, unlike Paris, isn't swarming with cops. I was there for a weekend at the end of October and didn't see a single one – and the only police car I heard was the one that went screaming down the street in front the Archiduc halfway through the concert I was playing there. As this was part of the same series of gigs, entitled Round About Five, that improv impresario (if that's the word) Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg organises in the historic city centre club on occasional Sunday afternoons, and as another cop car goes wailing by during this set by Paul Hubweber and Philip Zoubek recorded there in November 2007, I can only assume it's the same vehicle and the driver routinely puts his siren on to get home in time for his Sunday dinner. I also suspect police worldwide are involved in some kind of covert surveillance operation when it comes to members of the Wandelweiser Group, as every Radu Malfatti gig I've seen has also been routinely accompanied by passing sirens from the outside world. They (the coppers) probably think they're spoiling our fun, but they're not: listen to how Hubweber (like Malfatti, a trombonist – ah, that's it, maybe the pigs have something against trombones) picks up the passing sound and plays along with a supple glissando. Without batting an eyelid, as it were.
To be fair to the Brussels police, they're not the only noisemakers here: to get into the Archiduc once the gig's underway, you have to ring a doorbell. You'll hear that shrill ring too during this set, along with the merry chink of glasses from the bar. If you want to know what the place looks like, Marc Van Schouwburg has provided some nice photos to decorate the gatefold (though the shot of Hubweber and pianist Zoubek in action was actually taken in Münich), and brother Jean-Michel a set of liner notes that take nearly as long to read as the album does to listen to.
Not really, of course – and I can guarantee that if you listen to this once, you'll want (need?) to listen to it half a dozen more times in quick succession: there's so much going on and the interplay between the two musicians so breathtaking, you won't believe it. It makes for a great follow up to the duo's earlier Nur Nicht Nur disc, Nobody's Matter But Our Own – Hubweber's just as impressive (JMVS charts his progress, not to mention the history of free improv trombone, in his liners, which are also to be found on the Emanem website, so I'll spare you the details), and Zoubek even more so. He plays the piano with the same subtlety and precision as he prepares it, and Michael Huon's splendid live recording captures every minute detail – from the musicians and also at times from the world around them – to perfection. Great record, great bar – check them both out. And if you need to get to the place in a hurry, ask a policeman.–DW

Jon Irabagon
Hot Cup
These Hot Cup fellows associated with MOPDTK aren't shy about their humor, nor about their reverence for jazz in all its varieties. But it's too easy to get snookered by their cheeky album covers (think of last year's Roy Haynes homage, the hilarious upcoming Köln Concert sendup, or Foxy's nod to Newk's Way Out West). I'm not saying that this group of players – of which the terrific saxophonist Irabagon is one – is analogous to Frank Zappa or anything like that, but it's hard not to love how they skewer certain pieties about the agony of creation even as they create seriously intense music. With that, listen to this 80 minute album fade in as if from nowhere, with total urgency from the very beginning, an endlessly spooling chain of invention and response whose basic linguistic components derive from bop but articulated with blowtorch heat. The whole record flows together and, oddly, it almost comes to feel like an Evan Parker solo in its seamless circularity, even though it doesn't sound like one. But it's also like the hottest moment of a mid-60s Rollins joint, with endless swinging freedom from bassist Peter Brendler and the great Barry Altschul. For all the intensity of this music, there's a lightness to it, a playfulness even when Irabagon is most fiercely churning (as on "Proxy"). But fundamentally the music is so protean and so damned quick that it's hard to assign properties to it. One key to this is Irabagon's shifting use of layer and line, as he rapidly establishes manifold relations to pulse in a single serpentine phrase: doubling or digging in, releasing altogether or funkily laying behind the beat. It's hypnotic, really, whether on the three-part staccato engine of "Boxy," the delirious descending cries of "Tsetse," or the Newk-ish quote-a-thons on "Epoxy" ("Let It Snow," if you're keeping track). Sometimes the lust and synergy actually recall Rivers and Murray's 3D trio (or even those early DKV recordings), all a glorious distillation of the possibilities of the basic trio. And then it just ends with an abrupt snip at the end of "Moxie." I reckon they're still playing though.–JB

Jason Kahn, Günter Müller, Christian Wolfarth
Barely a decade ago, albums by Jason Kahn, Günter Müller, and Christian Wolfarth flowed forth on a regular basis courtesy of Kahn's Cut and Müller's For4Ears labels. But things have been a bit quiet on the Swiss front as of late, so it is nice to see their names pop up on a collaborative release. This is the second one by this trio, the first being the somewhat ironically titled Drumming which came out about five years ago on Creative Sources. All three musicians started out as drummers / percussionists – though already when Drumming was recorded Kahn had already moved to laptop, Müller to iPod and electronics and only Wolfarth was still using acoustic percussion instruments, and only then as resonant surfaces to be bowed and scraped – and still share a sensibility shaped by the exploration of attack, resonance, and pulse from their work with drums and percussion.
Limmat explores similar textural / timbral territory as Drumming, but Kahn's shift to analog synthesizer adds warmth, and there's a move towards longer pieces, three extended improvisations rather than the short studies of the earlier album. The strategies are familiar, with hisses, cymbal shimmers, buzzes, static, chiming tones, and crackling electronics layered together in washing waves. Oscillating patterns are omnipresent, but there's less overt pulse here as the music courses along, driven by the sparkles of detail moving back and forth between foreground and background, like sounds emerging from a field on a hot summer night.–MRo

