Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts

Much as it marked the previous span of twelve months (with this latest being, once again, prolific in this space), August has brought some significant (musical) downtime after a relatively slow July — or rather, a July during which I'd discussed some important items after other extended entries in June — & so it's clearly time to flip this page again. By that I mean that I'm writing a new intro, and starting a "new" set of sequential entries, so do please (eventually) scroll to the bottom for the latest. Of course, this year, coronavirus provides a particular backdrop not only to social issues & politics more broadly, but to the new music community, particularly where live interactions are so important. And although musicians have been able to carry on some of their many activities, particularly solitary activities or innovating with distance-bridging technology, I'm also anticipating a continuing lull in releases, but that's after a relatively lively year so far....

Health is obviously rather broadly important, and that certainly includes life & death & whatever long-term (personal health) complications the novel coronavirus might bring, but art & expression are important (& healthy) too: That's especially true for new music, as established ways of being continue to change, not only on account of this latest (spectacular) human-animal intersection or collision, but according to new ways of living in general. That was already a need — especially in opposition to "there is no alternative" narratives — & new music has already been showing us many alternatives, at least in sound, or in the nitty-gritty of how people interact. So I definitely consider these activities to be more than distractions (& "health" to be more than some reductive absence of virality). I also retain some prior orientations: In particular, although it'd probably be more convenient in a virus dominated world, I still won't be featuring solos (or duos) much, but rather trios, quartets, etc. (These forces are enough to interrogate many of the small-scale social interactions that frequently occupy me. And they're more than enough to bring a nice variety of sound & approach to performance....) I'm also focused on improvisation for similar reasons, i.e. because life is ultimately improvisatory (regardless of planning, as the virus demonstrates once again), but I do sometimes note composed music here. (For me, composition can be a way of generating new ideas for improvisation... i.e. life.)

And I also like to write in an improvisatory manner, especially here in spontaneous response to recordings. So I'll often make remarks after only a couple of auditions, thus trying to give some early impressions. (And sometimes I'll return to comment on an album again & again, such that an interested reader might need to hunt around for additional comments....) I also write more "composed" theoretical pieces myself, e.g. Postmodern Aesthetics (2019), or most recently Practical listening, 10 (which will conclude that lengthy series, as well as launch a new page of serial entries, not unlike this one). In this, theory becomes both output & context of these more specific musical explorations.... And the overall context does continue to expand, as October will mark ten years of my writing in this space: Although this project came to branch into separate (& lengthy, theoretical) expositions, for the actual entries on this page, it came also to be relatively concentrated on recordings. (That wasn't necessarily my intent, as I've spent other periods attending many concerts, but for whatever reason, those circumstances have changed....) So it's turned into something of a specific stance here, and such a stance has only been further ramified by the relative lack of public performances these days: Technology comes to intersect such a project in more ways, and so as noted, I'll be taking up some of those topics more specifically in a related series.

Another aspect to consider is that the music presented here most often arrives without a textual framing: The names of the musicians themselves often serve as the best (or only) description of the result, with no statement of intent (beyond them). And so I often find myself speculating here... as to intent, context, technique, etc. Some of that speculation becomes more concrete over time, especially as what I'd conceived to be a very contemporary-oriented project not only begins to take on its own history (e.g. per the contours of Concepts of contemporary history), but more of the broad musical history of this sort of performance.... In other words, I start with the latest albums, but I do (often) come (eventually and/or already) to listen to musicians' earlier work & influences (much as in my more explicitly historical projects). Of course, one might also frame this "lack" of verbal presentation as providing space for the words of others such as myself, and sometimes I do make rather substantial efforts toward relating musical outputs to broad contemporary issues — or sometimes I (mainly) just note the existence of an album when I think it might otherwise go unnoticed.... (The downside to developing my own "history" is that it sometimes also leaves me feeling obligated to comment when I don't have much to say.... I try to avoid such situations, and always ask myself why I'm writing something here, i.e. what is the use? Sometimes I'm more excited about my own uses than others, though.) In some sense, then, my comments themselves often become contexts for further comments.

But what attracts me to music? Especially in this space, it's something new, something I haven't heard striking me... and that ultimately means as expressed in sound: Pace the forgoing, if the concept is inaudible, it's frequently invisible in this context, and moreover, it's sound that really attracts my attention anyway — particularly sound that suggests new ways of being & interacting. (In this, it's probably easier simply to consult my updated list of favorites, organized by year of release & kept to modest proportions, by way of examples.) Another word I'll mention specifically in this reboot is then "anthropology:" I'm seeing more anthropological concepts & methods entering theoretical (social) discussions in general, even as that's always been a context for ethnomusicology, and although some notions seem (merely) trendy right now, I do want to acknowledge both an anthropology "of" music, as well as an anthropological approach to making new music, i.e. of de-"naturalizing" one's musical tradition & cultural intuition via the broad backdrop of global human activity. (In this, "anthropology" does also tend to fold into ecology, or at least its various intersections with humanity....) And there's always been a lot more happening in the world of sound than most Western musicians (or apologists) have been willing to acknowledge, but now even Western musicians are expanding beyond both (their) traditional tonality & specific 20th century forms of (modernist, Western) "atonality...." Some of this expansion involves e.g. technological novelty, but some is simply a matter of taking what was considered to be "primitive" (& so by implication, not useful) more seriously. And "jazz" does continue to intersect & animate such a nexus (as discussed, in part, in prior openings...).

I'm also (still) considering more seriously the notion of unifying all of my ongoing (at least serial) discussions in one place, i.e. with the ability to display one or more topical threads, search, etc.... We'll see if I take that plunge during what I'm anticipating to be a rather slow (academic) year.... As always, thank you for your continuing interest. I expect that there will be more (hopefully useful and/or worthwhile) to say below.

Todd M. McComb <mccomb@medieval.org>
12 August 2020

So a relatively obscure release that I want to note at the moment is the trio album Now!! from Michael Lytle's Elewhale Music: I'd discussed Lytle (here strictly on bass clarinet) in October 2017 around Itinerant, a trio album on Creative Sources with Denman Maroney & Stephen Flinn. (And Flinn has recently released a solo percussion album, also on Creative Sources, Red Bell: He's rather more assertive & expressive there than I heard him in the trio setting, with some amazing extended metal work....) And I believe that Lytle released this relatively short album in April in response to the virus, although he doesn't explicitly say so & it was recorded back in October 2018: But he's joined on Now!! by (& he's evidently especially enthusiastic about their anticipatory contemporaneity) Nick Didkovsky (guitar) & Matthew Ostrowski (electronics), two musicians I've mentioned here in the past but don't know well: Didkovsky is in Eris 136199 with Han-earl Park & Catherine Sikora, and I'd discussed that trio's appearance on the album Anomic Aphasia in October 2015. (I mention this reference in detail because Eris 136199, whose self-titled followup album I'd also auditioned in 2018, is supposedly releasing a new album soon too, Peculiar Velocities....) While Ostrowski (live sampling etc.) appeared on the duo album Elective Affinities with Andrea Parkins (as discussed here this past March, soon after its release, but as actually recorded in 2014).... What is perhaps most striking about Now!! then — & it tends to be a very active album, including via electronic layering, so it'll surely make an impression — is not only its rhythmic sophistication, but its composite of clarinet & guitar timbres: Sometimes that pairing is given some relatively straight duo space, but its figures tend to infuse even more of the sonic environment, together with vocal samples, glitches, etc. Much of the album's subtlety (dual exclamation points aside) then comes into play as sounds & figures move in & out of textures without clear entries or exits, yielding a quite dynamic feel (or maybe a new way of living...) across two dense & differentiated tracks that impressively forge & explore twisting, willowy, brightly colored worlds.... (The closest references here would be from e.g. Thanos Chrysakis or MMM Quartet, but these guys have their own sound — as recorded & mixed by Lytle.)

