Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts

Having finally finished What is familiar?, it seems as though I should start a fresh page here, even if in some ways, I'm right in the middle of a discussion.

I hope readers do continue to have a look at the previous set of entries, because I think there are some good discussions there, if I do say so myself — although not all of them are terribly worthwhile. Starting toward the end of that page might be a good idea. (I wrapped up that set of entries with a discussion of Henry Threadgill's latest album.) So one goal I have here is to keep the quality of discussion high, which mostly means talking about items I really want to discuss, and not falling into what I "should" do. (Of course, the opening line above already contradicts that notion, doesn't it?)

The previous page also ran for a full year of comments, so it was getting rather long. I should, perhaps, add here at the outset that I am putting new comments at the end, so if you want to see the most recent material, scroll to the end. (Maybe this isn't the best choice, but I'm choosing to keep everything in written order, over making it easier to see new comments.)

Another thing I'm considering, particularly in light of the comment about quality of discussion, is how to use my writing time more wisely, and that might mean more comments in this space, and less time spent redoing some of the older articles on the site — my intention to keep them always up to date seems to belong to another decade. In some tangible sense, they're becoming historical documents discussing historical music. Maybe I need fewer updates, and more fresh starts.

I do keep the favorites list up to date in this space, however, and indeed I have items remaining to discuss that already appear there. So hopefully that will help with continuity as I roll this page over yet again. Oh, and the performance fellowship also remains active, for those interested.

I feel as though I have a lot to say at this point, and some language developed for saying it, so we'll see how that goes....

Todd McComb <mccomb@medieval.org>
16 June 2015

I have long expressed an ambivalence — maybe something more akin to hostility than ambivalence — to English improvisation here. Reductively, that ambivalence had much to do with the large amount of material available: English "free" improvisation dates, at least, to the copious output of the 1960s, and continues apace today with much music-making & album-producing activity. Indeed, I've had occasion, including of late, to trace some aspects of American jazz back to the 1960s (and sometimes beyond), and that required a willingness to do so on my part. Although such an endeavor disrupts my intended emphasis on contemporary music, it does allow the construction or reconstruction of more extended narratives — to further a theme. Moreover, in the case of American jazz from the 1960s, I not only know people who heard it new, including myself in its function as music for television themes & advertising, which as we've discussed, was not always for the best (to understate), but there is general chatter around me: Ornette Coleman's recent death resonated along multiple lines intersecting me, for instance. In the case of English improvisation, most of those factors were not in play: Indeed, I probably received the majority of my recommendations for English music of the past few years from Bruce Gallanter at DMG. I'm thankful to Bruce for the work he does to raise attention for contemporary music, but it's also the case that our tastes do not intersect terribly much — which is still rather more than not at all. Bruce loves English progressive rock, if that's what you call it, and if I may be so bold as to make that assessment. I do not. I did enjoy some of the original "English invasion" from a fairly young age — again, music from the 1960s — but have always thought of it as thoroughly commercial. In some sense, then, much of the English music is thus both more & less "accessible." Add my political distaste (if that's a strong enough term) for empire, and I think it's fair to say that I had "cold" feelings toward English improvisation. (I've taken to improvised music from other European countries more readily, in contrast, as the listings here easily demonstrate.)

