by Clifford Allen, Jason Bivins, Nate Dorward, John Eyles, John Gill, Marc Medwin, Massimo Ricci, Michael Rosenstein, Dan Warburton, Matt Wuethrich:|
In Print: Echtzeitmusik
On Eremite: Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society
On Erstwhile: Toshimaru Nakamura / Taku Unami & Takahiro Kawaguchi / Greg Kelley & Olivia Block / Jérôme Noetinger & Will Guthrie
Reissued!: Julius Hemphill / Can
On Family Vineyard: Loren Connors / Akira Sakata, Jim O'Rourke & Chikamorachi
VINYL SOLUTION: Astral Social Club / Jim Haynes / Kostis Kilymis & Leif Elggren / Thomas Lehn & Marcus Schmickler / Machinefabriek & Gareth Davis / Stephan Mathieu / RLW / Sculpture / Xela
JAZZ & IMPROV: Albert Ayler / Derek Bailey, John Butcher & Gino Robair / Samuel Blaser / Taylor Ho Bynum / Andrew Cyrille / FAB Trio / Bill Dixon / Peter Evans / Grutronic and Evan Parker / Haptic / Boris Hauf, Steven Hess, Keefe Jackson & Juun / Julius Hemphill & Peter Kowald /
The Imaginary Soundscapes / Iskra 1903 / Daunik Lazro, Benjamin Duboc & Didier Lasserre / Fred Lonberg-Holm & Aaron Zarzutzki / Roscoe Mitchell / Manuel Mota & Jason Kahn / Magda Mayas & Anthea Caddy / With Lumps
CONTEMPORARY: Jeremiah Cymerman / Jason Eckardt / Morton Feldman / Ellen Fullman / Peter Garland / Maki Ishii / Christian Wolff / Theresa Wong
ELECTRONICA: Artificial Lover / Moniek Darge / James Ferraro / Francisco Lopez & Novi_Sad / Metamono / Bob Ostertag / Janek Schaefer / The Vegetable Orchestra
Thanks go out this month to Clifford Allen for what I believe is the last interview with the late, great Graham Collier before he passed away a few months ago (and to Graham's partner and PT scribe John Gill for editorial assistance), to Bob Gilmore for catching up with Frederic Rzewski in Brussels, and to Matt Wuethrich and Nate Dorward for their invaluable proofreading skills. Nice to have not one but three PT interviews to entertain you (the third is with my great pal Bertrand Denzler) as you digest your turkey, or foie gras, or just simply sit back and watch everyone's AAA credit rating get downgraded at the end of what seems to have been a pretty crazy year. Next year is shaping up even better, especially back in the UK, what with the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games being the two best reasons I know to steer well clear of London (boy, am I glad Paris didn't win the Olympic bid). For 2012 I'm hoping to produce four further issues of this rag, culminating in a special End Of The World number to coincide with, well, the end of the world, which as you all know, will occur a year from now. The good news is you won't have to worry about buying Christmas presents for your kids – the bad news is you won't have much time to read PT before we all fall down a hole, or get hit by an asteroid, or whatever's supposed to happen. All the more reason to have a good read at this latest issue. So here's wishing you joyeux noël (if you believe in that stuff), bonne année 2012 and bonne lecture. - DW
Burkhard Beins, Christian Kesten, Gisela Nauck, Andrea Neumann - Editors
"Echtzeitmusik", which translates as "real-time music", is the Berlin-based musicians' preferred term (nobody seems to like "reductionism" any more, "lowercase" never caught on, and "minimal" means something else altogether) to describe the music they've been making since the mid 1990s, the result of their conscious decision to move away from the free jazz aesthetic of labels like FMP and embrace the influence of contemporary classical and electronic music in the years immediately following the fall of the Wall, when greater availability of affordable lodging and places to play led to an influx of musicians from within Germany and abroad.
This handsome 416-page book, in German and English, is subtitled selbstbestimmung einer szene – "self-defining a scene" – and therein lies a problem: the people who make history aren't always the best people to write about it (some of the most illuminating observations come from slightly outside the scene, notably Rhodri Davies's Berlin London 1997-1999, with its amusing Robin Hayward anecdotes). Things start out promisingly enough though with Marta Blažanović's Social History of the Echtzeitmusik Scene in Berlin, which traces its development by discussing the venues that hosted it in its formative years. The table on pp. 34-35 showing which ones were in operation between 1991 and 2010 is fascinating (interesting to note that the "legendary" Anorak on Dunckerstrasse was in operation for less than three years), but one wonders why the editors didn't go the whole hog and provide a complete list of every concert that took place in them – what's another dozen pages in a book this length? A comprehensive discography wouldn't have gone amiss, either.
While Michael Renkel and Ignaz Schick's essays provide much in the way of entertaining autobiography, Andrea Neumann's Playing Inside Piano provides invaluable information about how she goes about preparing and playing her instrument of choice, but little explanation of why she started doing so in the first place, and Robin Hayward's article, despite its title, What's In A Name? The Problematic 'Reductionist' Label, tells us more about his compositional practice (very interesting it is too) than the dreaded R-word. Much as I enjoyed reading Werner Dafeldecker and Axel Dörner's A Conversation – what a long one it is too: hats off to William Wheeler for all his translation work here and elsewhere – I enjoy listening to their recent album together with Sven Åke Johansson a hell of a sight more. On the other hand, the essay by Diego Chamy, whose live antics irritate me no end (he'd probably say they're supposed to) is a damn good read. The Interaktion Festival: A Critical Defense documents the heated debate that arose in the Berlin improv community when the echtzeitmusik.de website refused to list the event in its calendar, principally because it took the form of a competition – with cash prizes! – in which the audience voted for their favourite duo.
Then again, on reading Chamy's piece, and much of this undeniably well-intentioned, earnest but often stodgy and even rather dour stuff (do we really need Nina Polaschegg to tell us once again that "composition" derives from the Latin verb componere?), one detects a certain nombrilisme. The Labor Diskurs section, transcripts of discussions between several key musicians in the scene, finds Beins himself questioning the usefulness of the term echtzeitmusik itself – an exasperating reminder of the dozens, maybe even hundreds, of online bunfights arguing over terminology (notably the dreaded EAI nametag) over at IHM and similar web forums. One can understand why they – we (I'm just as interested in the question myself) – might want to find some meaningful name to file this music under, especially when it comes to applying for work at festivals, but the discussion won't mean much to anyone unfamiliar with the music in the first place. One of the principal failings of the book is the lack of an external overview of the scene (it's a shame the great Peter Niklas Wilson is no longer with us) to draw in readers unfamiliar with the subject. Details of venues and stories of participating musicians are fine, but one still feels somehow excluded from the discussion. Perhaps a brief collection of reviews of concerts and key albums, chronicling the critical reaction both in Berlin and abroad during the period concerned – and how that critical reaction has evolved, because evolved it certainly has – would have provided more context.
I suppose it boils down to the question, do you prefer reading (or talking, or writing) about music or listening to it? As Bertrand Denzler says in this month's featured interview, "I wonder whether music history is as important as all that. To me, music is more important than music history." I think I agree with him there.–DW
Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society
FATHER OF ORIGIN
Mention the name Juma Sultan to most listeners and if it rings a bell at all, they'll remember him as one of the percussionists in Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock band. A few more may bring up his participation on a handful of releases by Archie Shepp, Noah Howard, and Kalaparush Maurice McIntyre. But until now, only the most avid listener would conjure up the name Aboriginal Music Society. Michael Ehlers and crew have changed all that with the release of this deluxe boxed set comprising two LPs, a CD, and a beautifully produced book, all of which serve to fill in a missing gap in the documentation of the New York loft scene of the 70s.
Sultan grew up on the West Coast, where he was exposed to free jazz through performances by Sonny Simmons, which sparked an ongoing friendship. Conversations with Simmons led him to synthesize the concept of "Aboriginal Music", using the term to mean a search for the "Father of Origin" of music (taking the root of aboriginal as "abba", or father). When Sultan moved to New York's Lower East Side in 1966, he met up with Ali K. Abuwi, a multi-instrumentalist and transplant from Detroit. The two shared an interest in percussion, home-made instruments, and a DIY approach to their music. By the summer of 1966, they migrated upstate to Woodstock where they found a community of like-minded artists, crossing paths with Burton Greene, David Izenzon and Sunny Murray amongst others. The group of musicians banded together, putting on concerts and fostering collaborations with poets, playwrights, and rock musicians who had settled in the area, including AACM alums Phillip Wilson and Gene Dinwiddie (who were members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band) as well as transplants like the firebrand free jazz brass player Earl Cross. This nexus of musicians would form a constantly evolving group which Sultan and Abuwi named the Aboriginal Music Society. By 1970, the musicians began to return to New York where they settled in a series of lofts, eventually finding a foothold at a performance space that came to be known as Studio We. The group established themselves as a community focused on self-determination, creating recording studios, organizing festivals, and searching out opportunities to play venues like Alice Tully Hall and NYU. But for all their efforts, and the countless hours of recordings they amassed, none of their music has been released until now.
The first LP captures a set by the full-blown ensemble recorded at Intermedia Sound Studios in Boston in 1970. Here Sultan and Abuwi are joined by fellow Woodstock residents Dinwiddie on tenor, soprano, and flute, Ralph Walsh on guitar, Cross on brass, and Wilson on drums. Things kick off with "Fan Dance, part I": Wilson's open jabs, Sultan's rumbling bass, and the percolating textures of Abuwi's percussion slowly build a loose pulse, flavored with slashes of electric guitar. Cross enters on muted trumpet, joined by Dinwiddie's tumbling tenor lines, and things start to take off. The reed player's blues roots inform his torrid guttural attack, driving Cross to spirited, raw-edged playing with occasional interjections of hammered piano clusters. Walsh's guitar brings to mind Sonny Sharrock's contributions to Pharoah Sanders' Tauhid, injecting serrated slabs of chords while adding in skewed blues fragments. The wildly churning intensity of Wilson, Abuwi, and Sultan keeps things moving, providing an energized, coursing thrust.
"Fan Dance, part II" backs off from the densities of part one, with Dinwiddie switching to flute against the dark-edged hues of Cross's mellophone. It's just three minutes long, the themes just emerging against the primal groove of the percussion before things fade away. "Part III" is also brief: blustering brass punch against crunching guitar as reeds and percussion squall along, dissipating into a tumultuous section of crashing piano, vocal moans, and sputtering percussion. The session closes with the 13-minute "Ode to a Gypsy Son," a trio with Sultan, Abuwi, and Cross. Percussion, home-made flutes and reed instruments are overdubbed into a seething mix, with buzzing textures, whistles, chimes, rattles and vocal wails creating a mercurial ground for Cross's lyrical mellophone playing.
The second LP captures a private session from April of 1971 with Abuwi, Sultan, and tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe. Sultan had originally met Lowe in San Francisco in the 60s and the two reconnected when Lowe moved to New York. This session has historical importance as it is the earliest recording of Lowe, pre-dating Alice Coltrane's World Galaxy by several months. The first improvisation starts out at a slow simmer, with bells and chimes building to a cyclical groove of hand percussion. The three musicians push at the pulse, amping up the energy after a few minutes as Lowe picks up his tenor and dives in with choppy overblown phrases that build with muscular insistence. One can certainly hear Coltrane's influence on Lowe's tone, but even at this early stage, his voice is starting to emerge. Across the tumbling percussion, his chipped and repeated phrases build like a muezzin's call. An oblique quote from "Summertime" is threaded in, but he quickly picks it apart into elemental phrases which are chopped, inverted, and extended. The piece breaks open mid-way through as ululating vocalizations replace Lowe's tenor, leading to a momentary pool of calm; the intensity mounts again with Lowe's soaring incantations, before the percussion coda that circles back to the opening. Side 2 kicks off with Sultan on alto, laying out a pentatonic theme countered by Lowe's tenor, after which Sultan switches to bass and the three take off on an improvisation rooted in the initial melody. Sultan's dancing bass provides an effective anchor, with Abuwi sticking mostly to bells and shakers, punctuating Lowe's free flow. The music has a bracing free lyricism that finally winds down with Sultan on reeds again, as he and Lowe ramp the theme down against an ambling pulse. At just 18 minutes on the first side and 8 on side B (cut for maximum fidelity at 45 RPM), one wishes there were a bit more from this session.
The CD included in the set provides yet another view of the Aboriginal Music Society, again in collaboration with musicians from outside the core group. This one captures Sultan, Abuwi, Dinwiddie, Wilson, and bassist Rod Hicks collaborating with visiting St. Louis musicians Julius Hemphill, Abdul Wadud, and Charles "Bobo" Shaw, and the summit between the Woodstock crew and the members of the Black Artists Group is electrifying. Things start out with Hemphill, Wadud, and Shaw joined by Dinwiddie on flute and the cellist's forceful free swing and the drummer's roiling rhythms propel the group with vigor. As the rest of the musicians join in, the music develops a thundering energy stoked by dual drumming of Wilson and Shaw, countervailing pulse of Wadud and Hicks, and crisscrossed lines of alto, flute, and occasional interjections of Abuwi on oboe. What's particularly intriguing about this meeting is to hear the cross-fertilization of both groups, with the BAG crew pushing the Woodstock musicians toward a less pulse-centered sense of freedom and the Woodstock musicians giving an orchestral density to the music with rich percussion textures.
