Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts

Perhaps I've fallen into a bit of a pattern here, restarting this page again around this time of year, but I'm also feeling as though we're moving into a new wave of musical developments, as well as that there's more than ever to discuss within the general realm of global politics & musical fusions... for which "jazz" has been a prototype. And I keep working on my own thoughts & reactions as well, so although the previous year's entries were a little less voluminous than for the period before, I also felt that much of the discussion was gaining in significance. Or I suppose that could be my vanity speaking....

Anyway, particularly as far as vanity goes, I do (as always) have a list of favorite albums here (i.e. to sediment my trajectory in this space...), but there've been relatively few so far this year. In the prior introduction, I'd noted that an anticipated pandemic slowdown (specifically of album releases in this arena...) hadn't really occurred, yet, but then soon felt some slow months. There're at least a few intriguing items imminent though, and I'm starting to feel more like post-pandemic music is back — back & with new developments, that is. Or maybe that's a matter of my own adjustment... or maybe not a matter of adjusting, but of patience: I've heard e.g. various solo releases illustrating exciting new techniques, but my orientation here has been on musical sociality, i.e. on coming together in a collective to exchange & to interact. And so I do believe that these various new ideas from the realm of individual musical work will be making their way (back) to collective interactions soon. Then, as I might have remarked in the past, while the duo confronts the other, the trio confronts the world.... (My focus here is thus on relatively egalitarian interactions of 3/4/5 musicians... sometimes more if they can all be heard. And I do end up reviewing some duos too, maybe even a solo....)

And I really have no inclination to shift my focus, as I'm craving more engagement with the world (versus insularity, or soloing... pace my own "solo production" here, the conditions of which can wear on me as well). After all, even with more solo releases appearing, and fewer newer releases (i.e. moving into pandemic era performances), I still averaged around an entry a week here, i.e. basically "recommended" one album a week. I mean, I very rarely base an entry on negative feelings.... I do try to write quickly here, though. It's my notion of kind of joining a broader improvisational project.... (As I've also noted before, I also feel as though there's always time for more sober reflections.... I don't want to choke spontaneous reactions — or to become routine. Of course, as this opening text might already suggest, becoming self-absorbed is also a potential issue....) So I still feel a need to embrace some foolishness in my responses, but there's also a politics of public space that comes to bear: I just ran through a few issues elsewhere in Thirty years on the web, but there're other political issues around the old-fashioned design here: I've felt increasingly awkward e.g. when people have included different symbols in their names or titles, variant spelling, typography... all of these things become more fluid, and rightly so. (Although, I also picture a sort of "corporate branding" limit case, where fonts, colors, etc. are considered to be aspects of someone's name....) But I also have my situation here, so basically I'm transcribing everything into a relatively limited character set, as well as into "standard" typography. (My sentences can be complicated enough, without injecting someone else's typographic equivocations — even if their own setting also makes sense. So hopefully no one is all that offended....) And before that particular digression, I articulated various — completely different — matters of orientation in e.g. Postmodern Aesthetics (2019)....

Of course there's always more politics involved in music criticism, particularly around approaches to history. (But the impetus here was always collective social interaction, broadly speaking.) And I'm not trying to examine jazz history per se, nor prioritize more "historical" approaches or interrogations here — although these can be interesting. Rather, I really want to focus on coping with the world today, both in our personal lives, and in terms of global issues.... In that, jazz & improvisation also provide a sense of process or journey, rather than a focus on outcomes, i.e. a sense of experimentation that's still so important, even as the world situation becomes so urgent.... (And my own sedimentations here, soon to register over a dozen years, can sometimes work against maintaining a sense of openness. I still feel a real sense of "searching" at times, though, including recently.) But then some examples here will still be arbitrary — although perhaps there're still some "central" activities & releases to be found among the various traditions braiding together under the "new & improvised" musical umbrella.... And as far as more "thoughts" then, I'll be continuing to interrogate our general situation over in the open-ended Decolonizing Tech (2020-) series....

So scroll to the end for the latest entry.... Hopefully I('ll) still have something (else) to say.

Todd M. McComb <mccomb@medieval.org>
16 September 2022

Anthony Braxton continues to be one of the most significant musicians in this space, i.e. continues to innovate (now at age 77): Duet (Other Minds) 2021 is an example of his latest music system, called Lorraine, "that governs the 'sonic winds' of breath." And there's a fairly lengthy discussion, including thoughts from Braxton's co-performer here (& long-time colleague), James Fei, but there's no notation presented, and so ultimately only a vague sense of what the Lorraine system entails.... My impressions are consequently preliminary, but those impressions are also powerful. The presentation on Duet (Other Minds) 2021 might be preliminary too, and I suppose it wouldn't be surprising if Braxton released a full set of Lorraine performances soon: After the very detailed blu-ray release of 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017, Duet (Other Minds) 2021 is also "only" in (16bit) CD quality sound. And of course it's only one set, rather than an entire series.... (The ZIM set, despite the enhanced sound engineering, did also seem more preliminary than previous Braxton sets in other ways, i.e. a little rushed in its musical presentation.) The particular composition on Duet (Other Minds) 2021, per the notes, is also apparently relatively simple within the Lorraine system, beginning & ending in unisons across the two horn players. Not unlike Scelsi's "music on a single note," though, Braxton expands on the riches "between" these unisons, i.e. register, timbral & microtonal deviations that might then even be amplified or extended by SuperCollider electronics (functioning as a sort of third musician). Per Fei, this work thus "includes" some DCWM, which itself includes GTM... the GTM (Ghost Trance Music) being quite apparent here in some moments, and seeming to figure the temporality in general. (The musicians proceed in a variety of directions, and incorporate a variety of allusions, but when the steady GTM returns, there's a sense that however lost one might have felt, we're actually right where we've always been.) It's then the amplification & expansion of what had been slurs & articulations in the melodic realm into structural generators here, including "melting" the twelve-tone segmentation that had continued to mark Braxton's music, that invokes a new (or expanded...) direction, now surely showing a "spectral" inspiration around resonance & timbre within the smallest spaces.... And my own history involves Scelsi specifically, certainly recalling the unison orientation here, but spectral-timbral music continues to grow as a genre or general technique — from e.g. James Tenney to Steve Lehman. (And perhaps I should note the Other Minds organization specifically here as well, as it seems to be moving beyond being "only" a festival, into a record label per se: E.g. last month they also released Inhale / Exhale by a trio recording in New Mexico around Tatsuya Nakatani & Raven Chacon, i.e. not associated with their San Francisco event. That album is a darkly ritualistic noise-rock affair....) So I'm finding this exploration, connecting to a variety of prior Braxton projects, to be fascinating, even if the "trio" might not really be a trio.... Of course, that was already the case — in a similar way — for 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012, and that collection of albums, particularly the sets with Katherine Young on bassoon (i.e. reed), provides the most obvious comparison for Duet (Other Minds) 2021. That earlier collection retains a sense of 12-tone segmentation for the musicians, though: Even as SuperCollider might involve glissandi etc., there's really no question of what is the pitch. (And perhaps another brief comparison should be made with Braxton's Solo Victoriaville 2017, there with a variety of articulatory techniques, but ultimately in monophonic-melodic music — versus the sort of resonant timbral mirroring here, i.e. teasing the overtone spectrum....) But there's still a sense of shearing involved, both of shifting glissandi, and of "slicing" between the two quasi-independent instrumental parts: With Duet (Other Minds) 2021, the result thus reminds me that much more of e.g. In Search of Surprise, Udo Schindler having investigated a spectral sense of harmonics in duo formations (i.e. with precision & beats etc.) for quite some time, there with struck percussion "dividing" the two horns, not so unlike Braxton here.... (And perhaps I should note e.g. Music for Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinets & Electronics as well for its exploration of the finest grains of reed timbre, there contextualized rather differently... more symphonic than linear-cyclical, seeming less spontaneous. So maybe that's another pole.) As opposed to the big prior DCWM set, though, which seems to present more of this sort of balance between the horns from the start, the Lorraine piece here (Composition No. 429) really "opens" out of unisons (pace Scelsi — or even e.g. medieval conductus...), seeming to forge its own space "between" quasi-identical notes, in a sort of fanning out that can then be captured & boosted by the electronics, which are also rather quiet (because unsure?) at times.... (One might even speak of melody determining form....) There're also issues of articulation more generally explored/expanded, including via speed & density between the two horns, often yielding a sort of "laminar" presentation that can sometimes turn into a thicket. So those are some thoughts so far.... (And I feel foolish for not attending this concert: I keep saying that I should get out more, but I don't....) And hopefully Braxton will have a chance to present more of this Lorraine music system (at which point, the relevance of some of these scattered thoughts might also become more clear...).

