Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts

I've been writing new introductions here, more or less on an annual basis, in large part because this page remains in written order — so do scroll to the end for the latest thoughts. But I also find it worthwhile to write new introductions, as part of revisiting with myself around what I'm doing here. The other challenge is not to make this opening entry too long — while still being appropriate for both first time & returning readers. Of course, there're the prior intros as well, which can still be read, starting from the previous year's entries (including reviews)....

And most of those entries, maybe all, were oriented toward reviewing individual recordings, so that's largely become my writing prompt here, although I started with more open-ended notions.... And I've wanted to support younger performers as well, from the start here, although I soon found that many senior performers continue to have much to offer. So I've come to feel that I must first select for music here, for context if nothing else, hopefully without becoming too immersed in my own familiarities over time.... I thus listen to many less established artists, but I suppose often in a more prospective sense. In that, though, I also retain a broad preference for smaller ensembles (& especially their "social" dynamics), e.g. trios & quartets, i.e. beyond solos. (Yet I'm usually left soloing here....)

Hopefully I also retain an emphasis on learning too, and so on experimenting with music (& in turn elsewhere): I'll note striking albums here, maybe without seeming like finished products, but I also maintain a "convenient" list of favorite albums, i.e. for repeated listening & reference. In that sense, concepts of "use" arise here, and I try especially to interrogate what I'm getting out of music — which is already presented as a "product" by the time it reaches me. Much of that revolves around affectivity, but not necessarily arousal (or expression per se), rather notions of environment or ambience (& silence), therefore of modulating the everyday. (I'm not necessarily interested in "argument....") So I find much of this music — as well as the thrust of "experiment" in general — to be helpful in everyday life. It can be cleansing, and it can be a spur to (further) thought, but the impact is (hopefully) beyond mere thought....

Much of the "cleansing" then revolves around a decolonizing project — moving in accompanying theoretical discussions from e.g. Postmodern Aesthetics (2019) to a Decolonizing Tech series (2020-) — such that "jazz" figures a particular response to globalism & indeed decolonization. (And as opposed to "post-" formulations, jazz doesn't note simply the passing of history: It's been an active "de-." So one might say that jazz is about consciously moving from one world to another....) Some of this has come as well to interrogate what is "natural": I've been especially interested in music outside of 12-tone equal temperament, for instance, and developments in that arena seem (finally) to have real momentum. (Some of this is called "spectral music," but there're more indigenous-derived formations, plus ongoing explorations of "acoustics" per se....) Thus I've also continued to take an interest in that most (paradoxically) "natural" of instruments, the human voice. But anything from around the world seems to be coming into this (musical) space, part of a sort of generalized fusion....

I've been interested in musical "production" as well, e.g. various combinations with electronics, which permeate recorded (& increasingly live...) performance anyway. (I've been broaching e.g. AI for a while here now.) And as noted, everything is already (multiply) mediated by the time it reaches me in this space, so I do try to focus on the result, however it might be made. Again, is it useful? And then "how it's made" can be an exciting topic as well.... (All of this points further to broad notions of music already as (a) technology....) And where or how is it useful? Most of what's discussed here is improvised, so the idea that it might be less appealing for repeated listening doesn't imply a flaw per se... it's just something less easy to register through all this mediation. (Subsequently illuminating immediacy is certainly easier said than done....) At some level, I also want to feel some kind of "wow" though, even if it passes. And there's just so much more music in this space than when I started, including more along lines that would've surely drawn my attention in prior decades.... (I also see elements of my own style appearing elsewhere....) So there's far more that I could be discussing within & around this general space, not only individual albums.

It can thus become something of a challenge to decide what to review here, as it'd be "easy" to write far more entries, if only to note other "similar" releases by musicians I've already appreciated. Ties of similarity & relation branch in all directions after all, but I'm still trying to write something here only when really prompted. (This does sometimes lead to gaps, e.g. where I forget something because I didn't write about it here — so I'm not entirely satisfied with my "system" either. There's also simply a matter of not duplicating what someone else has to say, although again, that can end up meaning subsequent lacunae....) And I want to remain open to new ideas, not always filling my head with what I'd heard before.... In any case, while I'm generally "recommending" any album that I actually discuss here, I don't want to imply that there aren't other albums of similar style & quality as well. Sometimes my choices simply have to be contingent, especially in order to avoid routine. (Although many people like to see their work mentioned, I don't believe that a routine discussion is actually very helpful. Maybe it would be better instead to have "news....")

That said, we're still in a summer lull, and I don't actually have anything lined up to review at the moment, such that I'm writing this intro into relative vacuum. So let's see what happens next....

Todd M. McComb <mccomb@medieval.org>
22 August 2022

And as it happened, the very day that I finished the new intro above, String Noise Sounds was released by the Infrequent Seams label. The latter has been building an eclectic catalog, including appearing on streaming sites beyond Bandcamp, featuring various composed music albums too, along with improvisation. And indeed the violin duo "String Noise" — Pauline Kim Harris & Conrad Harris — had already appeared on the label playing composed music, as seems to be their norm: They have a variety of albums exploring contemporary compositions in the latest styles (i.e. post-Cage), as well as e.g. popular music arrangements, but String Noise Sounds (apparently recorded on two dates in 2022), is an improvised album (& so more typical of the space here). It also takes String Noise first to a quartet, which the very short (& somewhat confusing) notes state to be the original formation, here with Jessie Cox (drums) & Sam Yulsman (synths, piano) — then also with "guests" Bethany Younge (voice) & Jesse Stiles (electronic drone). The latter two are described emphatically as composers, and may appear only on the "B" side of this very long (nearly an hour & a half, so basically a double album) cassette. There's certainly voice low in the texture at times there, simmering breath, or muted screams... and I'm not sure how to distinguish someone playing "drone" amid someone playing synth. (None of the additional musicians was familiar to me previously.) In any event, the "A" opening is immediately striking, with shimmering metal & soon frenetic twittering suggestive of some kind of industrial jungle (with muttering voices only early), coming to open out around what present almost as harp arpeggios.... The opening track is also the longest, and doesn't feature piano, rather various electronics (perhaps in glissandi...) & spatialization. It can even come off as a sort of variant on Braxton's Diamond Curtain Wall Music. (Later tracks have passages that are more dominated by piano though, including playing classic styles at times, such that there can be a sense of "genre" evoked later in the program, even as it's passing....) String Noise Sounds is thus a world-making sort of album, sometimes evocative of other contemporary improvising string formations (e.g. Ernesto Rodrigues & e.g. String Theory), but generally challenging direct comparisons: The focus on developing through continuity does suggest various contemporary pan-stylistic bands though, particularly as the core violin duo can be rendered almost unrecognizable through the ensemble interactions, despite nearly constant (e.g. "whistling" & creaking) activity. That said, the more open textures here are probably the more striking overall, in what can seem like a relatively preliminary (& generally energetic) (re?)-exploration. Both dates-sides then end abruptly, each having settled into similarly aggressive & dense collective textures.

25 August 2023

Then speaking of composition, the past year also seems to have been big for releases of music by Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016): Per the previous entry, Altamirage — consisting of improvised duos between the composer & bassist James Ilgenfritz, plus performances of two of Oliveros' compositions from the 1960s — actually appeared late last year, as noted in the previous review of a "K7 Commission" release from Infrequent Seams, Ekphrastic Discourse (in January). Sound Pieces then appeared on Another Timbre from cellist Anton Lukoszevieze & Apartment House, consisting entirely of compositions (from 1975-1998): I've found Sound Pieces appealing, and have continued to listen since it appeared, but didn't write a review at the time. In large part, this reflects uncertainty on my part, both in terms of the general context of Oliveros' compositional output (as I have no real survey, etc.) & the technical specifics of the works themselves: Many are "text pieces" with little or no musical notation, but instructions or choices for the performer. Discussions are then sometimes framed around Oliveros' Deep Listening practice, which seems straightforward in an overall way, but about which I know few specifics. So I've been unsure where to start (but part of that is going to need to be developing my own language connections...). And I've been affected by the Apartment House readings (which consist of performances from late 2022 into 2023...), but they also tend to be very careful, relatively smooth (in the way this group plays a lot of post-Cage music...), maybe even tentative at times. In contrast, improvisations with Oliveros herself can be quite intense, including on Altamirage — where the (early) compositions are rather spiky as well, showing an almost Webernian concentration of gesture. (Oliveros ultimately combines this sort of concentration with close attention to human intimacy per se, yielding a powerful affective stance.) So there's a sense of wondering just "how much" Oliveros' text pieces really contribute to a musical outcome, with such a question actually fitting rather well into my prior comments on judging the usefulness of musical outcomes (i.e. as products), and I've indeed found this orientation to be especially clear through the lens of the most recent release here: Two or Three (pace Altamirage) is also an older recording (apparently from March 2018), released just last weekend (on Chicago's Amalgam Music), combining Oliveros' compositions with improvisation. In this case, the title composition — a commission from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, completed shortly before her death in 2016 — is performed in three versions, interspersed with longer improvisations. (The performers are Chicago sax frontman Mars Williams (b.1955), noted here way back in May 2012 with Extraordinary Popular Delusions, but perhaps best known for his An Ayler Xmas albums since 2016, and a musician currently recovering as I understand from a serious illness — plus CSO musicians Katinka Kleijn & Rob Kassinger on cello & bass.) And as usual here, I have no idea what is really specified in the composition, although it's described as offering the performer choices, but the fact is that the composed pieces come off more compellingly than the improvisations. (Of the latter, the first seems to be a memorial, almost a dirge at times, while the second is more open-ended & exploratory, but only really comes together around a typical free jazz, horn-centric dynamic....) Again there's this sense of Webernian pointillism, particularly at first, but weaving in more spectral shading as well, yielding a naturalistic (quasi-primitivist) counterpoint, a kind of haunting suspension or latency. (One thus gets a double sense of "spectral" here as well.) So how does Oliveros do it? What is the practical means by which her participation via texts makes for more compelling music? Again, I'm working with a very limited sense of what these pieces specify (i.e. tentatively myself...), but I've noted here in the past a sense of when free improvisation becomes more "coherent" (to pick one partly-useful word I've used...), and generally an issue with ongoing satisfaction isn't so much with the techniques or even the quality of the ideas per se, but rather in coming together into some kind of whole. And often there seem to be tacit agreements about where to go or what to play, sometimes a few comments exchanged between musicians to start, or maybe just a shared image or orientation that isn't even articulated. However, particularly as possibilities multiply, some kind of "framework" becomes more meaningful — or less universally implied (or tacit), I might say. Enter Oliveros, who seems to have anticipated this sort of scenario, the notion that maybe "improvisation" could use a further (variable) conceptual orientation or specificity.... (Note how e.g. Cage distrusted improvisation, albeit based on his practical experiences of what performers did under those circumstances. He thus didn't think "past" improvisation, i.e. to where we are today, basically not so much genre-bound anymore, but with "too much" in the way of possibilities for any particular moment.) So then given the "choice" framework for Two or Three, are we to guess e.g. that the orchestral musicians made the piece more contrapuntal than it might have been from others? I don't know, but I do know that these Oliveros albums seem to bring together something beyond the performers themselves. And I also know that a smooth, placid presentation wasn't how Oliveros appeared herself. (Even pictures of her meditating seem "socially" intense somehow.) However, there is also ultimately a sense of affective healing here, once again....

