I've decided I don't want to write much of a general introduction this time around. Please see the previous version that in turn leads into previous introductions.
One thing I'll repeat from December is that I didn't really do what I set out to do in the previous introduction, which might be something of a failure, but mainly means I'm still working on it, and decided this was a good time to roll over this page anyway. So I'm intending to treat some more general topics as digressions here, more or less as stand-alone essays, mixed in with comments about particular recordings. I need to turn a bunch of notes into a few coherent (maybe) essays.
I still struggle with which recordings to discuss. I don't want to be too negative, and I'll reiterate that I'm only discussing recordings I find interesting to discuss, even if I don't like everything about them, so hopefully it's always complimentary in some sense. And there is such a range of material available, from a very broad set of performers around the world. It's become increasingly clear to me just how strongly my interest in a particular recording is conditioned by what else I've heard & enjoyed, and I have a rather arbitrary background when it comes to jazz, having simply jumped into the middle of it a few years ago and decided to focus on contemporary efforts. That said, I don't feel particularly uninformed when it comes to the scope of efforts out there, even if I don't have much knowledge of the history — despite that so much of my work focuses on historical music. I have, moreover, an idiosyncratic sense of history, since it's based on what I personally have heard, something we can all say.
I do believe, though, that if I had heard some of this material in other orders, my favorites list would look different than it does. But then, that's the nature of a favorite. It's almost a personal archaeology.Todd McComb <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I'm not sure if there will be any more 2012 releases to discuss beyond those in my "to do" pile now, but I do still have multiple items I'd like to mention.
The first two of those are European improvising quartet albums on No Business Records from Lithuania, both recorded in France.
Although I've not been featuring duo albums here, and Joëlle Léandre records a lot of duo albums, I have been following her quartet albums closely. (And would, in theory, any trios, although there have been none since 2009 — before I really started doing this.) I first encountered Léandre performing Scelsi's music, but she also worked with Feldman, at Mills College here in Oakland, etc. She's been involved with many projects of interest to me, and is of course a phenomenal improviser on the bass. Live at Banlieue Bleue is the first album I've listed here where Léandre performs with an entirely European ensemble, and also the first that includes a drummer. Like the other quartet albums of the past couple of years, all of these performers has played & recorded together before, and the music is entirely improvised. (They are part of an earlier double album featuring Léandre on Leo Records, for instance.) It goes without saying that these are engaging & thought-provoking improvisations, making for an easily recommendable album.
Inspired by Live at Banlieue Bleue, I sought another No Business album featuring Portuguese violinist Carlos Zingaro (b.1948), Live at Total Meeting. These performers were not known to me at all, but all have worked with Léandre (and of course Zingaro). In fact, the wind player Jérôme Bourdellon has an even more recent duo album with her. Live at Total Meeting might be an even more compelling album, also entirely improvised, and illustrating just how many amazing instrumental improvisers there at on the European continent. This is very sophisticated music of broad scope. It makes me feel a bit depressed that we don't hear things like this in USA, and in fact this album played a role in getting me to question my approach, as per the above remarks. What makes these albums so amazing is not only the individual musical imaginations & techniques, but the way the performers interact. They switch effortlessly from offering different parts of a conversation, coming together in some kind of agreement, being quieter or more boisterous... in short, a broad range of improvised counterpoint inspired by the other individuals in the moment. The interactions have a fluidity here that's perhaps most impressive, without the rigidity of material or form that seems common sometimes (such as in some English albums I've mentioned), or any particular need to get to any particular place, giving a sense both of taking life as it is, and expressing oneself as an individual.22 January 2013
I haven't really known what to make of the Creative Sources catalog for the most part. They have a high volume of releases, and I've heard some of them; they've generally been interesting. There are a lot of names I don't recognize, though, and most of their recordings come with no discussion. Although label director Ernesto Rodrigues, plus his family and certain other frequent contributors, appear often, some ensembles seem entirely new. That said, I decided to have a listen to Old School New School No School by Wind Trio in large part based on the fact they had liner notes by Carlos Zingaro, to continue the line of exploration from the previous entry. Three wind players don't fit the concept of jazz especially well, but there is a fairly wide variety of material on this album. It's unclear if there was any (or a lot of) pre-composition, but the various tracks (and there are eleven, rather more than typical for an improvised album) include a range of technique, instrument, and stylistic reference. Audible influences include classic free blowing jazz, Scelsi-esque pitch transformation, and Asian melody. However, these aspects are treated in trio, with separately audible parts, instead of attempting to blend into one; there's a contrapuntal emphasis throughout, in that sense, even if the musicians might not react strongly to each other. (The closest comparison among albums I've featured here previously would be some tracks on Fremdenzimmer.) The result definitely makes an impression, even if it's hard to sustain interest over a full hour. I could be wrong, but it appears the performers are all Portuguese.