19 September 2022

Damon Smith is then another prolific musician — noted here recently as "surely one of USA's great improvising bassists," in a February 2022 review of Volumes & Surfaces with Jason Stein — who continues to record with a wide variety of others: Smith relocated (again) from Boston to St. Louis in the past couple of years, and that move apparently set the stage for (among others) the quartet album Ghost Tantras, recorded on a single date in Kansas City in June 2021. (That album, quite long & recorded in crisp 24bit sound, was released on KC's Mother Brain Records in April, but I only noticed when it appeared at Smith's site earlier this month. And Smith's site does become confusing, with releases from various sources appearing in different orderings....) Moreover, Ghost Tantras involves presumably younger musicians who were new to me (so that's motivating...), Seth Andrew Davis (electric guitar & laptop/electronics), Michael Eaton (soprano & tenor saxophones) & Kyle Quass (trumpet). It turns out, though, that Eaton has already relocated to Brooklyn, he & Davis having e.g. performed recently at DMG.... (And Quass lives in Indiana. Maybe I should mention percussionist Kevin Cheli as part of this circle too — as he & Davis already released Composite with Smith last year....) Davis & Eaton are also obviously central to the KC scene though (based on what I've heard in response to this release...), and both are striking here, especially Davis: At times he sounds more like a "typical" guitarist, but opens the album with a variety of twittering & burbling electronics that almost recall SuperCollider (pace the previous entry — & also recurring here...), including some "noise" (judiciously) at times as well, perhaps according to a sense of novelty, but also injecting a sophisticated creativity (perhaps e.g. in the "locale" mode, pace Braxton again...). The horns also employ more extended techniques at times, but more traditional sorts of calls too, particularly bold & broad (i.e. over a "landscape") from trumpet, turning more to "shredding" at times from sax.... In this context then, Smith's bass tends to be more in the background, but often works with the electronics to create a powerful, shifting landscape: There's a sort of floating, multi-dimensional sense to which the horns react, almost like solos, but striking off at various angles within that shifting-dimensional space.... (Ghost Tantras is indeed very long, more than 70 minutes. Also quite loud at times, but never oriented on intensity per se: That seems to be more a matter of enhanced dynamic range for the recording.) And the title is taken from Michael McClure's book from 1964, there figured as even beyond zoomimesis (i.e. as already animal...), with a sense of the (super)natural perhaps figuring here too, i.e. framing the "humanity" of (especially) the horns.... But I also suspect the titles were applied retroactively to the improvisations. Maybe Ghost Tantras involves a sort of jungle then, & with layers of undergrowth, but it's also surely a jungle with hallucinogens... (as probably is appropriate to the inspiration). And some of the exchanges & interactions do come to seem a little more routine, almost a taking turns... with some more jazzy idioms to the fore at times too, even some repose & a sense of becoming-rhetorical.... Still, it's the contextualized assertiveness around skittering electronics that's probably most striking.

20 September 2022

And after my extended (& seemingly randomly timed...) re-review of Flock this past March, Great Waitress has released a fourth album: Back, Before was actually recorded in Sydney back in June 2018, i.e. before the pandemic, but only just appeared on Australia's Splitrec label (which had released Great Waitress's first album, Lucid, in 2011). It also turns again to the two-track format (of both Flock & Hue), and so shows considerable conceptual continuity: Each track has its own particular orientation, perhaps involving a sort of quasi-process. In this case, the album opens in luminous mode, an appealing sound, including for its (eventual) sense of suspension, but relatively unidimensional for Great Waitress. The longer second track is then particularly dark, the two openings (at least) contrasting, the latter skittering & seeming ominous... a sort of howl developing for both tracks, the latter coming to leave shuddering collective resonances hanging in the air, almost yielding a sort of stasis. (As "howling" suggests, there's also more of a sense of outdoor here: Flock was recorded in a church, and projects a more "indoor" sense of ritual.... I'd also noted the "plastic" cover of the earlier album as maybe working against me embracing it, but Back, Before has a beautiful, naturalistic cover photo....) There's also a sort of nautical feel at times, as Back, Before — an older recording now — does seem to cycle through the "standards" of this genre.... (It's also probably worth noting Ize specifically here: It's, likewise, HMZ's fourth album, also recorded in 2018, but released back in 2020, while their first album was from 2012, i.e. a year after Great Waitress's. And the two fourth outings do feature some similar textures at times....) As far as the nexus of motion & stasis then, Mayas seems to investigate these concerns at another level (of multiplicity) with Confluence, recorded the year following Back, Before.... (And then, per recent remarks generally revisiting "Australia" around the review of Jon Rose's State of Play last month, it's probably worth noting that a new issue recorded in 2018 only seems to confirm that they're in a relative trough there lately.... I assume it's because of politics.) Still, I appreciate the overall approach & vibe from the Great Waitress trio, making for another enjoyable listen, even if Back, Before does feel more like it's of the past at this point....

And pace another "nautical" reference above, also from the past is Harbors by Theresa Wong (cello) & Ellen Fullman ("long string instrument" — 70 feet!), an album released back in 2020, but that I only recently noticed: The piece, which was recorded in Berkeley in 2018 (as well...) for release, after touring since 2015, was inspired specifically by the San Francisco Bay, with the "long string instrument" providing a rich & immersive set of resonances. (As far as this entry, I'll also note that it appeared on the Australian Room40 label too... involving enough coincidences to motivate this pendant.) So I missed noting Harbors when it was new, but when it comes to "nautical," it's as extended (& abstract-ambient) an exploration as it gets.... (And Wong — already introduced here in a double entry from March 2020 — is generally developing a sophisticated Chinese-infused sense of musical naturalism, i.e. cello as qin.)