28 August 2023

Hunt at the Brook (recorded in 2014) has felt like a pivotal album for me, in terms of finding my own interests in this space, i.e. as slowly moving away from following a variety of other sources (as can seem inevitable...), into more personal priorities & articulations. Moreover, that's been underscored by ongoing interest in the performers involved: Just this past May, I reviewed It used to be an elephant (recorded in 2022 & released on Daniel Thompson's Empty Birdcage label), a quintet combining the original trio with frequent collaborators Dirk Serries & Colin Webster. (That album comes off as more exploratory, preliminary again with its unusual ensemble....) And there I'd traced some historical relations as well, including to me in this space, so I'll skip over some of that now. Nonetheless, the recent release of two albums at once on Serries' "A New Wave of Jazz" label — Hunt at the Brook Again & with Neil Metcalfe — necessitates some further thoughts on chronology (as well as confirms that Hunt at the Brook was a significant project for the trio of musicians involved): The addition of Metcalfe on flute for the second album of this double release raises as well his participation (with Thompson) in Runcible Quintet, e.g. their own quartet formation on (half of) Four suggesting something of the quartet interaction here. Of course, the Runcible albums have more in the way of rhythmic articulation via drums, but there's a sort of tuneful "anthropology music" cultivated as well. (This is a notion I've been articulating here over the past few years, namely musical inspiration from "natural" sounds, e.g. zoomimesis, or in this case more in the way of outdoor resonances woven into a sort of harmonic tapestry....) And there's likewise a sort of pointillism much of the time underlying Hunt at the Brook, multiple relations woven more densely than a real (ecological) scene, evoking multiple perspectives & collisions in counterpoint.... So the chronology here implicates Runcible as well, the latter's most recent album Three having been recorded in March 2019 (& reviewed here in May 2020), followed by Hunt at the Brook Again in April 2019 & Hunt at the Brook with Neil Metcalfe in May 2019. And I'd already been emphasizing post-pandemic productions here, so this does come to seem like the past.... Still, both albums have been quite compelling, and further (even centrally...) illuminate subsequent productions: 2019 had opened for Thompson & Benedict Taylor recording the double duo album T'other in January (launching Thompson's new label...), as reviewed here in November 2020, i.e. only after I'd reviewed the horn-less SETT (recorded in November 2019, and first documenting the unusual double acoustic guitar formations that followed these trio & quartet chamber ensembles...). (Taylor himself also went on to record a series of duos that year, including Live Offerings 2019 with Serries, reviewed here in March 2021, plus e.g. Knotted Threads with Yves Charuest on Inexhaustible Editions.... Moving ahead then, he appears with Serries & e.g. with Stefan Keune for the middle disc of Live at Plus-Etage, Volume 1 too, recorded last September: That understated triple album, also produced by Serries, includes two striking duo recitals as well, from different musicians who also intersect this unit sometimes.) Meanwhile, I've had more of an "in order" (if sparser...) chronology for clarinetist Tom Jackson (who joined the core Hunt at the Brook trio later, replacing Alex Ward from Compost, as reviewed here in April 2013...), appearing e.g. with the trio album Nauportus with Thompson (reviewed already July 2019, but after the present recordings were made), and then Dandelion (actually recorded in the interim in 2021) with Serries instead on guitar. (The latter was also presented in big, dynamic 24bit sound — as are now Hunt at the Brook Again & Hunt at the Brook with Neil Metcalfe....) And then Thompson himself has recently e.g. reprised his duo with Webster, releasing However, Forward! (as recorded only last October) this month on Webster's Raw Tonk label, yielding a relatively tighter articulation for that ongoing formation.... So then one thing I've (apparently) learned from doing this sort of review over the years is that it becomes too easy simply to trace relations.... What about the specific music? Why do I return (even to 2019 yet again)? For one, there's always more to appreciate, even to learn! For instance, sometimes I feel smart for appreciating the original Hunt at the Brook, but the notes for this new release also tell me that I didn't pick up on title, which names the engineer & (studio) location. (So then I don't feel so smart.) Anyway, I'd instead focused on the outdoorsy quality (pace the previous), and even a sense of nostalgia, i.e. as "also" reflected in the track titles. (And admittedly, the fact that this was a substantial album, lengthy rather than short, figured into my interest in those days, i.e. offering more to chew on over time....) Now the "new" albums — & they're still significantly more recent than the original trio, even if one wonders why the delayed release... — dispense with track titles (as so often in this space...), figuring similar material inspirations into a denser & more detailed network, seeming to leave behind nostalgia per se (about which I've already expressed ambivalence...). (There's of course still the matter of my own familiarity....) So while Hunt at the Brook Again provides a remarkably taut & lively exploration of some of the earlier ideas in greater depth & concentration (as befitting a reprise five years later...), Hunt at the Brook with Neil Metcalfe then broaches some different interactions, more in the way of harmonic shading (e.g. via register between the two woodwinds), yielding almost a modernist vibe in more chordal sections (& incorporating e.g. traffic, beyond anything potentially idyllic...). A similar, more chordal (v. pointillist) approach then opens It used to be an elephant (without Metcalfe), before turning elsewhere.... Acoustic guitar particularly feels like a pivot for the quartet formation, articulating counterpoints rhythmically, the potentially chordal viola often functioning more like a horn, raucous even at times, almost an alto sax.... Hunt at the Brook with Neil Metcalfe can thus feel almost like three top lines — & regular readers will know that pairing flute with clarinet was likely to appeal to me... — yielding a "different" approach to (fluid) harmonic combinations, pace e.g. "spectral" ideas on ("natural") overtone relations. There's also some real "fire" on both albums, especially from violist Taylor, but the "modernist" feel also involves tangible affective modulation, a sort of sinking-calming at times (including dueling runs...), moody... maybe sometimes almost new age-y? But with its assertive opening & quicker pace of articulation & dynamics, Hunt at the Brook Again had already made Hunt at the Brook seem relatively more stark (or classic...), similar materials & inspiration worked further into more intricate articulations.... Both formations are still able to summon a sense of quiet (or even silence) as well, via basic fluidity figuring dynamics throughout. As far as musical parameters per se then, i.e. in addition to their articulation of an abstracted ecology, it's perhaps this sense for "dynamics" that most marks this group of colleagues as (sometimes) a collective. Theirs is thus a rich (rather than simplistic...) interaction with the world (& especially its outdoor sonic palette...), yielding a regime of actively shifting attention, figuration & human choice as well. Counterpoint per se then comes to feel like a condensation or embodiment of multiply intersecting experiences.

11 September 2023

Moving to a shorter & more recently recorded album, next I want to note Flight Rvw2349 by Georg Wissel (alto sax), Guilherme Rodrigues (cello) & Michael Vorfeld (percussion) — recorded live by Sacred Realism's Bryan Eubanks in Berlin this past April. The result is relatively short, basically including a restart midway, but capturing an intense sense of ritual sonic communion, especially through its opening gesture. (The reference is again to a "spectral" sense of harmony, of blending instrumental timbres via overtones, i.e. "acoustics" in the sense of e.g. John Butcher & Induction, there with more sense of intentionality or distance, here seeming more intimate per se....) Of course, I've noted Rodrigues here often, especially with his father Ernesto (e.g. with recent favorites Dérive & L'âge de l'oreille), but also in finding his own style, intuitive & sometimes warmly lyrical, but also with its own kind of starkness, linear & distended, e.g. articulated in trio (without Ernesto) on Kita, Rodrigues & Yamagishi (as reviewed here in July 2020). But while that album can come off as something of a (linear) travelogue, Flight Rvw2349 cultivates instead an intense sense of vertical resonance & place. (And a similar sweep & energy dynamic could describe another notable Rodrigues trio album to appear recently outside of Creative Sources, Zwosch, Zwosch & Zwosch from A New Wave of Jazz — pace the previous entry... — there with Carlos Zingaro & José Oliveira, also yielding a single 32' track, but recorded already in July 2021....) And I'd recently mentioned both Wissel & Vorfeld here as well: Wissel released a "similar" album in Thirty Nine Fifty Five (as mentioned in a March 2023 review of Etienne Nillesen & T.ON...), the second with his C/W|N trio, "generally sparse but deeply fusing the instrumental resonances & timbres," i.e. involving a similar approach, but there more ethereal around sparse piano (versus rich cello tone). Wissel's horn thus ranges here from a sort of background resonance or accent to brief, piercing intensity — i.e. as the "edge" of a twisting, composite trio timbre. (There's some quietly intense vocalizing as one climax too, but I'm unsure of the source.) And then Vorfeld was e.g. involved in longtime favorite Nashaz (from which I eventually started talking about a "nautical" style of overtone relations...), plus more recently (again) with Sawt Out, that trio's Black Current & Machine Learning having been reviewed here together just this past July — all involving explorations of overtone alignments, often with high intensity. So this trio & its unassuming self-release (only on Rodrigues' Bandcamp site...) came as a surprise, but there was still plenty of reason to anticipate an intriguing result. And as far as the sense of ritual? I guess that's how acoustic resonance & timbral blending can present themselves, fusion of relations per se as always already a sort of ritual. (And I should note as well on this point Rodrigues' own solo album from last year, Acoustic Reverb, set in a variety of churches....) In that sense, one perceives the evocation of an evolving genre or scene here, while also being especially direct, i.e. with strong intimacy (as already suggested), but without much sense of superfluous ideas or busy-ness. (Such a sense of "genre" can come to mark tonality per se as itself a broad abstraction....) What one finds then, or so I think I hear, is the trio overcome by its own ritual intensity, coming to skulk about midway (so moving to some reflexive techniques...), trying to process (intellectually, emotionally) for themselves what just occurred.... (That would be as opposed to the sort of "distance" or planning suggested elsewhere above... but also not atypical of an improvised meeting....) So maybe they'll reconvene at some point. In the meantime, Flight Rvw2349 (the title of which eludes me too...) already has some electric moments.

12 September 2023

Sestetto Internazionale is another ongoing collective developing its own sound, now with a third album, Due Mutabili from Munich live in March 2022. I'd reviewed the sextet's second album Live in Munich 2019 in March 2020, there including some fascinating six-way material at times, but also some tracks for reduced forces, a bit of odds & ends, maybe even seeming somewhat genre-bound in moments.... Their lineup of three soprano instruments against three "harmonic backdrop" instruments remained intriguing though, and Due Mutabili provides two substantial tracks documenting ongoing developments, also with more in the way of overall continuity (although, of course, still with passages of reduced forces, etc.). Moreover, there aren't many sextets that manage to stay together very long to develop a collective sound. In this case, there was actually a change from the previous album, with Philipp Wachsmann (violin, live electronics) replacing Alison Blunt, but the core of the group remains the soprano saxophone duo of Harri Sjöström & Gianni Mimmo, joined by violin on the front line, and then a timbrally rich "continuo section" of Achim Kaufmann (piano), Veli Kujala (quarter-tone accordion) & Ignaz Schick (turntables, sampler). Although the sextet does turn to what I might call "intentional weirdness" at times (e.g. the cartoonish, haunted or carnivalesque...), there's a growing sense of continuity as well maintained through the tracks: Sestetto Internazionale seems to be adopting something of the "ontology of motion" from the Move quintet (& e.g. their second album Move in Moers, as reviewed here in April 2021...), a group also founded by Sjöström (with vibraphonist Emilio Gordoa) & similarly involving Kaufmann: "Move" seems to retain more of a jazz reference though, i.e. with bass & drums, but the main difference from the evolution of Sestetto Internazionale is in the latter's double (& then triple, with violin...) top line, also distinguishing it from e.g. Evan Parker ensembles (i.e. around a single soprano, & to which I'd already compared Move...). There's also an electroacoustic component here then, and indeed Parker himself introduces the subsequent (acoustic) soprano duet album between Sjöström & Mimmo, the surprisingly full-bodied Wells (recorded in April 2022). So that original duo can still seem like something of a reduction of the larger group, or at least as evoking it, i.e. not unlike Parker's recent release with Sergio Armaroli, Dialog (on Ezz-thetics), on which he responds (later, in solo) to Armaroli's vibraphone solos: That album illustrates harmonic context & line as sorts of inversions of each other — & a similar nexus informs Sestetto Internazionale as well. But I wasn't turning to Armaroli arbitrarily: Kujala appeared with Sjöström on Armaroli's Windows & Mirrors (as reviewed here in December 2022), and also with Schick on Frank Gratkowski's Kuden (recorded in 2021) — which I'd mentioned in a brief "accordion survey" around a review of the trio album Stranger Becoming with Jonas Kocher (also in December 2022). I've been noting accordion regularly of late it seems, here with quarter tones extending pitch flexibility-fixity for the sextet, but also e.g. pairing with "reedy" horns or suggesting an electronic (e.g. synth) quality themselves. I also seem to encounter Schick in many places lately, e.g. with John Butcher on his "celebration" quartet album Lamenti dall'infinito (reviewed here in a series in February 2022), although his contributions can be less obvious at times (pace e.g. the static "ticks" opening the second track here, but then also "cartoon" eruptions...). And most of these instruments do have pitch flexibility, with Kaufmann's piano being the main exception, yet Kaufmann always seems to be able to contribute meaningfully to these sorts of tapestries.... (I'm not sure how he's able to transcend his own pitch limitations so regularly.) In any case, there does seem to be some real commitment to this sextet formation at this point — & Sjöström has self-released Due Mutabili, with e.g. Wells (released already in July) having made it onto streaming sites... — even as it can still seem rather exploratory. (It would probably also benefit from the clarity of 24bit recording.) The pregnant, rhetorical opening — plus the subtle entrances of the various instruments — will surely make an impression, though. There're also some feelings of routine developing over the long album, for better or worse, sometimes broken up by self-conscious novelty. However, the basic structural setup, combined with ongoing explorations of continuities (i.e. with further parallels to Anthony Braxton & ZIM), suggests much more potential — as well as seems to line up with broader explorations & trends....

So bringing Wachsmann into Sestetto Internazionale seems as though it could have led directly to his participation, with Sjöström, in an "alternative" Xpact quartet album — as also just released, on Wachsmann's Bead Records — Especially For You (recorded seven months later in October 2022, also in Munich). Apparently the concert was supposed to be part of a tour by Xpact — which I haven't actually reviewed (although it's an even longer running formation, sometimes now called Xpact II...) — but Stefan Keune & Hans Schneider couldn't attend, and so were replaced by Sjöström & Wachsmann, i.e. joining Erhard Hirt (guitar & computer treatment) & Paul Lytton (drums, cymbals, objects) from the original quartet. And without bass or the fire-breathing Keune (pace Hunt at the Brook Again thoughts here from earlier this week...), the quartet does come off completely differently: There's a generally ethereal, even thin thread maintained by electronics, often with subtle shifting & meandering otherwise. (The specter of Parker & his ElectroAcoustic Ensemble appears as well, especially with Lytton's participation, although the latter isn't apparently using electronics here himself.... And then, I'm unfamiliar with Hirt outside of Xpact.) The sound of accordion is also evoked from early in the proceedings, so presumably working with Kujala has made an impression on Wachsmann, who continues to be prolific himself.... So there're varieties of novel textures, some relatively understated, but also e.g. feelings of being asea, even evoking a sort of chaotic or imaginary realm, perhaps a kind of surreality — i.e. not really referencing physical space, but more a psychic space. There's again an issue with establishing-losing the feeling of novelty though, and the long (& often relatively unassertive) Especially For You ends up requiring sustained attention from the listener as well (i.e to its delicate continuities, rather than being actively gripping itself). In any case, pace the preceding, these are all flexible pitch instruments, and their interactions tend to feature airy (i.e. almost floating — as opposed e.g. to the basic gravity at times from the Sestetto...) & "twisting" textures. Thus it seems there would also be more to discover here, if the quartet does decide to develop its sound further. And of course Bead continues to be a label to watch (with, it seems, also some of their releases coming to streaming services...).

