CD REVIEWS INDEX
“Criticism is always the easiest art.”
– Cornelius Cardew
- ANOTHER TIMBRE: SILENCE AND AFTER 1
- Arena Ladridos (AT35)
- Davies / Patterson / Toop (AT36)
- Looper (AT38)
- ANOTHER TIMBRE: SILENCE AND AFTER 2 – CUTTING EDGES
- Tierce (AT43)
- James Saunders (AT44)
- Droplets (AT45)
- No Islands (AT/46)
- A Pauper’s Guide to John Cage (ATB-08)
- AEROPLANE TRIO – Naranja Ha
- BERROCAL / FENNECH / TAZARTÈS – Superdisque
- BEVAN / OBERMAYER / MARKS / LASH – A Big Hand
- CHATHAM, RHYS – Outdoor Spell
- CHICAGO UNDERGROUND DUO – Age of Energy
- CORNFORD, STEPHEN / RODGERS, SAMUEL – Zinc [extracts]
- CLEAVER, GERALD (UNCLE JUNE) – Be It as I See It
- CUNDY / LASH – Two Plump Daughters
- DUNN, LAWRENCE – If I in my north room
- DUPLANT, BRUNO – Deux Trois Choses Ou Presque
- FUTTERMAN, JOEL – Remembering Dolphy
- FUTTERMAN / JORDAN / PARKER / FIELDER – Live at the Guelph Jazz Festival 2011
- GAYLE, CHARLES (TRIO) – Streets
- GRDINA, GORD (TRIO) (feat. MATS GUSTAFFSON) – Barrel Fire
- G9 GIPFEL – Berlin
- KOCHER, JONAS – Solo
- NAKAMURA, TOSHIMARU – Maruto
- SKARABEE – Eardrum / tusK – Happy Shopper [split]
- SUBTLE LIP CAN – Subtle Lip Can
- UNDIVIDED – Moves Between Clouds: Live in Warsaw
- VARIOUS – 60 Interpretations of 60 Seconds by 60 Solo Improvisers
- MALFATTI, RADU – Wechseljahre Einer Hyäne
- MITCHELL, ROSCOE – Before There Was Sound
Reviewers: David Grundy, Ted Harms, Sandy Kindness
ANOTHER TIMBRE: SILENCE AND AFTER 1
CHRIS COGBURN / BONNIE JONES / BHOB RAINEY – ARENA LADRIDOS
Label: Another Timbre
Release Date: November 2010
Tracklist: Govalle; Marfa
Personnel: Chris Cogburn: percussion; Bonnie Jones: electronics; Bhob Rainey: soprano saxophone
Additional Information: Recorded in Austin and Marfa, Texas, April 2010
“At the same time, there is silence, a silence which is not an absence of sound but which is the object of a positive sensation, more positive than that of sound. Noises, if there are any, only reach me after crossing this silence.”
There is, often, a gorgeous sense of calm about this record, not a loss of focus or laziness but a willingness to let little happen, for however long it takes, for however long it needs; not imposing, not leading, following the sounds as and when they ask to be heard or made. Though it’s by no means a particularly silent listen, one feels that the lines quoted above, from Simone Weil, do somehow fit: each sound is filtered through a corresponding quietness, each sound is coaxed out of silence and falls back into it, like a wavering fleck of light suddenly emerging, then disappearing back into shadow again. This shouldn’t imply the monastic discipline or asceticism that Weil might have at the back of her mind; rather, the sense is of something relaxed, not casual exactly, but un-worried about grabbing attention or creating something that screams ‘I am important! Listen to me now!’ As time passes, not much might have happened, and so what? Spaces are filled enough, more than enough, so much of the time, and a genuine contemplative quietness can do no harm. To some, this may come across as aimlessness; and, true, compared to the composed or partially-composed work in this area, there is less obvious ‘focus’, less of a clear structural framework. But for me, that’s quite an attractive respite; listening to ‘Arena Ladridos’ allows one, free of overt structural considerations, to quite clearly imagine oneself into a physical space, to imagine the musicians sitting there, in front, perhaps, of a small audience, inhabiting the small room for forty-five minutes, sometimes filling it with sound, sometimes easing back and letting the room itself have a say in matters. There’s something about the logic with which things unfold that means this could be nothing other than a concert recording: the presence of hesitancies, even meandering moments – the imperfections which prevent things from having a surface’s that’s too shiny, that’s ‘just-so’.
The first piece begins with tinkling bells, maybe just jiggled or shaken or knocked slightly with the tips of fingers, electronic crackle, and wisps of breath amplified/modified through saxophone bell and keys. My somewhat whimsical way of listening to this opening minute or so is to imagine that the three musicians are ‘introducing’ themselves, in overlapping fashion. Here is percussion; here is electronics; here is a saxophone. But the separation is really less clear-cut: though it’s normally fairly obvious which sounds are percussion, the concentration on vague or merging tones from electronics and saxophone tend to create a grey area in which anyone could be creating any particular sound. At one point, the sound of a passing car seems to sub for Jones’ electronics, replacing her drone tone with something remarkably similar. It’s not all subtlety and hush, though: Jones’ playing is, at times, quite deliberately harsh, generating sudden beeps that sound like a warning signal, an electrical malfunction, an alarm, and Cogburn’s playing can be quite assertive, though he generally treats his drums as a surface to rub and scrape rather than one to strike and beat.
Indeed, there’s quite a variety of incident on display: there are a large number of events, however unhurried the pace, and one never feels that the players are holding anything back, practicing an overly studied reticence or aloofness; instead, they are using patience as a general method of working, and the results are to make gestures which elsewhere might seem small or un-dramatic (a surging consonance of crescendo – a half-choked wail rising and falling on intake and outtake of breath – the sound of almost conventional rhythms from drums) possess intense power and concentration. Equally, though, things could go the other way, all three musicians temporarily silent, while a dog barks, or a car distantly passes – where a sine tone sounds like a sucking in of breath or a tiny, suppressed whisper – sounds, sometimes, that seem to come from outside human agency, like those eerie screeches and rumbles one hears from on high in railways stations and near building sites. This or a swelling drama, a concord/concourse, not rising to shared climax, surging only to swell down again. Matthew Horne, in his review of the album for ‘Tiny Mix Tapes’, describes the process as a group aesthetic in which all three players hover around a particular area for several minutes, attempting, and failing to break out, before eventually moving away in quite dramatic form: “The trio quickly settles into what would be called a restrained ‘attractor,’ i.e., a stable point or cycle at which the variables hover around (up to minor perturbation). Just over four minutes in, the group attempt to dislodge the muted aesthetic, with each crescendoing simultaneously. But this perturbation is weak, resulting in a regression back to the original, minimal attractor. It isn’t until around 12 minutes that the group breaks free of their initial state: Rainey’s sax oscillates wildly while Jones introduces an intrusive feedback more akin to [Toshimaru] Nakamura’s troublesome no-input mixer, thus disturbing their environment enough to evolve the system.” It’s a nice formal encapsulation of a music that seems to avoid formal systems in the moment of listening, of unfolding: but perhaps it belies the actual lack of overt tension (so often a driver of improvised music) that I feel when playing the CD back; despite abruptions from Jones or from Cogburn, despite intricacies of flow and of incident, the overall impression is unforced, unhurried, unharried. Here, as Weil puts it, noises have to cross the silence before they can be heard. (DG)
RHODRI DAVIES / LEE PATTERSON / DAVID TOOP – WUNDERKAMMERN
Label: another timbre
Release Date: November 2010
Tracklist: A Salamander lives in the fire, which imparts to it a most glorious hue; From the ashes springs a seven-pointed flower; The Toad with Colours rare through every side was pierc’d; In the dead body of a calf are generated bees; Whose falling drops from high did stain the soyl with ruddy hue; In Ashes lies the Salt of Glory
Personnel: Rhodri Davies: harp, ebows, electronics, preparations; Lee Patterson: amplified devices, field recordings, etc; David Toop: laptop, steel guitar, flutes, percussive devices
Patterson’s use of field recordings and amplified devices (presumably, those burning and bubbling liquids which he manipulates rather as a professor handles chemicals in a science lab) gives the music a tactile quality amidst the more dominant e-bows and laptop drones that overlap, build up, fade down, move in thickening and thinning cloud masses. Toop’s more generally acoustic set-up – he’s credited with flutes, steel guitar and percussive devices, as well as the laptop – isn’t as fidgety as in the genre-hopping days of Alterations, the group he shared with Steve Beresford, Peter Cusack and Terry Day, but the occasional blown flute tone adds an element to the sound mix that’s more directly traceable to human origin – the sound of breath. In his review of the album for Point of Departure, Stuart Broomer puts it this way: “There are instants when Toop plays flute in a way that’s so direct and traditional that it’s possible to associate the sound with an ancient pastoral diversion, even the invention of melody.” It’s an attractive proposition, and the combination of Patterson’s labyrinthine rumblings (like being encased in thick masses of earth, crawling with roots and insects and shifting geological movement) with the ‘ancient’ sound of the flute – the origin of music as imitation of nature (wind, water, air, earth) – and Davies’ less ‘naturally’-based electronics, might be viewed as a union of the most ‘cutting-edge’ musical technology with the most atavistic of suggestions, the most primal and minute of natural processes and settings. Indeed, the track titles (taken from a poem by fifteenth-century alchemist George Ripley,1 amongst other sources) suggest mythology, occult investigations, gnosis: an intersection between magic and science, the new and the old; a cabinet of curiosities (‘wunderkammer’) – a memory theatre in which knowledge is not so much systematised (as it was in the cabinets’ successor, the modern museum) as dramatized, in a bric-a-brac juxtaposition of art, intellectual disciplines and religion. While this alchemical strain is not exactly a ‘sub-text’, a direct thematic parallel with the music herein, some comparisons do suggest themselves– objects changing from one thing into another, as when, say, one sound sets up a drone, others joining, merging with, and eventually subsuming it; and the transformation of base matter (field recordings changing into music, solids dissolving into liquids in Patterson’s glasses). Rather than be too programmatic or extravagantly metaphorical about this, though, it would perhaps be best to take the disc for what it is – a high-quality document of improvised sound. If I had one criticism to make, it would be that the fade-outs on a number of tracks create a sense of disjunction that doesn’t really sit well with the overall workings of the music: compare, for example, the way the first piece disappears just as some particularly interesting interacting sonorities are starting to emerge, with the longest, twenty-minute track, in which the development of various threads stretches out at what feels a much more natural, breathable length and pace. That’s a fairly minor quibble, however, about what is in general a very strong release. (DG)
LOOPER – DYING SUN
Label: Another Timbre / Cathnor (joint release)
Release Date: November 2010
Tracklist: Grand Redshift; Hazy Dawn; Near Eternity
Personnel: Nikos Veliotis: cello, electronics; Martin Küchen: saxophone, pocket radio; Ingar Zach: percussion
Additional Information: Recorded in Albi, France, January 2010
I suppose one could describe the music as drone, but this certainly isn’t the nunc-stans of rhapsodic / ecstatic drone in the Eliane Radigue / La Monte Young tradition, for no one note is sustained throughout; instead, a shifting succession of low-end growls and wavering beating tones move from background to foreground, underneath little repetitive units, or, one might term them, ‘loops’: Zach’s elephantine rhythmics, swishes and washes and slow treads; Küchen’s saxophonic breaths, pocket-radio whispers, and shaver buzzes (in combination with the electronics, giving a foley effect); Veliotis’ back-of-throat-electronic rumble, and, sometimes, extreme bass-register cello playing, merged in with this. The tick-tocking aspect – shuddering, juddering, mechanical motion set unstoppably going – feels relentless and sometimes disturbing (depending at what volume you listen); most notably, a clicking sound, the ghost of a metronome or someone making a popping, clip-clopping sound with finger and cheek, and, towards the end of the first track, a really ferocious amplified thudding (shaver still swirling away somewhere underneath), Küchen’s sax doing little wails of protest or grief over the top. This sun is not dying in a glorious, orange sunset-blaze, but imploding, exploding, shattering into an on-setting darkness full of murmurs and buzzes and sinister whines, finally just coming to a sudden stop, the light going out like nothing other than a miniscule match. But then it begins again (track two), more buzzing machine-loop rhythms, distant gong beat, pitched saxophone breath in between the two sets of sounds. The elements remain largely the same, volume rising, Küchen switching saxophone for the interference buzz of the pocket radio, gong swelling gradually upwards, wave upon wave, that initial machine-loop on and on like a buzzing insect, trapped in a light, slowly frying for the purposes of art in the manner of Damian Hirst’s ‘A Thousand Years’. Any temptation to rise to noise-levels, to thrust one really deep inside the insect-o-cutor, is avoided, and when the track finishes after only nine minutes it feels to have fairly flown by. And so back to droning, ritualistic tread for the final piece: bass drum trotting out a regular thud, radio on held whine, electronics pushed to the back, shuddering with the drum’s acoustic vibrations, Küchen’s breathing this time more subdued, human edge furring implacability of the others’ repetitive slow march. Now drum stops, drone bathing stereo picture, Zach chiming gongs, radio whine still holding, then suddenly stopping too; quieter, higher-pitched drones, pulse-like thud (electronics? drum?) fading out, as if the natural rhythm of one’s own ear, one’s own pulse were taking over from the music. The album as a whole feels fairly short, the last two tracks miniatures after the serious rumblings of the first – and that’s surely testament to the way the group can sustain one’s interest with a fairly bare palette of sounds. A sober little listen, then, worth amping up the volume to feel the full effect; something of a downer perhaps, not nearly as serene as track titles like ‘Hazy Dawn’ or ‘Near Eternity’ might suggest, and, arguably, all the better for it. (DG)
ANOTHER TIMBRE: SILENCE AND AFTER 2 – CUTTING EDGES
TIERCE – CAISSON
Label: Another Timbre
Release Date: 2011
Personnel: Jez riley French: field recordings, zither, salt, paper, camera, contact microphones, internal electronics; Ivan Palacky: amplified dopleta 180 knitting machine; Daniel Jones: turntable, electronics
Additional Information: Recorded live in concert at seeds & bridges, gallery eleven, Hull, 13th November 2010
Tierce’s disc is nicely abrasive, yet relaxed – is that a contradiction in terms? More evidence of my increasingly de-sensitized, skew-whiff listening practices? Let me explain: what I mean is that the sharpness of metallic scrapes and whirrs from knitting machines, turntables, and the like, is somehow neutralized, or softened, by the overall fullness and slowly – gloopily? – evolving textures of the music as a whole, each musicians’ field of activity itself comprised of further fields, several layers opened up at once, discs left spinning, drones left droning, scrapey things continuing to be scraped. In this context, French’s field recordings tend to act, not so much as interludes, nor as palette cleansers, but as moments of clarity – though the recordings themselves probably contain just as many layers as the louder electronic tactilities of the music itself. Interesting to consider, in fact, the variety of ways in which the field recs are incorporated, not so much as decoration, but as something like external prompts to enter into different sound fields, or as some kind of glue or paste to mark a particular transition – Annet Németh’s ‘Paupers Guide to John Cage’ uses them in a similar, though perhaps more integrated way. This certainly has more of traditionally improvised feel than Németh’s piece (even if Németh’s is more of an ‘intuitive composition’ (a term, in fact, that French explicitly prefers to ‘free improvisation’)): some of my favourite parts of the disc are those moments when one layer suddenly cuts out and the whole texture radically changes, a change that the musicians either work with / against to suddenly fill, in a change of direction, or leave hanging, as a silence, or near-silence, in which sounds will only gradually be built up again – as at the section which occurs shortly before the twenty-five minute mark here, French’s recording of corridor-echoing footsteps and floorsqueaks, itself full only of intermittent activity, peppered with two sets of white noise – one fizzing and popping in something approaching an extremely spread-out rhythm (though its temporal experience can’t really be said to be rhythmic), the other continuous, a bit like a boiling kettle or a distant train-track squeal / rumble crossed with muffled aeroplane take-off, though with wind-chime decoration at the edges (a rich sound, certainly, one which moves into electronic feedback to suggest that it was generated through physical means, though there may field recordings aspects melding into it as well, for all I know). This is, in fact, what feels like the most extended ‘section’ of the record as a whole, non-imposing, and perhaps not confrontational enough, after the sharp-edged sounds of the opening, the field recordings rendered somehow bland, ticking along with generally urban-based noises, the final section charting some gentle stroll round a block of flats, ending with the sound of a buzzer. Said buzzer, though, thankfully ushers in some zitherized scraping and electronic swells that proceed out of silence rather than from that ambient / ambulant fuzz, and are actually quite exquisite, hints of an almost impossibly slow-moving melody. Maybe that focussed and fragile intensity could not have been achieved without the long field-recording section before it – that said, I’d have preferred, heretical as this might make me sound, that a little editing had gone into the previous section. As it is, the rest of the disc ticks, or looms along nicely, the pitched feedback drone building up, some utterly eerie looping sound made from I don’t know what source – it sounds like a muffled wind-up toy, maybe Palacky speeding up and slowing down his knitting machine? –winding and wrapping itself along the rumbles and buzzes and static electricities that have now entered the sound picture: and a few of the elements we hear here – that near-melody, the wind-up toy-or-not – are true little burrowing ear-worms, exquisite indeed. (DG)