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Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra
Clean Feed
What's different about this two-disc set that should attract more attention than the previous two largely ignored offerings by this nonet version of Adam Lane's "orchestra"? Maybe the presence of household names (at least in the miniscule number of households that listen to this music) like reedist Avram Fefer and trumpeters Nate Wooley and Taylor Ho Bynum. Maybe the lack of skronky electric guitars that bolstered the overt Motörhead influences that sent purists scurrying to the safety of their Ken Burns sets (although once the leader has lulled them into complacent acceptance with the lush arrangements on the first disc, he breaks out his fuzzbox midway through the title cut on the second). Or maybe it's the haunting sense of familiarity of the excellent original compositions, two of which were featured on a prior quartet date Four Corners. Whatever the reason, it deserves your attention.
The Mingus influence was clear in the first recorded incarnation of the group, No(w) Music on Cadence Jazz Records, but, despite the lack of a piano, never has it been more evident than here, whether in the prominent placement of Lane's bass in the mix or his pugnacious squaring-off with soloists throughout. But the influences are significantly more varied: the opening arrangement of "Imaginary Portrait" recalls the more recent David Murray Octet, and "Desperate Incantations" begins with a South African lilt before Lane prods the duelling trumpets of Wooley and Ho Bynum into a frenzy. "Nine Man Morris" sounds like a large group arrangement of an early Braxton fractured motif until Lane slows things down for a Tim Vaughn trombone feature. Top drawer stuff.–SG

Roscoe Mitchell and The Note Factory
Roscoe Mitchell convened the Note Factory about two decades back as an outgrowth of his Sound Ensemble. From its inception, the core of the group was built around the pairing of basses and drummers along with a pianist (originally Matthew Shipp), eventually adding brass and a second pianist, and often extending the orchestration from there. For a musician whose seminal work was intensely focused on the planar junctions of sound and silence (Sound) or the possessed investigation of the layering of pure tone and repetition (Nonaah), his music with the Note Factory has grown increasingly dense. This live recording from the 2007 Burghausen Jazz Festival in southern Germany starts out with the 30-minute title suite, an expansive collective exploration of the tonal colors of the ensemble. For the first half of the piece, the leader's puffs and harmonics and Corey Wilkes' muted trumpet smears pan across the hushed rumble of Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer's piano ostinati, the groaning arco of Jaribu Shahid and Harrison Bankhead's basses, and the sizzle and splash of Tani Tabbal and Vincent Davis's drums. The densities slowly churn as Mitchell and Wilkes' long tones begin to peek out of the mix, gradually emerging into a spare central section that builds as the two pianos start to spill over each other. It is in the final third of the piece where things explode as Mitchell's distinctive soprano surges in cyclical whorls over the roiling intensity of the ensemble followed by a buffeting section for trumpet. The three other tracks are structured around contrapuntal shards which the ensemble reassembles in constantly shifting forms, working particularly well on "Trio Four For Eight" which evolves through mutable trio combinations, wrapping up with a gripping drum duo as well as "Ex Flover Five", with a fiery solo section by the leader. While not up to the stunning Composition / Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 from a few years back, it's still a fine document of Mitchell's continuing evolution.–MRo

If A Tribe Called Quest hadn't snagged the title Low End Theory for their second outing, it would have been just fine for this outing from Antifrost head honcho Ilios (oscillators), Coti K (bass) and Nikos Veliotis (cello), whose five tracks need to be heard at considerable volume over a good set of speakers to yield their spectral secrets. It's serious, mysterious stuff, as hard to translate at times as the track titles which appear to be in Polish, Swedish, German and another language I can't identify – free earplugs for anyone who tells me where "Luminus Vuori" comes from. This last piece is the most curious of all, probably because it's the most conventional, with Coti's bass sounding like some ancient folk fiddle played at 16rpm, with Veliotis's torpid strumming in the background. After all, gloomy drone is par for the course these days, while hummable, metrically regular melody is so rare it sounds positively extraterrestrial. That said, the former prevails here, and as all three musicians have been playing the low, slow game for over a decade now you can be sure they know what they're doing in the nether regions. Still, it takes a bit of courage and concentration to follow them down there.–DW

Al Maslakh
You'll find "bricolage" has some pretty heavy duty philosophical associations if you scout around the www a bit (assuming you have a taste for Derrida's superabundant signifiers and Guattari's machinic phylums), but as far as I'm concerned it's the French translation for DIY. And I'm bloody lousy at it, unlike the three expert bricoleurs here, Alessandra Rombolà (flutes, tiles and preparations), Rhodri Davies (electric harp and electronics) and Ingar Zach (percussion, sruti box and drone commander, that latter being "two manually-tuned oscillators and two LFOs, plus an unusually colorful and nasty filter"). Problems with your water pipes? Rombolà explores the innards of her flutes better than any plumbers snake or hand auger could do. And if she has to drill a hole in your bathroom wall she'll retile the place beautifully afterwards. Need to rewire your house? Rhodri's the man – Gino Robair (another odd job man par excellence) once described his kit as "voltage made audible", and that'd be a fine description of Davies's subtle work here – and if you need anything doing in the way of joinery, Zach's probably got the tool for the job to hand, if the sheer range of sounds he conjures forth from his instruments is anything to go by. Sounds like he could give you a decent haircut and carve your Sunday roast to perfection too. You might be tempted to file this one away under "EAI", but, slow tempo and dynamic restraint aside, it's remarkably active stuff on the surface, and our three protagonists aren't afraid of making a glorious mess when they get busy. Happily, engineer Fadi Tabbal at Beirut's Tunefork Studios and mixmaster Giuseppe Ielasi are around to make sure the place is spick and span when the job's done.–DW

Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton + Peter Evans
Clean Feed
When an improviser accepts an invitation to play with a combo of such long standing and immediate distinctiveness, is it better to try and fit in to a perceived aesthetic or to lob bombs in the hopes of destabilizing and redirecting things? In posing this question, I'm not suggesting that the PGL sound is in any way ossified, any more than the scads of other working groups that have so energized free improvisation over the decades. Just listen to the distance between, say, Atlanta and Zafiro as proof. Rather, there's simply nothing else like the way they inhabit certain kinds of territories, and the peculiarity of their exchanges. On this fantastic festival date, Evans' presence makes the music both more flinty and more burnished than before, in ways that recall George Lewis' guest spot on Hook Drift & Shuffle. The trumpeter spits out fire, but also sails above the music and generates some wonderful counterpoint; he inserts himself into the dense foliage of the music but is also a quirky odd man out with his occasionally puckish, neo-freebop lines. And with the trio in such fine form, it's a pleasure of a record. The grain of the music is subtle but it's stitched together by that frisson we love in this band, its circulation of overtones, hints of melancholy, sudden dropoffs, and quicksilver pace. And while I want to keep raving about Evans, there are marvelous features for Guy (a wonderfully metallic solo to open the third "Scene") and Parker (a frenzied skirl to open the fourth) throughout. Exploratory and intense as ever, this performance has an audible joy and humor to it that confirms the exuberance of the players.–JB