13 September 2023

Now the DDK Trio has released their third album (on the eclectic & often stimulating Meenna label out of Japan), A Right to Silence having been recorded over a 5-day residency in France during June 2021, and presented as three differing sequences: One might call these three different albums, as the three members of the trio each arranged material gathered over the course of the residency into a single album. And so I want to discuss this interrogation of the production process, but also to highlight the musical material involved, which itself involves precise sorts of austere post-Cage figurations. The musical articulations & surrounding rhetorical-affective implications thus seem more sophisticated for A Right to Silence than DDK's previous albums, Floating piece of space (recorded in 2014) & Cone of Confusion (2017). The music would also seem to go beyond the presentation of a "triple" album per se, particularly as the production itself extends the trio's stated non-influence-in-the-choice-of-the-other attitude — an attitude seemingly reflected from Cage, yielding for him a sort of "affect at a distance," a notion more applicable to appraising the three versions of this album as a whole than it is to the musical interactions per se. There's thus a tangible sense of entering the production process for the listener: I've often wondered how e.g. the material appearing on a studio album was chosen, or ordered, because that's usually unstated. How much unused material is there, for instance? That's likewise unstated here.... What we're presented with, however, is a set of 14 different pieces, most appearing on all three programs (which consist of 10, 8 & 8 tracks respectively...), but not all, the pieces presented identically whenever they do appear, except for the possibility of inserting silences framing each, and in different orders. (There's an included discussion of this procedure, which is itself somewhat confusing, so I'm trying to run through it in some detail, because it's a new approach. One thing that does remain unspecified is how & when the individual pieces were named. I'm guessing it was collectively & after the programs were chosen.) The three versions are also personal choices, not chance orderings, so from a Cageian perspective, these would be performance choices. (One often lacks synchronicity with a musical performance, e.g. when discussing in this space, and such an interval is highlighted here.) And the result is three differing aesthetic narratives, although with considerable overlap, basically generating three perspectives on the material, yet yielding some kind of gestalt. These are thus relatively short quasi-ambient tapestries, which I'm usually disappointed to have end, even if they don't necessarily dominate my attention, while the differing versions do delay feelings of developing familiarity.... And as implied, the basic sound world of A Right to Silence recalls Cage as well, i.e. not so much indoor or outdoor sonic references (per various recent remarks here...), but sorts of "human" (i.e. musical-rhetorical) abstractions. (The articulation of piano chords, as well as the thin "extended" lines from others, specifically recall some of Cage's late sonic concerns....) The results can also feel like aural vignettes, intense or suspenseful in some moments (gestural, not unlike film music at times...), a sort of "nuts & bolts" approach that emphasizes precision & austerity over larger flow (e.g. contrasting with tapestries such as Due Mutabili, from the previous review...). It's also possible that illuminating the different individual perspectives removes the sense of "naturalness" (or magic) from the proceedings — such that the named (& "instant composed") pieces from DDK can come to seem pre-composed. (I'm not able to draw any clear conclusion on this point, however.) Their basic sound then overlaps with & differs from the field: DDK can sound quite pianistic around founder Jacques Demierre (b.1954), such that even when he's e.g. scuffling with strings, the results seem framed & piano-gestural.... And then accordion is becoming something of a theme itself, here again from Jonas Kocher (pace the previous review discussion & Stranger Becoming, a more ethereal, yet twisting or even flowery trio album...), who offers various held tones & pitch extremes in addition to some harmonic figurations, sometimes sounding like strings.... (And Demierre had appeared here previously only with Hans Koch — also from Stranger Becoming — i.e. with the duo album Incunabulum, reviewed July 2019.) The second "D" is then Axel Dörner, who's appeared in this space for a while (e.g. with Ernesto Rodrigues & the quartet Nor, first tentatively reviewed here in April 2015...), and most often performs windy breath or precise blasts of static here, again generally either in isolated figures or briefly repetitive backdrops. There's thus little in the way of traditional horn "expression," but the trumpet register also makes for differing interactions from those of what seems like the most obvious ensemble comparison, HMZ: The latter trio employs tuba instead, and viol rather than accordion (but then adds harmonica for e.g. Ize, after already functioning similarly via held tones...), but the piano comes off differently as well, generally less pianistic (e.g. more gamelan...) than DDK, yielding again even to synth (& so more of the "accordion sound"). Ize is then the fourth album from HMZ (recorded back in 2018, although released during lockdown), their first having been recorded in 2012, so over a slightly earlier time interval than DDK.... It does also yield a sense of flow (as less abstracted & "framed" than DDK's here). Indeed HMZ seems to involve a somewhat newer timbral grammar, more impersonal: A comparison can be made as well to perhaps Demierre's most prolific ensemble, the LDP trio & their most recent (double) album Last Concert in Europe (released last year by Jazzwerkstatt), there showing a similar (to DDK) urge toward abstraction (& various scuffling), as well as extended exploration of dynamics, but also being more explicitly moody & even retaining some feeling of jazz. There's likewise a lingering question there of "What about individual, human expression?" i.e. that a group such as HMZ seems be leaving behind.... (So this is in some sense a question of musical generations, in the case of DDK involving those born in the 1950s, 60s & 70s.) Then when it comes again back to nuts & bolts, and the basic sound of A Right to Silence, there're other comparisons, specifically both younger & older: Great Waitress (& e.g. their landmark second album Flock, from 2013) involves reed instead of brass in an otherwise similarly constituted trio, there eerily fusing timbres into ritualistic sculptures. And then Nessuno involved both brass & reed in a quartet, again a little more old-fashioned in its sense of ensemble dynamics, but generating various textural suspensions as well, eventually with great (virtuosic...) intensity. A Right to Silence thus comes to feel as though it establishes its own (sometimes starkly, always precisely...) gestural sonic dynamic, embracing a sense of human distance between the musicians, multiple (production) versions aside.

19 September 2023

And Zyft — Henk Zwerver (acoustic guitar), Ziv Taubenfeld (bass clarinet) & Maya Felixbrodt (viola) — returns as well with Triangle Moments, just recorded in Amsterdam in June. The result is a more assertive & intricate trio interaction than for their first album, Midnight Tea Suite (favored here in April 2019, part of a rambling survey of Zwerver on Creative Sources...). Given the instrumentation then, there's a clear parallel to Hunt at the Brook Again & its review here earlier this month. One might even suggest some evocations of nostalgia in each case, more for the first album from the latter trio, and then Zyft's first outing still evoked more of a hint of rock/genre. So the "Zyft" name also suggests something unimportant, and it'd be difficult to assert that the trio really reaches for expression beyond itself (or beyond the everyday), but the forging of an egalitarian three-way interaction remains worthwhile in itself (as is the everyday...). Indeed Triangle Moments builds to a more unusual texture by the end, incorporating more extended technique, so there's still a sense of exploration.... (Although Zwerver has been relatively quiet since that prior batch of recordings, Taubenfeld has continued to raise his profile, e.g. with a Clean Feed leader album, while Felixbrodt is still someone I've heard only with this unit.... And viola does again bring some of the most intense & distinctive interjections here.) So there's some intensity at times, including to start, but generally more of a three-way conversation, perhaps one musician briefly taking the lead, soon back to a very collective feel & to composite (& contrapuntal, often pointillist around guitar) activity: The conversational style can quickly put the listening mind abuzz, but also opens up with time for more space to think. The compact Triangle Moments thus seems to invite a sort of local, yet far-ranging, "political" debate.

25 September 2023

From Another Timbre is then Parallaxis forma, a new album devoted to composer Catherine Lamb (b.1982), as recorded from June through August this year by Nicholas Moroz & Explore Ensemble (with vocalists Exaudi Music Ensemble & Lotte Betts-Dean). And I'm once again offering a review shortly after release, as is my habit & project here, even as that might seem especially tenuous for newly composed music, but I'm doing it in part now to affirm my ongoing interest in Lamb, whose Divisio spiralis I'd reviewed here as part of the Kairos album Aggregate Forms in March 2022: I've continued to find Lamb's music useful & appealing, regularly turning to a few pieces from time to time in the interim, so although Parallaxis forma (named after the longest piece on its program, as opposed to so many Lamb albums, which seem to have entirely different names...) doesn't really seem to be a groundbreaking album itself, I do want to trace its relations. In particular, Divisio spiralis (for string quartet) continues to be an amazing piece, and as I've listened to the JACK Quartet rendition more often, I've also come to hear more of the intonation lapses (that Christopher Otto does apologize for in the notes, part of the process of a human rendering...). Still, this fanning, multi-dimensional piece definitely evokes Nada-Brahma for me, sound revealing the mysterious beauty of the universe.... And that's actually typical of Lamb, if most developed (so far) there. Also mentioned then in that long review paragraph were Muto infinitas (2016/18) — also released by Another Timbre, increasingly a major label in the post-Cage space, and increasingly supportive of Lamb specifically — & the Prisma Interius series: Those continue to be my other favorite Lamb pieces, the former (understated) for quarter-tone flute & double bass, but finding endless subtle variation over nearly an hour.... I've listened to this piece dozens of times, and it exemplifies how Lamb's music doesn't lead into stasis, despite its smooth contours: It's indeed constantly changing in shade & color. (The music is thus completely unlike e.g. repetition of rhythmically contoured piano chords, i.e. "traditional minimalism.") And then the latter series climaxes (& ends?) with Prisma Interius IX: I didn't mention that piece specifically before, but it's also been recorded (by Ensemble Dedalus, cited here performing Erik M.'s Fata Morgana in a February 2023 review...) & released by New World Records in 2019, on the album Atmospheres Transparent/Opaque. I did mention a previous recording of VII & VIII though, released by Berlin's Sacred Realism, of which Lamb is a member. (And as it happens, I just mentioned Sacred Realism again here, since Bryan Eubanks recorded Guilherme Rodrigues' Flight Rvw2349, as reviewed earlier this month.... Indeed the coincidences are flying fast, as drummer Todd Capp's Oceans Roar 1000 Drums has just released its second album — today! — Gowanus, recorded last year in Brooklyn. Lamb herself doesn't play "secondary rainbow synthesizer" on the new album though, as she had on their first, i.e. as already mentioned here in that March 2022 review.... Anyway, it's worth noting that the group has connections in New York as well, bringing music of jazzy echoes & perpetual anticipation....) And moreover, Another Timbre has released Translucent Harmonies in this batch too, featuring Lamb's Prisma Interius VIII as half of its program! This is not with the larger chamber ensemble (including the "rainbow" synth, which captures & filters room resonance...) though, but rather the "melodic duo" of the piece (on violin & viola): With the series supposedly being "about" the filter, I'm not sure why the choice. In any case, it's indeed IX that's impressed me most, although I'd be interested to hear the full cycle in a single (unified? I assume that's best...) presentation. Turning back to Parallaxis forma then, the three works on the album all feature voices: I didn't mention Scelsi among the prior Lamb thoughts, but it's worth doing so here, particularly with her vocal music of abstract phonemes & vowel effects (while Scelsi can feature distinctive consonant attacks as well...), but also the slowly shifting microtones in general (of e.g. the Muto infinitas duo). However, Scelsi's works often come off as "miniatures" in comparison to Lamb's extended tapestries, i.e. as messages from other realms (as he put it...) versus the latter's offers to dwell there. That sort of nexus comes off especially with Pulse / Shade (2014) for four voices, actually released earlier this year by "The Present" (on album Ex Utero from Col legno...) too, but performed on Parallaxis forma via computer overlay & manipulation of a single vocalist: The latter was done for practical purposes of precision, especially for the opposite tempi progressions between the parts, and also yields a rendition twice the length.... The title piece had been mentioned in the prior review too, as already released on Norway's Hubro label (in 2019) from Ensemble neoN, and actually that from Explore Ensemble comes off rather more rhetorically, e.g. affectively suggesting despair & then hope (versus the earlier reading, which seems more in line with Lamb's preference for "matter-of-fact" expression — i.e. pace realism?). The most appealing (or at least new) piece on the new album is then probably the shortest, Color / Residua (2016/2020) for three voices & four string instruments, producing more of a composite effect, a sense of voices fluttering, even tricking me into thinking brass instruments appear.... And already in the prior review, I'd mentioned Lamb's teacher Tenney, as well as her influences from Indian dhrupad (itself originally a vocal music...), and these remain evident: Lamb's straightforward ordering of materials contrasts e.g. with the whimsical Cage, even builds to climaxes, i.e. despite the cool or often (e.g. rhythmically) uncontoured "sound" that the two might have in common.... And then the basic opening to sound, the sense of the sacred in sound, of moving beyond a "linear" articulation, beyond the sort of "braiding" I'd mentioned (inadequately) before, brings a kind of "fanning" as already noted above, i.e. a sort of ongoing opening to more (sonic) dimensions via shifting microtonal combinations (& even contrasting tempi...), i.e. continuous plays of consonance & dissonance over the smallest spaces, subtly sheering motion & constant change.... (Indeed, one might evoke the spectral in its double meaning here, again.) And then Lamb does seem to be developing her style, itself already obviously more practical than Tenney's (at times anyway...), since various musicians are releasing multiple versions of her works, i.e. is finding a way to indicate & notate these kinds of microtonal dimensions in ways that make practical sense to performers.... There already does seem to have been much development, in fact, from Parallaxis forma (2016) & then the Prisma Interius series (ending in 2018?), into the imposing Divisio spiralis (2019), and now with Lamb's increasing prestige from a 2020 composition prize (which in part prompted these next recordings, apparently...). So what's to come? (I guess she had e.g. a piece at the British Proms this summer too....) Of course, I'm also usually featuring performers here, less often composers per se. And so I've also noted Lamb as performer, but perhaps I should explicitly mention a previous Another Timbre release, Viola Torros (from 2019, seemingly a peak Lamb year...) with Johnny Chang (with each on viola), including as supplemented by e.g. rainbow synth for Lamb's Prisma Interius VI — although that earlier double album does still feel less multi-dimensional....

26 September 2023

Turning to an album released earlier in the year, recorded (in Berlin) only last November (so still less than a year ago...), Conundrum presents a sophisticated quintet interaction between Ernesto Rodrigues (here on violin), Guilherme Rodrigues, Ernesto's longtime colleague Nuno Torres (on alto sax), and German masters Alexander von Schlippenbach & Willi Kellers. I didn't review the album when it appeared, in large part due to the fame of von Schlippenbach — & because of course I already write so often about Rodrigues. Besides that I'm always turning away from piano here then, particularly beyond equal temperament (& indeed a relatively traditional piano sound is involved...), I simply didn't believe that these well-established musicians "needed" my attention. But then I started to fret that Conundrum wasn't getting enough attention elsewhere, because I do find it to be a rather compelling synthesis... with substantially polyphonic interactions & various active allusions. So as I'd also alluded in the review of Hunt at the Brook Again from September, my own aesthetic narrative takes me back to various (productive) familiarities, styles & combos that I particularly enjoy (& in which I've invested time...), even as I might be telling myself that I want to diversify more.... And there's an authenticity to discussing what one enjoys, so it's not something I want to dismiss in any way, but there's also a drive toward exploration that familiarities can blunt.... In any case, not that I have the (supernatural) ability to speak for anyone else anyway, but I'm still no expert on Schlippenbach's extensive & impressive career as an improvising pianist. Nor was I an expert on Günter "Baby" Sommer when I had the opportunity to write the liner notes for the release of the Rodrigueses' quartet album with Sommer, Not Bad (recorded in June 2022 & released in January 2023), but I could talk there a bit about differing generations & continuing to build new worlds.... I also didn't do justice to horn player Gonçalo Mortágua for that discussion, who I came to realize was basically making his debut — in an album featuring the Rodrigues approach to extended string timbres & spectral harmonies, while evoking e.g. a "world vibe" (which can be said of jazz in general, I suppose...). It also involved a relatively linear presentation of musical ideas... unlike Conundrum, which tackles more in the way of vertical dimensions & modes of harmonic motion. (There're some real jazz evocations from members of the quintet briefly too, but also quite a bit of prickly polyphonic intensity amid shifting timbres.) Conundrum certainly doesn't involve anyone's debut either, as these are all very experienced improvising musicians. And while I don't have much experience myself e.g. with Schlippenbach's Globe Unity Orchestra, or really as much focus on Ernesto's larger ensembles either, the two obviously come with extensive experience in forging larger groups, surely part of what makes this quintet session almost immediately flow.... (Despite my disclaimers, I've actually mentioned Schlippenbach a few times here: He'd appeared with Red Dhal Sextet, as reviewed in February 2014, as well as was noted with the quintet Intricacies — along with Kellers — from May 2015.... And Kellers himself first appeared here with the Grid Mesh quartet, as reviewed in November 2013.) And then let me highlight Torres (b.1977) a little more: Appearing on a variety of Rodrigues releases, going back here e.g. to New Dynamics (recorded in 2016) or Setúbal (reviewed in May 2020), Torres is able to play low in textures (e.g. spectrally, i.e. with a sense of geometric acoustics), but also can conjure more soloistic jazzy expression when needed. (The harmonics relation is also a little different here, because Ernesto is on violin, i.e. often higher in the texture.) Conundrum then appears to be the first recording of a little tour that Torres did with the two Rodrigueses (who were maybe also taking up the "legends" theme from Not Bad...) last November, with Conspiratorial and fulminate things happen (reviewed this May) & Brecht (mentioned in a January review) already appearing here, but there's also e.g. the more distended Letters to Milena.... And finally the title, Conundrum (with tracks named e.g. for mythical monsters...), does seem (perhaps) to refer to the challenges of combining tempered keyboard with contemporary spectral-timbral string concerns: Some old-fashioned (or "classic...") qualities reappear, but the result is surprisingly taut yet fluid as well, generally with much assertive momentum. It almost seems as though they've been playing together for a long time (as the saying goes...).