Sultan's efforts as organizer and documentarian have finally begun to pay off. With startup funds from the NEA and Clarkson University, he's now found assistance to digitize and organize his archive. Check out his site (http://jumasarchive.com/) for a glimpse of the gems sitting in the vaults. Word has it that Porter Records has a release in the works and there is a book that is due to come out next year. Let's hope this awesome release is the first step in getting this music out.–MRo
Taku Unami/Takahiro Kawaguchi
The latest solo release from no-input mixing board master Nakamura is exquisitely constructed, not so much in a narrative, directional sense as in a fully thought out and realized exploration of his sonic range at this juncture in his development. Indeed, from the opening moments of the 46-minute maruto, there's a sculpted quality to the sound quite distinct from the more raw, almost primal reclusiveness of a decade ago. Throughout, I'm amazed by the range of sounds Nakamura conjures, avoiding previous pathways and territories more or less altogether. Here, he plays with what is a comparably high level of discursivity for him, often stuttering and percussive in its articulation, frequently returning to a kind of buffeting sound laced with razorwire sine tones. He also luxuriates in tons of gorgeously layered feedback, ranging from thick low end to a middle register that he often literally breaks apart with great ripping sounds that have the effect of exposing a sonic core. From an ominous low hum at the foundation of the piece, various elements are layered in over time – the flickering crackle of a radio between stations, deep bathyscape sounds, high multiplying whines – but what gets me about the piece is its continual tension, most pronounced during a long middle section filled with compelling tears and jarring noises creeping up on you. Thereafter, the piece changes quality altogether. It almost sounds as if there's a large enough aperture in the sound to allow blurting and blaring staccato, as the volume oscillates dramatically before the music pulses and stutters once more, this time speaking the language of old modem connections. The latter phase of the piece is perhaps more consistent with what some listeners might expect from Nakamura: radical paring down with occasional click or plunk or scrape. But in the light of the new territories visited, the familiar is magically recontextualized.
Teatro Assente seems on the surface to be more explicitly narrative than maruto, because Unami and Kawaguchi (who receive no instrumental credits here, suggestively) use "locational" or "environmental" sounds to play around with the listener's idea of reference, and how known sounds in unknown contexts might be made to "mean" something. It's also so because the eight tracks have titles that describe sequences of actions, movements, developments (the opener, for example, is called "she walked into a room, and found her absence"). I'm glad, though, that I didn't even look at these titles until at least the tenth time I played this record. Not that they would have triggered any particular associations for me, but part of the pleasure of this record – like that of Unami's previous Erstwhile recording, the splendid motubachii with Annette Krebs – is the way it (as Don Cherry once said) "strengthens the senses to work at their fullest." Think overall of some Borgesian take on Lucier's I Am Sitting in a Room rendered using the sonic language of Graham Lambkin's Salmon Run (but without the classical music). You're disoriented at first by the sound of lots of feet padding on the floor, boxy environmental sounds (a room within your room, or perhaps a wall knocked down and an opening), knocks on a door and voices. I kept thinking over time that the feet moving in and out of the listening foreground are intended on some level to represent the listener, wandering alone in Unami's and Kawaguchi's library of sounds, all those tiny gears grinding in concert, a bicycle bell, pooling mechanical chirrups everywhere. The footsteps stroll here and there, and you hear the sound of stumbling. Is it the music tripping over itself or our attempt to find sense in it, to project a narrative onto it? Heavy cardboard boxes or metal plates are sent crashing to the floor. A cellphone buzzes, and a brief conversation is heard alongside a motorcycle revving by outside. Throughout the record, it's almost as if you follow the perambulations of these feet on floorboards into different rooms of a house, as it were. You also encounter birds and faraway barks pouring in through an open window (or is that my dogs?), a flurry of helicopter blades, and – in "a metal object colored with green, after a while, with green and black," and also on "Teatro Assente" – even some lengthy passages of generic black metal guitar walls, a very odd move but one whose inscrutability seems perfectly apposite on this strange, wonderful record.–JB
Greg Kelley / Olivia Block
With this collaboration, sound artist extraordinaire Olivia Block joins the Erstwhile roster and trumpeter Greg Kelley makes a welcome reappearance. The disc sets new standards for combining extended instrumental techniques with innovative field recording manipulation and continues Erstwhile's trend toward increasing sonic diversity. From the opening moments of "Pinholed and Perpetual Light", we have one foot in a documentarian's world, as is usual for Block. Timbres are presented in what sounds like a natural state, and yet flow from one to another with cinematic grace, often evoking a single environment for long stretches. Yet there's no simple way of demarcating individual contributions from moment to moment; the motoric and sibilant swells and ebbs that typify "Pinholed" probably result from Kelley's breaths and whispers in juxtaposition with Block's environmental captures, but they're remarkable studies in sonic unity. Kelley's finely controlled respiration provides the building blocks of "Looking Through Bone," in which he conjures glassy and liquid textures similar to those of another remarkable brass player and recent Erstwhile collaborator, Radu Malfatti.
These long flowing soundscapes bookend the disc, but sandwiched in between are episodes of a much more whimsical nature. On "How Much Radiation Can You Stand," amidst the sonorities of workaday perambulation, the shufflings, buzzes and scrapes are replaced by the muted but somehow shocking sounds of a sparse piano arpeggio, a beautifully tensioned major chord – a juxtaposition reminiscent of Michael Pisaro's July Mountain. "Some Old Slapstick Routine" finds Kelley's huge vocabulary of pitched and tremoloed air centerstage, dry and forward in the mix, while Block surrounds him with smashing objects, in humorously sympathetic dialogue. Piano strings, glass and metal engage in freefall repartee enhanced by changing acoustics.
The disc's loosely palindromic form provides a sense of completion, of large-scale unity to this protean music, not to mention justifying the title. The return of long-held sonorities, like the pure tone on which the album ends, brings the project full circle. Taken as a whole, Resolution demonstrates growth in both musicians' aesthetics, as well as being successful on its own terms.–MM
Jerome Noetinger / Will Guthrie
With a splutter, a multi-registral hum and a muffled bang, this wild ride of a disc begins. It peters out in a similar way, just sort of blinking out of existence. The title is apt: unlike the other offering in this newest pair of Ersts, Face Off is a breathtaking immersion in confrontational disunity and extremes of contrast. Noetinger and Guthrie pack more into 37 minutes than most musicians do in twice that length, and throughout, I keep hearing that Tom Waits line from "Step Right Up": "It's new, it's improved, it's old-fashioned." The duo has created an unmistakable homage to the glory days of musique concrète, with its whiplash juxtapositions and dizzying manipulations. Noetinger's tape tricks are blatantly of the 1960s, making for a bit of nostalgia along the way, as do the many instances of turntable acrobatics. However, there's also an obvious in-your-face pleasure in pushing the limits of volume, register and pain in a way that only more recent technology can manage. Check out the moment in "Snide" where an almost human roar suddenly disappears into digital silence. Similarly startling is the point in "Creep Show" where Guthrie's percussive electronics give way, without warning, to one of the most beautifully captured thunderstorms to grace my listening room – a demo-quality field recording, to be sure.
The music is at once delicate and savage. Top volume sounds are packed with extra punch, as if the pair took a page from Iancu Dumitrescu's book. Their compositions certainly don't mirror his brand of long-form development, but there's certainly a link to the way Dumitrescu treats sound on a piece like "Pierres Sacrées." Even small metallic taps are made larger through distortion while maintaining a sense of delicacy, and the same is true with the polyrhythmic taps on "Saw." Another fascinating dichotomy involves the soundstage, where wide stereo is contrasted with blaring mono; listen to how the left channel enters, rather surreptitiously, on the largely center-stage "Crackney."
As with several recent Erstwhile releases, there is a sense in which earlier material returns later in the disc, but here, no real sense of unity results. I can work out no underlying concept save the joy in sonic manipulation, reconstruction and destruction, and that's good enough for me.–MM
This 40th anniversary re-release, seemingly a recent remix from masters that were also remixed for an earlier single CD re-release, comes with a bonus CD of live tracks from 1972. On initial but repeated listenings, these are almost suspiciously superior to the live tracks included in the 1999 Can Box collector's set – one can only imagine that, like the vaunted "lost tapes" collection due next year, these have only just surfaced in the Can archive – but slightly awry in their chronology, as the live CD is dominated by a 30-minute version of "Spoon", from the subsequent 1972 album Ege Bamyasi, which saw Can toiling under entirely different weather systems.
They are probably blasé about the position they now inhabit in rock history, but it is still worth rehearsing the list of musicians who have claimed them as a seminal influence, from the first wave of The Fall / PiL / Simple Minds / This Heat etcetera, to the second wave (Loop, Flowered Up, Bark Psychosis et al) and a newer cohort including Primal Scream, Tortoise, Fujiya & Miyagi (who actually seem to channel Tago Mago-era Can in concert) and numerous others.
40 years of cohabiting with this music may play tricks on the ears, but perhaps newer technologies really do make this set sound crisper, and certainly the one thing that strikes this old timer on this outing is the surprising economy of these pieces. What Can managed to say in eight or even three minutes would have kept many of their contemporaries busy throughout a long and happy career. Often dismissed, in cheerfully racist terms, as rambling Teutonic headcases, they emerge from a reconsideration of this set as musicians wholly in charge of the mayhem unfolding around them, even in the truly wild extremes of the original "second album", which myth claims Hildegard Schmidt talked them into including in what was originally planned as a single LP package, with the notorious speaker-busting noise operas of "Aumng" and "Peking O." Perhaps the genius, or Zen, of Can was the "first thought, best thought" philosophy that informed their self-described "instant composition" improvisations.
Anyone who thinks they know this album is advised to refresh their memory here, not least with the second, live, set, and particularly the extended version of "Spoon." What was originally a delicate, if decidedly weird, three minutes of spangling intergalactic ska reggae is here taken on a half-hour detour through "Pinch" (also from Ege Bamyasi), "Bring Me Coffee or Tea" (the lyrical but muscular original last track on Tago Mago) and a few stops inbetween, including a sublime locomotive funk passage in which Czukay, Karoli, Liebezeit and Schmidt lock on to a unison pulse and proceed to levitate through the roof. That, alone, is like discovering Can for the first time all over again.–JG
It's bittersweet that 2011 has proved to be an important year for reevaluating the work of Julius Hemphill, who died in 1995 and whose art, while it traversed the worlds of modern woodwind composition, improvisation and the blues, wasn't as broadly recognized as it could have been. A teacher to saxophonists Tim Berne and Marty Ehrlich, Hemphill's music has lived on in terms of influence, but his discography isn't large and, apart from recordings with the World Saxophone Quartet, much has been out of print for years. Dogon A.D., his debut as a bandleader, has finally made its way to CD for the first time, alongside recently unearthed dates with Peter Kowald (No Business Records – see below) and Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society (Eremite – see above). Recorded in 1972 for his Mbari imprint and engineered by soul impresario Oliver Sain, the disc features a quartet with drummer Phillip Wilson, trumpeter Baikida Carroll (then known as Baikida Yaseen) and cellist Abdul Wadud on three of Hemphill's compositions. It was reissued in 1977 as part of Arista's Freedom series but has been out of print ever since; this reissue on International Phonograph adds "Hard Blues," recorded at the same session and adding Hamiet Bluiett's baritone to the front line. That particular piece first appeared as the B-side to Coon Bid'ness (Arista, 1975).
While Hemphill was a founding member of the Black Artists Group in St. Louis, his music – even at this early stage – stood apart from the environment of little instruments, sound poetry, and AACM aesthetics. Raised in Fort Worth, he was just eight years younger than hometown hero Ornette Coleman, and while they don't sound alike, their work followed a related trajectory. Both were steeped in the blues as well as Charlie Parker, and both looked far beyond jazz for their compositional approaches. Had there been a comparable amount of recognition afforded to Hemphill's far-reaching skills and interests, there's no reason to think that symphonic and chamber works would have been out of the question. After all, he composed music for films, stage productions and art installations, and one only needs to spend a little time with his woodwind music (either overdubbed-solo or wind sextet) to realize that he was thinking far beyond the bandstand-derived present.
But Dogon A.D. reconciles the relentless look forward with the blues or, as fellow Fort Worth denizen Prince Lasha often said of Texas players, "it seemed like the sound was coming up through the ground, up through the bottom of the horn and out through the bell." The title track is a collision of earthy, dirty funk stripped to its barest essentials, its theme tying together bop and Great Black pointillism. The initial subject is a meaty backbeat supported by a low, gritty cello riff, and this is carried through the entire piece with only subtle variation. The essentialist – almost minimal – nature of this riff presents a ring-like stasis that's almost frighteningly stark, yet Wadud's "power chords" are brilliantly rocking. The presence of Wadud and Wilson is curious – the drummer had been living in Woodstock, New York with his mates in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band since around 1970 (and met up with a visiting Hemphill around that time), while Cleveland native Wadud had been playing hardcore free jazz with altoist Joe Phillips and drummer Hasaan Al-Hut as the Black Unity Trio. Both musicians would become regular New York loft figures shortly after 1972 (if they weren't already), but this date was apparently made in St. Louis.