Stefano Pastor / Kash Killion
Stefano Pastor / George Haslam / Claudio Lugo / Giorgio Dini
Slam / Silta
Stefano Pastor, who hails from Genoa, is an excellent violinist with an atypical gravelly tone (he fits his instrument with electric guitar strings) sweetened by a melodic sensibility that keeps him far from both Mediterranean stereotypes and excessive complexity. He also doubles on flugelhorn and percussion on Bows, a duo with Kash Killion, a cellist from California of Indian origin whose sarangi skills are in evidence in "Shanti", an irreproachable contemporary raga. The meeting occurs at different latitudes and heights, mixing the necessities of self expression, classic jazz (two Monk evergreens, "Epistrophy" and "Ruby My Dear", are tackled with interesting if not unforgettable consequences) and deliverance from labels intelligently framed in decency. It's not an easy listen, but the effort is often rewarded: the initial unfriendliness of certain discordant intersections is gradually replaced by the admiration for the obstinate will of finding a point of fusion between "spiritual" and "coherent". It doesn't happen all the time, yet various moments of genuine absorption make it worthwhile.
According to Erika Dagnino's professorial liners, the music on Freedom partakes in the idioms of free jazz but its mesh of unruly sensuality and shrewdness is closer in feel to chapters previously penned by ROVA. However, this is not a saxophone quartet, though there are times when it's hard to distinguish the grain of the bowed instruments (Pastor's violin and Dini's double bass) from the actual reeds (Haslam's baritone and tarogato and Lugo's soprano). In "Emancipation" a bass vamp underlying all kinds of contrapuntal intensification acts as a skeleton for the piece's propulsive character, while in "Rebellion" the sheer magnificence of four-way evolution is made evident by the clever restraint with which the players respond to the scintilla of inspiration. It's unbelievable how they sound well-rehearsed and able to communally understand where those improvisational rivulets need to flow faster to form a cascade, or when to simply close the eyes and listen to the heartbeat of shared perception.–MR

Jason Robinson / Anthony Davis
Clean Feed
Jason Robinson
Californian reedist and composer Jason Robinson has been documenting consistently engaging new music on the Accretions label for some time now (most recently on his vivid solo disc Cerberus Reigning, where he supplements his customary axe with electronics). On his duo summit with Anthony Davis, he gets to showcase some of his liveliest and most lyrical playing. From the first notes of the opening "Shimmer" he sounds enthused by Davis's boisterous, dancing rhythms and harmonic subtleties (it could almost be Muhal imitating Bill Evans), responding with ebullient, faintly quavering soprano lines. But the disc as a whole traverses many different territories. Notes billow and pop on the spacious, at times crystalline "Someday I'll Know." The exchanges are spiky, fractious, and pinwheeling on "Vicissitudes (for Mel)," after which they enter a kind of spiral world on "Translucence," but one whose very abstraction is somehow defined by idiomatic playing: quasi-stride piano and lovely alto flute that wend their way at last to a haunting descending line. The punishing reading of "Of Blues and Dreams" and the muscular swing of "Andrew" are great palate cleansers for the superb, sumptuous course of "Cerulean Seas and Viridian Skies." Its urgent alto opening ushers in far more heart-on-sleeve romance than I'd expected, a veritable rhapsody.
The Cuneiform release is altogether different, a muscular freebop setting where Robinson operates from a basic quartet (with guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer George Schuller) which is occasionally expanded (Marty Ehrlich steps in for a few tracks, as does Rudresh Mahanthappa). Robinson's smart enough to invite not just great saxophonists but fellows who are used to playing in punchy sax tandems – think Ehrlich and Stan Strickland, Mahanthappa and Steve Lehmann – and while compositions here are closer to the jittery rhythmic world of the latter pair, he imbues them with his own copper-gold saxophone color, a bruised lyricism at the anxious heart of the gathering intensity. Sound positively swirls around you from the git-go on "Return to Pacasmayo," and Ellman's grit and space freakery are welcome additions too. Like almost all the pieces on this lengthy disc, it's supercharged by polytonality and counterpoint until it becomes almost ecstatic, with horns crying, intense rhythms everywhere, and sheer noise pulling at the edges. One thing Robinson's quite good at is using extended techniques to create compositional tension and drama, rather than arbitrarily or in the context of a conventional "hot" solo (hear this all over the album but especially on the spacious closing tune). On the title track it's particularly vivid, as the three horns twitter like birds against mid-tempo slink. The sweet and sour "The Elders" sounds like a Haden LMO tune with Blood Ulmer, and there's more shimmering heat on the brief "Huaca de la Luna" and the drifting textures of "Tides of Consciousness Fading." But the real deal is heard on lusty, racing tunes like "Cerberus Rising," "Persephone's Scream" – with crazed double helix lines against hard funk, and a terrific feature for Gress – and the chiming "Twelfth Labor." Big time record.–JB