21 September 2022

When writing the prior entry, drawing parallels between trio HMZ (& Ize) and Great Waitress (& their fourth album Back, Before), I had no idea that HMZ had just released an expanded sextet album, [ru:t]. Well, sort of. There's actually plenty to mention around the relations of that album, and I do want to do that (as usual) here, but I also don't want to lose sight of the music itself: It can be highly affective, including both more breezy & intense sections, involving a variety of extended resonances in both high & low pitch ranges, and with a strong bass presence via breath, various trills & e.g. chiming percussion. Indeed the Metaculture (the name of the new sextet) concept explicitly seeks musical figuration not only beneath idiom, but beneath cultural figuration per se, i.e. interrogates the sonic elements common to music in general. It's thus an ambitious notion, but doesn't start from nowhere, as of course non-idiomatic music per se has been explored for decades... as have e.g. acoustic resonance patterns beyond notions of chromatic or diatonic scales, etc. Moreover, the collection of musicians talked over these issues in advance, not generating written notation (or presumably anything so specific), but some different, general orientations/figurations/processes for the different tracks. (The result is a little under an hour, but consequently feels very substantial, like a sequence of symphonies, or perhaps, of worlds: Per my new introduction & issues of "transcription," I'm also — tentatively — going to render the album as Rüt, even though [ru:t] is clearly typeable in ASCII... itself taken here as a pronunciation diagram.) So Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba) & Philip Zoubek (piano) from HMZ were involved in recording Rüt in November 2021, with Hübsch writing the included discussion, but (according to what I read elsewhere...) Martel was unable to travel for the session in Cologne due to pandemic restrictions. (So it's not all of HMZ.) Perhaps he was involved in the preparatory discussions mentioned? In any case, Martel's role in performance was taken up by Tiziana Bertoncini (violin): A classically trained violinist, she was new to me, but actually has a duo album with Thomas Lehn already in this space, Horsky Park (on Another Timbre) from 2011 (i.e. from around the beginning of my project here). (Of course, one needn't look very far for other projects involving Hübsch & Zoubek: E.g. Werckmeister Musik, released in 2020, pairs them in a more consistently intense & dissonant, flowing quartet interaction.... Both have appeared here since early in this project....) And then joining HMZ — whose style is used as direct inspiration for the first track on Rüt — are three "soloists" (as named by Hübsch, but this is never a concertante sort of interaction...): Angélica Castelló (Paetzold recorder, tapes) was recently discussed here (March 2022) with the winds & strings quartet/quintet Zimt & their release Ganz, itself involving a slowly shifting tapestry of various subtle continuities & repetitions, not so unlike Rüt at times, but perhaps feeling a bit more "new age" at times too.... (There's also some quiet speaking, which I thought could be random, but it occurs a couple of places here too, so perhaps that's "tapes....") Sandra Weiss (bassoon, saxophone) was then already featured here with Ramble (from 2015), whose opening track "Water in Tubes" does also already suggest aspects of Rüt for me, but starts to seem like it's from an older album too, albeit an album that (obviously) marks an increasing trajectory in this space, particularly e.g. when it comes to calmly clearing "earworms," i.e. feeling some relief from advertising & general pop production.... (Rüt is at another level of sophistication.) And finally, Shiau-Shiuan Hung (percussion) was unknown to me, Taiwanese from her online bio, apparently e.g. hailed for Stockhausen performances.... (So the sextet isn't entirely European, although that's where Hung seems to be now, but without Martel, I do hear less sense of "North America" coming through....) Then as far as relations for the release, there're others that I want to go on to note as well: This isn't the first appearance of the Impakt Köln label here, for instance, as Live at mœrs festival '20 (also featuring Hübsch, as well as Etienne Nillesen from Werckmeister Musik...), a shorter album developing waves in continuity, was reviewed here in July last year. And the label's immediate prior release revolved around Zoubek, The Loft Sessions (recorded the month before Rüt) by the quartet Silt (with Hautzinger, Schick, Buck), post-industrial grooves, becoming a little spacey.... However, the clearest parallel, likewise out of the Köln scene (but released on Leo Records...), is probably Skein, i.e. based on a regular "working" trio (also including piano...) bolstered to a sextet for the occasion, and producing a long album moving through a variety of affective spaces. (But Skein does also have tracks with more traditional musical figurations, e.g. moving into dodecaphony, although there're various more extended, searching moments too....) From there, I still feel a need to note individual tracks — something I'm usually reluctant to do — at least in terms of different parallels to other musicians: The opening track does already go beyond HMZ, particularly in the "spectral" domain via the added winds, but evokes some of the classic mood of Drought as well.... And then the "archaic" style of the second track can suggest a more "acoustics"-focused musician like John Butcher (& what could be more "meta" than acoustics?), indeed the recent Induction, itself more stark as a "mere" trio.... The timbral blending of the short third track then recalls Music for... & the grains of its (also) three horns, while the "intensity" of the fourth track might even suggest Sawt Out, itself generating far more of a din, but certainly also asking the question "What comes after intensity?" (The more mellow opening track of that album can recall Rüt as well, as do various sections of Music for..., maybe even the speaking....) With Rüt, clearing the mind can be a little more mellow, but e.g. some traditionally "big" (& fast) piano playing does end up being engaged as well. Finally, regarding the notion of "metaculture" versus e.g. "anthropology music" (i.e. as I've sometimes raised here...), the latter often seems to revolve more around specific naturalistic inspirations, particularly zoomimesis (as so often cited here lately...), but even "landscape" (or geometric) effects that could be more regionally specific.... Zoomimesis is thus relatively absent on Rüt (& especially from e.g. Induction or Ramble, perhaps there with more geologic parallels...), at least until the (sparse, distant) post-intense scene of twittering birds & chirping insects, then (surely) evoking some whinnying in the more rhythmic final track.... Of course, there could be more to say about these aspects, e.g. about the historical-geographic range of strings, about regional responses to geography, or indeed about figuring the nature-culture dual per se. However, I believe I'll leave some of these interrogations for another time — as I want the listener to (be able to) explore the music on Rüt without too much description. It's taken what was already quite a worthwhile musical project to another level (yet, as elemental, shouldn't rely for appreciation on prior listening — an aspect I can't possibly assess myself...).

26 September 2022

Returning to a sequence of albums that I was expecting (although surprise is welcome!), Great Waitress certainly isn't the only group involving accordion these days, a "flexible" sort of keyboard instrument that seems to be enjoying increased attention. So I want to add some remarks on Les Capelles, an improvised quartet album recorded in Barcelona (on an unknown date) in a 14th century religious building, yielding music that "lives in an intermediate space between the archaic and the contemporary." This might describe my project here in some sense (& even e.g. Metaculture from the previous entry...), but then, recording in a church is not exactly a novelty either. However, despite the cryptic recording date (& a contradictory CD release for a label named Tripticks Tapes...), Les Capelles yields a strong affective sweep, seemingly articulated in "main" lines for each of three tracks, almost throbbing drones, but thickening harmonically (pace accordion...) & with various chimes & resonances as accents. The quartet for Les Capelles seems to center on percussionist Vasco Trilla then, as there's tremendous formal similarity to his recent Implositions (recorded in early 2020, and reviewed here in June 2021), a trio album involving two horns. But Les Capelles boasts a rather different timbral palette around Trilla, especially including Miguel A. García (electronics): García seems to have been one of the driving forces behind favorite Sitsa (a sextet album recorded in 2018), producing a sort of similar sound there around electric organ & various close mic'ing. Sitsa is more in the realm, perhaps, of sound installation though, involving a considerable spatial sense with multiple dimensions. But Les Capelles, whose accordionist (Garazi Navas) I hadn't noted to this point, also adds Àlex Reviriego on double bass (whom I'd heard with Trilla & others at various times, but not mentioned...), yielding a sort of heavy metal or "doom" feel overall. (Implositions has less in the way of idiom, more "nuts & bolts" around gurgling trombone....) The ominous quality on Les Capelles is relatively subtle, though, and in fact, the album produces an affective calming overall — presumably as a release from those tensions. There're thus senses of drama (even with e.g. some dissonant, Scelsian rubbed percussion) & architectural interrogation animating the musical waves, sometimes becoming intense, sometimes remaining more latent, but erecting a distinctive sound world of low grinding & organesque chords, punctuated by ringing resonant lines of flight. (And when it comes to accordion in general, a recent pole for comparison is of course Play as you go, featuring legend Pauline Oliveros, not so "atmospheric" as here, but intensely dialogic, traversing a series of worlds.... Then even more "conversational" is Attrape-mouches by the Dionée trio around Éric Normand, Robin Servant on accordion, a sort of pesky, buzzing interaction per the title.... So that also-new-this-month "accordion trio" eschews "gravity" per se, and neither involves a sense of metal/pop....) So the overall sweep on Les Capelles is more unified than what I usually feature here (i.e. involves less polyphony per se), generally including a consistent sense of momentum moving forward, but the affective sculpting has nonetheless been consistently successful (for me) as well: There's a sense of (abstracted) metal, but with a sparkle, a sort of numinosity that indeed the "metal" genre does seem to seek, i.e. quasi-industrial ceremony installing a spatial sense of "presence" from beyond....

27 September 2022

Then (presumably) even more recent, Ernesto Rodrigues continues to record together with clarinetist Bruno Parrinha in 2022: The provocatively titled Distilling Silence comes from this past May, i.e. prior to Definitive Bucolic (as reviewed here in July, after being recorded in June...), and turns to a different guitarist: Emídio Buchinho had recorded with Rodrigues already, back in 2016 for the trio album Fall, itself evocatively titled, very sparse & quiet music. (This was also a period when I was lamenting that many "silence"-themed albums were simply too quiet, i.e. quieter than the ambient noise of my apartment & neighborhood, i.e. too quiet to be useful....) That album was also rounded out by electronics, and here that's accomplished by Carla Santana — new to me, but also already on the new Uranium (recorded last November) by Isotope Ensemble — to form a quartet. While "fall" (i.e. autumn) & "bucolic" suggest outdoor scenes, though, Distilling Silence evokes more in the way of the indoor & its smaller spaces: There's a sense of "lowercase," i.e. of amplifying the smallest, everyday sounds — the sounds of a quiet home (& e.g. Jeff Shurdut had already released an entire series of albums on this theme...) — i.e. of bringing (the potentially ignored) to presence, but not simply as amplified per se, rather as arising reworked by collective instrumental expression.... (In its sense of the everyday, Distilling Silence thus projects an immanent affective quality, contrasting e.g. with the transcendental-metal yearnings of the previous entry....) One might even recall e.g. Rodrigues' A late evening in the future (noted here in June 2019), a sort of sparse urban outdoor interrogation, but pace the "absolute" orientation here, perhaps a more direct comparison comes from the quintet album Prima pratica (reviewed here in November 2019, and with no other musician in common...), more atmospheric or "outdoor" in its inspirations & perhaps more rambling too.... These covers actually seem to suggest a sequence with Nor, askew now for Distilling Silence (itself lit not unlike A late evening in the future...), another intriguing quartet album (originally discussed here in September 2015) with a frustrating tendency to vanish.... But back to Distilling Silence, a much tighter album than these earlier efforts: There's indeed a real sense of presence brought to the fore here, although one wouldn't call it a foreground, yielding a coherent "musical sweep" that's nonetheless beneath any sense of genre. (In comparison to Metaculture, then, that group employs a more conscious virtuosity or sense of expression, but both can suggest a sort of ambient vibe, rather less naturalistic than is typical for Rodrigues.... And pace notions of "anthropology music," various sounds of the environment have certainly been inspirational for "music history," but there's still a notion of human selection at work, and so specifically of human thought. (And I should also mention the intervening releases including both Rodrigues & Parrinha, the etudes-like quartet album D'Improvviso, featuring new-to-me horn player Michel Stawicki, and a strange experiment in a sort of flat or "unexpressive" virtuosity in the quintet album (with percussion) Unpoem, both including João Madeira on bass as well — & both actually recorded in June 2022 too, i.e. subsequent to Distilling Silence.... (The latter was also recorded in multitrack, if that's worth noting, but not HD.))) Moreover, opening with breath, Distilling Silence develops a sort of post-Cage "sound," a sort of fluttering timbre, slightly echoing, perhaps likely to fade away, but also a sense of deep throbbing (drone?) at times too, forging an ongoing kind of (elevated?) continuity for the space... or for time (& its presencing). There's an intimacy (as canonical lowercase...), and a sort of flow, a feel for pacing... a (non-rhetorical, becoming unconscious...) repose. In short, while nothing is striking, and the album isn't sparse or particularly quiet, there's indeed a sense of distilling silence, i.e. of bringing "everyday silence" to presence. Moments don't stand out, expression doesn't stand out, but one's sense of situation & time are thereby slowly transformed. (And "outside" everyday sounds seem almost charming when they do return.)