"Dogon A.D.'s" head is lilting, reminiscent of some of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's groovier lines, and also sounds a lot more expansive than simply trumpet and alto. The theme is spread over the backbeat with spartan, punchy harmonies. The leader is the first soloist, rolling together a deep alto sound with surface textures that switch between hard/burnished and velvety/soft, following a pirouetting logic into lines that snake, spike and curl. Berne is right when he points out Cannonball Adderley and Lee Konitz as significant influences on Hemphill, but one can also hear Roscoe Mitchell and Jackie McLean. Carroll is, on what's one of his earliest recordings, indebted to Lester Bowie; his punch starts out cool and moves into bent, mocking growls and explosive runs stitched together in loosely-grouped sections, subtly goaded by the leader towards a concluding off-kilter purr.
"Rites" follows a dissonant, somewhat unresolved line that is straight out of the Tristano school, which shifts to collectively wheeling dialogue as Wadud dives and triple-stops with horsehair flying, all kept in direct forward motion by Wilson's fleet, Max Roach-schooled chatter. Perhaps this area of free commentary is somewhat less compelling than their sparser music, but between maddeningly driving percussion, the cellist's flywheel surges and Hemphill's throaty turns and winking asides, the quartet's interplay remains bright and exciting. An entirely different level of poised soulfulness takes root in "The Painter," which took up the original LP's second side and features Hemphill's flute. He begins the piece a cappella, buzzing, humming and singing into the instrument; the ensemble soon enters in plaintive sway to give it flesh. The tune is lyrical, but in a way that sounds far from jazz – soft-soul Varèse, perhaps? Once the group improvisation begins, a dusky underbelly emerges and what was breezy becomes more agitated, a needling dance between brass shouts and moody flutters against a rhythmic tempest. As unsettled as this collectivity feels, there are constants – Hemphill's flute work is some of the most naturally expressive since Eric Dolphy, with a range of birdlike phrases and Africanized multiphonics that is truly staggering. Couple that with how weighty Wilson's brushwork and Wadud's pizzicato sound, and this is one incredible quarter-hour of music.
The inclusion of "Hard Blues" is welcome: as with "Dogon A.D.", its massive, badass strut bridges odd minimalism and fragmentary bebop. Hemphill strips blues and juke-joint rhythms down to formalist austerity, while somehow retaining their characteristic "uumh." The leader's steely call begets Wadud's demure response, set to metronomic rim taps, and as Hemphill digs in and declaims, there's so much weight behind his playing that one forgets this is nearly unaccompanied music – of course, cello and drums eventually fill in the backdrop as the solo gets more abstract, but only slightly. Carroll's solo is fat and confident, sometimes at a near blur while elsewhere in self-dialogue, and if he doesn't show a ton of variety it's still his best and most aggressive playing on the date. One only wishes that Bluiett's baritone was used other than to give the ensemble sections floor-shaking mass. Nevertheless, "Hard Blues" is hard to top as both a hangdog stomp and a nearly impregnable sonic wall. The presence of Dogon A.D. on the marketplace once again is a coup – so much so that it's already gone into a second printing – and hopefully it will result in some dues paid to this master of the soulful avant-garde.–CA
Red Mars is Loren Connors's first new solo material in seven years, and it extends the evolution of his signature sound. His grounding in more overtly blues-based themes has shifted to a fascination with cosmic ones – Hymn of the North Star and The Moon Last Night were the titles of his two most recent EPs – but, more significantly, Red Mars continues Connors's seeming dissipation into the ether. The layers of tape hiss are thicker and more prominent, and his phrasing is more diffuse and dissonant than ever. The effect this has on his music is profound, and somewhat paradoxical: the less Loren Connors plays, the more expansive his sound gets. No longer are his songs intimate messages – now they're more like distant signals dispersed through a thick haze. It's hard to even call them songs, or to say that Connors is really playing the guitar anymore. His single-note phrases and distended chords are, at best, tenuously connected to each other, and they are so stacked up and spread out around the stereo picture that sometimes he's right in the room with you, and sometimes miles, if not light years away. Many of the sounds even feel incidental – the deep rumble on "Red Mars I" comes off as a field-recording of far-off thunder more than a shuddering amplifier. "Showers of Meteors" accrues overtones, feedback and distortion in a gradual progression that teeters on collapse.
In his fourth decade of music making, it would have been easy for Connors to settle into the raw form of distortion-drenched, blues-based melodicism he had developed. Instead, he's allowed that sound to grow, as if he's just letting this drift happen, and it's so powerful that it even rubs off on his collaborators. On the stunning opener "On Our Way", bassist Margarida Garcia joins him to forge an aching cosmic ballad out of slow, bent tones and minor peaks in volume. This new direction of star-gazing, tape hiss and subtle dissonance might not be as immediately approachable as some of his earlier work, but it has a depth that encourages you to keep listening ever more intently.
Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi
LIVE AT HUNGRY BRAIN
Akira Sakata & Jim O'Rourke with Chikamorachi
AND THAT'S THE STORY OF JAZZ...
It would be easy to say these two live albums feature a bunch of high-energy free jazz blowouts and leave it at that. Drummer Chris Corsano and bassist Darin Gray (going under the name Chikamorachi) alone kick up enough of a combustible, unstable pulse to fill both releases, and adding the multiple reeds and vocals of Akira Sakata and the electric guitar of Jim O'Rourke just makes the mixture all the more explosive. But to hear this as a mere modern take on Fire Music misses the mark. Just as most Peter Brötzmann albums are about more than the German reedist blowing his lungs out, the dense interplay at work here almost hides the finer points and depth of the performances. Both groups can and do engage in loud and heavy blowing, but they also find room for rough, melodic cadenzas, and even a few quiet, almost reflective moments: check out how the clarinet and percussion duet develops into a roiling jam on "Miwataseba (look around look)?" from the trio disc, or the In a Silent Way-style outro on "Hamazaki" from the quartet set.
No matter if it's an unaccompanied solo, a duo formation between guitar and sax or the full group, the movement goes in one direction: forward. There's no hesitancy or passages that sound like the musicians are feeling each other out. The atmosphere, especially in the set with O'Rourke, is that someone is going to jump in and change the fabric of the performance at any moment – better to keep the ideas flowing than to stagnate. This tension is heard to great effect on the B-side of Live at the Hungry Brain, where, after Sakata's searing unaccompanied alto solo, Corsano and Gray's entry is more of an attack, so coordinated and ferocious is the new pulse they set up.
When thinking about modern proponents of free jazz / energy music, these aren't the first names that come to mind. And that is a huge part of the reason these performances sound so fresh. They go places with the free jazz template that are genuinely surprising. The string droning O'Rourke, Gray and Corsano lay down behind Sakata's alto at the conclusion of "Nagoya 1" is revelatory, and whenever Sakata's vocals appear, it's like an alien presence has intruded. The only real criticism I have is that perhaps a single release would have sufficed, picking and choosing the best performances, the better to highlight the dynamic contrasts the four are capable of. But when the playing is of such a high-quality and so varied, why quibble?–MW
Astral Social Club
As the proud (and irremediably broke) feeder of an uncontrollable feline tribe, the unfortunately short "Purr" – mostly made from meowing cats – should alone suffice to welcome Generator Breaker as something useful. Spicing his pieces with intemperate extraneous factors and lots of analogue sources, Neil Campbell needs no devastating action to catch our attention: the machinations can become addictive ("Balloom" and the Fenneszian "Breaker" being perhaps the darling tracks) while keeping the dissidence factor at an acceptable level. On the other hand, "Wishaw" mixes prepotency and minimalism in perfect doses, leaving you feeling like you've just gone 12 rounds with Smokin' Joe Frazier (RIP). Campbell knows how to invest in the obsessiveness of pulse to devise captivating stratagems whose consequences appear innocuous but are in fact rather tormenting.–MR
THE DECLINE EFFECT
The Helen Scarsdale Agency
Jim Haynes's oft-quoted mission statement "I rust things" is illustrated by photos of corroded signs in this handsome gatefold on his Helen Scarsdale Agency imprint, which brings together four side-long pieces of carefully crafted oxidation. "Ashes" was commissioned as a soundtrack for a couple of films projected, appropriately enough perhaps, in an exhibition entitled "Hauntology" at the Berkeley Art Museum at the end of last year. As one of these was Gene Kearney's 1966 short film adaptation of Conrad Aiken's 1934 short story Silent Snow, Secret Snow, which already comes with a soundtrack by George Kleinsinger (and important voiceover narration), I'd be curious to know Haynes's music was used, but it stands up perfectly well on its own, not that I'd describe it as cinema for the ear as such. "Terminal", sourced in the sound of escaping gas recorded in Lassen Volcanic National Park, (good job Jim didn't fall into Bumpass Hell, but if he recorded there, hats off to him – I can still remember the smell), is even more austere. It's the kind of sound you'd expect from some desolate Arctic wilderness, not from the sylvan glades of Northern California. "Half-life", which Haynes laconically describes as "an approximation of radioactive decay through electro-magnetism or something to that effect" (!), and "Cold", which takes as its starting point recordings of wire, along with diverse field recordings and shortwave radio sounds, are similarly challenging listens. And not things to be tackled half-heartedly: this isn't something to pop on while doing the ironing – it needs and rewards your attention, and as such joins Rick Reed's The Way Things Go and Joe Colley's Disasters of Self as one of the vinyl highlights of the last 12 months. Anyone who went out of their way to pick up those two (and if you didn't, I guess I didn't do my job properly) should make a concerted effort to get hold of this one as well. Rust never sounded this good.–DW
Kostis Kilymis / Leif Elggren
IF OTHER PEOPLE EXIST THEN THEY ARE TOTALLY SEALED SECRETS
Excrete / Firework Edition
It's sad to think there won't be any more releases in the mailbox from Nicolas Malevitsis's Absurd label – I'm honoured to have had the pleasure of releasing a couple of things on the legendary imprint myself – but this single-sided 14-minute blast was a great way to go out. Recorded live at Absurd's farewell event (nice to see Nic taking a leaf out of Tony Wilson's book and giving his concerts catalogue numbers) at Spiti Politismou F.E.X on December 4th last year as part of a mini-festival whose mouthwatering line-up also included Jérôme Noetinger, Bill Kouligas, Sudden Infant, Blood Stereo and Balinese Beast, it's a royal proclamation entitled "Something Like Seeing In The Dark" from the King of Elgaland-Vargaland, Leif Elggren, accompanied, if that's the word, by an apocalyptic barrage of noise from Kostis Kilymis (if you're expecting another delicately nuanced mélange of EAI and field recordings like his last outing under his Syndrome moniker, Temporary Perspectives, you're in for a hell of a shock). It's not always easy to make out what King Leif is on about, but it certainly doesn't sound very pleasant. That said, it's a hell of a sight more f-f-f-fun than Colin F-F-F-Firth. Elggren apparently performed the same piece with Kevin Drumm back in 2007, and I'd be curious to hear that version – but Kilymis is just as good at creating sheer hellish miasma. Ch-ch-ch-check it out.–DW
Thomas Lehn / Marcus Schmickler
LIVE DOUBLE SÉANCE [ANTAA KALOJEN UIDA]
This latest offering from the duo of analogue synth virtuoso Thomas Lehn and laptop whizkid Marcus Schmickler – the pair's fourth, after 2000's Bart on Erstwhile and 2008's Kölner Kranz and Navigation Im Hypertext on A-Musik – comes both as a vinyl (another handsome platter from Berlin's Dubplates & Mastering) and as a Surround Sound DVD, and it's almost worth your while buying the 5.1 gear just for the pleasure of blowing it through the fuckin' roof with this live six-channel recording of a concert last November at the Äänen Lumo Festival for New Sounds in Helsinki (before you ask, no I didn't shell out for the extra speakers myself – I went and listened to the DVD at a friend's, though I'm not sure he considers me as a friend anymore now). The spatialization isn't some hip afterthought of Marcus Schmickler's either – though having heard some of the wonders that have emerged from his Piethopraxis Tonstudio over the years, I wouldn't have been surprised if it were – it really sounded like that live. And for once the "no editing, no mixing" tagline really impresses.