John Russell
The OED never lies: "hist", it says, is "a natural exclamation... enjoining silence (which seems to be suggested by the abrupt stoppage of the sibilant by the mute)", as well as a verb: "to summon in silence or without noise." The extraordinary hushed opening of "Alleycumfree", the longest track on acoustic guitarist John Russell's new solo disc Hyste, demonstrates that he's simply the most lyrical, the most precise below-the-bridge, above-the-fretboard player around. And when he gets going into busier territory, that hushed quality is never lost – the sense of pushing note-by-note forward into silence. Every few seconds some perfectly turned Webernian miniature goes by – the intervallic play and dialogue between klang, farben and melodie are that good – but the soulful way he seizes and bends notes can get you thinking of a great old-time blues guitarist instead. And surprises... yes, lots of surprises: funny ones (the down-the-rabbit-hole moment on the same track, at 7'30") and grab-you-by-the-scruff-of-the-neck ones (the ecstatic full-on barrage of strumming at 20'30", with little tendrils of melody peeping forth). So: hist! Shut up, sit down and listen, improv freaks.–ND

Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell
It's always an interesting proposition when a recording documenting a concert you attended years ago gets released. Was the music as great as you remember, or has time colored the memories of the event? This recording captures the first duo meeting of Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell at an intimate concert held at Brandeis University back in 1986. Their paths had crossed back in the late 60s when Smith was living in Paris and Blackwell was touring with Ornette Coleman, and they ended up both settling in Connecticut in the 70s when Smith was living in New Haven and Blackwell was teaching at Wesleyan University. But amazingly, they had never played as a duo before this concert. Of course, it was a natural match: both are masters of the kind of free melodicism which is reinforced during the series of 10 songlike improvisations on Smith's themes. The set opens with the clarion reggae-inflected "Uprising", with Blackwell's tuned rhythmic patterns locking in on his partner's warm lyricism, and the two take off from there, whether on open blues-shaded songs like "Seeds of a Forgotten Flower" and "Don't You Remember", with Smith's keening vocals and percolating mbira complemented by Blackwell's gongs, or the funky title track with the drummer's lithe multi-hued swing creating an infectious flow for Smith's muted smears and warm growls. The set wraps up with the loping "Buffalo People: A Blues Ritual Dance" with Smith's crying trumpet sailing along over Blackwell's elastic pulse and featuring a thundering drum solo showcasing what a musical drummer Blackwell was, leading in to the crackling "Albert Ayler In a Spiritual Light" which charges along with a spirited urgency. The two were to play together again only a few times before Blackwell's untimely death in 1992 and at least so far, no recordings have surfaced. No doubt about it, this recording holds up to my memories of that October night.–MRo

Organized Music From Thessaloniki
Subtitled "4 Studies on Human Perception", Temporary Perspectives is the work of OMT label manager Kostis Kilymis using "field recordings, sine waves, computer data, lloopp, tremolo pedal, condenser microphone, contact microphone and mixing board" – in short, EAI standard kit these days. It's carefully worked out stuff (this review probably belongs in the Contemporary section then, but what the hell), its subtle games with inside and outside, natural and artificial, movement and stasis reminding me of Valerio Tricoli's splendid 2004 Bowindo outing Did I Did They? (surprise surprise, Tricoli's done the mastering on Temporary Perspectives, and very good it is too). The questions this work raises aren't new – where do we either as listeners and musicians draw the line between music and the sounds of the world around us? how should we listen? with or without headphones? at what volume level? – but the answers Kilymis provides to them are elegantly constructed, thought provoking and refreshingly musical. For example: natural or artificial, which category would you put field recording in? Of course, the sounds are "natural", "existing in or formed by nature", occurring in the real world and not directly produced by the composer – but the what, how and why of the recording process is very much a question of human skill. On the strength of Temporary Perspectives I'd say Kostis has plenty of it. As far as headphone listening goes, I'm not as categorically opposed to it as other writers who've reviewed the disc seem to be. Sure, you don't get the thrill of doubt – "was that on the record or my fridge?" – that makes albums like this (and other similar recent highly acclaimed outings from the likes of Krebs, Unami, Lescalleet, Lambkin et al.) such intriguing experiences, nor the fun of "making the piece yourself" by wandering around your listening space and testing out the hidden spectra of "Much Remains To Be Broken" (hommage à Stéphane Rives ?), but a pair of cans does enable you to appreciate the enormous care and attention Kilymis has lavished on his sounds. Well worth checking out.–DW

Garry Todd / Nigel Coombes / Steve Beresford / John Russell / Dave Solomon
I doubt whether youngsters reading this will know who David Dimbleby and Richard Attenborough are, but the Pythonesque humour of Steve Beresford's introduction to "European improvised music sho' 'nuff turns me on" is as timeless and typically British as the name these five chaps chose for their debut album on Incus in 1975. Incus bossmen Evan Parker and Derek Bailey decided to document the work of a "second generation" of London-based free improvisers (keen perhaps to distance themselves from the "elders", hence the description of Russell as "someone who will remain nameless who isn't Derek Bailey"). In addition to Beresford on piano and toys, the group consisted of Dave Solomon on percussion, Nigel Coombes on violin and "low grade electronics", guitarist John Russell and tenor saxophonist Garry Todd, but all five never actually play together on the record. Four tracks feature a quartet without Todd, four more another foursome sans Coombes, and there were two percussion solos and a Todd / Russell duet. For this long-awaited reissue, Martin Davidson, who can never resist filling his CDs up to the limit, has added a previously unreleased Russell / Solomon duet recorded – on cassette – in late 1973 (the title "Low-fi" says it all).
"Those ol-dies but goo-dies!" sang Beresford lustily on his later mythic solo outing The Bath of Surprise. Quite – there's a lot of gnarly stuff being put out there today, especially in the fields of Noise and neo-psychedelic New Weird post whatnot, but I doubt you'll find anything as out to lunch as Teatime. Those familiar with John Russell's exquisite recent acoustic work (and mindful of David Keenan's rather daft description of it in a recent Wire as somehow lacking in spunk) will thrill at his wild electric guitar here. Donald Miller watch out. And get an earful of Todd's dirty spit, Coombes's scratchy fiddle, Beresford's inspired Associated Board Grade III plonking and Solomon's DIY drum kit (which included a motorbike saddle, an alarm bell and a saucepan, all of which got inadvertently chucked in the bin when he moved house a few years later). The brutal editing – inspired, according to Russell, by Misha Mengelberg's cut-splice-and-be-damned montage of ICP 005 – is perfectly in keeping with the divine artlessness of the endeavour. One of the archive photos Beresford has dug up to adorn the CD gatefold shows the musicians standing around idly in front of Bow Street Magistrates Court. One assumes the folks who work there didn't know they were hanging about outside, or they'd have been dragged in, charged with Breach of the Peace or something more serious and sent down for a long stretch in Wormwood Scrubs.–DW

