With a little lull in music releases, and taking some time away from more active listening, this also seems like an opportune moment to start a new page here: The previous ten months were once again my most prolific yet in this space (in length, not number of entries), but perhaps I'll be adopting a little more focus going forward. We'll see. There's always a question of whether I really feel as though I have something to say, and particularly whether being another person noting an album is of any use. My experience in this space also continues to increase, such that the "excitement of discovery" (& so of discussion) can fade at times. Indeed, I do try to write about music here while I still feel a sense of excitement, and not to wait for further settling of ideas. So sometimes I return to items again, whether in the context of another release, or simply with new thoughts. I know it does make things harder on the casual reader at times, since comments on a specific album might be scattered between entries. To maintain forward continuity in my thoughts on the page, I also put new entries at the end — so please scroll to the end for the latest.
In some of these prior intros (which are still available via the archive at the bottom of this page), I've said a little more about why I've been reluctant to adopt newer presentation technology here, and that's mostly about the need to atomize entries so as to access them separately. (Particularly with my interrogations of segmentation & typology in theoretical pieces such as Postmodern Aesthetics & Practical listening, I'm not eager to make that concession. I think that if I ever do, though, I'll use something like a "word cloud" to auto-generate titles for the entries....) It's also worth noting that we're living in a society where everything is supposed to be convenient: Well, maybe not everything, but some people do seem to think that discussions of relatively complex — whether aurally or conceptually — music such as this should be easy to read. I'd say there's a place for ease, but not everywhere... sort of like with music. Regarding the sense of excitement referenced above, then, I often like to translate or implicitly reference aspects of music in textual form.... Needless to say (I hope), these "translations" (or responses) are not reversible. But maybe they do yield a different feel sometimes....
I've also presented some thoughts in previous intros regarding what interests me musically and/or the title of this space.... On the former, it's probably easiest simply to refer to my list of favorites from over the years (since circa 2010), which is heavy on small ensembles such as trios & quartets. I sometimes feature productions using larger or smaller sets of musicians, but not as often. Small group interaction continues to be a focus, and so does improvisation: At least in this country, that tends to mean jazz (at least as a commercial category), and where I think the term does very much still apply is in aspirations of music for social change — now in a more diversified global context. That said, whereas I didn't originally believe that interactions including machines (& substantial electronics more broadly) would be appealing to me in these terms, I've increasingly found the opposite to be true. (I still enjoy acoustic productions, though.... I've also considered integrating my early music thoughts here, since that's a similar project, with less volume at this point, but I guess those readers expect a separate space....) Next year, then, I also anticipate writing a theoretical piece on technology — that I'll link here when available.
I guess that's enough for now. I hope to have much more (of musical interest) to articulate below. Thank you for your continuing attention.Todd M. McComb <email@example.com>
Not only do my musical interests tend toward smaller ensembles, but I enjoy broadly contrapuntal articulations in which a variety of musical activity occurs simultaneously, including (potentially structural) explorations of timbral relations as well. The latter involves an even greater web of musical connections & correspondences than traditional counterpoint, which accommodated only discrete notes, i.e. not complex sounds blending into each other. In addition to an "erector set" image of distinct lines spanning spaces then, one might imagine bends, blends & folds through which combinations of sounds can relate thickly in various ways.... And Ernesto Rodrigues is one of the most prolific musicians working in & through such an environment, forging a post-serial, post-concrète, sometimes