I've often wondered if the name Schmickler chose for his studio didn't have something to do with Iannis Xenakis's 1956 composition Pithoprakta, which I'm sure he knows and loves. And if IX were still around today, I'd bet a suitcase full of neo-drachma (actually, that might not turn out to be very much in the end, but never mind) he'd thrill to Live Double Séance. Whether they did it in real time or not, this is composition – nay, architecture – of the highest order. The musicianship is truly sensational, but be warned: the only way to catch the myriad nuances is to pump up the volume as loud as it'll go – this is one of those thrillers that like Sheer Hellish Miasma makes no sense whatsoever if your neighbours aren't kicking the door down. It's worth a new door, in my opinion. Hell, it's worth a Surround Sound system too – how many shopping days to Christmas?–DW
Machinefabriek & Gareth Davis
This collaboration between Rutger Zuydervelt and Gareth Davis dates back to 2009, yet the reciprocal confidence that exudes from Ghost Lanes seems to allude to a longer acquaintance. The title track, which takes up the LP's first side, exploits the communion of extensive darkish echoes and the finer details of instrumental probing. Davis's contrabass clarinet inhabits his partner's inauspiciously humming clouds, contemporary reed tricks and hints at unborn melodic fragments vainly attempting to soften the sourer emissions coming from Machinefabriek's table. The No Pussyfooting-meets-Aidan Baker mood of "Mackerel Sky" works a tad better, with the guitar sounds incandescent but never overpowering and the clarinet finding room for its acoustic personality to shine a little more, but the "loop vs improvisation" mechanism doesn't exactly produce a surplus of excitement. And there's too much reverb throughout.–MR
TO DESCRIBE GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE
Remind me, if there's any money left over after the Surround Sound system (see above), to invest in whatever bits and pieces I need to "digitize" my LP/EP collection one day, not because the old vinyls would sound any better in digital format (they wouldn't), but because I'm a lazy bugger and would dearly love to listen to these two all-too-brief pieces on permanent loop for at least six or seven hours without having to get up out of my chair and move the needle back to the beginning again. Sourced from Mathieu's own 78rpm discs of Händel (the Concerti Grossi played by the Busch Chamber Players and a 1912 record of extracts from The Messiah), played with a cactus needle and recorded into Mathieu's computer for loving diaphanous, spacious post-production, they're yet another ravishingly beautiful addition to the composer's discography. "I'm a collector of 78rpm records from the 1910s and 20s, the era of acoustic and early electronic audio recording," he writes. "I love the way they transport sound." I love the way you do too, mate.–DW
My son's learning German at the moment, but he's at school right now – just as well, as I'm not sure what he'd make of this latest slab of inscrutable magic from Ralf Wehowsky – so I'm forced to rely on online software to translate the album title: "sechs" I can just about manage (it is "sechs" because that's what it says on the spine of the LP, but as there are only five tracks on the album and even the label website lists it as "seches", which is not in my online dictionary at all, I did wonder for a while), "abständ" comes up as "gap, hiatus, space, great difference, disparity, interval, space of time between two events or actions, pause, intermission, space between two periods of time."
There's no indication on the disc as to what speed to play it at, but 45rpm seems to be right – having said that, I tried it at 33 first time round and rather enjoyed its gloomy torpidity – and as usual with Wehowsky, what we have is a seriously complex piece of reworking of musical raw material, much of it instrumental in origin (I had a sneaking suspicion I'd heard some of the source sounds before – Stockhausen's Kontra-Punkte came to mind, but the composer assures me that's just my imagination) transformed in ways both instantly recognisable (I too love pitchshifted and reversed soundfiles) and utterly unfathomable. Imagine what would happen if someone raided the sound archives of Südwestrundfunk and poured treacle and sand into the boxes containing the archive tapes of the Donaueschingen Musiktage ca.1960 and then you tried to play them. And if that's not good enough for you, there's an Aleister Crowley quotation ("wide is the world and cold") etched into the runoff groove on side B, but I doubt that's Wehowsky's own doing.–DW
"Toad Blinker is a zoetropic picture disc designed to be filmed at 25fps with a high shutter speed". Even after having watched the two mini-movies on the label's website I'm left none the wiser about what that means, but sound is the only thing that counts – and there are bazillions of acoustic mutations to be found here, in the form of layered loops (naturellement) embracing convulsive techno pulses, angelic harp samples, dilapidated synthesis, aged vinyl samples and repellent melodies that for some strange reason work wonderfully together. "Data Corporation" sounds like Muslimgauze thrown inside a triturating washing machine, while the exceptional "Elk Cloner" should be used to lull problematic kids to sleep before they plant knives in your back. It must be quite an experience to attend a show by Dan Hayhurst (he who creates the acoustic amazement) and Reuben Sutherland (the guy responsible for the kaleidoscopic imagery). This self-propelling apparatus is totally stimulating, fun to listen to, and definitely transmits huge doses of much-needed salubrious vibes. Go for it, and play loud to convince your friends and neighbours that you're completely nuts.–MR
Xela is the project of Walsall-born Massachusetts-based John Twells, The Sublime being the final instalment of a trilogy also comprising The Illuminated and The Divine on this same imprint. According to Wikipedia, Twells loves horror movie soundtracks (especially Italian), but things are kept relatively restrained throughout this basically unmemorable album. "Lust And Paradise" unfolds nicely via strata of fixed / barely gliding drones but ends with horrible female-vocal presets worthy of any of the thousands of bedroom dilettantes who dabble in this department. "Eve's Riposte" mixes incessant background hiss with muffled loops and a combination of inaudible themes and indecipherable noises (imagine hundreds of passionless frogs observing a car slowly sinking into a murky swamp). It's much better than the preceding track, but its synthetic presences ultimately ruin whatever there is of interest.–MR
STOCKHOLM, BERLIN 1966
Many hold Albert Ayler's trio with Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray as the pinnacle of his short career; but I've always gravitated to his work with his brother Donald, Michael Samson on violin, William Folwell on bass, and Beaver Harris on drums. The raw energy of Donald's trumpet, the eerie quavering sound of Samson's violin, Folwell's resonant, lyrical bass playing, and Harris's pliant polyrhythms provided an especially rich setting for Ayler's impassioned flights. When you hear that keening vibrato ring out, even 45 years on, it still sounds wild and radical. In the fall of 1966, Ayler's group headed off to Europe. Most of the two weeks of concerts were part of a "Newport in Europe" package where they capped off a night of performances by Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Illinois Jacquet, Max Roach, and Sonny Rollins. It's hard to imagine how the audience responded to the fiery energy of Ayler's music, though recordings from the tour indicate a spirited reception.
This release brings together the group's set at the Berlin Jazz Festival (previously issued as part of the now out-of-print Revenant box set) along with a previously unissued performance from Stockholm a week later. Both sets are structured around Ayler's indelible themes: "Truth Is Marching In", "Omega (Is the Alpha)", "Our Prayer", "Bells", and "Ghosts". But as was always the case with Ayler, these simple, folk-like tunes provide the launching pad for spontaneous flights that still pack a wallop. Hearing this disc in the context of the band's other live recordings – the Slugs concert earlier that spring, the sets from Paris and Lorrach (also previously issued by Hatology), and the Village Vanguard performance after their return to NY – is a study in collective reinvention. Listening to Ayler's soaring cry, Samson's searing arco, and Donald's clarion trumpet inhabiting the melodies, and charging off again, it is just about impossible not to get caught up in the spirit of this music. Both sets have been expertly mastered, and it's great to have them available to continue to spread Ayler's legacy.–MRo
Derek Bailey / John Butcher / Gino Robair
Weight of Wax
It's so fantastic to have new Bailey to listen to, not least this fascinating document from 2000 where the sorely missed guitarist met up with saxophonist Butcher and percussionist Robair (here on "energized surfaces") in London. From a period of fascinating transition in Butcher's own instrumental language, the contrast between the three voices is a rich one. Robair is often heard working low toms like timpani, manipulating the drumheads to create crisp pitch alterations. But he's also given to generating a fascinating low analog rumble as Butcher and Bailey string out modes of sustain on several of the pieces here. When Robair is relatively assertive with this sound, the music becomes a floating electronic atmosphere on some alien planet, occasionally (as on "3") with all three players simultaneously creating wow-wow effects like a generator, an oscillator, a forge. I'm often most compelled by the more contrapuntal passages here, as with the chirping, choppy, squeaking "2," which is amazingly fast, fluid, and conversational, like sonic floriculture. They occasionally veer off into different areas, as with the industrial skronk, quaver and grind on "5" or the closing "8," which is like Arnold Dreyblatt's excited strings plus gongs and cymbals. But the finest tracks by far are those that synthesize all the approaches heard separately elsewhere on the record. The lengthy "6" finds Butcher exploring some of his most histrionic, vocalic effects as Robair goes for the tiniest, high-end bowed styro effects as Bailey chords away no-wave style. They patiently allow the contrast to develop until the piece sounds as if it simply springs apart from internal tension, as Butcher skirls dervish-like on soprano before a spacious, ominous patter begins and the music moves into the sub-layer, proceeding via almost unconscious hints. "7" picks up on from here, but Butcher now combines his burrs and trills with a mighty yawping, and Robair's thudding, occasional punctuations break things down quite interestingly (he's just so deft in changing it up to generate a slur or groan too, aside from conventional percussive gestures). Overall, this is a killer disc that reminds you of how bracing and inventive top level improvisation can be, with so much information and so many ideas packed into succinct pieces.–JB
Samuel Blaser Quartet
CONSORT IN MOTION
Kind Of Blue
While the trombone has an extraordinary range and its expressive possibilities seem limitless, it's an instrument that's usually thought of as a foil to saxophonists, trumpeters, and other horn players, fleshing out a Jazz Messengers-like front line. Swiss trombonist and Berlin resident Samuel Blaser, however, seems to prefer being the sole horn, as these two recent discs fruitfully show.
Boundless finds him in the company of French guitarist Marc Ducret, New York drummer Gerald Cleaver, and Swiss bassist Bänz Oester on a four-part suite recorded in the midst of a tour. The presence of Ducret – a Tim Berne regular – lends the music a lean yet grubby energy, his compact runs and burly distortions conversing effectively with Blaser's boisterous multiphonics and intervallic dance. The rhythm section is also incredibly tight, Cleaver and Oester moving in ways that are open-ended yet snappy. Listening to the massive blats and tugging whines at the beginning of the second movement, one can certainly hear an extension of Albert Mangelsdorff's buzzing poetry. Ducret's eliding vibrato and wiry, funky flecks are a perfect counterpoint to Blaser and Cleaver's fluid chop, lending an unforced rockish cast to the proceedings. It's not easy for a band's aesthetic to move so effortlessly between airy, textural improvisations and a tautly organized ruggedness, but that's exactly what the Samuel Blaser Quartet does in this fine hour of music.
In the couple of months or so since I received Consort in Motion, Blaser's quartet disc with Paul Motian, the drummer whom one could say practically invented "melodic-free" playing has passed on. Hearing his percussion statements now feels absolutely different than it did before – what was once a joy at sheer, living invention is now bittersweet. But one has to set that aside and engage with the art on its own terms. The trombonist pairs well with Motian's unhurried delicacy, and the quartet is rounded out by frequent collaborator Thomas Morgan on bass and the pianist Russ Lossing. What's especially interesting about this date is that the compositions are Blaser's arrangements of Renaissance and Baroque works. Blaser is classically trained and that purity of tone – even when he's bending and embellishing – lends clarity and honesty to these impressions of Monteverdi, Marini and Frescobaldi. The project serves as a reflection on a European tradition of counterpoint and its gifts to "European jazz", though the purring dissonances of brass, piano, strings and percussion are in a distinctly modern and immediate dialogue. Motian's unhurried drumming provides an interesting contrast, his calm and perfect simplicity conjuring stark joy alongside the more urbane phrases of Blaser and Lossing. That's not to say that he doesn't weave incredibly detailed, startling patterns of classic "Ragtime to No-Time" playing, upping the rhythmic ante immeasurably. All four musicians let fly thoughtfully, and the sonic results are a testament to reverence and trust. Consort in Motion is a beautiful series of meditations on an eternal, life-giving present.–CA
Taylor Ho Bynum
Apparent Distance is the second date from Bynum's Sextet to be released on Firehouse 12, and in the four years since The Middle Picture, the group has shifted from a string-directed unit to one that's more horn-based. Of course, a true bandleader chooses individuals ahead of what they play, and in that sense Apparent Distance is more a change in personality than method. However, as a four-part suite moving through compositions generated by improvisation, the material expands on earlier, more atomistic approaches. Guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara carry over from the previous record, with fellow northeastern improvisers Bill Lowe (tuba and bass trombone) and Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone) rounding out the front line, while the bass chair is occupied by Ken Filiano. The disc opens with a two-minute cornet solo, Bynum's control of small, dotted breaths, smears and warped chuffs evoking Bill Dixon and Wadada Leo Smith, but busier than both. The second part shifts to Monkish balladry, cornet, bass trombone and alto in a delicate intermingling just on the right side of tart dissonance.
On "Strike" the whole band joins in. It begins with a relentless vamp as guitar and alto enter in free time: Hobbs is searing and biting, as an electronically-aided Halvorson piles on rambunctious inversions. Following an ebullient, unaccompanied tuba solo, Filiano works his strings as the horns mark intervals with wincing caresses. "Source" is the disc's 20-minute centerpiece, its theme's knotty rows gliding over a choppy-yet-fluid rhythm. Halvorson's plectrum wizardry is mimicked by plucked bass and dry, shimmering percussion; straightening her phrases into a torqued, stammering ghost of Jimmy Raney, she offers an ebb and flow to Bynum's bright spikes. The theme is first rendered by the quartet in a bounding quasi-atonal fashion, fleshed out by alto and bass trombone. Lowe's chortle makes a fine contrast with Hobbs' paint-peeling cry, a call to messengers like Sonny Simmons and Marion Brown but with a young and decidedly contemporary anthemic quality. Buoyed by thrashing cymbals and the saw and scrape of bass and guitar, Hobbs cuts a striking figure against the ensemble before the onset of an easygoing group flurry.
