CD Reviews – Issue 6

ANOTHER TIMBRE: GUITAR SERIES

  • Küchen/ Rowe/ Wright (AT29)
  • Volden/ Nakamura (AT26)
  • Ap’Strophe (AT28)

MARTIN KÜCHEN / KEITH ROWE/ SEYMOUR WRIGHT

Tracklist: Untitled Track

Personnel: Martin Küchen: alto saxophone; Keith Rowe: electric guitar;

Seymour Wright: alto saxophone

Additional Information: Recorded by Simon Reynell on 14th June 2009

at the church of St. James the lesser, Midhopestones, near Sheffield

The sleeve design is spartan, with information as to the musicians, date and location of recording absent from the sleeve booklet, which instead contains a couple of photographs by Lee Patterson. These are close-ups of food, or food-like substances: that adorning the front cover depicts a pink smear, which could be ice-cream, or some less palatable ooze, a shiny yellow glob (mustard?) and what looks like the dark-green corner of a leaf. If we want, we could read in a correspondence between the placing of these three objects and the role of the three musicians within the performance – sitting on the edge of the frame, separated from each other though still largely inhabiting the same space; apparently all very different, but all having something in common (even if that something is only finding themselves within that same space). Such a reading would, unfortunately, be a little overly schematic – I hear the music, for most of the disc at least, more as an all-over mesh than as a work which especially privileges differentiation between individuals. And, it seems, in mockery of any overly pedantic or analytic attempts to read the music, the inside sleeve contains the words ‘additional notes,’ printed in black bold capitals over a dark grey background. Just these words –no written notes, no portions of informative text are forthcoming. No need for extraneous philosophical musings or recording details, then – no need even for track titles; this recording is what it is – shut up and listen. Perhaps, also, these ‘additional notes’ pun on the ‘[musical] notes’ that did not find their way into the performance, for Küchen , Rowe and Wright favour a play of un-transcribable, noise and timbre, with a distinct industrial edge.

Rowe’s de(con)struction of the guitar we know about, and his partners here must undoubtedly have been influenced by that ethos: though ostensibly ‘saxophonists’, it would be very hard to identify them as such on a blind-fold test. When one hears brief, muffled, watery sections of circular breathing, or sudden shrill shrieks, it comes as a surprise to hear the recognisable sound of an actual instrument –and even these are only recognisable to those for whom extended techniques have become a ‘normal’ part of the instrument’s range. As to what things exactly (besides the conventional instruments) make the greater part of the sounds we hear, one might argue that such curiosity is something of a quibble: what matters is the quality of the sounds themselves. Nonetheless, it’s very hard, perhaps almost impossible, to think of sounds in such a disembodied way (how does one get one’s head around the notion of a ‘sound-in-itself’?), and the element of ‘what makes what sound’ remains important. Furthermore, there is a point to be made here about how this performance is centred so much on mechanics. In other words, the specificity of the devices used, and the way in which they are used, is important, despite what might strike an unacquainted listener as an element of randomness. There is interplay here between the conscious control of resources – the carefully deployment of particular elements at particular times to shape the texture – and a deliberate use of equipment which will create sounds beyond control (the space of the unexpected). Radios are the most obvious and well-worn example of the latter: and so we hear Rowe’s bursts of classical music, the intrusion of the idiomatic, the sense of the overheard – and both Wright and Küchen’s preference for using radio in conjunction with saxophone (for instance, placing it in the bell of the instrument to create a particular vibration). But the decision to deploy a burst of music or speech or white noise from a radio is not an arbitrary one; a person makes this decision, in relation to the sounds surrounding them, and the action thus taken might even be interpreted as having a moral edge, within the context of the human interaction taking place through the medium of musical improvisation. This is the case not only for the use of radios, but battery-powered shavers, alarm clocks, and whatever other devices are being employed; and so I can’t help but hear the afore-mentioned specificity of devices as having a dimension beyond the merely musical. I don’t think it’s too facile to say that the music sounds ‘mechanical’, due to the use it makes of various machines/ instruments/ machines-used-as-instruments. In itself this might or might not be a ‘comment’ on the industrialisation of society or the role of electronics in everyday life. But it does simultaneously mitigate against the glass-cage separation of the exalted instrumentalist-performer from the minutiae of our experience of the world at large (particularly, the world in its sonic dimension), whilst retaining an essential ‘alien’ quality (and an element of musical expertise in the manipulation of the sound devices). Even to those familiar with the work of these particular artists, then, and even given that those people will probably find no particular surprises as such here, this must remain ‘something rich and change’: a work of transformation, at once flirting with banality (via the sub-conscious hum of Radio 4 voices) and, in the final drone section (which is laced with the tiniest fragments of melody), willing to grant moments of genuine emotional affect.

HÅVARD VOLDEN/ TOSHIMARU NAKAMURA – CREPUSCULAR RAYS


Tracklist: Scattering; Perception

Personnel: Håvard Volden: 12-string guitar, objects;

Toshimaru Nakamura: no-input mixing board

Additional Information: Recorded in Oslo and Trondheim, November 2008

Given that Keith Rowe features on another disc in Another Timbre’s ‘Guitar Series’, one might be tempted to place ‘Crepuscular Rays’ alongside Nakamura’s own duo work with the AMM founder. And yet, it would perhaps be more appropriate to call Volden a guitarist per se than it would Rowe, who has converted his tools over the years to such an extent that he could just as easily be credited with ‘electronics’ as ‘guitar’. (Perhaps his continued use of the table-top instrument is a kind of acknowledgment of history, just as he continues to reference old masters such as Caravaggio alongside Rothko in relation to his visual art, and just as he continues to appreciate listening to jazz.) True enough, Volden has clearly emerged in a post-Rowe musical world; he does not leave the guitar untreated, micing it up to create sine-feedback similar to Nakamura’s own trademark sustained tones, and making more of the metallic quality of the strings than of the wooden resonance of his instrument, with amplified scrapes half-way between the acoustic (they are recognisably the sound of something being rubbed, sound created through direct physical contact) and the electronic (the amplification lending them a harsh, eerie edge). But hanging, zither-like tones hover like strangers over Nakamura’s electronic buzzings, crackles, flutters and burbling white noise – this is the characteristic feature of the disc’s improvisational logic, where events ring out and then disappear over a constant, though modulating electronic backdrop. And these events are often isolated so that they do not feel like ‘events’ as such: they possess a sense of stasis rather than of momentum. Nonetheless, there are movements in and out of particular areas, Volden often finding a particular type of sound and sticking to it for a few minutes before moving on, Nakamura doing likewise, though not always in sync, so that the music proceeds in overlapping waves. In addition, there are some moments that call attention to themselves with greater force than others: in particular, the sudden, harsh electronic squalls that Nakamura throws out like hiccupped screams over harmonics-filled guitar around six minutes into the first track. The performance possesses a certain tension to it too: Volden’s use of feedback in conjunction with his acoustic instrument means that there are sudden swells in volume, giving his playing something of a volatile quality. This is both expanded on and deliberately kept in check by Nakamura, who seems always on the verge of Merzbow-like walls-of-noise, but instead chooses to let shards and fragments of this noise drip and squeeze their way from his no-input board in quick, curtailed bursts, releasing them with precise, yet often unexpected placement. Thus, whenever the ship seems momentarily to steady – whether through the use of looping or a drop in volume – some harsh, hard-edged burst of mic’d-up acoustic scrape or no-input squall interrupts any tendency to reverie; or more properly, curtails it before it has begun. In some ways this is actually a harder listen than Nakamura’s Rowe collaborations: even the ‘noise track’ on ‘Between’ gives the pleasures of full-blown release, while the more drone-oriented moments have a kind of calmness to them, despite the electronic strangeness of the sounds. Here, one is not allowed the satisfaction of either approach: the music is slow, but never exactly ‘calm’; the sonorities deployed are often harsh, but we never really enter ‘noise’ territory. One has the sense that this is a difficult recording; not so much that it’s overly complex, but that the sounds themselves, however starkly or simply deployed, have a certain quality to them which is hard to get a handle on. Nonetheless, it’s a serious and sustained piece of work, and an important entry in the dialectic of the electric and the acoustic that continues to play out within contemporary free improvisation.

AP’STROPHE – CORGROC

Tracklist: spring; is like a perhaps hand

Personnel: Ferran Fages: acoustic guitar; Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga: zither

Additional Information: Recorded in Barcelona, December 2008; mixed Feburary 2009.

The third in Another Timbre’s Guitar Series sees a more obvious engagement with the instrument in its conventional form, as an acoustic, sound-producing body of metal and wood, rather than one shaped by feedback. And yet it is with an electronic microphone drone that things begin. This is probably created through holding an e-bow on one of the strings, though I’m not entirely certain – in any case, what’s produced is a steady, unwavering tone off-set by howling zither scrapes. It’s a fairly aggressive opening, or perhaps seems so because of the context, whereas it might not appear that way if it had found its way into the generally louder Volden/Nakamura collaboration. After five minutes or so, the drone fades away, and Fages strums melancholy chords, repeated and resonating over little pops and clicks, presumably produced by Chatzigoga. And then the track ends: this is something of a surprise, but it adds a nice symmetry and sense of neat formality – an encapsulation in miniature, perhaps, of what the duo intend to explore at greater length during the main section of the disc. Another drone opens the much longer second piece, slightly softer than the first and seeming almost to move through the air as the volume is subtly turned up and down – at once immobile (as emphasised when set against interspersed string-strums) and full of strong rhythmic suggestion. Guitar and zither, generally low-toned and almost hollow-sounding, pluck their way unobtrusively underneath this electronic tone, until, after eleven minutes, the sine wave fades away, to be replaced by creaks, groans and plucks that emerge cautiously from the sudden silence. Fages and Chatzigoga know how to take their time, sticking with an apparently limited palette, not getting in each other’s way: notes may be cut off before they have a chance to resonate, or dribble out into a silent void; for some minutes, one of the players transforms their instrument into a door-hinge that needs oiling; now, with alternating single notes, the atmosphere turns distinctly doleful and ominous, Fages’ guitar monosyllabic, as if letting out single words interspersed with extended, tortuous pauses, Chatzigoga using the zither as a minimalist percussion instrument ; and eventually even this becomes too much, both musicians sitting for a moment in total silence. The music picks itself up again, drags itself across the floor, the concentration now on squealing bowed zither tones, guitar still resonating with a mournful, monosyllabic lower-end. In truth, it’s a somewhat tentative re-start, but it leads into something that caught me completely by surprise. While the other ‘Guitar Series’ discs have moments of emotional pull, there’s nothing quite like the drawn-out melancholy of this section; indeed, ‘melancholy’ is hardly an adequate adjective for the sense of claustrophobic near-torment, of deep despair that’s present – all see-sawing tones, like moaning, crying voices, quiet howls, inexorable whines. This carries on for some fifteen minutes; at a certain point, the howl-scape is joined by another of those electronic tones, this one fluttering like a sedated insect, and initiating a dip in emotional intensity, as chiming hand-bells and mic’d-up finger-taps add a swirling, rhythmic dimension that drags itself out past the disappearance of the electronic tone and into the a final silence. Given the way that the music suddenly develops from subdued textural minimalism to something of genuine, sustained emotional intensity, I find myself rather at a loss as to how to sum up the album’s impression on me, especially as other reviewers seem not to have been so affected. But the fact remains that I was actively disturbed by the music’s unexpected cumulative power and pull – caught off-guard, one might say. This may not strike some people as a recommendation; but ‘Corgroc’ is an unusually compelling recording, one which evolves from being ‘just’ a fine piece of improvisation into something much more: a work of real and remorseless power.

ANOTHER TIMBRE: DUOS WITH BRASS

  • Davies/ Dorner (AT31)
  • Hübsch/ Spiller (AT32)
  • Fabbriciani/ Hayward (AT30)

ANGHARAD DAVIES/ AXEL DÖRNER – A.D.

Label: Another Timbre

Release Date: July 2010

Tracklist: stück un; stück dau; stück tri

Personnel: Angharad Davies: violin; Axel Dörner: trumpet

Simon Reynell’s practice with Another Timbre seems to be to produce, if not ‘art objects’ (a term which, for me, mitigates against the essential fluidity which creative improvisation, as a practice, cannot but be intimately associated with), nonetheless carefully-prepared albums, more often than not with fairly short running times (A.D. is ‘only’ forty minutes long), that encourage one to take a measured approach: to savour them, digest them, play them through several times over, think about them, mull over them, consider them in-depth. I personally do find laudable the desire to ‘get stuff out there’, the ubiquity of new releases; the use of the technology of the Information Age to push the underground from out of its ‘underground’ cliques into the bright lights of the World Wide Web. Nonetheless, I acknowledge that there are dangers here – particularly the subsumption of easily-available and constantly-multiplying content into an information overload, a realm of the infinitely-exchangeable, where there is no time to pay attention to any one thing in particular (one must always be schizophrenic, listening to Iggy and The Stooges in one browser window while ‘the latest “eai” ’ drifts by in another); where being captivated by everything, trying to catch hold of the flashing lights, the neon fire-flies flicking past, means that one ends up being truly captivated by nothing, burning-out, going blind through over-exposure, going deaf through the endless babble of talk and music, the air-waves and wires and wireless streams of sound all round us. Thus, Reynell’s new releases offer a kind of welcome permanence, or semi-(permeable?) permanence; though improvisation is all about transience, what we have here are recordings – arguably, different beasts to being in the presence of (the same room as) a live, actual, in-the-moment improvisation. This is not something to deplore, though perhaps Derek Bailey might have it otherwise “so you don’t have to give it your complete, full, unadulterated attention? […] That’s one of the things that’s wrong. […] If you could only play a record once, imagine the intensity you’d have to bring into the listening.” (From an interview with Ben Watson reproduced as ‘Appendix 3’ in Watson’s ‘Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation’). On the other hand, Bailey himself devoted much energy to running Incus records, so the notion of recording as death (or, perhaps, cryogenic freezing) does have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Indeed, to wish recording done away with is not only un-realistic, but, perhaps, actively harmful, given the role that recordings have had in shaping our musical consciousness (as educative tools, if you like, though not in a prescriptive way). Reynells is not simply presenting something ‘worthy of study’, like a painting or sculpture; A.D. contains no liner notes or information beyond the minimum track-listing, personnel and recording details, and so comes to the listener less burdened with pre-conceptions than a release already surrounded (smothered?) by textual discourse: liner essays, hagiographies, manifesti. Of course, given the means by which the free improvisation community receive and think about their music (online fora and review spaces), many listening to this record will be busy making comparisons with previous releases or evaluating reviews that they’ve already read.

That baggage will not go away – why should it? – and Reynells is obviously keen for the music to appear in some sort of contextual area. The last few releases on another timbre have come under ‘headings’ – ‘The Guitar Series’, ‘The Piano Series’ – and A.D. is part of a four-part selection entitled ‘Duos with Brass’. We are being specifically asked, then, to think about this music as part of the history of instrumental practice, rather than as something which is ‘just there’; one is reminded of the short (one sentence!) statement that accompanied Seymour Wright’s self-released ‘Seymour Wright of Derby’: “The music is improvised and about the saxophone – music, history and technique – actual and potential.” In the case of the ‘Duos with Brass’, the most pertinent lines of enquiry seem to concern the associations we make with regards to brass instruments (which have become very different listening propositions given the innovations of Dörner and the like), and the assumptions we make about how ‘duos’ operate.

As one might expect, on A.D., ‘duo’ doesn’t mean the obvious question-and-answer, statement-and-response, proposition and counter-proposition model. Rather, Davies and Dörner play together in a variety of different ways; always together because always in the same place (space), but patient enough to let one person say something ‘on their own’ before the other joins in, or before the other takes their own ‘solo’ (which is not really a solo as such, because it is unavoidably inscribed by what has gone before it –it is more like a palimpsest than a new line of writing). Dörner is not a ‘brass’ player as such here, though he makes much of breath, blowing burbling, subdued gusts of air; he’s as likely to let a sudden rasp of sound convince one, for a split second, that there is a percussionist in the room, or to make circular rubbing motions against the metal surface of his trumpet (as at the start of ‘stück dau’). When he plays a repeated note ‘straight’ (in response to Davies’ own deployment of that note immediately before, rendered as a more breathy wisp of sound), the effect is as surprising as if a ‘regular’ trumpet player had suddenly employed an ‘extended technique’. And it sounds as if he realizes this – there follows a silence (a moment of contemplation, of stepping back?) – before the return of the extended techniques. That doesn’t necessarily means he wants to reject what he’s just done: after all, such thoughtful players do not play something frivolously, do not ‘toss something off’. One might even construe it – that repeated conventional note – as particularly beautiful, though it might be a mistake to single out particular moments as idealised, sentimentalised ‘oases’. What is certain is that, in such an environment, the simplest of gestures can take on enormous historical weight: ten minutes into ‘stück tri’, two violin notes become a melody, against which Dorner’s blastings, growlings, mumblings, quiet roarings, become ‘counterpoint’.

I realize that some qualification may be in order regarding wording: I’ve written ‘Dörner is not a ‘brass’ player as such’, when perhaps what I meant was , ‘a conventional brass player’; for, as these new releases want us to realize, the term ‘brass’ in contemporary free improvisation can mean something quite different than it did in the past. Of course, Dörner is perfectly capable of playing ‘normal’ jazz trumpet – and does it very well – but he understands (and wants us to understand) the instrument as more than just that – as containing possibilities which are as much ‘brass’, because they are integral to the physical make-up of the instrument, as more conventionally ‘brassy’ sounds. So too Davies, in relation to the violin, deploying various objects in the strings and playing all parts of the instrument, in what might be called a state of permanent questioning (though it does, obviously, establish its own vocabulary). ‘What do I think of this object as? What is this thing I have been taught how to play? What more can I do with it than I have been taught? What are the implications of my making ‘unusual’ sounds with it? What does it mean for a technique to be ‘extended’? ‘

Such thinking makes the instrument seem at once more natural and more alien than if it were treated conventionally: more natural because every aspect of its body, of its sound-making capacity, can be explored; more alien because it is suddenly full of new, previously unknown possibilities. In a slightly different way, the sounds produced on this record are as much ‘natural’ as they are ‘alien’: towards the end of ‘stück dau’, the two musicians create what sounds like a simultaneous impersonation of a gurgling baby and a particularly high-pitched, fluttery bird-song. And this means, despite the ‘limitation’ and ‘restraint’ which seem apparent throughout (the unspoken dictum against ‘emotive’ display, or the peacock-strut of conventional virtuosity), that there is an immense sense of possibility here: the creation of a sound-world which does not merely ‘reflect’ the non-human sounds already in existence in our environment (wind, trees, birds, animals), but which suggests them, alludes to them (whether as unconscious by-product or through deliberate intent); adds to them, expands on them, merges them with the mediations of wood and metal through the bodies of violin and trumpet, and the further mediations of these instruments through the body and breath, fingers and hands of the musicians playing them. One might reflect that it’s pretty hard to obtain entirely un-mediated access to ‘natural’ sounds, particularly if one lives in an urban environment; and one might even reflect that, given the necessary presence of a human ear to make those sounds exists within the spectrum of human thought and understanding, the concept of an entirely ‘natural’ sound (if ‘natural’ is understood as ‘non-human’) is a rather tricky one in the first place. So what the musicians are doing is akin to the way that we filter ‘natural’ sounds anyway; they are creating something which is at once ‘futuristic’ (‘far out,’ out-of-the-ordinary) and essential, even ‘primal’.