30 September 2022

Releasing later this month will be Stepping Out by the octet Playfield, around Daniel Carter. I've actually had an advance copy for a while, but decided to wait until closer to the release date to put some thoughts down, so I guess this'll be a little less spontaneous than usual.... And Stepping Out is itself more of a "produced" album too, in a popular music or hip hop sense, pace e.g. the various layerings of Sélébéyone & Xaybu (as reviewed here in August...), immediately striking in terms of overall sound & depth of materials. (The producers, including guitarist Aron Namenwirth, are specifically credited e.g. with "heavy new effects.") That "sound," though, derives in part from Playfield's history, i.e. as an outdoor ensemble during the pandemic: Carter is of course a legend in NYC, an adept & understated melodist on a variety of wind instruments (credited on Stepping Out, for instance, with tenor sax, alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute & trumpet) — & I've heard him in dozens of settings, although I don't usually comment. (As cofounder of 577 Records, he regularly records with other black jazz musicians in New York, plus many others....) In this case, Carter actually joined a developing quartet around Ayumi Ishito (tenor sax & electronics) for jam sessions in Harlem in 2019, yielding the album Open Question Vol. 1 (released this past January), already free-wheeling & richly multi-dimensional in sound, but also very tonal-harmonic & "firmly rooted" in jazz (& even blues). That quintet — also including Eric Plaks (piano, rhodes), Zachary Swanson (bass) & Jon Panikkar (drums) — was then joined in 2020, for outdoor sessions, by Namenwirth, Yutaka Takahashi (also on guitar & electronics) & Luisa Muhr (voice) to make Playfield: They then produced three short albums from one recording date in October 2020, released on 577's "Orbit" imprint: Sonar, The Middle & After Life. (Stepping Out isn't really much longer, but per the "production" remarks, more intricate....) This was an outdoor recording session, and so the indoor Stepping Out, recorded in June 2021 in Brooklyn, takes up that history by including samples of outdoor sounds in its overall tapestry.... Further to the musicians then, Panikkar is the only one (besides Carter) whom I'd mentioned in this space before (in a March 2019 entry around Blaise Siwula, another big NYC "pick up" reed player...), but both Ishito & Swanson also have leader albums already out on 577 (while I'd heard Plaks too, elsewhere). So while Stepping Out can project a strong jazz vibe, the double guitar setup can suggest rock as well, especially funk. And then Muhr on voice (who is otherwise new to me... along with both guitarists) is silent for most of the opening track (which revolves around Carter's pastoral flute for a while early on...), starting a little background vocalizing by the end, as the octet accumulates layers & builds an overall sound.... But she's often at the center of the second track, generally mellow & welcoming (a typical mood for Carter...), suffused with joy, funky grooves & flow, moving through a wide variety of (technical but mostly) non-verbal material.... And then the final (& longest) track projects a more rhetorical orientation to open, perhaps more exotic (including cartoon voice & featuring bent tones...), but also layered & increasingly percussive-multidimensional across the octet — until it ends. Although there's certainly a polished surface to Stepping Out, and an interesting trend to bring hip hop production stylings (& higher resolution formats...) into jazz, the NYC "pick up band" character recalls Jeff Shurdut for me: For instance, Yad also features an octet playing indoors, but after some history outside & incorporating a variety of outdoor noises... e.g. yelling, traffic (but not sampled). (Pace the previous entry then, Shurdut worked various of these indoor-outdoor transitions through an earlier decade, but also went generally for a more raw, "urban jungle" sort of sound....) There's likewise a dense interweaving of material, a sort of cacophony, but on Stepping Out there's more of a segmented or kaleidoscopic quality, pace Sélébéyone.... There's thus some real musical intensity sometimes as well, but the overall tapestry can project a sort of lightness too... yet "heavily" atmospheric (including strongly contoured bass...), hiding & almost cabaret at times (pace indoor...), but forging its own world, a world in which one might well want to linger. (So one might speak eventually of Braxtonian locale too, but earlier tracks give more the impression of harmolodic, versioning inspirations....) So Stepping Out comes to feel (melodically) luxurious & often relaxed, floating, opening for the listener, transporting....

3 October 2022

And I'm surely (relatively) late in discussing Evan Parker in this space, but now want to turn to his latest release in an ongoing project that I do seem to have noticed in more timely fashion: Grounded Abstraction — recorded in January 2022 & released on FMR Records — reprises the Trance Map duo (from an album recorded between 2008 & 2011...), now as a trio, following the quintet version on Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf (as reviewed here in August 2019). But before turning to the two extended tracks (totaling well over an hour...) on Grounded Abstraction, there're some other preliminaries: First, the new album gives the ensemble name as "Transmap+" (rather than as "Trance Map+" per Crepuscule...), but considering that Parker himself continues to use the Trance Map designation in the included notes, this appears to be an error. (Unfortunately, although they release many fine albums in terms of music, FMR also has relatively many typos. Or I suppose the change still could've been intended....) Second, regarding prior thoughts on Parker, there were basically another two factors at work: I started this project wanting to emphasize young & American musicians, so a well-established performer elsewhere wasn't a priority, but I also was reluctant to embrace English music because of imperialism & the basic political ambiguities of the so-called British Invasion — of which Parker was crucially a part (albeit less spectacularly so, pace popular culture...). And I still feel ambivalent on the politics of this music — although there're obviously people in England who share my attitudes, and even though I soon realized that I needed to review the leading musicians in this space, at least so as to contextualize my other thoughts.... (I mean, I'm not bothered by e.g. Parker's comment on ESP, but it doesn't resonate either.) Anyway, that's about what I call "trajectory" here... and now I'm listening e.g. to Grounded Abstraction, because it's significant music in the technical sense (& may be more...). The original project had to do with music for falling asleep, as reflected in the Crepuscule... title, and although I'd found that (live) quintet outing intriguing, I also described it as a "main line, with many shifting accents" (i.e. not especially polyphonic), and "toward the gossamer" that "often seems to be an eerie held whistle or ongoing ostinato." For Crepuscule... though, the three musicians added ("+") by Parker all play electronics (including Adam Linson on bass), particularly the Spring Heel Jack processing duo (in addition to Matt Wright, Parker's original duo partner). There's thus a lot of processing & repetition "within" the ensemble. And then a couple of Parker's projects collided, as basically this entire quintet (albeit employing the FURT processing duo, instead of Spring Heel Jack...) reappeared on the latest album by his ElectroAcoustic Ensemble, Warszawa 2019: There's a lot more happening there, more material to be processed, including e.g. as arising from Paul Lytton as another "pole" to that group, plus piano & other horns etc.... But in some ways, Grounded Abstraction is more like Warszawa 2019, in that it likewise consists of two long tracks, and pairs a horn with Parker's soprano sax. One might even characterize it as a paring down of the (usually) rather busy Warszawa 2019, Parker & Wright now joined ("+") only by Robert Jarvis on trombone: I wasn't familiar with Jarvis previously, as many of his credits go back to the beginning of my time in this space, but he's very precise here, and continues a basic trend of trombone processing, probably most closely associated with AACM legend George Lewis, but also with e.g. the English Earshots duo (as reviewed here in November 2020 with Eddie Prévost, another English 60s legend, on High Laver Reflections, an album that's partly an exploration of external, physical space — while Grounded Abstraction might be described as an interrogation of internal space.) In fact, the result can sound much like a horn trio at times (perhaps recalling e.g. Spectral, as first mentioned here in July 2014, later to turn to encounters with physical space themselves...), but the textures do also sometimes build to a lot more. Yet at others they're very sparse, bare trombone grain, slowly burbling... i.e. the "gossamer" again, per this investigation of line per se. There's indeed a sense that horn calls actually generate their own landscape, but there's still a feel for landscape itself emerging. (Parker thus continues to investigate a notion I once called "melody determining form....") Everything can feel like line, or the crossing of two close lines, yet somehow a world can feel generated (at least at times...), as a kind of harmolodic superposition perhaps, but also as suggestive of Anthony Braxton's work, specifically the recent Duet (Other Minds) 2021: There the unisons are more explicit, the electronics are operating independently, and there's more sense of underlying structure (specifically temporally, via Braxton's Ghost Trance Music).... (And this is also probably the moment to note that Parker says that Wright's "reaction times are astonishing," presumably vitiating the need for more processors — or an AI processor. There's a bit of spaciness in some moments here, but for the most part, Wright's electronics are less obviously identifiable as electronics than e.g. Braxton's SuperCollider system....) Indeed there's a similar sense of a single line opening to two, with the space "between" generating multitudes.... Grounded Abstraction is more apt to suggest foreground & background, though (including a sense of moving at different speeds), than the more "balanced" Braxton, although these do swap, and notions of a general ground can appear, hence "landscape" as noted, but usually pace spinning.... (Feelings of spinning tend to occupy many of Parker's longer expositions, across projects. And this is actually a Sufi image... although I don't feel that specific resonance from Parker.) There's thus also a sense, at least at times, that not a lot is happening, perhaps due to the more experimental orientation here, but also due perhaps to the original "sleep" project, which isn't explicitly reiterated here, although there's certainly a trance-like feel overall.... (I mean, are we supposed to maintain concentration? That's difficult. Each track is album length, and should probably be heard separately if so....) Overall then, there's a sense of getting down to essentials with Grounded Abstraction, a paring away of the excesses of the EA Ensemble (& much of its color...), further refining the sort of (paradoxical?) "backbone" of this (line-centric, extended continuity...) style. There's thus also a latent or embryonic sense (indeed not so unlike GTM...) that time itself becomes multi-dimensional, i.e. folds back... or spins.