Another improvised album of interest is Trio featuring a trio of faculty at Dartmouth: Kui Dong, Larry Polansky, and Christian Wolff. This has been a worthwhile, and at times very soft & minimal album, although it does have its more lively sections. Beyond the music, which is intriguing in its own right, a few specific aspects of the rather brief included notes inspire some thoughts. First, I really liked the phrase "half broken consort" as it seems so evocative of this ensemble with two pianos (including modifications) & guitar, and of course touches on Renaissance conceptions of ensemble and naming. (For quite some time in Western Europe, it was considered normal for groups of the same or same types of instruments to perform together, which was called a consort, and then a broken consort was a later idea that used more than one kind of instrument.) This brings to mind thoughts on the basic constitution of a jazz ensemble, where a classic quartet would represent four different families of instruments (although some might say that piano should be included in percussion, and it's traditionally grouped with guitar as a "chordal instrument" making Trio not quite broken). Old School New School No School above breaks that rule, as do many releases on Creative Sources and elsewhere, particularly in Europe. Of course, it's also normal to have more than one horn, and saxophone quartets have been around for a while, but USA jazz definitely has an orientation toward broken consorts. This leads in turn to a "functional" approach to ensemble, where different players have clearly different roles, even if they might overlap at times. We might analogize this with industrial society, and perhaps I'll have some more remarks on this issue in the future. The other notable aspects of the production for Trio don't thrill me: There is no documentation about when these recordings were made, or even if they come from the same session (I suspect not), which is something I consider inexcusable as someone with a historical orientation. The other aspect is playing up the novelty factor of "three composers" improvising. I don't know how to read this as anything but insulting to the various other improvising ensembles made up of musicians who (also) compose. I really wonder what the writer was thinking, since this is hardly a novelty. That said, although Trio can involve a bit too much muted tinkling at times, I guess waiting for something to emerge, and being all the more striking when it does, it's an appealing album that offers its own perspective on free improvisation today (very influenced by USA academia), and well worth hearing.
I am not currently expecting anything else from 2012, although that could change.24 January 2013
Samuel Blaser continues to record prolifically, with his latest release by a quintet co-led by bassist Michael Bates, One from None. This is, in many ways, a more traditional jazz album than usually featured here, but Blaser's style & interests have matched mine closely enough that I wanted to have a listen — the quintet also includes Jeff Davis & Russ Lossing, who have had their own interesting projects. Perhaps most closely, though, the album is evocative of Bates's 2011 album Acrobat, dedicated to Shostakovich. One from None includes a strongly contrapuntal conception, with an obvious command of twentieth century harmonic styles, but also space for jazz-style soloing. Even with the brass & percussion (and at times, Fender Rhodes), the album projects a classical sound. Unlike François Houle's Genera, on which its leaders also play, One from None never moves into avant garde areas; it remains oriented around arrangements of original popular- or film-style tunes.