13 August 2020

I'd discussed Ivo Perelman's Strings series over the past couple of years, in particular Strings 1 in November 2018 & then via broader entry around Strings 3 in May 2019. Four albums were released on Leo Records, and there's a statement that there'd be seven volumes: So is the latest release on Sluchaj, Deep Resonance, an additional item or a change to how that same series is being released? I don't know, but it does continue with the new graphic style on FS Records that debuted with their Taylor/Oxley release (as I'd noted here in June in an entry around their rising profile), and sees another major set of artists come to the label. In any case, while Strings 1 came off as a lengthy series of studies, and the other Strings items (to this point) include other non-string players, Deep Resonance — also recorded in Brooklyn back in (April) 2018 — pairs Perelman with the preexisting Arcado String Trio. So this latest issue ends up having a very different feel from the more exploratory Strings 1, engaging not only a range of rhetorical ensemble sophistication (according to pathways already in place, some classical), but various popular allusions as well. (The way that Arcado also functions as a unit & so sometimes as a foil for Perelman also comes to suggest a bit of Braxton's interaction with his DCWM, e.g. that of 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 pairing violin.... And the basic "sound" of some of these Braxton productions does seem to be permeating other music, especially around New York.) But the "prior pathways" of Arcado also don't pose an entirely different situation for Perelman, of course, since he tends to return to previous musical partners often, and so builds up historical material (and in fact all of the Strings albums to this point had included Mat Maneri...), and indeed two members of the trio had already appeared in the series: Mark Feldman was on Strings 1, while William H Roberts (more often credited as Hank Roberts) was on Strings 2, and so the new musician to this party is only Mark Dresser — who does add a richly satisfying bass layer, as previously absent from this series. (The resulting sound world does yield quite a bit of rhetoric & drama, making for a rather classically jazzy interaction over bass in that sense too....) Another aspect to note is the remainder of the specific ensemble configuration: Strings 1 had intrigued me for its use of Perelman's tenor sax as "cello" of a classical string quartet (with two violins & viola), but it did mean that he encountered collisions in higher ranges (& he likes to ascend registers...). Besides adding bass below, Deep Resonance then involves the less usual (lately anyway) pairing of tenor with cello & violin two registers above: Actually this works well, basically leaving the whole alto range to Perelman, with clear duet ranges above & below. (A violin-cello-bass lineup is used by e.g. Trio KSZ as well....) It ends up being a much more lyrical, even sultry album (although I'm still almost more intrigued by the partly-novel Strings 1 configuration).

19 August 2020

I also want to note a recently released, composed cycle on Clean Feed: In Igma is by percussionist Pedro Melo Alves, and was recorded in July 2019 live in Coimbra. Although I wouldn't necessarily seek a composed cycle, and was totally unfamiliar with Alves previously, I was intrigued by the specific forces, namely three extended vocalists (Aubrey Johnson, Beatriz Nunes & Mariana Dionísio, none of whom was specifically familiar) along with Eve Risser, Mark Dresser (appearing coincidentally in the previous entry!) & Abdul Moimême — plus Alves himself. That's quite a distinctive ensemble. Actually, I wasn't too thrilled then with the opening (or much of the stated concept either), as notions of angelic voices separated from the hubbub of noisy instruments only seem to underscore Western dualism & indeed transcendental distractions positing human separation from the world.... Perhaps Alves intends his music as a critique of such transcendental dualism — & he well might — but the opening "sound" is one I've lamented in medieval interpretations for years.... In any case, although at times the voices do return to that mode — simple chanting in held notes — they also "descend into the muck" (so to speak) & sometimes interact with the quartet of percussion & extended strings in more lively fashion, starting especially from the striking second track, where extended interweaving of the trio of voices through various clattery, sheering & twisting timbres makes for a strong impact (the vocalists standing together physically to one side of the instrumentalists, per the included photo): At that point, there are few comparisons, but I might cite e.g. the VocColours quartet, whose weird Live in Japan I'd discussed here in October 2019. There's also a (trained) classical vibe to the extended vocal techniques employed, at one point specifically suggesting Xenakis' Kassandra (for voice & percussion, 1987) to me, or more generally, some of Scelsi's sound worlds (i.e. a cross between Khoom, Uaxuctum & Okanagon — all composed in the 1960s).... I thus found some of this material to be quite striking, and would be interested to hear more from a combination such as this — absent the ethereal pole (which is obviously already played out for me). Still, there's much to appreciate here, and from some new names.

21 August 2020

When discussing Grappling with the Orange Porpoise (a Creative Sources release) only last month, I didn't realize that another quartet album featuring Adrian Northover & Adam Bohman would soon be released by FMR: Adopting a similar sort of whimsy for its titling, The Perpendicular Giraffe Compartment was actually recorded back in October 2015 (versus August & November 2018 for the CS album), with Bohman (here simply on amplified objects, v. "prepared strings") & Northover (credited with mbira & melodica, along with sax) joined by Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg (voice) & Daniel Thompson (acoustic guitar) to form The Bellowing Earwigs. So this is actually the opposite of a followup to the previous Bohman-Northover pairing, and Thompson is less distinctive here than in much of his later work, but the addition of Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg still makes for a notable album. I was largely unfamiliar with Schouwburg (although he'd e.g. released a duo album with Bohman on Confront, Bagpipes And Blackberries, recorded in July 2014, as well as previous albums on FMR & CS...), but in many ways, his mix of styles & inspirations can be compared to those of Jaap Blonk. Indeed, the enigmatic North of Blanco (recorded back in 2013) makes for a good comparison with its extended textures of strange sounds, including guitar, there sometimes mirroring the voice & going to spookier extremes.... And whereas Grappling with the Orange Porpoise often ends up being more spare in its textures, after a boisterous opening, in what comes to seem like a series of timbre/role studies, The Perpendicular Giraffe Compartment generally continues with more of an open-ended feel, going off on various tangents & distractions, perhaps even resisting concentration per se... as sometimes remarked of Feldman's music. (For a more recent album, albeit without voice, the tapestries on Compassion & Evidence also suggest some similar ideas on extension & density... including feelings of stasis.) One even ends up with the sense of a psychological fugue state at times, more so than the kind of Zen shift proposed by the CS quartet, in an album that does compete with North of Blanco for pure weirdness — even as it seems to run out of steam a bit, at least relatively speaking.

And as it happens, FMR released another album featuring Northover with a vocalist in the same batch, Cájula — recorded around London in May & October 2019 — documenting a trio with Marilza Gouvea & Marcio Mattos (cello & electronics). Mattos has been a fixture with various London musicians (& liner notes are actually by Schouwburg), but vocalist Gouvea was new to me: The most immediate comparison is probably with Isabelle Duthoit & Light air still gets dark, but that album is ultimately more percussive & layered — while Cájula deals more with a trio of foreground performers often buoyed by legato lines, loops & drones. Moreover, there's a sort of 1960s "hippy" vibe as I'd noted in the February 2019 discussion of Fleur de chaos, a Canadian quartet album around vocalist Joane Hétu, so that comes off as a more similar effort overall.... (Perhaps Northover/FMR should be noted for Sezu as well, discussed here in October 2018, another open-ended album that does involve vocals with cello for its longest track....) The result has a generally dramatic feel, including some lyric bits such as "chicken nuggets," but also develops a sort of surreal or dreamy vibe, sometimes more intricately (in passages that I do find more intriguing), but sometimes seeming to be more of a spinning in place, i.e. about suspending time. Notions of presence & temporality are thus interrogated, as this quasi- (as the voice does come, seemingly inevitably to occupy the center) egalitarian trio leaves a resonating silence in its wake.