17 October 2023

Then appearing just this weekend from Poland's Fundacja Sluchaj, Duot with Strings (from a duo plus a quartet, yielding a sextet) presents some similar interactions & textures at times: The group is once again acoustic, but showing a distinct "ea" awareness (as even some of Rodrigues' all-acoustic releases are labeled...), no piano, but a string & percussion combination that almost suggests prepared piano at times.... Duot with Strings, recorded in Portugal in December 2021, also suggests a more open-ended exploration, between poles of smooth distension & crunchy counterpoint, which they execute with great fluidity. Indeed, this basic dynamic describes the Duot duo (i.e. Albert Cirera on saxophones & Ramon Prats on drums, launching with the album Duot from 2007, there still feeling explicitly jazzy at times...) already, as the two musicians' other work suggests as well: They were joined by Agustí Fernández to form Liquid Trio (& e.g. Liquid Quintet in turn... pace e.g. a review of The Liquid Trio Plays Bernoulli here in January 2018), but Cirera e.g. plays together with bassist Alvaro Rosso (& guitarist Abdul Moimême) in Dissection Room as well (as reviewed here in October 2018), the two senses of musical dissection & liquification operating together for Duot with Strings.... And they're operated along with the string quartet ZARM, formed by Carlos Zingaro (together with David Alves, also on violin, Ulrich Mitzlaf on cello — & Rosso) to explore a similar polar nexus, in that case stated to be sacred-profane. (And while David Alves was unknown to me, Mitzlaf had appeared e.g. with Zingaro on Chant from 2015, i.e. in another strings-focused ensemble.... Rosso is, of course, a veteran of the Lisbon String Trio. And do note further that this "jazz string quartet" is unusual in retaining the classic two violins, instead substituting double bass for viola/alto!) The result is then not only different senses of smoothness, including a sense at times that crunchy counterpoint can emerge within smoothness, but different sorts of polyphonic juxtapositions & even e.g. parallel (sometimes extended...) lines. Per the previous entry then, these two groups come together as a strong combination, one that seems made for each other (including with horn lying low at times...) — & a combination that often yields results rather different from historical styles or genres. There's a sense of growling mystery to open, but big echoing drums come along soon enough, active strings (including harmonics), and really no sense that one of the groups is dominating (or is more "fundamental" than...) the other. There's a sense of ritual then, of conjuring (interpenetrating) modes of intensity. And then the overall affective outcome seems to be in senses of transition (& indeed liminality) — itself a growing theme here of late (pace Braxton's ZIM & many other efforts), but distinctively expressed over six (thematic?) tracks on Duot with Strings (with space for more to come...).

18 October 2023

As long as I'm thinking about albums featuring bowed strings, let me turn now to violist Jessica Pavone (b.1976) & her new album Clamor, recorded this year in Manhattan by Pavone's regular string ensemble (here a sextet), with guest soloist Katherine Young for the middle two (of four) tracks. Much to my surprise, I hadn't actually mentioned Pavone in this space yet, although I'd heard her in various music, including of course with Anthony Braxton. I guess the earlier "J. Pavone String Ensemble" albums, while exploring rich string textures & various harmonic ideas, also seemed both relatively repetitive & tonal — pace the Terry Riley reference often associated with Pavone's composed music. So contra e.g. Catherine Lamb's composed music (as reviewed here most recently last month...), there're more echoes of popular or ambient music from Pavone, meaning that although there's no shortage of harmonic relations being investigated, there's less of a strict sense of abstract spreading dimensionality.... There's still a sense of spatiality at times on Clamor though, particularly when higher or lower pitches are involved, even as its potency is more often in the affective-harmonic relational (emotional) domain. And it's quite a potent album, leaving a thundering silence when it concludes, intensely affective at times — especially around Young's howling bassoon, the ensuing liminal textures (with the strings) really prompting this review, i.e. more so than the more tonal-modulating framing pieces... — indeed seeming to take Pavone's compositional activity to a new level. Pavone has been quite prolific then, but as the generally smoother & abstract textures of her earlier string ensemble work give way to more rhetorical dynamism, its affectivity rises..... So maybe I should've already mentioned ... of Late (released last year) here, as it launches with newly assertive intensity, although ends up seeming less substantial overall: There the "string ensemble" is pared to a trio (again incorporating some vocalizing, as typical of Pavone... including for her solo viola album from Relative Pitch early last year, When No One Around You is There but Nowhere to be Found...). A previous "structural" precedent for Clamor can be noted in Lull (released in 2021) as well: That outing involves a string octet, plus drum & trumpet soloists on some tracks, but Clamor seems that much more fluid (as did ... of Late). And then Young is someone I'd noted here also with Braxton (e.g. DCWM), while the string ensemble consists of Pavone herself (also a soloist...) with Aimée Niemann (violin), Charlotte Munn-Wood (violin), Abby Swidler (viola), Mariel Roberts (cello, a soloist too...) & Shayna Dulberger (double bass). (And I'd actually noted the latter two, respectively in trio with Apocalypso in September 2013, and with Nate Wooley — a soloist from Lull — in Mutual Aid Music, as reviewed here in May 2021.) There's then a bit of folksy quality to Clamor at times as well — differing e.g. from Precepts (moving farther afield...), itself also composed music (with much performer freedom...) highlighting strings, or say Compassion & Evidence, a more improvisational & electronic exploration that nonetheless brings some similar long-form textural combos... — but then also a strong, even Scelsian sense of energy modulation (particularly evocative around bassoon...), i.e. of real instability & emergence.... And that's the theme then, technologies that women have developed over the centuries in order to overcome restrictions forced upon them.... (So I also need to state a decolonial perspective: It was modern imperialism that established patriarchy as the global norm. Indeed e.g. Brazilian theorist Boaventura de Sousa Santos posits that capturing the output of women's labor was effectively the main goal of modern imperialism, such that these days I sarcastically remark that the major marketing slogan for the West has become "The best patriarchy for women!" Any implication of "progress" in general thus worries me....) So there is indeed an exploration of new worlds here, but still with a sense of building to climaxes & release. And obviously a basic musical arc of this sort can't help but suggest sexual release per se (as it long has...), even as the result is sometimes more of a falling apart or a coming unwound.... (Note e.g. that the new Polwechsel vinyl survey, Embrace, specifically eschews a climax-release dynamic, including per its included discussion.... So that long-running, compositional-improvisation group marks a sort of polar opposite.) Clamor thus continues to suggest various senses of building — along with its senses of change (& even of decay).

30 October 2023

Of course musicians playing bowed strings are regular contributors to many improvisation outings these days, especially prolifically in Portugal around Ernesto Rodrigues — branching out there variously as well, with e.g. bassist João Madeira (& I've yet to see a real bio...) suddenly becoming one of Rodrigues' most frequent & dynamic colleagues over the past couple of years (including e.g. for their most recent album together, Dripping with Dirk Serries & José Oliveira, apparently inspired by the physical process itself, i.e. not unusually for projects involving Madeira...). Madeira has created a label (4DaRecord, with physical CDs) as well, and he's already released some intriguing material there, including from younger musicians (& not always including himself). But here I want to feature the soon-to-be-released trio album Open in Finder — with flautist Carlos Bechegas (b.1957) & cellist Ulrich Mitzlaff. So as it happened, the latter had only just appeared in this space with ZARM (i.e. another Portuguese string ensemble, arising from the pre-Rodrigues generation with Carlos Zingaro...) & Duot with Strings in a review last month.... But "Bechegas" (his name quoted in the credits here, not unlike "Zingaro" at times, although I don't know the rest...) was basically new to me, despite that he's apparently been around the improvisation scene for decades, his first prominent album being Open Secrets with Peter Kowald (while mostly releasing duos with bassists from that era...). There's a lengthy intervening interval with no releases, however, interrupted first (& only this year) by another trio album with strings, Secrets under Trees with both Rodrigueses — recorded in Germany in June 2023, but released last month prior to Open in Finder, itself recorded the month prior in Lisbon, both live... — featuring naturalistic concerns & inspirations around flute & strings textures, a counterpoint of overlapping lines & ongoing continuities, pushing forward virtuosically into exotic spectra & especially around outdoorsy evocations. (And I should note that the first "Carlos Bechegas Trio" release from Leo Labs in 1997 was with both Rodrigues & Oliveira! Bechegas employed electronics there as well, as opposed to these later acoustic albums....) There's also a wonderful ability not only to propel forward, but to slow time as well displayed on Secrets under Trees, an album title that also differs from most others from Bechegas in not beginning with "Open..." (& yet nonetheless returns to Open Secrets as touchstone...). So Open in Finder displays those qualities as well, with the strings shifted a range lower, and worked into more of a four-movement quasi-symphonic form, i.e. offering more (in number) expressive arcs than provided by the long-short ("tone poem") format of Secrets under Trees.... And a general sense of openness does seem to underlie Open in Finder too, from its mysteriously evolving start coming to include various string harmonics (sounding almost electronic at times...), and through a series of solo expressions that seem then to be extended by others, again often in overlapping lines, sometimes thinning textures, but also into a more bustling polyphony (or even e.g. quasi-unison glissandi...) at times. The virtuosic solo emphasis can sometimes recall Robert Dick too & e.g. his tour-de-force trio album Solar Wind, especially early in both interactions, there using a "variant" string instrument, while flute expression per se here might be compared also to Camilo Ángeles (e.g. in trio on Aqrabuamelu per a November 2022 review, or in duo with cello — an instrument central to both recent Bechegas albums — on El Espesor del Sueño, as noted subsequently here in a review of Vol. II this past April...). And although there're other examples, including from composed music, this combination still seems underexplored to me.... An emphasis on continuity-through-change remains tangible for Open in Finder as well then, including through a subtly rich & evolving pointillism that comes to animate (& involute) the long second movement, there indeed yielding a pastoral vibe, but with urban invocations elsewhere, including through & into nocturnal scenes (among a series of extended & adventurous textures...), naturalistic at times (once again...), but coming to suggest a more human-centered dynamic & perspective overall. Echoes of dance consequently arise & evolve too (perhaps figuring human animation per se...). The result is then multi-faceted, a social statement, and apparently a return to music production for Bechegas, seeming to end in a question....

8 November 2023

Returning next to a classic format, Puna — recorded in a Berlin studio in January 2021 — is actually the first release from a "guitar trio" consisting of Olaf Rupp, Meinrad Kneer & Rudi Fischerlehner. And guitarist Rupp has been something of a fixture here, most recently with the quasi-shamanic Myotis Myotis duo (reviewed November 2022), but e.g. regularly with Ernesto Rodrigues (e.g. around RRR, as first discussed in August 2018...), and back all the way to an entry from late 2011.... The other two are hardly unknowns, Fischerlehner most recently appearing here with the (also relatively traditional) trombone trio Der Dritte Stand (reviewed July 2022), and Kneer e.g. playing a "connecting" role on longtime favorite Colophony (from 2013).... Of course, Rupp & Fischerlehner have a long-running duo, Xenofox (whose most recent album The Garden Was Empty was recorded in May 2022, but released already in February this year... indeed showing the aftereffects of Puna), but that connection was strangely omitted from the release notes from Vienna's Klanggalerie. The latter also seems to be one of the few labels prominent in this space to mostly be eschewing download or streaming releases (per e.g. Skein's Spectra & Affrays, as noted here in a January 2023 review — or apparently Density Dots from a new Dirk Serries quintet, about to appear...), but then not for Puna — for unknown reasons! Beyond this point of confusion though, Klanggalerie seems to be undertaking more releases in this particular arena (amid their large catalog...), albeit generally in more "classic" guises than some other freely adventurous labels.... And Puna does have something of a classic quality, given its instrumentation, as well as what seems to be a desire from the trio to make a "statement" release — again (per the previous entry) suggesting something of symphonic form, with more gestural-procedural (& rock-ish) inner movements, but more varied (& pointillistic) textures in the more extended & balanced outer movements.... Per Xenofox then, which can almost be succinct via their long experience together, there're echoes of rock music to be found here, especially explicitly to open the third track, but often more subsumed (if already irrupting by the end of the long first track...), particularly within those outer movements, where clattering metallic percussion often pairs with throbbing pizzicato bass — & pace recent entries featuring improvising strings, it's more often a "jazz bass" from Kneer here — guitar often being in (ringing) plucking-percussive mode itself.... (A variety of bent tones is employed across the ensemble, plus e.g. hand drums & a big bass drum from early on....) Given Rupp's methods around figural clusters in spectral-harmonic motion & Fischerlehner's often rock-infused drumming then, there's also considerable energy coursing through Puna, yielding quite fast (& detailed) passagework at times, such that my main comparison has to be with the massive Ewen / Smith / Walter (II)... both albums suggesting more than a hint of punk, as well as involving long-term collaborations. (Or maybe I should note Minus X, the Xenakis double tribute album from guitarists Sharp & Kaiser, reviewed here in June: There's certainly no shortage of activity there either!) So there's a tremendous degree of simultaneous motion across the four movements of Puna, although varying in its orientations & intensities (including via a more mellow, yet echoing, vibe at times...), thus forging a sort of thorny musical jungle (of various allusions)... as a broad working-through of (quasi-jazz? & beyond...) guitar trio textures.