Various Artists
Clean Feed
I get a kick out of how deceptive this disc's title is. The invocation of the qualifier "meta" suggests that this compilation of brief solo pieces might be fairly self-reflective, self-questioning, even self-regarding. And indeed, many of the post-Bailey developments in guitar (thinking here of all the Rowe-inspired players) have focused on problematizing not just the instrumental associations the guitar has but on problematizing instrumentalism full stop. How interesting then that the vast majority of these pieces – many of which are multi-tracked, electronically supplemented, or occasionally "interrupted" by a tape or similar production move – are sentimental and quite lyrical. Gloriously so, I might add. Not all of the sixteen tracks are equally successful, but the level of accomplishment is so high (and the way it works as an album so surprising, given how often such compilations fall flat) that it's easy to overlook the minor missteps and focus on the fab.
Mary Halvorson's "In Two Parts Missing" is one of the most harmonically dense pieces here, with fragments of bop phraseology strung together but regularly upended by spring-loaded moments where it sounds as if something has snapped internally, leading to a massive electronic quaver, a "sproing!" that's quite excellent. Jeff Parker's fully formed "Act As If Nothing Ever Happened" is gorgeously, gauzily melancholy. Henry Kaiser's "Blame it on the Tonkori" is built around chiming 12-string, with lovely ebowed feedback that sounds like a whistle (which I couldn't help hearing as a nod to Robbie Basho). Only two players are relatively new to me: Jean-Francois Pauvros' bowing isn't quite my thing, but I love Janet Feder's raw strumming. Raoul Bjorkenheim's rhythmic language is distinctive even in solo context ("I Told You So"), and he comfortably occupies the disc's middle section along with a series of stunners from Noël Akchoté (I'm a sucker for his sweetly lyrical "Joanna"), Nels Cline (his distinctive lyrical language is so emphatic on "Study for a Hairpin and Hatbox"), Brandon Ross, and a heart-stopping slide showcase from Mike Cooper. After that run, the next few pieces don't quite win me over as much: Michael Gregory actually plays trio blues, Scott Fields and Kazuhisa Uchihashi fuss and scrabble a bit, and Mick Barr does his solo Orthrelm thing. But the disc closes strongly, with a visit to Gunnar Geisse's spectral drone world on "The Day Rauschenberg Met De Kooning" and a goodnight kiss of fractal madness from E#. Quibble if you will about who's not here (Joe Morris, anyone?) but this is top shelf stuff.–JB

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Cornelius Cardew
WORKS 1960 – 70
I'm a huge fan of Rhodri Davies's prepared and eBowed harp, and it's been a damn good year for Rhodri releases, but it's lovely to hear him playing the instrument "normally" again on this superb collection of Cardew chamber pieces on the new +3dB imprint (it's been a good year for them too). He's in good company, with the doyen of Cardew interpreters (and biographer of the composer), John Tilbury, on piano, and bassist Michael Francis Duch, who also provides liner notes, in six pieces: Autumn 60, 4th System, Material, Solo with Accompaniment, an excerpt from Treatise (somewhere between pages 141 - 157, though the liners don't tell you that) and Unintended Piano Music, this latter not a Tilbury solo – there's already one of those out on disc – but a beautiful arrangement for the trio.
There's been a welcome flurry of interest in Cardew in recent years, thanks in no small part to the effort of his friends and former playing partners Tilbury and Keith Rowe, and many musicians have tackled his indeterminate scores, with varying degrees of success (but that's just my opinion – and opinions differ wildly as to what constitutes a "good" or "accurate" reading of any graphic score, especially Treatise). One thing's for certain, though: you don't just pick up a copy and "have a bash" – Cardew's notation is subtle and complex, and numerous decisions have to be taken well in advance of performance, or even rehearsal, as to what is to be played, and how. Treatise even comes with two staves provided at the bottom of each of its 193 pages, and Cardew of course made his own carefully notated realisations of several of its pages – the orchestral Bun No. 2 is based (with two brief exceptions) on pages 45 – 51 of the graphic score (a close study of the piece could provide performers of Treatise with much valuable insight).
What is abundantly clear throughout this excellent recording is how much care and attention the musicians have taken in preparation. Now that Cardew has, amusingly, been adopted as patron saint of both EAI and (predominantly anti-EAI) conceptualist agent provocateurs like Mattin, many recent readings of his music have, by dint of their instrumentation, sidestepped traditional notions of pitch – melody and harmony. It comes as a wonderful surprise to hear Tilbury, Davies and Duch concentrating on just that: to take just one example, check out how they toy with various transpositions of two nearly identical three-note cells (a rising fifth or minor sixth followed by a descending semitone) in Material (and elsewhere – Tilbury returns to the idea briefly in Solo with Accompaniment). On second thoughts, maybe it's not such a surprise as all that: Tilbury has, after all, always been a supremely melodic player. But in highlighting these parameters the musicians have made a crucial connection for the listener between Cardew's graphic scores and the pitch-sensitive fully notated world they emerged from – and into which he later retreated, albeit in a radically dumbed down form, in the late folk-song inspired pieces.
At the time of his death, Cornelius Cardew was apparently contemplating a return to improvisation with AMM. One can only speculate on how he might have played: the dreadfully bland late piano works would, I imagine, have been rather out of place – I like to think that, harmonically at least, the music might have sounded something like this. But I bet it wouldn't have been this good. Curse The Wire magazine for asking its writers to submit their "best of" lists in early November – this one would probably have nudged Joe Colley into second place. In a word, indispensable.–DW