ambient idiom that often involves ("lowercase") restraint & quiet. The latter is not always the case, however, and much of Rodrigues' recent music has had an aggressive presence, including (often) on the recent & massive double album Mycelial Studies with Guilherme Rodrigues & Udo Schindler. The two discs, each over an hour, were recorded on consecutive dates in Munich in June 2018, and involve Schindler on a relatively limited (for him anyway) set of horns, i.e. bass & contrabass clarinet, soprano saxophone & cornet. I'd actually mentioned this double album, or at least its first disc (to which Schindler apparently refers in his remarks), when discussing Schindler's trio album (likewise with two string players) Rhizome in May (where I also noted e.g. Schindler's recent Hillside Talks with Jaap Blonk): Whereas the mycelial & rhizomatic images — the latter especially due to Deleuze & Guattari, and the former also continuing an orientation on biological imagery for Rodrigues — suggest similar structural concerns, Rhizome is actually the "smoother" album, with calmly wandering drones & an almost minimalist orientation behind its sometimes lively activity. (One might perceive long spans, say.) In contrast, Mycelial Studies tends to focus on close exchange of musical figures, and moves rapidly through various threads of sonic combination & connection: Timbral correspondences tend to mirror & imitate the finest grains of articulation, such that not only are instrument identities often blurred, but the smallest slur can lead into a fully motivic exchange.... In fact, the two albums making up Mycelial Studies are actually rather different, with the first ("arToxin") seeming more "classical" (or perhaps classic jazz) in inspiration, recalling e.g. K'Ampokol Che K'Aay & its broadly ranging & detailed counterpoint around clarinet: Still, instruments do blend via extended technique, and the interaction can be quite assertive. As the "studies" title suggests (& I had applied the term myself to some of Schindler's work in the past), it can seem as though all manner of transformations are employed, with strings above and/or below the various horns, often yielding an immersive feel (that might seem alien to this description). It's also a very long album beginning, perhaps paradoxically, by establishing its sense of space (& do recall Schindler's background in architecture here), and going on to involve e.g. horn calls over (string) "landscapes" whose shifting moods can seem almost orchestral in spite of the small forces. The second album ("Salon") seems even less traditional, or at least less identifiable or stable in its inspirations, evoking not only more of the later "free jazz" vibe, but almost an in-your-face (punk?) quality at times: Presumably building on interactions developed the previous evening, Salon is thus more personal & even radical or elemental: Timbral overlapping & articulations are that much more confounding, but the overall sound can also be more raucous & aggressive. And the long first track already displays a wide variety of interactions & transformations across a broad space itself, beginning from some quiet (instrumental) whistling, and moving into assertive & sometimes almost melodic counterpoint, industrial & environmental noises, etc. (The "elemental" quality might recall the similarly constituted Baloni trio at times, and e.g. Fremdenzimmer, albeit there including compositions on some tracks....) It's thus a very dynamic album — intimidating even, with much to digest, and rarely calm — spanning shearing difference tones, percussive scratchings, growling raspberries, various glissandi, etc. It does continue to suggest "studies," however, and so although a sort of sanctifying quality emerges, these sets continue to seem (as has been typical of Schindler) more about radicalizing image & form than about broader or sustaining concepts of musical use per se.... (Perhaps the most similar album — to Salon — is actually Skullmarks, there with a very different musical economy including more players & explicit electronics.... That album actually involves more concrete spiritual prompts, but also projects a similar resulting density & even employs similar resulting sounds.) Mycelial Studies also names the trio as "S2R" on the label, and so perhaps there will be more to come after these already quite substantial series of studies: Despite Schindler's own very prolific production, and frequent appearances on Creative Sources, this does also appear to be his first direct musical collaboration with (either) Rodrigues.