Of course, I live in the current standard bearing nation for oppressive world empire, and consequently, I'm well aware that not everyone in the vicinity agrees with world aggression & domination. Moreover, such "home protests" can be very long-lived. Beyond that, there is my longtime admiration for Joëlle Léandre, and her own stated admiration for Derek Bailey (Sheffield, 1930-2005). I have long been aware of this, but it's gone nowhere for me: Unless a word search is failing me now, this is my first mention of Derek Bailey in this space, and I knew that anything I would have said previously would be ignorant — perhaps I should say "too ignorant," whatever that means, because I retain plenty of ignorance. That said, the handful of things I had heard from Bailey clarified his reputation little: His playing sounded like pointless noodling to me. (When I say that, I hope you'll think of some of the "unusual" things I have listed on my favorites list here, by way of context.) I've acknowledged this, implicitly, before: When you're hearing something decades later, after so many other people have already been influenced, it can be quite impossible to hear it as new. Hence, personal narrative, yet again. Indeed, the things I might have once found appealing (to construct an impossible hypothetical, explicitly) may have already been (over?) plumbed by other musicians in music I've enjoyed. I don't know. Part of this changed when 28 Rue Dunois Juillet 1982 was released last year by Jean-Marc Foussat. I can't say as I found this quartet of Bailey, Léandre, George Lewis & Evan Parker incredibly compelling per se, but I did spend several hours listening to it for historical perspective. Between Léandre & Lewis, it gave me some context, and of course I've heard Parker in various things too (including Jeremiah Cymerman's World of Objects album from last year). As for the English politics, and how it might be reflected or inflected in this & other music, I don't really know that answer either. However, as I've spent many words discussing lately, I'm at least willing to try thinking politics in the smallest spaces of music. What does following one note by another mean, if there are even notes per se...? Is free improvisation, by definition, social activism, even if it can seem haughty? Regardless of these questions, there is no question that a lot of time & effort has gone into developing improvisatory styles in the UK over the past fifty+ years.

My actual & immediate context for these remarks is Whitewashed with Lines, a 2015 release by the quartet Common Objects, led by harpist Rhodri Davies (b.1971, Wales), with Angharad Davies, John Butcher, and Lee Patterson. These are, with the exception of Butcher, I believe, people who are younger than me. Moreover, Butcher was the one member of Common Objects to appear already in this space, mentioned first with the trio album Exta, and then as the only English improviser headlining a "favorite," The Apophonics On Air. Note how I listened to Exta after hearing John Tilbury in Léandre's Trio on Live at the Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon — so Léandre once again. Indeed, Whitewashed with Lines is rather similar to that album in format, with its two CDs consisting of first a composition (as was Léandre's tentet, Can you hear me?), and then an improvisation. I was immediately taken with the improvisation, itself titled Repose and Vertigo (recorded in 2013), to distinguish it from Rhodri Davies's composition, Cup and Ring (recorded in 2014). It's probably quite pointless, if not detrimental, to obsess over family relations among these musicians, but I was not able to find if Angharad Davies (violin) is related to Rhodri. I also do not know if either is related to the late Hugh Davies, with whom Patterson studied, and who had been e.g. an instrument builder for Stockhausen, a co-founder of Bailey's Music Improvisation Company, etc. (Patterson has also e.g. recorded music by Cage as a percussionist, is involved on many Another Timbre releases, and seems to have spent some time at the University of Texas.) Repose and Vertigo was the second recorded, improvised set by Common Objects, the first being Live in Morden Tower, recorded a few months earlier in Newcastle, and released already in 2013 on Mikroton from Russia. (I probably saw it & ignored it at the time.) It is a trio album without Angharad Davies, three shorter solo tracks followed by a more extended trio performance. Before turning to Whitewashed with Lines more specifically, let me note a few other precedents: The album cover looks a great deal like Spill Plus on Nuscope, and indeed, I can't help but think (in retrospect) that Nuscope was mimicking the typical look of Another Timbre. Although released recently, Spill Plus is an even older recording, and reflects a similar sort of non-abstract "primitive" non-tonality (as I put it when discussing that album in January). There is also Plume on Unsounds, featuring Butcher & Tony Buck, with Mayas on one of the tracks, a track also recorded after Spill Plus. So that is something of the nexus for Repose and Vertigo for me, although Butcher is still the only musician on the album whom I had heard before. I decided to listen on something of a whim, which I do fairly often (in an explicit effort to remain open to possibilities).