24 August 2020

Continuing what seems to be an ongoing theme around "self-made" instruments from the previous entry (& I should probably also note that I don't know anything meaningful about making instruments myself — I just listen to what people make), Marco Scarassatti is back with a new quartet album featuring Brazilian musicians, Disputa e Guerra no Terreiro de Roça de Casa de Avó recorded in Belo Horizonte in October 2019. The evocative title does seem to fit the music, as a variety of barnyard animal sounds are abstracted & exchanged by the performers: The result then conjures some similar human-animal intersections (to the point of being oriented on fowl) as those on SETT: First and Second (albeit an acoustic album), as just discussed (somewhat extensively here) in June. Indeed, Disputa e Guerra no Terreiro de Roça de Casa de Avó appears on the English digital label OEM Records alongside albums e.g. with Benedict Taylor — perhaps obliquely acknowledging this correspondence. So the Brazilian album has a much more specific scope, but in some ways, a similar sense of drama, although likewise in fewer scenes.... That it takes up a specific outdoor space, particularly given the richness of its tangential evocations, then suggests more of the title concept from Scarassatti's previous quartet album Psychogeography (discussed here in March 2019 — the feelings of stasis that album generates at times being something I could have subsequently analogized to those appearing with Compassion & Evidence...), and I think I'll end this sentence with a rhetorical reference to how the concept of "psychogeography" intersects the abstractions undertaken on the largely English albums by SETT et al. In any case, although the "indoor" solo Casa Acústica (first mentioned here in April 2017) reflects another domestic pole, Scarassatti had already interrogated a "mysterious outdoors" more broadly with Ernesto Rodrigues & company on Amoa hi (discussed October 2016).... The general sorts of low scuffling that occupy that album do tend to recur on Disputa e Guerra no Terreiro de Roça de Casa de Avó, as Scarassatti bows or plucks his pássaro-cocho (a sort of compound rustic viola, also appearing on Psychogeography, there along with other instruments) to sound very much like a chicken, sometimes becoming much more raucous — as accompanied or opposed by Marina Cyrino (amplified flutes), Matthias Koole (electric guitar) & Henrique Iwao (objects, mini-table & electronics). Iwao had been cited as a Scarassatti instrument-making collaborator in the past, while it took me a moment to place Cyrino... but she currently appears in a photo on the Free Jazz Blog with a balloon on the end of her flute (& so presumably, we can expect to hear more from her with European musicians...). Koole was new to me, and I'd never really heard any of them before, although they do have various mutual collaborations documented online. Sometimes the ensuing duels can seem kind of soloistic or move into repetitive quasi-fugal states, but the bewildering opening is amazing, and there are many incredible combinations of strangely interwoven lines & timbres. (Figuring out who is making what sound can be quite a project for the intrepid.... Listen to Cyrino elsewhere, though, so as to have a fighting chance.) And a sort of "animal commerce" does begin to insinuate itself into one's consciousness — the former also already an interrogation of human-animal intersection & domesticity per se. What is inside or outside then? Another dispute....

9 September 2020

I wouldn't have known about the new Area Sismica duo album from Joëlle Léandre & Pascal Contet (accordion), on the previously unknown We Insist! Records out of Italy, if it hadn't appeared in a combined entry at the Free Jazz Blog. (There's so much new music available online these days: It's great in so many ways, but frustrations shift toward feeling underinformed! Although I guess that's also what I'm trying to remedy for others here....) Anyway, recorded live in Forli in April 2019, Area Sismica is actually the duo's fourth album, and I hadn't really been struck by their previous album 3 (released in 2014 on Ayler Records).... Still, Léandre is always worth hearing, and I retain some fascination with accordion as fusing the Western keyboard tradition with a more flexible intonation and sense of breath. (The instrument last appeared here when mentioning Lluvia in an entry in May....) I hadn't mentioned Contet (b.1963) though, and not to diminish his contributions, but he ends up making a great accompanist for Léandre here: There's no question she's to the fore for much of the album, but the pitch gamut Contet can provide, whether in contrasting drones or faster chordal matching (or indeed dueling glissandi), provides a perfect foil — the difference on Area Sismica seeming to be a much closer matching of timbres & figures at times, more resonant interpenetration one might say, than on their prior album. The result is not only new combined sonorities, but some highly affective passages: Actually, the first four tracks of the album (occupying about a half hour of the full fifty minutes) seem more like "an album" with a an affective sweep, beginning somewhat tentatively through a windswept landscape, the bass emerging around ostinato (through a lengthy, fraught track), and into faster & more aggressive figural matching in the next track. After an anticipatory introduction, the third track then takes off around Léandre's vocals, in a ritualistic release that takes on a high degree of presence & even catharsis. (Sound is generally excellent.) That striking eruption is then followed by a sort of new age sunrise or afterglow, returning to a kind of simplicity but then stiffening again around ostinato.... I don't usually like to go track by track, but after that, the 5th track seems rather more experimental, trying out a variety of combinations between the instruments, often coarse or percussive, but eventually grains drawn out in duration as well. Next is an extended bass solo from Léandre, perhaps her most intimate of late, really drawing in the listener.... And then the last track becomes something of an extrovert medley around accordion ostinato. So the whole thing ends up seeming like kind of a mixed collection (despite being from one concert), but there are strong highlights, particularly from Léandre herself. And when one thinks about a single instrument for accompanying acoustic bass, although percussion is an obvious choice, the accordion does provide other options around drones & continuity, potentially leaving the "discontinuous" to the bassist... as generally for Léandre here.