Further to the notion of an S2R trio, I mentioned in a relatively lengthy discussion of RRR & We Still Have Bodies last August how Ernesto & Guilherme Rodrigues can seem to be playing one big instrument at times, making their trios seem (almost) more like duos. Within such a context, they thus forge a sort of extended, (virtual) four-hand string articulation, and that "closeness" pairs to fine effect with Schindler's very detailed & transformative technique on horns, continuing to conflate notions of continuous & discrete (as suggested around timbre above). If this trio does continue to produce albums, then, it might catch up with the ongoing trio the Rodrigueses have with Olaf Rupp, which has itself just released a third album (after RRR, as noted, & the digital Chaotic Complex Systems as mentioned here in December): Man is wolf to man was recorded in Berlin in October 2018 (one year after RRR), and continues a relatively mellow orientation for this trio. Akin to moving from arToxin to Salon, however, it features fewer direct musical evocations, and so an increasingly personal style: Slow plucking becomes melodic at times, perhaps bustling or buzzing with dissonance at others, but usually retains a mellow vibe as rustling figures tend to come & go in ambient waves.... I should also mention another very substantial double album (this one "digital" again) in Weißensee, also recorded in Berlin in 2018 (presumably over multiple dates), there with the Rodrigueses reprising their string trio with Alexander Frangenheim (per Underwater Music, as discussed here in October 2017, and as might be termed the Berlin String Trio, in parallel with Ernesto's Lisbon String Trio...) & as joined by Joachim Zoepf (b.1955) on soprano sax & bass clarinet: Weißensee combines an extensive set of studies — incorporating e.g. drones, radio, etc. in what are generally shorter, focused & distinctive tracks — with something of the concertante feel of the LST series.12 August 2019
Besides Mycelial Studies on Creative Sources, the prolific Udo Schindler also just released a pair of albums on FMR, GAU & superGAU, recorded live in Munich in June & October 2017 respectively. They're also lengthy explorations of possibilities within a particular trio configuration. Unlike Mycelial Studies, though, these are both electroacoustic albums, both featuring a trio called München Neus (partially an English pun): Schindler (b.1952) plays unspecified reeds & brass, as well as analog synthesizer, and is joined by Gunnar Geisse (b.1964) on "laptopguitar" & virtual instruments, and Anton Kaun (b.1974) on electronics (explicitly including "distortion") & objects. I was not previously familiar with Kaun, but Geisse (& his distinctive homebrew combination of laptop & guitar) had appeared with Schindler e.g. on the second album of The Fascination of What's Complex on Creative Sources.... And I'd actually first featured Schindler here with electronics on albums also from FMR, Hell dunkel (discussed in November 2017) & Sound Energy Transformation (discussed in February 2018), where he often retains a classical sense of restraint & balance. Such a "sweetness" is largely discarded on the two GAU (the musicians' initials) albums, however, yielding an aggressively punkish quality that one is directed to play loud, so as to "inform your neighbours!" Geisse & Kaun add a wealth of rhythm & timbre to Schindler's detailed & changing horns, but both albums also retain the sense of a horn trio (with Kaun as percussionist): These are both noisy albums, then, combining the free jazz horn trio (in its guitar rather than contrabass configuration) with the latest do-it-yourself technological innovation, so as to yield even more (industrial) energy & sonic variety. In this, GAU is a little more preliminary & broken into four tracks, while superGAU consists of one ongoing tapestry of intensity.... (It reminds, at least superficially, of various releases from the Viennese Trost label....) There's much to enjoy, taking "horn calls over a landscape" to another level, but these are also ultimately albums with rather rigid roles around Schindler on horn, rather than being more richly transformative. Still, I was surprised to hear this sort of aggression from Schindler (although a soloistic orientation had been common), not to mention such a long track, and the noisy & shifting combos can be quite ear-catching. So what's next?13 August 2019
Returning already to Creative Sources, the Lisbon String Trio series continues with Rhetorica — as noted last month in the discussion of Merz (which was actually recorded a few months later) — a studio recording from Lisbon in July 2018, with pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro joining the Rodrigues/Mira/Rosso lineup (that's been consistent on all eleven albums so far). Regarding my comments on timbre & transformation from the recent Mycelial Studies discussion, the limitations of a piano sometimes leave me ambivalent, including regarding its historical associations, but nonetheless there do continue to be many fine improvising pianists: LST had already embraced piano (in the person of Karoline Leblanc) with Liames (as discussed here in August 2017), and I'd specifically featured Pinheiro himself here around Earnear, beginning with a discussion from December 2015.... Indeed the latter comparison is doubly significant in that Miguel Mira appears on both albums, such that Rhetorica includes two thirds of the trio from Earnear: Both often invoke a classical feel, albeit with a contemporary edge, and of course employ a variety of techniques, with the latter tending to be more focused on specific techniques in different tracks (& so perhaps a bit more like studies), while the latter moves into more broadly impressionist & dreamy territory. (Perhaps it can also be compared to parts of "arToxin" from Mycelial Studies in aspects of its orientation & technical scope.) Both are also rather assertive much of the time, with Rhetorica adding bass to good effect. There's also a sort of intimacy that arises (including, presumably, from the studio setting) that can contrast with some of the more public or concertante LST productions: Rhetorica is then far-ranging & ambitious, and not really about "studies" (per recent discussions) at all. It's also rather more directly engaged with Western tradition than the more "pure sound" approach found e.g. on much of Liames — more linguistic (in an abstract poetic sense, perhaps), per the title. (And with relatively little "inside the piano" playing as well.) It enacts its rhetorical orientation via frequent polyrhythm, but also by cultivating a sense of delicacy at times, further suggesting something of a classical piano quartet (with strings shifted downward a register) in its sometimes moody affective qualities (almost, say, as a contemporary stylistic synthesis à la Fauré). These concerns are then wrapped up in the quick exchange of figures that's both a strength of Pinheiro & so very characteristic of LST & related groups, here emphasizing more conventionally classical string technique than on some other albums. Rhetorica thus seems like both a forceful & graceful album, and one that could be enjoyed by a wider audience. (I actually tried suggesting it on a classical group, but I don't know if anything will come of that....) It's definitely one of the more appealing (rather traditionally) piano-centric, improvising ensemble albums I've heard of late.