As the first CD of the set, I did listen to Cup and Ring first, and it came off as "obviously" composed to me. (The score is graphic, apparently, motivated by the titular & quasi-worldwide style of neolithic petroglyphs.) Indeed, Rhodri Davies seems to be fairly involved in the academic music world in the UK. Anyway, the composition has grown on me a bit, but it was the improvisation that caught my attention: Exta might be a bit of a comparison in the way the sounds combine & evolve, without necessarily being articulated. (However, Exta also involved taking extracts of a much longer free session, so has kind of a peculiar character in that sense — oriented around when Tilbury interjects, i.e. necessarily discretely & outside of that unarticulated evolution.) With Common Objects, the percussive qualities blend with the changing tones, again not unlike Scelsi's use of scraping/percussive mutes during string glissandi. Butcher's background in physics is evident in the way his sounds interface, and I hear a similar sonic approach from the other performers as well: Particular sounds might come into or out of focus, integrate or become separate, not only in a "process" approach — as exemplified by Patterson explicitly playing "processes" in the credits — but in sometimes irreversible ways that might dissipate in percussive tinklings or distant-sounding gongs. There is hence a sort of elemental forcing, conjuring a world of becoming that often seems to elude some superficially similar explorations. (This is an issue that I have previously discussed as a matter of foreground versus background.) I might describe it differently as time itself being created via the musical interaction, rather than the musical interaction marking time. Is anyone really in control of what is happening? No, and in a good way: The quartet has more sonic possibilities, more independent counterpoint, and ultimately more transformative qualities than the trio on Live in Morden Tower. (Ironically, the violin does not add legato, so much as staccato, to warp some terms that might seem out of place here. It also disperses any tendency to "layer" the performance to align with a more traditional wind-strings-percussion trio.) This is one of those albums where the world seems changed after listening: The buzzing resonances, shifting sound masses, chirps, rattling materiality... these are real, physical sounds, even if electrically mediated, and they echo a different world of material possibility. (It would be crazy to call the result neolithic, but I do want to insist that Western tonality is not "natural," and is indeed itself an abstraction. Thinking tonality is not thinking sound.) Are these actually common objects? Maybe not, but their sounds do project a kind of genericity. I find the result captivating, and so perhaps I've finally found a point of connection with the English free improvisation tradition. There is no question that Whitewashed with Lines, for all of its echoes of primitivism, involves mastery of the instruments, common or not. The performers are very much in control of the sounds they are making, in that sense, or at least invoking processes intentionally. (Of course, why are people today so willing to believe that so-called primitive people didn't know what they were doing? But we do? Look around.) Whereas I can all too readily relate to the Repose and Vertigo title, I do wonder why this album needs three titles (plus a band name) for two tracks... a decidedly post-neolithic mystery for a provocative & engaging double album.

21 June 2015

Partly on account of feeling some connection with the music on Whitewashed with Lines, and partly as a response to finishing What is familiar?, I went back to listen to about a dozen improvisation CDs from the past couple of years, albums I hadn't intended to revisit at the time, five of them from England. (I listened to the couple of albums with Joe Hertenstein as a sideman, coincidentally right before the new HNH was released, as part of that little "detour" too.) I felt that my intervening experiences had given me some different perspective, and indeed, I think some of the things that I had said (or sometimes only thought) about some of these albums were kind of foolish. (I have also noted from the beginning of this project that I don't want to be afraid of appearing foolish, because that's too restrictive a mode of exploration.) While revisiting these items was generally productive, the particular album that made the biggest impression on me was Compost by the trio (in credited order) of Daniel Thompson (guitar), Alex Ward (clarinet), & Benedict Taylor (viola). As per my introduction to discussing Whitewashed with Lines, I learned of Compost (which is packaged in folded brown paper, with no plastic) from Bruce Gallanter, and discussed it briefly here in April 2013. If you go back and read what I said at the time, I didn't know what to make of the album — the only thing distinctive I could pick out was the live church resonance, and how that gave an almost electroacoustic feel to an acoustic trio — and that's largely because I had no context for it within the domain of English improvisation. In many ways, I continue to have relatively little context, but I did very much enjoy it these two+ years later. So it becomes an "older" album added retroactively to my favorites.