JAME SAUNDERS – DIVISIONS THAT COULD BE AUTONOMOUS BUT THAT COMPRISE THE WHOLE
Label: Another Timbre
Release Date: 2011
Tracklist: imperfections on the surface are occasionally apparent; PART OF IT MAY ALSO BE SOMETHING ELSE; components derive their value solely through their assigned context; materials vary greatly and are simply materials; although it may appear to vary by the way in which units are joined; any one part can replace any other part
Personnel: The Edges Ensemble: coffee cups; Philip Thomas: piano, melodica, harmonica, radio; Tim Parkinson, James Saunders: radios, bowed wood, bowed metal, coffee cup on brick; Rhodri Davies: harp and objects; Stephen Chase: guitar, radio and melodica; Angharad Davies: violin
Saunders’ titles, all sourced from various artist’s statements, imply a connection with the kind of experimentation in both social and musical group dynamics that, for me, represents one of the most valuable legacies of John Cage’s work (the Number Pieces in particular) – and, of course, the way in which that work has been extended or taken in new directions by the Wandelweiser composers. Or maybe I’m just thinking of the overall title for this series of pieces: the balance between autonomous division, individual part, and the whole that those contributions make up. I suspect, though, that Saunders is thinking more in formal terms (not that the two can be disconnected – it is precisely through formal innovation and exploration that the socialities of music production (or, more accurately, reception) are being addressed). By this I mean, I guess, that hearing the music outside its concert environment becomes a rather ascetic practice, rather than an exercise in collective listening and the experiencing of a particular space: this is certainly one of the starkest and sparsest of the Another Timbre discs, not because of lengthy silence but because of the ‘other timbres’ of the sound-producing objects and surfaces themselves. Instruments as such are not frequently deployed, and when they are, they’re restricted to a similarly limited register (‘PART OF IT MAY ALSO BE SOMETHING ELSE’, in which Philip Thomas’ melodica mimics, or attempts to fill, the decaying spaces of his previously-sounded piano tones). I mean, I like dragged coffee cups as much as the next human – and radio hum, and all these gentle rubbings and scrapings – but for them to fill up so much space over this 58 minutes asks a lot. I suspect, maybe, that this would be a perfect disc for that drifting space between waking and sleep when you might reach for the headphones instead of counting sheep – though it would be a little unnerving perhaps, as if some rats were slo-o-owly crawling along the skirting board with bits of sandpaper stuck to their feet. This is perhaps a little flippant, but it is my honest reaction; certainly, Saunders’ music here makes Annet Németh’s AT disc, for instance, sound as lush as any pumped-up Romantic orchestral smorgasbord. Well, maybe my favourite track is the first, and maybe that’s because I haven’t cultivated sufficient monastic patience to sustain that peak of interest through the whole disc: but, in any case, let’s see, what do I like about it, or, more broadly, what happens in it? Here’s Saunders’ programme note: “It is for ten players, each with a cardboard takeaway-coffee cup and five different surfaces. The cups act as resonators when dragged across the surfaces. The performers must each source different surfaces (e.g. glass, brick, felt, sandpaper) such that there are 50 different surfaces in total.” Though the piece is written, then, so that 50 different surfaces are in operation, it’s hard for me to distinguish between, say, card and tin foil and bricks and floors – that’s not even five, so where the other forty-five come from is beyond me. It’s serene, certainly, like taking a tiny element out of, say, a Lucio Capece performance, and turning it into a fully-fledged composition: almost an obvious move, if you have a certain frame of mind, and as the trends towards near-total minimalism may be leading us. Of course, the picture I have in my head of ten musicians sitting in some white-walled concert hall, small and chilly, watched by a rapt audience of the usual suspects, is maybe what makes the piece for me: its sheer incongruity, coupled with its obvious, and serious technical and formal thinking (for which, check out the liner notes), make a combination that reminds me of Saunders’ and Tim Parkinson’s collaborations, as, oddly enough, Parkinson-Saunders (in which configuration they also appear here). In particular, I think of their performance, at the recent Audiograft Festival in Oxford, of a series of ‘pop songs’, featuring both musicians making chunky boom-boom rhythms out of tables and chairs and hand claps and a whole miscellany of household materials, while chanting words sourced from self-help pamphlets and surveys. It seems so perverse as to be idiotic: middle-aged men playing around, because they can – but of course it isn’t, it’s the flipside to the more sober coin with which we’re presented here, with that same emphasis on a limited palette. But the palette itself is just more interesting there – and there are funny bits too! Yes, as Dominic Lash points out in a blog-post which rather splendidly connects Saunders and Simon H. Fell, the intention is to make that limited palette seem to generate enormous elements of microscopic and fragile detail, once you achieve the necessary focus to zoom in that far: yet if, say, the layered simplicities of a Rothko, achieved through hours of working and re-working of layers, of a tactile engagement with surface, achieve transparency through density, the opposite move, here, of trying to achieve a kind of density through transparency, or limitation, just doesn’t, for me, pay off. Lash suggests that the tactility of the dragged coffee cups on the first track approaches the erotic, to which I might reply, ‘whatever turns you on’ – and of course, I hope that the coffee cups were made of sustainable, recyclable materials, and that they weren’t from Starbucks. In any case, I know that Saunders finds such fragile and non-standard sounds beautiful, and I have at times found them beautiful as well, and in that case we are both in the same near-psychotic boat, but I guess that over the course of this disc I have fallen out of it, and I’m drowning in inappropriate metaphors here, so for now I’ll just go under those Lethian waters and stop. (DG)
PATRICK FARMER / SARAH HUGHES / DOMINIC LASH – DROPLETS
Label: Another Timbre
Release Date: 2011
Tracklist: For Maaike Schoorel (1); Elusion (improvisation); For Maaike Schoorel (2); Nachtstück
Personnel: Patrick Farmer: percussion; Sarah Hughes: zither, piano (1-2); Dominic Lash: double-bass (all tracks)
Additional Information: Tracks 1-3 recorded at The Drama Studio, Oxford Brookes University 30/01/2010;
Track 4 recorded in a small wood above the village of Hathersage, Derbyshire, 11/09/201.
I’m going to begin this review at the end of the disc in question – with the final, solo recording by Dominic Lash. I first heard Eva-Maria Houben’s ‘Nachtstück’, the piece in question, performed by Lash at the house concert which launched The Set Ensemble (the Oxford-based group he mentions in his liner notes, dedicated to performing the music of the Wandelweiser group). This performance was, in fact, my first encounter with Wandelweiser, which had somehow, up to that point, slipped under my radar; in the year since, its profile seems to have risen more and more, with concerts, recordings, articles and debates, proliferating in both real and virtual space, as an increasing number of listeners become aware of this body of work by a group of composers with often very different practices, but a core of shared concerns. As I heard it in Oxford last summer, ‘Nachtstück’ came from the deep and ancient world of the drone, the basic element of much ‘folk-music’, that held sound which can seem to go on forever, and which creates an exquisite interplay and dialogue with silence once it stops – and then, sometimes, re-starts. ‘Nachtstück’ also became about the environment in which it was played – not only the relaxed, yet private and intensely focused atmosphere generated by one person performing in front of a tiny audience in a domestic setting (a return to ‘chamber music’ in the original sense of that term), but also the sounds of a fly buzzing around the room and landing on people’s arms, on furniture, on the roof and walls; those classic, lazy, mid-summer sounds of distant lawn-mowers and car engines and voices; and, most significantly, a summer rain show, which, as I noted in a review written at the time, seemed an especially fortuitous unconscious echo of, or homage to, Taku Sugimoto’s ‘Live in Australia’. Perhaps it was the newness of this experience, of the shift between foreground and background, music and environment, and the eventual mesh between them – music as part of environment, environment as part of music, neither as necessarily more important than the other – but I still hold Lash’s performance of ‘Nachtstück’ that day as a special hour, un-fraught by the difficulties of more busy urban environments (those by-now clichéd ambiences of Tokyo and London and Berlin – sirens, the whooshes of passing cars, creaking chairs, throat-clearing, stomach-rumbling – or, most memorably, another performance in Oxford in which a piece by Stefan Thut disappeared into the sound of a drunken sing-along next-door). Lash, as he explains in a useful online interview with Simon Reynell concerning this release (to be found at the Another Timbre website), doesn’t see a conflict between such environmental uncontrollables and between the frequent near-invisible delicacy of the sounds produced in the music; nor does he see these uncontrollables as mere ambient ‘cushioning’ for the music. Rather, adopting a metaphor turned metaphor from Antoine Beuger, both (largely pre-determined) music and (indeterminate) environmental sound are part of the same cloth, a cloth of all possible sounds, out of which one ‘cuts’, or has cut for one, the sounds that one finally hears. In the case of the environment into which ‘Nachtstück’ is placed on this recording, such concerns are perhaps less paramount than they might be in such a dramatic instance as the Stefan Thut performance: as Reynell notes in his own comments on this release, it was the house concert with which I began this review that inspired the version that has eventually been released (Reynell was a fellow attendee), as a kind of amplification of the small environmental details which had so struck him in Oxford. In other words, the location was chosen for particular sonic reasons, rather than simply being imposed as the city-centre location of a particular concert hall where a performance happened to take place. That there was again a rain shower is perhaps not surprising, given that this is England – perhaps it was even half-hoped for, as a means of adding another layer of richness and event to the piece, though the difficulties Lash faced in keeping his bass dry and un-damaged perhaps dispel that notion – and this is only the most easily-noted aspect of performing the piece outdoors. Whereas an increasing number of composers and improvisers have incorporated pre-prepared field recordings into musical settings (one of the most notable recent examples being the exceptional Michael Pisaro release on Another Timbre which was included in the first batch of the ‘Silence and After’ series, last year), or have presented untreated field recordings as something between music and document (work of this kind can be found, for example, on Jez Riley French’s ‘Engraved Glass’ label), playing a piece outdoors breaks down the distinction between recording and environment, so that the music can fully exist as part of an outdoor setting. The logistical difficulties of such an operation are perhaps why it is not more often attempted – that, and the tendency for a kind of diffuseness to spread over the music, a kind of relaxation and lessening of intensity, sparked by the lazing-back sounds of birdsong and sheep and drifting flies that we are all familiar with from television and radio and BBC sound-effects cassettes. This has been my experience, at any rate, but I’m happy to say that Lash, as anyone who has heard is recording, or better yet, seen him live, is a musician of exceptional focus, and well able to deal with the distractions of a rustic setting.
So this music, which I’ve been skirting around for many sentences now, how does it unfold (and for that matter, gabby as I am, what of the tracks with Patrick Farmer and Sarah Hughes that make up the rest of the disc)? One problem I’ve addressed, or at least hinted at, in reviews of Wandelweiser music and concerts published in the previous issue of ‘eartrip’, is that of a too un-critical attitude towards the external sounds which can often end up providing much of the ‘content’ of an otherwise very quiet composition. At its crudest, this would mean (to re-iterate what I realize I’ve just said at the end of the previous paragraph) experiencing a piece of music in much the same way one would experience a tape of bird-song recordings, or of lazily-buzzing flies and distant baaing sheep in a summer meadow – a pastoral idyll that falls back too easily on generic tropes of ‘relaxation’, ‘harmony with nature’, etc. The answer to this problem is that the fascination of the work lies precisely in the interplay and relation between the ‘natural’ and ‘human’ elements; not so much that the wind, or the rain, or the buzzing flies, are ‘instruments’, external objects moulded and shaped for aesthetic purposes by a controlling human agent in much the same way as a double-bass, but that they are ‘framed’ by the human sounds to become something other than they would if simply heard unadorned. Listening to the recording, of course, reveals other layers, theory melting into and becoming enriched by physical practice. The first appearance of Lash’s bass, against a steady white-noise background of wind blowing in trees, sounds like a muffled, deliberate call, the after-echo of a horn signalling across the hills – there is that ancientness about it, connected no doubt to the deepness and the droning nature of the sounds the bass is made to play. Perhaps that’s a little too fanciful (I’ve just been reading Robbe-Grillet’s ‘Nature, Humanism and Tragedy’, and no doubt he’d chide me for my too-easy humanising of nature, my projection of fey subjective whimsicalities onto the world of objects). Disregarding metaphor or analogical methods of description, then, we can simply say (hopefully without opening another can of worms), that there is something very beautiful about the way that a particularly delicate high harmonic is at once almost drowned out by a sudden swell of rain, the distinction between musical ‘foreground’ and ambient / natural ‘background’ existing as something malleable, rather than a line set in stone. Something beautiful too about the way the bass notes seem to be acting as some kind of commentary, or complement to the rain shower, while at the same time carrying on as before, not so much ignoring the context as becoming wholly subsumed within it, content to take place, to be placed, within it. And something (thankfully) rather funny (this isn’t all po-faced wonder in the face of nature) when a low bass tone ceases, immediately followed by the protesting ‘baa’ of a put-out sheep.
So now, as promised, back to the start of the disc, to the three pieces in which Lash is joined by Patrick Farmer and Sarah Hughes (these three roughly corresponding, in total length, to the solo ‘Nachtstück’). Two realisations of the same piece by Taylan Susam bookend a 20-minute improvisation: the presence of the improvisation significant because Lash has grown increasingly wary of approaching so-called ‘reductionist’ music through improvising parameters (though improvisation remains central to his work elsewhere), preferring the discipline, the task-based play between rigidity and looseness, freedom and constraint, that the very particular scores of Wandelweiser composers offer. Can one, though, tell the difference? Could one, in a blind-fold test, distinguish between the ‘composed’ and the ‘improvised’? Perhaps there’s a certain following of linear logic that’s more present in the improvisations than the compositions (somewhat counter-intuitively, one might think): a thought can be finished, a line of questioning followed, taken for a walk, without coming up against a notational instruction that says ‘now move onto something else’. This doesn’t mean ‘gabbiness’ – the music is far quieter than that I’ve heard Hughes and Farmer make on more recent occasions, where Farmer, in particular, has acted as a kind of sonic agitator, suddenly letting out bursts of un-expected noise, often accompanied with very definite physical actions and movements (abruptly emptying a tub of compost onto a turntable to produce screes of feedback, for example). But the popping, tapping, rasping manipulation of (I’m guessing here) a plastic cup, does set things at an edge un-imaginable during the previous few minutes, when extremely high, delicate sounds came out like a little chorus of minimalist mice. The chorus from the film ‘Babe’ gone Wandelweiser, perhaps – or, mice as painted by Maaike Schoorel, reduced to little blobs and blurts of colour and shade on a white ground.