To conclude the linked set of three entries opening this renewed page, then, and to continue a June entry surveying recent work from Rodrigues (e.g. Krypton), there are still more albums I want (at least) to note: Not only is there more from larger ensembles such as Variable Geometry Orchestra (now with Mare Tranquillitatis, consisting of one track of around a half hour, on which Rodrigues himself does not play an instrument, but "only" engages in conduction, forging various "episodes" around instrumental subgroups) & the more modestly sized Octopus (now with Cyanea, a sparse & watery album under a half hour in length, following Mimus & Dofleini as described here in January, but with some ensemble changes) — both from CreativeFest #12 last November — but there's another "variant" string quartet in Double x Double: The latter was recorded in Berlin in October 2018, and involves two pairs of viola & cello, with Marie Takahashi & Hui-Chun Lin joining Ernesto & Guilherme Rodrigues respectively. It's thus another example from Rodrigues of bunching up the middle registers and involving a lot of crossing counterpoint, rather than extremes of pitch (as in some other projects). (And note that crossing contrapuntal registers was a feature of e.g. historical Ars Subtilior style, so only later proscribed by Western theory.) As opposed to e.g. the "epic" energy music of Theia (which incorporated LST as a working trio), Double x Double has a more colorfully broad natural orientation, even involving various briefly classical & romantic figures alongside a sometimes sparser approach, so as to create a rich musical tapestry evocative of late 20th century classical string literature in general (as with so many other Rodrigues string albums for small forces, e.g. as surveyed here in an entry from December 2018). In such ensembles, of course, mimicking & exploring (contrapuntal) timbral relations across instruments becomes that much easier.14 August 2019
Particularly in light of some other recent electronics-oriented albums appearing here, I also want to note the latest from Evan Parker, Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf recorded in July 2017 by an electronics-heavy ensemble called Trance Map+: The ensemble name marks Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf as a followup to the duo album Trance Map (released in 2011) by Parker & Matthew Wright (credited here with turntable & live sampling), and adds the Spring Heel Jack duo of John Coxon (turntable, electronics) & Ashley Wales (electronics), as well as Adam Linson (double bass, electronics). Linson, who seems to be becoming more musically active again, had appeared in this space with Trio (with John Heward & Arthur Bull, discussed in January 2019), while the other three remain relatively unexplored for me.... As the ensemble might suggest, and the bass is sometimes prominent too, much of the album revolves around Parker on soprano sax, particularly as it articulates continuous lines around which dreamy electronics spin. In this case, the "dreamy" aspect (which I had just noted of Rhetorica) is quite explicit in the notes, with Parker suggesting that one put the album on while falling sleep.... The single horn with a bit of strings & a lot of electronics also recalls much of the recent Skullmarks, which nonetheless builds a "meatier" texture (with strong bass at times): Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf is more toward the gossamer, and seems rather focused on a main line, with many shifting accents, even tending to become repetitive around horn figures.... (I might also contrast both with the recent Music for Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinets & Electronics, on which the triple horn lineup, with its various timbral grains, forges a finely textured counterpoint that's buoyed & further articulated by the electronics, in what ends up being an engrossing sense of interactive detail....) For whatever reason, Parker's ElectroAcoustic Seven (discussed here in January 2015) didn't really speak to me either, and this seems to be something of a less momentous followup, albeit from a formally different ensemble. I do find the "dream" notion behind Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf — aligned to ambient, I suppose? — intriguing, but the result often seems to be an eerie held whistle or ongoing ostinato. It comes off as rather single-minded, emphasizing continuity, albeit shifting over time... but maybe that's how dreams operate. (Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf also seems like something of a departure for the relatively staid Intakt label, so perhaps they're becoming more experimental.)15 August 2019