14 October 2022

With an album such as Distilling Silence, an emphasis on spontaneous reaction here can work against doing a more thorough review. Of course, that's true in general. And sometimes I do feel more occupied with other thoughts (& although I try to bring the same perspective & openness to each release, I'm not sure that's always possible). Or sometimes, it just takes more exposure, or else some other kind of slippage or breakthrough in my other interactions to yield a new perspective.... For Distilling Silence, though, I did already think I might return here when I wrote the other review: One thing about reviewing so many albums from Ernesto Rodrigues over the years is that there're so many albums from Ernesto Rodrigues. (I mean, that's obviously fine. It's only an artifact of what I'm doing here that I need to "sort" into buckets, whether to review, etc.) So what stands out above other projects? (It's the sort of question I ask around various prolific musicians, but they often have releases rather outside my interests. Rodrigues always seems to be intersecting with something relevant here....) And with an album such as Distilling Silence, it was always going to be about random hearings at random times, i.e. to form a more thorough impression, so that took a while. (And it was also about continuing to think about what Rodrigues is doing. Like e.g. Anthony Braxton or Evan Parker in recent entries here, he seems ready, in the "post"-pandemic world, to continue forging new music. Unlike some other arenas where it seems that everyone is stuck in 2019....) Well, it turns out that it's become one of my favorites, so I'm indeed back here for a few more remarks. I'd talked before about cultivating a sort of blandness, which is part of what took me a while with this recording, as it didn't stand out at first.... But what's strange in hindsight is that various passages are quite intense, including rumbling bass & searing high tones, i.e. general framing of audible space, while there're also various held resonances & an overall tendency to vary attacks. (I'm often looking for something to obliterate earworms & other general noise, but Distilling Silence was more subtle about its effectiveness in this domain. It provides more of a "reset" than a frontal assault on jingles.... One might even suggest that it targets "mental noise" more broadly, i.e. the main political tactic of our era, figuring generally overwhelming sensation & emotion — here retuning dissonance itself in order to quiet the mind.) The opening has already taken on a "classic" feel for me, the sense of breath, the unfurling braided timbres, the inviting sense of space.... As already noted (as "tight") in the prior review, there's also a sense that this music is rather refined & so has been "produced" — i.e. akin, perhaps, to some other prominent (& more "jazz"-based) releases discussed here recently, Xaybu & Stepping Out: As usual, there's no real discussion of how Distilling Silence was created, but it fits apparently under "improvisation," even as there was presumably some prior discussion as well as electronic processing. However, Rodrigues has actually moved into composed music at this time as well, or at least has decided to release a recording: The string quartet from Dis/con/sent recorded an album last November of four compositions, one by each member, graphic scores that were then rehearsed & released recently as Kompositionen. (This is actually the group's fourth album, without personnel changes, so that's already unusual for Rodrigues. Various organizational ideas & string techniques of the 20th & 21st centuries are deployed.) And it's not only the opening to Distilling Silence that impresses, as there're four distinct tracks, each seemingly separately conceived & articulated. Of course, including per the title, they seem to be something out of a post-Cage school, and so it's probably worth recalling Cage's famous disdain for improvisation... but then his complaints were also specific & practical: The situation is very different since the development of non-idiomatic improvisation, including moving beyond note-focused music into varying timbral combos. Particularly since Cage's late music often includes a sense of filling intervals of time, these basic notions also lead me into ideas around "coloring" time itself, i.e. beyond the coloring of different beats in rhythmic music (e.g. by a pioneer of the previous generation of European free jazz such as Baby Sommer...), to a more general coloring of interval & temporality. There's thus a sense of sculpting timbral combos here as well, with viola & clarinet fusing with guitar & electronics in different shades (& shifting foregrounds, what I call braiding...). And for me, upon further reflection, the result specifically recalls Coluro (another album from Rodrigues, first reviewed here in July 2018...), a very substantial album by length, also less "economic" in its forces (there as a sextet), but with a similar vibe around timbral combos, and what I called the "spanning" of space thereby. That album long made an impression on me, but ends up seeming rather more rough than Distilling Silence, almost a trial run — although the only musician in common is Rodrigues himself. And then another influential album for me from his recent catalog was Setúbal (recorded shortly before lockdown in February 2020, and reviewed here at the height of lockdown in May 2020), an album with a superb sense of flow (& flowing timbre), part of a much wider trend (perhaps) of flowing water inspirations.... So that sense (& technique) of "flow" seems to inform Distilling Silence as well, coming & going, serving to color time per se. (The other recent album from Rodrigues that I've especially enjoyed this year, Chiaroscuro, uses "flow" passages as well, there packaged more classically — & vertically — into a play of shadows....) But then, it's not only Rodrigues on Distilling Silence: I'd already noted how Bruno Parrinha has contributed to so many projects this year, and I still haven't found anything else about Carla Santana, but Emídio Buchinho (b.1963, Angola) does have more of a media presence, working theater/film music (& via various technology...), sound installation, etc. He doesn't release many albums, and is surely a major factor here (& his prior album with Rodrigues, Fall, although tending to be very quiet, is precise & clear in its conception as well, as noted here last month), i.e. contributes to the singularity of the result. (Buchinho has been collaborating with electronics artists his entire career....) And the result really ends up doing something for me, i.e. the album is useful. As noted, sometimes the passages are intense or even shrill, but somehow, a sense of soothing seems to emerge overall, I guess highlighting the nuances of time, but not in an overbearing way.... Perhaps the key to success here is also its sense of envelopment, i.e. the very low & very high (not to mention the basic timbral variety...) subtly framing-shaping space. Maybe the ringing guitar can even come to suggest the beach (as well) at times. And much like Cage, maybe it can feel emancipatory without being loud or even expressive.