Maaike Schoorel, ‘Twilight’ (2004) © The Saatchi Gallery
Schoorel is the dedicatee of Susam’s piece, and a painting of hers, entitled ‘Twilight’, forms the (fairly direct) inspiration for the score itself, alongside a quotation from composer Joseph Kurdika: “little fields of sounds…. or not fields – plops…. puddles.” Just as the painting, though derived from a photograph, is not a realist representation of twilight, so the piece suggests itself as a kind of ‘translation’ of the painting into something else, recognisable, perhaps, as having derived from its particular source, but quite different in effect, contour, timbre. Such re-contextualising (in which a photograph becomes some seemingly abstract dabs of paint becomes some restrained whisps of sound) perhaps explains the inclusion of two ‘takes’ at the piece (another re-contextualisation); those two takes also allow us to consider the degree to which a score such as this is fixed, and how far the musicians’ interpretation is the main shaping force of the piece as it unfolds. Whatever one decides, the notion of ‘playing’ a painting as a graphic score (set out in more overtly ‘musical’ form by Keith Rowe’s ‘Pollock 82’ (laid out as it is above and below lines which approximate a musical staff)) seems to me an exciting one, a technique that could be opened up so that one could go, say, to The Tate Modern, and play ‘scores’ by Barnett Newman or Mark Rothko or Cy Twombly – or, for that matter, by Claude Monet and Louise Bourgeois.
Above: a version of ‘Pollock 82’, by Keith Rowe. Photo © Yuko Zama
We have a number of layers, or levels of relation, here – Schoorel’s paintings are abstracted versions of photographs, detail taken from itself so that it appears as another kind of detail, not specific, yet forced towards particularly resonances or suggestions by the painting’s titling (presumably, the original photograph was of a twilight). Susam takes the painting and, without providing an exact ‘translation’ into music, an aural equivalent, or something that exists entirely on the coat-tails, as it were, of another artist’s art, does create a piece which exists in relation to it and in dialogue with it. As he notes in a short essay on his blog, “In my music, titles function either along the lines of the above, or are dedications. In fact, ‘nocturnes’, is my only title so far that is not a dedication. In my text about the audience I distance myself from the idea of a consistent ‘humanity’ as addressee of my pieces. In that light, it is easy to understand that my pieces bear titles such as for joseph kudirka or for blinky palermo. I wrote those pieces for a person – when that’s established, who cares about the title, about the name?”2 In that sense, though the piece should not be considered subservient to its apparent ‘subject’ or dedicatee, it does set up a net-work of relations (and this is the sense in which it is ‘political’3) : firstly, between the composer and the dedicatee (whom he/she may know or not know – the dedication could, as in the case of ‘for louis couperin’, be to someone long dead); secondly, between the performer, the composer, and the dedicatee; thirdly (and fourthly, fifthly, etc), between the listener(s), critic(s), performer, composer, dedicatee. I’m reminded somewhat of Frank O’ Hara’s ‘personism’ – except, of course, that music cannot have the direct address that words can – there is nothing inherent in a non-vocal sound that says ‘I am addressing this directly to you’. This doesn’t mean we have to fall into the trap of a too-lazy ‘universalism’ (along which lines The Beatles are ‘great’ because their music contains some mathematical formula or universal human subject that makes it relevant to everyone and anyone (such views tend to be exclusively western-centric and inherently culturally imperialist)). But it’s nothing quite as direct as O’ Hara’s sexual metaphors (which in any case don’t quite fit the very public world necessitated by book publication, fame, exposure, etc): the piece of music is not really a “lucky pierre”, sandwiched between reader and writer.4 One online critic describes Schoorel’s paintings as “almost silent”.5 Of course, one immediately clamours, all painting is silent, whatever Kandinsky’s Blavataskian synaesthesia might otherwise suggest. Similarly, all music is ephemeral, non-visual (particularly if one closes one’s eyes when listening, so that the sounds I’m hearing are not, say, associated with the computer screen in front of me or the rather drab curtains in my room). But it is a communication – sound does always tell us something, even if not always as a direct propositional statement, an easily-got-at-gobbet of information. And perhaps that communication could take place between two art-works – between a painting and a composition, between that composition and its realisation – a kind of personism of art-objects, as well as of persons; a work that, because it concerns itself exclusively with its own “immanent logic,” allows itself a much more intimate mode of address than the loftily human(istic) ‘great work’ template allows – which actually allows in a more human space than the ostensibly ‘humanist’. As Susam puts it, “After the task [of composition] is completed, I consider the result not a message with a specific address, but rather the possibility of an occurrence that will always be embedded in a certain situation. The meaning of this occurrence can only come about within an essentially social situation. And, as Christian Wolff has it: one person making music and one person listening already makes for a social situation. At the heart of the matter, I compose for a scene of two.”6
I think, in the context of a CD review, we’ve drifted off-piste, off-point. And I’ve probably barely talked about the actual sounds of those two Taylan Susam pieces. But you can find that out for your self. So let’s end there. (DG)
FARMER / KILYMIS / HUGHES / CORNFORD – NO ISLANDS
Label: Another Timbre
Release Date: 2011
Tracklist: Improvisation; Improvisation; four6 [Cage]
Personnel: Patrick Farmer: turntable, electronics; Kostis Kilymis: electronics; Sarah Hughes: chorded zither; Stephen Cornford: amplified piano
Additional Information: Recorded at Oxford Brookes University Drama Studio, March 2011
This disc captures well, I think, something I really enjoy in the playing of Farmer, Hughes and Cornford, certainly – I’m not really familiar with Kilymis’ playing, though Organized Music from Thessaloniki is indeed a fine enterprise – which is the balance between an almost tentative stillness and quietness (the potential, at least, for that to be there) and an almost visceral wildness – as when, on the first improvisation, a sudden blart of feedback rudely blares out like a mistake, is ignored, and doesn’t recur; or the fact that, at the end of that improvisation, everyone else’s gentle electronic ebbings away are overlaid with Farmer’s loud and physical and tactile turntable-surface frictions. It’s an aesthetic a million miles away from capital n Noise Music – though bits are noisy, and many of the sounds produced would be considered ‘noises’ by most ‘straight’ listeners – but it’s not in the least prissy or monastic in its restraint, delighting in the rasps and whirrs and burrs of its ugly beauties before settling into a kind of contemplative ambience in which the distant, twittering frequencies of birds or passing planes act as spectral, barely-registered presences, sitting there waiting for the musicians to stop dropping things on zithers or making whooshing noises with electronics or manipulating the insides of pianos. Maybe that’s partly a quality of the room itself – I’ve seen Farmer and Hughes, this time as part of the Set Ensemble, with Bruno Guastalla and David Stent, perform a different version of the Cage piece which makes up half of ‘No Islands’, once in rehearsal, with the door open on a balmy spring afternoon, and once again in the evening, where a different focus or tension (and the presence of audience) was brought to bear on proceedings. In both cases, though, the room – a square black box, quite tall in relation to its width – seems to inspire a kind of openness, a relaxed focus, perfect to the simultaneous focussed activity of both Four6 and improvised music: set away from the main body of the Oxford Brookes campus, on the side of a hill, above allotments and trees, inside it feels as if one could create a safe and sequestred world of focussed experiment, and yet at the same time feel open to what occurred outside, in entirely un-cloistered freshness. I guess this information is anecdotal, but, after all, Keith Rowe is always stressing the importance of the room, or space, in which one performs, and it’s that combination, of person and environment, that allows music like this to breathe. As too you should listen to it in a space where you can breathe, to let the many wonderful things here soak in – for there’s a delicious and perverse richness at times, as when (this on the second improvisation) a generally sober drone is packed over with all sorts of strange and wonderful little interventions: a rumbling stomach imitation; someone (Farmer no doubt) emptying something out of a bag; a whoop-wailing theremin-like sound which actually made me laugh out loud on first hearing, at its voice-likeness, its incongruity, its near-parodic yet curiously touching emotional tint. ‘Four6′ is the quietest thing on here, though the door to the studio is now open and the birds outside are in full and frequent voice; and maybe I prefer the (relatively) wilder territory of the improvisations, but, as the disc rides out on those continuing birds, a piano-bell-toll, a siren (outside intervention), a bowed zither zing, a turntable scrunch, another piano strum, and a fade-out, all this making its way into the otherwise silent living room here at 1AM, I’ll take the Cage piece too. This is, as they (who?) might say, a sweet record. And now I’m going to listen to some Delicate Steve. (DG)
ANETT NÉMETH – A PAUPER’S GUIDE TO JOHN CAGE
Label: Another Timbre
Release Date: 2011
Tracklist: A Pauper’s Guide to John Cage; Early Morning Melancholia
Personnel: Annet Németh: piano, clarinet, household objects, field recordings, domestic electronics
Additional Information: Released on CD-R
I know nothing about Németh, and thus have lazily reached for comparative judgement markers almost soon as the music hits my ears. But not too much, I hope, because this sounds very much like its own thing. Michael Pisaro is, yes, the obvious comparison to make here (at least, on the first track, which gives the disc a whole its title as well): the combination of instrumental/electronic timbres, for one thing – piano (with occasional clarinet) set off against sine tones and field recordings – though those recordings are less prevalent, and the music as a whole more ‘busy’ than, say, ‘Fields Have Ears 4′. ‘Busy’ is, of course, a relative term (and must come across as absurdly relative to those not immersed in this particular field of music-making); certainly, while there’s very little actual silence, there are pauses which feel like interludes between episodes, or breathing points. One in particular, six minutes into the first track, very beautifully isolates a temporary snippet of what sounds like a wailing baby bird – at first I thought a seagull, but it’s less harsh than that, plaintive and almost heart-rending here. The piano improvisation itself, which, as Németh notes, forms the ‘spine’ of the piece, is as spare and controlled as one might hope for and expect, alternating between grey-grave middle-register soundings and the occasional inner-string pluck. At times it takes on tolling-bell weight, sombre in a way that, say, Pisaro’s ‘Asleep, Street, Pipe, Tones’, or (more apposite for this piece’s soundworld), the aforementioned ‘Fields Have Ears 4′, are not: this, in part, accounting for the piece’s distinctive character; that and the fact that the field recordings are so spectrally murky, as if emerging from that speckled grey cloud which adorns the front cover (the composer-photo/phono-grapher peeking out of her window at the foreboding blankness of suburbia). OK, I’m imposing a programme here, perhaps drawn in by Németh’s comments on the Another Timbre website, imagining her popping out of her door, furtively, surreptitiously, to gather sounds, the whoosh of the road and the occasional call of a circling bird and the frenzied Neighbourhood Watch glare, the curtain-tugging neighbourhood stare, looking out for suspicious artistic activity. Yet there are bits which open up to some other suggestions– little folds in the space-time continuum through which appear, now that I’ve got that image in my mind, reminiscences of some grey summer sea-side (these images are all very British, I realize – and, of course, I don’t know where Németh lives), like the prompting of Proust’s madeleine cakes, or the smell of salt brought in by a sea-gull. But this is sound, of course, so the squeaking and scraping turns from gull to skateboard to rusty wheel or gate, the piano is plunked with unexpected and reverberating force (still a single tone), sounds swirl in and out behind it, the music continues, non-development but full of ambiguous incident. I guess, then, that it’s quite a busy piece, in fact, in terms and in the turns of all the various sound-producing methods and little episodes which have gone into making it: actual and processed clarinet, objects inside and outside the household, electronic manipulations. And I do really like that domestic element stressed in Németh’s brief notes and in the Another Timbre interview: John Cage on the cheap, as it were, though, perhaps, with less of the almost religious solemnity that might go into Official Concert Performances of his work in certain circumstances. ‘Early Morning Melancholia’ is quite a different animal to the Pauper’s Guide, is wails tamed and neutralized, as Németh notes: the simultaneous feeling of absolute despair and total numbness that particular kinds of depression can induce. I mean, it’s beautiful, again, too, much more sparse than its longer cousin, less explicitly referential in its samplings, which are disguised by simple twists of electronic manipulation – slowed down, pasted over with white noise, woozily slurring and sliming in and out of an overall trajectory that’s meandering and unclear, repetitive and agonizingly slow, without the anchoring Pauper’s piano to tie it down. Maybe I’ve emotionally over-invested there – and maybe I should have read Németh’s interview after listening to her pieces (after all, Reynell notes in one of his questions that, for him, the piece’s “dream-like” quality is “beautiful and actually quite up-lifting”) –but, as with Ap’strophe’s ‘Corgroc’ (reviwed in the previous issue of eartrip), there seems to me here a definite emotional element -as there is, indeed, in much of the best ‘eai’ – that’s not easy or comforting but difficult and sometimes overwhelming. Yet so easy for those very same elements which make up such work – sine tones and held drones, electronic noises and slow-motion movement, an overarching structure which makes use of overlapping, repetitive, non-developmental near-stasis in a quasi-intuitive manner – to generate music that can seem life-affirming and to sparkle with positive and wholly calming serenity balm (shit, that makes it sound like aural bubble-bath. Badedas for the Ears! But you get the picture, hear, it, watchfully, whatever). And yeah, in sum, this is really very impressive work, and do I hope that we hear more from Németh, and, well, Another Timbre Strikes Again. (DG)
AEROPLANE TRIO – NARANJA HA
Label: Drip Audio
Release Date: 2011
Tracklist: Pre Rumble; Lucky Loonie; Rock Paper; Whitehorse; Plastic Farm Animals; Callejuela; They Came And Took Away Our Kittens; Subtle Shock; Whatever Happened To The Sand People; Crow’s Nest; Lagoon; Live At Ironworks; Getting To Naranja Ha.
Personnel: JP Carter: trumpet, cornet; Russell Sholberg: bass, saw; Skye Brooks: drums, percussion
The Aeroplane Trio are a group of multi-taskers – JP Carter on trumpet & coronet, Russell Sholberg on bass & saw, and Skye Brooks on drums & percussion. And to further the tasking, each member belongs to handful of other Vancouver-based ensembles and noise-makers such as Fond of Tigers, the Inhabitants, NOW Orchestra, Tony Wilson 6tet, etc… Not to be outdone, the packing also does double-duty as it not only holds the CD but a DVD containing a live performance and a 15+min. documentary.
While this counts as their debut, the group has been together for almost a decade and each contributor has enough background and experience with other groups to ensure that this recording is very confident and relaxed.
“Pre Rumble” begins it all and makes a solid opening statement, despite being more on the ‘sound’ end of the musical spectrum, as opposed to the ‘music’ end, which is pretty much where the next track “Lucky Loonie” [*] starts, with a pseudo-jazz intro complete with walking bass line and ringing crash cymbal. “Rock Paper” is rollicking & short’n’sharp like its predecessor and “Whitehorse” [**] is a great bass & trumpet feature. “Plastic Farm Animals” takes us back to the vibe of the opener with sporadic but confident outbursts from the trio. “Callejuela” [***] has simple and elegant statements from Carter with some equally tasteful contributions from Sholberg; clocking in at under 7min., it’s the longest and slowest tempo of the written tunes but never drags. “They Came and Took Away Our Kittens” features Sholberg’s saw skill, and is a fine demonstration of how spooky such an instrument can be, giving the waterphone a run for its money. “Subtle Shock” is a short improv while another improv, “Whatever Happened to the Sand People,” ups the noise by a few notches, which is the most rambunctious these guys get here. “Crow’s Nest”, driven by some solid bass playing, makes a cool and casual statement, while the closing track “Lagoon” winds things up on an ambient note, with almost didgeridoo-esque low horn, thumb piano (courtesy of Sholberg), and cymbal-washes.
The DVD has a documentary and a live show. The documentary is no-nonsense: just the trio sitting around, talking about they each got started in music, early experiences in creative music and how they came together as a group. A little bit of talk on how they do what they do but, thankfully, it’s pretty short, has a few humourous moments, and doesn’t delve into the mumbo-jumbo that often comes out when people try to discuss or explain this kind of music. The live show is well-done and well-recorded – this isn’t just somebody’s mom with a jiggly handycam but a nice multi-camera work with good sound (though the audience clapping is louder than the band). The improv sections get a bit more wooly than those recorded on the cd. There ares two improv tunes on the DVD and, of the three titled/written tracks, only one appears on the cd. As with the CD, the written tunes are more tuneful and jazzy than the improv – not that that’s a bad thing, as this trio can clearly handle both approaches. (TH)
[*] For all the non-Canucks out there, a loonie is the name given to the Canadian one-dollar coin, as it has a picture of a loon on it; to extend the portmanteau, the two-dollar coin is called a toonie (pronounced: two-nie), with a polar bear on the reverse.