The closing "Layer" starts as a duet, Fujiwara's martial fragments set against Bynum's gulps, screams and kisses. As the cornetist traces a gauzy, simple line in tandem with Lowe's meaty huff and Hobbs' split-tone fire, one can't help but be reminded again of Bill Dixon. There's a similar sense of organization here – dusky, broad dissonances that remain pensive and hushed against an explosive soloist, whether that's Hobbs, Filiano, or Halvorson. Apparent Distance is an excellently-realized set from Bynum and company that hooks deeply into the music's legacy while looking forward with firm openness.–CA
ROUTE DE FRERES
HISTORY OF JAZZ IN REVERSE
On the first of these fine releases from TUM, we have a simply fantastic band where the great Cyrille is joined by bassist Lisle Atkinson, bari champ Bluiett, acoustic guitarist Alix Pascal, and Frisner Augustin on percussion and vocals. They create a strange and infectious music that sounds like it could be highlife music composed by Threadgill, with Franky Douglas sitting in on guitar. The traditional "Marinet" opens things up, as Bluiett and Augustin take turns with the melody, whipping up ecstatic romps over traditional rhythmic bases. I really dig Pascal's playing, as he's got a nice tone and articulation (meshing especially well with Atkinson), and a penchant for clean, uncluttered, unhurried lines (hear this on his composition "Deblozay"). Much of the record is devoted to grooves of various sort, most exuberantly on the righteous, bumpnoxious "Isaura," a tour de force for Bluiett and Cyrille. They do, however, take time out for a quite lush Cyrille ballad, "Hope Springs Eternal," where several players (Atkinson most sensitively) state the wistful, memorable theme. And there's also time out for a fantastic percussion duo ("Mais") and spirited readings of Nemours Jean-Baptiste's "Ti Kawol," Cyrille's "Spirit Music," and Bluiett's well-loved "Sankofa." But it's really the three-part title suite that makes the album, an extended series of solos, duos, and trios that explores the feeling of the album's opener with real rhythmic density and grace. All in all, it's very distinctive improvised music with a lot of sauce to get you dancing.
From the FAB Trio (Billy Bang, Joe Fonda, Barry Altschul) comes a splendidly titled live document. The group's gorgeously articulated free pulse is what gets me from the beginning, Fonda's huge shapes the perfect anchor as Altschul splashes and patters and rumbles, while Bang occupies his deeply melancholy space of sawing double-stops, incisive overtones, and eldritch melody (I'm a sucker for his ballad work, as on the mournful "For Bea" here). After the probing opening minutes of "Homeward Bound", which takes up a quarter of the album, the group enters such an exhilarating swinging space that it's hard not to be convinced by the album title as mission statement, cycling as it does through several different phases of swing and funk. "Implications" is by contrast almost bitty in its opening passages, building from the most delicate Bang pizz via a loping but barely articulated funk. They change it up with a romp through Compay Segundo's "Chan Chan" before the riotous swing of the title track. A terrific session with especially great invention from Bang throughout, the whole is charged with energy but is understated nonetheless. Leagues better than most mindless free jazz blowing sessions.–JB
"You're sitting in a cab, maybe going over a contract, discussing mundane matters; you open the door, step out, and you're confronted by the universe." I can still hear Bill Dixon's voice coming down the phone. It was a pivotal moment, because it was one of the few times he spoke of the emotive qualities underlying his music. It wasn't that he was unwilling to discuss his work, far from it! He would fill extraordinary hours with the technical underpinnings of his unique compositional approach, but seemed unwilling to address directly the characteristics of his work that evoked matters of the spirit, those aspects of his vision that verbiage would not contain. And yet such concerns pervade every note he played and composed. Envoi is, in one way, just another Dixon composition, but the fact that it is his last performance lays on the work the burden of summation. Recorded at the Victoriaville Festival in 2010 and using the same forces as on 2008's Tapestries, it does indeed look back while maintaining the autonomy expected from every Dixon performance.
As is often the case, Dixon's universe is a slowly expanding one. There are moments of white heat, such as the big bang and percussive roar that opens the piece, and in the final minutes, a monumental crescendo brings the whole work into sharp focus, as was the case with Seventeen Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur. Despite these bursts of catalytic energy, much of Envoi exudes calm and reflection that I can only attribute to age and experience. Nowhere have Dixon's characteristic intertwining melodies been so beautifully realized as they are here by trumpeters Steven Haynes, Graham Haynes, Taylor Ho Bynum and Rob Mazurek. Clarinetist Michel Côté adds to the sense of uhr-drone that has been so integral to Dixon's music at least as far back as "A Quiet Feeling", and Warren Smith's tympani almost sound like another string instrument at times.
Most surprising, though, are the pointillisms that keep the music moving, the sudden ring of a single pitch on vibraphone, or a strategically bowed attack from Glynis Lomon's cello or Ken Filiano's bass. Dixon was too ill to play on the performance, but I was not prepared for how perfect "Shrike" would be as an insert. A brief solo trumpet recording from the Odyssey box set, it combines long tones with dots of sound, recreating Envoi's aesthetic in microcosm. It is the perfect point of transition, bringing Dixon's past into a vibrant present. The recording is excellent, the playing superb all round, and the result is a fitting testament to the musical universe he created.–MM
BEYOND CIVILIZED AND PRIMITIVE
Peter Evans's Beyond Civilized and Primitive continues the purple patch of improvised music on Dancing Wayang Records, following releases by Chris Corsano & John Edwards, Mats Gustafsson, and Okkyung Lee & Phil Minton. The label operates out of Eastcote Studios, London, and aims to provide artists with free studio time and access to quality recording facilities, allowing them to explore without time pressure. Their releases have found the performers relaxed and in experimental mood, and so it proves with Evans.
No stranger to pushing at the boundaries of the trumpet, in his various musical activities Evans is relentlessly exploratory. On High Society (Carrier, 2011), he and Nate Wooley explored the creative uses of greatly amplifying their horns to create sounds often more akin to guitar feedback than trumpet. On Beyond Civilized and Primitive (the titles of the album and its tracks are all quotes from a rambling think-piece by blogger Ran Prieur – if you consider reading it, probably best to allow half a day). Evans pushes the frontiers still further, using studio technology as part of the creative process. On the brief but effective "What is possible?" looping is used to create an underlying drone effect over which a plaintive lone trumpet is overdubbed.
But the trumpeter's own technical excellence is never far away, as he demonstrates on the opener, "Complexity, change, invention, stability, giving, freedom, and both the past and future", with its series of pure, sustained high-frequency tones. Next up, "History is broken" consists of a prolonged, rapidly-articulated piece reminiscent of Evan Parker's circular-breathing marathons on soprano sax. Initially, it raises suspicions of looping at work, but close listening reveals it was played in real time, a tribute to Evans's lung power. But, as always, technique is subservient to the music for Evans – the end product matters more than the process, and the closing track, "Our nature is not a location", is the highlight. Consisting of two contrasting parts, it opens with a prolonged solo trumpet fanfare of sustained notes, which bears traces of Evans's conservatory training and occasional classical forays, before moving into a lush multi-tracked ensemble of Harmon muted trumpets. Shivers-down-the-spine stuff. Exquisite.–JE
Grutronic and Evan Parker
TOGETHER IN ZERO SPACE
Recorded live at Bratislava's Next Festival of Advanced Music a couple of years ago, here are two glorious slabs of what Richard Scott calls (in an erudite accompanying essay which I'm glad I read after listening to the album and not before) "molecular improvisation", featuring Scott along with his chums David Ross (drosscillator) and the brothers Grew (keyboards, processing, transduction(?!)), and Evan Parker sitting in on soprano sax. Grutronic's debut album Essex Foam Party was one of my shortlisted faves of 2009 for The Wire, and if this one had arrived in time to make the final cut, I'd have included it too (though seeing what they've ended up choosing this year – see below – I wonder whether the idea of the Festive 50 shouldn't have been allowed to go to the grave along with John Peel). Scott's instruments include WiGi, which he invented himself at that wonderful mad scientist lab STEIM in Amsterdam, and a Blippoo Box, a sound generator designed by Rob Hordijk that operates according to the principles of chaos theory (yippee!), and there's plenty of wigi and blippoo in the music. If you like high-speed improv loaded to the hilt with whizz bang swoop wallop fizz plunk and wobble, this is for you all right. And to hear Parker's soprano bobbing and weaving among it all is sheer delight.–DW
In addition to percussion, various pianos, electronic instruments and effects pedals, the instrumentation for this splendid third full-length release by Chicago-based Haptic – Steven Hess, Joseph Clayton Mills and Adam Sonderberg – also includes objects as diverse as Chinese exercise balls, a sewing machine, sparklers and, um, a leaf. The music is, as you might expect, colourful, but elusive, and like the photograph of the band on the Entr'acte website, often remains tantalisingly blurred and / or hides its face (that's Sonderberg for you). It's simultaneously instantly attractive, but hard to figure out, and leaves one with the curious sensation of being perfectly satisfied but intrigued (frustrated, maybe) enough to need to listen to it again right away. Interesting to note too that the album title, Scilens, is not only the name of one of the country justices in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part Two, but was also apparently the way the Bard spelt "silence" (other variants in use at the time, though not by Shakespeare as far as I know, were "sillance" and "sighlence", just in case Adam, Steven and Joseph are stuck for album titles next time round). In the same way that the English language was in a period of grammatical and orthographic ferment at the end of the 16th century, new music at the start of the 21st is at a fascinating crossroads between composition and improvisation, open to natural and man-made, live and pre-recorded sounds. In point of fact there's no silence as such in this music at all, but plenty of science – the musicians handle their gear with evident mastery – and lens, focus on tiny sonic details and how they resonate both within individual tracks and across the album as a whole (check out those repeated piano tones..). Fill the Cuppe, and let it come. Ile pledge you a mile to the bottome.–DW
Boris Hauf / Steven Hess / Keefe Jackson / Juun
Nice to see Boris Hauf out and about again, on his first "real" album since 2006's Krom (hatOLOGY), the fourth (last? I sincerely hope not) disc with his EAI supergroup Efzeg. As you might expect, the music's moved on a bit since then: Proxemics started off as a recording of a concert at Chicago's Experimental Sound Studio in April last year – featuring Hauf on tenor and soprano sax with fellow hornblower Keefe Jackson (tenor sax and contrabass clarinet), Steven Hess (see above!) on percussion and electronics and Judith Unterpertinger aka Juun on piano – which Hauf took back to Berlin, where he added sinewaves, field recordings and, intriguingly, harmonium. The result is odd – particularly that harmonium – but curiously engaging: this is music constantly in search of itself, often unable, maybe unwilling, to decide where it wants to go or what parameters it ought to explore. Improvisation, quoi. The added material, instead of forming a harmonic background for the live music to slip comfortably into (you could be forgiven for thinking that the "A" in EAI stands for "Ambient" at times) unsettles, disorients, recontextualises. Quiet though it is for the most part, this music imposes itself: things stick out, even at low volume, and often frustrate as much as they please. But I like my improv frustrating, as you know. If you do too, you'll like this.–DW
Julius Hemphill / Peter Kowald
LIVE AT KASSIOPEIA
Julius Hemphill fans have a lot to celebrate these days with the reissue of Dogon A.D. and the inclusion of a session with Hemphill on the Aboriginal Music Society boxed set on Eremite (see above for details of both). But a real find is this previously unissued live duo concert featuring Hemphill and bassist Peter Kowald from 1987. One duo improvisation was included on Kowald's LP Duos America but this concert recording remained hidden away until now. Getting a chance to hear the two play together is significant enough, but equally notable is the inclusion of a full disc of solos.
Things kick off with three solos by Hemphill. The reed player's previous solo releases Blue Boye and Roi Boye and the Gotham Minstrels are conceptual tour de force documents, capturing his singular approach to voicing multiple reed parts via multi-tracking and performing live over tapes. But on these three pieces, he sticks to unaccompanied alto, spinning out compact, relaxed statements that weave together blues, bop, and R&B, colored with edgier freedoms. His tone is biting, his phrasing unrushed and vocalized, and he twists and turns the loose, lyrical themes with masterful ease. Kowald's single 32-minute solo starts with a plucked, resonant theme, slowly building density with layers of arco full of rich harmonics, groaning overtones, and vocalized colorations, before reaching a quietly skittering finish.