Alvin Curran
New World
"To be remembered: multi-track studios were a luxury back then and most of my work was prepared on multiple reels of quarter-inch tape which (without noise reduction) I mixed down with hit-or-miss synchronies – usually from three Revox tape recorders to one two-track master machine. The hoodwink ease of digital recording and editing was dreamworlds away," writes Alvin Curran in the (typically lavish and informative) booklet accompanying this triple CD reissue of his four major early solo works, Canti e Vedute del Giardino Magnetico ("Songs and Views From the Magnetic Garden"), Fiori Chiari Fiori Oscuri ("Light Flowers Dark Flowers"), The Works and Canti Illuminati, dating respectively from 1973, 1974, 1976 and 1977. 2010's been a pretty good year for Curran, with Under The Fig Tree (1972) and The Magic Carpet (1970) released for the first time on LP by Die Schachtel, who also published the splendid 300-page book Alvin Curran Live in Roma.
"The Seventies. You had to be there," begins Joan La Barbara's essay "Songs of Love and Remembrance". Sure, the warm, dusty analogue sound of a noodling analogue synth is an instantly recognisable clue as to when a piece like Canti e Vedute was created, and its jangling wind chimes and twanging thumb pianos, combined with bucolic field recordings of birds, bees and babbling brooks seem remote in space and time, but you don't need me to tell you that field recordings are the rage nowadays, and noodling analogue synths are back in fashion again (but they don't sound the same in today's bright squeaky-clean soundfiles). Add to that the eternally hip throat singing and drone, and you can see why Curran's early work is so relevant.
Back then he recorded whatever took his fancy, from Fred Rzewski's five-year-old kid talking about spaceships and giant spiders to streets full of cars and fields full of insects, and combined it with his luscious synthesizer, schmaltzy cocktail bar piano and archive recordings (his father singing "A Yiddische Mama" at his wedding anniversary on Canti Illuminati is delicious) to produce a collage that is often as beautiful and moving as it is technically primitive. By today's standards, that is: those "hit-or-miss synchronies" are central to this music's enduring charm and freshness. Nowadays a couple of mouse clicks and software snips and everything can be lined up within seconds with deadly precision, but something special gets thrown out with the trash – the sense of timing Curran mastered as a jazz pianist is the magic ingredient. It's a comedian's timing: slip that punchline in a second too early or a second too late and the joke falls flat on its ass. You can hear it throughout his oeuvre, from the foghorn blasts of Maritime Rites through to the laptop wizardry of recent outings like Our Ur (with Domenico Sciajno), but it was here, in the magnetic garden that he learnt the tricks of his trade.–DW

David First
Privacy Issues is to drone connoisseurs what a huge block of succulent cheese is to a horde of mice, a triple whammy ultimate testament to David First's addiction to that resource (drones, not cheese). Amidst the dozens of artistic settings that he's taken part in, from pop to chamber music, during a career that began as a young guitarist in a Cecil Taylor performance, First has always maintained a keen compositional interest in aural slowmotion. Several of these tracks are extremely valuable from a purely psychophysical point of view: neither corporeal nor overly ethereal, their use of gradual glissando a means of contrast and suspension. This is particularly evident in Pipeline Witness Apologies To Dennis, in which Christopher McIntyre and Peter Zummo's trombones add a touch of unpredictability and fragments of melodic content to the sloping moans generated by First's eBow guitar and "Blue" Gene Tyranny's tuned keyboards. Another favorite is A Bet On Transcendence Favors The House for – again – eBow guitar, thick masses of harmonics transcending the essence of the originating instrument to enhance our rational permanence. Not all the pieces are destined to remain carved in the rock of perpetual remembrance, though – some appear more akin to transitory ideas or experiments whose results are only partially gratifying, particularly The Softening Door and Aw!, whose somewhat unemotional nature derives from MIDI networks that take a little magic away. But these are minor quibbles from an anal-retentive perfectionist: the operation was ambitious, and it came out just fine – there is at least an hour and a half of marvelously droning stuff herein. Go get a copy.–MR

The same blind faith that illuminates any encounter with Phill Niblock and Eliane Radigue's mind-expanding upper partials guided my hand as I reached for Zeitkratzer's rendition of Alvin Lucier's music. It hardly matters that the five pieces tackled by Reinhold Friedl's ensemble aren't exactly the most legendary in the composer's oeuvre: the expert acuity of the musicians – with honourable mentions to Burkhard Schlothauer (violin, viola) and Anton Lukoszevieze (cello) for defining the exquisite parabolic charm of Fideliotrio and Violynn – does the business, leaving listeners free to enjoy the shifting balance of auditory perception. The same applies to the shivering harmonics of the fantastic Music For Piano With Magnetic Strings, performed by Friedl with eBows strategically placed inside his instrument. The usually overlooked "concrete" aspects of Lucier's idea are dealt with in Silver Streetcar For The Orchestra (Maurice De Martin striking the triangle) and the self-explanatory Opera With Objects, whose percussive temperament depends on the resonant properties of the performance space. This latter is the only slightly ho-hum track in an otherwise excellent disc occasionally marred by audience coughing.–MR