[**] The capital city of the Yukon Territory in Canada’s north.
[***] Spanish for alleyway or sidestreet.
JAC BERROCAL / DAVID FENECH / GHÉDALIA TAZARTÈS – SUPERDISQUE
Label: Sub Rosa
Release Date: 2011
Tracklist: Joy Divisé; Human Bones;Cochise;Quando;David’s Theme; Ife L’Ayo; Porte De Bagnolet;J’attendrai;Jac’s Theme; Powow;Sainte;Final;Zilveli
Personnel: Jac Berrocal: trumpet; David Fenech: electric and acoustic guitar; Ghédalia Tazartès: vocals, accordion
Good to see Ghédalia Tazartès’ profile rising slightly in recent years: it must have been about four years ago that I blogged about his work, having heard ‘Tazartès’ Transports’ on a sharity blog, the situation being at that time being so bad that said blog entry featuring as the top hit whenever I googled him in the next year or so. Since then, coverage has improved – a nice article by Howard Slater for Mute magazine, a Wire profile (and, yeah, that blog entry got turned into something for a previous issue of eartrip, but let’s not count that) – but, more importantly, Tazartès has started doing gigs both in France and abroad (all of which I’ve sadly missed). New people (wire readers, I guess) are starting to hear of him (tho’ he’s not yet a really trendy cult hit – guess we’ll have to wait till Thurston Moore discovers him…); new work is coming out. It’s all good.
Tracks from this particular project have been floating around the internet for a couple of years now – the little gem here titled ‘David’s Theme’ is a really gorgeous example I remember listening to over and over upon that initial download – but hearing the whole disc is really where it’s at. As on Tazartès’ own solo recordings, short pieces splice into & crash up against each other, like fragments of larger wholes, or abortive pop singles which just couldn’t be fitted into the requisite verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. It’s just right, like a killer mixtape, a playlist any eclectic college radio DJ would be proud of – but just right in a sometimes deliriously wonky or obviously stitched way. Sure, it’s not as lo-fi as the solo home recordings (viz., the clean sheen on Berrocal’s trumpet, the bursts of rockish guitar or gently throbbing bassy loops from Fennech), but it’s still full of unexpected and delightful transitions, bizarre and wonderful conceits: an ethnic fair-show swathed in vaguely jazzy, vaguely ambient electronica’d swirls and blurs.
Murmuring, or shall we say grumbling, Tazartès initiates proceedings as an old priest or an old drunk – or a drunken old priest, a tipsy holy man; Berrocal tooting air, Fennech doing rubber-band echoes on his electric guitar, Tazartès’ voice now rising alongside Berrocal’s blues-hued trumpet. Some sort of bizarre vocoded effect, sudden blarts of electric distortion, all getting nearly swamped in wispy white noise, trumpet farts leading us into ‘Human Bones.’ Quasi throat-singing rumbles, alternating with thinner old man’s laments: funeral rites, death songs, underworld passages – these slipping into the echoes of Native American chant that flutter around the edge of ‘Cochise’. (Tazartès’ work is like, or is, a hallucination of what ‘world music’ might mean to an eccentric old western nomad, pan-culturalism without the ideological programmes or the naive hippie gloss). Berrocal’s trumpet multiplies into a spectral line of buglers blowing a spectral fanfare; now ‘Quando’, and the first appearance of Tazartès’ accordion, alongside Fennech’s tickle-plucked acoustic guitar; ‘David’s Theme’, aforementioned, gently blown along on Fennech’s simple pattern of alternating guitar notes, Berrocal letting out moaning, swaying tones before taking up a melancholy little theme which could have come out of a forgotten Ennio Morricone spaghetti western score (Tazartès’ distant whistling only adding to the effect). ‘Ife l’ayo’ is ‘fake jazz’ with a melody not too far off from that disarmingly nursery-rhyme like staple of Miles Davis’ 1980s concert repertoire, ‘Jean Pierre’ – played strictly for laughs here. (Well, maybe not quite strictly – but you can’t help but smile a little, no?) ‘Porte de Bagnolet’: all sorts of weird goings-on around the steady drum patter, Tazartès singing out in questing tremble, his accordion dancing and shaking or holding weird clusters and quasi-electronic low tones. The drunken sailor goes crazy, strings together a bracing atonal run on his accordion as he thuds against the walls; eventually falls asleep, hears that cautiously beautiful dream music. Some guy’s playing exquisite, sad echoed trumpet; some guy’s tinkling a guitar; some guy’s singing in that hangover haze…Why is that voice suddenly coming up so close to my ear, so close I can hear its mucus rasp? This guy’s telling me – well, he’s singing it to me – telling me, ‘j’attendrai toujours’…why, I don’t know…
Bells, music boxes, middle-eastern(ish) melodics – and that growling again, deep and dark from the throat. The Native Americans are back – or the Hollywood extras playing them are back, back for their ‘Powow’. There seems to be something wrong: the frame drum’s beating but there are some reverse-effects wisping and rasping past my ear as this old man mutters and whispers and groans and talks and sings to himself. And now, the switch between the gorgeously echoed gliss or gloss of Berrocal’s trumpet and the defiantly acoustic, ‘old-timey’ sounds of Tazartès’ battered old accordion on ‘Sainte’, as he launches into a quavery tavern sing-along, Fennech, or Berrocal, or both, dropping little clangs and bangs around him like the tavern clientele drumming on the table, a kid with a big drum, some siren fading it out like it was all another dream. And it all is: Tazartès’ art thrives on fanciful imaginings, on improvised fantasies and fantasias in invented languages, quasi-folk-forms, primitive tinny keyboards and rhythms and electronic manipulations. If Fennech and Berrocal add a post-Milesian sheen not all too dissimilar from the work of, say, Nils Petter Molvaer or Jon Hassell, Tazartès imparts that necessary roughness, that semi-parodic, semi-sincere sense of pathos and occasionally boozy fun that lends his band-mates’ echoed ruminations a kind of grandeur they might not otherwise possess. It’s music that constantly suggests little narratives, little stories that are dropped almost as soon as they’re taken up; that suggests places, exotic locales, filmic locations or treated archive recordings of now-forgotten ceremonies; a jump-cutting, surreal movie for the ears. What genre it’s all in I really couldn’t say. Do check it out. (DG)
BEVAN / OBERMAYER / MARKS / LASH – A BIG HAND
Label: Foghorn Records
Release Date: 2010
Tracklist: Rock Me Baby; Heart of Stone; They Smell Like Giants; Lonely Girl; Box of Frogs; One Punch and Out; He’s Spartacus; Giants (Of Jazz-Funk); I am Not a Lizard; Got You Sucker!
Personnel: Tony Bevan: soprano, tenor and bass saxophones, flute; Dominic Lash: double bass; Phil Marks: drums; Paul Obermayer: electronics
Straight out the blocks, Bevan’s free jazz take on R&B(ish), Lash and Marsh digging in and not letting up, Obermayer flickering and flashing on the edges of things, sometimes as if a phantom guitar’s wormed its way into the bands, at others more obviously electronic in its texture. ‘Heart of Stone’ has Obermayer’s sampled descending bass line picked up by Lash in glorious wooze, Bevan’s soprano in-step with that rhythmic articulation, blowing hard, as is his wont, phrases in bursts, in blocks, the final note of one triggering the first of the next, up and down, snakes and ladders. Bevan does that stop-start thing a fair bit, in fact: those staggered pauses, like an over-extended breath, heightening the expectation of the phrase to come but still catching one off guard when it does – like someone walking in spasms, a regulated stutter. Or perhaps someone with the shakes after drinking too much coffee. Nervous energy, most certainly. This imparts the disc as a whole with a sense of ‘punchiness’, but one that somehow feels fragile, Bevan’s tongued out-cries or repeated wails often underscoring that slight feeling of desperation, constriction, having to get something out there and said before the moment passes. The jittery nitty-gritty of Obermayer’s electronics of course contributing to that a good deal, of course: check his interventions under the wailing soprano of ‘Lonely Girl’. A good deal of humour here as well, I think, despite the keening emotional register in which Bevan often operates: check the bloopy-farty start of ‘Got You Sucker!’, Obermayer making sounds like one of those farmyard-animal-noise-toys you used to be able to find in kids’ shops – somewhere between a cow, a sheep, and a creaking gate – almost satirizing Bevan’s bass sax gasps and growls, but of course in a spirit of dialogue and lumbering fun, banter rather than man-spiritedness. Also of note, the fact that none of the tracks out-stay their welcome – they generally last only five minutes or less – and each feel like well-developed pieces, rather than merely sketches or cast-offs, each tracing a specific trajectory, each exploring a particular area with concision and verve. The band are focussed and on, the joint is jumping. OK! (DG)
RHYS CHATHAM – OUTDOOR SPELL
Label: Northern Spy
Release Date: 2011
Tracklsit: Outdoor Spell; Crossing the Sword Bridge of the Abyss; Corn Maiden’s Rite; The Magician
Personnel: Rhys Chatham: trumpet (voice on 1); Beatriz Rojas: cajon (3); Jean-Marc Montera: electric guitar (4); Kevin Shea: drums (4)
If the titular first track is fairly reverent dronology, Chatham’s electronically-aided vocals somewhat reminiscent of throat singing, occasional trumpet lines swelling out the texture as the piece progrssess, ‘Crossing the Sword Bridge of the Abyss’ imparts a visceral physicality to the enterprise: popping trumpet farts (I mean, of course, pedal tones) underlie the piece as a rhythmic bed, like a perverted march, numerous echo-enhanced trumpet lines swirling round over the top, overlapping so that the origin or end of any one line seems to disappear into the miasma (much as in Chatham’s guitar orchestra pieces, I suppose, though with more a shimmering, light-dancing vibe, the timbres occasionally reminiscent of acknowledged influence Jon Hassell, but without a hint of world-music-lite, and some glorious higher register flares and lower register burrs that suggest latter-day Bill Dixon as much as anything.) Perhaps the track goes on too long for its own good, unable to coast along on the endless chunky/diaphanous overtone ooze and rock-like rhythmic thud of the guitar pieces, each individual phrase instead swelled and swirled and looped away so that each ends up resembling the other, insubstantially the music’s substance. Of course, the aim is for a trance subsumption into un-thinking pleasure and bliss (“I find that by deadening, possibly destroying the intellect, you can actually make people feel” Chatham opines in a 1996 interview for Dead Angel magazine): it’s just that I don’t feel that the trumpet, even electronically-aided, has the sheer overwhelming power necessary for that experience. Given this, ‘The Magician’, which doesn’t attempt that out-of-mind experience, is probably my favourite track: Jean-Marc Montera’s guitar has a woozy bite to it, and Kevin Shea (of Talibam! – a group with whom Chatham has collaborated – and Mostly Other People Do The Killing) blasts around the gloopy flickerings of Chatham’s trumpet in decidely non-repetitive fashion. It feels like the music is constantly bubbling over, loosing any linear grip it might have in frantic loops and obscured corners, twists, turns. Well, maybe it’s not quite my thing – it has a bit of the ‘rock musicians do free improvisation’ vibe going on – but it is pretty exhilarating at times nonetheless. (DG)
CHICAGO UNDERGROUND DUO – AGE OF ENERGY
Label: Northern Spy
Release Date: 2012
Tracklist: Winds and Sweeping Pines; It’s Alright; Castle In Your Heart; Age of Energy
Personnel: Chad Taylor: drums, mbira, electronics, drum machine; Rob Mazurek: cornet, electronics, voice
So the disc opens with a swooping electronic thing that sounds like it might be about to go into Debussy’s ‘Girl with the Flaxen Hair’, but it gets a load of low-end fuzz and fizz instead and a processed voice comes over the top and it all goes meandering-spacey: then after five minutes or so Mazurek (I guess) settles on a loop and Taylor’s drums come thumping in with electronics going their own sweet way over the top. It’s loud, brash, a little vague in its grooviness for my tastes: does ‘good jogging music’ sound dismissive? I’m trying to think of comparisons here, and I’m going back, perhaps lazily, to 1970s jazz fusion – say, pre-Jaco Weather Report, or Miles Davis’ bands: for me, Chicago Underground, at least on this opening number, lack the single-mindedness and nastiness of the grooves those groups came up with. I prefer what comes next on the track: the backbeat and the bassline loop drop out for transitional electronic ambiences, brush shuffles ushering in some freer drumming, Taylor keeping the track boiling over under electronic meander. Then suddenly a bompy dance music-type loop, drums dropping out, Mazurek’s cornet heard for the first time, again a little Miles-ish – maybe more like Leo Smith in Yo! Miles – a touch plaintive, now digging in more fiercely as Taylor bops along with the loop. It’s fun, certainly, though fifteen minutes of this rather than the rather bitty preceding jam might not have gone amiss. That rides the track out; ‘It’s Alright’, by contrast, is a fuzzed-out ‘ballad’, Mazurek crooning, or, more accurately, whispering that titular phrase into a bed of muffled echo and drone, his subsequent cornet solo buried and distorted under various bits and blobs of electronic jiggery-pokery. I can’t help wishing here that the electronics here had taken more of a back seat – the intense distorted haze that increasingly predominates seems more like a bunch of effects slapped on top of the music than a vital part of the aesthetic itself. What, for example, does pushing Mazurek’s cornet through filters so that its tone becomes all broken and jagged and wobbly really add (beyond some specious ‘novelty’) to his playing in itself (which sounds, from what I can hear of it, rather pleasant)? Further, I’m not sure the Duo say more in ten-minutes plus than they could have in half that time: concision is not a strong point of ‘Age of Energy’ – though of course, it’s not meant to be. Taylor’s mbira is (again) distorted as ‘Castle in Your Heart’ gets under way (rather Konono No. 1), Mazurek’s trumpet sounding like it’s being played in a distant toilet; the playing itself is all very nice, with shades of Don Cherry’s work on ‘Bitter Funeral Beer’, for instance – though, again, it’s hampered by the unnecessary lo-fi’ness slapped on in post-production. Final track, ‘Age of Energy’: meh electronics over boom-boom drums, gets its act together a bit more when Mazurek digs his cornet out, again slightly processed , just cornet and drums, ending on a nasty held note before the electronics finish things off. So, the disc as a whole is loud, and sometimes punchy, sometimes rather vaguely spacey: it has its moments, but I’m rather put off by the post-production slapped over the whole thing, and the reliance on rather broad-brush electronics. There is, above all, no real room for improvised interaction or sudden changes of pace here – no real sense of risk – once a particular set of parameters are put into play, they stay there, as generalized mood, thumping but a little directionless, never quite engagingly energetic nor, indeed, blissed out enough to make a real, lasting impact. (DG)
STEPHEN CORNFORD / SAMUEL RODGERS – ZINC [extracts]
Label: Consumer Waste
Release Date: 2010
Tracklist: [untitled]; [untitled]; [untitled]
Personnel: Stephen Cornford: piano feedback; Samuel Rodgers: piano and objects
Interesting to come at this one after hearing Lawrence Dunn’s ‘If I in my north room’, a download-release on compost and height of roughly the same length. Both releases (this is, in fact, an earlier recording, coming as it does from the 2009 sessions that produced another timbre’s ‘turned moment, weighting’), concentrate on the sounds that may be extracted from the interior of a grand piano, Dunn in exclusively acoustic fashion, Cornford and Rodgers with the help of electronic treatments and with the use of more conventionally ‘pianistic’ (or ‘prepared-pianistic’) sounds. A brief ‘prelude’, with buzzing low strikes and the sound of objects rattling against the piano strings, merges seamlessly into the longer second track: patches of feedback ring out, Rodgers’ gleaming, repeated strikes of the keys, like a tolling bell, causing the feedback to swell slightly with each strike – a wavering line, seemingly stable and similar, but subtly morphing from instant to instant. There’s maybe a danger of things becoming overly pretty, even tonal, in a kind of vaguely post-Tilbury territory, but the concision of the tracks, and a certain sense that things might suddenly slip away into noise, given the unpredictability of the feedback with which Cornford works, prevents that from happening. And the duo do have a real sense of structure, fading and swelling with purpose, rather than simply meandering along – particularly so on the final track, where the longer running time allows a number of distinct sections to develop. The piece begins with Cornford holding a high-ish tone while Rodgers drops some notes from the lower end of the keyboard; as the first tone fades, Cornford introduces another, both moving into near-inaudibility while Rodgers begins to gently scrabble. A sense of uncertainty, of possibility here: without the held tones, what might happen next? Metallic crinklings of sound from Rodgers provide the base for another drone to gradually emerge, inexorable momentum, a louder swell of feedback seemingly overwhelming this before settling back down to join it, along with what sounds like a tamboura (the effect presumably produced from holding an object on one of the piano strings). And then somehow it all fades back down again to silence: an oddly affecting combination of delicacy and swelling electronic noise, poised between extreme restraint and a lack of deference towards the piano, as concert staple, as the solid heart of the western classical tradition. In a talk on Cornelius Cardew at the 2011 Bath Festival, John Tilbury argued that the piano was an experimental instrument, if you chose to treat it that way: for one thing, a pianist can’t take a particular piano home with them, as can those who play more portable devices – they may have only a few hours to get used to the particular niceties of touch and timbre offered by the specific instrument with which they have been presented. One might see Cornford and Rodgers, in their shift of focus from the keyboard to the stringed interior of the piano, and the use of electronics to morph what was already a musical machine, a mechanical device, as exemplars of this experimental approach, along with the likes of Andrea Neumann, Sebastian Lexer, Chris Burn, Cor Fuhler and Tilbury himself. Along the way, they create some fascinating music. (DG)
GERALD CLEAVER / UNCLE JUNE – BE IT AS I SEE IT
Label: Fresh Sound New Talent
Release Date: January 2011
Tracklist: To Love; Charles Street Sunrise; Fence & Post – [Alluvia // The Lights // Lee/Mae // Statues/ UmbRa // Ruby Ritchie / Well]; He Said; Charles Street Quotidian; 22 Minutes (The Wedding Song); From A Life of The Same Name
Personnel: Gerald Cleaver: drums, voice; Andrew Bishop: flute, soprano & bass clarinet, soprano & tenor sax; Tony Malaby: soprano & tenor sax; Mat Maneri: viola; Craig Taborn: piano & keyboards; Drew Gress: bass; Ryan Mackstaller: guitar on ‘To Love’ & ‘He Said’; Andy Taub: banjo on ’22 Minutes’; Jean Carla Rodea: voice on ‘He Said’ & ’22 Minutes’; John Cleaver: voice on ‘He Said’
There’s a particular sound I hear on those jazz records touted as where it’s now at – beyond the more messianic purity of a Charles Gayle or a Brötzmann, that older generation’s honings or repeatings of forms essentially discovered in the 1960s (not that there is not fertile ground to tread there, tho’) – those records where compositional acumen and complexity, generic ground-shift, roughness delivered with polish and skill and tightness, create a total package whose breadth might at some times intimidate us, at others strike as just too smooth, too catch-all – the risk of relativism, in that. But, ok, there’s a real excitement here, and who hears what is new inside the borders of what they know, in any case? Always there is, or should be, that necessary discomfort on the first or third or fourth hearing, even on the tenth – that refusal to be captured into the comfortable categories of how you know to listen. But, hell, isn’t this ‘catch-all’ breadth also the way we listen now, in any case? – abstruse limits of contemporary composition to screams of free jazz “collective inarticulate harmony” to hip-hop, say, in one day, a rap song’s sample leading on to the classic soul or jazz record from which it was sampled, and that onto to other backwards or forwards reaches and traces of influences and homage – the changing same, the continuum, feeding onwards into the future and back into the heritage of tradition. It’s what (to take an odd example, but bear with me), Amiri Baraka put into practice on ‘Nation Time’ from ’72 – R&B group, backing vocals, free jazz band, ‘African’ drummers and chanters, alternating and joining behind his spoken word to exemplify that ‘changing same’ dictum, to cover the spectrum of those ‘survival codes’ he found valuable and alive in that totality of black culture, from the blues to the abstract truth, from James Brown’s scream to Ayler’s. And if the Laswell school attempted something similar through bands like Material (I can still dig ‘Memory Serves’, if only for what such fine soloists as Billy Bang impart to the whole enterprise), that for me remains too much mucked in ’80s mechanized gloss – drum machines and slap bass, don’t say you don’t wince a little now when you hear those so up-front, so coldly present. But that was then, now, now…What’s exciting about this record (and, too, about Matana Robert’s ‘Coin Coin’) is the way it coalesces those influences, fragments into something with an identity and a legitimate onward creative flux-motion of its own: history and the now as dialogue and broken, stuttering single sentence, rather than as parcelled out into obvious influence boxes, rote-parades of the easily-acknowledged, historicised forebears.