Alex Ward (b.1974) is the most famous member of the trio on Compost, as the youngest member of Bailey's Company, and presumably the musician who drew Bruce's attention. (Ward has also become a guitarist, and can can be heard in a more "rock" vein on e.g. Red Kite on Raw Tonk Records.) Ward is indeed amazing on Compost, with much spontaneous precision & energy. It is violist Benedict Taylor (b.1982) who formed the Cram Records label, inaugurated by this album, and it appears to be mainly he who has forged these ensembles. Daniel Thompson (b.1981) appears to stick to acoustic guitar, although that's not always easy to judge aurally these days. I do think that my original emphasis on the church setting (with its characteristic resonance) had some merit, but I was hesitant (given my context here) to make any pat references to medieval music. Although it would be very easy to note dissimilarities with medieval music, as there are many, including the thematic material per se, this trio adopts a style of close polyphony — a style that makes it ear-catching as contemporary improvisation, and marks a certain similarity to English medieval music: It's multi-threaded, i.e. not single pulsed, nor is there a tendency to contract to a single pulse (as sometimes noted here), even if the individual pacing remains similar throughout, and with all three performers effectively occupying foreground roles simultaneously. (So as opposed to some of my foreground-background discussions focusing on not having enough foreground, here the entire interaction is foregrounded.) Although I have not always been thrilled with contemporary English approaches to medieval music, particularly with the sort of Restoration vocal articulation they have often imposed, there has certainly been a great deal of English activity in medieval music over the years. Undoubtedly these musicians are rather familiar with it, and it shows in some fairly subtle and/or indirect ways. The result has an amazing freshness to it, further underscored by the fact that it was the first time that these three musicians performed together. There is a sort of calm amidst the activity, as well as a consistent pacing in keeping with typical medieval performance. It's quite striking & electric — if I may invoke a word that's supposed to be out of place in acoustic music.

This sort of "chamber" interaction is somewhat evocative of the Jimmy Giuffre Trio, as recently reflected upon here via Spring Rain, and indeed, one could view the clarinet-viola-guitar trio as both a medievalization & contemporization of the clarinet-bass-piano trio. Whereas these are all modern instruments, the greater flexibility of the guitar over the percussive fixed pitches of the piano is amenable to both styles, as is the placement of the instruments in strongly overlapping ranges (i.e. close polyphony with crossing lines). Stark differences between the instruments in the Giuffre Trio become blunted, yield to more similarity, in other words. It's an opposite direction from the characteristic early modern (Baroque) innovations of monody & continuo. To complete one narrative connection I've had to the English scene, such an acoustic trio album can also be compared to those from England by Ingrid Laubrock, Catatumbo (recorded, 2010?) & Haste (recorded, 2011). Those are rattling around my head somewhere.

Coincidentally yet again, I decided to re-feature Compost here only a week or so before a similar trio album appeared on FMR Records, Hunt at the Brook. There are obvious similarities, but also some differences: Hunt at the Brook is a longer, studio album. It also features Tom Jackson on clarinet, rather than Alex Ward. It was strange to me to have this second album appear just as I was trying to decide how to discuss Compost (again), and is part of the reason for the delay: For one thing, as I've also discussed before, and in What is familiar?, I find an implied forcing here: You must pick one. (This is psychological forcing without any actual necessity.) Well, I would pick Compost, but I decided that I do enjoy Hunt at the Brook on its own merit as well. The newer album is more minimalist at times — resulting in a kind of polished, less raw quality analogous to Natura morta's second album, Decay, also on FMR, to pick an example I've raised at least twice before. Hunt at the Brook starts off feeling somewhat nostalgic to me, and that's not really a compliment, but it ends up being more than that. The album evokes something of a Baroque sensibility, by which I don't mean the classic Baroque of Bach, but the English seventeenth century of Jenkins & country house music making. (Again, dissimilar aspects dominate in many senses.) The track titles are also more environmental than that, suggesting a contemporary environmental consciousness, and even evoking e.g. traffic sounds in the music, but it's a sort of consciousness that's infused with awareness of musical styles farther in the past than are often evoked in jazz. I don't ordinarily think of "nostalgia" as a valid approach to history, but these performers succeed in forging a style in that space: Again there is a sense of overlapping, close polyphony in the acoustic domain, here less irruptive. Quick motivic interchanges & small sound inflections can evoke a static sense, etc. The result is a creative tapestry of new & old. (In fact, the effort of writing this entry has caused me to rethink which album I might pick, again if "forced." I'm not sure what has caused this description to seem so awkward still... I thought I had it mostly together when starting to write, but somehow the experience rewrites itself?)