All that said, to construct a theoretical edifice about nature/culture (perhaps with reference to the increased use of field recordings within this kind of quiet, less obviously ‘interactive’ kind of free improvisation) might be possible, but is probably not desirable: Davies’ and Dörner’s meeting here doesn’t ‘pretend’ to anything (in a ‘pretentious’ sense), and might perhaps, be construed as particularly ‘un-fussy’, even as it is part of a (permanent) revolution in improvised music (whatever David Keenan might think about it). On A.D., the sounding (out) of the extra-ordinary is not ‘trumpeted’, blared-out with brassy abandon, but unfolded with quiet and focussed intensity. A neat parallel is provided by the track titles, which mix the German ‘stück’ with the Welsh ‘un, dau, tri’, in an acknowledgment of the musicians’ respective nationalities; in itself quite an audacious linguistic mash-up, this phrasal quirk comes across not as clever-clever inventiveness, but as a genuine, and welcome, surprise. So with the music: not workmanlike in the slightest, it retains the atmosphere of surprise – of magic – that great improvisation is still so uniquely capable of providing, even within the ‘confines’ of a by-now well-established and developed vocabulary.

 

CARL LUDWIG HÜBSCH / CHRISTOPH SCHILLER – GILES U.

Tracklist: seven untitled tracks

Personnel: Carl Ludwig Hübsch: tuba; Christoph Schiller: spinet

Additional Information: Recorded in Cologne and Basel, February & November 2009

The most obviously striking thing about this record – striking before one even listens to it, and aptly fitting Another Timbre’s remit to explore experimental possibilities within the field of ‘new music’– is the instrumentation. One might associate the spinet with an archaic, elegant, perhaps slightly prissy aesthetic, from the purist, ‘period-instrument’ school of classical music. The tuba, by contrast, provides useful bottom end ballast and comedic quality in larger ensembles (indeed, it originally filled the role subsequently taken by the string bass in jazz bands), but has not found much favour as a frontline instrument – it’s seen as too unwieldy, lacking variety and just too darn hard to play virtuosically (though Vaughan Williams’ tuba concerto affords it an attractively perky role, and Howard Johnson’s improvising suggests a whole range of relatively unexplored possibilities for it within the field of jazz).

As one might expect, however, this record is a long way from both Vaughan Williams and or Howard Johnson, with neither Schiller nor Hübsch playing their instruments in the conventional manner. The former mostly concentrates on the spinet’s strings, using fans and e-bows, and occasionally tapping and scraping in a percussive manner; the latter uses circular breathing, multiphonics, and his voice, to create rumbling drones, groans and croaks that he describes as a kind of “mechanically-generated electronic music”. Though a cohesive whole, the record contains a number of distinct performances: the different pieces are far from interchangeable. Perhaps this variety comes from the fact that the tracks were recorded in two sessions, nine months apart (though it’s not said precisely which tracks were recorded at which session, an ambiguity that helpfully prevents one from trying to divide the album in too taxonomic a fashion.) The more percussive, active sections might be described as a slightly more subdued, acoustic form of musique concrète – evidence of the way in which electronic and acoustic musics have mutually influenced each other so that one can play an acoustic instrument in an ‘electronic’ fashion, and use electronics in a responsive, ‘acoustic’ way. (This will no doubt be explored to a greater extent in the planned ‘electro-acoustic splits’ series which will be released on Another Timbre in 2011 and 2012.) Thus, what’s particularly fascinating here is that the music is entirely acoustic (though perhaps the battery-powered e-bow could be described ‘electronic’?), and yet sounds uncannily similar in places to drones and soundscapes generated in a purely electronic manner. The tuba’s timbral quality reminded me at times of another recent improvised album which also features the instrument – ‘Selektiv Hogst’ by Koboku Senju, in which Toshimarua Nakamura’s no-input mixing board joins an otherwise acoustic quintet. Indeed, Schiller’s occasional use of plucked strings has a slight similarity to Tetuzi Akiyama’s acoustic guitar on that same record; and, whereas Akiyama’s playing is more obviously derived from the blues, rendered slowed-down, skeletal, and oblique, Schiller’s bent and de-tuned notes do nonetheless have a certain blues quality to them. (At various points, the spinet is made to suggest a guitar, a celesta, a prepared piano, and a koto).

There are, indeed, some surprising elements to this music, not least of which is the turn taken on the last two tracks, where Schiller finally plays the spinet’s keyboard at length. The music takes on a jumpy rhythmic quality that persists despite the use of silence and more elusive rumblings and scratchings – indeed, however inaccurate this may be, I like to think of the last piece as the ‘riff’ track, Schiller’s repeated figures at the opening hinting at a melodic compulsion which the duo generally avoid elsewhere. Perhaps this is what Hübsch describes in his liner notes: “risking expressiveness where it is needed, but never overexploiting it.”

Structurally, the duo find a number of ways to build their pieces, never overly garrulous, never outstaying their welcome, but patient enough to allow for gradual development and change – in Hübsch’s words, once again, to “let the music grow.” Such an approach has become characteristic of the musicians who appear on Another Timbre releases, diverse as they are: a kind of compositional logic that has developed out of playing, as an in-the-moment response to structural, dialogic and emotional imperatives, rather than a pre-planned theoretical system along the lines of, for example, Schönberg’s twelve-tone technique. Given that this logic has now become ‘established’ as an accepted musical vocabulary, there are moments on ‘Giles U.’ which one might almost call ‘par for the course’: for instance, one can imagine the ending of track five as signaling reflective silence, followed by applause, at a gig. Elsewhere, though, the structural development of the pieces is less obvious. Track two finds Hübsch taking the rhythmical initiative through emphatic breath/mouthpiece sounds: burbles, whispers and whistles that suggest the hissing of stream trains, the distant blare of fog-horns, the breathing and panting of animals. On track three, meanwhile, he plays mournful, slippery tones over Schiller’s eerily sliding pitches, in a tipsily melancholic lament. There are also moments of cohesion, where one can barely separate out the contributions of the individual players, both of whom concentrate on the sounds of exhaling, rubbing and scraping, or where, in perhaps more conventional fashion, both musicians settle together on a dissonant drone, moving from sparse, exploratory gestures to fulsome swell and back down again. Far from being a novelty record (though it may be the only tuba/spinet duo in existence), ‘Giles U.’ is thoughtful, engaging music. If this is the sort of thing that’s currently available, I see no need to fear for the ‘State of Improvisation’ in 2010.[1]

 

ROBERTO FABBRICIANI / ROBIN HAYWARD – NELLA BASILICA

Tracklist: Nella Basilica; Adagio; Riflessione; Colori di Cimabue; Arezzo

Personnel: Roberto Fabbriciani: bass-, contrabass-

& hyperbass flutes; Robin Hayward: microtonal tuba

Additional Information: Recorded on the 28th September 2009

by Simon Reynell in the Basilica di San Domenico, Arezzo, Tuscany.

The second track on ‘Nella Basilica’ is called ‘Adagio’, but ‘adagio’ is a term which might as well apply to the entire disc. This is a near sub-sonic world, made up of sounds which Fabbriciani and Hayward heard in their dreams, in their imaginations, and had to invent instruments (the hyperbass flute and the microtonal tuba) to realize in actuality.[1] As a result, it has a kind of sleep-walkers’ surrealism about it – not a bright and glaring world of fantasy and transgression, but something more lugubrious, ungainly, even. There are no streams of notes or rapid-fingered virtuoso passages here; indeed, a couple of other reviews compare the timbres and textures not only to whales (who by now are accepted as making lovely, if alien music) but to ‘hippos making love’. I might add the mechanical rumbles which fill the edges of our twenty-first century hearing, to which we have become acclimatised and which we barely notice: helicopters and aircraft droning overhead, engines at the very first moment they begin to splutter into life, the cavernous breathing of vast industrial processes. In fact, though, the overall effect is far from ungainly: what results from the combinations of sounds is a delicate, even fragile weave in which breaths and the click of fingers on keys signal the human element behind the manipulation of these great behemoths of brass and wind. It might be helpful to think of the instruments, the flutes in particular, as acoustically-amplified breath chambers – in that sense, these players, both operating at the ‘vanguard’ of New Music, are in fact getting back to those pre-historic moments when man first blew into a resonant object to simulate, echo, have dialogue with the natural sounds of whistling, howling and whispering wind and water.

This is, to some degree, a recording of paradoxes. It’s at once ‘big’ – the basilica acts as a giant, resonant cavern – and ‘small’, silences pinging out from in between rolls of low sound, barely-audible drips and gurgles on ‘Colori di Cimabue’ functioning like the most minute of paint flecks on a canvas. Hayward and Fabbriciani had discussed the “aesthetics of risks and imperfection” in Nono’s late works beforehand, and one might also make a connection here to the role of ‘accidental’, ‘chance’ sounds in the works of, say, Radu Malfatti – sounds which are just as much a part of the whole musical texture as are the actual notes that he plays. There is, however, a difference between the stomach gurgles and spittle-clearing on ‘Imaoto’, Malfatti’s recent duo with Klaus Filip (recorded with such closeness that Massimo Ricci calls it “sonic voyeurism”), the by-now familiar sounds of rumbling Tokyo traffic on onkyo recordings, and what goes on in ‘Nella Basilica’, where things are more controlled. Clicks, throat-clearing, inhalation and exhalation of breath are not part of the texture as a kind of side-effect – leave a gap and see what fills it – but are adopted to go alongside the ‘purer’ tones by means of contrast and emphasis. Or, at least, what might at first have been accidental, or incidental, soon becomes a consciously-deployed tactic. For this is a collaboration in which both musicians pay great attention to detail; the concentration on nearly sub-bass frequencies might seem like a limitation, which of course it is, but in other ways it serves to free up a different kind of thinking, a microscopic focus on the smallest intricacies of a particular range of sounds, a determination to get in and really explore the fine details of what might on cursory listen seem like a constricted area of dull drones, groans and rumbles. Just as high-speed improvisation works from the ground up, tossing off flurries of ideas, second-by-second, to create a ‘bigger picture’ made up of myriad fragments, so this kind of slow crawl starts off at the wider level and moves in, picking up on nuances and resonances to particular sounds that can only be accessed after minutes of carefully teaching oneself to listen in a particular way. This is only possible because of how closely attuned the two musicians are to each other (even though this was their first improvisation together); they both have a similar approach to space, an understanding of particular modes of overlap, and a tendency to start, stop, pause and re-start in a near-unison which sounds almost through-composed.

As we hear from the first notes of this album, this collaboration is about exchange: Hayward’s self-designed microtonal tuba occupies the higher range that would normally be occupied by a flute (with the sense of yawning, yearning, yelping strain that taking an instrument out of its normal range yields), while Fabbriciani, using the rumbling lower register of the massive hyper-bass flute, concentrates on pinging, bouncing tones that have something of an underwater quality to them. You can really hear them playing off the space, Hayward’s droning, shofar-like tones spreading out, swelling and contracting, sympathetically merging with Fabbriciani’s breathy trills and offset by the latter’s sharp, plosive attack. Often we talk about space as something we value in music, whether we mean Miles Davis’ careful placement of notes or the silences that have come to predominate in recent ‘lowercase’ improv. But here there’s a real sense of that space as a physical thing – for which we surely owe a debt to Reynell’s microphone placement, ensuring that the echoes of the church space translate into something that sounds just as full as presence and depth on a pair of headphones. As a fine example, listen to the eerie moment, towards the end of the first track, where Hayward holds some low rumbles that vibrate at the edges like the drone of helicopter blades, while Fabbriciani whistles into the resonating church. It’s that vibrating quality that gives this disc its power, that almost subliminal territory where sound becomes a supremely physical entity, existing on the edge of perception (the liner notes tell us that the hyperbass flute “can produce sounds at the lowest limits of human hearing”) – those limit states, those realms, that aesthetic of risks and imperfection. I suppose the danger here is that things become too sluggish, too monolithic, too growlingly austere for a ‘beautiful’ experience; but beauty lies in more than just the twinkling and pretty sounds with which it can too easily be confused – it’s equally, if not more so, about dedication, construction, placement, focus; about working within, and testing, the limits. And, judged on those counts, ‘Nella Basilica’ really is a beautiful recording. (DG)

[1] “Fabbriciani told me he conceived of the sounds before he had the hyperbass flute in hand; the instrument, when completed by the commissioned craftsman, enabled Fabbriciani to realize what he could already hear. ‘I have been able to realize absolutely the unknown sounds that have stimulated my fantasy’, he wrote me.” (http://crowwithnomouth-jesse.blogspot.com/ 2010/09/ deep-calls-to-deep.html. )

TETUZI AKIYAMA/ TOSHIMARU NAKAMURA – SEMI-IMPRESSIONISM

Label: Spekk

Release Date: 2009

Personnel: Tetuzi Akiyama: acoustic guitar; Toshimarua Nakamura: no-input mixing board

Tracklist: Semi-Impressionism 1; Semi-Impressionism 2; Semi-Impressionism 3

Additional Information: Tracks recorded in May 2008: Göteborg, Norrköping, and Gävle, Sweden, 17th-20th May (1); Stockholm, 15th May (2); Vienna, 26th May (3).

 

Though they’ve been collaborators since 1997, Tetuzi Akiyama and Toshimaru Nakamura have not made many appearances together on record – that is, until the last year or so, in which they’ve shared album space on Koboku Senju’s ‘Selektiv Hogst’ and on ‘In Search of Wild Tulips’, a collaboration with Swedish percussionists Erik Carlsson and Henrik Olsson which might be viewed as a companion to ‘Semi-Impressionism’, featuring as it does quartet recordings from the same 2008 concert tour. Nakamura’s work here is much ‘busier’ and more jolting than on some of his earlier work with sustained tones (the drones that make up ‘Weather Sky’, for instance), and also stands in sharp contrast to an even more recent recording, ‘Egrets’, released on Samadhi Sound. The latter, in fact, contains another duo with Akiyama, and, as is the case on much of that record, finds Nakamura working in a more ambient, one might even say mellow fashion, with slow transitions and generalised clouds of sound, rather than the sharp jabs, spurts and fizzes which he favours here. Akiyama’s acoustic guitar, meanwhile, emerges as much from American musics – blues, and the ‘fingerpicking’ of John Fahey – as it does from post-Derek-Bailey improv guitar. Nonetheless, these influences remain hints, suggestions, rather than full-blown allusions or stylistic markers: the playing is slow, resonant, static, elongating both the time between each note and the length of the note itself so that there is little sense of ‘progression’, of forward momentum or melodic and harmonic ‘development’. One might characterise this approach as somewhat austere, but, at the same time, if heard solo, this would likely exercise the same thoughtful, ultimately peaceful effect as Taku Sugimoto’s ‘Opposite’ or Akiyama’s own ‘Relator’. Nakamura’s electronics make this into a whole different kettle of fish, however; rather than merging into the background behind Akiyama’s acoustic notes (electronics used as ‘atmosphere’, as a sound effect sprinkled on top of the ‘proper music’), he insists on being a full duo partner, often seeming to deliberately coax out timbres that contradict the guitar line: a burst of particularly shrill feedback, or puffs of scuffling, rhythmically-uncertain white noise, like someone breathing disjointedly, and too heavily, into a microphone. This is by no means his only approach, and there is an odd moment of ‘direct’ dialogue on the final track, where he manages to create a melodic pattern from his feedback, echoing and complementing the repeated figure on which Akiyama has settled, albeit in a skew-whiff and ultimately rather disarming fashion (the feedback timbre is ever so slightly reminiscent of auto-tune). Nonetheless, one feels much of the time that the two musicians exist in co-relation, rather than ‘interaction’ – much in the same way the music on the CD and the words in the liner notes complement each other, sit alongside one another, but do not necessarily ‘explain’ each other in a systematic or obvious way. It’s an approach to improvised dialogue that seems increasingly common; whether the musicians merge their identities in ambiguous combinations of similar timbres, or emphasise the separation and difference between their approaches in stark and uncompromising fashion, they are not prepared to settle for the old ways of doing improvised ‘conversation’. In cases like this, clearly an example of the second ‘method’, the results can be difficult to get one’s head round, going against so much of the rhetoric and tradition in which our listening ears are trained. This is true even if one is coming at ‘Semi-Impressionism’ from a well-established acquaintance with the world of the ‘avant-garde’: it would be much easier to get a grip on the music if the musicians were playing solo, rather than together – much easier to divide what they are doing into particular, self-contained approaches. Nakamura’s contribution would come across as ‘noise music’ (albeit not as ‘in-yer-face’ as the ‘power electronics’ school) – intermittently shuffling and hesitant, intermittently rhythmic and grating – Akiyama’s guitar as spacious, intermittently melodic: a gentler, acoustic form of improvisation. When these strands co-exist at the same time, however, one has to think on one’s feet, to adjust one’s parameters and expectations – to expect, if not direct confrontation, an apparent lack of response, as much as overt co-operation and reciprocity. That’s not to say that Nakamura and Akiyama are not responding to and considering each other’s contributions, just that response and consideration may not always take the form one has grown to expect. The results are often difficult, occasionally perplexing, but well worth working for. (DG)

 

AUTECHRE – OVERSTEPS

 

Label: Warp Records

Release Date: March 2010

Tracklist: r ess; ilanders; known(1); pt2ph8; qplay; see on see; Treale;

os veix3; O=0; d-sho qub; st epreo; redfall; krYlon; Youp

Personnel: Rob Brown, Sean Booth: electronics

 

Given the 74-minute running time, and Autechre’s reputation as purveyors of ‘difficult’ electronica, one might be tempted to read the album title of this, their latest release, as suggesting a kind of (over-)ambition. More accurately, however, one can relate the title to the duo’s continued efforts to frustrate the ‘dance music’ impulse for which they supposedly cater and to which they are always indebted, but which they can never quite bring themselves to embrace in a straightforward manner. Thus, the word ‘Oversteps’ might morph into footballing ‘step-overs’, full of the flashiness and tricksiness which the album possesses in abundance, but also into phrases like ‘out-of-step’ or ‘mis-step’ – a kind of tripping, hesitating, stumbling and fidgeting that seems almost ungainly. Or would do, were the textures not so elegantly off-balance, wrapped in an electronic sheen that vacillates between brooding sci-fi echo and grungy rhythmical impulses, even shot-through with wisps of tenderness (though these may have to compete with robot-beats and drifting fragments of electronic debris, as on ‘qplay’). This is music that always contains within itself the potential to fly off in numerous different directions, sometimes all at the same time – it’s beautifully poised between twitching, nervous energy, the industrial-chic of dated synthesizers, and fuzzy textures which might be called ambient if they didn’t catch one so off-guard. Autechre are not out to catch the listener by the throat, but to play mind-games with them, and opening track ‘r ess’ is typically hard to get to grips with. It fades in on a looping melody surrounded by a big, boomy echo that threatens to overwhelm it, blurring the line between background atmospherics and ‘lead line’ in a kind of foggy haze. When a drum ’n bass beat comes in, it feels slowed-down, almost clunky; treated fragments of the initial melody section manage to spurt out before quickly spluttering away again, surrounded by low, descending whines like the distant sounds of car alarms or sirens, and the fade-out is swathed in ambiguity, the avoidance of any definite conclusion. This will prove characteristic of the album’s onward progress: tracks seem to bleed into each other, too packed full of shifting detail and simultaneous activity to allow one to entirely relax into the experience, but, by the same token, too complex for easy absorption, even if one does subject each piece to close and careful scrutiny.