Ingrid Laubrock's latest album Strong Place (the first here actually labeled 2013) seems like a more polished product than her first album with this quintet, Anti-House. Gone are the transitional tracks, and some of the instrument changes, with the piano fully integrated, and each track seeming capable of standing on its own merits. And of course the rest of the quintet consists of musicians regularly mentioned here, all with leader albums listed among my favorites, so it was basically a must-hear release, despite my ambivalent reaction to the first Anti-House album. This is highly structured music — not necessarily more structured than a large majority of items I discuss, but certainly more structured than some of the other things these musicians do. I enjoy Kris Davis & John Hébert, including here, but Strong Place comes off as much more rigid than e.g. Camino Cielo Echo by the remaining trio (and the previous appearance of those musicians on Intakt). I had thought, in fact, that Camino Cielo Echo was a bit less adventurous than Pool School in that regard. Otherwise, Strong Place is something of a natural successor to Camino Cielo Echo, and I have to wonder if this is the only thing this group will put out this year? Maybe I should appreciate the quintet more, on that account at least, but Rainey in particular seems noticeably less assertive than when he leads the core trio. The inescapable conclusion is that Laubrock is working through more of a personal vision here, and at least for now, others have to rein themselves in. (I also cannot escape the conclusion, based on the lack of a date, that these tracks were recorded during multiple studio sessions, perhaps adding to the feeling of separation.) The ensemble & material are certainly interesting, some of the timbre combinations are must-hears, but the weak point ends up being in exactly the kind of group interaction I've been prioritizing.13 February 2013
Although I had read some of his music-specific writings way back when, rediscovering Adorno in his more strictly philosophical mode was a significant part of rejuvenating my interest in these topics. Reading Minima Moralia felt like discovering a long lost uncle, someone chewing on many of the same topics, and thinking about them in similar ways. His work has certainly put some of my musings on aesthetics from the late 1990s and early 2000s into perspective, at least for me. Having come largely out of a Foucault-centric tradition, my reaction to Adorno was not unlike Foucault's himself: If only I had known his work, it would have saved me a lot of time. Unlike Foucault, I'm not sure what saved time would have really bought me, so that's OK. Adorno's Aesthetic Theory was first translated (or at least the first good translation) in 1997, when I was in my hermit phase. So reading it now was overdo by any measure, but I do want to offer a short meta-critique.
It's probably unfair to offer any sort of critique, given that the volume is unfinished, and apparently in the midst of a fairly substantive revision when Adorno died, including a stated intention to completely rewrite the introduction, although the editors were kind enough to include the original draft introduction as the last section of the book. Upon starting the introduction, I wondered why Adorno had intended to discard it, because the first part — which basically argues for the value of aesthetic theory — is excellent. But in getting into the second part, including the ubiquitous & seemingly endless rehashing of Kant & Hegel (which he'd have undoubtedly kept), the need to rewrite starts to become clear. The introduction attempts to establish a beginning point for the work itself, but blinks — doubly. Although Adorno does argue that beginning a study of aesthetics with contemporary art makes sense, his statement (albeit in quote) about contemporary art being a critique of past art is remarkably undialectic. For him, an analysis of this statement is a stunning omission. Perhaps more to the point, the introduction struggles to precisely locate that contemporary beginning, and with it to announce a form for what follows. This form, however (and the editors do briefly discuss it), begins to emerge from the reworked main sections themselves.
[ Read more.... ]26 February 2013
I had not really heard of Henry Kaiser until recently, which seems rather pitiful on my part, considering he's based in Oakland. Beyond that, his story is interesting in a wider arena than improvised music, because his grandfather of the same name was such a fascinating character in the history of 20th century USA business. That Henry senior apparently despised Henry junior certainly doesn't make me feel any more fondly toward the "industrialist," though. Anyway, Downtown Music Gallery did a little extended sales pitch for Kaiser around his latest album Kamüra, including listing various other recent albums, that caught my attention. Kamüra is by a free improvisation trio featuring Randy Raine-Reusch on a variety of East Asian instruments, both winds and strings. Each track is oriented around a different instrument, with Kaiser (who also plays piano here) and bassist Torsten Müller supporting more or less vigorously. Some of the tracks are fairly static, and they generally have some simpler parts, although they're all rather original sonic combinations. I've been trying to pay more attention to non-Western instruments in a "jazz" setting of late, even if little in that direction has made it into this space. I had envisioned improvisation with someone specializing in a particular instrument, but Raine-Reusch apparently plays almost anything. It's probably interesting to watch, but it seems more like a curiosity to me, versus a life specialist in one of these traditional instruments. That said, I did like the potential of the mouth organs played here, which I've been intrigued by already in their natural settings (so to speak), and the other instruments had distinctive things to offer also.