19 September 2020

I've been following Carlo Costa's "geology" music since relatively early in this project, starting with the quartet album Sediment back in March 2015. I've appreciated both the concept & the sounds, but I guess I tend to enjoy them more as improvisations, meaning not as much after a few hearings. That's been somewhat consistent, and is reflected in e.g. my most recent comments on the Earth Tongues album Atem (as discussed in November 2019): I basically wondered why it came to leave me unaffected, but in doing so, I'd elided the initial affectivity.... It's also music I basically wanted to enjoy — but I've needed to adjust the locus of that enjoyment. The time scales of geology are obviously inhuman, so connecting (or not) with humanity (i.e. as music) becomes one of the underlying interrogations of such work. And with Estuary (recorded in Brooklyn in June 2018), Costa makes a move from geology music to ecology music, becoming more inspirationally-aligned with more of the projects I've featured here, but also retaining a strong (grounded, one might say?) sense of austerity amid relatively straightforward dynamic processes & climaxes. In fact, joining him are two members from the quartet on Sediment (minus Steve Swell, who's set to appear in the next entry...), Jonathan Moritz (tenor & soprano saxophones) & Sean Ali (double bass), but according to release comments, the trio didn't play together regularly until 2017 (after recording Sediment in 2013). All three also appeared on Ramble around the same time, with its triple horn front line, and (one might say) more active filtration.... And of course Ali joined Costa in the Natura morta trio, discussed most recently in April 2017 with Environ, itself virtuosic around Frantz Loriot.... So, while retaining a geologic inspiration, Atem had gestured toward more of a human confrontation, i.e. beginning to evoke a sense of ritual more explicitly itself — & the first track on Estuary, Aperture ends up being strongly affective & with a singular momentum, opening onto the longer Marshes which then suggests further comparisons: In particular, its relative starkness is more akin to e.g. Xoo (itself conjuring marsh environments, as first discussed in January this year), but Estuary also suggests a singular sweep with dramatic conflict. (But there's just never so much happening, not so much counterpoint one might say, as on e.g. Disputa e Guerra... from earlier this month, or certainly not the broad cinematic tapestry of SETT: First and Second....) The more singular focus then remains on a sense of ritual — or communion, broadly — such that one might compare e.g. to the "ecological ritual" of Ag, during which more simply happens. Of course, these ecologically inspired albums (of which there are many) generally embrace human time scales (although they could also be oriented around other living temporalities...), and so in some sense, bridge an affective gap between the basically geological.... But since I've also been working on a Cage project in my "extra time" this summer (& have a variety of material on the late Number Pieces available to this point, but still under construction...), I want to inject some thoughts from that direction here as well, in order further to interrogate my reactions around affectivity: I want to start by asserting that — at least in the late works on which I've been focusing — Cage uses impersonal material, but generally not inhuman material. In other words, his collections of materials (his "gamuts") tend to arise from very human sources, i.e. affective gestures, the chords a person can play on an instrument, old hymns, etc. And then such collections are presented impersonally, i.e. without embracing ego, via chance presentation, etc. (But I do want to emphasize that the sets of materials on which the chance procedures operate are, most often, already chosen.) So this impersonal sort of presentation — this adoption of a less specific, but perhaps more "universal" perspective — can be linked to Asian naturism as well — including as specifically linked to Cage: That's not about the inhuman per se, but rather the human relation to what is larger than human. (And let's also not forget that Cage didn't start out with a need to forge a sense of ritual: The concert setting provided its own preexisting ritual, to be refigured.) So I do appreciate Costa's efforts to move beyond ecology music to investigate the extra-human (e.g. in geology), but then I also find myself feeling less engaged. (And to emphasize again, I've always enjoyed these improvisations the first time! A project like this can be highly distorting when it comes to a scenario like that, because why must an improvisation provoke years of returns to be valuable? That's ultimately a foolish criterion, if it's to be applied universally anyway....) Perhaps I should end by noting another example (or pole) beyond ecology music, Stratus by Ernesto Rodrigues: The lightness of twisting colors yields a sea of shifting relations, i.e. simply more happening, even if such happening can become continuous with the ephemeral. And as I continue to grapple with my own response in this general arena, I guess it tells me that my head is more often in the clouds than wanting to linger with the cold & sometimes austere ground of Estuary (& its marshy gamut).... But sometimes I do want the latter too.

29 September 2020

Tales From is the latest album by prominent musicians coming together in a particular alignment for the first time, here a quartet that proceeds to make an incredibly strong impression right from the start — & continues to make a strong impression. In fact, I'd say it's more or less what I was hoping to hear when I turned to a jazz project ten years ago.... And joining Frode Gjerstad, who apparently put the session together & offers some remarks (including that he'd never heard these musicians sound quite like this), are William Parker on double bass & a variety of horns, Steve Swell on trombone, and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello & electronics. I seem to be mentioning the latter here increasingly often in a variety of projects (including e.g. with Pinkie No this past January...), but of course the others are much more widely known: And I do end up listening to Parker & Swell more often than may be apparent, including in leader projects that don't necessarily speak to me as directly as items covered here, but that do enrich the scene in a variety of ways: I've often thought of hearing either in a variety of "other" projects then... perhaps even one a bit like Tales From. Recapping specific history here, then — even as I haven't followed any of these musicians as closely as some — Parker was actually first mentioned around Beyond Quantum (with Braxton & Graves), another boisterous & buzzing, melodic album on which he also joins in on horn, and so a fortuitous comparison. (And I certainly listened to the William Parker Quartet early in this project. Most recently, I'd noted Parker on Gowanus Sessions II, in an entry this past February around a series of trios from Thollem McDonas....) And I was completely unaware of this fact until I looked in preparation for writing this entry (& so was rather surprised), but Swell was mentioned here both for the first time (around Cryptocrystalline in November 2013, when I called him "ubiquitous") & in (most) recent remarks (around Throes are the Only Trouble in February 2018, where I said that he "participates in many quality projects") with Weasel Walter.... (And that prior quartet album has much happening too.) But he also appears with a wide variety of material, including in more traditionally jazzy settings. (Releasing the quartet on Tales From presents another label triumph for Sluchaj as well: Although Parker had appeared in an older performance with Agustí Fernández issued more recently, these other three prominent musicians make their label debuts with this striking collaborative album....) Anyway, something else that Parker & Swell bring to Tales From is very much a New York City sound (as recorded in Brooklyn in September 2019), such that its simultaneous sense of extrovert melody & city noises recalls various efforts — but for me, especially those of Jeff Shurdut & e.g. Yad. The latter involves a larger ensemble, such that the cacophony of Tales From does emerge from a different musical economy, but both also evoke earlier jazz styles in their polyphonic choruses (as noted by Gjerstad of this quartet in his remarks) as well as suggest a kind of Sun Ra-inspired collectivism, etc. (There's a punk rock edge too, also found on Yad, especially here with e.g. Lonberg-Holm opening the second track by firing up the electric cello in guitar-esque mode.... Those aspects can recall a bit of Tipple Live at Elastic Arts too, also an album that can be intensely expressive, but on Tales From sans Gjerstad's trademark "teapot" sounds, perhaps in keeping with the more lyrical focus....) There's also no shortage of assertive material here, layering around raucous trombone right from the start, including a variety of scrape & grind technique at times, but there's also — at least in moments — an emergent sense of folk song that seems to emanate through the urban landscape (again, not so unlike in Shurdut's work): There's thus a strong humanity burgeoning & buoying within a sometimes industrial atmosphere, sometimes coming to numb the mind with (saturated) expression, but sometimes also bringing a sense of calm & stillness in reduced passages (as fleeting moments of repose). Tales From is thus music both about & for a very active world.