Like, listen to the opening freak-out – all sorts of rich and wood-gooey timbres, bass clarinet and keyboards and keening multiplying woodwinds soar-dipping with righteous shouted poetry, flashes of church organ – “TO LOVE” shouted, like a sports chant or a war chant or a love cry, I guess, sanctified with the possibility of over-boil, screeched viola now, freakout, “knowledge of the heart’s desire” – “TO LOVE” the rallying cry bringing things back again, Cleaver rolling those drums with relish, cymbal bash, can I get an amen. YES you can. (See that anecdote Henry Threadgill tells about playing free improvisation at an evangelical meeting, in the pages of George Lewis’ ‘A Power Stronger Than Itself.’) Then, ‘Charles Street Sunrise’, flute balladry over held bowed bass, some of those timbres like that mellow low-ish flute you hear over dark rumblings on ‘Faded Beauty’ from Andrew Hill’s ‘A Beautiful Day’, that richness or weirdness of texture that I so love in jazz from Gil Evans on (not that this is really Evans-ish), some deep sadness or contemplation, the way the soprano dips in sweet at the end, fade-out solo on bass-piano unison.
That attention to timbre is really where it’s at – if, say, you’d tired of sax-bass-drums line-ups, fifty years down the line, here you could wallow in clarinets and flutes and violas and the rumbling electronic nasty buzzes of ‘The Lights’, almost something out of a grungy electronic free improv group in a London basement – or the rich wooziness on ‘Lee/Mae,’ where viola and organ and saxophone do the kind of chamber choir all those many (so many) ECM albums try for, but without the usual resultant pastel or monochrome sludge, a keening to it that sludge just lacks, keep this from your coffee table. But where my heart really is with this record is the track ‘Statues / UmbRa’, the penultimate piece from that ‘Fence and Post’ suite, where Craig Taborn’s piano figure sounds like the looped jazz harmonies which give those classic tracks by, say, Nas, with production by Pete Rock or Dilla, samples by Ahmad Jamal or Bobby Hutcherson, their emotional flavour, their piquancy, their serene, semi-melancholic sense of flow; then the way the echoed multiplying voices come in uttering un-catcheable poetry, ears bombarded in stereo with un-coalescent messages, refusing closure, refusing linearity – words or brief phrases catching like wool on wire, only to be blown away again on the wind – “to be free- form…nations… organise…make ourselves….the one class against the other….essentials of life…” – the effect’s something like David Henderson’s treated poetry on Ornette’s ‘Science Fiction’, here triggering furious distorted organ freakout under repeating desolate steadfastness of the horn’s repeated figure. And the title, ‘UmbRa’, its Ra-like pun linking Sun Ra with the Umbra poetry movement, shadow, darkness, blackness, futurity (the thought crosses my mind, is this actually Henderson’s reading on ‘Science Fiction,’ sampled?).
Taborn’s solo on ‘Gremmy’, diamond-hard, running and looping like mad. And Cleaver, a drummer who knows how to write a tune. Cleaver knows how to write a tune. (DG)
CHRIS CUNDY / DOMINIC LASH – TWO PLUMP DAUGHTERS: MUSIC FOR DOUBLE BASS & BASS CLARINET
Label: Creative Sources
Release Date: February 2012
Tracklist: Plaits; Gingko’s Corner; Gravity Leaves; Enough of the Duster; Fork Lift; The Singing Room; April Cottage; Three Out of Ten; Two Beautiful Sisters; Creeping Past; Angles; Tentative Tenacity; Something and Nothing Lignin; Without Doubt; Archibald Tait; Strung Along; Deuce
Personnel: Chris Cundy: bass clarinet; Dominic Lash: double bass
Yes, as Steve Dalachinsky tells us in his liner note ekphrases, this disc is about wood, about those exquisite woodnesses of the bass clarinet and the double bass, resonance and polish – almost velvetine- but also gutted string and scrapy belch-bellow. On the first track Lash actually plays exquisitely high up his instrument’s register, sounding like a small, pinched chorus of strings rather than just one bass, and then, his held harmonic, as a droning saxophone, Cundy with just little hints of those show-stopping, popping finger snaps that David Murray deploys to such great effect on ‘Ballads for Bass Clarinet’. The tracks are short and sweet, but not just a collection of effects or moods; rather, they flow into each other, or when they do break with and against each other, that break becomes part of the overall architecture, silences and pauses included, as part of one essentially continuous, multifaceted, episodic dialogue (whether or not they’re sequenced in the order they were recorded is neither here nor there). Elegant but, yes, as ‘plump’ implies, with a certain earthiness concealed behind any dainty manoeuvres: liable, that is, to fart into those engraved armchairs which decorate the front cover. There was one bit somewhere where I thought Cundy was going to go all Marcus Miller (I actually quite like Miller’s bass clarinet playing, it redeems the 80s-ness of his Miles arrangements), and then he let slip an improper plosive. And Lash’s bass growled. Oh my. But seriously, this music’s got beauty in its guts and garters. The recorded ambience is nice too – a church, I suspected; a chapel in Cheltenham, the liner notes tell me – not too ECM-y, but makes the whole thing nicely glow, not blankly falling into the dull blockage of a dead acoustic, dead ears. Just what, this gorgeously warm March afternoon, window open to a sedate breeze, I need. Garrulous chatter, mutter in force or haste, tock clock effect, pull back, a quizzical brow furrowing, ploughing on, cut short. Relaxed intensity. (DG)
LAWRENCE DUNN – IF I IN MY NORTH ROOM
Label: Compost and Height
Release Date: April 2011
Tracklist: If I in my north room
Personnel: Lawrence Dunn: piano, objects
Additional Information: Download release, available from http://compostandheight.blogspot.com/
“If I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,-
Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?”
William Carlos Williams, Danse Russe
Nothing as nakedly grotesque, or as sarcastically lonely as the Williams poem here: but that slightly self-conscious suggestion of the artist as ridiculous solo poseur, indulging in capricious and self-obsessed activity while the rest of the household sensibly sleeps, is presumably intended. There’s really no need to worry on that count, however: in the close-recorded hush of this north room, an improvisation unfolds that seems akin to a jotting in a journal, a diary entry, the record of an experiment in progress, rather than a polished jewel of gleaming and closed-off formal perfection, and is all the better for it. Dunn treats the inside of the piano as a kind of resonant, pointillist percussion: many of the sounds have a creaky, thudding edge to them, that combination of echoing wood and metal that gives the piano’s innards their particular quality. It’s a somewhat claustrophobic listen; maybe because I’m visualising someone sticking their head and arms under the piano lid to get at the instrument’s guts – though the sounds also suggest the rather evocative and not particularly musical image of someone stuck inside a room with wooden walls that is constantly under pressure of collapse from mounds of earth outside: a lonely Womble trapped underground after an earthquake. The music is fairly quiet, but it’s also very prickly, and it bustles with a kind of barely-suppressed nervous energy; tapping, scratching, clattering sounds abound. One always senses, too, the potential for extreme volume – all that is required is for the sustain pedal to be depressed and for a handful of notes to be banged out on the keyboard, combined with a few swooping strokes across the strings themselves – and it’s to Dunn’s credit that he foregoes this temptation, instead getting quieter and quieter by the end of the piece, so that distant echoing voices make their way through a door or an open window into that north room where a piano sings softly to itself. Then it’s over. Fittingly for Compost and Height’s download series, this feels like a glimpse at work-in-progress, rather than a fully-fledged ‘release’ (for one thing, it’s under twenty minutes long); as I suggested earlier, this may actually be what accounts for much of its charm. In any case, worth checking out (it’s a free and everything). (DG)
BRUNO DUPLANT – DEUX TROIS CHOSES OU PRESQUE: SCORES BY MANFRED WERDER
Label: Engraved Glass
Release Date: March 2012
Tracklist: 2009/4; 2009/5; 2010/2
Personnel: Bruno Duplant: phonographies, sine tones, double bass & horn
Additional Information: Recordings made in Waziers & Douai, France, 2011. Available as a digital download only, from http://engravedglass.bandcamp.com/
Utterly gorgeous. As a fusion of environment and playing, that true immersion that Werder seeks when, say, he realizes 2010/1 by sitting on a park bench for six hours, this is fine indeed, the gorgeous low rumblings of a bass with unobtrusive sine meshings (the influence of Pisaro here, no doubt) never quite imposing themselves at the front of the stereo picture, but nonetheless slightly more prominent than their surroundings (because, after all, it is music we are listening to here, even if the music (sound) of environment is a legitimate part of that music, as Wandelweiser has taught us). I mean, this sounds far more interesting to me than the non-interventionist realisations of Werder’s score on ‘Im Senfinental’ – perhaps, somehow, the sounds of human interaction, semi-rural or small-town rather than city, but nonetheless the suggestion of human communication, transport, and so on, ultimately do have more resonance for me than the sound of a waterfall or wind, which my mind still filters off into sound effect otherness or just refuses to find communicative. What am I saying: maybe, that there’s an actual meshing of performance and of environment that is more than just letting the environment speak while you make no sound (the latter occurring on ‘Im Senfinental’ – wonderful in situ, perhaps, but not ideal for aural record – and the importance of the person-to-person presentation of this music is one I think Werder would be keenly aware of – what we are sharing in this space, now, together; or, what space we are sharing in, now, together.) Whereas, here, I get the sense of eavesdropping into a quietly private, yet open and available realization, socialized both by its nearness to the sounds of human (and animal activity) to which it is open, and by its (re)presentation on CD, in my ears, now; being written, now, for your eyes, and, hopefully, for your ears, in due course (i.e. go and download this). It sounds as if Duplant has left the window open, or cocked his ear to the door while playing inside (my fantasy here: that uniquely pleasurable sensation of being half in and half out the house, the possibility of going out but staying in nonetheless, the outside’s warmth and light and sound entering into the newly freshened shadows of the interior); maybe he’s playing out in the garden, as children, occasionally, joyfully, are heard to play; as traffic whooshes in up-close engine register, then back off into just vague breath-whoosh (louder on the second track, the first more rural, but domestic, the birdsong muffled and fairly sparse).