10 November 2023

Although it seems as though I only just reviewed vibraphonist Sergio Armaroli's Windows & Mirrors | Milano Dialogues (last December...), it also seems that there's more to say: I recently cited his basic sound world again in a review of Harri Sjöström's Due Mutabili (in September), and then finally took note of the "About Cage" series he curates for Da Vinci Classics (consequently updating my Number Pieces discussion last week...). And then Armaroli & colleagues continued to release albums from the same Windows & Mirrors sessions from April 2022: First there was More Windows & Small Mirrors | Milano Dialogues, part two (released this past February), involving the same quartet with Giancarlo Schiaffini & Veli Kujala, but more often in reduced formations (i.e. almost as an appendix to the prior quartet-focused album...). Now there's the generically named More Duos And Trios, released last month also on Leo Records, and recently appearing on streaming outlets: The title obviously references one of the earlier Armaroli recordings for Leo, Duos & Trios (released in 2020, as noted in my December 2022 review...), and does involve again that prior trio (i.e. without Kujala on accordion). And although the title sounds almost like an afterthought, More Duos And Trios ends up being the tightest release yet from this project! Whereas the first Duos & Trios seemed to be largely about integrating Sjöström into Armaroli's musical world (i.e. alongside Schiaffini, who appears e.g. on the Cage series, as well as with Armaroli for some of the releases in another extensive series, that one "jazzier" on the Italian Dodicilune label...), Windows & Mirrors | Milano Dialogues had then involved integrating Kujala, and ends up involving some relatively empty landscapes, spacious & hovering at times, also exploratory.... (Schiaffini on trombone had appeared as well on the other Armaroli quartet album that I reviewed in the interim, I Dream I Was An Earopean, recorded later in April 2022 with vocalist Phil Minton....) But More Duos And Trios is a second outing for the core trio, and usually ends up in strongly three-way interactions, i.e. exploring its basic reed & brass & vibes setup via increasingly sophisticated ensemble articulations.... Indeed it comes to recall In Search of Surprise (reviewed here in November 2021) from Udo Schindler & Etienne Rolin on horns, there contextualized by "adding" vibes at times (pace their duo followup, Plastic Narratives as mentioned in another February review...), generally punchier & more angular as well — as one of many prescient textural studies from Schindler. More Duos And Trios also continues to imply a sense of being "studies" then, i.e. with no real theme otherwise, various restarts for the tracks, simply coming to an end in time... but there're plenty of other recent explorations of this general sound world, lending a sense of centrality to Armaroli's work: When discussing both Windows & Mirrors & In Search of Surprise I'd noted the textural-structural similarities to Anthony Braxton's DCWM, i.e. two "horns" with worlds split-articulated across shimmering electronics — now for others, substituting shimmering vibes (possibly along with accordion, subsequently embraced by Braxton as well for ZIM...), with the basic resulting textures being increasingly interrogated across various musical contexts. Indeed, not only has Evan Parker been exploring similar combos (including with Armaroli himself, as previously noted...), but e.g. Steve Lehman & Ivo Perelman just released large ensemble albums augmenting a similar basic trio with vibraphone (although with trumpet, i.e. brass in higher register), respectively Ex Machina (with "orchestra," including electronics...) & Seven Skies Orchestra (with string trio). Perelman enjoyed the combo so much that he subsequently recorded the focused duo Tuning Forks with Matt Moran (as released in September), seemingly turning more toward spectral approaches around ringing metal.... But one thing those efforts do have in common, including from Braxton (who offers some different configurations as well...), is that they're driven by a reed player (including sometimes Sjöström...). With Armaroli though, it's more as if the "computer" (or continuo...) background is leading, so there's a different sense of structure, of articulating extended (temporal) tapestries.... (And these are also very long albums, most well over an hour, meaning that there's no shortage of ideas either.) More Duos And Trios is also, perhaps, the final release for Leo Records, an institution in this space. (It comes alongside the appealing Density For Solo Vibraphone(s), much less discrete in its rhythmic-dynamic articulations, making a round number of 10 releases for Leo by Armaroli....) And I'd already mentioned in the first Armaroli review how changes to commercial regulations left Leo unable to ship product to the US, and I guess he doesn't want to shift to more of an online context now, although as noted, his recent albums do appear at least on Qobuz.... That's unfortunate, but new music does continue.... And indeed Armaroli becomes one of the most prolific builders of what seems to be an important (technical, acoustic) sound world for the 2020s — so when does this "study" work yield more of an artistic statement per se? Armaroli's solo work may already be there, but that's not really my focus....

13 November 2023

Continuing a sort of textural nexus explored in this space of late, as well as reprising an ensemble from an already noted album, in this case moving to the more singular title Archangel — itself recorded in September 2022 — from the more generic (but detailed...) Music for Two Organs & Two Bass Clarinets (as reviewed here in May 2018), Thanos Chrysakis returns alongside historical organist Peer Schlechta & their respective colleagues on low-range clarinets, Chris Cundy & Ove Volquartz. This is the first post-pandemic, improvised album from Chrysakis (here credited on chamber organ & voice — the latter subtly on only one track...) & his Aural Terrains label then, e.g. after most recently Five Shards (recorded in 2019 & reviewed here in August 2021, as a "garden of horns cultivated by Chrysakis," i.e. with more timbral variety — & likewise more dynamic instability — than his usual deep reed focus lately...), but also after Music for Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinets & Electronics (also recorded in 2017, i.e. not long after Music for Two Organs & Two Bass Clarinets...). And while Archangel shows considerable development from the quartet's first album, becoming both more intricate & more immersive, it does retain a jazzier quality at times, particularly from the reeds, which are after all played by different musicians from those on Music for Baritone... — the latter with its close (textural) emphasis on reed grains, yielding a sort of overall (non-jazzy) smoothness.... It also turns out that Schlechta & Volquartz had only recently released another quartet album together, Cadenza del Crepusculo (recorded in November 2021, so prior to Archangel...) with John Hughes (bass — & actually a bassist on the enigmatic Pail Bug, discussed here at length in March 2012...) & Gianni Mimmo (soprano sax). Of course, the latter had only just appeared in this space with Due Mutabili (reviewed back in September), also released on his Amirani Records. One of the more striking aspects of Archangel, relative to the quartet's first album, is then its pairing of high pitches with the big organ bass (forging an immersive atmosphere overall, against which the clarinets exchange calls & sometimes jazzy lines between...), but Cadenza del Crepusculo (like the earlier quartet with Schlechta...) emphasizes more of the bass in general, i.e. from the pedals up, a growling flow, often seeming low & anticipatory.... I also saw the result described as "medieval" elsewhere, so need to add that Schlechta's specialty is early Baroque organs, i.e. historically tuned in versions of mean-tone yielding to well-temperaments, so very different from Pythagorean tuning with its ringing perfect fifths. (Mean-tone is almost exactly the opposite, whereas 12tet is very close to 3:2 fifths again....) And I can't really pick out the precise tuning on Archangel, but there appears to be a historical temperament at work, which actually contributes to the feeling of "immersion" involved (as buoyed by the chamber organ, presumably a synthesizer with variable tunings, "framing" the acoustic space with high pitches...). So besides the more idiomatic expression from the reed players, that's a key difference from Music for Baritone..., the latter invoking (relatively speaking) a sort of smoothness that relies (apparently) on 12tet. (Among favorites here, Sitsa may be the most similar in terms of combining organ to frame space, there with an eerie sheering quality, plenty of suspension, but also yielding a "smooth" feel overall....) So that aspect suggests a comparison with Werckmeister Musik (recorded in 2019) & its specific Baroque tuning (& synth sometimes sounding like organ...), there also yielding an immersive sense of flowing waves.... (The "bent" feel of the unequal temperament thus suggests a kind of envelopment — i.e. forges a territory via its internal contradiction.) Like Sitsa though, Werckmeister Musik suggests a rather more "industrial" context, i.e. versus the clear (evocation of a) church organ on Archangel. The latter aspect can be found interrogated by e.g. Tuning Out as well, but with the historical tuning further problematized (i.e. used differently from intended...) & rendered more often into pointillistic interactions. So that differs from the typically flowing (albeit with some clashes & stoppages...) & immersive quality of Archangel, itself seeming to take up various textural currents, especially (if indirectly...) from Anthony Braxton & DCWM, specifically here with the organ pair (versus e.g. vibraphone, or vibraphone plus accordion, pace the previous entry...) forging a similar sort of shimmering-glittering background tapestry, sometimes with clarinets blending more into the texture then, but more often in relief or recitative, i.e. projecting a sort of rhetorical-jazzy horn interaction as framed by various held tones, low & high. And Braxton does project a jazziness from his horns often enough as well, so that aspect is similar — even as I prefer the more "integrated" passages on Archangel: The big opening organ entry is dramatic, soon into senses of falling (as tuning is subtly implicated...), clarinets cautious at first, eventually coming more to the fore.... (And for the final track, Cundy turns to ocarina instead, adding another interrogation of the highs, yielding some differing textures, provocative again, but still relatively preliminary....) There's thus almost a sense that church music is yielding to jazz. (And of course this sort of fusion was already accomplished differently in the 20th century via gospel, i.e. with the organ-guitar trio....) But Archangel is also long (more than an hour... & available as well from Cundy's Bandcamp), and while it's certainly more sophisticated than the interaction on Music for Two Organs & Two Bass Clarinets (from five & a half years prior... itself still with e.g. "jazzy chords" from chamber organ...), there're still plenty of passages that seem to be routine continuations or more tentative ongoing explorations.... So will the quartet be ready for more in another five years? Or maybe this basic combination will be coming back sooner? There's enough to Archangel that one can really hear the potential (particularly given e.g. the spatial possibilities raised).

21 November 2023

Moving in a different & more traditional horn & drums direction, albeit less traditional with flute (again), while also reprising an earlier formation, The House On The Hill (recorded only this past June & recently released by Shrike Records) is at least the third album from a trio of Adrian Northover (soprano sax), Marcello Magliocchi (drums & percussion) & Bruno Gussoni (flutes): I'd included their first (to my knowledge...), The Sea Of Frogs (recorded in 2019 & released by Plus Timbre) in a double review around Northover, together with Xoo (with guitarist Daniel Thompson, an album around which I'd eventually start to foreground critical language around zoomimesis...), and it maintains more the dynamic of a horn & drums duo (also with some actual duo tracks...), doubled up sometimes. That's not so unlike the way that Runcible Quintet started off functioning as a double trio around Magliocchi — with Runcible (also with Northover) as an obvious reference point, their most recent album Three (recorded in 2019) having been reviewed here in May 2020.... That's with flautist Neil Metcalfe (whose participation on the recently released, but also recorded in 2019, Hunt at the Brook Again & with Neil Metcalfe not only reconnects him with Thompson, but embraces a similar sort of pointillism as opens The House On The Hill....), with the developing trio texture of Gussoni (b.1951) instead joining Northover & Magliocchi suggesting developments from Runcible nonetheless: Textures are more pared down here, i.e. without strings, so more airy, particularly for the trio's second album A Castle of Ghosts (recorded & released in 2022, also on Plus Timbre), there moving already into the world of post-pandemic recordings via a relatively open & atmospheric format... slowly building, but also de-tensioning at times. And then The House On The Hill opens with more incisive rhythmic emphasis, quickly pointillistic, seemingly more ambitious (than e.g. the solo "world music" flute opening A Castle of Ghosts...), but also moving more into flowing lines & (still airy) vertical textures at times, a sense of haunting indeed continuing to suggest itself.... And Gussoni is increasingly integrated into the proceedings by this point, yielding a distinctive (but subtle...) collective trio sound that nonetheless proceeds into areas of more extended techniques for some tracks, still retaining a sense of overall coherence across the variously evocative titles. (Of course flute has been a specific attraction here, so The House On The Hill suggests a comparison with the recent Open in Finder from Carlos Bechegas et al., as reviewed earlier this month — there with strings, and so embracing a completely different technology from this more "primitivist" trio recording in Italy....) So there's a sense of physical acoustics increasingly coming to the fore here, less zoomimesis or animalistic (or humanistic...) aspects of "anthropology music" per se, but more a sense of space or structure, e.g. a corrugated metal shanty rattling in the wind... a sort of detailed & impressionistic mix of shading & varying dynamism, closely attended. And Gussoni has been active since the 1960s (including e.g. with Peter Kowald, per his resume, pace the recent Bechegas discussion...), but this seems to be his most prominent release so far this millennium: The House On The Hill ends up evoking (non-idiomatic) "world music" then, and in a rather gritty & (e.g. physically) material way. The trio thus further develops a style projecting the beauty of everyday (& mostly outdoor) sounds.

22 November 2023

Animals & Giraffes @ Medicine for Nightmares is then also the third album from the (extended) duo, released this week on Phillip Greenlief's Evander Music (& Bandcamp). And as opposed to the obvious comparison here, 13 Asperities from Gabriele Guenther & Trokaan Project (released in 2020), which involved mostly an established group of instrumentalists who also set a general tone (as well as continuity...) from the start, Animals & Giraffes continues to be very centered on poet & speaker Claudia La Rocco. This remains just as true of @ Medicine for Nightmares — recorded in San Francisco in September 2022 — even though a variety of other performers is involved, including others on backing vocals (& e.g. electronics). The latter aren't really textual though, per La Rocco's matter-of-fact quick turn of phrase style, but rather join the instrumentalists (including oboe & bass) in coloring the various intervening passages, almost as a series of little vignettes. Hence the long-range "continuity" is left to La Rocco, whose musical unmusicality (or at least unpitched-ness) is felt in cyclic returns of various textual snippets, forging a surreal atmosphere of overlapping déjà vu over two masterfully woven (mostly separate) sets. The result is highly potent, even dizzying, despite the superficial blandness — even if the musical parts wouldn't really make for an album by themselves (although they feature some quite extended textures in some moments... without development). Despite the varying instrumental or vocal forces at various points then (with Greenlief as ongoing partner...), @ Medicine for Nightmares is also La Rocco's most traditional album in terms of presentation: The first from Animals & Giraffes, July (released in 2017 on Edgetone Records) prominently included her conducting an interview, while the second, Landlocked Beach (reviewed here in April 2018) included live radio callers (to whom she responds capriciously): That bizarre album, released by Creative Sources, is also rather long (& edited from a much longer radio program...), including Jon Leidecker (on electronics) as third member. I thought at the time that some of the looping might have been from electronics, but it certainly seems at this point to be from La Rocco herself (& July had already involved a variety of instrumentalists for the different tracks as well). Per Greenlief then (who describes himself as working on the post-jazz continuum, a description I enjoy... & who likely has plenty to do with the time concepts here as well), @ Medicine for Nightmares — & I'd suggest hearing the two sets one at a time — involves "other worldly electro-acoustic textures and a theater of voices," and a good deal of that is transformational or liminal material around La Rocco, adding to the spinning senses of intersecting time. (The additional performers include Kyle Bruckmann, who's appeared in this space already — along with newcomers Alexandra Buschman Roman & Adriana Camacho Torres.) So these recitals do continue to feel affectively transformative to me, but not in a straightforward direction: La Rocco seems to capture (with deceptive flatness — or actuality, that is...) some sort of tangible post-post- (transverse, becoming minor...) vibe that's amplified along the way via held tones & little splashes of color from her musician colleagues.