Anyway, such an overtly polyphonic approach to trio interaction differs from superficially similar groups such as Baloni, with their emphasis on note & tone merging into composite sounds (although Baloni does play on separation as well). Per the mention of Giuffre above, the interaction here might be said to be more flexible than on e.g. Geäder, but it's a particular kind of small-scale polyphonic flexibility. These musicians seem to have developed a new style, and likely related albums will continue to appear. (Some similar albums have already appeared on e.g. Cram.) So what is or was it about Derek Bailey? A process of forgetting? Webern style atomisation? Perhaps both of these ideas can be perceived at times in these albums, if only in reflection, although neither seems to be especially crucial for these particular English improvisers, some more than fifty years Bailey's junior. Of course, there's another obvious question as I close this England-centered discussion for now: What other musical scenes am I still (most?) ignoring or disdaining?

23 June 2015

I "jumped ahead" to discuss the new HNH, in part because I had been anticipating the album, and thought that I could readily relate to it, but even more so because it fit nicely in the sequence of discussions I was undertaking here at the time. So as I continue to work through what still seems like a very notable simultaneous outpouring of albums in this vague domain of jazz or improvised music, I'm finally getting to discuss some other Clean Feed releases from the same batch. I had recently been remarking on Clean Feed's "conservatism," largely attributing my change in perspective to changes in my own experience as a listener, but perhaps it was partly Clean Feed themselves, as this latest batch of recordings seems far more varied & provocative than other recent batches. I'm pleased by this in a couple of registers: I feel less crazy, and there's more new music to hear! I have not actually listened to the new album by Kris Davis, Save Your Breath yet, as I've been waiting to finish some other writeups here. As I get closer to that, let me share a few thoughts on a couple of other notable (at least to me) releases. As opposed to many Clean Feed albums, such as Davis's, these two come with fairly extensive liner notes. I don't know if that's a trend.

Grand Valis is by a quartet led by Hugo Carvalhais (b.1978). I had heard only parts of Carvalhais's previous albums, but could not resist this distinctive combination of his bass with violin (Dominique Pifarély, from e.g. Marc Ducret's Tower Bridge) & organ (Gabriel Pinto), along with Jeremiah Cymerman on electronic manipulation (and no drums). The sounds & textures are indeed individual & creative, stark and/or repetitive at times, but evoking a new sound world, sometimes a lyrical one. Perhaps Carvalhais's degree in painting is to be credited with part of this "canvas" approach to musical combination, but the result is also framed as a "meditation suite," specifically evoking Philip K. Dick. So there are broad influences coming together to forge something newly coherent. It's almost a dream of a world forming — a time before birth, or at least subject formation — yet attention-seeking beyond any elemental character. (Perhaps this latter impression arises from the use of tonality.) This kind of "dream of before" is further enacted in its own creative temporal staging, involving as it does electronic post-production. It's a very unified & polished album in this sense, despite its novelty.