That easy openness nudges me back to the first time I ever heard Wandelweiser music live, at a house concert with a similar sonic environment (distant traffic, muffled birds, neither fully urban nor fully rural, a quiet summer’s day, concentration drifting and then focussing in sharp intensity); you don’t just let the environment speak, but, rather, you speak with it, underneath it, sitting just on top of it, sometimes totally silent, resonance rumble as idle rumination or firm concentration, easing into and out of the field. Moments of meshing or confusion that are precious and beautiful: is that a horn on the final track, or a bass? or an electronic tone? does it matter? timbre released from the yoke of instrumentality, acousmatic without any sense of anything other than the pleasure and the rightness, the fitness of the sounds, their unobtrusive delicate necessity. When you don’t know if the slowly crescendoing, rumbling drone is a distance-drifting aeroplane or Duplant’s bass. Or, whether, even, the whole has been elaborately constructed in post-production, field recordings as the illusion of playing in a place in which you are not physically playing. That not mattering in the slightest. (DG)
JOEL FUTTERMAN – REMEMBERING DOLPHY
Label: JDF Music
Release Date: 2010
Tracklist: Posta Lotsa; Les; Out to Dinner part one; In the Blues; Serene; Miss Ann; Fire Waltz; 17 West; Out to Dinner part two
Personnel: Joel Futterman: piano
Additional Information: Recorded October 2010. Available from http://www.joelfutterman.com
Though Eric Dolphy often performed with pianists – Misha Mengelberg on ‘Last Date’, Herbie Hancock on ‘The Ilinois Concert’, not to mention Jaki Byard, Mal Waldron and Andrew Hill – one might argue that he tended to work best in a piano-less setting, eschewing the instrument’s tendency to form a firm harmonic base by comping underneath the soloist, and instead choosing to float and dart over the alternately looser and sharper clouds and jabs of Bobby Hutcherson’s vibraphone, or, in the case of earlier sideman days with the Chico Hamilton Quintet, over the lazy warmth of guitar and cello. Joel Futterman’s decision to record an album of Dolphy’s compositions on solo piano, then, is an intriguing one, immediately raising the question: how to translate the angularity of line, and, above all, the timbral qualities that made Dolphy’s playing so unique – the bird-like and ‘speaking’ tone, alternately whooping and mellifluous (based as this was on the combination of embrochure and fingering) to the hammer and strings of the piano? Futterman’s answer is very much to translate Dolphy’s work into his own solo style, a style evidenced to fine effect on a series of recent releases on his own label. Whereas most of these have been lengthy improvisations, the decision here to play five – ten minute versions of compositions obviously has an impact on the music’s flow; but the logic remains the same – in part, perhaps, because each of the recordings is an unedited first take. This seems entirely consistent with George E. Lewis’ comment on his own ‘Homage to Charles Parker’: “As I recall, the ethos of “Homage” was influenced by an LP liner note I read in which Miles Davis answered criticism about not playing Duke Ellington’s music on an Ellington tribute concert by saying that performing at the highest level was the best homage one could give.” Futterman’s homage is more direct – he is actually playing a selection of Dolphy’s tunes – but that ethos of paying tribute by sticking to your own path (while, of course, admitting the enormous influence of predecessors) is very much present here, and seems to me a much more honest way of seeing the music – as a living continuum – than the repertory route popularized, for example, at Lincoln Centre. The music’s history is inescapable – David S. Ware says of his recent quartet ‘Planetary Unknown’ that, “The last 100 years of jazz, there was our rehearsal” – but perhaps the best way to acknowledge it is to keep ‘Looking Ahead’ (in the words of one of Dolphy’s albums). That said, Futterman’s style owes much to the strong left-hand of stride players – free jazz, of course, was always a negotiation between innovation and tradition, and some of its apparently most shocking developments came right out of the earliest stages of the music. Indeed, mining the possibilities of pre-swing styles, when the music was still blessed with a dose of roughness and grit, can come across as quite a shock to those for whom ‘jazz’ means a particular set of 1950s developments – ‘cool’, third stream, etc – the piano instead as percussive and driving, capable of being simultaneous ‘rhythm section’ and ‘soloist’. This rhythmic momentum characterises much of the record (with a pause for one of Dolphy’s most melting beautiful compositions, ‘Serene’); often, it seems that Futterman is setting up several layers of simultaneous dialogue, sometimes even managing three at once, despite the fact that he has only two hands… And though, as noted above, it’s impossible to reproduce Dolphy’s timbral qualities on the piano, the angularity and the register leaps are very much there.
There’s a lot crammed into this music: within the first two minutes of the first track, ‘Potsa Lotsa’, we’ve moved through the theme and into an improvisation on its upward-rising tension – an ascending figure that resolves itself, not by transposition to a higher chord, but by the hammering out of a repeated, clustered version of the previous chord – via some vaguely Monk-ish twists and a brief left-hand vamp that suggests Horace Silver’s ‘Song For My Father’. And that’s before the scampering full-keyboard dissonances that move things from strongly-stated rhythm to free pulse, and the ecstatic pedal’d shimmer that unexpectedly closes out the track. The concept of transition is an important one for Futterman, and the move from this brief closing passage to the delicious horn-like phrasing of ‘Les’ – the pianist here very deliberately playing single-note lines rather than cluttering the piece with chords – is like a refreshing splash of water to the face. Indeed, it’s not just transitions between tracks that count – in one piece there may be clearly demarcated shifts, laid out for dramatic and musical effect. During ‘Les’, as he traces out an involved set of variations down the low-end of the keyboard, Futterman depresses the sustain pedal so that each note’s resonance merges into the next to create an increasingly dissonant sound-cluster – territory which could easily have been explored for minutes at a time – then suddenly releases it and returns to the jazzier angularity of the solo line. An exhilarating move, this suggests a musician always desirous of keeping himself on his toes, a quality that translates to the listening experience. And, at a time when it’s all too easy to hear jazz through nostalgic ear-muffs, dulling the still-revolutionary qualities of its greatest practitioners, this is a healthy reminder of the ample territory still to be explored in the genre.
Space, sadly, doesn’t permit a full examination of every track, but I will note the cool breeze of Futterman’s own ‘Out to Dinner’, in which sparsely-placed chords sound out over a cat-like left-hand line – and the transformation of ‘Serene’ from Dolphy’s version, which was just that, into something more ambiguously – and brilliantly – tenter-hooked. It also seems very appropriate that ‘Fire Waltz’ is played here, given that it’s a piece by Mal Waldron (as played in a breathtaking version by Dolphy’s group); Waldron’s left hand was always his strength, becoming more granite-strong as the years went by (check out ‘Free at Last’, the first ever ECM album). In fact, Futterman’s left-hand is less pronounced here than on some of the other tracks, as he chooses instead to emphasize the languorous quality of the melody – perhaps that’s in preparation for the following thirteen-minute version of ‘17 West’, a tour-de-force in which one of Dolphy’s lesser-known flute pieces is turned into a pell-mell suite of motion and invention, darkly alternating chords repeatedly pounding their way into solo flights as reiteration of the tune’s base, as spur to yet more variation, creation, discovery. Never carried away with itself, it stops, suddenly, in the middle of things, to allow another slice of ‘Out to Dinner’ the more pensive closing word. I’ve been enormously impressed by Futterman’s increasingly-documented recent work, and ‘Remembering Dolphy’ is surely the sound of a musician at his peak: it comes very highly recommended. (DG)
JOEL FUTTERMAN / KIDD JORDAN / WILLIAM PARKER / ALVIN FIELDER – LIVE AT THE GUELPH JAZZ FESTIVAL 2011
Label: Creative Collective
Release Date: 2011
Tracklist: 8 Untitled Tracks
Personnel: Kidd Jordan: tenor saxophone; Joel Futterman: piano and Indian flute; William Parker: bass; Alvin Fielder: drums and percussion
Additional Information: Recorded at the Cooperator’s Hall, River Run Centre, September 11th, 2011, at the Guelph Jazz Festival, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. CD-R available from http://www.joelfutterman.com/purchase.htm
This is really fine, turbulent free jazz, self-released by the musicians involved (though it easily deserves to sit on a major label). Jordan plays with a fierce attack and bite, alternating tart continuous lines with sudden shrills and squeals, Futterman following him all the way: there are moments where one will play a phrase that the other echoes in joyous recognition and imitation, the band as a whole a thoroughly supportive unit, as befits their billing as ‘The Creative Collective’. Check, for instance, track two, Futterman digging in with repeated clusters, Parker’s walking bass accelerandos and decelerandos, Fielder’s really pretty subtle drumming – there are moments where he almost seems to be playing nothing at all, but his continuous cymbal whispers and tappings and ridings keep things fluid and open in a way that a more bombastic approach would not – fundamentally unshowy, but extremely effective. I said ‘free jazz’: but this is far from simply a ‘blow-out’ – it’s music of flowing episode and transition, moving from shrill peaks to declarative gospellizing and sudden reminiscenses of Coltrane (beautiful because unexpected, not mere acts of de rigeur homage) within the space of a few minutes, no need for any supporting themes or heads to get things going. When Futterman launches into a series of jazz chords, you can bet they’ll be exquisite; and you can bet that they’ll spur Jordan onto tongued R&B and/or church extrapolations. Then Futterman’ll be inside the piano, Parker harmonic plucking, Fielder’s fluttering percussion, Jordan’s quiet wail. Parker’s bowed bass solo, just right, melodic and solemn. And when the piano comes back in and Parker switches to a repeated accompanying figure, Fielder relaxed and unhurried behind them, wow. There’s real patience and purpose here. And things turning on a dime, one figure that suggests boogie-woogie leading instead to a roiling pedall’d build-up or a dissonant sheaf of near-simultaneous notes or something else entirely: music that moves, in both senses. (DG)
CHARLES GAYLE TRIO – STREETS
Label: Northern Spy
Release Date: 2012
Tracklist: Compassion I; Compassion II; Glory & Jesus; Streets; March of April; Doxology; Tribulations
Personnel: Charles Gayle: tenor saxophone; Larry Roland: bass; Michael TA Thompson: drums
Back in the ’60s, ESP-Disk decided, for whatever reason, not to go ahead with their planned Charles Gayle recording session (he’d have to wait another twenty-odd years to make his debut on wax); Northern Spy, the new label set up by various members recently departed from the revamped ESP team, now make up for that omission with a fine new set from the saxophonist’s trio. Gayle’s occasional in-concert adoption of the character ‘Streets the Clown’ (a bit of face paint, a red nose, a hat, and a Victorian-style suit) puzzles audiences perhaps as much as his occasional anti-abortion and -homosexuality rants (rants, indeed, which are sometimes wordlessly translated into ‘Street’s’ performances); perhaps realizing this, the packaging is minimal here – a little clown cartoon on the back, all black and white save the red nose, Streets holding a saxophone in one hand and a flower in the other; some photos of a clown’d-up Gayle striking poses with his saxophone on the front and inner covers; a brief statement thanking the label for putting out the record. The focus, then, can be on the music, the religiously-framed titles par for the course, vague enough to be Gayle’s personal matter, what’s sounded, what’s heard the important thing. ‘Compassion I’s theme is joyous, Gayle repeating it with zest, testing and teasing out rhythmic variants on its simple six-note contour, bursting it out into note streams, the final or even mid-tones of his runs tongued-turned, burred, rasped and gasped, slurred with delirious pleasure, jouissant exegesis. Roland’s bass won’t sit still, hasn’t from the off, Thompson’s drums bash and lollop, in on the fun. Whoever it is punctuating the cracks of Gayle’s declamation on ‘Compasion II’ with little grunts (perhaps it’s the saxophonist himself) adds, not just the rather clichéd notion of sweat and grit and bodily labour that Anthony Braxton decried as the ‘sweating brow syndrome’ (we want to see our heroes WORK for their money!), but something humorous, a kind of involuntary gasp that doesn’t pretend to a Keith Jarrettian crooning ecstasy; it’s at once more self-aware and more un-guarded, caught up in the joyous energies of the whole affair. Perhaps it’s ridiculous to expound so much attention onto such a little thing; but you almost know, don’t you, what I’m going to say about how the rest of the music goes – not that the music itself isn’t actually fresh and enjoyable in a way that so much free jazz per se is not, can increasingly come to pall or stagnate. Gayle’s almost every bent and slurred note is part of a delighted and delightful toying with rhythmic articulation and timbral intonation, not just stentorian fury or pained prophecy (free jazz’s apocalyptic rhetoric, as much a product, perhaps, of critics’ quasi-libertarian valorization as of the musicians themselves (Gayle the homeless, touched genius, the lone hero on society’s margins, the crankier the better)) – not just that, then, but a sense of sanctified joy. Damn good. (DG)
GORD GRDINA TRIO WITH MATS GUSTAFSSON – BARREL FIRE
Label: Drip Audio
Release Date: 2011
Tracklist: F. W. R; Burning bright; 229; Enshakoota: Barrel Fire.
Personnel: Gord Grdina: guitar, oud; Tommy Babbin: bass; Kenton Loewen: drums; Mats Gustafsson: saxophone.
The danger of the high profile guest star is that they’ll overshadow the existing group, reducing a lot of hard work and effort to being merely the supporting role. The Gord Grdina Trio’s augmentation by Mats on sax, though, comes together very nicely and the trio does not retreat quietly, instead creating a fearsome foursome. This recording is from their performance at the 2009 Vancouver International Jazz Festival and either there’s enormous sympatico & quick sight-reading or the four of them rehearsed as it’s not just a rambling free-form blow-out.
The trio’s strength comes from an arm’s length of credits and groups shared amongst Gord Grdina (guitar, oud), Tommy Babin (bass), and Kenton Loewen (drums) – both as leaders but also as support for others in and outside of the trio. It should be noted that Gord’s not just dabbling on the oud but is a serious student and player, as can be seen from his involvement in the Persian/Arabic/Indian quartet Sangha and the East Van Strings.
At times, the group out-Aylers the Marc Ribot-led Spiritual Unity project – the guitar-driven sound with Gustafsson’s honk and skronk, especially on the second tune “Burning Bright” – and is enough to drive one straight to Slug’s Saloon. The music rolls and sways and churns, but isn’t just an unyielding torrent as tasteful solos from Tommy and Kenton (which bookend “229”), as well as Gord breaking out the oud for “Enshakoota”, which ends with a nice blow-out from Mats. The tempo and ferocity definitely comes close to red-lining but there are enough down-tempo sections to keep your interest up and attention focused. (TH)
G9 GIPFEL – BERLIN
Release Date: 2010
Tracklist: Trotz, geil; Rumba brutal; Ganztonleiter; Aufsicht; Dem Dt.Jazz; Absicht; Television world; Das Thema; Drei; Hartz
Personnel: Gerhard Gschlößl: trombone; Axel Dörner: trumpet; Tobias Delius: tenor saxophone; Wanja Slavin: alto saxophone; Rudi Mahall: bass clarinet; Alexander von Schlippenbach: piano; John Schröder: guitar; Johannes Fink: bass; Christian Lillinger: drums
Additional Information: Recorded August 2009
Gipfel means “summit” or “peak”, and of course economists are not on the agenda here; it’s a matter of nine musicians at the top of their game. The fact that few of them would be household names in Britain is neither here nor there. Gerhard Gschlößl is the leader by virtue of having come up with the idea, put the ensemble together and composed half of the themes.
But probably the best known names here, apart from Tobias Delius, who seems to be the only non-German present, are Axel Dörner, Rudi Mahall and Alexander von Schlippenbach. If people are still under the misconception that all Dörner can do is his “new Berlin silence” ultra-reductionist thing, either this album or Monk’s casino should be enough proof of his wide-ranging jazz capabilities. In addition to this his extended techniques are heard on Ganztonleiter (which, as the name implies, is a theme based on whole-tone scales) in a passage of counterpoint with Gschlößl’s post-Ellingtonian expressionist trombone. I assume passages like this are improvised, but it’s hard to be certain. Eric Dolphy is one of the influences Gschlößl cites, and the implications of Out to lunch can be heard in the elastic treatment of time, especially in the passages between theme statements. When theme statements are introduced with such precision in the middle of tempo-free “improvised” passages, as in Drei, listeners might be led to wonder how much is really improvised, how much is pre-planned. (Could Jelly-Roll Morton’s practices be an unacknowledged influence here?)
I’m inclined to think the titles of the first two tracks have been printed back to front, unless this is a kind of surreal joke on the musicians’ part, as track 1 is more like a manically methodical deconstruction of Latin American rhythms. Mingus is another predecessor Gschlößl namechecks in the liner notes, and a few bars occur in Dem Dt. Jazz which are quite reminiscent of the passage with Latin rhythm in Open letter to the Duke. This strikes me as something of an hommage, and on the whole this music does more to continue the spirit of Mingus’s often emotionally turbulent music than any number of worthy dynastic pastiches.
Das Thema is extreme in the sense that very low-register instruments are foregrounded, tom-toms, trombone and what sounds like either a contrabass clarinet or a bass sax (uncredited). As Mahall has been known to play contrabass this seems to be the most plausible explanation. With its very slow (largo?) time in addition to the low pitches it reminds me of a 45 rpm vinyl record being played at 33. It lives up to its title, since there seems to be little or no improvisation in its two minutes, fifty four seconds.
Dörner’s two contributions as composer, Aufsicht and Absicht are original and unusual in concept; the former’s thematic material consists of dissonant chords, but the closing theme statement differs from the opening one in being briefer and faster; Absicht‘s theme consists largely of fragments and this approach continues in the improvised parts. It ends abruptly (in mid-phrase as it were) with nothing resembling a harmonic resolution.