1 October 2020

I've been reviewing the occasional composed album in this space, and so particularly with my history with Scelsi, thought I should probably make some remarks on the new double album Scelsi Revisited from Klangforum Wien (with four different conductors). So I listened to this set a couple of times before reading the included discussion, which includes general remarks as well as statements from each of the eight composers involved, just to get a sense of the sound prior to those more specific thoughts: The pieces I found more compelling turned out to be those two closer to the Scelsi improvisations, although the longest track does become tediously long at times.... So what does that even mean, closer to the improvisations? Scelsi's composition practice involved taping himself improvising on a (quarter tone) synth/keyboard (ondiola), perhaps in multiple recorded layers, and then having it written out for specific (other) forces by collaborators. And that collection of improvisations was released for study by the Isabella Scelsi Foundation in 2009. Some of the unused (as in unscored) tapes were then prepared for use by composers by Uli Fussenegger (who has recorded e.g. Scelsi's Maknongan on double bass & is also one of the composers participating), who then created new works. (The scorings are based, by commission, on the scoring of Scelsi's "chamber violin concerto" Anahit — themed on the Armenian goddess.) Much of my initial impression was that most of it "doesn't sound much like Scelsi," but then I started to wonder why that should be some sort of criterion.... (Actually, more of the music sounds like Xenakis to me. And I can succinctly tell you why: Combining or elaborating Scelsi's microtonal ideas into more complicated pieces comes to involve combining a variety of pitches in a mathematical, and here usually colorful, way.) And so that got me to thinking about "revisiting" Scelsi with my own thoughts according to my own history: Scelsi not only burst suddenly onto the international scene in the late 1980s, but seemed to offer a direct & compelling musical answer in my own life. (I subsequently prepared a variety of material on Scelsi that wasn't available at the time, but material that also becomes rather dated now. I wrote program notes for North American premieres.... I came to be identified with Scelsi on the internet, when the online world was a much smaller place. And for me, that association has faded with time, not only because I eventually heard the various music I'd only seen in catalogs, but on account of various life interruptions, raising children, etc. So it's interesting to think back to that time, and basically the coincidence of it. I mean, I'm definitely not an Italian aristocrat....) In particular, I was dealing with broad concepts of theory & practice, and especially notions of cultural supremacy & universality: It was, quite frankly, inconceivable to me that European knowledge practices could have some sort of monopoly on usefulness. I even declared as much publicly on the subject of mathematics — after receiving a doctorate in the subject. (I've taken a lot of shit for that too. Of course, now I don't just believe it, I know it.) And I've pursued those deconstructions diligently for decades, including in music: Scelsi's late music, though, immediately exploded the straightjacket of Western tuning & tonality for me, irrupting relentlessly into an unstoppable presence: It flat out offended people (including most of the people I knew, on a visceral level)! And I didn't love it because it offended people, but their reactions did feed into my passion: Somehow I became an advocate or ambassador (& I think that's also blunted my critical reaction to Scelsi's oeuvre in the interim, such that I intend to take a restart there — similar to what I've started for Cage, as noted here last month — & cull a smaller slice of repertory versus more general advocacy...). Scelsi Revisited tells me that Scelsi is thoroughly established in the contemporary musical community now, though, so such a change in my own orientation makes sense.... But then, Scelsi didn't only offend listeners by the sound of his music, but also others in terms of his methods, his improvisations & collaborations, i.e. the questions of "Was he really a composer?" that went along with "Is this music?" (And these questions were answered emphatically in the negative by many around me.) It's clear to the ear, though, that Scelsi was working on a particular sound... the results speak for themselves in that sense. But of course, there was still all of this obscurity, the sense of the arcane or mythological... engagements with various cultic ideas, some seemingly embarrassing. Yet I also continue to hear the quest to get inside sound or behind Western (historical) ideas on music, to touch prior cultures & ideas.... (Its sense of musical emergence from the interstices of Western chromaticism also suggests a sort of Lacanian real to me, i.e. in its contrary history grounded in pure acoustics.... Scelsi's personifications might then be figured as pure affect — as they might have always been.) In this, one thing I find writing today is that Scelsi's music was both rather singular & also elaborated: He followed his path for a long time, first perfected (already) in the mid-60s, trying various new directions himself, but making sure they stayed on message — so to speak. On Scelsi Revisited that "message" is only occasionally there, particularly with the added complexities, but then a variety of innovations were considered, including "method" per se (including collaboration, as elaborated & released in a "satellite" project Scelsi Revisited Backstage) & of course elements of string technique (mutes etc.) & directionality (or momentum) per se. (Tristan Murail is the most known composer participating, and like Fussenegger, has participated in Scelsi interpretations himself: I admire his fine technical control in the "spectral" domain, limited to quarter tones, and projecting a sort of shimmering romantic impressionism.... It's pretty, but doesn't really speak to me — as I learned when revisiting Murail for my Tenney Project.) And there've been various other Scelsi homages out there, perhaps only increasing, whether in the more composed or improvisational domains, but Scelsi Revisited does have reference to the Scelsi Tapes as its unique (thus far) starting point.... And there've been not only many homages, but many more recordings (as my old discography has largely languished — as something I find to be more chore than passion today) as well: Yet my Selected Recordings discussion (from early in the present project) actually becomes much too large, caught in traps of pedagogy or ambassadorship (or retail), such that I'll need to create a new discussion around a smaller set of works (as I also continue similar work on Cage — & probably should for Xenakis as well...), so as to emphasize musical use in the moment. (Ultimately that'll make for stronger advocacy, in yet another cycle....) First, though, I'll complete this other layer of quasi-improvisation in this particular interstitial space....

6 October 2020

I also want to note the new album Antiphonen, recorded live in Austria in November 2019, by a trio of Sainkho Namtchylak (voice), Ned Rothenberg (clarinet, alto sax & shakuhachi) & Dieb13 (born Dieter Kovacic, 1973; turntables): The draw for me is & was Namtchylak, from Tuva, on voice: These days, of course, throat singing techniques are relatively common in avant garde vocals, and Namtchylak incorporates a variety of other techniques & inspirations as well, such that it's unlikely to be readily apparent that she hails from the famous (due so much to physicist Feynman, I think?) home of throat singing.... That's not to say that Namtchylak doesn't have a distinctive style, though, only to note that her music sounds quite international in conception, although the broad vistas opening onto feelings of open space do, perhaps, suggest the Mongolian steppes.... The generally open feeling of comings & goings also serves to highlight the voice — with horn often paired in duo, whether supporting or clashing, rarely taking the lead. The noise-based support from turntables tends to be even more subtle much of the time, providing more of a slowly shifting context, but sometimes troubling a tendency toward continuity. (Rothenberg is well known, of course, first mentioned here in October 2011 in a discussion of Denman Maroney's Partch-inspired composition Udentity.... And Dieb13 was mentioned here in April 2018, in a discussion of the trio album A Geography For Plays with Butcher & Robair — although I've also heard him in other contexts previously.) The result is sometimes soloistic, usually focusing on articulating a main line, perhaps with some dissent, perhaps via a sort of logic of extension or distension.... (The tuning clashes around exotic vocalization come to suggest Scelsi's music at times too, although perhaps mostly because of my recent return visit to that world....) Maybe there's even a bit of the feel of a pop album, with broad affective strokes & even an ambient quality — in a kind of exhibition of tunefulness against noise, the throat of course already suggesting a sense of interiorization. And Antiphonen actually stands in something of a relation of contrast with With, Without, also released by Austria's Klang Galerie & featuring Dieb13 alongside voice, this time via ongoing duo with Phil Minton: With, Without was compiled (by Dieb13) from six duo performances ranging over six different years from 2009 to 2017, and edited into a single track, i.e. as a single tapestry with "scenes" but also continuity. The result can be much more detailed in smaller spaces than is Antiphonen (per the latter's soaring vistas), but also presents broad thematics across various close interactions between voice & electronics — basically an exhibition of Minton's vocal variety in an extended industrial composition by Kovacic.... (The result can also perhaps be compared to some of the floating textures & sense of electronic extension on the recent Compassion & Evidence, albeit there sans voice....) Of course, Minton already has an extensive discography — but Namtchylak is also very worth hearing, and both singers are highlighted quite well in their recent albums with Dieb13.

12 October 2020

Not Nothing was actually released back in March, but I didn't notice until making a recent pass through the Amalgam page to see if anything was new there (i.e. since reviewing Dawá earlier in March...): It's a direct followup to Never by the same trio (Ben Bennett, Jack Wright, Zach Darrup), recorded live in one session in Chicago in September 2019 — after Never was compiled from an unknown number of performances in 2018. I was quite struck by the music on the latter album (reviewed here in September 2019), now the name of this trio, and one certainly couldn't fault it for not being long & dense enough (i.e. having plenty to hear), but the unknown editing & mediocre sound didn't exactly help it shine. (Still, there will always surely be a sense of excitement about that first album, establishing a collective vocabulary, so to speak....) With Not Nothing, though, one has that live "conversational" document that's so in keeping with Wright's work elsewhere, e.g. The Unrepeatable Quartet, also articulated continuously in a single track.... The result is more sense of space, perhaps to be figured as less intensity, but there's also a taut elegance that remains as interactions sometimes slow. Of course, there's still plenty of speed at the right moments, i.e. the sort of sudden stops & turns that Amalgam mentions in the accompanying discussion, and Never isn't a "free jazz quartet" in construction (as was Unrepeatable): There's still a sort of brutality amid senses of refinement & control, i.e. the sort of brutality that can animate e.g. Buddhist (Tibetan or Japanese) ritual music — a combination of negation (surely felt throughout this sequence...) & acceptance of reality. Perhaps then an unpurposeful purposefulness emerges.... And the trio often sounds generally percussive around Bennett, with quick horn pops or guitar attacks moving kaleidoscopically through a continuous texture (also animated at times by very high frequencies to the limits of the audio spectrum, turning on & off quickly, so as not to be so noticeable...). The result is often alien, but not an alien landscape per se, rather a quasi-alien humanity — interrogating & figuring both intimacy & alienation through a broad affective texture. I take much of this feel as emerging from Bennett (whereas the elegance of the overall conversation owes much to Wright... & I'd still be interested in hearing a combined Never-Roughhousing quartet too at some point...). Anyway, Not Nothing soon had me saying yes to negation: It projects an immediately captivating tapestry & remains a productive listen.