 

Autechre don’t so much provide the soundtrack for a warehouse party as reflect back a warped version of what that experience feels like: at points the constant rhythm drifts off into an abstracted, dull thud, details blurring together even as the duo constantly throw in little spits and spurts of glitchy computerized interference and menace. The atmosphere is often downright eerie, electronic choirs weaving and wheezing around just beneath the surface or around the corner of a seemingly perky texture. Sometimes one hears the unexpected ghosts of other genres: ‘Treale’ contains little bursts of what sounds like a mis-firing attempt to play 60s Hammond Organ jazz, and ‘known(1)’ has as its ‘lead instrument’ something that sounds like a harpsichord or clavinet, woozily hinting at a funk bent but never managing to get it together, as individual lines echo, multiply and cross over to create a rhythmically frustrated miasma. And then, of course, there are those characteristic Autechre Melodies (a little reminiscent of Zappa’s fiendlishly complex synclavier lines); melodies that, due to the sheer quantity of notes and the unexpected connections between them, would prove hell to sing or whistle along to, but which insinuate themselves with a fearsome logic as they repeat over and over, willing themselves into the memory. Of course, by the time the next couple of tracks have passed – with their own set of tunes and rhythmic jiggery-pokery – the original melody gets lost in the information overload. Witness the way that the almost-catchy ‘O=0’ is followed by the disarming good-times vibe of ‘d-sho qub’ (the album’s most optimistic track, despite the interspersed distortions of ring-modulated keyboards and the transition into a concluding section with a lost-in-space vibe); or the way that the ‘main theme’ of ‘ilanders’ is heaved out via great grinding, booming bass, incongruously juxtaposed with the polished tinkling of a computer-game soundtrack which acts as ‘counter-melody’. So that’s ‘Oversteps’: in comparison to the album’s rather bitty predecessor ‘Quaristice’ (reviewed in Issue 2 of this magazine), Autechre’s characteristic blend of glitch, groove and atmospherics here attains a much more satisfying cohesive flow. The result is a record that, like the best of duo’s work, unsettles and entrances in equal measure. (DG)

 

TOMMY BABIN’S BENZENE – YOUR BODY IS YOUR PRISON

 

Label: Drip Audio

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: Your Body is Your Prison; Damaged; The Thing & I; Citizen Kang; Interlude; Les Trousduciel; Pretty Boy Floyd; They Didn’t Know They Were Robots; The Sky Beneath My Feet

Personnel: Chad Makela: baritone sax; Chad MacQuarrie: guitar, drums;

Tommy Babin: bass; Skye Brooks: drums

 

Led by bassist Babin, this quartet consists of Chad Makela on baritone sax, Chad MacQuarrie on guitar and on drums, Skye Brooks, aka Mr. Get Around (see: Inhabitants & Fond of Tigers) on drums. All the compositions are Tommy’s, so those of you that got excited thinking that the tune The Sky Beneath My Feet was a Skyclad cover, could very well be disappointed.

 

The CD’s nine songs are indicated on the credits as being part of a suite titled “Your Body is Your Prison,” and most of the songs segue directly into the next. To further embrace the continuity of the recording, the tunes were recorded in one-take, in order, straight off the studio floor.

 

The opening tune, which gives the suite its title, begins with a wonderfully bumpy and rambunctious bass solo and then works into some very propulsive work by Makela – the baritone making the quartet feel a lot bigger than it is and getting into Mingus or Vandermark territory – and all that energy carries into the second tune, Damaged. Citizen Kang, the fourth tune, begins with a great sax/drums duet, with Brooks wringing a lot of out his kit; when Babin joins in, the tune really takes off.


There are some lags in the recording – The Thing and I and Les Trous de Ciel meander through different sections without settling down into any of them. If there’s a weakness, it’s when the group sounds like they’re trying to ‘rock out’ – the drumming and guitar sync up and get a little anthemic, which leaves the bass rooting along with the chords and generally leaves Makela the odd-man out.

 

Thankfully there’s enough variation and cadenza/solo highlights to give everybody a chance to strut their stuff. McQuarrie gets a wonderful assortment of tones and textures out his guitar without an overt reliance on effect pedals and Babin’s bass, plucked throughout, has a great warm tone.

 

There’s no overall theme or genre being explored here – the title seems to be a play on ‘your body is a temple’, and the vintage picture of the gentleman about 6 feet in the air above his seat, probably taken at a spiritualist or revivalist meeting, does lend a general air of spiritual concerns but there’s nothing overt.

 

While it’s not done at a breakneck pace or with whiplash changes, the quartet do get a lot of mileage out of four instruments. It is wonderful jazz, if by jazz you mean anything goes. (TH)

 

COSOTTINI/ MELANI/ MIANO / PISANI – CARDINAL

 

Label: Grimedia/Impressus

Release Date: 2009

Tracklist: Vocale; Vento Salto; Radici; Cardinal; Jump-U-Funk;

Ehe; Mazes Counterpoint; Bianca; Exmod 1

Personnel: Mirio Cosottini; trumpet; Alessio Pisani: bassoon, contrabasson;

Tonino Miano: piano; Andrea Melani: drums

 

Restraint is the order of the day here, but in a manner that adds, rather than takes away from the quality of what is presented. The musicians are clearly very careful about the architecture of the music, some of which was created from graphic scores: one player will make a short statement, then leave a gap which another will fill with their own contribution. As a result, pieces unfold through slow, winding melodies, short bursts of individual commentary, complementary phrases, quick responses, and minute interjections.

 

The combination of trumpet and bassoon has a burnished quality to it that makes for one of the most immediately attractive features of the album, though the all instruments in general blend very well. On the first track, ‘Vocale’, things are sparse, linear and melodic; unison trumpet and bassoon treat the simple, doleful theme to ascending and descending voicings, not so much cushioned as gently supported by piano chords, while the faintest splash of Andrea Melani’s cymbals peers in at the edges, in a colouristic rather than rhythmical role. The horns stop, leaving silence, a short burst of dissonant piano, and then silence again, out of which rises the second track, ‘Vento Salato’. Pisani here plays the role of growling snake charmer, repeating a phrase, Miano locking in on piano with a variation on this, Cosottini entering with trumpet countermelodies, each player pursuing his own repetitive element to create an ensemble motor-rhythm. With the entrance of drums providing an even stronger rhythmic basis, the other players start to diverge from their path, one by one, Pisani sticking to longer notes, Melani’s tappings suggesting a stronger rhythm than played in actuality, things ending as seamlessly and quietly as before.

 

‘Radici’ beings with an almost baroque character, Pisani providing grave counterpoint to Cosottini’s trumpet; the tinkle of bells and a short solo section for percussion leads to freer improvisations. On the record’s title track, a flowing bassoon lament is peppered by jazzily rhythmic trumpet and by little rhythmic rumbles combining the extreme high and low ends of the piano keyboard. But, as always, just when one player seems to be taking the ‘lead’ (in this case, Pisani), another takes over, the trumpet assuming prominence as it rises to a barely-suppressed scream; then, building again over a piano that threatens thunder but never quite gets there, a collective combination of yearning, sliding trumpet and bassoon push themselves into another silence.

 

‘Jump-U-Funk’ belies its jazz fusion title until right at the end of the track, when the group suddenly locks into a firmly-defined drum beat; before that, a combination of long silences, unison melodies, and wispy screams into nothing. ‘Ehe’ has a more ‘structured’ sound, trumpet and bassoon declaiming over repeated piano notes. An extrapolative piano solo (the first time we’ve heard any one player develop any melodic ideas at such length on the entire record) follows, and continues in freer vein over the return of the unison melody. ‘Mazes Counterpoint’ is more cautious, the instruments carefully following each other in linear, introspective fashion, Miano punctuating his discourse with occasional chords that suggest a barely-suppressed sense of crisis, hysteria. Things are, if anything, even more introverted on the next track, with long bassoon notes sounding over eerily sustained, repeated piano figures. Melani’s contributions are so subdued (and subtle) that it’s easy to forget he’s there, until a cymbal splash or a bass drum thump eases itself onto the edge of the aural field. Pretty, filigree piano figures signal a quiet fading away. ‘Exmod 1’ sounds like it’s going to be more overtly ‘dramatic’ as the whole ensemble enter with a sustained sound-cloud, but Webernian piano, succinct and crystalline, dispels that notion. Something with the quality of a funeral march emerges, breaks down again; tiny scratches on the piano strings can barely be heard; and then nothing can be heard. The music is over.

 

‘Cardinal’ is a record that often sounds beautiful, but that never allows itself the luxury of sustaining any idea at too great a length, that always keeps things on edge, each player holding back so that the group as a whole can benefit. Testament to such an approach is the fact that ‘Cardinal’ contains some of the quietest and most unobtrusive drumming I’ve heard; Melani contributes significantly throughout without ever drawing undue attention to himself. The result of all this is that every note takes on a kind of immense drama: Webern once again comes to mind, his symphony a kind of insanely-compressed, ten-minute version of Mahler without the grandiosity. Though the record as a whole is far longer than that symphony, it’s broken down into shorter tracks, and, within those tracks, into sections that are shorter still; fragments cohered into a whole by the strength of the ensemble interaction, by the absolute fidelity paid to the principle of listening to others at all times. There’s also something intensely sad about the music – Cosottini’s trumpet on the final track has the vulnerability of ‘Sketches of Spain’: the muted lament of things said, or half-said, or unsaid, interrupted and swallowed up by the ever-present silence out of which ‘Cardinal’ rises and back into which it returns. (DG)

CURRENT 93 – HAUNTED WAVES, MOVING GRAVES

Label: Coptic Cat

Release Date: May 2010

Tracklist: She is Naked like the Water; The Sound of the Storm was Spears

Personnel: David Tibet; Andrew Liles; John Contreras; Baby Dee

Additional Information: Released as a limited-edition, 50-minute LP; also as a 71-minute CD.

 

A real surprise, David Tibet’s latest offering ditches the sung/spoken esoteric/eccentric vocals we’ve come to associated with Current 93 for an extended, minimal instrumental work that, to my mind, rivals, in terms of both conception and execution, John Tavener’s ‘The Protecting Veil’, the piece to which it bears closest resemblance. Tibet’s soundscape is more radically slow-moving, more radically event-less than Tavener’s: throughout the entire 71 minute span of the disc, we hear the sound of breaking waves, at first combined with the rumbling after-echo of someone scraping the low-end strings of a piano, set sometimes over, sometimes under, sometimes against sombre arco cello melodies. During the first ten minutes, the piano/waves are louder than the cello, so that the melody enters consciousness almost indirectly, and rather than follow the simple route of a crescendo in which the cello gradually assumes prominence as a solo instrument, things drift in and out so that foreground and background are exchangeable and malleable, the whole piece following the repetitive logic of those waves, of something seemingly unchanging which is, in fact, slowly moving, eroding, changing from high to low tide; imperceptible change too gradual to be effectively registered by our minds, so used to the never-ending onward rush of event and incident. There are moments where the cello simply sustains a single note, a drone which might normally suggest a peaceful, steady ground, but here becomes something unresolved, uncertain; and this is a tension on which the whole work builds, the dialectic of contemplative stillness, lack of change, and chest-filling grief, lament waiting to burst out into fuller and more aggressively anguished expression. Even when more (multi-tracked) cellos enter the mix, in overlapping lines of sorrowful monody, what we get is not a ‘climax’ but a section that doesn’t ‘go anywhere’ as much as hover in the same sonic and harmonic field for an extended period. And the continuance of the wave sounds into the second track ensures an exquisite yet almost painfully drawn out lack of progression, the cello now replaced by trembling sustained organ. Another ten minutes, whispered voices (a Current 93 staple) whisper, flick and lash round the edges of the sound-scape; and then the first genuine change of the entire piece, as melodic piano repetitions join the swirling waves, whispers and organ to inject a more hopeful feeling into proceedings. It all fades out so slowly, to breath-holding silence – and then nothing. Not something one could live with every day (and perhaps, in the end, a little more ‘lightweight’ than it appears), this is nonetheless a hugely compelling listen. Those wave sounds (whether they’re field recordings or, as seems more likely, electronically-generated) might threaten to place the work in a kind of illustrative context (the ‘haunted waves’ of the title), but this is thankfully left under-developed, as suggestion rather that imposition. And I think that’s why I find this piece so appealing, and yet dislike the ‘Holy Minimalism’ of John Tavener or James MacMillan to which it bears some affinity: there is a lack of religious pretension, a lack of programmatic or explicitly ritualistic portent under whose weight a piece of music can find itself drowning. ‘Haunted Waves, Moving Graves’ balances a simultaneous sense of half-awake lullaby-lament and a ponderous lack of ease; and in its sense of extreme slowness and lack of development; it is genuinely and convincingly minimalist music. (DG)

 

DAWN OF MIDI – FIRST

 

Label: Accretions

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: Phases in Blue; Laura Lee; Civilization of Mud and Ember; The Floor; Tale of Two Worlds; One; Hindu Pedagogy; Annex; No Abhor; In Between

Personnel: Amino Belyamani: piano; Aakaash Israni: contrabass; Qasim Naqvi: drums and toys

 

It’s unusual to see such a new band receiving what seems to be almost universally high praise from the critics, indicating that, while Dawn of Midi may not be receiving the jazz press hype they perhaps deserve, there is definitely something rather special going on here. There’s no point in worrying whether to call this ‘jazz’ or ‘free improvisation’ (though all the pieces are improvised, the vocabulary often has a distinct jazz edge to it). Rather, this group has come about at a time when such worries seem irrelevant, when statements of intent can be made through music rather than ideological or theoretical proscriptions; what matters most of all is the creation of serious and engaging sound.

 

The record opens with quiet but purposeful bass and drums from Aakaash Israni and Qasim Naqvi, soon joined by the piano of Amino Belyamani. There’s no real sense of anyone ‘soloing’ as such; rather, the three musicians collaborate to create music that contains both the melodic/harmonic legacy of jazz and the textural approach of free improv, but prioritises neither. As they write on their website, “In the global art music setting, one can sense a paradigm shift that veers towards an appreciation of timbre, color, and the silences that frame a musical offering…In this age of modern improvisation where the distinctions between musical normatives are blurred, DOM’s thematic and timbral approach is reminiscent of many genres bound in one simultaneous moment.” Without the strictures of chord changes or the ‘theme-solos-theme’ template, the improvisations are nevertheless full of memories, fragments, wisps of genre, of music heard and absorbed by the players. But this never degenerates into a merely banal quoting of genre; instead, the kinship between different musics is recognized as the background to the creation of new sounds and discoveries. It’s a way of ‘making it new’ without trying too hard to do so: innovation by stealth, if you like, or innovation by degrees, with the traditions of the past as a rich well to draw on rather than a burden or hindrance.

 

There’s nothing flashy or self-consciously dramatic here; the tracks rise and fall, dip and sway, moving away before you can pin them down. Part-way through ‘Laura Lee’, the piano suddenly introduces a meltingly affective, melancholic chord which feels perfectly appropriate, though it doesn’t obviously arise from the territory the trio has just been exploring – and then, even before the sustain-pedall’d echoes of that chord have faded away, Belyamani starts repeating a note, not quite hammering, not quite feathering it. What follows is the most exquisitely judged use of space, bass and drums working in perfect tandem with Belyamani’s odd pauses, which are longer than the momentum of the music might lead one to expect, but shorter than a fully-fledged ‘silence’. It’s as if something really lyrical, flowing, song-like is about to emerge, but is dampened, broken up, forced back underground. This suggestion of what might have been – an allusion to what has not yet come to pass – imparts a wonderful sense of openness. This is a world of possibility in which choices are made at every turn; you can hear the players thinking this music through as they are playing it. Which shouldn’t lead to the usual accusations of ‘cerebral’ and ‘intellectual’ music, as opposed to music from the heart, from the gut – what Dawn of Midi exemplify is that that supreme control goes hand in hand with the creation of emotional states. This is music tied to the motions of the body and the motions of the mind.

 

I may not have been very specific in what I’ve said so far, and it’s perhaps best to discover the various techniques and variations DOM spin through real time listening rather than after-the-fact criticism. That said, I will note something that happens quite a lot on the record: an emphasis on detail, one note or minute phrase being returned to again and again, all the development occurring in variations of touch. Mid-way through track five, ‘Tale of Two Worlds’, there appears a minimal repeated figure, sounded with a cross between bluesy insouciance and something almost despairing, punctuated by the dampened dabs of a note sounded while the finger clamps down the vibrations from the string. One is drawn into this, forced to examine the implications of a musical phrase that one might have overlooked in the general development of the piece; it’s as if the players have suddenly decide to zoom in, to focus very closely and specifically for a couple of moments, and one realizes that this could happen at any time, one realizes the trio’s great awareness of the myriad of possible implications in everything that they play.

 

For the ultimate example, listen to the last track, ‘In Between’, where a single piano note (and then a small number of alternating notes) sounds out again and again, for minutes at a time, bass and drums gradually boiling and bubbling underneath, a chord in the other hand supporting but never fully developing the scant material, all creating a kind of momentum through stasis; and, finally, a meditative quality, the piano reminiscent of tolling bells, the bass plucking understated counter-melody, drums with the faintest taps and splashes, a trance with off-centre rhythmic accompaniment. Once this lengthy section finally finishes, and the CD ends, something still seems to hang in the air – the silence itself turned into music by what preceded it. How the music will restart on DOM’s next release only time will tell, but, on the evidence of this auspicious debut recording, we can expect great things. (DG)

 

DIATRIBES & BARRY GUY – MULTITUDE

 

 

Label: cave12

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: le grand jeu financier; le poids des humeurs; corrosion du possible; pour les hommes du port; ne plus avoir peur des monsters; un peu plus rouge; exil

Personnel: barry guy: doublebass; d’incise: laptop, objects; Cyril bondi: drums, percussions; benoit moreau: clarinet on no.3

Diatribes, despite their name, are not the type to make shouty music, music of polemical over-statement. Nonetheless, what they create is far from laid-back or quietist; it’s joltingly, bracingly mobile, full of interlocking and interweaving textures and actions that avoid the more linear unfolding of much ‘European Free Improvisation’, whereby instruments tend to remain as discrete units, each pursuing their own path in concord (and sometimes discord) with the other members of the ensemble. Diatribes, by contrast, desire to run rings round each-other, in a scintillating, quick-silver, chattering, sometimes clattering, overlapping dialogue that blurs the distinction between who’s speaking and when, thereby creating a whole whose parts can never quite be disentangled from each other. They work on the interplay between the percussive and the electronic: Cyril Bondi is nominally a ‘drummer’, D’Incise nominally plays ‘laptop electronics,’ but both employ numerous percussive ‘objects’ which they use in such a way that it can be very hard to tell who exactly is doing what. What results is a kind of musical border region, where percussion stretches out to taut, drone-like sounds, ‘wild ascending lisps’ and slow, trembling groans, created from the friction of bow on metal, while electronics merge with ‘objects’ in rustling, scratching, tumbling figures, complementing and contrasting with the recognisable drum playing – yes, the recognisable drum playing that does appear through all the thicket of ‘small sounds’, though in little eddies, scurries, flurries, rather than in big, rhythmic statements.