It would be hard to single out every improvised episode for celebration, as there is literally not a dull moment on this album. Schlippenbach’s dramatic voicings, Mahall’s dynamic and sometimes brutal attack deserve attention, as does John Schröder’s guitar playing (I had heard him before only as one-time drummer with Der rote Bereich). Wanja Slavin is also an alto player to watch, or listen out for in the future. Gschlößl himself also contributes to Potsa lotsa: the complete works of Eric Dolphy. (See Eartrip no.6)
I actually find it a source of optimism that these musicians have the curiosity and the energy to engage with these complex compositions and improvise on them in an intelligent and imaginative way that takes into account the implications of jazz in the past, and yet avoids simply rehashing it (with or without elements like rock beats or pseudo-exotica being grafted on, which happens in some of the more threadbare efforts.) There is so much detail here that something new can be heard on each listening. G9 Gipfel Berlin merits more attention than it has yet been given in British circles. (SK)
JONAS KOCHER – SOLO
Release Date: 2011
Personnel: Jonas Kocher: accordion, objects
Additional Information: Available as either a free download or a CD from http://www.insubordinations.net/. Recorded October 23rd 2010 at ‘zoom in’ Festival, Bern.
Handsomely packaged in an 18×14, screen-printed thin card sleeve, this absorbing and focussed thirty-five minutes of solo accordion begins from a quiet place, distant church bells (possibly a field recording?) gradually disappearing under the wheeze and whoosh of Kocher’s ‘breathing’ effects. Not until four minutes in does a recognizable note emerge from the instrument – low, growling, rumbling, somewhat reminiscent of the contrabass clarinet that Anthony Braxton whips out on occasion – and it’s around these frequencies that things hover for a while. Throughout, one really gets the sense of the accordion as a physically responsive thing, full of fluttering air, clicking and clacking keys, sometimes surprisingly similar to a voice (due precisely to the reliance on air to create sound). From the picture below it appears that Kocher treats the instrument to various preparations and ‘non-standard’ attacks, but, much of the time, it would seem that he’s managed to get ‘inside’ the accordion to the extent that he can bend it to his will, away from its traditional harmonic ties and generic markers, simply by playing it in conventional fashion.
In the resonant concert space, Kocher doesn’t go for easy drones, but lets the extended dying echoes of each note ring out dramatically into pregnant pauses, cut-off clicks and hoarse interjections. His sparing use of register and space – we don’t, for example, really hear any high notes until eighteen minutes in, when the striking of a piece of chiming metal percussion ‘sparks off’ ringing, twinkling, near-whistle frequencies not too far away from Sachiko M territory – gives the piece immense contemplative force, unpredictable yet content to take its time. One senses that Kocher is deliberately surprising himself as much as the audience – twenty-six minutes in, having settled into an off-kilter rhythm like the click-clack of train on tracks (territory which could easily have been explored for a further length of time), he suddenly stops, lets hang a short silence, briefly launches into a new wheeze (somehow managing to approximate the sound of a saw cutting through wood), then stops again and plays some conventional notes. In description, that sounds a bit programmatic, even schematic – in the moment that one hears it, though, it comes across as a fine example of improvisational quick-thinking. Perhaps Kocher knew exactly what he was going to do when he launched into his emergency stop – perhaps it was a calculated move, made for dramatic effect (and there would be nothing wrong with that) – but, for me, it seems to carry with it an element of risk (what if the next note or tone after the silence came across as corny, jarring, ugly?): an edge that gives the whole performance a pleasing sense of vitality and importance. Aptly, it all ends without warning, glacially eerie tones giving way to grinding growls whose seemingly inexorable, lumbering progress is cut off as if a switch had been flicked: almost brutal, certainly honest, well in keeping with the music’s spirit of invention and discovery. There is no coasting here. (DG)
TOSHIMARU NAKAMURA – MARUTO
Release Date: 2011
Personnel: Toshimaru Nakamura: no-input mixing board
Nakamura to begin with is working with the smooth fizz of that tuned white noise, I guess you could it, which he deployed to more ambient effect on ‘Egrets’: here, for the first five minutes, it sounds as if something’s constantly going to get started, that he’ll stop fiddling around with the switch that keeps bringing the fizz out of and back into focus and settle into a nice comfortable drone or at least a sustained sound that we can bathe in – it’s like someone constantly attempting to zoom in and focus on an object but constantly failing, the result a blur that keeps re-adjusting every few seconds, stuck on the same increasingly absurd task. It feels fragile, certainly, musician working with the physical sensitivities involved in negotiation with machine, keeping three sound areas going at once, though after a few minutes they perceptually mesh into one, the outlines becoming blurry and rather queasily hazy. Suddenly on six minutes, he cuts out nearly all the sounds so that we’re left with a low hum that at first I thought came from my laptop – removing headphones proved otherwise – before another burst of shriller and more fractured, jagged (though less wavily mirage-like) sounds emerge, only to die once more into the deep throb of bass blare. Things come and go: that bass doesn’t feel like the comforting glow or wash of drone music, but inexorable – make it stop! – the events passing over the top of it, the slow but subtle shifts in the tone itself, the warps and blurred blurts of white noise, all as intense claustrophobic hallucination, hemmed-in. If this is meditative (as I even find Sachiko M’s music can be – see the ludicrous extensions of the article on Sachiko elsewhere in this issue), these are – to borrow a title from Charles Mingus – ‘meditations on a nightmare’, dark-toned crackle, attention flitter against unstoppable ugly presence. Or, you know, Nakamura is someone who knows his instrument, who can produce things as diverse as this – harsh, uncompromising stuff – and the almost ambient, relatively rather pleasant sounds on the afore-mentioned ‘Egrets’. It certainly feels like someone who’s challenging themselves, though: OK, what criteria are there to go on, in such alien territory, you might ask, but, really, a good decade into Erstwhile’s existence (first record in 2004? ok, not quite, but you get the picture), you needn’t. I hiccupped. That bass tone jumped, but as my throat subsided, it came back as strong – stronger – than before. To hear this live would be some kind of physical endurance test, I can’t help but feeling – though Nakamura himself always seems so sedate, so calm in his manipulations (there’s that great picture of him somewhere online, grinning at a PA he’s somehow managed to set a-smoking through the force of his electronics). Now it’s flies being electrocuted in the underground buzzing lights. Light traps. That still-going ‘drone’, tone (I think modified a little, wobbling now, less bass-y, perhaps, or maybe the aural hallucinations are setting in already), keeping the frequent switches in higher-register and white-noise-flecked activity up above it from feeling anything other than temporary distraction: no escape. I try to hallucinate rhythms inside that tone, but it’s too monolithically dis-embodied, too one-track monochrome. It’s as if Nakamura’s staging a contradiction as the basis for an entire piece of music (or at least, a large chunk of it): the inexorability of that sustained tone undercutting (or setting up?) the jittery shifts and episodics above it. That tone admittedly now subsiding somewhat, though still there, merging into others around it, a drop in intensity, waiting for the next outburst – not cruising, but waiting to see what will organically evolve out of this thing – a patient approach to structure and development, certainly, neither going for the big noise climax nor for total stillness, but existing in-between those two poles – a subdued agitation, unsettling, on the edge. Some variation on those opening blur sounds we heard at the begin, refusing to let the music settle into the drones it wants to inhabit, that we want it to: impatience with this refusal to settle either side of the verge, scrabbling instead for the last details to be tidied up before we can begin, smoothly. As if the whole piece was an attempt to get going, the constant interruptions of electronic throat-clearing, those flies hitting the buzzer, fried. A hushed, uncertain menace – the threat around the corner: I’ve no idea if Nakamura found this piece uncomfortable or emotionally difficult to make – after all, the most affecting pieces, in whatever ways, can arrive just as much out of a focus on technique and on particular qualities of, say, structure or timbre, as out of soul-bearing. Whatever the case, it’s not an easy listen: a valuable one, though, in terms of Nakamura’s discography and development, in terms of contemporary electronic improvisation, all these things. Perhaps above all, certain qualities of structural tension and frustration are being actively toyed with, or deployed (‘toyed’ sounds too playful; ‘deployed’ the more appropriately confrontational descriptor) in a way that even several listens probably won’t effectively wring out. Probably, Nakamura himself doesn’t even know. I’m sure he’d like it that there was a bit, about half-way through, when something that sounded like the parody of a doorbell made me jump, and the immediately faded out. Maybe there’s a sly humour at work here, even. And I’ll leave you with that thought as the discs ends, with the attendant tinnitus ringing in my ears and that bass tone still going on, quiet as it’s now become, before its final, eventual cessation. (DG)
SKARABEE – EARDRUM / tusK – HAPPY SHOPPER (Split)
Release Date: June 2011
Tracklist: Happy Shopper; Eardrum
Personnel: Stuart Chalmers: tapes
Additional Information: Limited edition cassette, available via the artist.
Ah, that familiar sound – the broken, fuzzy hiss of a cassette tape before the music begins. As with his previous projects, Stuart Chalmers is aware of, and here engaging with, the notion of music as product / physical object, embracing the DIY aspects of a self-produced, limited edition release which will be heard by only a handful of people (maybe just some reviewers and some people he gives them out to at gigs). His albums might just be cassettes in boxes (actually harder, and probably more expensive to produce than CDs, nowadays), maybe with a hole burned into the plastic container, maybe a plain silver disc or one he’s written on in felt-tip-type scrawl – and maybe next he’ll just leave them out on park benches or slip them into the CD racks in charity shops or send them to the hip DJs on Radio One in tribute to the late Amy Wimehouse… One of the two side-long tracks here is entitled ‘Happy Shopper’, which, for all it’s meant to be an ironic comment on commercialisation and banalisation and false consumerist satisfaction, makes me think as much as anything else of Chalmers’ own pick-and-choose approach to instruments: a constant chop and change, as if trying to keep up with the relentless technological novelty, the gadget-fever of the twenty-first-century world. He switches instruments every time I see or hear him play, it seems, from his original guitar to a circuit-bent kids’ keyboard to a bugbrand he’s now dispensed with, and finally onto tapes connected up to loop- and delay- and god-knows-what-manner-of-other pedals. (By the time I write this, he’s probably changed his set-up once again.) I’m sure I said this in my review of his last release, in the pages of this magazine; I’ve written up a few of his recent things (all limited editions like this one), which include disks under both the original ‘Skarabee’ and the more recent ‘tusK’ personas. Here, those two manifestations of his musical personality are thrust together on opposing sides of a cassette, names stencilled scruffily onto said sides like graffiti on a wall. If one was expecting ‘Skarabee’ to continue in the quiet, scratchy, ghostly ambiences of ‘Tlön’, one would be sorely disappointed, for ‘Eardrum’, as its title suggests, verges into noise territory, building up loops on top of and round and about each other, wild bleeps and blops, clacking percussive rhythms fractured and splintered into poly-rhythmic speed shuffles, dances with two left-feet to the accompaniment of exploding psychotic voices, or maybe just a splitting headache. It’s exhilarating, bright, seemingly chaotic, but with a definite forward pulse and a traceable pulse created by the repetitive nature of the loops (though it’s certainly not ‘minimalist’ – this is a far more creative use of loops than the usual comfy bed-rock they provide). So, multiple personas, a schiz-flow flowing off the alias-driven world of hip-hop (perhaps), (MF) DOOM gone electronic, gone voiceless, gone wordless, steering away from soul-samples and superheroes and instead entering the world of ’80s video games (the avant-garde version). There are tricks from ’90s club music, too – the incremental speeding-up of a rhythm so that it becomes a juddering, jarring blart, accelerating headlong into temporary white-noise out-of-body ecstasy before the rhythm comes back in – except here Chalmers stays with that white-noise moment, dispenses with familiar bass-lines or drum-loops, shudders back down into tape-fuzz silence. ‘Happy Shopper’, though less ‘noisy’ in terms of overall volume, is actually the more difficult listen, its entire sound-palette laid out in the first few seconds, with the looped sample of what sounds like a little girl’s laughter, gradually morphed and manipulated out of itself, somehow always jarring and mocking, rather like a car-alarm with a mind of its own, lower rumbles and whines all but drowned out by its insane insistence. It ain’t pretty, and you’ll probably have a hard job getting hold of a copy, but it’s very much a worthwhile listen. (DG)
SUBTLE LIP CAN – SUBTLE LIP CAN
Label: Drip Audio
Release Date: 2011
Tracklist: Chickle That Bottom; Crumple, Power Down; Inside Look; Tid Lac Boam; Suddle Lip Can; Runst From Thag; Crumpled Up Seed; Polloer.
Personnel:Isaiah Ceccarelli: percussion, piano; Bernard Falaise: guitar; Josh Zubot: violin, low octave violin.
Realistically, dividing the world in half is never a good idea – it’s over simplistic, the unhelpful “if you’re not my friend, you’re my enemy” thinking that has gotten us into so much trouble over the last…oh, I don’t know… 2.5 millenia. Not that we at Eartrip HQ need to know exactly who our friends are, but the sound vs. music line in the improvisation world can be used to separate and sort; we’re not using it as a cleaver but a handy equator-esque latitude traced along the outside of the sphere. Some people can easily move between the hemispheres while others find a one place, like it, and stay there.
Subtle Lip Can consists of Isaiah Ceccarilli on percussion, Bernard Falaise on electric guitar (no effects mentioned in the credits but a few pictures have a handful of gizmos on the floor) and Josh Zubot on violin. I harp on the Drip Audio inter-connectedness in other reviews but this group is relatively free of those associations. But as there aren’t that many Zubot’s out there (an internet address site lists a grand total of 52 Zubots across all of Canada), it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Josh is brother to Jesse Zubot, Drip Audio co-founder, member of Fond of Tigers and 72 b’zillion other bands. But no worries about familial nepotism here, as Josh is quite able to hold his own and doesn’t need a brother’s coat-tail to ride on.
As a trio, Subtle Lip Can is probably very happy being on the sound side of this planet. This group’s music isn’t busy but still maintains a consistent level of engagement. And it all seems to fit. This is not a recording of a group of people making neat sounds at the same time – their foreground is as engaging as the background, everybody seems to stay out of each others frequencies, and the music consistently sounds fresh and unrehearsed. Subtle Lip Can is a trio but by being on the edge of recognizable tones, at times they sound much larger than that – hard to say who’s playing what and when, but when sounds are traceable, it’s does seem to be democratic as far as who’s “taking the lead”.