20 October 2020

And right on the heels of (me noticing) the new album by Never is a second followup to Ewen / Smith / Walter (itself recorded in 2011): [Untitled] is the third album by a trio of Sandy Ewen (guitar), Damon Smith (bass) & Weasel Walter (drums, percussion), meeting for the first time to record Ewen / Smith / Walter, but having toured in the interim, releasing the compilation album Live in Texas (as discussed here in November 2016). Whereas I'd concluded that the latter didn't really push the style, but was more about becoming more intelligible for audiences, the new [Untitled] (recorded again in studio) does both further & refine the earlier style. (The first Ewen / Smith / Walter is still massive, though, e.g. with varieties of bird chirping & string vocalizing that could be explored in their own projects....) Although a level of brutality is probably going to figure into any Walter project, the sense of refinement here is also tangible, with sparser sections seeming that much more structural (i.e. not really more common, but less about taking a break): Indeed, one might compare to the sequence from Never to Not Nothing, particularly since I'd already compared Never specifically to Ewen / Smith / Walter, writing (last September) that (this) music is "becoming higher bandwidth in every sense." One might say that the later music is just as assertive, but less frenetic, maintaining its tensions in a more complex choreography.... And Walter himself seems to have taken his music-making to another level lately, not only in more judicious use of his prodigious speed & precision, but in his mixing & producing: He seems, in particular, to be animating my entire living space with music that seems directly present. So his sound is increasingly striking by itself (here specifically recorded in June 2019). And I didn't know that this album was coming until last week, but I should probably also add some other notes about prior outings: Beyond the Live in Texas discussion, I'd discussed a series of duo albums from Ewen in a December 2018 entry, while her duo album with Walter, Idiomatic was first mentioned in February 2018. (Smith had appeared with Ewen on the duo album Background Information, also recorded in 2011, and of course in the bizarre & spacious quartet tapestry of North of Blanco... pairing Ewen's occasional guitar vocalizing with Jaap Blonk.) Meanwhile, I'd recently noted Smith & Walter together on Smith's quartet project Pioneer Works (also with Blonk, as discussed in December 2019), after mentioning Walter again with the trio (also with Jeb Bishop) Flayed (in September 2019), as recorded the following day.... [Untitled] is then also a very long & dense album — while Ewen / Smith / Walter is almost more like a double album — incorporating track titles (unlike their prior releases), but also shifting sorts of asymmetry: Various dualistic "tiltings" move technically or conceptually across the trio, invoking e.g. temporal layerings that differ from e.g. the start-stop alignments (or collisions) of Never, i.e. suggest a broader ecology (beyond human-human interaction). Such a pan-human ecology emerging in part from rhythmic complexity per se seems also to suggest Walter's Xenakis inspiration... (something I probably should have highlighted with Igneity, as discussed here in September 2016). Anyway, although I find myself listening more attentively to Walter lately (& I've already reviewed many of his albums, going back 2011!), I should highlight Ewen once again: She has her own distinctive style on guitar, featuring e.g. a sort of low growling amid various other object articulations — making her a one of a kind (multimedia!) artist. And Smith is pretty damned good (& prolific across many styles) too, more the chameleon in the middle of a trio where the other two members are unmistakable.... So Ewen-Smith-Walter continues to be quite a lineup, & "untitled" is their latest (maybe not quite as exhausting) creative tour-de-force.

21 October 2020

Weasel Walter isn't only making sequels, of course, and indeed his recent album Grist with Sam Weinberg (saxophones) & Henry Fraser (upright bass) not only documents a relatively new trio — although apparently performing together since 2017 — but continues & expands upon the masterful drumming & production techniques of [Untitled]: Whereas the latter, recorded in June, often suggests a thick (perhaps urban) jungle or even alien landscape, embracing a sense of the uncanny (including in extended quiet passages), Grist is more aggressively layered in the sax trio tradition, emphasizing human interaction & dialog per se. Recorded, also in studio (Seizures Palace, a fitting title for a Walter venue) in Brooklyn, this time in October, Grist is also a lengthy album featuring a great deal of three-way interaction (vs. simple accompaniment) & constant invention around a series of twisting, but generally affectively blunt, gestures from Weinberg on sax. A series of short, bold strokes suggests a relentless combinatorics, buoyed, interrogated & transformed by Walter on drums — & often contrasted against a more lyrical bass. The result is different patterns of repetition, evolving organically, but restarting with each of the seven tracks. And while a notion of shifting patterns might suggest minimalistic procedures, this is also a Weasel Walter project, so it's more about maximalism: Not via ostinato, figures vary constantly in multiple dimensions, including variations in length, with multiple senses of pulse varied internally to figural statements. (This basic procedure is not unlike that of Feldman's late music....) There's thus little sense of repetition — or repose, for that matter — as statements vary prismatically in the rhythmic domain. This "sense of the multiple" is what actually takes the performance on Grist to another level for me: Not only is the presence very strong, as Walter once again seems to haunt the entire room (as almost a hyper-presence...), but so much more seems to happen versus previous releases featuring Weinberg: I hadn't mentioned Drolleries from his trio Bloor, recorded in 2018 & released last year on Astral Spirits, and that album also features a strong presence & prismatic rhythmic variations around short figures, but retains a jazzy feeling as well around sometimes explicit ostinati.... Foment, also released last year & this time on Amalgam (thus recalling the recent Not Nothing, with its broadly taut affective tapestry as union of large & small...) seems more rhythmically dynamic in an extended live improvisation, and does include the more lyrical (& beyond) pairing with Fraser on bass, but doesn't have the same "Wow!" factor for me — no general criticism of drummer Tyler Damon (who's worth hearing himself) intended... although his playing does come off as less varied in this (likely unfair) comparison. Grist does recall Foment somewhat to start, but ends up seeming more machinic, an assemblage of smaller parts, as even e.g. "sounds of the city" move through as deconstructed vistas, twisting & rattling as they go, reconfiguring into ever more jagged shapes.... A recent comparison might be with the (variant) sax trio album Mutations & its aggressive sense of resonant interpenetration, but whereas the latter suggests a sort of sputtering naturalism within its immersive acoustic resonances (& hierarchies), there's nothing rhetorical about the swallowing of one's entire room by Grist, rather strongly posthuman assertions beyond (mere) associations of a (spectral or) watery acoustic.... And perhaps a better European comparison is actually with a couple of older albums from Jean-Luc Guionnet (especially Bird Dies by The Ames Room with Will Guthrie, discussed here in December 2011, but also Moon Fish by The Fish, discussed in July 2012), as he likewise employs relentless (in this case, stochastic) variation of relatively short & geometrically shifting figures. (I did note influences of Feldman, and then Xenakis, around those albums as well....) So what is the affective stance of this album? Xenakis' "energy music" is indeed a touchstone, but there's also a general feeling of endless (machinic) variety, around (indomitably human) invention & possibility per se. And while Walter might still provide the "the finest in unrelieved tension," he's much more of a musician than suggested by that simple phrase. (And slowing or pausing per se do not by themselves constitute such relief, percussive strikes already being by their nature intermittent in sound... as is sound itself.) I don't know how many of his albums I've reviewed here now — as it's been that many for that long — but it's increasingly clear that he's one of the most distinctive figures in US improvisation today (as well as perhaps the most over-the-top Xenakian musician around!). And especially because it's in a standard format (& of course available on Bandcamp), Grist would make a great introduction to Walter (& Weinberg!) for anyone who hasn't heard (either) him yet.