25 October 2022

Ivo Perelman is another very prolific musician in this space, and so I want to turn now to his massive 12 album set Reed Rapture in Brooklyn, twelve duets with other reed players recorded over the course of six months in 2021. I reviewed Perelman's saxophone quartet album (D)IVO in February, and mentioned this set: (D)IVO was actually recorded later, although it was released first. And some of the remarks & conclusions from that review apply as well to Reed Rapture in Brooklyn, a release I'd already mentioned there. There's something basically intimidating about this specific project, though, and so I should say it up front: There's more going on here in terms of the individual histories of playing the saxophone (& clarinet) than I'm possibly able to capture in this discussion, or even really to hear on relatively short acquaintance. (Talking about four-part polyphony is a long part of my history, though, so that seemed different — saxes or not.) There's an impressive sequence of collaborators then, and very detailed (& lengthy) interactions. Duos are also outside my usual focus, but I was immediately impressed — blown away, even — by the production (hence this review...): For one thing, the entire result evinces such great clarity, both in terms of the conception itself (all basically by Perelman, I assume....) and in the recording per se, which is striking & sparkling, the two saxes rendered in exquisite detail on two sides of a high-def stereo sound stage. (The physical CD version won't appear until Spring, so I can't comment on its sound specifically, but what I heard as a review copy off of SoundCloud is especially clear. The set is available now from Mahakala Music on Bandcamp.) There's also a documentary film to be released for film festivals next year. The basic idea then, that this is "a kind of reed summit," lends an emphasis to the sorts of "nuts & bolts" technical interactions that I sometimes emphasize here — although it should be added already that Perelman et al. are also often lyrical. And they manage this sort of synthesis despite most of these recordings being first meetings. (Judging by the track labels that I saw on the review copy, some sessions had their track orders changed for the release, while some improvisations were omitted. It appears that most of what was recorded found its way onto the albums, though.) The overall feel of this set of sets, which is of varietous articulation & crisply detailed interactions, takes much from Perelman himself, of course, but his collaborators also include major figures in the extended jazz world: I'm not intending to run through this lengthy set in order (& it also appears that the order of presentation was being tweaked until the very end...), but some remarks on the other musicians are warranted, at least so as to situate my reactions. It would also be wrong of me to remark that "some" musicians stand out, while implying that other sets are more mundane. I want to emphasize that each of these albums projects its own distinctive feel & synthesis. (And if I'm to criticize anything, generally, in that domain, it's the same as for (D)IVO: This is basically note-based, i.e. largely segmented, chromatic music. So more or less in the "free jazz" lineage, not as extended or "contemporary" as some. But there're still a few tracks where the musicians aren't playing "straight" this way.... Shifting rhythmic figures are also the norm, although obviously there's no jazz rhythm team, no grooves....) Let me start, though, by highlighting Roscoe Mitchell's participation: His was the only set recorded outside of New York, in Milwaukee, and he's a musician whose releases I otherwise tend to follow. And although his set does often involve the sorts of quick exchanges of quasi-melodic figures that dominate much of the Reed Rapture in general, Mitchell (here entirely on bass sax) seems at times to be trying to slow Perelman... to induce more of a slippage, in layers perhaps, a ritual tumbling even... working into a sort of (grave) anthem by the end. I'm also relatively likely to check into a new release from Lotte Anker (here on soprano & alto saxes), since she isn't as prolific, and her participation here can also be singled out for two reasons, as the only woman, and as the only musician coming from outside North America: There's a sort of synchronicity (already) early in her set with Perelman, a kind of close dancing, but not really tender... more brittle, maintaining an elemental distance. I've also heard a variety of music over the years from Joe McPhee (tenor sax), Tim Berne (alto sax), Ken Vandermark (clarinet), Vinny Golia (soprillo, clarinet, basset horn & alto clarinet) & Jon Irabagon (slide soprano sax & sopranino sax), and have reviewed them previously in this space. And as one might expect, their sets here couldn't be more different: McPhee is the only player to pair with Perelman directly on tenor, and their set employs more vocalizing (by both) as well. There's thus a sort of collegiality emerging, a sort of evening "buddy" feel, often reposeful & even nostalgic (with McPhee himself often in the lower register). Berne went on to appear on (D)IVO, and one can hear the "suggestion" here already: Their set seems often to be invoking resonances and a sort of call for more horns... as if they're already being haunted. Vandermark is amazing (technically) on clarinet, especially in the high registers, the interaction coming to suggest a sort of irony or rhetorical noir.... (Impressive technique is a hallmark of Reed Rapture in general.) And then Golia is a master of many horns by himself, playing the biggest variety here, yielding a particularly full & intricate buzz, a lush garden thicket eventually heading into dusk.... Irabagon brings a sense of the "outdoors" as well, including a sometimes noisy or intense sense of variety (despite "only" using two horns here), more of a tropical garden (i.e. with bigger insects...), pushing the intensity into higher registers... wild, even becoming-cartoon. (And of course, Perelman is right there on tenor throughout.) There're also three musicians here who I think of more as "classic" jazz men, Joe Lovano (on the more unusual C-melody & F-soprano saxes), David Murray (entirely on bass clarinet, so one of the more surprising sets...), and David Liebman (on his usual soprano). And it turns out that I hadn't mentioned any of the three here specifically before, but know at least some of their work.... (Murray has a new album on Intakt, in fact, a trio... much more "inside.") Anyway, these sets are actually fascinating, presumably pulling these guys away from their usual (i.e. more so than some other players who get wild on a regular basis): The Lovano set leads off the release, and it's one of the most melodic & instantly engaging, suggesting a kind of elegant choreography, swinging at a distance.... The set with Murray comes off as more peripatetic, i.e. walking together, a journey eventually into a sultry night... Liebman is more chatter & human-horn articulation, and even added some ("talky") liner notes to the production, i.e. about the "exposure" of two-melody-line improvisation, the choices involved.... Was it a rainy day? Maybe, but there's also a sort of melancholic rhetoric developed. And then there are two sets from musicians I didn't know previously, and who (if I understand...) often work in more popular arenas: James Carter (baritone sax) isn't actually new now, since he (subsequently) participated on (D)IVO, and his set here does show a real impulse to challenge Perelman, to be combative (as even their "whimsy" comes to seem competitive...), ultimately seeking parity it seems (not so unlike Mitchell, sliding...), into that "similar chirping" I'd noted in the prior review.... (And recall that Tony Malaby, not included on Reed Rapture, plays soprano to complete the quartet on (D)IVO.) But Colin Stetson (contrabass sax & tubax) was definitely new to me, and he seems to have come particularly ready for this exchange, as his support for the "high" tenor seems well-conceived & sophisticated from the jump. (His control of the low wind grains is also superb. Other musicians should be looking into this guy! I mean, it's not the most adventurous set either, despite the instrumental novelty...) So the whole thing comes off as something of a spectacle — & there's certainly plenty more to say about each of the sets. (Hopefully I've conjured a little snippet of the overall vibe for each, though....) But generally, they tend to be quite human (occasionally zoomimetic...) & expressive, less often atmospheric (& only Mitchell's goes into anything more "minimal"), but taut & detailed, occasionally slowing, but mostly proceeding in quickly articulated exchanges. Individual characters emerge, as do exploratory arcs internal to the different albums. Close interactions thus come to reveal some sort of "essence" of reed playing here, oriented on tenor sax, indeed almost yielding an encyclopedia of playing styles (pace the chromatic segmentation... and the usual emphasis on equality). Conversations are gripping. Interrogations are mutual. (And probably the only comparison I can really make at this point is with the various & ongoing duo releases from Udo Schindler: Those are also highly detailed close interactions, but also delve more into spectral ideas....) The question then is on the impact of this release: It seems to be of clear value to horn players & anyone who wants to study these sorts of close interactions. But what about the general listener? (What about use? What about the politics?) There's certainly a broad sense of virtuosity, but maybe this is a good time to question the Western history of musical virtuosity. What does it do exactly? I mean, Perelman is very good at playing tenor sax. I think anyone would agree. And now he's finding projects to use his talents... to make some impact on the world. (I can relate to such a desire.) But what is this impact? One aspect I've highlighted in this space is that Perelman is simply never at a loss for ideas, so navigating these sorts of projects validates the strength of human creativity — which we do need today. But there's also a lurking sense of heroism behind the virtuoso, right? And I don't know that we really need heroes today so much as action from everyone — that notions of "a hero" might actually inhibit. (And there's also the question of perfection: Earlier jazz included a sense of extension, of going beyond one's physical limits on the instrument, but not perfectly, rather roughly, a conscious striving....) What I might pick out here instead is the sense of motion: Our world is constantly moving (& always has been, despite limited philosophical recognition of this fact), and Perelman is constantly moving, navigating, reacting, changing.... So maybe his can be called a kinetic music.