Coding of Evidentiality by the Dre Hocevar (b.1987; Slovenia, living in New York) Trio features other new names for the Clean Feed catalog, including cellist Lester St. Louis. (Although Clean Feed states that this is his first album, St. Louis already appeared on Jeff Shurdut's The Music of Everything.) Besides Belgian pianist Bram De Looze, with whom I am not otherwise familiar, also appearing is Sam Pluta (of e.g. some Peter Evans groups) on electronics on one track. Here we have yet another rethinking of the piano trio, this time with cello (which seems to be a popular choice lately), and a less traditionally "jazzy" result than Hocevar's first album, Motion in Time (a typical piano trio with bass). Coding of Evidentiality remains rather based in the jazz tradition specifically, though, and indeed Hocevar states that he has been in school (lastly at the "New School"), surrounded by the best teachers, since he was six years old. So he is another highly trained conservatory musician from Europe, like some others I've recently featured here, and has already appeared with many famous older colleagues (although not otherwise on an album, as far as I know). While it seems to me that Hocevar is still working to develop a personal style, he is obviously very talented, and there is much to enjoy about this album: I love the titles, for one. Although the piano can be a bit repetitive or "romantic," there is an interesting open sense of rhythm developed to (at least partly) redefine some classical styles from the inside. As with many recent essays in the piano trio format, there is also a mixture of roles, evoking even more transversality when the electronics get involved on "Critical Discourse Analysis." I look forward to more from Hocevar.

24 June 2015

I had no familiarity with Swiss pianist Katharina Weber (b.1958) prior to her new trio album, It Rolls, but was attracted in part by the participation of Fred Frith. Frith has appeared in this space, thus far, only in conjunction with his role on Live at the Metz' Arsenal by the MMM Quartet, an album I continue to find quite compelling. Frith's more recent albums have been duos, or a little farther back, more explicitly rock-oriented. In any case, his comment that Weber is "a new piano icon" drew my attention, on top of his actual participation in the trio. (I haven't found some of the previous all-European Intakt releases to be terribly provocative, so I needed some prodding to hear this. And given my remarks on England, what to make of the relation between music & Swiss politics?) Frith's comment wasn't actually applied to this album, but rather to one of Weber's earlier albums: She has primarily been a classical pianist, and has become increasingly interested in improvisation. She already recorded another trio album (with Barry Guy) devoted to improvising on compositions by György Kurtág, and then a solo album. It Rolls, however, is an all-improvised trio album, so at least in format, perfect for this space. Indeed, more than simply format, I've found it to be quite appealing, a unique & sophisticated combination of ideas, influences, and energy. It's been a very pleasant surprise.

Like the Dre Hocevar album discussed in the previous entry, It Rolls is something of a variation on the piano trio, with Frith's guitar substituted for bass. I keep finding myself thinking of it as a piano trio, in fact, and have to correct. That's not to say that the guitar isn't evident as a guitar (including electrical distortion at times, etc.), but the approach to the genre of piano trio is clearly there. As is the trend, the approach includes playing inside the piano, etc. The possibilities Frith brings on guitar — and the timbre of his playing varies markedly in different parts of the album — bring new ways to match or differentiate these interior & other sounds. (The liner notes describe a "wonderfully ambiguous spectrum of colors.") Swiss drummer Fredy Studer (b.1948) did appear briefly in this space in the context of discussing Hans Koch & hence Koch-Schütz-Studer. He is described as "hard core" in the notes, which I don't really understand, but he contributes a wealth of rhythmic ideas & textures throughout, weaving them into the general foreground-background tapestry. Although the liner notes state that this trio only played together once (live) prior to the studio recording, the result seems very natural & sympathetic. In keeping with playing both inside & outside the piano, It Rolls has something of an inside-outside character too, at least if we consider the various classical (including twentieth century) allusions to be "inside." The tracks vary considerably in length, but the various explorations & allusions don't really respect track boundaries. Rather they appear or play out in different ways at different points, so that e.g. the different techniques Frith employs are not segmented by track. There's also something of a leisurely quality to the album, even with much activity at times, and despite its evocation of "industrial" sounds via various rattles & resonances (from clear ringing to screeching). There are also sophisticated, if usually short-lived, harmonic implications as well as evocations of e.g. Chinese string technique. So the allusions range widely. I've noted in the past that it seems to be difficult to do something really interesting with the piano trio these days, and whereas I still think that's true, many people do seem to be managing, including Weber & her trio on It Rolls.