27 October 2020

I wasn't previously familiar with Pascal Marzan, but apparently he decided recently to turn to a microtonal guitar setup, specifically a 10-string acoustic instrument with adjacent strings tuned 1/3 tone apart (to be articulated as 1/6 tones via fret splitting). I don't know how Marzan decided on this particular setup, but it could be because it's more or less what James Tenney did in his iconic (within microtonal music) Changes (1985) for six harps tuned 1/6 semitone apart — the same microtonal framework favored by Cage as well, in the late Number Pieces that include microtonal material (albeit not using fixed pitched instruments in his case). The stochastic contours of Changes do provide their own affective response, but serve to explore this "new" tuning space in general too, and obviously the large number of possible notes are close together, but also provide a variety of non-"dissonant" paths through the octave.... In Marzan's case, this multiplicity also projects a sense of fragility on his single (not especially resonant) instrument, especially against the roaring tenor sax of Ivo Perelman on the duo album Dust of Light / Ears Drawing Sounds, recorded in London in February 2020. Perelman, as seems to be his style, dives right into this microtonal universe, and is soon blasting some fierce melodic statements along these tricky & detailed contours. (Maybe Perelman would be intrigued by improvising over Changes too? But of course composed music won't react to him as Marzan does....) Perelman was already experienced with Mat Maneri, though, and his lineage of microtonal music, and evidently has quite an ear to go along with pinpoint tonal control. At times, this 1/6-tone system is even being manipulated, not only via the chromatic steps on which Marzan can also draw, but with Perelman playing "neutral" intervals in quarter-tones sitting in between.... The result is a strong feeling of interrogation & experimentation, more so than a real artistic statement (beyond openness to new worlds, which is important enough right now...). Marzan does also vary his string attacks (including ostinati, arpeggios, etc.), although remains relatively restrained next to the horn, which then adds a strongly human quality to the otherwise relatively novel interval combinations. (Perhaps there's also a bit of claustrophobia coming through via the concentrated listening.... Still, such an exploration of this — seemingly quite flexible — tuning space is clearly worthwhile.)

And I'd actually just reviewed Perelman's Deep Resonance this past August, an album drawing from much more traditional influences & yielding far more emotional sophistication, so he's been busy (including with his regular collaborators), and is apparently branching out with multiple projects on multiple recording labels in anticipation of releasing his one hundredth album (although perhaps that's not to be named specifically).... So The Purity of Desire also comes to draw on an interest in different tunings, in this case around the Middle Eastern investigations of Gordon Grdina on oud: I'd likewise reviewed Grdina's Safar-e-Daroon in May this year, but that album was oriented on composed music (including a bowed string trio as part of a quintet, The Marrow), whereas The Purity of Desire involves only Grdina & Hamin Honari (returning on tombak & daf) improvising with Perelman. And so Perelman dives right in! Once again he emphasizes lyricism & doesn't hesitate to take the lead, but there are solos (that can also be melodic) by the others as well, and eventually some rather involved & novel textures. This is also "nuts & bolts" music (as I've used the term before), based on small-scale correspondences of motivic patterns, etc. more so than any large-form fusion concept: I.e. they just start playing, paying close attention to small articulations, but also resulting in a real sense of melody, some alignments in groove, etc. Once again, The Purity of Desire is more exploration than finished product — but also involves adding a strongly melodic (i.e. human) component to a more abstract musical interaction or idea.

3 November 2020

Continuing with a detour into some actual traditional music from the broad & culturally convoluted Near East, The Art of the Duduk is the latest album of note from Ocora Radio France: Recorded in May 2019 in Armenia, The Art of the Duduk features Haig Sarikouyoumdjian (b.1985) on the characteristic duduk double reed made of apricot wood, in what is not only an incredible exhibition of breath & tone, expressed according to the sort of tender melancholy that seems to define Armenian traditional music, but an intellectual accomplishment as well. Although traditional Armenian music theory is basically lost — assimilated to Ottoman court music long before the tragic events at the close of World War I — Sarikouyoumdjian adopts an improvisatory style on some tracks, abstracting regional melodic complexes. (In that sense, The Art of the Duduk involves "ethnomusicology," but internal to Armenia — at least until documented by Radio France.) I don't have much more to say about that, since my knowledge of Armenian music is modest at best, but this new album supplements (for me anyway) the series on Celestial Harmonies as released in the mid-1990s & which I'd found to be the most musically intriguing (e.g. relative to prior Ocora albums) to this point. Sarikouyoumdjian's collaborators are also top musicians — with drone player Artur Kasabyian being of special note as well, the low breathy dam (v. e.g. a string drone) lending some of the characteristic suppleness to the articulation — the result being instantly captivating to the ear. (My survey of this & many repertories remains quite arbitrary though, in terms of what catches my eye before my ear....) This is obviously living music, both subtle & highly virtuosic. (For those readers with a Western classical bent, listening to these albums gives me the impression of Armenian music as "the Chopin of the Near East" for its sense of balance & "the in between." From there, the famous pieces often sound like film scores... which they may well also have been.) The duduk in particular is surely one of the world's great traditional woodwind arts, and has been inspiring multiple (other) cultures for centuries. (The distinctiveness of the Turkish ney doesn't make sense without it, for instance, even as political relations between those nations have been a mess for a century....)

16 November 2020

Now returning to electroacoustic improvisation in the UK, High Laver Reflections — recorded in "Spring" 2019 at All Saints Church in High Laver Essex — involves a distinctive pairing of AMM legend Eddie Prévost (percussion) with the Earshots duo of Edward Lucas (trombone) & Daniel Kordik (modular synthesizer). And Earshots is not "only" a musical duo, but also a concert series involving a variety of well-known performers (although previously unknown to me), and had recorded a Prévost solo album in the same church in October 2018, Matching Mix (already released on the Earshots label). High Laver Reflections is then a followup involving the duo: Whereas Matching Mix had involved an exploration of percussion resonance in the space of a church, the trio take that basic impetus to a new level via soaring trombone lines & more subtle (or low-pitched, but not always) electronic reverberations — still accented by rattling percussion. Indeed the first track provokes a strong sense of ritual, sometimes recalling the quintet on AAMM (discussed here in June 2018) with its "Unholy Elisabeth" also originating in a church, but with Tilbury's tinkling piano usually evident amid a more crowded palette of players.... In other words, High Laver Reflections involves a tighter "musical economy" — for whatever that's worth — but does also seem to feature Prévost that much more distinctly. The "ritual" first track can then be quite compelling, recalling e.g. Tibetan styles with deep moving resonances & lines of flight in what ends up being a rather similar sound combo. (What is otherwise objectively strong dissonance comes to sound distant or even mellow? This combo creates its own ambience....) It's a relatively short album, though, even as it does seem meaty, and turns to other styles: The second track morphs from long horn calls into a more typically "choppy" improvised mode, and in the process comes to sound more like a shimmering trombone trio per se, already relatively soloistic & coming to drag for me with static roles.... The third is actually the longest track, and suggests a sort of outdoor music, a squawking jungle (or maybe even e.g. a barnyard, sometimes not so unlike Disputa e Guerra... as just discussed here in September...), meaning that it doesn't really seem to involve the space of the church much anymore. And the final, short track involves some big drums in what seems like a taut & lively "anthropological" summary. That's more compelling again, less consistently layered, but still doesn't recall the opening — which I continue to hear as the most captivating. Anyway, I'd be interested to hear them elaborate that style — or something else they might do to make a more coherent overall album, rather than an exhibition of styles. (And despite being concatenated across multiple sessions, and despite these observations of difference, High Laver Reflections does still yield a sense of transformative continuity... a sort of "de-Christianification" of rite, I suppose.) The Earshots duo/series is also something to watch in general, with Lucas already being involved e.g. in performing spectral music (i.e. as briefly suggesting a sort of Scelsian mysticism here...).