I listened to a couple of older albums too, Plane Crash featuring Kaiser in a standard guitar trio with Weasel Walter and Damon Smith, and Ewen / Smith / Walter featuring Houston guitarist Sandy Ewen also with Walter & Smith. Plane Crash, released in 2009, is cited as being Kaiser's most "aggressive" release in quite some time (and maybe that's the wrong word, because I confess that rock-based guitar music effusions don't have a lot of semantic content for me, and both DMG & Walter's record label use a bizarre vocabulary, which I'll summarize based on listening as "aggressive"). It starts out alternating louder rock-style riff tracks with quieter tracks, and slowly comes to more of a synthesis of the two. I'd have preferred they start there. Ewen / Smith / Walter, released in the first half of 2012, and so a release I didn't notice when it appeared last year, rather than a late year straggler, was more of a "find." For one thing, it's fascinating how much more sophisticated Walter & Smith sound in this later trio, recorded three years later. According to online notes, they've been playing together since 2006 in Oakland, but really seem to come together with a unique personal style in this trio.
The clear personal vision on Ewen / Smith / Walter (an untitled album that's listed by this title in at least some online sources) must come in large part from Sandy Ewen herself, of course, but the three musicians also seem to work perfectly together. This is highly nuanced material, with an almost atomic level of listening & interacting, and a strongly electronic edge — Smith's laptop subtly supplements the wide variety of electric guitar sounds. It most strongly reminds me of some sections of Live at the Metz' Arsenal, featuring Joëlle Léandre with Fred Frith on guitar & Alvin Curran doing the electronics. That quartet is based in Oakland, so there might be a tangible influence, although Smith now lives in Houston (and Walter in New York). Ewen / Smith / Walter is also a very long album, and the first few times I listened to it, I found myself enjoying it at the beginning, and then feeling worn out & not enjoying much by the end. That's simply a caution, not a complaint. I might suggest listening to the first 4 tracks in one sitting, and the last 4 in another; there's no conception as an album that will be compromised with that approach, and then one can hear that these later tracks are actually just as strong as earlier ones. (Last time, I had no trouble enjoying the album start to finish, but it starts to become familiar, a topic about which — at some point — I have much more to say in general.) Ultimately, the long length is a strength, because it's more amazing material. (There's a contrast between the classical music world, where people are accustomed to demand as much material for their money as possible, and the jazz world, where albums sometimes seem to be kept short to keep listeners interested.) This kind of finely nuanced personal interplay, with an engaging & creative range of timbral interactions, together with a clear conception of what they're trying to do (i.e. despite its strangeness, the music really doesn't seem "experimental" as such), doesn't come along too often at this level, I'm finding. Even in the slower sections, there's a palpable tension about what's going to happen next, and despite the superficial similarity between the tracks, each is independently interesting. This is one of the most compelling albums from last year, even if I ignored it at the time. In addition, Ewen is a talented visual artist, and several of her works are in the liner booklet (where the music is also introduced by Henry Kaiser, in very articulate & down-to-earth notes) and on her website. I was genuinely impressed by her artwork, not merely as a supplement to the music, but as another avenue of similar aesthetic approach.5 March 2013
When I saw the release announcement for Steve Coleman's latest album, Functional Arrhythmias, with its ideas derived from systems in the body, I immediately thought of Milford Graves. I was gratified to read subsequently on the Pi Recordings website that Coleman had taken inspiration from Graves for the project. I've developed an admiration for Graves, both from his own music, which is not very prolific on recording, and from the work of some drummers who claim him as a teacher (Jeff Arnal in particular, but also Brian Osborne). The basic idea of linking musical structures to the body's own rhythms is an obvious one in some ways, so the devil is in the details, as the saying goes: To what purpose and at what level of consciousness is that linkage made? How does it develop in a musical sense, or conversely, how does it develop the body? These are some basic questions around purpose, which an intentional act, such as creating a recording, cannot really escape. Luckily, with Steve Coleman, we have a musician with a keen sense of what he wants to do and why.