24 November 2023

Jack Wright (b.1942) has been one of the seminal free improvisors in the US, particularly as a sax player. And in recent years, while he's still touring live, Wright has mainly (or even exclusively?) been performing & recording with a relatively small group of younger initiates. Both continued with his latest trio album Yaw, recorded in Mississippi during a July 2022 tour by his trio Wrest, featuring Evan Lipson & Ben Bennett. Based upon many hours of musical explorations together then, Wrest develops a unique & personal collective style, building considerably since their previous album Ingress (collected from three different tour dates in 2014...). Wrest is also a "classic sax trio" by configuration, so confronts a considerable tradition with novel textures & dynamic means for interacting. But as far as context, there're actually three musicians circling Wright these days (with guitarist Zach Darrup), so there're actually three different corresponding trios (all named!): Never, with Bennett & Darrup released Never (as reviewed here that September) in 2019, also on Bennett's Palliative Records, and then Not Nothing (also recorded in 2019, live in Chicago), there with some twang from the electric guitar (versus the acoustic trio Wrest). And Roughhousing, with Darrup & Lipson, released a trio (recorded live in Tennessee) on You Haven't Heard This (reviewed here in March 2017), itself arriving alongside Wright's book The Free Musics. Finally, there's a fourth trio minus Wright himself, Virtual Balboa, which released Petrichor (as a quartet, adding trumpet, as reviewed here in November 2021) on Creative Sources. There're also various duos, an especially notable recent example in this context being Augur from Wright & Bennett (made in studio a month after Yaw, August 2022), a lengthy & relatively stark album, very closely recorded.... (Percussionist Bennett is surely the most visible member of this cohort otherwise.) However, Wright has yet to record with the full quartet — pace e.g. The Unrepeatable Quartet (released back in 2013, from a different group). But he does have a new solo album, What is What on Relative Pitch, recorded in March 2023 — also apparently originally set to include material from July 2022 as well. (Wright's solo style is highly conversational, i.e. as if he's talking to himself, complete with alternations etc....) And bassist Lipson has probably been the least visible of these performers since You Haven't Heard This, but did release a "statement" solo album earlier this year too, Echo Chamber on Public Eyesore, exploring a dark acoustic space.... A sense of "acoustics" does shine through on Yaw then, as well as various percussive qualities arising from all three musicians (as Lipson had demonstrated extensively in solo as well...), combined with various extended howls & calls — a broad zoomimesis invoking amphibians & insects too... — so as to produce an active (& highly biological, but also e.g. with a train...) sense of outdoor landscape. Wright has long opined that the Southeast is "the best" part of the US for free improvisation (i.e. for audiences being open to the musical unknown...), and he captures here a considerable swath of its "natural" (sometimes eerie...) sounds. As the comment might suggest as well, his music sounds relatively unlike e.g. English efforts (including those that might otherwise be described similarly...) & indeed the "urban elite" musics in general. There's always a sense of pushing or stretching in all directions, a thirst for new (collective) sounds & how to articulate them together in a new way, but also a sort of swampy earthiness. (The living landscape starts to converse with itself: This seems very North American to me, in part contrasting with the fire & sky of jazz....) And Lipson's emergence contributes considerably to the overall impression here, particularly in tackling the "sax trio" format per se: I do take the "classic" combos seriously, i.e. the history that they have, and so this release brings a little extra gravity (pace Wright trio releases in general, which are always an event...), even as the result isn't bound by traditional idiom. So for further context, I last reviewed two sax trio albums in July, Nail in Ulrichsberg (with Michel Doneda) & Here and How (with John Butcher), and then if one can accept cello (for bass), since flipping this page, there's been Flight Rvw2349 (with Georg Wissel).... And as with most Wright releases, one of course wonders what one isn't hearing, Yaw having been selected for release from a concert tour: After various intense sequences, it also ends quietly, i.e. suggesting a lingering buzz of insects, such that I usually find myself wishing there was more....

6 December 2023

Turning to another horn trio, this time (again) around clarinet: Guillermo Gregorio (b.1941, originally from Argentina) has been active for decades too, including various earlier releases with which I have only limited familiarity. And although it wasn't his first mention here, Gregorio was actually featured in Jeff Shurdut's Kitchen Music Live Off-Broadway (that I helped produce, and then discussed extensively here in August 2015...), prompted in part by his past interactions with Fluxus: Jeff hasn't been putting music before the public lately, but that relation does continue to evoke the visual arts, around which Clifford Allen also orients his liner note comments for The Cold Arrow, Gregorio's latest album — recorded in the St. Louis area in September 2022, with Damon Smith & Jerome Bryerton (as released on Smith's Balance Point Acoustics). Allen specifically cites constructivism, and as a one-time mathematician, I might suggest the field of projective geometry, "planar effect" being an operative notion here, per track titles. And The Cold Arrow is not the first (recent) release by this trio either, with Room of the Present having appeared on Sluchaj in 2021, although recorded back in Chicago in 2007 & 2008.... Both programs are based around Gregorio compositions, but most of the music is improvised, and for that earlier album, Bryerton (whom I hadn't mentioned here, but who's appeared multiple times alongside Smith, himself of course increasingly a pillar of US improv...) includes some big drums, whereas the credits for The Cold Arrow state clearly that no drums were used — it's all metal, gongs & cymbals, etc. So the style becomes more austere. And that austerity is often articulated more in shifting resonances & slower textures (after e.g. a shrill & aggressive opening... as if already in the middle of something), not really in varieties of pointillism, e.g. per Smith's "other" clarinet trio (with Jason Stein), as cited here in a review (from February 2022) of their Volumes & Surfaces. (In fact, that was my previous discussion of clarinet trios in general, a format for which Smith is suddenly at the center here... that same later trio having also just released Hum, a live followup recorded in 2022.) The trio's dynamism & level of intensity seems to shift often & seamlessly then... indeed with a sense that some "larger" structure is being projected onto the linear-temporal space. This sort of "surfaces" (pace Smith's other trio...) approach would seem to be typical of Gregorio then, who also just happened to release Two Trios on ESP-Disk' as well — both pre-pandemic performances, the first with his long-running Chicago trio (with cello & vibraphone), mostly from before my time here... but also anticipating some horn & vibes (& related) interactions that I've been discussing in this space lately. And although there're some pricklier passages coming & going on both albums, there's also a sense of linear (yet angular) melody usually maintained by Gregorio (pace e.g. tuneful reedists such as Schindler & Perelman...). The result can be mysteriously affective, generally in bold strokes suddenly at different angles (mostly calm... often rhetorically flat), various blocks of (ritualistic) stasis suddenly yielding to something more animated & forward moving again... which somehow progresses to a new stasis. Much of this continues to suggest late 20th century high modernism to me, with the style becoming more starkly contoured & refined (but not minimalistic).

8 December 2023

Back in December 2017, I reviewed The Core-Tet Project featuring classical percussionist Evelyn Glennie as part of an improvising quartet: The project intrigued me not only because of Glennie herself — someone with a personal approach to hearing, and someone with a huge reputation as a percussion soloist in classical circles... — but also because it was released on a big classical label (Naxos), along with notes seeking to position it within contemporary classical developments. It doesn't seem the album made much of a splash in the classical community, where contemporary music of any sort remains an uphill battle..., but Glennie has now returned with another album alongside violist Szilárd Mezei — already part of the quartet on The Core-Tet Project — & his Polar Quartet (a more jazz-inspired group...): Capt's Look was recorded in Serbia in October 2022 (& just released on Warsaw's Sluchaj), and whereas The Core-Tet Project begins with the novel & aggressive texture of classical guitar & piano alongside pizzicato viola & percussion (eventually moving more into e.g. quasi-romantic viola & piano sonata textures...), Mezei's Polar Quartet includes another percussionist (Ivan Burka, mainly on vibes?), plus reed (Bogdan Rankovic, mostly on clarinet) & double bass (Ervin Malina). The result, at least from my perspective, is then a more open & flexible texture overall (i.e. without the chordal instrument, pace the vibes perhaps, & e.g. per Threadgill's classic Air...), allowing Glennie's orchestral feel more play over the course of its extended tapestry (plus a shorter "encore").... Of course, beyond being the most familiar name in this space from The Core-Tet Project, Mezei continues to release various albums, although more often lately with composed (or at least thematic) programs: I first encountered him with (the improvised) In Just around Martin Blume (first discussed here in January 2012...), but I'm nonetheless unfamiliar with this Polar Quartet. (I suppose it must be related to Mezei's septet recording from 2013, Polar released on Not Two, but the only other musician in common is Rankovic....) In any case, while The Core-Tet Project was intriguing, besides its frequent reliance on traditional chordal structures, it also came off as more a series of vignettes or studies. Capt's Look is much more unified in its sweep, although it does pass through distinctive stylistic domains (e.g. jungle to traffic or noir...), not unlike the sorts of travelogue or passing fusion articulations that've already been typical in this space.... There's certainly a sense of anticipation, even theatricality, to open, atmospheric senses being cultivated throughout (including a little jazzier now with horn & bass...), thinning or lingering for impact at times.... But this is still a process around Glennie (repeating from earlier post-jazz improv histories, perhaps...), and if anything, I'd say she could still be more assertive (although a sense of flow does develop at times here...), while Capt's Look seems to be another step in a general project that will (hopefully) continue....

11 December 2023

Classical music continues to be a significant fount for collaborations in this space, particularly for string groups, including various projects around Ernesto Rodrigues. Those (more often arco) string articulations can involve a variety of novel pairings as well (including with non-strings...), but what I've taken to calling the "jazz string quartet" (with double bass instead of a second violin) seems to be becoming an ongoing format (for a variety of musicians...). And it's been specifically ongoing for Berlin-Lisbon quartet Dis/con/sent (Dietrich Petzold, Ernesto & Guilherme Rodrigues & Matthias Bauer), now releasing its fifth album on Creative Sources, München (recorded there live this past June): While the program presents two substantial four-movement "string quartets" (complete with opus number being the recording date...), indeed suggesting a classical format, the brief accompanying materials emphasize the live & unedited (& uncut) nature of the performance. There's also a sort of aggressiveness (or at least novelty...) built into the sound of Dis/con/sent — whose first album was reviewed here in October 2018 — via extended technique, with Petzold especially bringing "bowed metal" (& clavichord & tenor violin here) & sometimes vocalizations, but those qualities (despite some solos...) are also increasingly bound to the flow of the quartet as a whole. Technique becomes in service to an overall sense of abstraction (per the post-Bartók quartet world...), i.e. to a classical sense of scope & form. (So this differs from e.g. more "anthropological" productions involving zoomimesis, etc. Rather there's a focus on new, but coherent ensemble textures around four string instruments — with various other inspirations being more subsumed.) And so München does follow a line of development for this quartet, the "digital" release Kühlspot Social Club (noted here in a December 2018 discussion around Ljubljana, that album being from the trio here minus bass...) appearing on the heels of Dis/con/sent, with Ulrichsberg (as mentioned in another mini-survey of string quartets involving Rodrigues around Fantasy Eight in August 2021...) & Kompositionen (as noted briefly for its turn to graphic scores in a different October 2022 review...) both being recorded in 2021. The trio with Petzold & the two Rodrigueses hasn't recorded since Ljubljana (May 2018), but had already released Sacred Noise (a double album, recorded in 2016) & Der Sturm (digital, 2017) as well.... (And then the first mention of Petzold here was actually with the quartet album Crane Cries in April 2018 — with the conventional two violins, so unusual for this space — while the most recent specific mention was with yet another "jazz" string quartet, again with the same underlying trio, but with Jan Roder on bass, Get your own picture reviewed in January 2020.... And for Bauer, the most recent mention was with the "trombone trio" Der Dritte Stand in July 2022....) That's a lot to relate (while still only mentioning strings albums, until the last that is...). But München does show considerable development around this format, especially via its more abstract collective idiom, presenting two instant compositions that would sustain LP-length albums by themselves. (One might then press a contrast with Lisbon String Trio, another long-running Rodrigues group, but crucially featuring guests — as well as often more of a world vibe, pace jazz per se, largely excised from Dis/con/sent at this point....) The result then involves variations in intensities, some scuffling in some moments, but also soaring passages of extended four-way flow, including via novel combos of harmonics, pizzicato, etc. (Varieties of harmonics are particularly creative at times....) Dramatic to open, continuing to glimpse broad vistas, München thus reaches for symphonic senses of abstraction & "completeness," i.e. for the world of the post-Beethoven string quartet (far more than it does for classic jazz...). And while it also involves some slack, it does mostly arrive: Regarding the "instant" part, there's far more expressivity & flow here than e.g. a typical classical quartet trying to work through a novel, through-composed score....