 

Barry Guy is perhaps the ideal partner for this duo, never (grand)standing out as the ‘special’ invited guest, the ‘world famous’, ‘veteran’ improviser who’s deigned to play with the kids in order to show them how it’s done; rather, he leaps right on into their world, for minutes at a time turning his double-bass into something seemingly other than itself, playing at the extreme high register of his instrument to ghostly effect, turning the strings into tuned percussion, thwacking and strumming them, moving from strange, jerked-out blurts to sharp, darting, rippling waves, sliding arco under everything with an almost imperceptible, near-melodic rumble, before dissolving into harmonics that merge with the creaking-door sounds emerging round him. Listen to track four, ‘pour les homes du port’, where Guy is playing sequences of held notes, figures that rise slowly up the clef only to descend back down like a sigh of resignation – figures that possess the most subtle, melancholic flavour, but are played so quietly they can barely be heard over blacksmith’s forge clangs and scrapes. And then from that he’s immediately into the almost unbearable tension of grimly-dragged low arco scrape (‘ne plus avoir peur des monstres’); and from that to uncertain plucking, resonances almost reminiscent of kora music, raindrop-delicacy, gradually-emerging rhythmic rumble, mesmerically attractive but never safe, always liable to disappear somewhere, to morph into something, else – even into a straight-forward, tapping rhythm, and something approaching a simple melody! (‘un peu plus rouge’).

 

And Guy is not the only guest; we mustn’t forget Benoît Moreau’s clarinet on the third track, ‘corrosion du possible’: howling, open, not smooth or mellifluous as in the classical repertoire but almost choking its way into the frantic web of trio sound, meshing with Guy’s high bass, circular-breathing, bird-tweeting, squawking through piercing tinnitus of barely-audible laptop, cymbal whorl.

 

Despite the frenetic quality of such sections, one might feel that the music tends to understatement as a whole – an incorrect assessment, but one that’s possible because of the way the musicians creep up to climaxes (if one can call them that), refusing to signpost them as orgasmic, rising shouts; instead the knuckles whiten as one grips the arm of one’s seat more and more, clenches one’s jaw, focuses more and more deeply on what is happening – as volume increases, as the group lock into a particular rhythmic or harmonic area with an intensity that’s almost harrowing. Diatribes have found a very special way of interacting creatively, a spontaneously-generated form that does seem to possess something genuinely new and fresh – though this has not come about through a deliberate pursuit of novelty for its own sake (gimmickry). They have somehow managed to create a musical space where the usual harmonic or melodic worries and constraints frequently just do not seem to apply, and where the music itself has a vitality that mitigates against any loss that might result; and for this they really should be listened to. Or, to put it more simply: ‘Multitude’ is a flat-out brilliant disc which deserves – no, demands! – that you seek it out and hear what it has to say. Highly recommended. (DG)

 

D’INCISE – SÉCHERESSE PLANTEÉ EN PLEIN CIEL

 

Label: Gruenrekorder

Release Date: 2009

Tracklist: le fléau ; regarder la croix plutôt que la pouter; trente ans en trois heures; sécheresse plantée en plein ciel; omnipresence; somnolence à Sosnoviec; insouciance apparente; sécheresse en périphérie; couloirs obliques; à quelques orages d’intervalle; la vie immobile

Personnel: D’Incise: field recordings, electronics

Additional Information: Available in a limited CD-R edition of 50 from www.gruenrekorder.de.

 

A solo project from D’Incise (of Geneva-based improvising duo Diatribes), Sécheresse Plantée En Plein Ciel’ shares something, perhaps, of that jittery, skittering, scrabbling electronics and percussion set-up, but only as an element on the periphery of its overall musical vision. This music is more about atmosphere than moment-to-moment interaction and change, though that’s not to say it skimps on detail: however, it draws one into its flow through the repetitive quality of its 11 tracks, which are structured around beats or droning synthesizer loops. The cover art gives a good indication as to what to expect: flecks of light emerging at the edge of spreading stains of darkness on the one hand, and on the other, landscapes flooded by an orange cloud of dust that renders only the sketchiest details visible – the shadows under stones, the vague outline of a spindly bush. Similarly, the music is expertly constructed out of a mix of primary elements, which continue throughout the piece, and smaller spurts, buzzes, hisses – sampled sounds that disappear almost as quickly as they emerge; unconscious thoughts, sudden traces of movement glimpsed out of the corner of the eye, ghosts stalking the corridors, disappearing round the corner. The effect can be unsettling, though it can also be playful, brooding, perhaps even melancholic. Track 8 is entitled ‘sécheresse en péripherie’ – ‘drought on the periphery’ – which nicely captures the record’s sense of dread, of a crisis about to happen, or the faintest echoes of one that has already happened, a long time ago, yet lingers on still, the grubby traces of the past imprinted on the mind. Stains can be scrubbed from walls, ruined buildings can be rebuilt, wounds can be stitched up– but the scars of memory are less easy to heal.

 

And memory is an important factor here – D’Incise created these soundscapes from field recordings made in the Czech Republic and Poland a year before the album was composed in Geneva. Field recordings abstracted from their source, voices and creaks and clankings – a station announcement, the sound of moving transport, the crackle of a lighted match – negate the re-assuring equivalence of sound to something particular in the world, turn it into something that deceives, that echoes, that can’t be pinned down. Can one trust one’s sense? What is one being told through these sounds? Perhaps this is something to do with the very notion of recording – a sound played back, days, weeks, months, years after the event, has lost its connection to what originally produced it, has become an empty echo in technology’s endless playback – the natural has become the synthetic, the imitation, the reflection. D’Incise writes: “this album is something like a blur travel diary second reading,” and a further layer presents itself here: while he himself may know the source of these recordings, however abstracted and musicked they have become, his listeners do not have that privilege. All they have to go on is guesswork. The result – for this listener at least – is that one cannot entirely surrender oneself to the sounds; at the edge of this ‘ambient’ music is something troubling; a promise of ‘signification’ offered by the field recording aspect is like a carrot dangled in the air, always pulled away at the last moment. Whereas a written diary might pretend to offer up its writer’s inmost thoughts (those he cannot tell others), might provide access to the core of that person in a way that would never be possible in a social context, this audio diary refuses the narrativizing at the heart of the written diary, leaving only the vague sense impressions, the vaguest feelings. It offers nothing concrete; everything is shifting, elusive. Do the suggestions of a climax, a crisis, at the end of track six ‘reflect’ a personal dilemma, an emotional trauma, or something as innocuous as a train passing under a tunnel? To pose such questions in the first place is an error – it is to fundamentally misconstrue the processes of this ‘diary’.

 

The danger in a project such as this would be using field recordings as just another element in a vague ambient wash of sound – like the ‘whale song’ or ‘rainforest tranquillity’ CDs you might find in an English garden centre. What D’Incise achieves here is something much more interesting. The field recordings are not used in the manic, collage-sampling fashion of something like C. Spencer Yeh’s ‘The Strangler’, which in fact has a stronger connection to ‘signification’ – in the manner of the fragments one catches from a radio station. Rather, they seem to have been interiorized into the very heart of the music, integrated into, and even generating, its textural and rhythmic structure: quietly clanking and clicking loops, suggestions of children’s voices, pizzicato strings, a double-bass, a twinkling ‘riff’; everything suggested, nothing revealed. (DG)

PAUL DUNMALL / CHRIS CORSANO – IDENTICAL SUNSETS

 

Label: ESP Disk

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: Identical Sunsets; Living Proof; Better Get Another Lighthouse; Out of Sight

Personnel: Paul Dunmall: border pipes, tenor saxophone; Chris Corsano: drums

Additional Information: Recorded live at the Slak Bar, Cheltenham, England, April 2008

 

Paul Dunmall’s career is deservedly into its fourth decade; with his breadth and depth, he’s completely at home in the free improv and folk camps, having played with many UK greats such as Barry Guy, Danny Thompson, and Elton Dean, and in the group Mujician, with Keith Tippet, Tony Levin and Paul Rogers. Though just mid-way through his 20’s, Chris Corsano has already had a lifetime’s worth of activity – almost 100 recordings with everybody from the Vibracathedral Orchestra to Jandek, Björk, and most members of Sonic Youth; most notably, about a quarter of his discs have been the result of a long and fruitful partnership with sax wildman Paul Flaherty.

 

The short-ish opening track is Identical Sunsets has Dunmall wringing the life out of some border pipes. These pipes are related to the traditional Scottish pipes but, as Wikipedia tells me, are not as loud or raucous; not that you’d think the border pipes are quaint and dainty after that tune. Pipes are not a passing fancy for Paul, given his previous dalliances with them, most notably 20030’s Solo Bagpipes on his Duns Limited Edition label. Chris joins in for the next tune, Living Proof, and matches Paul’s tenor hysterics and acrobatics with aplomb – lighting fast rolls, cymbals and snare scattered about like an old man on a park bench feeding pigeons. The tune dips and rolls with tempo and ferocity as both performers matching each other’s jabs with the same intent and vigor. Better Get Another Lighthouse opens with some generally restrained stick work from Chris, but it’s only a handful of seconds before the velocity ramps up and Paul then leaps on, the music already in full flight. Out of Sight carries on much of the same, which is just fine, as you don’t fix what ain’t broke; near the end, the audience hoots and hollers in agreement.

 

Recorded live in April 2008 at the Slak Bar in Cheltenham, England, ‘Identical Sunsets’ is the ESP debut for both performers. Paul and Chris play well and play in simpatico, aping each other only in force and magnitude. While the frantic playing can give the impression that they’re both soloing and just happen to be near each other, they respond to each other’s push and pull.

 

By most accounts, Chris generally plays with a very minimal kit – a few cymbals & high-hat, about two toms, snare and bass – and he gets everything out of it. Paul, other than the opening track, sticks with his tenor and employs a variety of techniques and approaches – it’s not just rapid-fire runs or skronk, but everything in between, as well as some moments of heartfelt melody. These two make a great pair. (TH)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PATRICK FARMER/ DOMINIC LASH – BESTIARIES

 

 

Label: Cathnor / Release Date: 2010 / Tracklist: Cinnamologus; Pard; Bonnacon /

Personnel: Patrick Farmer; percussion; Dominic Lash: bass

A bestiary is a Medieval collection of fantastic beasts – the descriptions are based on what travelers think they saw or heard from the locals during long travels to foreign lands and some turned into fodder for Christian symbolism, allegory, or fable. The three songs of this recording are each named after such beasties: a cinnamologus is a bird that lives in a cinnamon tree – reports vary as to how nasty the bird was and whether it makes its nest out of a cinnamon sticks; a pard is a cheetah-type animal with a spotted coat, and when she mates with a lion, apparently a leopard is the offspring; a bonnacon has horns like a ram and emits dung that it can launch a great distance and which burns on contact.

 

Patrick Farmer is an Oxford-based percussionist with an admirable list of co-performers: John Tilbury, The Hunter Gracchus, and Chora; on his blog – http://ideasattachedtoobjects.blogspot.com – he lists his occupation as approaching drums without drums. Double-bassist Dominic Lash is one of the main agitators in the Oxford Improvisers, is very prolific in gigs & recordings, and has several standing groups including the Dominic Lash Trio; high-profile and recent gig mates include Tony Conrad, Joe Morris, John Butcher, and Evan Parker.

 

This recording is their first release, is all acoustic, and has no external processing. It’s up for debate if this music requires rapt attention or can be allowed to fade into the background, though there’s a general comment on Patrick’s blog to listen to the audio with good speakers to catch all nuances. Thankfully, cranking your speakers will probably not result in any permanent damage as the sounds here do not have savage peaks.

 

You’re a third of the way into the 2nd track before you hear the first ‘recognizable’ notes from the bass – solid but rubbery pizz. But the three songs are suite-like, as the end of Bonnacon comes to a clear and obvious rising climax that puts a punctuation mark to the musical sentence of this entire recording. Given the emphasis on non-traditional sounds here, trying to ascertain who made what sound is pointless; after that mental exercise has been abandoned, it does free one’s mind to just listen. At that point, this recording is entirely captivating and rewards careful attention. But still, the mind does reel thinking what’s been hit, tapped, dragged, crumbled, crinkled, moved, or vibrated across what variety of surfaces (wood, skins, strings) to get the textures, rustlings, and vague sounds presented.

 

The emphasis here is on sound, not music; hence, this recording presents the questions that you need to answer. Clearly, these are two very patient men; and the payoff for approaching ‘Bestiaries’ likewise is considerable. (TH)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOND OF TIGERS – CONTINENT & WESTERN

 

Label: Drip Audio

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: Soheb; Continent & Western; Vitamin Meathawk;

September 16th, 2005; Grandad; Misc. Romance; Upheaval

Personnel: JP Carter: trumpet; Jesse Zubot: violin; Sandro Perri: vocals on ‘Vitamin Meathawk’; Mats Gustafsson: saxophone & electronics on ‘Grandad’; Stephen Lyons: vocals on ‘Upheaval’, guitar; Morgan McDonald: piano; Shanto Bhattacharya: bass; Skye Brooks, Dan Gaucher: drums

 

This band is the jewel of the Drip Audio crown. Led by guitarist Stephen Lyons, the septet line-up hasn’t changed – Morgan McDonald on piano, JP Carter (also heard on The Inhabitants) on trumpet, violin played by Drip Audio honcho Jesse Zubot, drummers Skye Brooks (Inhabitants & Tommy Babin’s Benzene) and Dan Gaucher, and Shanto Bhattacharya on bass – and certainly offers up enough ammo to provide a rich source of textures. For this recording they pull in two guest stars, with single-track appearances by Sandro Perri, providing lyrics and vocals, and Mats Gustafsson, bringing his sax and electronics.

 

As usual, odd time-signatures and spastic rhythms abound. At times the group sounds like an angry/amped-up Godspeed, You Black Emperor, at times they mellow out like Tortoise, but, by still managing to straddle the instrumental line between post-rock and nü-prog, it’s no surprise that the band has been dubbed ‘post-everything’. The longer songs are suite-like, with riff-based sections that usually contrast with their predecessor. A general lack of obvious solos is refreshing, but most instruments have their turns at being in the foreground. They’re not jazz, but certainly jazzy, as the emphasis is on the collaborative aspect of the music; they’re happy to lock-step or groove, at times even getting into some lovely minimalism, especially when one of the drummers is laying on the tuned percussion.

 

I caught the band at the Guelph Jazz Festival in ’08 and the chaos of all the members on stage was not reassuring, not to mention the sound in the large church basement that played host. However, it was clear then and on this disc that they move as a group – on stage, there were no rock pretensions or posturing; everybody knew their part and stuck to it. Granted, this is not music that allows for random noodling, but everybody stuck with the programme.

 

Soheb opens with juicy herky-jerky riffs and bubbling bass that are the foundation for some guitar and trumpet leads before it starts to wobble and then heads into a tight second section. An electronic hum in the background at the beginning lends a distinctly lo-fi vibe to Vitamin Meathawk before Sandro’s mellow and ethereal vocal comes in. Sept. 16th, 2005’s piano intro quickly gives way to angular and mechanical riffing that varies between being as harsh as FoT can get and some quasi-Reichian phrasing. Grandad opens with Gustafsson’s squelches and tortured electronics before he wails away with the band as support; the tune then devolves into a shambling improv which provides the most visceral sounds of the entire recording and ends with some lonesome whistling of the main riff of the opening track. Upheaval features a few stanzas of lyrics sung by Lyons and an almost sing-along word-free refrain at its close; the slow vibe of this song ends the recording on a reflective and wistful note.

 

Fond of Tigers are a good, tight band. The intensity is consistently high, even with the variety of tones and textures they’ve put on this recording, and there’s nary a wasted moment. (TH)

 

RICHARD HARDING / PHIL HARGREAVES – GRACULUS

 

Label: whi-music / Release Date: 2010 / Tracklist: Everything was Possible; Axor; Kiril; Stone; Mytishchi; Silver Lost its Value; Vernal; Almost Comprehensible; Water in a Dragnet /

Personnel: Richard Harding: classical & electric guitar; Phil Hargreaves: soprano sax, flute, voice

A graculus is another name for a jackdaw, a member of the crow family. The bird is a gregarious scavenger, an opportunistic omnivore. The musical equivalent would be that anything goes. The spiky lettering on the case and a picture of what looks like Shiva angrily playing a theorbo did make me brace for an onslaught. However, the music here is generally on the calm and quiet side.

 

Both performers are based out of Liverpool. Richard is a classical guitarist (and musical director for the Liverpool Guitar Society) but he’s not afraid to occasionally run his classical or electric guitar through effect pedals. Phil plays soprano sax, flute and voice and has been active for most of the last decade, playing with Simon H Fell, Paul Hession, and others.

 

The opening track, Everything was possible, begins with clicks and pops from the soprano sax and some rapidly muted or muffled notes from the classical guitar and alternates between those passages and moments of subdued playing. Axor opens with some tasteful glissando chords on the guitar which then becomes the background for the sax before the two instruments depart for mutual exploration; this is one of the stronger tracks on the CD, along with its successor, Kiril, which has adventurous guttural voice work from Phil and Richard’s heavily processed electric.

 

During some of the quieter moments on this disc, the music can get a little motionless; the guitar seems to be generally set the tone as to how ferocious the music will be, with the classical resulting in the more ponderous tracks. Almost Comprehensible is the exception with a several passages of very frenzied classical.

 

While not quite the free-for-all that I anticipated, the music is engaging. However, if it was half the length (9 songs with only two coming in under 5min. and a total running time of an hour), the music would be twice as interesting.