The Graves reference aside — and Graves' exploration of this subject has been anything but superficial — the recent album most directly akin to Functional Arrhythmias is probably Micro Temporal Infundibula by Kronomorfic, led by David Borgo & Paul Pellegrin. I chose not to discuss that album in this space last year, in part because I was coming to it a bit late, in the context of more recent releases by related artists. It has a similar basis: The asymmetrical layers of rhythm interacting in the human body, and specifically the ways these sometimes separate layers can interact (pace the word "infundibula"). That album has a consequent rhythmic feel somewhat akin to Denman Maroney's ensembles around the hyperpiano, but even more noticeably, it has a strongly Latin edge. In a simplistic way, I might call Functional Arrhythmias a funk version of the Latin Micro Temporal Infundibula. But ultimately, the latter is more interesting than compelling; I do hope those musicians continue to develop their ideas. The other natural album reference(s) for Functional Arrhythmias is guitarist Miles Okazaki's work. I had listened to his album Figurations on Sunnyside, the last in a trilogy, and one that ostensibly extends the idea of composition into improvisation. I wrote that last phrase with some care, and thought at the time that the album seemed rather "composed" — I would not have guessed that he's an associate of Steve Coleman, but then who knows where his work is headed. Functional Arrhythmias also features Jonathan Finlayson, who we're told will release his own leader album soon, perhaps moving out from his apprenticeship with Coleman, Henry Threadgill, Steve Lehman, etc. (the Pi canon, I guess). Online discussion also tells us that electric bassist Tidd & drummer (including hand drums) Rickman are "veteran" associates to whom Coleman "returned." I found nothing else featuring them to be available.
In some sense, Functional Arrhythmias is almost more of a catalog of ideas for future elaboration than it is a traditional jazz album. The first two tracks are the most developed, and many of the twelve subsequent tracks are rather short. They're almost sketches, worked out to a degree in improvisation by Steve, and sometimes with the group. What we have, though, is a clear sense of place for this collection, namely within what many in theory circles have termed the affective turn. The turn toward the body seems natural for Coleman given his previous handful of albums over several years — and isn't something like Weaving Symbolics an absolutely great title? (I have an urge to steal it.) There are a number of ways one could describe this thread, or trace, in his works — depending on the theoretical perspective one wants to prioritize. For Coleman, there is no apparent indecision on this aspect, the angle of approach: The album grounds itself in mid-20th century African-American musical style: At times, there is a tangibly funky bass line or historical riff. For me, where to start? I've mentioned the trace, an idea of postcolonial theory, similar in Bhabha's work to the vision of the thin narrative, a story with a contour but no clear meaning, an idea we can extend into the semantic level: What Agamben calls a signature, inspired from Aby Warburg and a deep reading of European medieval history, a particular pattern repeated exactly in completely different contexts, contexts which change its linguistic or semiotic meaning, but not its symbolic function. In Harvesting Semblances and Affinities, we can hear Steve Coleman working explicitly with just such a catalog: Different traditions interrelated not in grand narratives, but in the tiniest of correspondences.
This happens everywhere. What Steve has done is be more explicit about it — but not too explicit. We're not told what the correspondences are, what these semblances might be, but we have an album labeled as such, and we're offered a chance to hear them however Steve and his group might perform them. Harvesting Semblances and Affinities received a great deal of attention, but also included recordings almost four years old by the time of its release. (And The Mancy of Sound was basically, to my mind, an appendix around the same ideas & mostly from the same sessions, although retrospectively I can view the title as moving toward affect.) Functional Arrhythmias was recorded in two sessions in 2012, so represents Coleman's much more current thinking, in addition to being later work. Harvesting Semblances and Affinities had as an aspect a very particular sense & conveyance of time & place, something that always felt a little strange to me hearing it years later. Of course, improvisatory documents in general are often rather particular to a time & place. So how to move beyond that, without sacrificing the reality of it? The turn to affect is, in various perhaps contradictory ways, a move to connect the trace or signature with the body: One might define culture as the map that tells a body how to translate affect into emotion. In a sense, affect is pre-cultural, if I turn that around. (But generating affect can be cultural, or modify culture, so it's not as tidy as all that.) Coleman is not trying to create some music-prior-to-culture here, however. As noted, he explicitly references 20th century African-American culture. What he's doing is, again, illustrating affinities with other cultures, at an almost "atomic" level, and as they might be related to the body, as they might emerge from the body. There is an internal epistemology, but not so much an ontology: I don't believe Coleman is suggesting a one-way flow from the body to multifaceted cultural expression, but rather relating a way these affinities can be felt/known. If affect is prior to subjectivity, these pieces become entities suggesting further elaboration into other realms of thought, and take a position outside (or perhaps alongside) a particular time & place, evoking the virtualization of time, as illustrated in such fashionable terms as "future anterior." The body is concrete, but its affects involve the virtual (pace Massumi, et al.).