15 December 2023

DIY synth artist Jean-Marc Foussat seemed to be finding a new level for his own musical expression (beyond the considerable work he's done to illuminate others'...) heading into the pandemic, particularly with the trio Présent Manifeste (with Evan Parker & Daunik Lazro) from double album Cafe Oto Wed 22 Jan (2020), as reviewed here that same July. Since then he did also release e.g. another trio album with classic European improvisors (Carlos Zingaro & Urs Leimgruber), l'Aile d'Icare recorded back in 2019, (also) featuring some great (textural) moments.... There've been duo albums too, reaching out to relatively unknown musicians, including most of Foussat's latest quartet of releases (e.g. on his Bandcamp), i.e. those with Anne Foucher, Jean-Jacques Duerinckx & Guy-Frank Pellerin: While also yielding intriguing passages, Foucher's violin is already electrified, and Duerinckx's sax sounds pass through Foussat's processing, but Pellerin's saxes (on Les Beaux Jours, a very long album also with naturalistic implications...) are less mediated, usually involving a more separate-acoustic sound. And that's true as well for their trio album adding Eugenio Sanna (electric guitar & effects), Escale recorded in Italy in July 2023 (a few months after the duo...), where the trio interaction also seems to open up over the duo(s), further forging its own sense of space.... There're various allusions too, even some deconstructed rock guitar (per various senses of nostalgia perhaps...), but also a generally immersive & world-making atmosphere of various twists & turns. The outdoorsy (but still occasionally spacey! ... beyond being spatial) vibe of these albums also recalls a previous trio with Pellerin & Sanna, Water Reflections on FMR (with violinist Matthias Boss, recorded in 2019) as reviewed here in July 2021: Foussat with his elaborate electronic (& vocal...) setup provides a wide range of provocations & responses within a similar (environmental, indeed sometimes watery...) frame on Escale. And despite the pastoral evocations, there's a gritty intensity developing at times as well (including via a sort of three-way pointillism...).

20 December 2023

I'm returning to share some thoughts here after what seems like a longer than usual year-end interval (during which I've also had more than the usual personal business, ongoing...), centered on Italian trombonist Carlo Mascolo, who first appeared in this space on Intonarumori with Lisbon String Trio (reviewed in an extended series back in August 2017...), then most recently with the quartet (with voice) "4!" & its album Factorial (also on Creative Sources, reviewed in October 2018), i.e. within a relatively narrow time interval a few years back. And that timeframe does seem to have been particularly significant for Mascolo, since the (trio) albums he subsequently released on FMR in '21 (Cinestesia with João Madeira & Felice Furioso, the latter also drummer for 4!) & '22 (Bridge In The Dark with MMM trio, Miguel Mira & Marcello Magliocchi) were also recorded in '17 & '18 respectively. So that may be the era as well for his most recent (continuing on FMR...) release Vuoto Bersagli, noted only (also) as recorded in Monopoli.... Vuoto Bersagli is then a rather short album (i.e. under half an hour), but more "out there" than the previous (also relatively preliminary...) "trombone trio" formats (thus becoming relatively concentrated...), including two musicians with whom I was otherwise mostly unfamiliar, Giacomo Mongelli (drums, objects) & Pino Montecalvo (trombone, toy junk). Mascolo is also credited specifically with "no-input trombone," and I don't know what that means exactly... he's used various preparations (e.g. tubes) in the past. (Maybe it relates to the "empty" of the title?) There're apparently some electronics involved here too though, seemingly beyond "toys." (I hadn't noticed previously, but it turns out that all these albums are also available on Bandcamp from Altamura's Muzic Plus association.... Otherwise, FMR seems to be one of the few physical-only labels left in this space!) In any case, sound is often rather transformed, but there's an atmosphere of ritual austerity projected (by many of the eight short tracks...) too, almost even a folksy quality at times. Yet this is also (usually) quite extended technique, perhaps evocative — in a couple of directions — of e.g. Sawt Out (with its two percussionists & trumpet lineup), most recently reviewed here with Black Current (this past July), or else duo Beam Splitter & their most recent release Split Jaw (reviewed in March). Of course the latter (also) features voice (along with trombone), and there ends up being a surprising amount of vocalizing (including in chorus) on Vuoto Bersagli too. (Accordingly, its mood can shift between raucous activity & austerity.) There's also a specific method cited (for Vuoto Bersagli, but already e.g. for Bridge In The Dark...), "Blind Instant Composition" where "all musicians play together but no one can see each other." So is this a new outing, or are we taken back (yet again) to the pre-pandemic days? I can't really tell, but the result is a distinctive articulation of "extended trombone" — a trio sometimes sounding as one composite (or complementary) instrument, while evolving various novel (collective) textures, finally into (timbrally modified, seeming reedy somehow...) calls.

10 January 2024

Andrea Centazzo (b.1948; percussionist from Italy, living in Southern California for thirty years...) has deep roots in European improvisation, but I hadn't actually featured him: I was surprised to see now that there's only been a single mention, tangentially in December 2022 in my initial discussion around vibraphonist Sergio Armaroli. But Centazzo has revived his Ictus Records label (again), and continues to produce albums — including recently Indian Summer with Armaroli, featuring compositions & a relatively larger ensemble.... And now there's also The Panda Session, recorded in Berlin just this past November, involving not only Harri Sjöström & Giancarlo Schiaffini — pace the recent review of their fine More Duos And Trios with Armaroli (also in November)... — but Achim Kaufmann as well. Of course, the pianist participates regularly with Sjöström — who organized this quartet — in both Move & Sestetto Internazionale (e.g. per the September review of the latter's recent Due Mutabili...), but appears new to working with Centazzo (who's also credited on electronics here, as well as e.g. uses uncredited squeak toys...). The others have already made a variety of albums with Centazzo though, including both participating on Orbits (i.e. the earlier mention...), while Schiaffini was already e.g. with Armaroli & Centazzo on Trigonos (a more tonal & atmospheric trio album from 2018 on Armaroli's Dodicilune series, as mentioned previously...), as well as appearing on various other albums with Centazzo, while Sjöström also appeared with Centazzo on e.g. Steps (again with Armaroli) & Lost Idols (with bassist Matthias Bauer). But with Kaufmann there's another level of intricacy, the piano sometimes more apparent (i.e. pianistic), but sometimes functioning almost as a second extended percussionist, i.e. as part of a sort of double horn & percussion setup. In fact the seven tracks involve a wide variety of techniques & sonorities, beginning from a metallic clatter (immediately asserting Centazzo's participation...), restarting at track breaks e.g. to encompass jazzier passages (even hints of rock...), often on the raucous side, but also into rubbed strings & volumetric resonances.... Although it doesn't seem especially new then (pace these musicians' other recent work...), The Panda Session does involve a high level of detail & attention, e.g. every idea (often) subtly commented upon & animated by Centazzo, different tracks visiting different worlds (pace the general agitation of jazz...) in turn, building an overall sense of labyrinthine gravity that I'm eventually sorry has to end....

17 January 2024

Double bassist João Madeira continues to be one of the most prolific of a new generation of Portuguese string improvisors, now releasing more albums apart from Ernesto Rodrigues: I'd reviewed the trio Open in Finder in November, for instance, from his relatively new 4Da Record imprint, and now note that Madeira seems to be undertaking a series of overlapping projects as well with legendary violinist Carlos Zíngaro: First to appear was actually the self-titled N'Bandi — recorded in Lisbon this past July — an "EP" said to be heralding a more substantial release from the trio of Madeira, Zíngaro & guitarist Guillaume Gargaud. (And I hadn't mentioned Gargaud here to this point, but he has e.g. a duo album with Lauri Hyvärinen, Jupiter in Pisces released late last year on Plus Timbre... plus appearing e.g. with Rodrigues on 2017 release Sound Bridge....) That album involves a more lyrical, folksy quality at times, i.e. is less densely articulated than many Madeira outings, but involving guitar (alongside classical strings...) also seems to be a recent focus: "The Wall" — another named band, a quartet — recorded Na Parede live in March 2023, including guitarist Florian Stoffner (who wrote the brief intro for the release...) alongside Madeira & Zíngaro & cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. And March 2023 was a busy time for these musicians, with Altered Egos (reviewed here in June...) — already featuring Stoffner alongside Madeira, with Rodrigues (& Bruno Parrinha) — and The Giving Tree moving on (a quite long album with much string fluttering...) — with Flak on guitar together with Rodrigues, Madeira, Lonberg-Holm (& percussionist José Oliveira) both recorded only a few days later. Of course Lonberg-Holm (b.1962) has appeared regularly in this context, including most recently (alongside Rodrigues again, plus e.g. piano...) on Uncommon Statement (recorded subsequently in October), while Stoffner (b.1975) has become increasingly prominent of late: E.g. his short duo album with Albert Cirera, Mow (at least their second, following I'm a resonant Aircraft, on Creative Sources from 2018...), just appeared on Agustí Fernández's Sirulita label, enacting a sophisticated timbral fusion.... And to dive back into my notes further, Madeira himself was actually first mentioned here in a September 2015 review of Cloud Voices, a quartet album around Rodrigues involving "exploration of nonlinear process...." (His next release with Rodrigues was Cosmos in 2022, soon Chaos & then Dérive.... And Madeira has already returned with Rodrigues & Parrinha for the trio album Into the Wood, recorded in May 2023, a more searching outing, with three separate tracks built on waves or continuities: This seems to have become something of a core trio for Rodrigues lately, but this is also their first album as a trio only....) Anyway, presumably it's Lonberg-Holm's participation that led to the release of Na Parede by Chicago's Catalytic Sound — but for subscribers only I'm told, although I was provided a copy.... (So maybe I shouldn't really be featuring Na Parede here, if others can't hear it!?) As opposed to the generally more open textures noted already then, The Wall can sometimes seem to approach its name when it comes to density, occasionally even with frenetic activity, i.e. seemingly a chase by the end.... But there's still a sort of balance & underlying folksiness (including various lighter passages...), yielding a kind of classic feel: There're a few overt evocations of (human) drama, but the wild(er)ness of the performance seems more often to reflect an indeterminate naturalistic setting (& Altered Egos had projected something of a jungle vibe at times too, tending there more toward post-industrial or even punk...), a transformed/transformative setting of calls... not actually "horn calls" here, even as that can be the impression (pace also e.g. various pizzicato passages...): Overlapping textures of calls, sometimes howling expression, twisting notes & bent strings, egalitarian in its collective expression.... (Among Lonberg-Holm outings, perhaps the album Tales From, albeit there with horns, is the clearest comparison in terms of these sorts of overlapping, assertive, egalitarian calls.... That's also a first meeting for a quartet, and generally a louder & more aggressive album.) So perhaps there's no specific sense of e.g. "indoor" or "outdoor" remaining on Na Parede either (beyond call-as-landscape inversion...), but rather a sense of creating its own new context (& setting, i.e. landscape-as-calls...) in the moment, adding up to a sort of posthuman (naturalistic) articulation, i.e. a strong new form of (collective, string) life... abstracted from any particular sense of place. (Life is itself a nonlinear — & nonequilibrium — process, one might always go on to observe....)

23 January 2024

Next I want to relate some thoughts on a quite lengthy recorded session from Lille (France) by a working trio of musicians with whom I was basically unfamiliar: Ø — which I read as the empty set — was recorded in May 2023 & features Andrea Bazzicalupo (guitar & preparations), Jonas Engel (reeds & modified p-trumpet) & Asger Thomsen (double bass & objects). And per the intro for the trio on Bazzicalupo's site, "everyone has cultivated original approaches to their instruments and strives for a transcendent music that is at once abstract and precise." In other words, their instruments often sound deconstructed, re-blended into novel & intriguing timbres: Many of the quasi-minimalistic textures that emerge are appealing, if sometimes tending toward the repetitive side, but there also end up being some genre associations later, e.g. around rock guitar.... And despite the general recombination of timbres, the two string players cultivate rather distinct sound worlds at times too, with the horn often in the background — e.g. highlighting particular resonances, rather than standing out front per the norms of the "horn trio" format... — & various percussive expressions across the texture, i.e. without an explicit percussionist. (So one might compare e.g. Georg Wissel & e.g. the recent Flight Rvw2349, reviewed here in September, but that outing does end up broaching more the "sax trio" per se at times within its broad, single arc....) Some of the material can sound like static or even vocalizing, and the interactions can be quite lively at times.... And I'd actually heard both Thomsen — with the Mia Dyberg Trio (with albums on Clean Feed, Dyberg having appeared herself in this space on the short Creative Sources album Egin, noted in October 2018 with its original title Efterår...) — and Bazzicalupo — who put out a solo last year on Quebecois label Tour de Bras — but not Engel. (The latter's orientation toward textural playing seems part of a broad trend, e.g. Bruno Parrinha... stretching back e.g. to Urs Leimgruber....) Michael Vorfeld's presence on Flight Rvw2349 also already suggested one of the clearest references here for some textures aligned to those on Ø, i.e. old favorite Nashaz (with Michael Thieke handling the reed-resonance part...) & its resonant, quasi-"nautical" feel. Then there's the string-focused Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris, nearly sharing a track title as well.... Ø has more though, and might even be undone a bit (in terms of overall impact) by its daunting length, although there're already some great timbral fusions being explored & articulated (sometimes almost ritualistically...) by the trio — which goes by the name "Ø" as well. (And this is another release from Shrike Records, an increasingly worthwhile & eclectic small label, their The House On The Hill having just been reviewed here in November....)