 

As indicated in the liner notes, these tracks were selected from recordings made in a variety of venues between Dec ’08 and Dec ’09. This recording is available for free via Phil Hargreaves’ bandcamp page – http://philhargreaves. bandcamp.com/ album/graculus – as well as the webpage of Phil’s label, Whi Music – http://www.whi-music.co.uk/catalogue.htm; hard-copies are as also available for purchase via the website. (TH)

 

HEU(S-K)ACH – un

 

 

Label: Test Tube

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: un; deux; trois; quatre

Personnel: D’Incise: laptop, objects; Marcel Chagrin: guitar, bass drum

Additional Information: Recorded live at Tivoli16, Geneva, 26.06.2009

 

This release finds D’Incise, who co-leads the duo Diatribes with percussionist Cyril Bondi (and numerous international guest artists), working once again within a free-improvising duo format. His discrete, grainy approach is soon recognisable from within that group – low, beating electronic sonorities laid over a prickly bed of glitches and crackles, alongside acoustic rustlings, squelchings and piercing bowed cymbal scrapes. The first track is striking precisely because it doesn’t go for immediate, punch-to-the-gut impact; instead, Chagrin plucks out the same chord over and over, emphasising the softer sonorities of his instrument, though with a smattering of feedback. A gradual rhythmic intersection between guitar and laptop, accentuated by bass drum, lends the music the air of a slowly passing funeral march. ‘deux’ opens with similar hanging, almost inert guitar sounds, D’Incise creating a mini-whirlpool of squealing and scratching that trickles out to near-silence as the music reaches a moment of quiet stasis, guitar and bass drum at once rhythmic and immobile, a slowed-down heartbeat. Struck singing bowl and the music forces the listener to hold themselves in suspense, to avoid movement, to quieten their breathing, even to hold their breath, at once desiring to be lost within the sound and aware that, at any moment, it could change; there’s a fragility here, underscored by the little swirls of feedback, a sense that the electronics creating this calm could soon run away into chattering activity. With great patience and fidelity to the mood, the duo don’t let this happen: the music remains on the threshold of inattention, and it’s possible that, at any one moment, it could seem either totally absorbing or frustratingly reticent, depending on how much one is enamoured of the prevailing sonorities (everything is still underlain by that near-static guitar). A little swell of chiming percussion representing a temporary increase in volume soon fades to the previous hush, with more soft chimes adding something of a temple atmosphere; except that the ritual ceremonies are heard as if through the fuzz of a semi-sleeping state. Still the bass drum provides a constant tread – progress towards a goal, or marching on the spot? –still percussion rises and rings out, now in a crescendo, the music imperceptibly becoming louder, with swirls and croaks, but dipping back down once more, drum replaced by immobile guitar, then by silence. ‘quatre’ is the first track not to have at its heart the guitar sonorities laid out at the very beginning of the disc; instead, music-box, rubbed contact-mic, single-note pluck – wispy, whispering, overlapping; guitar in a fuzzy, swirling haze, once more promising some sort of climax through an increase in volume; but then dying away, leaving that climax to slip away between the cracks, lost in the music’s tendency to quietude. And yet there is a definite sense here of something have been enacted, the beautiful hush of the final silence providing evidence that all around has somehow been transformed by what came before. It’s hard to say what exactly that was: as the description above indicates, this improvisation (for, despite the track divisions, it is really one piece) doesn’t work on narrative or linear terms, seeking instead to arrest them in a kind of timelessness, even as its beating bass-drum and repeated guitar are a constant reminder of pulse, of heartbeat, those closest and most unavoidable physical signs of time passing. Often, music is described as ‘physical’, or to do with ‘the body’, when it demonstrates a certain quality of ‘energy’, a certain kineticism or (some would say) sexual vibrancy, which would seem to contrast sharply with the disc under consideration. But that simple opposition won’t do: meditation, the transcendence of the body, comes first through an intense concentration on something bodily (breathing), and perhaps ‘un’ is like that initial stage, before the transcendence of the body, but after a radical slowing-down and concentrated focussing of consciousness. The result is a kind of physicality-through-stasis; music that works on the logic of breathing, the logic of rising and falling consciousness, of slowly awakening or slowly falling asleep; a protracted, suspended lullaby, a thing of great patience and of great beauty. (DG)

WILLIAM HOOKER TRIO – YEARN FOR CERTAINTY

 

 

Label: Engine Records (ESP-Disk)

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: ingratiated beam – leroy; century’s soles;

commonplace travel; magistrait; yearn for certainty

Personnel: Sabir Mateen: saxophone, flute, clarinet;

David Soldier: mandolin, banjo, violin; William Hooker: drums, spoken word

 

One might expect this release to be straight-up free-jazz, but the atmosphere is frequently intimate, full of space, silence, clarity of line, melodicism. ‘ingratiated beam – leroy’ finds Spanish-style mandolin underscoring Hooker’s recitation of a self-composed poem; an opening that promises to give things time to unfold, rather than bursting straight into the room, opening fire with machine-gun blasts. ‘century’s soles’ finds Hooker playing a steady, almost stately beat. Soldier’s banjo twang immediately conjures up bluegrass associations, while Mateen’s saxophone provides melodic complement, only occasionally throwing in some free jazz shrieks that hint at what’s to come on ‘commonplace travel’. After the segue, Mateen soon heads for the stratosphere of altissimo freakout, in thrilling simultaneity with Soldier’s electric violin – the combination reminiscent, perhaps, of Frank Lowe and ‘The Wizard’ (Raymond Lee Chung) on the ESP classic ‘Black Beings’, though perhaps a little ‘spacier’ here – and it’s that spaciness which makes it way to the following track, ‘magistrait’. Hooker’s undulating cymbals threaten to creep up to crescendos, like waves rolling up to their entrances, their crashing climaxes, as Soldier and Mateen link into drone-like figures. The impression here is of something held in to check, something about to break out – serene, magisterial (as the title suggests), but with a suppressed, gripping tension. Rather than building into another freakout, Hooker goes alone, shimmering, wavering figures buttressed by nervous silences; and now it’s Mateen’s turn, on clarinet, ducking and diving, dipping and weaving, Soldier’s strummed mandolin once more imparting a Flamenco flavour, Mateen becoming shriller, the strums more insistent, Hooker’s drums coming to the fore once more alongside shouts of encouragement, the frequencies of his bass drum giving his playing an almost melodic flavour. Soldier switches to violin, ‘yearning for certainty’, a gospel-tinged melody rising in and out of grungy wah-wah and distortion, the melodic base for improvised flights at times brutally electronic, at others tinged with the same raga-rock spirit as Jerry Goodman’s work with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Mateen spins round Soldier’s tremolo with passionate dedication, eventually locking into a unison sax/violin melody statement which transforms itself into a held note, and silence. A single cymbal shot – silence – and another, followed by a bass-drum thud – silence – Hooker introduces rolls into proceedings – and now sits back as Mateen’s flute trills and warbles with breathy liquidity. Hooker’s forceful speaking voice jerks us out of our immersion in Mateen’s bird-flight, as he asks: “what is this funk again? where is this entertainment mode?” And then he’s back in with drum thunder, Soldier, in high spirits, plucking away on his banjo, Mateen’s honking sax pumping up the volume – a kind of deliriously poly-rhythmic free jazz hoe-down that brings things to an inspired and joyous close. One of the more unusual free jazz releases of recent years, this record exchanges bombastic power-play for something less easy to classify, and possesses considerable charm as a result. (DG)

 

INHABITANTS – A VACANT LOT

 

Label: Drip Audio / Release Date: 2010 / Tracklist: Far Away in Old Worlds; Threes; Over it Begins; What About the Water?; Journey of the Loach; Whistling Pass; Let Youth Be Served; Pacific Central / Personnel: JP Carter: trumpet; Dave Sikula: guitar; Pete Schmitt: bass; Skye Brooks: drums

Like so many Drip Audio bands, two of the Inhabitants come from Fond of Tigers, seemingly the ur-band from which the label stocks its roster. In this case, it’s Skye Brooks on drums and JP Carter on trumpet who share the band with two non-Fondians – Pete Schmitt on bass and, on guitar, Dave Sikula (who’s in the duo Carsick with JP (they have a 2006 self-titled release on Drip Audio) and also in a trio with Skye).

 

What you’re getting from the Inhabitants is not that far off from FoT, just not as tightly wound and generally down-tempo. Which, in this case, is not a bad thing. While being a bit slower might bring fears of relentless pummelling, there’s enough space between the instruments and rhythmic variation within those spaces to generally keep things fresh. It’s always nice to hear a band where the performers don’t feel that every second needs to be crammed with activity. And being instrumental, it’s thankfully not just pointless noodling or histrionics in solos that demonstrate a whole lot of nothing.

 

This is riff-oriented stuff – not the nü-quasi-prog that has been recently resurrected, but they are into the post-rock pool and, at times, on the rock-side of fusion. Undermining any attempts to pigeon-hole, the Inhabitants echo enough genres to keep things interesting. (Speaking of echo, what did start to wear on my ears with this recording is the ever-present delay/echo/reverb on the guitar or trumpet that at times reaches into self-oscillation. However, the wake of that particular sonictiy does result in some propulsive churning that provides a wonderful background wash to fill the space.)

 

The tune are all good and solid. Threes and What about the Water have a nice ECM- era Bill Frisell vibe with the guitar’s wobbly guitar chords and volume swells. As to the prog-tinges, three of the tunes are clocking in over 9 minutes, but that’s forgivable here. Let Youth Be Served stands out not only as sole up-tempo song but also for the squelching and glitching served up as the intro and outro; the only other smattering of a quick tempo is the middle section of Over It Begins. Best riff award goes to the guitar & trumpet harmony section that starts about half-way through Journey of the Loach. As a whole: loose but not sloppy, reflective but not boring. (TH)

 

KIDD JORDAN/ JOEL FUTTERMAN – INTERACTION

 

 

Label: Self-released

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: Part I; Part II

Personnel: Joel Futterman: piano; Edward ‘Kidd’ Jordan: tenor saxophone

Additional Information: Available from www.joelfutterman.com

 

For the first few minutes of this disc, Futterman eschews a vertical for a horizontal approach; he plays no chords, choosing rather to engage with Jordan in overlapping and echoing lines that thrust themselves forward in thrilling momentum. The effect is almost vertiginous, imparting the music with a real sense of speed. Thus, though chords will come into the piece (often disarmingly beautiful ones that usher in memories of the great historical spectrum of jazz ballad playing), it’s these single-note forays and volleys all over the clefs that first stand out. (Although, in fact, when the notes are played in such quick succession, the effect is almost like that of a cluster(-chord), particularly when combined with pedalling. So maybe the initial distinction doesn’t hold quite as fast as one might first suspect.)

 

Who’s leading the charge? At times, it feels as though it might be Futterman, providing prods, pokes, stimuli; but then again, Jordan will frequently take hold of one of Futterman’s suggested directions and go his own way with it, launching into brief unaccompanied cadenzas or brawny multiphonics that demand a dextorous and dissonant response. The music follows no overall set pattern; it is very much ‘in the moment’, with great variations of tempo, timbre and emotional expression virtually every minute. Things flow, however; each new section arises out of that which preceded it, even if the transitions may not always be those which one might have expected (and that’s the beauty of such improvisation).

 

Jordan is one of those ‘elder statesmen’ of the free saxophone, his presence seeming even more valuable given the recent death of Fred Anderson. He therefore has laurels he could so easily rest on: but, luckily for us, he doesn’t wish to. Indeed, the commitment he’s given this music throughout his career has not dissipated, but perhaps grown even keener; he realizes that he has so much to say, to sing through his instrument, and, sadly, less time to say it than before. But what results is not some angry shout against mortality; simply, he will make the best music that he can, in the time that he has. Here, his playing is frequently arresting, the particular intonation, accent or curve of a phrase (sometimes even just one note) sounding out with the force of a command – “you, there, sit up and take notice!” – not through showboating, not through virtuosic display for its own sake, but through force of conviction (which may not be a technical term but is the only way I can think of to convey the powerful effect) and a masterful control of timbre. ‘Honks and cries’ may be part of the vocabulary of every free jazz saxophonist, but Jordan’s upper register work in particular has an almost palpable rawness to it that remains startling.

 

Might this music mean less to the listener if they had not listened to the spectrum of jazz tradition, as these two musicians clearly have? The interaction on display is probably exciting and enthralling enough for even a non-jazz fan to appreciate, but a sense of history, of the living continuance and re-shaping of tradition in the now, is crucial too. Playing such as this encourages – perhaps even demands – that the listener bring a similar commitment to the table, that they pay attention to where the music is coming from, as well as where it’s going: for both are exciting, vital places. (DG)

 

KIDD JORDAN/ JOEL FUTTERMAN / ALVIN FIELDER TRIO – LIVE AT THE TAMPERE JAZZ HAPENNING 2000

 

Label: Charles Lester Music

Release Date: 2004

Tracklist: Seven Untitled Tracks

Personnel: Edward ‘Kidd’ Jordan: tenor saxophone; Joel Futterman: piano,

soprano saxophone, Indian wooden flute; Alvin Fielder: drums, percussion

 

Fieldler makes the opening statement, on tinkling, watery flexatone, then provides a sparse, but expertly placed accompaniment to the weighty, slow tread of the piano’s plucked bass strings, Futterman alternating these with squalls of high-pitched sound from an Indian wooden flute. It’s a patient, beautifully drawn-out introduction, its slowness belied by the implicit tension packed within it – for, given the ‘fire music’ proclivities of such a ‘spontaneously combustible’ group, such a subdued mood can’t last long. And, indeed, as Futterman swoops from piano strings to piano keyboard, Fielder springs right in, into the resultant rush of notes, his ticking cymbals providing a constant patter with one hand, while his other hand is free to provide punctuating wallops and crashes from the rest of his kit. Kidd Jordan is there too of course, his saxophone barking and leaping as he careens over the full range of the instrument, from blasted low notes to vertiginous upper-register hollers. Futterman is an equal partner, rather than accompanist, but he displays a truly sympathetic supporting touch, as when his brief roll of lower-register chords draws out an implicitly lyrical side to Jordan’s playing, or when he chases Jordan’s melodic figures with his own echoing variations. One might describe this as the musical equivalent of two runners on a track, one fractionally behind the other – though here, the musicians are not so much racing in competition as running together, in co-operation (even if the non-stop, ever-changing nature of such spontaneous music requires that they possess a competitive runner’s speed of response and reflex).

 

Thirteen minutes in, the band have somehow locked onto a ballad feel. Given the high volume and pace of what has gone before, one might be surprised that things could so suddenly change direction, yet this is by no means an isolated occurrence. As Ike Levin writes in the liner notes, “Transitions within the musical journey itself are so smooth and flawless that they are not recognizable until the change is completed and suddenly we are aware that the composition has taken a new direction.”

 

A piano solo fades away in the final throes of a sustain-pedalled, drone-like tone, but the applause that signals the next track on the CD is premature, for this is essentially a continuation of the same piece, rather than an entirely new section. Futterman has brought out his soprano, smearing and sliding out sounds, the brief silences between the notes heavy with expectation of the next phrase, then filled with Fielder’s bass drum, which suggests Native American music in timbre, if not precisely in rhythmic terms. As Jordan comes in to briefly duet with the soprano, Futterman switches back to piano, the music suddenly bluesy and packed with an intense solemnity. Passages such as these indicate the a real jazz pedigree: the group do not abandon jazz, but take it out to its fullest potential, mindful of such classic attributes as swing, the blues, and individualistic virtuosity, but unconstrained by harmonic or rhythmic imperatives.

 

There are many ways to focus on what is happening: the listener makes their own journey through the music, sometimes zeroing in on particular details, methods of interaction, and types of transition, sometimes on the quality of tone and timbre, sometimes on the variety of rhythmic development, and sometimes on the harmonic suggestions, which may lead into fully-fledged moments of jazz. A fine example of the latter occurs ten minutes into the third track, where Futterman plays stacked fourths for a few seconds before flying to the upper reaches of the keyboard (where he’s matched by Jordan’s harmonics), then sliding back down again to those stacked-fourths, then back to super-fast, scampering runs, then back to the fourths…As such inadequate description suggests, it’s virtually impossible to provide a moment-by-moment analysis of exactly how the music changes from one thing to the next (a process that’s not exactly linear, given the super-impositions that occur when three musicians are pursuing their own individual paths). But just because these nuances cannot be captured in print does not mean that they cannot be picked up the attentive listener, the listener who is willing to go the distance with the musicians, to accord the music the full and complete attention it deserves. The forward momentum that drives the improvisation forward at all times allows for no chance of a return to previously-played themes, no over-arching melodic material to tie things into an easily-comprehended structure. This does not, however, make the music ‘inaccessible’, for the musicians’ playing is always totally engaging, buzzing with energy and invention whether the textures are dense or whether they have thinned out somewhat. In free jazz, drum solos can sometimes signal something of a ‘break’ after the high-volume full-ensemble textures – but Fielder’s performance, following on from Futterman’s furiously intricate high-speed solo on the fourth track, is never less than absorbing. It’s that kind of recording: every moment matters, and the group seem to have tapped into some sort of collective reservoir of energy that never once threatens to run dry. In relation to this, one might note Futterman’s decision to employ soprano sax as well as piano, which provides a very different textural angle on the music; exercising his lungs as well as his fingers seems to refresh him for his next bout at the keyboard, rather than tiring him out, as it might have done to a less powerful musician.

 

This performance may have been recorded ten years ago, but it could have been made yesterday, such is the vigour and freshness of the playing and the total impact of the music that is made. Once the listener really starts focussing on what is happening during any given section, they have to stay for the course, for the seamless speed with which one idea follows another allows no break in concentration, and is, moreover driven by a palpable sense of necessity. How often do we let sounds simply drift into the background of our daily activities? That just will not do here. ‘Kidd’ Jordan, Joel Futterman and Alvin Fielder force us to listen to their music, and reward us with some of the finest improvised music of the new millennium. ‘Live at Tampere’ is a very special recording. (DG)

 

JOEL FUTTERMAN/ IKE LEVIN – DIALOGUES & CONNECTIONS

 

 

Label: Charles Lester Music

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: Conversation One (Parts 1-6); Conversation 2 (Parts 1-5)

Personnel: Joel Futterman: piano and curved soprano saxophone;

Ike Levin: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone

Additional Information: Recorded Berkeley, California, December 5th 2009

 

James Siegel’s cover design – an eerie, quasi-Cubist photo assemblage, which forms a composite portrait of the two musicians –provides us some clues as to how this improvised collaboration works before we’ve even listened to the music. The album is divided into two ‘conversations’ (extended pieces, split into several parts, which perhaps function rather like the two sections of an LP), and terms like ‘conversation’, ‘dialogue’, ‘connection’ are all appropriate, but there is something more – as the photo indicates, what we hear here is not only a case of sharing and exchange, but also involves a kind of merging, particularly when Futterman and Levin are both playing saxophone– the different personalities and approaches of the two players mesh and entwine in the whole that is the music, without compromising either’s individual integrity and unique identity.

 

Futterman’s recent work, a large body of releases available through his website, includes another piano/sax duo, this time with his other regular collaborator, Edward ‘Kidd’ Jordan. As on that release, the musicians here turn on a dime between any number of styles and moods, working in a suite-like fashion without sacrificing an overall sense of coherence and flow. Things begin with Levin on tenor; towards the end of the track, his playing is underpinned by Futterman’s tolling, bell-like lower notes, with a hint of poly-rhythmic, two-handed boogie-woogie. Equal dexterity in all ranges of the keyboard is a characteristic of the pianist’s work; he tends to occupy the range and space that would normally be provided by a bass player. At times, this approach combines melody, rhythm and harmony into a composite whole that has its antecedents in horn players, bassists, and even drummers, as much as it does in, say, Thelonious Monk. Futterman points out in the liners to his 1982 trio date with Jimmy Lyons, ‘In-Between-Position(s)’: “I tend to phrase my music much like a horn player because of those early years [spent studying and working with trumpeter Clarence (Gene) Shaw].”