25 June 2015

As noted "way back" on Wednesday, I had yet to listen to Kris Davis's new album, Save Your Breath with the octet Infrasound. Unfortunately, the expectations I had for this album did not help my appreciation, and I should have just listened to it right away. I enjoyed it at first, but kind of got tired of it by the time I'd finished the first hearing. Like her 2011 album Tony Malaby's Novela, Save Your Breath features Davis's arranging for what is essentially a "big band" in the contemporary context. The group of four clarinetists obviously recalls something like James Falzone's The Room Is, supplemented by Davis with organ, her own piano, guitar & drums. The result is six long pieces that often feature smaller sets of players, and generally with what seems to be very clear compositional direction. (The drama of the individual tracks clearly derives from the composed sequence.) There are some interesting textural combinations, and some clever progressions, but it mostly comes off as easy listening music to me. I can literally imagine some of these tracks playing in a supermarket, even if (especially as) parts of it sound like rock music. This album isn't for me, but maybe some people will enjoy it. I'll end by noting the reappearance of "Whirly Swirly" from her trio album, Waiting For You To Grow.

28 June 2015

I'm not sure what I expected from Sonic Communion, but it's a quintet album with Joëlle Léandre involved, so I was going to hear it. Also in the quintet, on the French side, is Jean-Luc Cappozzo (who has appeared in this space with the albums Live at Total Meeting & Grey Matter) and Bernard Santacruz. I was not previously familiar with the latter, but he also plays double bass. Sonic Communion is the first document of an ongoing musical exchange between USA (so far, Chicago) & France, and the musicians from Chicago who came to tour France in 2013 (and so, are represented on this document) are Douglas R. Ewart (b.1946, Jamaica) & Michael Zerang. So it's an interesting group, and Ewart really "steals" the show here — perhaps by design, in order to highlight Chicago music for French musicians & audience. I don't hear too much of Léandre, specifically (particularly with the two basses) until the uncredited vocals on the last track, but Ewart is unmistakable right from the start. (Such a collaboration reminds me a bit of 28 Rue Dunois Juillet 1982, as I mentioned in the June 21st entry, albeit there with half English musicians, and of course not oriented toward including the public.) The Bridge (note that the URL is wrong on the album) is supposed to be an ongoing project, alternating visits between the two countries, with Chicago musicians already lined up to visit France again this year. (The web site names Edward Perraud, who has appeared in this space on the album Moon Fish with Jean-Luc Guionnet & Benjamin Duboc, as administrator, but he does not appear on Sonic Communion.) Anyway, although the visiting musicians had two weeks of activities, this is a recording of a single concert in Avignon. There are many fine moments, involving a spiritual sort of atmosphere throughout (framed as sublimated eroticism by the poem in the notes), so it includes sharing at that level. It's often fairly tonal too, again with the idea (presumably) to build bridges. I very much enjoy, e.g. Ewart's emerging flute on track #2, and his combination, I guess playing a didgeridoo, with trumpet & bass on track #4. Although Sonic Communion doesn't come off as a finished product, perhaps for the best in this case, it is quite worthwhile to hear. It will be interesting to hear what else might come of this ongoing project.

Somewhat in this vein, I also want to mention the recent album Pomegranate by a quintet led by Stephen Haynes (b.1955), and dedicated to Bill Dixon. It's an interesting group of musicians, building on Haynes's first (trio) album Parrhesia, which featured a poem by Warren Smith. Pomegranate doesn't include the spoken word, but Smith & Joe Morris return, and are joined by William Parker & Ben Stapp on tuba. It also involves a spiritual atmosphere, perhaps somewhat akin to Parker's playing on Telling Stories (discussed here on June 3rd), and indeed Parker plays such instruments as sintir & shakuhachi, adding variety to the ensemble sound. I particularly enjoy the trumpet & tuba interaction, and think more groups should use the two together. There's also some Asian-style string technique, etc., so a rich variety of sound. Overall, though, there is a lot of repetitive playing to support solos, so I didn't find the interaction among the musicians to be terribly compelling most of the time. Still, whereas Haynes evidently doesn't have Dixon's feel for ensemble structure, he does evoke him well on trumpet.