Coleman is weaving these ideas into music that will appeal to a broad audience. I expect Functional Arrhythmias will draw substantial mainstream attention. Despite my (over-)involved discussion (motivated perhaps by the relational — or should I say functional? — nature of the bodily displacement), the music ends up being fairly straightforward (albeit creatively reconfigured) in its synthesis, which can perhaps be linked to the gestural quality of affect. The album involves a careful trimming of excess, back to the thin narrative, yet precisely articulated in its episodes (tracks, or within tracks): The individual pieces create spaces that are distinct, but not closed: The body as contiguous with worlds, not as sphinx. In accord with Graves' work, there is also definite physiological modulation in at least some of the tracks — the album can be spooky or ultimately quite reassuring in some vaguely felt sense, that is, in turn affective. (One could say the album is ease-y.) Much of the value is how unclumsy, natural it all seems — novelty with a simplicity grounded in affect, inherently asymmetric (arrhythmic) as gesture, in both the way the body generates & reacts to time. I'll be interested to see how Functional Arrhythmias is received, especially politically, given its openness (in contrast to the more hermetic quality of Coleman's previous Pi albums).14 March 2013
Another very long trio album released recently, and so perhaps inspiring some memories of the amazing Ewen / Smith / Walter, is Zebulon by Peter Evans and his trio (John Hébert, and the unknown-to-me drummer Kassa Overall) on his own More is More record label. There are things to like about this album, but it does end up seeming overly long. In fact, there are parts of Zebulon that I particularly enjoy, beginning with the opening. Evans gives a tour-de-force technical performance, and shows a lively improvisational mind, but he also spends a lot of time spinning variations, one after another, and in most of the tracks I reach an "alright, enough already!" point where I'm ready to move on to another idea. This is my main issue with the album, and although I started out enjoying it quite a bit, I became annoyed with the third track (of four) even the first time through. However, there is still a lot to hear. Hébert is engaging throughout, plays some excellent bass solos, and really frames things creatively in a contrapuntal sense. The other weakness, perhaps, of the trio is that although the trumpet goes silent at times to allow the bass to solo, it always dominates when active (and drums are always color); there's no sense of shifting ensemble roles, just a straight ahead trumpet trio in that sense. (I'll also note that the CD itself is not labeled, only black lacquer, presumably intentionally, given the glossy foldover.) Despite these issues with being fully satisfying, Zebulon is an interesting album, bringing out different textures within the mainstream trumpet trio that I hadn't encountered previously, and featuring some fine individual moments from Hébert & Evans. Maybe it will lead to something more (so to speak).8 April 2013
Kris Davis's new quintet album Capricorn Climber came with high expectations, which always makes things a little bit tricky (at least for this listener). Although she had done a solo album, a followup with the cooperative trio Paradoxical Frog, as well as arrangements of Tony Malaby's pieces, this was Davis's first ensemble leader album since Good Citizen in 2010. It felt a long time in coming, especially as Davis continued to (deservedly) receive a lot of press. Besides frequent recent band mates Ingrid Laubrock & Tom Rainey, the addition of violist Mat Maneri made a great deal of sense to me, as both Maneri & Davis have a highly appealing command of twelve-tone technique. (I should also mention bassist Trevor Dunn, with whom I'm less familiar, but who also plays on Ches Smith's album from the same batch of Clean Feed releases, and elsewhere.) So expectations were high, and when the piano enters with a heavy thud off the pulse in the first measure (if I can call it that) of the first track, it further gets my attention. (The opening reminds me of some Boulez openings, but including that wonderful immediate shifting of the pulse.) With Paradoxical Frog, and to some degree in Laubrock's Anti-House albums on which Davis also performs, I've found a bit too much of the slow or "atmospheric" material. There are some atmospheric sections on Capricorn Climber too, to which Laubrock's saxophone often lends significant color, but they work better for me somehow; they succeed in creating a world, instead of being anticipatory, I guess. Davis is sometimes exploring what comes after a Feldman-esque minimalism, and has as many answers as anyone, but also composes high energy pieces. (And the individual tracks tend to have sections of rather different characters, instead