Listening to the two sets of solos back-to-back, it is difficult to imagine where the two will find common ground, and things get off to a bit of a shaky start on the initial seven-and-a-half-minute improvisation. Hemphill's reed smears and Kowald's arco oscillations circle around each other as the two struggle to find a connection, but halfway through things start to click as Hemphill's mounting lines carom across the bassist's surging momentum and settle into a slow, free-blues simmer. By the time they start the second, 36-minute improvisation, both men are firing on all cylinders: there's constant give and take as Hemphill's lithe melodicism, full of leaping intervals and circuitous lines, plays off Kowald's rumbling pizzicato, crying bent notes, and dark sliding tonalities. The recording quality is a bit rough at times, but the stellar music more than makes up for it.–MRo
The Imaginary Soundscapes
A WAY OUT BY KNOWING SMILE
Bit of a daft name for a group (well, duo) if you ask me – if the soundscapes were imaginary there'd be nothing to listen to, but there's plenty to get your ears into in these two pieces, entitled respectively "low" and "high", created by Frédéric Nogray and Stéphane Rives. Rives's work as a soprano saxophonist will be known to many PT readers – particularly his releases on Potlatch, the latest of which was reviewed in these pages last time round – but if you've forgotten who his playing partner here is, use the search engine on the homepage and check out reviews of Fred Nogray's back catalogue. On A way out by knowing smile (I can't say I understand the album title either – is that "knowing" an adjective to describe the smile, or something you're supposed to do in order to find the way out?) both musicians are on electronics, but as Rives' contribution consists of remixed excerpts from his own earlier discs, not to mention field recordings, you will find some sax in there, though you might not recognise it. Nogray, on the other hand, makes his sounds with just three effects pedals. "Oscillating between minimalism and psychedelia" says the liner note, but I hear neither. Unless, that is, you'd describe Sachiko M and Eliane Radigue as minimal and psychedelic (I wouldn't), because that's who these two pieces remind me of. Particularly the second, with its combination of penetrating high frequencies (Rives' fondness for them is well known) and mysterious, slowly shifting layers of sustained tones behind which distant bells and footsteps lurk, almost out of earshot. But however you want to describe it, and whatever you want to call it, this music is absolutely gorgeous and utterly riveting: beautifully paced (it seems we have Monsieur Nogray to thank for the remixing), impeccably mastered and strongly recommended.–DW
I've been listening to this one over the past few grey days while the apartment building next door is being dismantled: windows suction-cupped out, multistory tarps furled and unfurled, little yellow vehicles scooting around, bursts of welding-torch sparks, bits of corroded metal dangling from the sodden concrete. The noise is a nuisance, true, but otherwise it's been a pleasingly bleak yet active visual counterpoint to this extremely challenging disc, a previously unreleased 1972 performance by trombonist Paul Rutherford's pioneering drummerless improv trio with Derek Bailey and Barry Guy. Even for an improv hound this music is an austere, alienation-effect-cubed affair, and while it's great news that these tapes survive – providing a nifty addendum to the multidisc set Chapter One and the one-off Buzz Soundtrack – it does take serious work to locate some toeholds here.
The trio launches into the performance with a bracingly telescoped back-and-forth combination of needle-in-your-eye abruptness and equally disconcerting languor. Guy and Bailey's use of amplification to create extremely unnatural, discontinuous dynamics and timbres is exemplary. The guitarist is in the least guitar-like phase of his stylistic development, releasing sounds into the air like living probes: tentacles and antennae and skittery insect legs. Guy's bass might as well be two or three different instruments at loggerheads – he produces everything from gross, brutal noise to a few sustained, pillowy arco passages, and often these occur at the same time (not just consecutively). Things quiet down a lot after 20 minutes or so, eventually reaching a point where sounds barely register even when you haven't got the demolition man outside your window – it's tough listening in a whole other, receding-from-the-listener way, but there's some pretty extraordinary curlicued playing from Rutherford here in particular. The disc is rounded out with two brief bonus tracks, excerpted from the flawed tape of another performance, and they're quite invigorating and tantalizing, especially when (on the first track) Guy starts grinding away at a pedal point. A shame that more couldn't be salvaged from that date, but in any case Goldsmiths is a welcome addition to the Iskra 1903 archives, especially now that two out of the group's three members are no longer with us.–ND
Daunik Lazro / Benjamin Duboc / Didier Lasserre
POURTANT LES CIMES DES ARBRES
It's a brave move, starting up a new label in these times of quantitative unease, but Dark Tree main man Bertrand Gastaut has really picked a cracker to inaugurate his imprint. As Wire readers will know by now (sorry I can't always use my Wire reviews here, but you understand..) both baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro and bassist Benjamin Duboc have recently signed stellar releases on Ayler – the former's Some Other Zongs and the latter's Primare Cantus, both of which should already be in your Christmas stocking – and with percussionist Didier Lasserre they make a formidable trio. And that's formidable in both English and French. All three musicians have serious free jazz chops (I wish someone out there would reissue Lazro's awesome 1980 hat Hut solo / duo with Jean-Jacques Avenel, The Entrance Gates of Tshee Park), but it's clear they've been doing some serious listening to post-AMM oughties improv: on "une lune vive", patient and meticulous exploration of sustained sonorities and gradual changes in timbre and dynamic have replaced the splatter, clatter and scatter of their earlier work. But there are still plenty of fireworks on "pourtant" – damn, Lazro's nailed those upper register shrieks and squeaks – attentive pitch play on "les cimes des arbres" and one of Duboc's wonderfully meaty Haden-y bass solos to start off "retiennent la pluie". The album title, by the way, comes from a French translation of a haiku by Bashō, and I was toying with the idea of writing a 17-syllable review, but gave up and played the album yet again instead. Great stuff, check it out.–DW
Fred Lonberg-Holm / Aaron Zarzutzki
FEMINIZATION OF THE TASSEL
Like Ferran Fages, Aaron Zarzutzki uses his turntable not to play records – dude, that went out of style ages ago – but as a rotating surface against which other objects can be placed to produce all manner of rough scrapes and squeaks, none of which is all that pleasant to listen to. Seems the idea of enjoying music went out of style ages ago too, along with the notion that musicians might try to engage in some sort of meaningful dialogue with each other: the bravura display of new cello techniques from Fred Lonberg-Holm (on a heavily-prepared acoustic instrument – shame he didn't bring along his electric cello this time) coexists rather than communicates with Zarzutzki's hit-and-miss bricolage. Fun soon gives way to frustration.–DW
BEFORE THERE WAS SOUND
Now that Nessa Records has uncovered tapes of Roscoe Mitchell's 1965 quartet and released them as Before There Was Sound, the picture of Chicago's avant-garde stepping stones is a bit clearer. Mitchell sticks exclusively to alto saxophone; the rest of the band consists of Mitchell stalwarts Alvin Fielder on drums and bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut, and a less familiar name: trumpeter/flugelhornist Fred Berry, who later moved to California to teach and worked with figures like Bobby Hutcherson and the pianist Bayeté (Todd Cochran).
The opener, "Mr. Freddy," features a bright, chattering line that recalls the "laughter" associated with Ornette and Prince Lasha. Mitchell spins out dry, bubbly pirouettes atop a surging rhythm section with Fielder's avowed study of Ed Blackwell in full sway. Mitchell is warm, mildly hesitant and excited – there are none of the "cerebral" or "cold" aspects that one could construe from later recordings. When I spoke with him Fielder called Berry a "clean, clean Don Cherry", and aspects of the latter's steely conversationalism appear, but Berry's fatter tone also evokes Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan and Bobby Bradford. The trumpeter's composition "Green" follows, its stately unison horn line striding over mallets and supple, introspective plucks. The feel is comparable to some of the John Carter - Bobby Bradford Quartet's music, finely-cut flugelhorn blocks augmented by Mitchell's quavering keen.
"Outer Space" is the lengthiest tune here and moves through a number of areas in a way that foreshadows Sound's "The Little Suite," from boisterous, cutting fanfare to a restrained march and isolated bits of bebop and measured exhalation. Berry takes off into the stratosphere, riding relentless pizzicato and stirring bombs, taking postbop to a wide, mouthy next step. The leader's solo is an entirely different animal, a mixture of purrs and cries set to rumbling free-time counterpoint before bass and drums "plug in" and Mitchell's clamber becomes jaunty and coarse in tandem with Berry's lean asides. Max Roach and Blackwell factor into the drummer's solo, as Fielder expounds on sharp constructions, rolling and stirring the pots with logic and swing to spare. In fact, he's much looser here than he gives himself credit for – Fielder has said that it wasn't until he heard Beaver Harris in 1966 that he truly understood how to play both "free" and "in time."
"Carefree", presented in two versions, is a bouncy Latin tune that worked its way into the Art Ensemble repertoire a few years later. Mitchell's alto lines are saccharine and curly, flecked with bluesy intonation, and he takes phrases apart and rearranges them in a way that's aware of the beat while also convoluting it. The rhythm section's minor interlude is so involved that when the head returns, it's a sheer surprise. On the second, shorter take, Mitchell's dry, permutative language weaves together slink and taut declaration. The bassist's Ornette/Cherry-influenced "Akhenaten" deserves special mention, as it's an early instance of his compositional skill, maintaining a hefty rhythmic tension amid staggering horn work.
Though the path for subsequent Roscoe Mitchell and Art Ensemble of Chicago recordings is clear, that music is only hinted at on Before There Was Sound. It's remarkable to hear how mature Mitchell's alto concept was in 1965, even if the bop-inflected freedoms of this group eventually led to an entirely different organizational scheme. Even if history hadn't mapped out the way it did, Before There Was Sound presents extraordinary post-Ornette jazz that existed nearly side-by-side with the work of greats like Von Freeman, Johnny Griffin and John Gilmore. What a find.–CA
Manuel Mota / Jason Kahn
Readers here need no reminding of my enthusiasm for the work of Portuguese guitarist Manuel Mota and Swiss-based American ex-pat percussionist / analog synth whiz Jason Kahn, so a disc featuring them playing together is a treat. Recorded in the artspace that provides the album with its title, a former bank building with a 25-foot high ceiling, brick walls and concrete floor, it's a different animal to Mota's recent solo releases recorded in the privacy of his Lisbon apartment, but the guitarist's trademark introspection is instantly recognisable. It's a different kind of introspection, though, from that of Loren Connors, to whom Mota's been frequently compared (well, by me at least) – whereas Connors's releases become ever more gaunt and spectral, each note seemingly wrenched out of painful silence, listening to the fuzzy warm curlicues of Mota's electric guitar is like staying in bed on a sunny morning and picking fluff out of your navel. His unravelling lines remind me – don't titter – of the wizards in the Harry Potter films delicately extracting silver threads of thought with their wands. "Rhizomatic" isn't as hip as it used to be a decade or so ago as an adjective to describe certain trends in new music, but it's certainly the word that comes to mind here. If I have any gripe about this album, it's that Kahn's exquisite work often seems to slip into the background – no fault of his, nor of the mix, which is just fine, but because the ear naturally tends to focus on melody and relegate other elements to the level of accompaniment. All the more reason for listening again, and with greater attention, as there's more going on back there than you might think. Another splendid outing from the Mazagran label, which is one to watch these days: have a look at their site and listen to excerpts of some of their recent releases, including this one, here: http://mazagran.org/wordpress/.–DW
Dromos / Gligg
Magda Mayas / Anthea Caddy
At first glance, the two latest additions to the catalogue of Lisbon-based Dromos Records are barely recognisable as CDs. Guitarist Olaf Rupp's AuldLangSyne is housed in a large irregular hexagonal sleeve with a front cover painting by Antonio Poppe and leather back cover, and each copy includes a different Poppe engraving. Access to contents is via a slit in the leather just long enough to get a CD through. Schatten, by pianist Magda Mayas and cellist Anthea Caddy, comes in a tactile rich blue membrane made of ink skin designed by Nádia Duvall. And Rupp, Mayas and Caddy ensure the quality of the music is commensurate with its packaging.
AuldLangSyne's nine tracks run for just over an hour and were recorded by Rupp in Berlin in 2010. Although a frequent and successful collaborator, he's arguably at his best playing solo, on both acoustic and electric guitar, and maintains a cracking pace, even when playing comparatively simply and deliberately as at the start of the opening track "Every" (the track titles form the phrase "every dog has his day and a good dog just might have two days"). On acoustic guitar, the musical tumult includes rapidly strummed chords and arpeggios interwoven with harmonic and melodic strands, while sections of the longest track, "His", are highly reminiscent of flamenco. On the electric instrument, notably on "Day", the technique is similar, but bent notes, sustain and variations in volume add variety. Rupp's brain works as fast as his fingers, and he plays with impressive precision even at the fastest of tempi, but the music never sounds like mere technical display: each piece is unique and all are equally satisfying.