29 June 2015

Just as I was writing, a month ago, that Joe Hertenstein had yet to appear on an album without a bassist, such an album appeared, Past the Future with Blaise Siwula & Carsten Radtke. I was not previously familiar with guitarist Radtke, but I have enjoyed Siwula's horn playing with e.g. Jeff Shurdut and on Tesla Coils. Indeed, Tesla Coils is somewhat similar to Past the Future, in that it's likewise a trio with (electric) guitar, but with electronics instead of drums. The latter is on Siwula's own No Frills Music label, with bright & resonant sound, and is an extension of his already existing Projection:Zero duo with Radtke. Consequently, there is a sense in which Joe is commenting on the activity of the duo, and indeed in which Radtke is often commenting on melodic material introduced by Siwula. The latter, according to the liner notes, constitutes a "kaleidoscope of genres" transcended into a "compositional poem." This is mostly material inspired (so it would seem) by popular or folk music, although it often becomes fragmented in the course of commentary during each freely improvised track. Joe's activity on drums encompasses a variety of sonority, but does tend to remain in the realm of commentary, in what is generally a rather blowing-oriented album. Moreover, I might add, regarding the bass observation, that the guitar does sometimes function exactly as a traditional bass would, although other times it operates more in the melodic (or noise) domain. Past the Future is an enjoyable album with a good sense of energy, even if the trio interaction itself seems rather straightforward in its layering.

Keeping to this theme, Joe didn't mention it to me, but he also appears on Eat the Air by Sean Sonderegger's Magically Inclined. Probably coincidentally, this album relates to Past the Future in that it includes Harvey Valdes, who also appeared on Tesla Coils — and has appeared with Shurdut, as well, on the same album as Sonderegger himself. So there is a bit of circularity to these connections. Eat the Air is on Skirl Records, and features one of their colorful covers, as well as their generally accessible harmonic idioms. Some tracks feature wordless vocals, but most set poems by Joanna Penn Cooper in a sort of Steve Coleman-esque style, with singer Areni Agbabian in the Jen Shyu role. Agbabian is an appealing singer as well, and the various interlocking "Caribbean" rhythms leave much to the drummer, just as they do on Coleman's albums in this style. Joe has a drum solo e.g. to start track #4, and has much activity throughout to support the horns & voice, turning in quite a tour-de-force, even if it's in the context of Sonderegger's composed music. There's a bit of subject displacement from Sonderegger here, which I hear in terms of Shurdut, but beyond the interlocking rhythms, it's mostly straightforward melodic & "sophisticated" twentieth-century classical harmonic material compatible with or in the service of (sometimes likewise dislocated) poetry.

Also appearing recently on Skirl is Pictorial Atlas of Mammals by Simon Jermyn's Trot a Mouse. Besides engaging Ingrid Laubrock, Mat Maneri & Tom Rainey, musicians whose work I often enjoy, Jermyn's own compositions are supplemented by two from John Dowland, giving it a bit of an "early music" slant. Indeed, other textures on the album sometimes project a fairly unified "consort" feel, with straightforward (Romantic) tight harmonies only occasionally breaking into more independence (most conspicuously on track #9). Jermyn's guitar also changes roles from front line to bass, as Radtke does on Past the Future, and the conception supports some rather slow material at times (partly in keeping with the melancholy Dowland influence), in contrast to the nominal implication of an electric rock sonority that can reappear at any moment. Both of these Skirl discs, along with Devin Gray's Relative Resonance, which I heard at the same time, often come off as highly composed.

6 July 2015

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