31 October 2022

There are some basic instrument-timbre combinations that seem to attract me in this space, flute & bass being one... such that (since I often enjoy percussion too) I tend to notice "flute trios." There can also be a sort of "American" quality to the flute (although there needn't be...), even as this continent didn't have anything resembling the string bass before the European invasion — but of course it did have percussion. And some American qualities are indeed announced in the track titles of the recent Aqrabuamelu, a trio album on Tripticks Tapes featuring flautist Camilo Ángeles. Tripticks continue to release striking combos (& like Les Capelles, reviewed here in September, this isn't a tape...), Aqrabuamelu appearing together in fact with Religion (a duo for vocal nori & accordion, plus more...), following shortly after Polycephaly (a duo for sax & Ondes Martenot). And so joining Ángeles on bass for Aqrabuamelu — a confusing title that, contra the rest of the album, seems to point back to the Old World, although not without a similar sense of "spirit animal..." — is Henry Fraser, who actually appeared on the first album that I reviewed from Tripticks (in June 2021), Thip: That was after reviewing Fraser with Grist (featuring two thirds of the trio from Thip, and recorded later...) the previous October (& after mentioning him first alongside Dre Hocevar in a December 2016 review...). And then there's Jason Nazary on drums, becoming something of a mainstay for a new generation of performers, i.e. quite prolific recording, including e.g. with the SSWAN quintet reviewed here around Invisibility is an Unnatural Disaster (in July 2022). So it's a strong trio, but there's also a pretty clear sense of role around Ángeles, with the drums only seeming more fully integrated by the final track — which ends up in a brief solo, perhaps to consummate that aspect. There's thus less of a "multi-dimensional" quality (or scope) to Aqrabuamelu than to another "flute trio" favorite, Solar Wind. (That album is generally more extended & varietous, but does have its slower, more textural moments too. It also features e.g. contrabass flute on some tracks, i.e. a changing foundation.) But there's some thematic similarity at times nonetheless, again echoing a sort of New World vibe.... And I didn't actually find much about Ángeles, but his Bandcamp site states that he's in Mexico City — while the label mentions Peru as well. (The fourth track title appears to be in Quechua.) Then there's a bit of a repetitive quality to the album at times, although not in what seems like a very conscious (& short) introductory track-totem, but later in building the trio texture (again each time, perhaps into a groove...), i.e. after starting slowly for each subsequent track. There's a bit of hypnotic quality, virtuosic playing (very assured on flute...), the ensemble becoming more percussive (& unified) overall for the final track. The sense of "jungle music" that emerges at times also prompts me to recenter on the Americas: The association "jungle music" is usually made with Africa (I believe...), but there's more "America" in "jazz" than usually seems to be figured.... (I think I've also noted here in the past that I've heard old movies present (Asian) Indian drumming as "African drumming." Does Hollywood even know what African drumming sounds like? It seems not, but I digress....) Anyway, one doesn't find so many flute trios, at least not outside of more minimalistic approaches, since it makes for a difficult instrument from which to bring enough sonic variety to lead such an interaction, but Ángeles is outstanding here. Sometimes the trio's quite tight on Aqrabuamelu (which was recorded, apparently in a single session & moreover as a first meeting, in "fall of 2021"), lending a kind of canonical feel to the interaction. There're some resets, i.e. before starting another build, but the trio keeps coming back over a typical album-length program, offering strong "free jazz" energy with a generally lively & jagged sense of time.

7 November 2022

So now seems like a good time to turn to another sort of "flute trio" in The Way We Speak, recorded in a London church in June 2021. And although the previous entry involved a string bass, and so a more traditional sense of jazz trio (& indeed a basically angular & jazzy orientation...), The Way We Speak instead employs violin, for more of a double frontline around drums & so an airier presentation.... It's also a new release from Bead Records, a label I hadn't encountered before, but now online, and releasing some older material around Philipp Wachsmann as well. Wachsmann has of course been featured here many times, including with various string ensembles, often employing electronics, but The Way We Speak involves sparser acoustic music. Moreover, that it was recorded in a church doesn't confine its "acoustic awareness and explorative mindset" — per remarks by Norwegian drummer Emil Karlsen (b. 1998) on his page for this "Spaces Unfolding" project — to indoor situations, as the trio embark on a sort of journey through their sonic influences, including outdoor scenes: Karlsen (whom I'd yet to mention here, although he's been recording with prominent English musicians at a young age...) & Wachsmann had already released In Air this year (also on Bead, but I only saw it as co-released on FMR...) by a trio called Tern, and that album is so sparsely evocative (specifically of marshland) that it could almost involve playing along with field recordings. It does involve electronics though, including specialist Martin Hackett.... But The Way We Speak also weaves more than classic indoor ritual & outdoor landscape, suggesting a broadly conversational musical journey, some of its itinerant character seeming to come from (the Ugandan) Wachsmann himself, even a Sephardic intimation at one point.... There's thus perhaps a sort of nostalgia as well, and certainly human-rhetorical animation to the proceedings, especially from flautist Neil Metcalfe: Metcalfe hasn't been as prolific in the UK scene as Wachsmann, but I've appreciated him especially e.g. on Runcible Four, i.e. from a group cultivating a sort of "anthropology" vibe. And while Runcible Quintet is a more densely polyphonic group, pace the sparser & more episodic Spaces Unfolding trio here, a similar "worldly" sense does animate the conversations at times on The Way We Speak. There're thus some dramatic passages, amid a bit of allusive theatricality in general, including paths through e.g. zoomimesis & dodecaphony, but maintaining a sort of spacious tunefulness as well, a kind of mental clarity (or clearing), an airing of musical thoughts I suppose, a cultivated calm.... (I also suppose this sort of airy quality to be associated with Nordic improv in general.) Perhaps the result yields a kind of melancholy at times, but a sense of exploration as well, i.e. via reposeful grounding in the world (including its silences), centered expression looking backward & outward & so forward.... So The Way We Speak never quite grabbed me, perhaps (with its rhetorical calm...), but does continue to exert its own broad vibe, including a sense of (unfolding) renewal, pace its ongoing & variable sonic fusion of human & landscape....

14 November 2022

Variations on the classic "jazz trio" continue to animate this space: Even as I continue to discuss more post-classical ensemble constitutions or other creative combinations, the pairing of horn & drums, along with some kind of string instrument, continues to figure a kind of pole — at least for these "jazz thoughts," and likely for practical improvisational activity in general. As I've noted, the string instrument is the novelty from the American perspective, and that's most often been bass or of course piano (more often in quartets...), but guitar makes for a sort of hybrid choice, i.e. a flexible articulation instrument with more chordal potential. And there's plenty of variety possible from the other roles as well, i.e. a wide choice of horns, and then "drums" does have a sort of standard "jazz" meaning, but are at least as often buoyed or tilted in some personal direction, as regards not just expression per se, but kit.... I've also particularly enjoyed clarinet, since before this project, and even as saxophone is the more prototypical jazz reed, clarinet isn't far off. So Tom Jackson has been one of the more compelling players for me over the past few years, including for his choice of colleagues. And I do want to feature his new album Dandelion, but I also feel compelled to address the trio format a little more generally: The obvious precedent around Jackson here is Nauportus (also featuring clarinet, guitar & percussion), first reviewed here in July 2019, and so in some ways, Dandelion seems like a reprise of that effort. But Dandelion also seems more taut & coherent overall, pace the (one-off?) festival context of Nauportus, each track here forging a little gem. Jackson's wonderful sense of precision, both in rhythmic sections & in arrhythmic passages featuring held tones, brings distinct individuality to each track in this case, never really "in the weeds" as improv sometimes is.... There're also the different players alongside Jackson, excellent "acoustic" (specifically) guitarists in both cases, Daniel Thompson on Nauportus & now Dirk Serries on Dandelion: I've been hearing Serries regularly of late, but of course he entered this space for me alongside Thompson in SETT (& has since recorded again with Thompson, alongside Martina Verhoeven on Today and all the tomorrows, as released earlier this year...), and while Serries can also seem like "the third" to this interaction, his sometimes-ringing guitar intervals & general sense of accent (& indeed reflection) provide a fascinating intervention — such that I've enjoyed listening to Dandelion by focusing on the guitar perspective. The latter's drummer is then Kris Vanderstraeten, whom I hadn't mentioned here, but who's appeared on Serries' A New Wave of Jazz label previously: He opens very much in colorist mode — pace the track titles — but also shows great fluidity in & out of more traditionally rhythmic interactions, a structuring flexibility (not so unlike Vid Drašler's on Nauportus, as each percussionist is actually mentioned first by his label...) incorporating a broadly machinic animation into the individual tracks. (And I seem to enjoy the metallic chimes too.) There's thus a sense of natural resonance to Dandelion, but almost as a frame, an arrhythmic-rhythmic turning inside out of elastic musical relations, as e.g. the first two tracks begin with held resonances — emerging from silence, one might say — transforming into more traditionally jazzy rhythms. (Other tracks might transform through smoothness in the middle....) In describing Nauportus, I'd also already closed by noting its "floating, timeless globalism" — & since then, I've figured the latter more in terms of "anthropology music," i.e. generic inspirations of broad human activity, as relatively close to the divergent sounds of nature. But while Dandelion can be said to reference those sorts of callings, its intricate sense of sculpted control also seems to move beyond such a genre. Its "colors" come to suggest particular perspectives or situations, often sunny here (& so appropriately recorded at Sunny Side Inc., I suppose...), but e.g. becoming nocturnal for the long central track: There's something seemingly self-contained about these little machinic-affective tracks, little gems I already said..., figured by specific (& usually bright) colors. The album seemed long at first, but now I'm usually sorry when it ends.