Schatten was recorded at Amann Studios, Vienna, in March 2010. Pianist Magda Mayas is such a strong individual stylist that it sometimes feels as if she's dominating her playing partners (as was the case on the recent Great Waitress album Lucid (Splitrec) with accordionist Monika Brooks and clarinettist Laura Altman), but with cellist Anthea Caddy it's a partnership of well-matched equals. As always, Mayas plays the whole instrument, producing sounds that are recognisably piano along with others made by banging and scraping the frame or the strings. In similar fashion, Caddy produces an impressive array of sounds from the deepest darkest arco tones to high pitched screeches. Both musicians are adept at adjusting and evolving pitch, tempo and timbre, sometimes contrasting completely with one another, sometimes both going in the same direction, as in the ominously dark and moody rumblings halfway through the opening track. The recording quality is first rate, and, clocking in at just over 38 minutes, Schatten delivers quality over quantity, and passes the key test of a good album – it leaves you hungry for more.–JE
No Label CDR
peeesseye percussionist and junk sculptor Fritz Welch is now based in Glasgow, where he's teamed up with local guitar hero Neil Davidson for two slabs of teeth-grinding improv as rough and ready as the recycled cardboard cover they come in. There's a Chadbournesque playfulness to such cottage industry packaging, but there's little of Dr Eugene's wacko fun in the music, which is tough, often ugly stuff, the aural equivalent of a Brillo Pad. Fibre rich and filling, but lumpy. Like porridge.–DW
"Making art out of garbage" is how New York-based composer and clarinettist Jeremiah Cymerman describes his working method on these five pieces sourced from "live recordings, outtakes from other sessions and various abandoned home experiments", but I'm not sure how the participating musicians – Nate Wooley and Peter Evans (trumpets), Sam Kulik (trombone), Brian Chase and Harris Eisenstadt (percussion), Christopher Hoffmann (cello) and Tom Blancarte (bass) – feel about having their work described so flatteringly. All the playing, particularly the trumpeters' work on Collapsed Eustachian, sourced from two solo concerts Cymerman curated in Brooklyn ("Nate and Peter were never in the same room for this recording"), is terrific. Quite what Cymerman does to his garbage with "microphones, tape recorders, cables and effects pedals" – and, of course, the ubiquitous computer – is often hard to figure out, but though the surfaces remain complex, nowhere more so than the brutal splatter that opens Touched with Fire, the underlying formal plan is bold and clear. And he saves the best for last, with the superb and touching Burned Across The Sky, a melancholy yet stately looped chord sequence (the composer namechecks Basinski, but there's a Bryars-like Jesus' Blood / Titanic feel to it too) over which the composer's heavily processed clarinet dances spectacularly.–DW
"As an artist angered and ashamed by my country's actions, my deepest response is expressed in my work and my faith in art's ability to contribute to – if not transform – society," writes 41-year old composer (and former jazz and rock guitarist) Jason Eckardt. Noble sentiment indeed, but the people out there who actually transform society – the businessmen, bankers and politicians – are too busy making money or trying to get poor people to pay for their mistakes to listen to seriously well-wrought contemporary classical music such as this. Or find time for any culture whatsoever, I suspect, unless you happen to believe the amusing stories of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's recent "crash course" in cinema – presumably his wife's idea – watching (so we're told) three Hitchcock films a day, while jetting around Europe trying to solve the Eurozone debt crisis. Yeah man, pull the other one.
Undersong is a sequence of four compositions written between 2002 and 2008 orbiting that year's setting for soprano (Tony Arnold, exemplary) and 10 instruments of The Distance (This), an ambitious poem in six sections by Laura Mullen, whom Eckardt met and befriended while they were both in residence at the MacDowell Colony back in 2002. At the time he was at work on what became the second piece in the set, 16, for amplified flute and string trio, but subsequently added A Way (tracing) for solo cello in 2006 and Aperture, for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano in 2007.
Though on first listen you're likely to file this one away on the New Complexity shelf along with Ferneyhough, Barrett and Dillon, there's a sensitivity to pitch here that reaches further back in time to Webern (apparently the déclic which led Eckardt to put down his guitar and pick up his pen) and a feel for word setting worthy of Elliott Carter. In fact, I'd say The Distance (This) is right up there with Carter's A Mirror On Which To Dwell, myself. Elsewhere, the performance by cellist Fred Sherry – another grand homme of American music – of A Way (tracing) is stunning, and flautist Claire Chase's navigation of the vocal complexities of 16 truly heroic. The title, the composer informs us, "refers to the sixteen words that should have been excised from George Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address: 'The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.'" Well, Saddam is no more, and with a bit of luck we won't be hearing much more from Dubya or his English poodle Blair either, but I expect to be listening to this fine music for years to come. Alas, I doubt it will ever change the world at large, but it'll make mine a better place, and that's a start.–DW
Who would you put on a list of the 20th Century's Great Orchestrators? Ravel for sure, along with Bartók, Varèse and the incomparable Stravinsky (whom just about everybody's ripped off since). Allow yourself a little step back into the end of the 19th century and you can add Strauss and Debussy, and more recently there's Ligeti, Carter, Penderecki (early Penderecki, not the turgid Catholic stuff) and, if you stray over the fence a bit, Morricone. I doubt Morton Feldman would figure on your list, but you should listen to this magnificent new disc, the eleventh in Mode's Feldman Edition, and be prepared to change your mind. Feldman is best known, of course, for his chamber music, particularly the solo piano pieces and the "poetic extremism" (Birtwistle) of the long, late instrumental works, but anyone who's spent any time with Coptic Light and For Samuel Beckett will know how good he was at combining instrumental timbres with consummate mastery.
Having said that, the first piece on offer here, 1951's graphic score Intersection I, wasn't actually orchestrated by Feldman, but by Samuel Clay Birmaher, and though it's played, like everything else here, with great finesse by the Deutsches-Symhonie-Orchester Berlin under the baton of Brad Lubman, it sounds a little stilted rhythmically and rather woolly, a tad overloaded with pitch information. In contrast, the two works from the 60s, 1962's Structures and 1969's On Time and the Instrumental Factor, despite their chromaticism, are never claggy. The scoring is delicate but rich, and the characteristic Feldman touches in evidence – the forlorn timpani rolls and tubular bell chimes, the isolated low harp notes and violin harmonics, the gorgeous Webernian micro-melodies rising like wisps of smoke. Orchestra, which dates from 1976 not 1979 as the back of the disc would have you believe, is thinner in texture and more differentiated in timbre – Feldman is more interested in keeping instrumental families together, Stravinsky-like, rather than mixing colours – and a more challenging listen, with its rare excursions into rough flutter-tonguing fortissimo appearing from and disappearing into nowhere.
Amazingly, none of these pieces has appeared before on record, and, for 1972's Voice and Instruments, that's nothing short of scandalous, as it's vintage Sexy MF, with every sonority impeccably placed, absolutely exquisite in its pitch logic – track that D and E flat throughout, thrill at how the composer moves them from instrument to instrument, the voice (hats off Martha Cluver!) weaving between them. One of the discoveries of the year, if not the century (so far): you can't afford to be without it.–DW
THROUGH GLASS PANES
Ellen Fullman's long string instrument has long been an important presence for audiences in need of uncharacteristic dronage, privileging the morphing aspects of resonant phenomena, originating massive mutations of frequencies that give us the impression we're but a tiny element in the circuits of an enormous flanger pedal, or just tickling the membranes with delicately vibrant mixes. The four tracks on this fine CD are attempts at creating music that is both experimental – in the strict sense of the word – and spiritual. The title track uses a couple of "box bows" (wooden devices designed to play groups of strings rhythmically, but still resonantly) to produce what sounds like a minimalist folk dance surrounded by clouds of semi-dissonant vapours, sort of a cross of Stephen Scott's bowed piano and a slowed-down version of a stoned Irish reel. "Never Gets Out Of Me" and "Flowers" are, respectively, a duo with cellist Theresa Wong and a trio with Henna Chou (cello) and Travis Weller (violin); both pieces contain strong reminiscences of Eastern tones and Indian melodies, touching the heart lightly with a blend of stirring lines and chordal vastness. The closing "Event Locations No 2" combines two sets of pitches for reiterated clashes between tunings in A and F, the latter referring to a system conceived by Arnold Dreyblatt. Listen attentively to what happens here and in other parts of the album and you might perceive snippets of harmonic activity and constant changes in the flux of the upper partials that render those shifting emotions that clutch at the stomach at particular junctures of our life.–MR
WAVES BREAKING ON ROCKS
Memorably described by Kyle Gann as "the conscience of American music", Peter Garland is a singular figure in American composition, his unashamedly tonal – not functional tonal à la Schenker but definitely something you can sing along with – music revealing the influences of his teachers and mentors, who included Conlon Nancarrow, Dane Rudhyar, Lou Harrison and his teachers at CalArts, James Tenney and Harold Budd. Indeed, Garland was writing what Gann and others would later call "postminimal" music (think Bang On A Can, Cold Blue, John Adams – both of them) before most folks were even talking about minimal music (shades of Jean-François Lyotard's line about postmodernism preceding modernism).
Though his importance in American music is not open to question, not only as a composer but as editor and publisher of Soundings Press for 20 years, Garland hasn't exactly flooded the market with recordings. But what has appeared has always been quality stuff, and so it is of this latest offering, which brings together Waves Breaking on Rocks (Elegy for All of Us) (2003), a six-movement suite for pianist (and, on "Sierra Madre", obbligato violin) performed with characteristic precision and delicacy by frequent champion of Garland's music Aki Takahashi, and 1988's Roque Dalton Songs (1988), which set poems in English and Spanish by the Salvadoran poet / revolutionary Dalton for tenor (John Duykers) and 11-piece (including four percussionists) ensemble. With its disarmingly simple parallel triads (harmony teacher's nightmare) and gently unravelling let's-see-where-this-goes form, Garland's music defies traditional analysis – it's simply beautiful for what it is (provided, that is, you like smell-the-cowshit diatonic harmony – Copland and Roy Harris aren't too far away), like a milk moustache on a small child or an unexpected ray of sunlight.–DW
MAKI ISHII LIVE
There's far too little music by Maki Ishii (1936 – 2003) available on disc, which makes the appearance of these three works for solo percussionist and ensemble / orchestra especially welcome. The works in question are Saidōki (Demon) (1989), which eventually was incorporated in 1992's Floating Wind, 1988's Concertante for solo marimba and six percussionists, and the Percussion Concerto South – Fire – Summer (1992), all splendidly performed by Toronto-based virtuoso Ryan Scott and the Esprit Orchestra conducted by Alex Pauk.
Ishii, like his better-known contemporary Toru Takemitsu, was as passionately interested in Japanese (and, later in his career, Chinese) traditional music as he was well-versed in mainstream 20th century European compositional practice, and in South – Fire – Summer crunchy clusters, glissandi and Varèse-like melodic cells happily coexist with traditional Japanese scales. In the Concertante, originally written for Keiko Abe and Les Percussions de Strasbourg, Ishii goes out of his way to explore the "clash between indeterminate and determinate rhythms, and the fusion between metallic, silvery tone colours in the Western manner and the wooden tone colours in the East Asian manner." Scott's mastery of the five-octave concert grand marimba is evident throughout, but he's apparently just as good at making instruments as he is at playing them: he built many of the wooden and skin instruments on Saidoki (Demon) himself, and attacks them with relish, along with the three cidelo ihos, metallic sculptures designed by Kazuo Harada and Yasunori Yamaguchi and mounted on timpani (see pictures on the back of the CD booklet and the disc itself). Glorious stuff, check it out.–DW
KOMPOSITIONEN 1950 - 1972
RZ does the business once more with this splendid double-CD selection of 17 compositions by Christian Wolff spanning a period from 1950 (the Duo for violins) to 1972 (the string quartet Lines) and featuring several different interpretations of certain pieces: Frederic Rzewski and David Tudor both tackle For Piano I (1952) and 1959's For Pianist (Rzewski has a go at this twice), while there are two readings of the Suite (I) for Prepared Piano, one by Fuat Kent and the other by Tudor, whose solo baroque organ reading of For I, 2 or 3 People (1964) makes for a nice comparison with the ensemble version by Nelly Boyd. And there are two fine takes on 1968's Edges, one culled from the old EMI recording by Gentle Fire, the other a solo recording from Nantes in 2008 by Keith Rowe. Completing the two-and-a-hour set are Rzewski's recording of For Prepared Piano (1951), and a couple of pieces from 1968's Prose Collection, Stones and Drinks and a stunning reading of 1961's Duo for Violinist and Pianist by János Négyesy and Cornelius Cardew.
It's a shame that a simple stereo mix can't do full justice to Lines, which calls for the four string players to be seated far apart from each other, allowing the listener to follow the movement in space of its delicate microtonal elements, but the Radio Bremen recording of the piece's premiere by the Società Cameristica Italiana still sparkles. Other archive recordings here aren't quite as well preserved – there's some ghostly print-through on both For Prepared Piano, a live mono recording from 1963, and Tudor's 1956 bravura reading of For Piano I (a full two minutes shorter than Rzewski's, raising some intriguing questions about tempo), which also sounds a little distant and flat at times – but that hardly matters: these were, and still are, truly outstanding performances. Tudor's organ playing on For 1, 2 or 3 People, originally released on an old CBS LP along with pieces by Kagel and Mumma, will make your hair stand on end (eat yr heart out Jean-Luc Guionnet), and after thrilling to the ensemble version of Edges by Richard Bernas, Hugh Davies, Graham Hearn, Stuart Jones and Michael Robinson you too will yearn for a decent reissue of that Gentle Fire album.