Not wanting to not undermine my earlier assertion, but compared to some of their Drip Audio brethren, this Montreal-based group does give off a different vibe from their like-minded Vancouver-based labelmates – while they let musical ideas and statements rise and fall, there seems to be a greater continental vibe and feel to their tunes. (TH)
UNDIVIDED – MOVES BETWEEN CLOUDS: LIVE IN WARSAW
Release Date: 2011
Tracklist: Hoping the morning say; Moves between clouds; What a big quiet noise
Personnel: Bobby Few: piano; Mark Tokar: double bass; Perry Robinson: clarinet; Klaus Kugel: drums; Waclaw Zimpel: bass clarinet, clarinet, tarogato
Additional Information: Recorded live at Teatr Akademia, Warsaw, 20-09-2009
Wonderful to hear such marvellous but underrated musicians as Perry Robinson and Bobby Few together on this live date, as the guests of a very fine trio of Polish musicians. All those clarinets give it a kind of European folky vibe, I suppose, which makes a nice change from the usual free jazz sax-bass-drums thang (this does, after all, come out on the Multikulti label); and while Waclaw Zimpel’s melodies may at times be a little too elegant and stately (their exposition takes it time – which is by no means, formally, a bad thing, keeping us out of by-rote string-of-solos territory), Few’s churning piano and the usefully busy drums of Klaus Kugel (cymbal bursts and kit socks constantly spilling out of left and right stereo channels, busily and invigoratingly excited) ensure that the surface is never flat, always pulsing, waving, rolling on. ‘Hoping the morning say’ is in the tradition of rubato balladry – swelling on drones and extended melodies, not seeking ‘development’ as such but moving inexorably from solemn calm to churning near-turbulence; ‘Moves between clouds’ is more spaced, Few’s chiming piano and Kugel’s bell-tree percussion atmospheres gradually ushering in a rather mournful two-clarinet melody, Tokar’s bass providing urgent tremolo commentary and support. It’s six minutes before the first solo comes in (Few takes it, perhaps in recognition of his seniority), clarinets then entwining round each other, impassioned then subdued, boiling up before dying back down again. The three tracks are progressively longer, moving from ten to fifteen to twenty minutes, and album closer ‘What a big quiet noise’ again evolves slowly and with care. It begins ominously, Few hammering out a woozily-and-continuously repeating piano figure, the clarinets’ dark intonations become steadily more high-pitched until it all explodes into a trademark Few solo, pedalled, chordal, swelling, heavy and thick rather than linear or quicksilver – now thinning out to join the clarinets in twittering overlap, caught at a point of stuckness or tension, sudden silent drops, then back in again, heavier, Kugel’s drums kicking up a storm, menaced exihiliration – and then we’re in a bass solo, that arco space, creak and groan, quietened to almost nothing, the most delicate of piano tinkles, not as ‘comping’ but as amplifying, complementing the solo’s pose, its poise; and wonderfully back to sonorous drone, piano repetition, clarinets slow in their entanglements, their sounding together: music taking its time, showboating set aside for focussed digging in, sustaining, organic evolution. Applause would kill the mood lingering after the final notes subside, and, somewhat unusually for a live recording, all that’s removed; the audience similarly attentive, narry a cough or a whoop to be heard. (DG)
VARIOUS – 60 INTERPRETATIONS OF 60 SECONDS BY 60 SOLO IMPROVISERS
Label: Apprise Records
Release Date: 2010
Tracklist: 160; 260; 360; 460; 560; 660; 760; 860; 960; 1060
Personnel: Track One – Linsey Pollak: rubber glove bagpipes; Chas Smith: copper box; Rachel Arnold: cello; Fatima Miranda: voice / field recordings; Yuichi Onoue: kaisatsu; Todd Taylor: banjo //
Track Two – Yurko Rafaliuk: tsymbaly; Jeff Albert: trombone; Laure Chailloux: accordion diatonique; Leon Gruenbaum: samchillian; Leanid Narushevich: electric guitar; Araz Salek: tar //
Track Three – John Oswald: alto sax; Christine Sehnaoui: alto sax; Susan Alcorn: pedal steel; David Sait: guzheng; Pekko Käppi: jouhikko; Andrea Centazzo: gong //
Track Four – Misha Mrks: prepared guitar; Joana Sa: piano; Martin Grutter: piano; Paul Dunmall: soprano sax; Joe Sorbara: drums / percussion; Kyle Bruckmann: oboe //
Track Five – Damon Smith: field recordings / 7 string double bass / laptop; John Butcher: saxophone controlled feedback & piano resonator; Tom Boram: analog modular synth; Ignatz: guitar / voice / drum; Helena Espvall: cello / effects //
Track Six – Tim Hodgkinson: clarinet; Beatrix Ward-Fernandez: theramin; Christian Munthe: guitar; Mia Zabelka: violin / effects; Rayna Gellert: fiddle; Tobia Tinker: harpsichord //
Track Seven – Perklis Tsoukalas: oud; Michael Keith: ukulele; Szilard Mezei: viola; Gino Robair; metal / glass / plastic / stone / motors; Joe McPhee: alto sax / voice; Michael Snow: piano //
Track Eight – Rob Coppard: bones; Johannes Bergmark: platform; Philip Gibbs: slide guitar; Aaron Ximm: field recording / broken radio; Philo Lenglet: prepared acoustic guitar; Carmel Raz: violin //
Track Nine – Ben Roberts Eclectiktronik: turntables/ cassette decks; Helean Gough: field recordings; Leonel Kaplan: trumpet; Gerry McGoldrick: shamisen; Ronny Krippner: church organ; Alessandro Alessandroni: keyboard / whistling //
Track Ten – Olivia de Prato: violin; Heribert Friedl: chair; Robin Hayward: microtonal tuba; Bruno Duplant: contre bass; Mike Smith: hurdy gurdy; Paulo Chagas: oboe
Additional Information: ‘A perpetually evolving snapshot of the artists and their contributions to this project can be found online (presently at http://www.guzheng.ca/)
The notion here, an admirable one, that free improvisation is an international form of making music, that it transcends the genre specifications into which we critics can’t help but box it (eai, efi, post-minimal-masturbation, whatever): that improvisation, in fact, is a method fundamental to the making of most music in the world, and has been arguably since music’s invention (however it’s been described or theorized at various stages of its development). Canadian musician David Sait’s curtaorship of this project is laudable indeed, and must involved a good deal of work: the disc comprises ten sections, each of which forms six different improvisations into a suite (generally hovering around the five-minute mark – some of the pieces are obviously slightly longer or slightly shorter than a minute). There’s both contrast and cohesion then, connections made between contributions disparate in both geographical location and musical approach, not forced into some false unity, but allowed to sit alongside one another, some kind of true global democracy, a universal history of where we are now, or where we could be. (Fatima Miranda’s piece, for instance, draws on a field recording of African immigrants watching a football match in a Spanish city traditionally inhabited by gypsies: out of this new social situation, the possibility for a racial communal togetherness: “a new sound reality in the cities” as the expression of a true multi-culturalism. I mean, that sounds so twee, right, and it’s easy enough to say all this about a one-minute track, or to come off as some kind of hippie fantasist, but these are measurable, concrete realities, social and sonic situations, right – Miranda’s piece, her passionate singing, its layering over that resonant field recording, is beautiful and it is about and is something, yes?) So much to hear here: if any disc was made for repeated listenings, this is it. After a while, one learns simply to sit back and listen, to let the myriad bursts and stretches of sound and silence flow into one another; if the familiar tones of John Butcher, Paul Dunmall or Joe McPhee crop up across the disc, one might also encounter such unexpected joys as the fleet fingers of Todd Taylor (officially the world’s fastest banjo player!), or Chas Smith’s copper box (presumably played as a bowed percussion instrument), in one of the sparest and most haunting interpretations of sixty seconds that the disc has to offer. Or, take the third track: the transitions from John Oswald’s already deconstructed saxophone (his piece sounded as a single breath), into Christine Senhaoui’s startling negotiations between breath and finger pads, into Susan Alcorn’s delicately-judged pedal steel guitar and Sait’s own expansive guzheng improv (harking back, in my mind at least, to McCoy Tyner’s gorgeous koto solo on ‘Sahara’), into Pekko Käppi’s jouhkko (an instrument kin to the Kazakh kobyz and a whole range of bowed lyres stretching from Russia to the North American Inuits), into Andrea Centazzo’s gong. There are such varieties of timbres here: smatterings of folk tradition, the focus on basics of breath and touch, the amplification of the tiniest creaks and crevices of the instrument through extended techniques that you hear in Senhaoui or in Kyle Bruckmann’s unearthly oboe solo, through to those pieces more obviously in the lineage of what we have to come know as ‘free improvisation’ – Martin Grutter’s scampering piano, Paul Dunmall’s reedily-bent soprano sax. Some favourite pairings: Tom Boram’s deliciously squiggly analog synth buzzing round the stereo picture before suddenly giving way to the hazy clarity of Ignatz’ melancholy imagined folk music; the weird confluence between Tim Hodgkinson’s slurring clarinet and Beatrix Ward-Fernandenz’ looming, whooping theremin; the contrast between Mia Zabelka’s almost-unrecognisably distorted violin and Rayna Gellert’s richly recognisable fiddle. Other highlights: the presence of Alessandro Alessandroni, of Ennio Morricone soundtrack fame!; Ronny Krippner playing George Friedrich Handel’s house organ (the fact that this is Handel’s organ at all is enough for me already, even if it is only a replica); Robin Hayward’s microtonal tuba; Mike Smith’s hurdy-gurdy; Rob Coppard’s musical bones; Heribert Friedl’s chair. Delirious. All of it. A real pleasure. (DG)
RADU MALFATTI – WECHSELJAHRE EINER HYÄNE
Label: Et Le Feu Comme Matière Formatable Technologiquement
Release Date: 2009
Tracklist: Wechseljahre Einer Hyäne
Personnel: Intersax (Ulrick Krieger: soprano sax; Martin Losert: alto sax; Tobias Rrüger, Reimar Volker: baritone sax)
Additional Information: Download release, available in FLAC or MP3 format from http://www.etlefeucomme.be/radumalfatti.htm. Recorded 19 September 2003 at Podewill, Berlin; originally released as B-Boim 007 in 2007.
Omitting any notion of ‘development’ or climax, Malfatti’s composed music moves beyond even the ‘lowercase’ improvisation (of which he remains a distinguished practicioner) in which those elements may still sometimes surface. The details here are essentially unchanging: the music recorded in front of what was either a very attentive, or a very small audience, in a room less subject than normal to the sounds of hissing traffic, revving engines and the like that so often form a backdrop to such pieces. There are, nonetheless, significant ‘ambient’ contributions, in particular, the faint, high hum of a fridge (I’m guessing here) which first becomes noticeable (or first imposed itself on my threshold of perception, anyway) around 20 minutes in, and adds a rather lovely electronic element to an otherwise entirely acoustic work. Oh yes, the composition itself consists of held chords, all four instruments sounding together in a burnished cloud of sound, one usually left at the end to hold the tone for a few seconds more before also dropping away. (In most cases, it seems to be the baritone that’s left hanging.) There are perhaps two chords used here – I’ll have to admit, that kind of detail isn’t what I pick up on in this kind of music; there may be a lot more going on that, harmonically. But the tones generally stay around the same area, last around the same amount of time, open with the anticipatory hiss of the musicians’ breathed-in air, end with that continued solo note. Though one looks forward to the recurrence of the musical tones, there’s no sense of tension as to when and where they will re-appear; instead, acceptance, calm, the contemplation of an essentially unchanging object that, nonetheless, moves in time, moves and changes as the listener’s perception moves and changes. Attention may wander and then come back, modes of listening may subtly shift. “In the music of Malfatti, there is not even a beginning or an end any more,” writes Tobias Fischer in his review of the album for Tokafi. “As each breath of sound manifests itself as a self-sustained event, there is no longer a need for a next move at all.” This captures for me the essence of the work – that it suffices in itself, but that there is always the possibility of its expanding out (or of the opposite, ‘contracting’ into silence); it need not to be circumscribed. The music might as well have gone on for an hour as for half of that. One might even wish that it had, and reach once more for the play button. While the debate about Malfatti and Sugimoto’s embrace of composition and increased silence rages on, it seems to me that what we are hearing here is a music in which there’s no need to make grand statements; Malfatti is supremely comfortable within this area, and is thus able to craft, with the help of the performers, a finely-honed piece that pretends to be nothing more than it is, that doesn’t feel ‘extreme’ or stretched in any way, but as natural as breathing and being. (DG)
ROSCOE MITCHELL – BEFORE THERE WAS SOUND
Release Date: 2011
Tracklist: Mr Freddy; Green; Outer space; Carefree; Akhenaten; And there was peace; Jo Jar; Carefree (take 2)
Personnel: Roscoe Mitchell: alto sax; Fred Berry: trumpet, flugelhorn; Malachi Favors: bass; Alvin Fielder: drums.
Additional Information: Recorded 1965 at Station WUBC, Chicago; previously unreleased.
The Sound of the title refers to Mitchell’s innovative, some would say trail-blazing, album of the following year, and this album with hindsight provides glimpses of some of the elements taking shape for that and future Art ensemble of Chicago music.
To put the situation in perspective. At the time of this recording Dolphy had been dead a year, Ornette Coleman was dividing opinion with his trio featuring David Izenzon and Charles Moffett, and his performances on trumpet and violin, Coltrane was moving farther and farther out, and while Mitchell and his proto-AACM colleagues were making this music Ascension was awaiting release. Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler had both made their musical presence felt, but their period of greatest influence still lay ahead.
So out of this ferment did anything rub off on these young proto-AACM players, looking for new ways to make music ? Not, it seems, the maelstrom of Coltrane or Taylor; implications may have been drawn from the liberating effect both had on music, but the influence, if it could really be called that, which springs to mind most readily is the early Ornette Coleman quartet, given an almost identical instrumentation, a willingness to distort the values of the tempered scale for the sake of sometimes highly vocalized expression, in conjunction with an emotional (or vibrational, in Braxtonese) approach that is less than full-on or in your face.
The opening track with its head-solos-head routine does bear some resemblance to the early Coleman quartets; yet neither horn soloist is given to the down-home folksiness which informed both Coleman and Cherry’s playing in those days. While on the following track, Fred Berry’s only composition of the album, there is a semi-modal harmonic feel that manages never to sound like Miles Davis and the slow melody line (if not through-composed, then Berry’s improvisation is based very closely on the thematic material) in conjunction with tom-toms playing at a faster tempo, a feature they might have picked up from Elvin Jones’ drumming on Crescent. By the 1970s this kind of rhythmic duality had almost become commonplace.
By the time we reach Outer space, the longest track, a multiple or compound theme can be found, complete with changes of tempo. Mitchell and Berry both have a few solo bars in the middle of this theme, which are probably improvised. (But in view of the substantial parts of Sound which appear to be improvised but are revealed by alternate takes to be pre-composed, who can really tell?) After the trumpet solo, the drumming grows fragmented in keeping with the alto’s asymmetrical phrasing, till there is a brief section of contrapuntal improvisation. As what is arguably the most forward-looking track on the album, it still lacks what Mitchell was to cultivate with such mastery later on- the use of silence and space as an integral part of the music, especially in his trio work with Tom Buckner and Gerald Oshita. Of course artists cannot be blamed for not accomplishing what they did not set out to do at any given time.
Of the two takes of Carefree the second is shorter and taken at a slightly slower pace, and does not have the collective improvisation which surfaces briefly on the first take. Another two versions of this piece can be heard with a different line-up on Congliptious (1968). And there was peace reveals some dynamic contrast in the writing, but does not approach the extremes of pianissimo found in Mitchell’s later composition. Berry here delivers a highly effective solo which, in its almost tempoless lack of tonal centre, presages some of Wadada Leo Smith’s later solutions to this kind of playing. Favors’ well-judged use of bowed bass should also be noted. He contributes the only non-Mitchell composition of the set, apart from Green. His Akhenaten is a challengingly jagged and asymmetrical theme, which develops in triple time for the improvisation, with something of a march feel in the drumming, which eventually becomes subdivided and fragmented.
Favors’ essential part as core member of the Art ensemble needs no further documentation, but for an account of what happened later on to Fielder (notable for his contribution to Sound) and Berry, who seems to have made even fewer recordings, I would refer listeners to George E.Lewis’s book A power stronger than itself: the AACM and American experimental music, still the single most comprehensive source of information about this movement.
It should be clear by now that this release is a document of invaluable historical interest, being the earliest known recording to date by AACM members. While it is not as epoch-making as Sound, only the most narrow-minded listeners could deny that it’s jazz, and in refutation of the frequent claim that “new thing” musicians were incompetent or mere opportunists, these four are obviously highly competent, as the negotiation of some very tricky thematic material exemplifies. But apart from such considerations, it works as music, and any listeners with an interest in the work of Roscoe Mitchell, the Art ensemble, the AACM or other forward-looking music of the period will not be disappointed by these performances. (SK)
(L-R) Roscoe Mitchell, Spencer Barefield, Tani Tabbal, Jaribu Shahid
2 Taylan Susam, ‘the title’ (http://nothingbutaplace.blogspot.com/2010/01/title.html)
3 See Taylan Susam, ‘music and politics’ (http://nothingbutaplace.blogspot.com/2010/01/mao-tse-tung-once-said-that-there-is-no.html)
4 References are to O’ Hara’s ‘Personism: A Manifesto’ (originally published in Yugen # 7 (1961); reproduced online at http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20421)
6 Taylan Susam, ‘Music, the Question of the Audience, and Two Lazy Answers’ (http://nothingbutaplace.blogspot.com/2010/01/music-question-of-audience-and-two-lazy.html)