 

Back to the music at hand, and altissimo saxophone sounds move swiftly into undulating balladry, Futterman’s rubbed and plucked piano strings underscored by a pedalled bass clef tread; Levin picks up on the colouristic change and adds equally eerie bass clarinet. When a lovely, three-times-repeated upwards and downwards run from Futterman – reminiscent of Claude Debussy’s quasi-Oriental keyboard works, and beautifully relaxed, as if fingers were being casually stroked over the piano keys – transitions into romantic chord changes, Levin’s clarinet becomes mellifluous, though with a woody, clicking edge. A stretch of solo piano – hyperactive bass accompaniment, recurring chords, fleet-fingered jazz phrases, and melodic figures interrupted by more dissonant explorations – cues in Levin, on tenor once more, the music taking on an urgent tone as brief declamatory statements move into passages of close shadowing and imitation. Futterman takes another solo, fraught rumbles and swoops giving way to jazz-derived playing via a repeated phrase, which is translated from one idiom to another in a transition so skilful that it can’t help but raise a wondering smile. This kind of micro-level, instant compositional logic ensures that the music’s structural coherence more than matches its emotional favour; in addition, the musicians are capable of thinking on a wider, ‘macro’ scale, memorizing particular fragments for later use, returning to particular kinds of texture and even to specific themes. Note, for example, the way a certain set of chords recurs through the first conversation, and the re-use of a melodic figure stated right at the start of the second conversation, a figure which has something in common with the themes John Coltrane deployed on such magnificently urgent, turbulent records as ‘Sun Ship’. What seems to me to be happening here is that the satisfaction and anchoring possibility of recurrent material is being retained, without the rigidity of a pre-ordained format: the distinction between ‘theme’ and ‘solo’ is broken down so that all material can be given equal weight, freeing the musicians to pursue the imperatives of improvisation and interaction – which they do with aplomb.

 

Both in the parts and in the whole, then, these ‘Dialogues and Connections’ are rarely less than absorbing; furthermore, one must celebrate the fact that the recording (the album was mixed, like much of Futterman’s recent recorded work, by Dr Benjamin Tomassetti) possesses the scope necessary for us to hear the wide dynamic and colouristic spectrum of this performance in its full richness. Fine work all round. (DG)

LEE KONITZ/ CHRIS CHEEK/ STÉPHANE FURIC LEIBOVICI JUGENDSTIL II

 

Label: ESP-Disk

Release Date: June 2010

Tracklist: Odysseus Returns Home; Tomorrow I Shall Dance For You;

A Music of Tranquility; Float West On A Slender Current; A L’ile De Fressanges

(…Nuit d’Été…); Les Mains De Pénélope (…Le Jour, Elle Tissait…); Phongsaly; Local Heroes.

Personnel: Lee Konitz: alto sax; Chris Cheek: tenor sax; Stéphane Furic Leibovici: double-bass; Ensemble on tracks 4 & 7 – Jim Black: glockenspiel, vibraphone, chimes; Dan Dorrance: alto flute, bass flute, piccolo; Joy Plaisted: harp; Maria Garcia: celesta; Chris Speed: clarinet

 

Bassist Stéphane Furic Leibovici’s latest recording, a sequel to his 2008 ESP disc with Chris Speed and Chris Cheek, is instantly notable for the presence of veteran saxophonist Lee Konitz, who brings his own cool, yet rigorous approach to bear in a context to which he is perfectly suited. Much of what we hear is composed by Leibovici, but the music unfolds with an almost casual looseness, the easy swing and complementary curve of the musicians’ interplay belying the dexterity with which the texture is put together: each instrumental part is attuned at once to the curve of the music as a whole and to the nuances of the moment, so that neither formal logic nor room for manoeuvre is lacking. Indeed, one might think back to Konitz’ early free improvising experiments with Lennie Tristano, where simultaneous soloing creates a kind of pointillist, all-over texture made up of entwining small details that nonetheless combine to create a total picture of absolute clarity. For, though one might say that half the music is composition, improvisation is undoubtedly central here as well: rather than rote thematic statements and recapitulations bookending solos where the players can finally cut loose, thematic material is juxtaposed with improvised counterpoint, and proves an important reference point even in apparently more far-flung departures.

 

If the titles, which reference Odysses, Penelope, and the sea, suggest an epic, mythological bent, the music is more languorous, its delicate melodies sometimes wispy almost to the point of disappearance, without becoming overly insubstantial. Perhaps the most delightful thing about this recording is the way that the melodic lines of Konitz’ alto and Cheek’s tenor entwine: both players have a breathy edge to their sound, but also a crisp, smooth, well-defined contour which ensures that the melodies and related improvisations unfold with just the right amount of elegance, though not without a requisite ‘depth of feeling’ – there is a piping edge to Konitz’ higher notes in particular, offset by the anchoring strum and thunk of Leibovici’s bass. One of the most beautiful instances occurs on ‘A Music of Tranquillity’, where a rising figure, which seemed at first to be a kind of unfinished clarion call, becomes something more delicate, ephemeral, uncertain: an unanswered question, disappearing into the ensuing silence before a more relaxed section emerges. On the most through-composed piece, ‘A L’Ile de Fressanges (…Nuit d’Ete…)’, an ensemble of tuned percussion, flute and clarinet bookends the main trio with snaky melodies and tinkling chimes (low, thrumming harp, and higher, piquant glockenspiel, vibes and celesta) whose lack of echo gives the music a kind of crisp, static staccato, like pricks of light emerging from the corner of the eye in a field of luxuriant shadow. The ensemble appears on one other track, ‘Phongsaly’, where an easy bass lilt and unison flute and saxophone adds a pastoral quality. Texturally, and in terms of speed and overall momentum, we’re perhaps nearer to classical music than jazz here, with a touch of Debussy about the instrumentation and a more avant-garde sensibility evident in the use of space. Generally, though, on the trio tracks which form the majority of the record, the vibe is closer to ‘chamber jazz’, combining gentleness and precision in a winning, even disarming way. This is an album both possessed of an attractive surface and with enough detail and depth to prove rewarding on a deeper examination; well worth seeking out. (DG)

 

GIUSEPPI LOGAN – THE GIUSEPPI LOGAN QUINTET

 

Label: Tompkins Square

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: Steppin’; Around; Modes; Somewhere Over the Rainbow;

Bop Dues; Blue Moon; Freddie Freeloader; Never Let Me Go

Personnel: Giuseppi Logan: alto sax, piano, voice; Matt Lavelle: trumpet;

Dave Burrell: piano; Francois Grillot: bass; Warren Smith: drums

 

Giuseppi Logan is one of those ‘lost and found’ stories that seem so prevalent in jazz (arguably due, at least in part, to the socio-political pressures of the 60s, the hard struggle of musicians to find acceptance and to earn a living, particularly if they what they played was ‘out’). Having recorded a few dates for ESP in the 60s, he disappeared from view and was assumed dead; but, nearing the end of the second millennium’s first decade, he was found homeless, busking in Tompkins Square Park. Help has been found to get him a new apartment, and there have even been a few gigs round town, in which he has performed on saxophones and bass clarinet. While it seems unlikely that there will be quite the resurgence Henry Grimes experienced after his ‘second coming’ (Logan was never as prolific as Grimes in the first place), we do now have this album, Logan’s third recording as a leader, on which the band play a number of his originals, as well as, less expectedly, covering a couple of standards and Miles Davis’ ‘Freddie Freeloader’. The recording sound is fine, and the Quintet itself is stellar. Dave Burrell plays some storming ‘out’ solos, fleet flurries of notes flying from his fingers; he really ups the ante on the more abstract pieces, while playing ‘straight jazz’ with consummate ease elsewhere. Lavelle has a bright, confident sound on trumpet, clearly emerging from a strong grounding in the jazz tradition, combining all the brassy pizzazz that involves with the sudden, abrasive scurries associated with free players. Francois Grillot and Warren Smith, meanwhile (the latter of whom played with Logan in the 60s), are a suitably locked-in rhythm section. Thus, if Logan himself doesn’t always sound at the top of his game, he has a group of musicians alongside him well capable of carrying the music.

 

For those used to the clinical precision with which post-bebop players deliver the ‘heads’ of a piece, it may take a while to get accustomed to the off-centre renditions here. It’s not entirely clear whether Logan’s smearing, raucous tone and attack is due to the years he spent alone on the streets, without regular experience of playing in groups to regulate his more unorthodox tendencies, or whether it is simply the way he approaches the music (listening to his earlier dates for ESP, one might suspect the latter). Lavelle is determined not to play the ‘straight man’, and matches this eccentricity to imbue a lot of these tracks with a definite ‘out’ feel, though there’s plenty of swing on display as well. Where Logan suffered in the 60s was a tendency for his solos to run out of steam, with the consequence that the rhythm section (which included a young Don Pullen and Milford Graves) rather dominated proceedings. There’s again something of that here – sometimes Logan will play a few phrases, as if to begin a solo, and then drop out, Burrell or Lavelle forced to keep the momentum of the music going before he returns. In fact, his strongest playing here comes on the standards: ‘Blue Moon,’ where he’s featured on chunky piano, and the touching reading of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ which drips with woozy, heartfelt emotionalism, sticking close to the contours of the melody. (DG)

 

NoMoreShapes – CREESUS CRISIS

 

Label: Drip Audio

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: White Chicks; Fat Kid; Say Chin; Invisible Glasses; If Only My Chin Had Eyes;

Snake Legs; Twice Bitten; If Only…(2); Tears of the Penix; New Years (Yves’)

Personnel: J.C. Jones: trombone; Jay Crocker: guitar,

electronics; Eric Hamelin: drums, percussion

 

Well glory hallelujah, a Drip Audio band without a Fond of Tigers connection! Of course, these guys are from Calgary and with the Rocky Mountains standing between them and Vancouver, this might just be explained by a fear of geography from those B.C. lower mainlanders.

 

These guys aren’t tyros – they’re well established in their home town and come from all over the musical map, heavy on the anything goes. NoMoreShapes is Jay Crocker on guitar & electronics, J.C. Jones on trombone, and Eric Hamelin on drums & percussion. No track credits are listed nor are there obvious ‘who’s the leader’ hallmarks but the band’s myspace page is under Eric’s name, so we’ll denote him as the groups’ agent provocateur.

White Chicks opens the recording and is a wonderful mash of static, glitch, and distorted-beyond-recognition loops. To keep people guessing, the next track, Fat Kid, is a pastiche of cod-swing/trad jazz and noise, but the group pulls it off. A down-tempo number, If Only My Chin Had Eyes, is excellent and the best track; however, Snake Legs, follows immediately and is a wild’n’wooly fuzz-breaking workout and is a close second for best track.

 

None of these tunes go north of 6min. and while I’m not a fan of the low-fi/collage/kitschy art on the cover, kudos to the band for a plastic-less CD case. Another small but nice touch is splitting the track listing like there’s an a-side and a b-side.

 

Instrumentally, everybody is involved and there are no ‘feature’ pieces of overwrought solos; but everybody shines and there’s enough tone and texture variation out of this trio to keep the recording interesting and engaging. One of the individual highlights occurs in Say Chin where Jay reels off some nice single note runs that echo Joe Morris.

 

The tunes are polished enough to know that the group just isn’t in it for kicks, but there’s still the grit to catch you off guard.

 

NB: Eric’s myspace page (http://www.myspace.com/nomoreshapeserichamelin) states that the group is generally a duo with Jay; but who knows if that there before or after recording this disc with J.C. (TH)

MICHAEL PISARO/ TAKU SUGIMOTO – 2 SECONDS/ B MINOR / WAVE

 

Label: Erstwhile

Release Date: November 2010

Tracklist: 2 Seconds/ B Minor / Wave

Musicians: Michael Pisaro: composition, electric guitar, field recordings;

Taku Sugimoto: composition, electric guitar, miscellaneous.

 

I’m torn about this one, for reasons I’ll go into later: but to start off with, I’ll admit that, certainly, it’s interesting and valid and an important contribution to the ongoing debate about and evolution of the music. It’s simpler (as in, less full of musical events) than the two Toshimaru Nakamura duos with acoustic guitarists that are reviewed elsewhere in this issue, and more obviously transparent; indeed, it lays its materials out so clearly that it could almost be accused of being an entirely conceptual work – Pisaro’s and Sugimoto’s contributions were recorded separately, after all. That said, the separate recording technique has become common enough recently to justify it being called a legitimate technical resource, rather than a case of one-off experimentation: the MIMEO album ‘sight’ from a few years back is perhaps the most famous example (though it’s actually a slightly different case, as the larger ensemble gives it more of an aleatoric element – the probability of there being concurrences and agreements between the separate recordings becomes lower once the number of participants starts to spread). With duo recordings, however– ones as sparse as this one, anyway – it’s much easier to get some sort of concurrence, if not active ‘dialogue’ in the EFI sense: indeed, if one was played Sachiko M/ Ami Yoshida’s collaboration as Cosmos (recorded live, with both musicians in the same room) and the Nakamura/ Yoshida collaboration ‘Soba to Bara’ (in which both musicians’ contributions were recorded separately), one would be hard pressed to say which one featured the performers in the same space. The new approach to duo playing fostered by the influential ‘lowercase’ scenes in Japan, Berlin, London is one in which sonic proximity means sharing the same space, rather than direct imitation or facile ‘conversational’ interplay; each player pursues their own particular direction, following the consequences of one idea or texture or type of sound in a way that overlaps with, rather than directly parallels, the activity of their partner. (A fine recent example would be Angharad Davies and Axel Dorner’s ‘AD’, also reviewed in this issue.) Given this, the separate recording technique fits perfectly; and, given also the way that recent developments of post-Cageian theory and practice have blurred the lines between composition and improvisation (as documented on the new ‘Silence and After’ series on Another Timbre), one can argue that the music is as much conceptual as it is musical, that theory and practice, sound and pre-planned framework/manner of execution are too closely tied to be usefully or easily disentangled.

 

This does not mean, though, that one cannot judge it by musical standards: indeed, they are the primary means of measurement, the yardstick by which to make one’s mind up. The criticism which has developed (mainly on blogs and online fora[1]) alongside the new methods (well, OK, by now they’re not that new, as Mattin would no doubt argue) does, in fact, stress personal subjective judgement just as much as any theoretical or systematic analytical system: one is more likely to get a story about the circumstances in which the record was listened to, minute details of the sounds of passing cars, neighbours’ noises, etc, than one is to get a treatise of aesthetic jargon. It’s an interesting intersection indeed, where pursuing theoretical goals with great rigour, embracing deliberate limitation and an almost monastic intensity of focus, leads to the creation of a music in which such simple and ‘old-fashioned’ criteria as ‘I like this sound’ and ‘that is a beautiful chord’ become surprisingly important. That’s not to say that there is no critical rigour involved, and most committed listeners to and writers about this music would be able to have a long and considered debate about whether something works artistically or not – it’s not just a simple ‘I’m partial to this’. Still, all this builds up to the statement with which I began the review: I find myself in two minds about the merits of the disc because both my personal sense of enjoyment (probably not the right word) and my critical, evaluative sense raise problems for me when listening to it.

 

Firstly, let’s consider the conceptual (compositional) framework which has been used to construct the three pieces. All three last twenty minutes exactly; all bring together two separate compositions/performers based on a particular idea. ‘2 Seconds’ is a unit of pulse; ‘B Minor’ a key; ‘Wave’ was left more open, with each musician free to make their own interpretation of that word. The opening track finds Pisaro using layers of sine waves, looped to create beats which fit in with rhythmically with Sugimoto’s own short, electronic beeps (a guitar tuner?) and striking of what sounds like two wooden objects (claves?). The sine tones build up to create rich chords that are sometimes Sachiko-M-stark (though not quite as tinnitus-inducingly high-pitched – there’s a significant low-end rumble which occasionally caused my headphones to vibrate), sometimes gorgeously, spacily rich (this ‘beautiful’ aspect to sine tones is one that’s not been explored that much – the only example that springs to mind is the work of the clarinet/electronics duo Los Glissandinos). Some of the tones are held to create the chord, but the more abrupt, dial-tone like elements ensure a kind of clipped-feel round the edges; the piece is at once comforting in its rhythmical regularity, and somewhat forbiddingly robotic (like a kind of soft industrial music). Occasionally, we hear sounds from (I presume) Sugimoto’s recording which allow ‘real-world’, non-electronic sounds into proceedings: occasionally we hear the squeak of someone shifting their weight on a leather chair, and at one point what sounds like an electric drill is briefly switched on. Given these fragmented glimpses, one supposes that Sugimoto’s contribution had a visual, theatrical/ritualistic quality to it which is lost on the recording, suggesting other dimensions to the piece that belie its apparently fixed and rigid quality, opening out beyond the recording to different spaces, times, contexts. Ultimately, though I do admire the restraint of the concept, I can’t quite fully enjoy the track as a whole: at times I admire the bloody-mindedness of the clockwork electronic beep and the sections of layered sine-tones, at others I feel unable to fully pull myself into the soundworld, stepping out of that immersion into which I had briefly been drawn.

 

My fault? Perhaps. ‘B Minor’ is next, and evinces the same sort of rigour in terms of the gestures each musician allows himself; this time, though, what is played is deliberately pretty, imparting things with a Loren Connors-style minimalism. Of course, we remember this from the classic Sugimoto of ‘Opposite’, and we think too of his recent recordings of simple, haiku-like melodies, rendered with a sparse and often beguiling, hesitant delicacy in tandem with vocalist Moe Kamura.[2] You can have too much of a good thing, though, and, while this might have been absolutely gorgeous if restricted to three or five minutes (as were the pieces on ‘Opposite’, and as are the pieces on ‘Saritote II’), it does pall somewhat over the full twenty. Both men are on electric guitars: Sugimoto plays the harmony (in B Minor, of course) – slowly-paced, equally-placed chord sequences – Pisaro, the melody– sustained handfuls of notes that mesh with and accentuate the chords, rather than back-grounding them. It is lovely, yes, but…And then I think: to what absurd, acerbic levels of ‘beauty’ have I become accustomed which would lead me to think that this music, perhaps palpably ugly or just plain boring to some people who have no idea of onkyo or taomud or wandelweiser, is overly pretty? But we enter a difficult area when we consider beauty as the generation of prettiness, delicacy, sweet tinkling textures: and, while Marion Brown’s contribution to Harold Budd’s ‘Bismali ‘Rrahman ‘Rrahim’ ensures that that track remains one of my all-time favourites, the rest of that Budd record, sans Brown, goes too far into gloop and sickliness. Or once again, I know people whose musical views I totally respect, and whom one would hardly call un-critical New Agers, and yet I just cannot share their enthusiasm for Laraaji’s ‘Day of Radiance,’ the third in Brian Eno’s ambient series. It’s the same here – I’m not sure what the optimum number of minutes for the track would have been, but somewhere, things step over an invisible (l)edge and that kind of simple beauty is not quite enough.

 

Onto the final track, anyway, in which Sugimoto interprets ‘wave’ to mean ‘(sound)wave’ – a sustained (e-bowed?) drone – while Pisaro chooses a field recording of ocean waves breaking (or it may be an electronically-generated sound), which enters and drops out of the texture at regular intervals. For me, this is somewhat spoiled by Pisaro’s contribution, which doesn’t seem as integrated as were the elements that made up the other two pieces. It sits on top of the overall musical flow, rather than being fully integrated – it feels like an add-on, rather than an interesting juxtaposition. And it also works against the rigour of the drone, rendering it almost New-Agey, like an avant-garde version of one of those ‘Sounds of the Sea’ easy-listening albums you find in British garden centres. Perhaps this is the inevitable consequence of the aleatoric way in which the music was put together, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily true: as the other tracks, and other separately recorded improv collaborations attest, it’s perfectly possible to create something cohesive and symbiotic using this method. Maybe it’s a kind of reminder, a jolt that prevents us getting too comfortable, that lets us know the element of risk and failure we had forgotten about in our easy immersion into beauty and prettiness. Here one thinks of Boulez distinguishing between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ chance operations (in the 1957 essay ‘Alea’[3]), and wonders ‘have I become as tetchy as that’? On the other hand, I just don’t feel that the piece works, whatever the methods behind its construction.