of keeping a mood throughout.) Sections featuring the Davis-Maneri-Rainey trio can be particularly scintillating (and shouldn't they really do a trio album?), but the foreground is generally well-distributed throughout the quintet and can vary quickly. I imagine Capricorn Climber is going to receive fairly widespread attention and appear on various "best of" lists. The album is like a catalog of late 20th century style, but with an improvisational fluency only developing in the 21st, and packaged into a compelling whole. I especially enjoy the livelier dodecaphonic passages, as they seem so far removed from the stiffness sometimes associated with that style, but there are plenty of other interesting things to hear.24 April 2013
A recent item highly recommended at Downtown Music Gallery was Compost by Daniel Thompson (guitar), Alex Ward (clarinet), and Benedict Taylor (viola) on the new Cram Records. Although she's not listed as part of the group of musicians involved with Cram Records, there's some second hand relationship to Ingrid Laubrock, since both Veryan Weston (Haste) and Javier Carmona (Catatumbo) have recorded with her. In any case, as I'd remarked before about English improvisatory albums seeming stiff, I thought I'd mention Compost as another effort by a younger trio of performers, all-improvised in their first meeting, a meeting that apparently prompted more, including a record label. This is an all-acoustic improvisation session, recorded in a very resonant church space. That is perhaps its most distinctive quality, aside from the instrumentation, creating some feedback from the setting itself (and when someone coughs during the set, that echoes too). It's a good reminder that rooms & buildings have been creating echoes & feedback far longer than there have been looping electronics. It's generally an abstract set, very carefully controlled, with some interesting sequences of close interaction.29 April 2013
I've never thought of Calgary as a cultural center, or really a place that would ever attract my attention, but apparently I was wrong about that. Drummer Chris Dadge lives in Calgary and runs the Bug Incision label with his local colleague Scott Munro, and they've produced what is to my ears the most compelling free improvisation album so far this year in The Unrepeatable Quartet, recorded in Calgary no less. With hindsight, maybe I should have realized that there was more to Calgary than I'd noticed — which was mainly malls — what with the Calgary Stampede as a significant piece of North American culture. And of course, there are the amazingly beautiful Canadian Rockies not far away, where I've done a fair amount of hiking. A rodeo was never on my radar, however, but maybe there's more to that than I thought too.
In any case, Dadge has a compelling style himself, and for this concert, played along with Munro, as well as legendary free improviser Jack Wright (b.1942) and Montreal-based trumpeter Ellwood Epps (who has the same name as a famous Canadian gun shop, adding to my general bewilderment here). There's a bit of a slow patch in their collective improvisation, but mostly it's highly compelling, including in its pacing, and is the sort of recording that ends with a feeling of satisfaction that doesn't elicit a desire to hear something else right away. There's a great deal of subtlety to their interaction, which is usually clear — although musicians shift between roles, the sounds don't usually blend to the point of obscuring who is who. Dadge cultivates multiple simultaneous pulses in a fairly leisurely way, while Wright & Epps do a variety of different things with their horns, from loud to soft and all manner of in between, most often in fairly discrete sounds. Munro does various different things too, which I guess are even harder to summarize, but he'll carry a tone longer. Calgary 2012 comes off as quite a concert — a unique set that still probably won't get me to make significant changes to my attitude toward rodeos or guns — but wow, what a surprise.
This is a CD-R pressing in a little plastic slip, like e.g. Jeff Shurdut's release on Jazt Tapes, although numbered. Most of the other recent Bug Incision releases are duos, which I'm not into at the moment, and there is a release of an older trio from Oakland featuring Weasel Walter & Damon Smith, who have recently appeared in this space with Sandy Ewen. I will need to keep my eye on Calgary now. There is also a statement that a sister album to this Calgary 2012 release will appear on "Eh? Records," but I don't know what that is, or if I will find it.7 May 2013
I had the opportunity to interview Houston guitarist Sandy Ewen (b.1985) in an email exchange over the course of the month of April, and I think we had a good conversation: The results are here.8 May 2013
A couple of news items to report:
To favorite recordings list.
More to come!© 2010-13 Todd M. McComb