Zeitkratzer / Whitehouse
The first question that comes to mind is, why bother? I suppose it was an interesting musical challenge for Zeitkratzer MD Reinhold Friedl to rework William Bennett's power electronics using purely acoustic instruments, albeit closely amplified, but the six originals the Berlin-based ensemble cover on this shockingly brief (just 27 minutes) album pack a hell of sight more punch on the original albums they appear on, Cruise (2001), Bird Seed (2003), Asceticists (2006) and Racket (2007). No "Pissfun", "Rapeday" and "Tit Pulp" here, folks. In fact, no vocals at all. Which prompts the second question, or rather an extension of the first, why bother covering Whitehouse if you're not going to feature the "lyrics" (never has that word been more inappropriate)? No stomach for Bennett "bludgeoning the audience into submission" screaming his and Peter Sotos's jolly tales of serial killers and pedophiles? I'm no great fan either, but it might have been cool to have someone else declaiming the texts instead (I vote for Cate Blanchett's Galadriel myself).
Even today picking up a Whitehouse album is a kind of guilty pleasure, like buying (or stealing) one of the porno magazines of the same name that used to lurk on newsagents' top shelves about the time Bennett released his first album in 1980 (both the group and the nudie mag chose the name they did as a way of giving the finger to anti-porn campaigner Mary Whitehouse). Even so, you don't come across people who say "I really love Buchenwald!" very often. You can certainly admire Bennett's seemingly fearless crusade into the darker regions of the human psyche, but listening to his albums at the right volume is invariably a deeply disturbing experience. At least it costs less than going to see a shrink, though.
But deprived of his, umm, insights into human nature, we're left with the music, and despite Friedl's claims in the liner notes that there's more there than meets the ear (complete with the apparently obligatory mention of how smart Bennett is, and how he used to be an international chess player and all that), it's pretty thin. The playing of the avant garde all star band is, as usual, mighty impressive, but why they went to all the trouble is a mystery to me. And the third question is, what the fuck is that racing car doing on the album cover?–DW

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Failing Lights
While the idea of silence and of sounds living their own life, Cagean-style, might have been the loudest sermon in the last sixty or so years in this broad church we call experimental music, transformation – or more precisely, mutation, the process of one sound becoming another – has made for some of its most captivating music. And it's transformation, not silence, that Mike Connelly is interested in with Failing Lights. A solo project now in its fifth or so year of existence, this is the first release to appear above ground and out of the ultra-limited cassette/CD-R ghetto for the first time.
Connelly takes simple, minimal base materials – mostly guitar, microphone and vocals, and not any special ones at that – and alchemises them into rich, tactile compositions. On "Serve in Silence" his guitar, drenched in echo and detuned, becomes the most exotic stringed instrument you've never heard. "Moon on the First Hunt" opens with a procession of bells that, as the piece progresses, lose their metallic, percussive nature and dissipate into synthetic, electronic overtones. Perhaps most interesting is how Connelly expands some simple heavy breathing on "The Comfort Zone" into what sounds like a field recording of gradually building wind gusts recorded in close-up detail.
It's a similar strategy to the how his groups, Wolf Eyes and Hair Police, approach their own work, masking guitars, saxophone, vocals and more with tape delay and racks of cheap distortion pedals. But where those groups tend to tweak with (and tweak out on) established forms (Noise and rock, respectively), in Failing Lights Connelly is much more open, more ready to give his sounds a little breathing space and go where they lead him. The five pieces here bleed into each other seamlessly, and climax in a blaring organ chord, held and left to pulse for a roaring ten minutes of bliss. This is fearless, inventive music, crisply recorded, free-form but brilliantly structured.–MW

If, Bwana
Al Margolis's work under the moniker of If, Bwana has always been a great example of the kind of music that falls through the cracks between those ever so arbitrary and increasingly irrelevant genres – though he's worked frequently with improvisers, you won't find it in the Improv section of your local record shop, and despite its considerable compositional intricacy you're not likely to come across a Bwana album in the Contemporary Classical bin either. By rights, since Margolis makes extensive use of electronics both to produce and organise his sound material, you should be able to find his discs filed away under "musique concrète" – the human voice features prominently in Michel Chion's work too, and there's never been any doubt about where to find his stuff – but Margolis's early background in post-Industrial cassette culture and tough, gritty early work ("welcome to difficult listening hour") has somehow led to his exclusion from the ranks of, cough, serious composers. If he'd started Bwana five or six years before he did, I'm sure he'd have made it to Steven Stapleton's Nurse list and would have been assured alt.music stardom ever since. Maybe that's why this review has ended up in the "Electronica" section, my kind of fourre-tout for odds and ends.
But, apart from the opening minute of gloomy synthesizer there's nothing "electronica" about the opening "Ringing the Bell", sourced from samples of the work of Amsterdam-based microtonalists Trio Scordatura (Elisabeth Smalt on viola, Alfrun Schmid on voice and PT correspondent Bob Gilmore on keyboards). Nor is the second track, "DTTO Lisa", collaging spoken and sung fragments featuring the voice(s) of Lisa Barnard Kelley, very likely to correspond to what you might consider "electronic music". The two central pieces, "Death to the 8 Notes" and "Cicada #1 : EHG Version" also feature Kelley, along with Monique Buzzarté (trombone), Jacqueline Martelle (flute), Tom Hamilton (modular synth), and Margolis himself on computer. The electronics are more in evidence, as you'd expect, but it's the multitracked acoustic instruments – the distant yelps and growls of Buzzarté's trombone, Martelle's twittering flute – that grab the attention, shooting through the dark foliage of strange queasy drones like shafts of late afternoon sunlight. The texture thins out somewhat in the closing "Six Minus 6", which features just trombone and voice, both extensively multitracked and pitchshifted once more (a Margolis speciality) – but the mood doesn't lighten. This is strange, haunting, serious music, hardly the kind of stuff you're going to rave about in the pub with your pals ("fuckin' wicked that new Bwana CD, innit mate?") but something best appreciated alone, in a quiet corner of your life.–DW

Philip Jeck
"Perhaps this will be the one that does it", I thought after the opening moments of An Ark For The Listener, trying to fight back the eternal sense of doubt felt when tackling Philip Jeck's music. Even recognizing the value of some of his earlier projects, many characterized by deeply evocative landscapes interspersed with episodes of utter humdrum, my elevation of Jeck to the top rank of turntable-elicited pathos is postponed pending further evidence. Realized with a typical array of turntables, keyboards and effects (plus bass guitar), Ark is "a meditation on verse 33 of The Wreck Of The Deutschland", a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins dedicated to five exiled Franciscan nuns who drowned in 1875. A distinctive dramatic poignancy emerges in the two chapters of "The Pilot", "The All Of Water" and the final "Chime, Chime (Re-rung)", a sense of regretful recollection recalling William Basinski or Janek Schaefer, but alas, there are stretches where nothing relevant happens, insipidness prevailing upon emotional substance at certain junctures ("Dark Rehearsal" comes to mind). Even so, Jeck's fascinating selection of misshapen images and smoggy sunsets places the album at a well-above-average level. Still waiting for a genuine masterwork, though.–MR