 

Overall, then, there are elements about each piece I like, both conceptually and musically. Of the three, I think ‘2 Seconds’ probably works best over the entire twenty minutes; ‘B Minor’ is more immediately pretty/ beautiful, but somewhat outstays its welcome; and ‘Waves’ is (perhaps deliberately) less cohesive (or at least, more slight), which, for me, makes it less successful musically. Summarising in this way, I’m aware of how subjective, in an almost petty manner, these judgements sound; and I’m grateful to this recording for making me want to examine my own critical approach as much as I examine the album itself. Whether it ‘works’ or not, it is, as I argued at the beginning, an important document, a springboard for debate, and a musical experience with some genuinely lovely moments; very much worth investigation if you haven’t head it already. (DG)

 

[1] For instance, Richard Pinnell’s ‘The Watchful Ear’, Jesse Goin’s ‘Crow with No Mouth’, and Brian Olewnick’s ‘Just Outside’, as well as the message board ‘I Hate Music’.

[2] Taku Sugimoto and Moe Kamura, ‘Saritote I’ (2007) and ‘Saritote II’ (2010)

[3] As referenced in Jesse Goins’ review of this album.

MICHAEL PISARO – FIELDS HAVE EARS

 

Label: Another Timbre
Release Date: November 2010
Tracklist: Fields Have Ears 1; Fade; Fields Have Ears 4
Personnel: Philip Thomas: piano (all tracks); on ‘Fields Have Ears 4’, with Patrick Farmer: natural objects; Sarah Hughes: zither; Dominic Lash: double bass + members of the Edges Ensemble – Julian Brooks: laptop; Stephen Chase: conical blow horn; Richard Glover: slide whistle; Johnny Herbert: spring drum; Ben Isaacs: trumpet; Joseph Kudirka: cymbal; Bob Lockwood: melodica; Scott McLaughlin: cello; Liz Nicholas: frog guero; Hannah Sherry: clarinet

 

This was the first disc of the ‘Silence and After’ series to which I listened, and it proved so compelling that I chose not to play any of the others until I’d really dug (into) it, acclimatised myself to it, let it form a part of my listening habits for the next few weeks at least. Perhaps I didn’t pay it as much close attention as I’d convinced myself I had, for I actually still find it quite hard to write about; but perhaps, also, the fact that this music can resist analysis after being lived with for a certain period tells you more than any lengthy critical spiel would have.

In any case, what we have here are three compositions by Pisaro (I’m assuming that the first two, at least, are fully notated, though the final, ensemble piece, would seem to allow more space for a certain amount of improvisation, within certain, fairly strict parameters, especially given that it’s credited as a ‘realisation’ of the original work). ‘Fields Have Ears 1’ is for piano and tape (a fairly sparse field recording which features birds, the occasional distant rumble of a passing plane, and the hiss of the recording device). One might say that the tape functions in much the same way that silence does on the other two pieces – i.e. as the actual substance of much of the piece, often seeming to take precedence over any notes that are played. (I’m reminded of Pisaro’s comments in the liner notes to last year’s Terry Jennings/John Cage release, ‘Lost Daylight’, along the lines that even the sounds in Jennings’ piano pieces have silences in them.) What piano we do hear reminds me, a little, of the way that Jennings’ work emerges from European serialism and the La Monte Young/ Cageian turn to Oriental philosophy with what one might call a softer side – being unafraid to use consonant, ‘pretty’-sounding chords. As I noted in a separate review of the Pisaro/Taku Sugimoto duo album on erstwhile (see above), this is a risky policy to adopt – the shock of the pretty in an avant-garde context can wear off into mere gloopiness if not done exactly right – but the note combinations Pisaro asks for on these works are actually less up-front in their prettiness than Jennings’, particularly given the way that they’re strung out between such long silences.

‘Fade’, a work that is by now ten years old, is more immediately stark: the pianist plays a repeated (pedall’d) note, slowly, before pausing and playing a repetition of a different note, pausing again, playing another note, and so on. There’s a kind of lag here that’s implied in the title – not in the sense of “echoes, dying, dying, dying”, but as something vaguer, a slight blurring at the edges, repetition of the note not so much emphasising it as enclosing it in a kind of haze (a consciousness emerging from the use of delay effects that’s been enabled by electronics). I’d concur with Yuko Zama, who writes that, “in Pisaro’s piano pieces, the composer and performer’s personal voices are not on the centre stage;”[1] but this does not make the piece in any way ‘mechanical’, ‘cold’, ‘impersonal’, etc: rather, we approach an egolessness that is at the heart of much post-AMM ideology, and that has something akin to the communal approach which western classical music forgot about for a couple of centuries, but which the rest of the world managed to retain and partially teach us back once we began to realise our mistake. I’m not saying that Pisaro’s music really has make in common with any of these communal musics – in terms of sound it’s very much part of a particular western lineage (the piano being the ultimate symbol of western classical music, even) – but it does approach similar insights from a different angle, particularly on this disc’s third track.

‘Fields Have Ears 4’, the most recent piece, expands things right out, to include an ensemble of fourteen players (in which Thomas’ piano is the most prominent and recognisable sound), but it manages the feat of making the large group sound incredibly delicate and small. Here we have exhalations, indentations, modifications of silence; slight change, but no ‘development’ as such. And yet something is changed; as the ensemble musically breathe together, as they repeat the process of unison sounds followed by silences, those sounds and those silences start to change, to shift. Whilst one is first conscious of Thomas’ chiming chords – a kind of early signal at the start of the sounding sections – and can just about pick out a clarinet from the quiet cloud of players, one gradually comes to recognise other elements in the texture; in particular, at the prickling edge of stereo picture (preventing things from becoming too smoothly ‘pure’), the rustle/crackle of Patrick Farmer’s natural objects. How a large ensemble controls itself to such quietude is quite astonishing, and lends the piece something which a small group playing at the same level could not have achieved – and something which is more than just a trick or an example of human dexterity.

In both ‘Fade’ and ‘Fields Have Ears 4’, one might visualise the sounds as having physical presence – sculpturally or architecturally, as objects that hang in space – sound as such being material in space. Let’s say, somewhat fancifully, that silence functions like the air between the columns of a colonnade; or perhaps it would be more apposite to reverse the metaphor, so that the sounds are the air, the silences the actual structural that intersects and defines it. Then again, let’s just ditch the analogy altogether, for the relationship between sound and silence is more symbiotic than it allows. Sound modifies silence modifies sound (and the subsequent sound/silence of life after you listen). That’s the great legacy of 4’33”, as explored in Kyle Gann’s recent book ‘No Such Thing as Silence’ – a listening awareness expanded beyond the conventionally musical to include one’s environment as a whole (which is an expansion outward but also an expansion inward, into the ‘minute particulars’ of a particular moment or location or space – “the / flight back/ to where / we are”;[2] “the original experience of now and here and this; […] not […] to look at a different world, but to look at this same world differently.”[3]) Thus Pisaro’s use field recordings – listening back to the world and incorporating it into the music, not so much in a ‘chance’ manner, but with structural intent. If the aim is not to introduce natural sounds for aleatory effect, neither is it to mimetically replicate anything as a kind of hyper-realist version of programme music, a couple of stages beyond Respighi’s or Hovhaness’ decorative incorporation of bird- and whale-song into otherwise fairly conventional orchestral works.[4] In point of fact, the sounds we hear on ‘Fields Have Ears 1’ are not pure field recording – there are a couple of unobtrusive sine tones in there, I believe, though they take up a smaller part of the sonic picture than the tape hiss which is up-front throughout (and yet doesn’t give a lo-fi impression at all, perhaps because Thomas’ piano playing is so lovingly recorded). The danger, nonetheless, is still that one will be tempted to say ‘oh, nice bird song, that’s pretty’ and leave the music on the level of a BBC sounds effects cassette tape with some added piano chords here and there.

Further, one might argue that the use of field recordings is an established technique for Pisaro now, and is perhaps even in danger of becoming a tad hackneyed at times (I wasn’t too keen on the ocean waves that appeared in the third piece of his duo recording with Taku Sugimoto). On the evidence we have here, though, I don’t think that at all; I find it impossible not to admire the care of shaping, refining, honing this aesthetic of silence in a way that extends beyond initial theoretical generalisations and into the fabric of the work’s construction and execution. Perhaps it’s the compositional framework that imposes a necessary rigour on what could become unfocussed, random, or meandering in improv contexts when everyone’s having an off-day – though that said, Sugimoto’s turn to ultra-ultra minimalism in his recent composed work doesn’t, for me, have the same rigour in its translation to disc (live, it may be wonderful, the creation of a specific kind of shared experience). I don’t think I could pin-point exactly why this is, but, somehow, the recordings of Pisaro’s pieces that I’ve heard do work as discs, as albums separated from their live moment of creation; they do still function as compelling experiences.

‘Fields Have Ears,’ then (the album as a whole), possesses a spareness which is not emptiness, and a real clarity – each note is weighted and considered and placed, each pause judged, each element considered. In a way, one can’t distinguish too easily between whole and parts because it’s not developmental (apart from that it occurs in time; as music, it is necessarily linear on the most basic level). Close focus is, then, on the moment, though the music is generous enough to allow for moments of inattention too, occasional drifts in concentration, without severely harming one’s ability to pick up the thread again when one zones back in. That lack of distinction between episodes, that lack of build and climax might seem like mere flatness to some, but it’s actually pretty hard to achieve, especially on a long, large-ensemble piece like ‘Fields Have Ears 4’; a state that cannot be conjured without real dedication, on the part of both composer and performers, to the particular aesthetics which enable & prompt it. (DG)

[1] Yuko Zama, review of ‘Fields Have Ears’ (http://d.hatena.ne.jp/yukoz/20101220)

[2] J.H. Prynne, ‘Airport Poem: Ethics of Survival’, in ‘Poems’ (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2005 (1969))

[3] John Osborne, ‘Black Mountain and Projective Verse’, in ‘A Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry’ (ed. Neil Roberts) (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003 (2001))

[4] Nor is it to reproduce natural patterns or rhythms in a stricter sense (the ‘breathing’ effect of ‘Fields Have Ears 4’ is simply my subjective interpretation, and one could easily listen to the piece without thinking of it as breathing-like at all. That said, it is capable of making one conscious of one’s own bodily rhythms, asserting themselves just at those moments when one is trying to still oneself, to hold one’s breath, to listen closest (I could feel my ear pulsing against my headphones at the quietest points in the music).

 

POTSA LOTSA – THE COMPLETE WORKS OF ERIC DOLPHY

Label: Jazzwerkstatt

Release Date: January 2011

Tracklist: CD ONE: Burning Spear, “Half Note Triplets”; Dolphy, Eric-Non-Classical Composer | Eberhard, Silke-Arranger | Potsa Lotsa-EnsembleHat and Beard; Dolphy, Eric-Non-Classical Composer | Eberhard, Silke-Arranger | Potsa Lotsa-EnsembleIron Man; 245;

The Madrig Speaks, The Panther Walks, “Mandrake”; Red Planet; Les; Springtime; Out There;

The Prophet; Number 8, “Potsa Lotsa”; Straight Up and Down; April Fool;

CD TWO: Strength and Unity; Out to Lunch; Lady “E”; G.W.; The Baron;

Something Sweet, Something Tender; South Street Exit; Miss Ann; Serene; In the Blues; Gazzelloni; Miss Movement; 17 West; Inner Fly – Hat and Beard Reprise

Dolphy, Eric-Non-Classical Composer | Eberhard, Silke-Arranger | Potsa Lotsa-Ensemble

Personnel: Silke Eberhard: alto saxophone; Patrick Braun: tenor saxophone;

Nikolaus Neuser: trombone; Gerhard Gschlössl: trombone

Dolphy himself does not appear on these 2 CDs of course. Yet all his compositions, including a few that have never been commercially recorded, are performed here in new arrangements by Silke Eberhard, who could for this reason be called the de facto leader. She was also involved in the Ornette Coleman anthology, 2 CDs of duos with Aki Takase on a mere handful of Ornette compositions, and is probably better known in Scotland for in person performances with a band called Newt (possibly still available on an online video outlet) than south of the border in Britain.

 

The instrumentation here, alto and tenor saxophones, trombone and trumpet, might raise a few eyebrows. Maybe it has no precedent, but the preconception that any one instrument is indispenable was questioned as early as Jimmy Giuffre’s mid 50s trios, continuing with AACM line-ups, with Dolphy contributing bass clarinet/double bass duos, solo performances and the unusual, if not unprecedented Out to lunch line-up of trumpet, reeds, vibes, bass and drums.

 

It is worth pointing out that Eberhard is quite impressive on bass clarinet, but chose to focus exclusively on alto here, as the emphasis is meant to be on Dolphy as composer. There is some re-harmonization, without damaging the fabric of at least the familiar Dolphy pieces. The only one I might have found unrecognizable is Red planet, aka Miles’ mode. The whole album sounds as if it was rigorously rehearsed, with a mastery of formal aspects being noticeable. When a given instrument improvises, sometimes it is unaccompanied, but usually other instruments will provide a commentary or supporting harmonic backdrop. Sometimes the trombone (Gerhard Gschlößl) will provide something like a bass line, at times in conjunction with the tenor (Patrick Braun) in the lower register. On Hat and beard the trombone solo (and Gschlößl’s technique is such that his command of the higher register makes it hard to tell from a trumpet), later joined for a contrapuntal improvisation by trumpet (Nikolaus Neuser) has some harmonic background provided by the saxophones. There is rarely ‘free-for-all’ improvisation. The nearest I can hear to this is on Straight up and down but even in the collective improvisation here some pulse seems to be implied, or maybe I am reading this in. It is meant to be a portrait of a drunk person trying to walk after all. On 17 west Patrick Braun’s tenor break consists of some mild Brötzmannship (or maybe it’s more like Gerd Dudek) before the trombone joins in with the semblance of a walking bass line. On Miss Ann an ostinato figure after the opening theme statement breaks up into contrapuntal improvisation, or so it seems, till the quietly repeated saxophone figure is heard behind the fortissimo brass. This mutates into a different ostinato riff for all four instruments before the final theme statement.

 

If all this suggests that arrangement stifles the spirit of improvisation here, nothing is farther from the truth, as these four sustain interest by the way they integrate the improvised with the arranged factors in such a way that it is difficult to tell them apart. As with the development of Dolphy’s own music elements like dynamics, timbre (the use of muted brass now and then), and elasticity of rhythm help to keep the music varied.

 

The kind of adventure represented by this album is not without precedent of course; Schlippenbach & co.’s idiosyncratic take on the complete Monk on the 3 CD set Monk’s casino may spring to mind, but a lesser known quartet album by Schlippenbach Broomriding features two Dolphy numbers Straight up and down plus Something sweet and tender, and the improvised passages on these are noticeably looser and more rhapsodic (relatively speaking) than in the album under review.

 

One warning to the unsuspecting listener: The complete works of Eric Dolphy is a work of considerable density, and a continuous listening from beginning to end might not be the best approach for some listeners. But for somebody like me who has lived with Dolphy’s music for decades I’m sure this album has still some surprises to be revealed on repeated listening, plus the anticipated fascination of comparing Dolphy’s own versions.

 

This is so far from being a literal-minded repertory reading of brilliant moments from the musical past; it renews Dolphy’s music by staying true to the spirit of it. (SK)

 

SAINCT LAURENS – S/T

 

 

Label: &records

Release Date: 2009

Tracklist: Sepik; Brazos; Vero; Oria; Adda; Pecos; Volta; Alz; Paix

Personnel: Philippe Lauzier: saxophone, bass clarinet, tubes, melodica;

Pierre-Yves Martel: prepared viola da gamba, two-inch speakers, radios, contact mics

 

A duo of Philippe Lauzier on sax, bass clarinet, tubes & melodica and Pierre-Yves Martel on prepared viola da gamba, two-inch speakers, radios & contact mics, Sainct Laurens finds and maintains a wonderful balance between acoustic and electronic music, with all sounds blending and sympathizing with each other. Both are part of the Montreal improv scene, having individually been on CD’s on Ambience Magnetique, and have played together in the group Quartetski. Pierre-Yves maintains a profile in early music and his 2006 recording “Engagement & Confrontation” drew considerable praise, while Phillipe leads several ensembles with international membership.

 

The nine songs (all but one under 5min.) are complete and succinct with an idea explored to a natural conclusion. Perhaps the winding and wending nature of the sounds is the reason why the song titles all come from rivers; further, the CD’s title is the French translation of the Saint Lawrence, the Canadian seaway that takes the Great Lakes watershed east to the Atlantic and flows around the Island of Montreal (which is nearly wholly taken up by the city of Montreal) in its course.

 

There’s a wide variety of tones and textures, thanks to the variety of instruments at play here but the music is still subtle and has a consistent intent throughout the CD. And as a credit to the performers, it’s not always obvious what the source of sounds is. The sparse CD notes do not indicate if the recording was made without overdubs but, nonetheless, the songs don’t grab you by the throat and overwhelm the listener.

 

It’s not all micro scratchings as there are broad and bold musical gestures throughout the CD. The second half of Adda begins with a wonderful squelch of static and distortion and contains some obviously electronic-sourced material. And the entirety of Volta is a steady wave of wailing feedback and distress, perhaps coming Pierre-Yves’ viola da gamba.

 

A few videos of the duo are up on youtube and indicate that they use pre-recorded sounds; nonetheless, that some sounds are prepared in advance does not diminish the appeal or feeling of adventurousness of this recording. This duo allows sounds to unfold and develop and lets the creativity flow without a heavy hand. (TH)

 

SWANS – MY FATHER WILL GUIDE ME UP A ROPE TO THE SKY

 

Label: Young God Records

Release Date: September 2010

Tracklist: No Words/ No Thoughts; Reeling the Liars In; Jim; My Birth;

You Fucking People Make Me Sick; Inside Madeline; Eden Prison; Little Mouth

Personnel: Michael Gira: vocals, acoustic & electric guitar, composition;

Devendra Banhart, Saoirse Gira: vocals on ‘You Fucking People Make Me Sick’;

Brian Carpenter: trumpet, slide trumpet; Grasshopper: mandolin; Kristof Hahn: electric guitar, mouth harp; Norman Westberg: electric guitar, e-bow; Chris Pravdica: bass guitar; Thor Horris: drums, percussion, dulcimer, vibes, curios, keyboards; Bill Rieflin: drums, piano, 12-string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, synthesizer, organ; Phil Puleo: drums, percussion, dulcimer

Additional Information: This review refers to the single-disc release of ‘My Father Will Guide Me’; the 2-disc edition featuring the remixed version of the album entitled ‘Look at Me Go’; and Michael Gira’s initial solo versions of the songs, released as ‘I Am Not Insane’ (all on Young God Records).