2 February 2024

It finally happened: Jack Wright released an album with his "full" (Philadelphia based) quartet: It's called RAWL — recorded live in Montréal in June 2023 — with the quartet being called RAWL as well. And as it happens, I'd only just reviewed Yaw by the Wrest trio (i.e. three quarters of Rawl) here in December. So I've already shared some recent thoughts, including on this (at the time, still merely implied...) quartet. Rawl was released on Ben Bennett's site, but without a physical release this time (which Yaw — recorded in 2022 — did have, albeit minimally). So it's probably wrong to read too much into that, but although the album is self-titled, the single track is called Waiting for Good, which could suggest any number of things, not least the relative dearth of "good" in our world today.... Besides being self-titled, Rawl also seems a bit self-conscious: There's a quick vocalization to open, some abrupt (coordinated?) noise initiating the interaction, and then generally a tautly controlled (temporal) tapestry maintaining a flexible sense of inter-dimensionality or common "surface" among the musicians. So that contrasts with Wright's more angular recent trio outings with Never (i.e. on Not Nothing, with a lot of forward momentum...) & Wrest. And so although the resulting ebb & flow doesn't engage me in quite the same way, Rawl can actually seem more egalitarian across the quartet, evoking more thoughts of symmetry & restraint. (There're still some shriller passages, e.g. some passages in high tones, but generally fewer eruptions. It's more of a controlled exposition of material, almost taking turns.) This actually seems to be something of a pattern for Wright then, as I'm only now observing: The Unrepeatable Quartet (from Calgary, 2012) is from a previous generation, even employing a "classic free jazz quartet" format, but shows a similar sort of balance & restraint (e.g. of waiting for a response...). Perhaps that's in part about developing a style, and Wright's collective interactions do become more intricate over time (including e.g. his recent interactions with himself on What is What, recorded between Yaw & Rawl...), but that's true of the "shadow" Wright trio as well, i.e. Virtual Balboa (Bennett, Darrup & Lipson — but not Wright) whose short album Petrichor (recorded in 2019, eventually released on Creative Sources & reviewed here in November 2021) also adds a horn player (the otherwise unknown Greg Kelley on trumpet) so as to forge a similarly egalitarian & pensive quartet tapestry, eventually fading away.... (One might simply observe that the trios around Wright have been jazzier, i.e. rather than using a term like "angular," but the latter does correspond to a sense of transverse movement, rather than maintaining collective flow within existing dimensions....) So why does a quartet, in particular, elicit this sort of shift? Various slow & bent tones & static come & go in quasi-symphonic fashion... with Rawl incorporating a mix of naturalistic & post-industrial evocations as well into a sort of (somewhat muted, i.e. dynamically flat...) howling-machinic hybrid.... (And the resulting sense of shared surface & coordination does suggest some of the other timbre-tapestry music I've been discussing regularly here of late, e.g. around Sergio Armaroli....) There also seems to be some "weight" felt by the quartet members to create this "obvious" release, i.e. from the seemingly heightened opening moment, soon yielding to what seems an almost excessive sense of egalitarian care.... (The pressure to release a quartet album seems to result in an almost ritualistic interaction — i.e. more so than affective, active expression involving the listener.... Perhaps it's as simple as the additional relations implied in a quartet — over a trio — adding constraints, specifically constraints per se here because of an underlying desire for symmetry....) So I can't say that the outcome packs the same (affective) punch as some of Wright's releases, but it's ambitious & intriguing: A generalized flow sort of carries the musicians along at times it seems, as if they're already embedded & in process, more so than offering oppositional or even reflective (rhythmically surpassing...) responses, albeit with more personal expression simmering to the fore in some moments.... So Rawl indeed seems to offer a capacious foundation, and I'm ready to hear more from Rawl.

7 February 2024

Continuing with another ongoing collaboration, I've already had occasion to mention El Pricto's Discordian Records a few times, but not Pricto (born Andrés Rojas, Venezuela, 1977) himself. And apparently he's been performing with both saxophonist Don Malfon (introduced here with Mutations, also with Agustí Fernández...) & percussionist Vasco Trilla for more than twenty years, but Behenii - Part I — recorded in Barcelona in September 2023 — is their first trio album together. Of course, Trilla has been something of a fixture here, e.g. mentioned recently alongside Ra Kalam Bob Moses on Singing Icons (with the two even more recently being joined by Pedro Melo Alves as well for Sonic Alchemy Suprema...), but originally with the trio album Tidal Heating (reviewed here in February 2017) on Poland's Not Two — & more recently e.g. with the double horn trio Implositions (reviewed June 2021). The latter explores a smoother, post-Cage sound world, while the former touches the post-rock world (with two different guitars...), and those worlds likewise seem to inspire the alternating tracks of Behenii, described as a "bipolar mixture." The album — & I believe Part II will be a direct continuation — thus begins abruptly & loudly, almost "too much" in its densely intricate exchanges, but then moves into more shifting held resonances etc. for later tracks. (The former style can even recall the previous entry & Rawl sometimes, before turning more laminar elsewhere....) In any case, El Pricto has been prolific — including a recent solo on synth, Moonburnt released in November... — originally playing reeds, but now (after a health-related shift...) developing his own style on modular synthesizer. (And the title reference here is to the 15 "Behenian fixed stars," presumably coming to 15 tracks as well with the second volume.... So although the intro mentions sci-fi, the inspiration is apparently more from astrology & the occult.) The results then involve a variety of creative textures (generally post-industrial, with increasingly little "genre" implicated...), the implications "between" the two poles, i.e. their potential convergence, perhaps becoming the most tantalizing.... Behenii can be aggressive at times, ritualistic too, but also retains an affective intimacy that draws the listener into its uniquely evolving (alternating) sound world(s). I start to hear the "American" quality too — & it does seem that Pricto is ready to roll with his new instrument....

9 February 2024

Coming back again to Shrike Records, I want to make a few belated remarks on the quartet album Chord, recorded in London in June 2022 & released last year (also in June), featuring a trio of guitarists around legendary drummer & percussionist Eddie Prévost: N.O. Moore, James O'Sullivan & Ross Lambert. Moore has become a fixture alongside Prévost (e.g. appearing together for the trio album Traktor, also from Shrike, reviewed here June 2022 — thus making me reluctant to put more attention toward Chord so soon afterward, I guess...), while I'd heard O'Sullivan mainly with Thanos Chrysakis (noted from a March 2015 entry...), but not really Lambert (aside from larger settings). However as it happens, Lambert was the one to lead the third week's concert for Prévost's 80th birthday celebration the following month (July 2022) at Cafe Oto, due to covid-related absences of Prévost & Moore — as released in the "workshop" volume entitled Widdershins. And so let me turn to a little survey of that substantial four-volume release (these items having been reviewed extensively already by others...), beginning with a "jazz" version of Prévost (the drummer) on A Company of Others, a concert that was meant to include eight saxes (actually coming to six...) alongside a distinguished four-member back line. (I might actually enjoy this most old-fashioned, opening outing with its relatively extroverted sax choir the most....) And then there's The Art of Noticing with Prévost the percussionist — as he's credited on Chord — including e.g. John Butcher (& nearly reprising their lineup from Sounds of Assembly, released by Meenna in 2021...), whose subsequent duo recording with Prévost, Unearthed (recorded June 2023, there with Prévost the drummer...) seems to be initiating a new series (also on Matchless) called High Laver Levitations.... Then Last Calls, announced as the final performance of AMM (here a duo between Prévost & Rowe, with Tilbury contributing a solo later from his home...), concludes the set (listed some places as A Bright Nowhere, released as physical CDs late last year...), and indeed returns something of a focus to the electric guitar interaction & so the triple guitar lineup on Chord, i.e. as recorded the month prior. (There's also an older reference for such a guitar trio for me, Halster: Their album Mindfulness, reviewed here in July 2016, sounds rather different, yet similar too in its string resonance interpenetrations....) And I didn't end up writing anything at the time, as it took a while for the textures & interactions on Chord to open up for me (beyond hearing various references...), but it does seem to be almost a multi-dimensional (& simultaneous) version of Prévost's duo with Keith Rowe.... And maybe Chord is at its best when a sort of "new age" beauty rings through, but there's more of a textural bounty (especially of carefully modulated overtone spectra...) — including stark differences of ensemble articulation between the various tracks — than I originally noticed: In some moments, it can almost seem to take on a life of its own, recontextualizing itself on the move, haunting & shimmering, metastable....

12 February 2024

Moving to Asia, some remarks on the recent self-titled album by international quartet Snow Moon: Hsiao-Feng Lin (bamboo flute), Yong Yandsen (saxophone), Darren Moore (percussion) & Shih-Yang Lee (piano) recorded Snow Moon in Taipei last March, as released on LaoBan Records, the latter founded by Moore (from Australia) & Yandsen (Malaysia) — who've released many albums together (& with various others, e.g. recently with Akira Sakata...), mostly in an aggressive & rhythmic "free jazz" style. The Taiwanese additions here were new to me though, with Lin's bamboo flute making a particular impression — not only when fronting, but in articulating background resonances, percussive pops, etc. And Lee's piano is often coloristic, sometimes transformed (as from the noisily resonant opening...), or accenting chords (recalling e.g. Japanese improvising pianists...), but sometimes more straight/Western. And both the more dense moments, with horns standing out over wild textures (as Moore is an inventive, coloristic percussionist as well...), and the more reflective moments can be appealing here, the latter sometimes featuring airy combinations & bent strings. Some of that does evoke traditional Chinese music, and the release notes claim the musicians "effortlessly merge" East & West — as well as deliver "a unique sonic experience, inviting listeners to explore a realm of otherworldly soundscapes." The latter involve sections evoking more of the jazz tradition, as well as more contemporary soundscapes (recalling, perhaps, e.g. Braxton, Armaroli... sometimes shimmering), with a characteristic & creative example occurring midway through the fifth & final track, the horns overlapping, various squeaks & croaks in texture, piano accents... seeming to come almost from the mountains of Southeast Asia for a moment, but soon driving more toward free jazz to close.... And I'm guessing that the ensemble textures on Snow Moon do depend upon individual microphone placement, e.g. for the bamboo flute (dizi, I assume...)? A fine sense of balance maintains across stylistic shifts, with good clarity, especially in slower or more open passages....

16 February 2024

Infrequent Seams is then another smaller label to which I seem to return regularly (& do note that it's also on at least some of the streaming services...): Five Apparitions is the third album on the label from transducer-focused extended pianist (& rubbed metals performer...) Matthew Goodheart, and the second with his Broken Ghost Consort, following Presences (released in 2021 & featuring additional brass performers, plus a first track that's mainly speech...). The latter apparently instantiated his scheme of attaching transducers to piano & metal, as well as speakers to other instruments (to get them vibrating too...), but also seems relatively more preliminary & monolithic than Five Apparitions, which projects more dimensionality, including in its senses of acoustic space. Both feature Georg Wissel (clarinet) & George Cremaschi (bass): Wissel has suddenly become a feature here, as I find I keep referencing the (relatively obscure) trio album Flight Rvw2349 (recorded in 2023...) lately, and it does indeed present an overlapping timbral dynamic with the trio interactions on Five Apparitions, although there as a single arc.... And I hadn't mentioned Cremaschi, but he's appeared e.g. on Another Timbre (from 2016), with bass (both plucked & bowed...) being an important aspect of the textures here, while Goodheart's first release on Infrequent Seams was actually a solo for transduced metal, Berlin Head Metal from 2019.... This is composed music then, by Goodheart, who seems to feature discussions of transduced music extensively in his academic writings, and involves both improvisation & performer choice. So some of the result might be compared e.g. with the recent set Blòc (reviewed here in April 2023) from Pascal Niggenkemper (also with a Cologne connection, pace Scott Fields' "modular" works as well...), e.g. the "autonomous" bass duo La vallée de l'étrange or the mechanically induced low strings quartet Beat the odds (but probably even more so the earlier "feedback cello" quartet on Leo, EFZ, from different musicians but already noted there as well...). In all cases, there's a sense of haunting, here characterized as "reembodied sound." (The intro to Five Apparitions mentions four movements, so the fifth was apparently added later — live from Wuppertal: The first four are from Köln, and the whole production has a vague 2023 date, but doesn't explicitly state when it was recorded.) Textures for Five Apparitions are then generally airy, with a strong sense of space overall, probably most characteristic in their smooth & rubbed tones, shifting combo waves, but also more pianistic (& jazzy, moody...) for the third track, while the (extra?) fifth track involves some vocalization again (but reworked, so not like the beginning of Presences...). The result is then not only hybrid electronic-acoustic (with the transducers...), but hybrid timbres between the instruments (as noted e.g. of other recent Wissel releases...), a sort of sound installation (& credited as such) as well. The sort of "braided" ensemble timbres almost recall Xenakis for me, although Five Apparitions is not nearly as aggressive, perhaps more akin to extended pianist Magda Mayas with Great Waitress & e.g. Flock, its sense of ritual & smoothness around-through piano.... But Goodheart (from San Francisco, teaching in Upstate New York...) is rarely very pianistic for long. There's more sense of interplay & simultaneity here than previous releases too, shifting textures & shimmering resonances (indeed not so unlike the vibe of Braxton's DCWM again...) — with a sense that more is happening beneath the surface, although endings are generally muted (& more preliminary overall in terms of affective impact...). Broken Ghost Consort does also intend a brief tour of Central Europe next month to celebrate the release of Five Apparitions.

19 February 2024

There's so much more music being released in this general arena these days than even a handful of years ago, not only more by musicians who've drawn my attention already, but more of the sorts of combos (of both old & new participants...) that I'd been seeking: Albums seem to appear regularly lately that address musical "thoughts" that I'd been eager to address previously, but end up neglecting now, forced to choose, always trying to include unfamiliar names too.... (In the past, there were also more albums appearing here that I didn't really hear as all that successful in sum, but nonetheless wanted to highlight for some aspect....) It's been a welcome explosion of activity, and rewarding too to have been a small part of the conversation, to hear some anticipated (& unanticipated) music become real.... And then of course there're individual musicians today who're able to release quite regularly & prolifically (i.e. as part of a new musical economy, for better or worse...): I most recently reviewed German "architectural" multi-horn player Udo Schindler in June 2023, mentioning his Bandcamp trio album Canto Senza Parole Recitativo (with Eric Zwang Eriksson & Sebi Tramontana), and Schindler does continue to self-release there, most recently Dense Bushes with Delicate Chirps (recorded in Munich in September 2023). For that outing, Schindler was joined by Irene Kepl — with whom he recorded the duo album Fabulierblattchen in 2019, released on Creative Sources... — on violin, and Karina Erhard — with whom he recorded the trio album (with Damon Smith) The Munich Sound Studies Vol. 1 for FMR, reviewed here January 2021 — on flute. (Coincidentally, Kepl also appeared on Resonators with George Cremaschi, alluded in the prior entry.... And Schindler had already released other material with both Kepl & Erhard, but not together.) And as the title might imply — & regular readers might note that I sometimes use the word "thicket" here myself... — there's considerably more simultaneity than many Schindler releases, which tend to be more open & sinewy in their melodic explorations. (The latter could be said of at least the first self-released track on the pending trio album with Eriksson & Ardhi Engl, Sound Poems to the Risk, recorded the week after Dense Bushes with Delicate Chirps & set to appear on Creative Sources....) So here we have a denser interaction, but also as the title suggests, a melodic (generative) sense, a sort of (polyphonic) shifting of perspective between undergrowth & fluttering to the fore.... There's thus a "bigger" sound much of the time, i.e. more chordal explorations of sonic spectra, but also collectively slowing at times, lingering in vertical layers. By the end, overlapping lines come to enter & leave at various oblique angles, suggesting almost a sense of wistfulness. And I do find myself wishing that the music continued (pace many of Schindler's albums being on the long side...) with its naturalistic atmosphere & sometimes dense (yet always in motion... a living thicket...) soundscape.

23 February 2024

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