And the music on Dandelion does sparkle, but it's not only the playing: I've started to note some high resolution sound formats here, and so this seems like a good time for a little more of a digression.... In fact, the 24bit sound on Dandelion is very present, with bigger-than-usual dynamics, and very crisp timbres. Compared to the "warmth" notion that people like to apply e.g. to vinyl, it can sound stark or harsh. That's partly a matter of familiarity, but the sound does certainly carry in my apartment. And part of the reason I wanted to mention this is that there seems to be a lot of noise about high-def formats out there. On Dandelion, you can really hear the difference — assuming one has the decoder for it (& that's another reason I've tended to steer clear of this topic, since I really have no idea how music sounds in "different" situations...) — but 24bit releases have actually become quite common on Bandcamp. They aren't usually noted explicitly as such though: Indeed, per above, e.g. SETT First and Second was already a 24bit release (& maybe everything on A New World of Jazz is, I didn't check...), but while it sounds good, it sounds more like a CD era recording (i.e. 16bit). Meaning that simply releasing a high-def format doesn't automatically conjure a more vibrant recording from the sources, but more often lately, there's striking sound to be found. That's mostly in bit depth, though, as 24bit recordings are appearing at a variety of sampling rates, most often 48kHz it seems (& that's what a typical smartphone will play), but some are at 44.1kHz (i.e. CD resolution), or even higher numbers such as 96kHz: The latter has been much less common outside of classical in my experience, but e.g. Braxton's ZIM set was released at that resolution — & so put out on blu-ray as its physical format. These higher resolution formats have mostly been appearing silently in the improvised space online though, i.e. aren't hyped (although the great sound from e.g. Braxton probably should be...!), with few labels providing consumers a choice of resolution (a situation now ubiquitous in the mainstream "classical" download market). But Zurich's Intakt Records is one that does provide such an explicit choice, including different price points, and has been doing it for a while now. (Scan their Bandcamp site, and you'll see a variety of resolutions offered, across different albums, not only a single "high def....") Anyway, hopefully that little orientation has some value. The sound quality on Dandelion really is better than any CD recording, though — pace the unfamiliarity, which might figure "better" differently for different listeners (even as the level of sonic detail is certainly higher). Based on classical responses, some people really don't appreciate e.g. the increased dynamic range possible in 24bit.... (Whereas higher sampling rates lend a "lushness" to timbres, and I don't know that anyone has complained about that, but it does make the sound files much larger....)

15 November 2022

Moving to a different sort of trio, I came into the jazz space without much appreciation for trumpet. I knew it was central to "jazz" per se, but took a while to come around to the sound, the sort of expressive stance that trumpet can bring.... However, I'd also come from "early music" with a taste for whole consorts of similar instruments, i.e. versus the jazz style of different roles for different performers (perhaps also involving a "competition" between frontline horns). So whereas medieval polyphony could emphasize a sort of presumptive equality between voices (including consequent "harmonic" illusions that more are sounding...), a jazz ensemble typically erected parity via competition and/or fundamentally different sound capacities. A 3-horn trio thus becomes a different sort of trio from a jazz perspective, but can also hearken more toward other collective forms. (Indeed over in my medieval space, I just reviewed an album of two three-part mass cycles from the fifteenth century, the different voices of that style likewise occupying particular pitch ranges....) I guess I've thus reacted to 3-horn trios both with curiosity & with ambivalence, but they've also tended to center on reeds. (And of course there was e.g. the big set of duos for last month's survey of Reed Rapture in Brooklyn....) That's different with The Texture Of Perception, though, from a trio called Hard Edges: The name of the band presumably alludes to brass mouthpieces (v. reeds), but refers to Chris Dowding (trumpet, piccolo trumpet & flugelhorn), Dave Amis (trombone) & Ben Higham (tuba, trumpet & flugelhorn), here in a lively LP-length interaction releasing (on CD) on London's Raw Tonk label in a couple of weeks. The recording is from Norwich in October 2021, and apparently that's where at least Dowding is based, as his very different trio album Silence, then birds (rather more tonal, even new age...) was also recorded there, and issued on Confront in 2019.... And the two other brass players were unknown to me, but have credits in English ensembles with e.g. Keith Tippett, Maggie Nicols & Martin Archer (going back many years). In any case, as the intro here might already imply, The Texture Of Perception involves distinctive "nuts & bolts" interactions via brass trio: Individual "voices" & instrumental timbres are clear — although they do swap horns as noted (& the resolution is "only" CD quality, but the sound is very present...) — yet its the collective interaction that's most striking. (And despite some ambivalence toward trumpet, I came into this space appreciating trombone for its glissando capacity, pace c.1990 classical music. And soon found an appeal in a breathy tuba bass too....) The different tracks also work through some different interactions consciously, i.e. move from "Broken Machine" to "The Embrace," including a sense of call at times (involving a relatively non-self-conscious range of zoomimesis as well...), but always suggesting a sort of non-competitive plural vibe. There's also a fine & detailed sense of what I've been calling grain (per e.g. Music for..., otherwise a sort of "opposite" album with reeds & electronics...), the basic element of wind articulation, here presumably figuring the texture of perception per se.... (And then a couple of earlier trios in this arena should be recalled as well: Spectral, involving two reeds around trumpet, was first reviewed here in July 2014, and subsequently went on to explore their collective sound within an echoing, resonant bunker. Earth Tongues, involving trumpet & tuba together with percussion, was first reviewed here in May 2015, and likewise went on to subsequent albums, in their case maintaining an impersonal, geologic vibe....) Hard Edges doesn't come off as impersonal though, as human articulation sounds through consistently (if more figurally than melodically). Rather, it sounds relatively non-rhetorically (more flowing, perhaps even post-Cageian...), yet more lush than stark — despite the band name, yielding a sort of bustling warmth & cooperative solidarity....

18 November 2022

And then turning back to another striking duo that I'm feeling compelled to note here, Myotis is the latest from Olaf Rupp (electric guitar) & Ulrike Brand (cello): Recorded in Berlin this year, presumably over multiple sessions (although without those details...), it follows their previous duo album Shadowscores (recorded in 2015 & released, also on Creative Sources, in 2016), already quite long. And I'd noted the latter's timbral variety as well, already in a preliminary review from May 2017, but especially in connection with discussing Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris, now a long-time favorite here, adding Ernesto Rodrigues to the Rupp-Brand duo for a 2016 recording (also from Berlin). So pace my usual attitude toward duos, Myotis can be a little more insular in its interactions, but it also offers no shortage of distinctive textures newly generated together by this long-term partnership, shading through various delicious tensions. (If the material was selected from among more, it's definitely packed with original moments, never seeming to lack for inspiration.... In this, the Rupp-Brand duo might recall the otherwise rather different Laubrock-Rainey duo.) Indeed the playing is quite detailed & precise, drawing upon the differences between what can be similar instruments in a basic sense: Even their unison playing can suggest a field of tension, due to differences in overtone spectra, as well as varying attack & decay. Moreover, (traditionally) differing social milieus for the two instruments are cited in the orienting remarks as well, and although the interactions often strive for a sort of parity (or balance) — as typical of duos — some of the more intriguing moments can come to involve differing (simultaneous) notions of time. And although there're some "acoustics" passages (that can be starkly resonant) — as well as some evocations of transportation again (plus some customary zoomimesis...) — there's much more than technical inspiration here: The sense of landscape differs from e.g. Traintracks..., already less mechanically inclined, i.e. with a sense of incidental layering, colorfully arrayed, almost as a sort of sunset.... Some of the color derives then from a kind of musical-technical (enharmonic) "punning" between the instruments, hence maintaining a kind of whimsy & openness (in addition to microtonal differences on which to elaborate...), i.e. supporting an intricate overall density of ideas, but also tending toward lightness in some passages, even toward the ethereal at times.... And perhaps the latter is inspired by the genus of "mouse-eared" bats named by the title (with the individual tracks being named mostly for grassy plants, framed by a track citing a particular hiking attraction & another a generic river habitat...), but Myotis seems to be more a general compendium of textural ideas & juxtapositions between Rupp & Brand. A strong sense of presence — or buzzing co-presence — maintains then, with the varietous play of similarity & difference across the eight separate tracks (totaling well over an hour) perhaps even edging toward the shamanic (embracing becoming-bat?), i.e. involving the almost-incidental touching of different worlds....

26 November 2022

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