The school workshop readings of Drinks and Stones are fun, particularly the former (shame the verbal score isn't included in the booklet: doesn't sound like there's much drinking going on but plenty of gurgling), but slight compared to the 65-minute reading of the latter on Editions Wandelweiser (EWR 9604, 1996). Still, they provide some much-needed relief in the programme, coming after, respectively, Keith Rowe's intense Edges and the frosty For Piano I. Wolff's early compositions, written when he was just a teenager, are still tough going: easy to admire – particularly the amazingly austere three-note serialism of Duo for violins – but hard to love. When the tonal and timbral palette broadens in the late 50s / early 60s, the music, though no less challenging, becomes more attractive. The Cardew / Négyesy duo, recorded in 1973, once more by Radio Bremen (seems Robert Zank has got the key to the vault there, hooray), is simply ravishing. And that's not an adjective I normally associate with Christian Wolff, so you'd better check it out and see if you agree with me.–DW
It is difficult not to remain enchanted by the 21 miniatures presented by Theresa Wong in her first solo outing. A Bay Area resident active in the world of improvisation for a number of years, having collaborated with the likes of Fred Frith, Ellen Fullman (see above), Joëlle Léandre and Rova, Wong is a technically gifted cellist who also sings and composes. The Unlearning finds her in company of Carla Kihlstedt on violin and voice in a program influenced by Francisco Goya's Disasters Of War etchings. The material consists of fragments, sketches and haikus that, despite their brevity – some last but a few seconds – sound compact, contrapuntally evolved and at times slightly ironic, instantly giving an idea of accomplishment. The compositional concepts remain visible for the strictly necessary time, then room is given to subsequent suggestions and combinations under the same aesthetic arc. The pairing works on all levels, their instrumental prowess enhancing a tangible clarity of intents which facilitates the immediate assimilation of each track. However, calling this an "easy" record would be an error. If a couple of (vague) associations manage to arise in some of the episodes – Meredith Monk, the Halvorson/Pavone duo – they do not detract from the evident individuality of this music.–MR
It begins with a symbolic execution, as a traditional Japanese folk song (at least that's what I suppose it is) is cut off in its prime by a blast of machine gun fire and a maniacal snigger. But, as David Cunningham memorably intoned at the beginning of the second Flying Lizards album, "we'll have to be pretty tricky to get these men to break with tradition", the tradition here being a venerable shamisen (three-string lute), which is immediately subjected to a barrage of brutal breakcore (come back Alec Empire, all is forgiven), followed by a motley collection of twisted polkas, waltzes, faux-Balkan irregular-metre jams and even the "Habanera" from Carmen. It's mildly amusing for about five minutes – the butchered Bizet is just about where I switched off – but if the point of the exercise is to show us how fucked up the whole (musical) world is these days, well, it's been done before, and better.–DW
SOUNDS OF SACRED PLACES
Back when this was first released, in 1987 on an LP on Igloo, I doubt many people were all that interested in field recordings, either alone or in conjunction with other elements as part of a composition, but its reappearance now on Kye, the imprint lovingly curated by Graham Lambkin, whose post-Shadow Ring music has skilfully incorporated the sounds of everyday life into something rich and strange, makes perfect sense.
Moniek Darge and partner Godfried-Willem Raes have been performing together since 1970, and their Logos Foundation, with its concert hall, workshop space, shop and studio facilities, has long been an essential forum for new music in all its forms in Ghent, Belgium. The front cover of the album shows Darge in Alice Springs, Australia, but, despite waxing lyrical about the Logos Duo's visit to Ayers Rock in the mid-80s, the places she evokes in these five soundscapes are much closer to home. "Turkish Square" is just several blocks away from Logos HQ in Ghent, and the dreary black and white photo of the place, which looks as if it belongs in a Béla Tarr film, is hardly what you'd describe as a sacred. But there's something extraordinarily compelling and mysterious about Darge's piece, which, in addition to the sounds of the square – culled after a long period of patient research, and it shows – calls for voices, violin and something called an n-dimensional oscillator system designed by Raes. The omnipresent drone of the power station bordering the square becomes strangely scary, as do the disembodied voices of the children of Turkish migrant workers and Darge's own narration of photographing a handicapped child.
"Abbey-Sounds" collages the flutter of doves in the rafters of the former refectory of St. Bavo's Abbey with the recordings of fellow sound artists' impressions of the space (in English, French and Dutch). It sounds like a rather banal idea, but the end result, with its background of inscrutable vocalisms and strange twittering sounds is inexplicably moving. Once more, it's abundantly clear that this is the result of many hours' work: the timing is impeccable and the mix outstanding.
These two openers are hard acts to follow, and the remaining three pieces, though worked with the same meticulous attention to detail, are less exciting. But maybe exciting isn't the word to use for "Rain", which consists of a contact-miked orgasm (a sacred place? maybe it is) along with a lot of, well, rain. "Solstice Sun", commissioned by the New Wilderness Foundation (whose founder, Charlie Morrow, is one of the commentators on "Abbey-Sounds"), is a montage of sounds sourced from the Ghent Belfry carillon – the creak of the wooden scaffolding as well the bells themselves, which also provide the basic working material for the closing "Three Sunbeams", recorded with contact mics specially designed once more by Raes.
If you're coming to Darge's work for the first time, you might be better off investing in a copy of Soundies: Selected Work 1980-2001, also on Kye (the second Darge release on the label, Crete Soundies, is more lightweight), but the reappearance of Sounds of Sacred Places is certainly case for celebration here at PTHQ, as my battered old vinyl, picked up for next to nothing at a local fleamarket, has seen better days.–DW
FAR SIDE VIRTUAL
Hippos In Tanks
So this is the record that was, by a curious anomaly in the voting system explained by publisher Tony Herrington, selected as The Wire's Album Of The Year. After years skating about with cheap lo-fi, James Ferraro has recently acquired a laptop, either by pooling the proceeds from the zillions of Skaters CDRs he's flogged or by selling off those cruddy old synths, and to celebrate his entry into the world of laptoppery has cooked up a cheesy soup of the most dreadful sound library samples and software startup jingles, in the form of 16 brief tracks, none of which seems to go anywhere and all of which are as instantly forgettable as they are slick and squeaky-clean. As Brandon Soderberg says over at Pitchfork, "either a whole lot of work or a very little work went into this record." Well, given the size of Ferraro's discography and knowing how piss-easy it is to cobble together a piece of music on Pro Tools or Sound Forge, I'm inclined to think the latter. Of course, maybe it's all a clever tongue-in-cheek postmodern commentary on today's iPod iPad i-sent-another-dumb-text-message-for-no-reason-whatsoever i-cant-read-a-map-any-more-but-who-needs-to-think-if-you-have-gsm App-Crap-Pap geolocalised-Big-Brother-Is-Not-Only-Watching-You-But-Fucking-You-In-The-Ass modern world, but I don't care, because it sounds bloody awful. "Sir Richard Branson's avatar says hello", and Dan Warburton says goodbye.–DW
Francisco López + Novi_Sad
Manipulating the same source materials – environmental recordings made in Greece's Ancient Olympia region – López and Novi_Sad (real name Thanasis Kaproulias) have created entirely different soundscapes, both compositionally brilliant and psychologically engrossing (high-quality headphones are recommended). In Untitled #249 the Spaniard lets a sublime faraway chorale evolve from initial subsonic activity, subsequently shifting the frequency balance through the use of spiky highs and metamorphic radiations, a veritable flea market in hell. The texture becomes progressively thinner until we're left with barely perceptible signals at the borders of tinnitus preceding a classic finish in total silence. But what a difference between this breathtaking suspension and the boredom elicited by today's abusers of hush. Novi_Sad's Ellipsis leaves the original substance visible enough, the sequence of events beginning with a spectacular rumbling storm with relative downpour. Dexterous equalization highlights the "right" hues in the drumming reverberations of the water, and brings fantastic results in at least two extended segments, which sound respectively like a mesmerizing initiation rite and a superimposition of every existing type of chord played by a gliding string section. The volume rises to full throttle only for the ecstasy to be abruptly cut short at the end, leaving us pondering for quite a while. To quote a favourite philosopher of mine, come on the amazing journey and learn all you should know. A milestone release from a splendidly-named label.–MR
Two recent releases from antipodal sides of the world (well, London and San Francisco), approaching a shared concern with technologies from different directions but interesting to consider side by side, without any attempt at equivalence, to see what they both have to say about noise in the age of post-mechanical reproduction.
Metamono is the latest project featuring Jono Podmore, aka Kumo, heard on his own solo recordings and two duels with Irmin Schmidt, most recently Axolotl Eyes (reviewed here in the Halloween 2008 PT). The line-up is completed by Paul Conboy, late of Bomb the Bass, and the artist Mark Hill (Google for his lovely "The Recycled House" installation). Tape isn't just a 19-minute back-to-vinyl EP, but a call to take up arms against the digital strangulation of music. They even have a "manifesto" (here: http://www.metamono.co.uk/) which, if perhaps lacking the hyperventilating zing of Russolo's The Art of Noises, does declare this much: "Metamono will never: use a microphone; use digital sound generation or sampling; use mechanical sound generation; use digital sound processing; make overdubs; be afraid of mono; remix". Declaring that "Music has become a flaccid shadow of the social power it once was", Metamono's intention is nothing less than an attempt to "liberate the imagination".
A tall order to serve in under 19 minutes, but this short ride in a fast machine will take you back to the pioneer days of Thomas Leer and Robert Rental, the halcyon era of Cabaret Voltaire, and that zone we might call "deep Mute". That is emphatically not to date it, more to evoke their philosophy of less is more. Driven by a raw and metallic dance pulse that you can (probably) dance to, often slewed through a welter of dub effects, it is as delirious as early Human League or DAF, but also as thoroughly modern as Fuck Buttons or any number of recent Warp Records releases.
At times the accidental fly-bys between Tape EP and Motormouth come so close stylistically that you worry a mid-air event might occur. Bob Ostertag's latest project sees him revisiting his first instrumental love, the Buchla modular synthesizer, invented by Don Buchla in 1970. Ostertag began working with a Buchla in his student days at Oberlin Conservatory in 1976, aged 19. He purchased a cheaper, kit-build Serge synth when he dropped out of college shortly after that to tour with Anthony Braxton and, later, the likes of Frith and Zorn on the downtown scene in New York. Recently, as he writes at his website, a newer model Buchla "appeared in my studio for a couple of months", and he took the opportunity to revisit his work with keyboard-less patchboard analog tech.
The Buchla website offers visitors the chance to "Revisit the excitement of the 70s" with sexy retro-futurist consoles that wouldn't look amiss on the set of a remake of Forbidden Planet, but Ostertag isn't here to watch that movie. The modular synth places the musician in a completely different set of processes, and requires entirely different skills, than either digital or keyboard-led electronics do. The result on Motormouth is both austere and rigorous, driven by an at times furious pulse (that you probably can't dance to), but also stilled by passages of rapt, hypnotic calm. Ostertag compares it to geometry; I'd compare it to the dancing architecture Xenakis developed from game theory and the Fibonacci series for his early UPIC sampler. And again, far from being an exercise in technological nostalgia, this too is thoroughly modern, with nary a hint of Brian Eno's winsome "antique Moog" effects.–JG
PHOENIX & PHAEDRA HOLDING PATTERNS
Janek Schaefer's albums constitute a remedy against the cynicism spreading among the arbiters of avant garde taste who consider the act of listening within their own selves a deadly sin. Phoenix & Phaedra Holding Patterns, dedicated to the composer's youngest offspring, was conceived as a piece to be played at the back of an auditorium, the stage left empty in order for the audience to realize that the sound, not the performer, is what really counts. A surround speaker system reproduces a "classic" superimposition of static harmonic layers generated through transistor radios alimented by a FM transmitter, a multitude of found sounds (including spoken snippets) and a sruti box whose mantric droning informs extended segments. The music moves across different stages of evocative imagery, textural grain and definition constantly varying, forlorn loops and melancholic arpeggios entwined inside a blur of reverberation. Crackle, hiss and what sounds like it could be a vacuum cleaner appear and fade away, as chordal washes in wavering calm introduce poignant flashes of soul-enhancing limitlessness. 2008's British Composer Of The Year knows how to balance intuition, sentiment and physical reaction in the conscientious listener, the spectrum of our deepest feelings becoming broader with the passage of time.–MR
The Vegetable Orchestra
If you didn't know that all the sounds on this disc came from, yes, vegetables, you probably wouldn't pay much attention to this uninspired montage of squelches, crunches, toots and thuds, occasionally underpinned by lame binary backbeats. Then again, there's no way you couldn't know, as the name of the band and the album title (ugh..) give the game away for starters. It's a deliberate tactic too, focussing the listener's attention on how the sounds were made rather than what the musicians actually do with them (not much, as it turns out), the final crushing victory of surface over substance, sonically interesting – for a little while, but the novelty soon wears off – but musically banal, perfect for today's tweeting twits, new music for people who don't like new music. I can see them now, merrily snapping photos with their iPhones while they wait for their bowl of soup at the end of the gig. At least if the music's no good you can eat the instruments.–DW
Copyright 2004 by Paris Transatlantic