Zbigniew Karkowski / Kelly Churko
No need to tell you who Karkowski is – anyone who's spent time listening to computerized harshness will be familiar with his no-nonsense, chip-on-a-shoulder attitude and a handful of good to almost great recordings – but I had to google to find out that Churko is a (younger) Canadian based in Japan who's worked with artists as diverse as Ilios, Tim Olive, Harris Eisenstadt and Paal Nilssen Love. Infallibilism, recorded live in Japan from May 2008 through February 2009, is exactly what you would expect: 32-plus minutes of white (grey, black and pink..) noise and crazed fragments of granular ball-gripping distortion – the lone exception being the subterranean tremors of "The Pleasure Of Interval" – with the customary threat for the ears if you try to raise the volume a bit more than necessary. Not an overly shocking record, but definitely up to standard in a genre that needs serious homework to be considered worthy of respect. Test passed.–MR

Richard Pinhas
French guitarist / electronician Richard Pinhas has been prolific, but this overstuffed double-disc release is a rich course even by his standards. Recorded during an apparently difficult personal period, the six lengthy tracks are both very aggressive and tinged with audible melancholy. The opener fades in as if the music had been cranking for a very long time, and its steady grooves and warm, skronky, Sharrock-influenced guitar compel. The slightly airy, rainy sound in the middle is one of the piece's more attractive features, but whatever momentum the performance achieved was to my ears compromised by a fairly intrusive synth bass from Didier Batard. The open jamming of much of Pinhas' music is an acquired taste, and he indulges in its extremes here, perhaps aided and abetted by some of his many guests on this release. When left to its own devices, as on "Bi-Polarity (Gold)," Pinhas' music sounds sort of like a lesser Praxis, with its big flatulent bass and big swirls of "soft noise" (if that makes sense). The fuzzy "Paranoia (Iridium)" is much better – if you can ignore the big cosmic lasers – and for much of its length sounds like one of the more dense moments you'd hear on, say, a Fenn O'Berg disc (Jerome Schmidt's electronics contribute extra density throughout). Things are more dreamy and medicated on the half-hour "Depression (Loukoum)," with a chiming loop and Frippertronics combining nicely. "Hysteria (Palladium)" opens with squeaking metal and Doppler effects that catalyze a long cock-crowing guitar feedback howl. Not surprisingly, this track is the first of several where Merzbow and Wolf Eyes join Pinhas, and these are the greatest strengths on this release. "Schizophrenia (Silver)" opens in a more superficially Fenneszian vein, but there's a healthy dose of Voice Crack metal squeak providing some needed grit and contrast. And to close it out, the lambent cool of the comparably brief "Legend" recalls the last track on Drumm's Sheer Hellish Miasma, but without the preceding storm.–JB

Rebecca Joy Sharp / Simon Whetham
Mention Liverpool and you're more likely to think of "Ferry Across The Mersey" or Jamie Bulger or the Anfield kop or the Toxteth Riots or Echo and the Bunnymen or Cilla Black or Derek Hatton or Boys from the Blackstuff or, umm, what were those four guys called in the 60s? than a pastoral scene of a harp (of all instruments) playing along with the dawn chorus, but that's exactly what The Clearing is. Recorded in the city's Sefton Park on May 4th last year (originally the plan was to do it the day before, which was International Dawn Chorus Day, but inclement weather postponed the adventure – one can only conclude God is a scouser with Ken Dodd's sense of humour.. "how tickled I am"), it's a delightful and intimate affair, with Whetham's microphones catching not only every tiny inflection of Sharp's harp playing (love the occasional bent notes, which lend the instrument a koto-like quality) but all manner of rustles and flutters from the undergrowth, not to mention the distant rumble of the awakening city. Eventually the rain does set in – one assumes that Sharp, for the sake of her instrument, was playing in some kind of makeshift tent – but not before a couple of foxes have had a fight and squawking gulls have reminded us that the sea is never too far away. What Sharp plays is unashamedly tonal, even the way she tunes up on track four – The Clearing was written as a homage to John Martyn's "Small Hours", another idyllic open-air recording of note on 1977's One World – and wouldn't, I suppose, be out of place in the new age bin along with the whale songs, but don't let that put you off. You may well find yourself listening, as she puts it nicely, "with a certain reverence, a feeling of being let into a secret, albeit a poorly-kept one that happens every day. This is bird-business and will happen whether we are here or not."–DW

Asmus Tietchens
"Those streets in Tokyo, those rainforests.. we've heard them so many times," sighs Asmus Tietchens, bemoaning the omnipresence of field recordings in electronic music today. But it seems he's joined the club himself with Abraum, which is sourced exclusively from sounds recorded at a building site in his home town Hamburg, mostly "sand and shredded rubble [..] mixed with groundwater [and] pumped out through steel tubes with a diameter of approximately 80cm". I love that last detail – a typical touch of Tietchens precision. Abraum's use of field recordings marks something of a change for the composer, who's normally a fervent champion of "pure" Elektronische Musik (he grew up listening to Stockhausen and Koenig on the radio.. howzat for childhood epiphany?), but don't be fooled: the concrete sounds have been extensively transformed with Tietchens' customary attention to detail. And even when a raw source appears – a clank, here, a rustle there – it often sounds as abstract and complex as its processed neighbours. Asmus Tietchens is definitely one of The Inscrutables, along with his erstwhile collaborators Thomas Köner and Richard Chartier: don't expect any brightly lit road signs as you journey through this music. There's no GPS to help you either: this is a path you have to make and take by yourself.–DW

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