17 November 2020

It seems that Benedict Taylor & Daniel Thompson have been planning a "statement" duo album for a while now, and so T'other — recorded at Cafe Oto in January 2019 on two dates thirteen days apart — inaugurates the new Empty Bird Cage Records with a lavishly produced double album. I don't know the "project space" at Cafe Oto, but this is not a live album, other than perhaps during a moment when some people walk through chatting in the background.... (That sounds quite distant, though, and originally I thought it was people outside my window.) Other than this little intrusion during an otherwise quiet moment, the recorded sound is some of the best available, very crisp & detailed & spacious. I don't normally spend much time talking about sound, but the way the two instruments are framed & separated in stereo is striking, and brings a great deal of presence to every attack & slur. (The stereo mix is sort of the opposite of what Weasel Walter has been doing, per recent remarks. Both provide exceptional sound, but a different soundstage, Taylor & Thompson opting to emphasize the natural acoustic....) Unusually, I've also been listening to this album — or these two albums, because they're too much to listen to at once — for weeks before writing this discussion: That's partly that I was honored with a pre-release audition, but these are also lengthy & detailed interactions that require a lot of attention. (And I've been busy with other music projects, to appear eventually....) I mean, I believe that the music can probably be enjoyed by letting it wash over you, reveling in the various dynamic changes & complex shifting polyphony, but the detailed interactions tend to draw me in.... And these interactions come in two basic modes, namely a pairing of similar material between the two musicians, or of contrasts. Sometimes the latter gives a sense of solo & accompaniment (in either direction), but in some ways, that only emphasizes the parity between the instruments & how that's interrogated at length. That these are similar instruments — viola & acoustic guitar (& Thompson is always credited specifically on acoustic...) — should be emphasized, since what they typically do in the world of music today is so different: Their historical nexus is via the vihuela, though (and surely this suggests that a vihuela should enter the scene at some point...), and the way that they can both pluck or bow provides the beginnings of a variety of musical cognates (to borrow a term from James Tenney) across the texture. Basically, one instrument can respond with its "version" of what another does, these being relatively close for these two instruments, but not the same. And this entire regime of shifting complementarities & contrasts is quite organic: There are four tracks on each album, and each track involves a beginning & an end amid a general exploration, i.e. the track markers are not arbitrary & each track becomes an artistic world of its own, not simply the exploration of a particular procedure (or, as I've been saying about some other releases, a study). So that these two great musicians were building up to this project does come through, and of course for me dates to earlier efforts.... In particular, the trio album (with Tom Jackson, who continues to appear with Taylor & Thompson in various concert formations) Hunt at the Brook has become a classic for me, following up on Compost (featuring Taylor & Thompson) with Alex Ward (as first discussed here in April 2013). And although I love the addition of clarinet, T'other has raised the stakes on both clarity of conception & articulation. It has almost as much happening as well, despite the reduced forces, and clearly represents a development of style (but not a redefinition, although "definition" is one refinement that's involved). The historical sequence also leads me to "lament" that I didn't hear T'other prior to SETT: First and Second (recorded later, in November 2019, but released earlier): I have to joke, because these twisted "aesthetic narratives" are common enough in this milieu, but T'other would have made First and Second substantially easier to hear — & (presumably) easier to discuss subsequent to rehearsing similar stylistic orientations & techniques around the duo album. Such is life, but I also don't want to reprise too many comments from that discussion: The way the duo shifts temporalities together, including something of the same "cinematic" panning effect is still notable. The sort of "naturalist" quality, abstracted through a sort of rhetorical (or historical) humanity (i.e. I want to stop short of saying "posthumanity") also maintains, with a variety of evocations likewise moving through the texture organically.... (So rethinking human ecology remains a touchstone.) Still, though, these are generally traditional musical figures — involving some "noise" at times, more often scrapings on viola — interacting either relatively sparsely, or quite loudly across the ten (is it?) strings, forming a richly interpenetrating polyphony that comes to suggest an orchestra of sound.... But this is also a kind of non-idiomatic (or "anthropological" per my opening this year) music, developing a lyricism (although less lyrical per se than e.g. Nauportus), a sort of new world music.... The sound consequently ranges from soft & pensive to full-bodied & bracing, and back again via various squeaking twitterings or harmonics, or via percussive plucks & scratching (not to mention adding voices/strings). One might even suggest that the precision of their playing & interaction then allows for minimalism, without demanding it — and so allows for various hybrids as well.... (This is thus a freely flowing music able to contextualize various inputs... e.g. fitting later into Serries' linearization regime on SETT.) And of course it's a duo, but hearing these two musicians in this format has also been illuminating & quite musically stimulating. (It's ultimately a powerful — & quite rhetorical — interrogation of globalism & its ecological implications. In that sense, it comes off as an often forceful conversation with, nonetheless, much agreement & space for exposition....)

20 November 2020

Conveniently arriving in the wake of discussing T'other, Combinations is another string duo album, this time pairing Joe Morris & Tomeka Reid — who've likewise been featured here together in larger combos, in this case, beginning with Geometry of Caves (recorded in 2016). I'd already noted Morris & Reid as the "backbone" of that quartet when discussing the followup album Geometry of Distance in December 2019, and in fact that recording was made ten days after Combinations, the latter in Brooklyn. (And the back cover actually credits Morris with piano, but that's not the case here. He's on guitar throughout. Also, the notes tell me that this is the 6th recording ever to pair cello & guitar as a duo. I find that assertion more than merely difficult to believe.... But I suppose I do credit Rogueart for continuing to include program notes.) In any case, Reid & Morris also vary their interactions between complementarity & contrast, the latter allowing either to the fore.... It's more "traditionally human" music, though, especially because it includes three jazz standards among its ten tracks (which starts to seem unusual for a recording in this space...), but also because of evoking a variety of world styles (i.e. it's not generally "non-idiomatic" at all) — although it does also move into extended techniques for other tracks. (The duo adopt different approaches for different tracks, some more or less traditional in terms of material, but reworked into something distinctive for this format....) There's definitely something of a feeling of nostalgia at times, a sort of build up of affect... maybe even a sort of (rainbow, I guess) "cowboy" feel to close (& so an overture toward another slice of Americana, almost coming off as post-Sephardic here...) that might suggest e.g. Morris's duo with Brad Barrett & e.g. Cowboy Transfiguration (a trio album adding Tyshawn Sorey, as first discussed here in November 2019...). And of course there's also Morris's predilection for pairing crossing lines in the middle of the texture... here not only as a sort of braided backbone for other activity, but as the duo interaction in sum. (The interactions can also become rather intricate around a variety of creative techniques and/or polyphonic voicings. So an affective component is not always prominent.) Morris & Reid thus continue to forge their own distinctive joint style, in what does seem to be another exemplary (complementary & contrasting) pairing....

22 November 2020

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