 

I should preface this write-up by saying that I’m not what you’d call a Swans devotee, though I do admire what I have heard of their work. The band’s return after a 13-year hiatus sees them adopting a post-GSYBE, self-consciously ‘epic’ alt-rock sound, though suffused with the grimmer lyrical strain that one would expect from front-man Michael Gira. Songs will build up on alternating two-chord patterns from or into clouds of Ligeti-esque orchestral dissonance, proceeding from quieter moments such as the start of the album, in which we hear a fairly lengthy passage for what sound like church bells. In a track-by-track analysis of ‘My Father Will Guide Me’ on The Quietus website, Gira has stated that these introductory sections should have been far longer, and that he was ‘cowardly’ to leave them as snippets. This would seem to indicate a definitive move away from the stripped-down textures of Swans’ ‘industrial’ period, in which the speaking/shouting/screaming voice was front-and-centre, and towards a more instrumental, orchestral approach. Lyrically, Gira has been interested in Christianity for a while, even if he tends to deploy it for ‘resonant’, generalised effect (in contrast to the detailed occult/theological speculations of David Tibet); what emerges here, though, does seem to have been crafted (like the album in general) to tread a certain, just-about-cohesive thematic line. Thus, dependency and the need for love in personal relationships are equated with the desires presented in Christian doctrine: the final song’s lines “And may I find my way/ To the foot of your throne” could apply equally to a lover and to Christ (who is, after all, metaphorically described as a lover in The Holy Book itself). Similarly, the second-track’s campfire sing-a-long ‘Reeling the Liars In’ (probably the closest the record comes to humour (dark and twisted humour, of course)) suggests the Christian notion of sin and self-mortification abstracted from a specific religious context, chillingly moving from gleeful ‘us-against-them’ wish-fulfilment fantasy (for a moment I thought this might be a political song about burning Bush, Cheney et al on a big fire) to a sense of personal culpability (“Here is my tongue,/ Now cut out my sin”) which is potentially blasphemous in its visceral identification with Christ (“Here is my hand,/ Now drive the nail in”). While at times one suspects this thematic ambition of coming un-stuck in the grand tradition of over-reaching prog-rock concept albums, in the end it’s just about vague enough to avoid such pomposity (even such apparently simple songs as ‘Reeling the Liars In’ can be read in several different ways), and not too vague to seem merely ‘Gothick’ in a teenage manner.

 

Certainly, this a work into which a lot of effort has been put, as attested by the associated ‘before’ and ‘after’ releases. The first of these is ‘I am Not Insane’, a solo put out on Young God Records to fund the recording sessions for the main album, which finds Gira playing initial, guitar-and-voice versions of the songs at his desk. I suppose one could call it a series of sketches for how those songs would eventually turn out, but it does stand up as an album on its right – the recorded sound is crystal-clear, and Gira’s voice reveals resonances that get somewhat lost amongst all the other sounds on ‘My Father’. The second is perhaps more substantial (though less ‘Swans-ish’), coming out the other side of the composing process: it appears on the second disc of the special edition of ‘My Father’, and is a single, 46-minute track, somewhat flippantly entitled ‘Look at Me Go’. The music itself, though is anything but flippant: essentially, Gira remixes the separate pieces from ‘My Father’ into an entirely new composition, more akin to ‘contemporary classical’ than to ‘alt-rock’, with more emphasis on orchestral and noise textures and less on his own voice, less on simple song structure, less on rock-based rhythm– in effect, it’s a totally different piece, and one that’s equally, if not more compelling than the ‘main’ album. If you find ‘My Father Will Guide Me’ at all compelling, it’s worth checking out these companion pieces: together they form a trilogy of some depth that illustrates just how much Swans have morphed since their initial incarnation. (DG)

 

AKI TAKASE- A WEEK WENT BY

 

Label: psi

Release Date: 2010

Tracklist: Surface Tension; A Week Went By; Steinblock; Just Drop In; 57577;

Ima wa Mukashi; Cell Culture; Men are Shadows; Yumetamago.

Personnel: Aki Takase: piano; John Edwards: double bass (1-3, 7, 8);

Tony Levin: drums (1-3, 7, 8); John Tchicai: alto saxophone (4).

 

These live recordings made in June 2008 at Gateshead feature three solo piano tracks, five trio tracks with John Edwards, bass and Tony Levin, drums, plus one duo track with John Tchicai, alto saxophone.

 

For someone noted for her success at reconstructing jazz classics (“making it new”) from the past (Fats Waller, W.C.Handy, Ornette Coleman among others) in a refreshingly non-neo-con manner, this album features Takase in a completely improvised set.

 

The interaction with those two world class musicians, Edwards and Levin, is close-knit- they are fluent in the same language and the interaction is such on the title track that I find it hard to decide if some sounds are due to prepared piano or melodic drumming. As far as I can tell Takase is sparing in her use of the prepared approach. On the closing track, a meditative, almost stream-of-consciousness solo, I detect some dampening of strings, probably from inside the piano, but on Ima wa Mukashi (another solo track) an extreme percussive attack sets up a really continuous barrage of overtones. She may have taken a hint from Cecil Taylor’s remark about the piano being “eighty-eight tuned drums”, but applies it in her own way. She does not sound like a pastiche of Taylor, Pullen, Tristano, Schlippenbach or any other pianist. Bill Shoemaker in his liner notes draws a comparison with Jaki Byard, which is interesting and valid up to a point, but on this album at least we don’t hear the kind of potted history of jazz piano in five minutes Byard was apt to give his audiences, particularly during his stay with Mingus. She indulges briefly at one point in some blues clichés à la Ramsey Lewis or Les McCann, but quickly subverts this tendency harmonically, rhythmically and in just about every other possible way. This kind of humour should be familiar to those who know her albums of reconstructions from the past.

 

(Some other highly listenable examples of her percussive or overtone approach can be heard in the duo with Schlippenbach on Freezone Appleby 2006, or Lok 03, where the two of them are joined by D.J.Illvibe.)

 

The duo track with John Tchicai is quite special. The most striking aspect is the rhythmic, as the piece is dense with syncopation within syncopation, a kind of syncopation squared or cubed. The way Tchicai throws in quotes like the ostinato riff from Night in Tunisia, or the opening of Epistrophy raises the question if this was meant be an enormous, systematic derangement of all the senses of bebop (to adapt Rimbaud’s phrase.) I wonder if any more duo tracks by these duo are lying on a shelf somewhere. They would definitely be worth hearing.

 

If you already like Aki Takase’s music, I would say this is pretty essential listening. Since she has not played in this country for some time now we have albums like this to play till the next time she pays a visit. (SK)

tusK – BUG

 

Label: Self-Released

Release Date: October 2010

Tracklist: 10 Untitled Tracks
Personnel: Stuart Chalmers: bugbrand oscillator machine and effects boxes/ loopers

Additional Information: Limited availability; contact skarabee@live.co.uk.

 

Given that a total number of only 25 copies have been manufactured, one might say that ‘bug’ was a ‘limited edition’ release. But I don’t mean this phrase to connote what it so often seems to in the world of contemporary music marketing, where the production of the CD and attendant packaging/ prints/ drawings, etc, seems calculated to give the release the status of ‘art object’, and thus to enter into the nefarious world of ‘the art market’. Stuart Chalmers has made this music and released it on these 25 CDs, not as a means of gaining critical and financial capital in the competition for art world ‘success’, but because he wants it out there, because he wants you to hear it. He doesn’t want you to consume it in one big unthinking swallow, but to digest it, perhaps disagree with it, take issue with it, deal with it. As I wrote about the last tusK release (out on net-label Stoxomine Records), what I particularly like about this project is how unadorned it is – and, in this case, that extends to the packaging: a single silver printed CD with the album’s name and an e-mail address; no track titles, no liner notes, as if Chalmers wished to dispense with the whole physical object/ packaging aspect of things altogether, and present the listener with a purely aural document. The title, ‘bug’ doesn’t refer to the insect nature of the music (remember the term ‘insect improv’?), but to the instrument used: a bugbrand oscillator machine, a tiny thing with little circuits and switches, volatile and hard to control, necessitating a close tactile engagement with the means of producing sound: the aforementioned circuits and switches must be manipulated with the most delicate of adjustments to avoid ugly chaos. What I hear on this CD is Chalmers engaging with the mechanics of the bug, trying to ensure a balance between what he wants the thing to do and what it does, almost of its own volition; as if he’s finding out what’s possible as he goes along, working through, wood-shedding. This isn’t trial and error, though, for he’s careful to sculpt the sound into structurally coherent shapes, often focusing on a particular area of sound for the duration of one track. Thus, we have moments dedicated to faint white noise hiss, moments to more traditionally ‘noisy’ blares and grinds, and, on the first track, to surprisingly delicate high-pitches, popping around like firework sparklers. One might be tempted to think at times that Chalmers is running through licks, or tricks, except that it’s clear he doesn’t have a safety net – no chord changes or standards for him – so that this record of practice (or practise?) is formally clean, not messily hit-and-miss, but still possessing something like the excitingly contingent nature of spontaneous thought. (DG)

 

IN BRIEF

 

JASON ADASIEWICZ’S ROLLDOWN – VARMINT (Cuneiform)

 

This album, by a Chicagoan quintet whose names are new to me, was released on Cuneiform in 2009, but sounds like it could have been recorded forty years earlier, clearly harking back to 1960s Blue Note dates by Eric Dolphy (it shares the instrumentation of ‘Out to Lunch’) and Andrew Hill (whose ‘The Griots’ is covered at the end of the disc). All the compositions, save the Hill tune, are by leader Jason Adasiewicz, whose vibes float and sting, suspending, sustaining and sharpening notes in the grand tradition of Bobby Hutcherson, and solos are fine and dandy all round, even if none of the musicians come across as truly distinctive improvisational thinkers as yet. For me, the disc highlights are ‘Hide’ and ‘Punchbug’, which also happen to be the only two pieces to be written without chord changes. Towards the end of the former, Josh Berman’s cornet playing incorporates the breath-sounds, growls and burrs increasingly in use by a new generation of players who straddle the line between improv and jazz, though elsewhere, he tends to stick to more conventional timbres than the likes of Taylor Ho Bynum, Nate Wooley or Peter Evans. On the latter, it’s Aram Shelton who edges away from the post-bop manoeuvres, his switch to clarinet leading to more slurred and blurred articulation. Also notable is the ostensible ballad feature, ‘I Hope She is Awake’, in which the recapitulation of the melody is marked by Frank Rosaly’s underlying drum solo – a nice touch. Going for a sound so close to that of one’s inspirations is a risky business, but Rolldown just about manage to pull it off, and if their music is not yet on the same level as that of their forbears – their playing sounds less ‘modern’ than that of either Dolphy or Hill – they are likely still developing, and ‘Varmint’ manages to avoid being a repertory-type display for the most part.

 

STUART CHALMERS – GOD OF DECAY (self-released cassette)

 

Stuart Chalmers seems to change his set-up with each new album; having impressed with the whispering, rustling, kalimba-dominanted ‘Tlon’, released under the Skarabee moniker, he then turned, as ‘tusK’, to harsher, more rhythmically-assertive music produced using a bug-brand oscillator (see review of ‘bug’ in this issue). ‘God of Decay’, for which he uses his real name, documents his latest preoccupation, with the use of cassette tapes – sped up, slowed down, fast-forwarded, re-wound and god knows what else to create surprising textures. When sped-up, the sound that most readily comes to mind is that of chirruping birds, but, as indicated by the doom-metal-type-title and the retro-Noise-cassette packaging (with strategically-placed holes burned into the plastic box using a lighter), this isn’t exactly a ‘pleasant’ recording. The aesthetic, at least at first, is cut-up, quick-fire, jagged; given the silences between sounds (sometimes taken up by that eerie pre-echo you get on cassettes), the bursts and blares and blurts of volume can seem like sudden gun-blasts. However, Chalmers’ experience as a free improviser means that he has a good feel for the overall shape and structure of a piece, and he subsequently introduces longer-lasting, almost droney sections based on guitar-pedall’d loops, and less frenetic moments in which one can hear motifs and ideas being developed at greater length. The second side uses a little too much reverb for my liking and is more ear-crunching in effect; however, Chalmers provides a very quiet conclusion by way of contrast, and the album as a whole is less deliberately bloody-minded (more sparse?) than your typical Noise release. It’s a limited edition, of course, but it can be downloaded from the FFM Records website in MP3 format.

 

ERGO – MULTITUDE, SOLITUDE (Cuneiform)

 

Sober, restrained, sometimes lethargic and even depressive, ‘Multitude, Solitude’ is certainly a distinctive listen, if not a very comforting one. The band who’ve created it, Ergo, play moody ‘post-jazz’ (I suppose that’s what one would call it), with a distinctive colour deriving from the combination of trombone and electric piano. The recorded sound is lovely, crisp and clear, and there are some involving moments, though there is also a tendency to meander somewhat. The effect is at once woozy and stark, stripped-back, slow and foreboding but with inklings of be-fogged prettiness, like those moments of fuzzed insomnia before sleep finally comes. At first, one might think that ‘Rana Sylvatica’ functioned as a kind of prelude, with its trembling rhodes piano surrounded by ominous computerized drones and clicks, drums functioning as nervous background wash rather than as driving rhythmic force. However, once one gets into the rest of the album, one realizes that it’s actually typical of the musical logic at work throughout – un-showy, perhaps sometimes a little cautious, with a preference for atmosphere rather than for soloistic showcasing. On some tracks, such as ‘Vessel’, this approach doesn’t really do much to catch the attention; but on the following ‘She Haunts Me’ (which sounds pretty much through-composed), it really pays off. Carl Maguire plays a chord progression that slowly pushes up the keyboard in preparation for the climactic entry of Brett Skroka’s multi-tracked trombone(s); this build happens twice, and the fact that it doesn’t lead into any extended improvisational exploration of those louder climaxes adds a sense of unresolved tension which is undoubtedly deliberate, and is perfectly in keeping with the logic of the record as a whole. There are a host of influences at work here; from film soundtracks, we get a somewhat episodic structural sense; from ambient music, an avoidance of groove, an anti-developmental stance; from alt-rock, certain types of chord progression; from jazz, a kind of blueness and melancholy, and elements of improvisational vocabulary. The general ethos at work, though, is somewhat different from all these – too active to produce genuine ambient music, the band nevertheless avoid settling into grooves; tempos are kept slow, pieces often crawling to crescendos and disintegrating back almost straight away. Easy to overlook, but vital to the album’s overall sound, are the computerized eddies, ebbs, interjections that slip in and under the cracks of the music, at once filling it out and adding a needling sense of uncertainty. This a very contemporary record, due not only to its range of generic reference, but also to its emotional suggestions, its bleary-eyed, four-in-the-morning, blinking-TV-screens-in-hotel-rooms resonances; worthwhile.

 

JEAN-LUC GUIONNET/ CLAYTON THOMAS/ WILL GUTHRIE –

THE AMES ROOM (Monotype Records)

 

This release seems to have convinced a few critics whose tastes have moved from free jazz to free improv in recent years that there is still worthwhile material left to explore in the former field. On paper, it looks life a fairly standard-issue release; a trio of saxophone, bass and drums, playing lengthy, high-tempo improvisations. But there is, indeed, something different about it – probably the method in which saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet develops his playing, in cellular, repetitive melodic units that recall Roscoe Mitchell’s solo work as much as anything. Nice stuff.

 

JOOKLO DUO – THE WARRIOR (Northern Spy)

 

I wasn’t that impressed by the Jooklo Duo when I saw them supporting Sonny Simmons & Tight Meat back in 2007 (see review in Issue 1), but this short release suggests they may have something more to offer. There are two tracks, one for each side of the 7″; the titles use the familiar free jazz terminology of fire, warriors, power (something I’m a little sceptical about at times, but we’ll let that pass), and the music is, as expected, loud and with little let-up. There’s something bare yet punchy about the sax/duo format, and though I’ve sat through (and enjoyed, I hasten to add) some paint-peeling saxophone soloing in my time, Genta’s playing at the very beginning is up there with the most forceful, loud enough to carry across valleys like some ancient sonic signal. Given that free jazz often lends itself to sprawling and extended forms, it’s nice to hear such a concentrated burst, and hopefully this tightness and concision can be translated into future full-length albums.

 

ORFEO 5 – A YEAR ON ICE (The Word Hoard)

 

This duo for saxophone (Keith Jafrate) and electronics (Shaun Blezard) leans less towards the electro-acoustic improvisation one might expect than to a kind of ambient jazz, Jafrate’s saxophone skating over imaginary chord changes while distortions and echoes rise and fall underneath, sometimes reaching volume-overflow, sometimes looping, sometimes throwing in ‘field recording’ samples (snatches of bird-song). Half-way through the lengthy title track, a section of feedback-tinged rumblings and cracklings moves things into a more ‘abstract’ area (though even here, the use of delay adds a kind of meandering directionality to proceedings), before Jafrate bursts out with exploratory lines that begin to incorporate multiphonics and Evan-Parker-like circular figures. On ‘I Looked Back’, the wistful, wispy melodicism, drenched in distant reverb, strongly suggests Nils Petter Molvaer, while ‘dusk’ opens with more abrasive saxophone parps and shrieks (though things soon become flowing and languorous once again). I’m not sure about the addition of a rather stiff, programmed drum-beat on ‘later and later’ – though there are moments when the groove becomes ‘dirtier’, and Jafrate locks in for some attractive rhythmic playing. In context, though, it perhaps adds a little more bite to the improvisations, which can tend to be rather too stiflingly pretty. For me, the electronics are not that characterful, coming across as rather samey and lacking a certain interactive bite. That said, there are attractive enough moments, if one is prepared to let the music drift in and out of full attention – to practice a kind of ‘hazy listening’ as opposed to ‘close listening’, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

 

DAVID S. WARE – SATURNIAN (SOLO SAXOPHONES, VOL. 1) (AUM Fidelity)

 

David S. Ware was hardly playing it safe when he chose, for his first public performance since recovering from a life-threatening illness, to undertake one of the most taxing of instrumental challenges, a solo saxophone recital. Without the propulsive, often groove-based rhythmical accompaniment which was provided for him during the previous twenty years or so by Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and a succession of drummers, he could not afford himself the luxury of stretching out at length over a reliable and continuous backdrop. Instead, as this recording attests, he was forced to draw, alone, on all the technical and organisational resources at his disposal; and those resources are considerable. Rather than utilising circular breathing, Ware works through phrasal development – melodic figures repeated, elongated, expanded, expounded on. Though he’s often noted for his ‘muscular’ sound, it’s clear from the start that his playing has more to offer than just sheer power; on ‘Methone’ in particular, his tone has a lovely fluidity, sounding reedy and almost Oriental as he glides up to high registers and swoops back down with emphatic grounding strokes. At one point, a bluesy figuration is tried out a couple of ways, almost jokingly – the music doesn’t feel po-faced, despite the ‘spiritual jazz’ ambitions, and has a sometimes quixotic liveliness to it, a declamatory and singing urgency and a fizzing energy, easily mitigating against the dangers of austerity and timbral limitation that might have been found within such a setting. It helps here to realize that the ‘spiritual’ is never too far from the ‘secular’ – witness Ray Charles – and Ware’s characteristic blend of ‘godspelized’ melodicism and other-worldly exploration of the higher registers is grounded, rooted in the earth, as much as it is orbiting the planets. At times, as noted, it’s even playful; there’s a sense that Ware is juggling with his spontaneously-created melodic fragments – like throwing up a ball in the air and catching it – lending the performance a sense of risk, a darting, skimming sense of movement and exhilaration which never detracts from the consummate skill in execution. Weighty yet weightless, earthy and spacey and spacious all at once, ‘Saturnian’ is a fitting return and a fine performance from one of the masters of this music. (DG)

 

 


 

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