Among musicians who continue to attract my regular attention, Joëlle Léandre is one of the few with whose work I'd had some familiarity prior to starting this project. That Léandre continues to receive positive attention from a variety of quarters serves to underscore such a genealogy for me today, but she's also been releasing mostly duo recitals — apparently her preferred format, but not mine. Since Léandre continues to be one of the most powerful voices in improvised music, that's undoubtedly my own problem, and I do continue to listen.... But then these remarks are really just a rationalization for why I haven't actually reviewed a Léandre album since the Tiger Trio's Unleashed (recorded in March 2016 & discussed here in February 2017). I very much wanted to enjoy that album, with Myra Melford on piano (who apparently initiated the trio) & Nicole Mitchell on flutes, and I did enjoy it: It took me a while to warm up to so much traditional pianism from Melford, but the flute-bass-piano lineup provides some great sonorous combos, while the album projects a strongly affective quality. (And I'd only just revisited some remarks regarding my ambivalence toward traditional pianism in the discussion of Rhetorica last week, so enough of that for now....) As time went on, though, I continued to find Unleashed to be rather pianistic, and indeed that the melodies & formal processes ended up seeming relatively straightforward. In some ways, the latter served to highlight the timbral potential & instrumental interplay itself, and of course, to what extent should improvised music really be judged by the hundredth audition? Unleashed made a strong early impression, and now the Tiger Trio's new album Map of Liberation (recorded in November 2018 on two consecutive dates in France) made an even stronger first impression: In particular, there's more formal equality, more often structured by bass & less by piano (although Melford almost seems to be traversing Beethoven in a solo at one point — leading into an extended vocalizing episode from Léandre), and the affective qualities & sophistication have grown that much stronger. It's quite colorful in general, with tighter coordination from the opening track & a generally richer interaction with more shifts & timbral contrasts — i.e. what one might hope from a second album. (And it came as a surprise to me that I hadn't really featured anything from Léandre since the first Tiger Trio album. Hence the opening convolution here....) Albeit highly virtuosic, it's also still relatively straightforward in its ensemble roles & often traditional in its melodic forms. In fact, Map of Liberation seems to me like an album for a wide audience: I enjoyed it, and believe that many other people would as well, given the opportunity.... (Since this will be the first of three consecutive entries to feature the flute, at this point it's also worth noting the extent to which flute playing is associated with women, at least in the US.... And Mitchell does more than hold her own in a variety of registers — literal & figural — here.)20 August 2019
Although it took me a while to warm up to e.g. trumpet in this project (having eventually become much more engaged with its sound), I found myself attracted to flute early on, I suppose in part due to its quasi-paleolithic evocations, or just the basic directness of its sound: Despite that flute playing often tends to be associated with women these days, much of my (requited) interest derived from men in the jazz tradition, e.g. Henry Threadgill or the late Roy Campbell, who only play flute sometimes. Of course, the flute's been associated historically with e.g. Pan & The Pied Piper, so the fact that it's become more feminine lately in the public imagination (again, at least in the US) is more of a historical quirk of music education than something grounded in tradition. (And the solution is obviously for women to be welcomed on more instruments, not for men to stop playing flute....) Another man playing flute, then, and one for whom it's his main instrument, is the inimitable Robert Dick (b.1950): I'd mentioned Dick here in the discussion of Itinerant (an album from Michael Lytle on which Dick doesn't actually appear) in October 2017, and have mostly heard him playing composed music (that I haven't mentioned). However, following on the previous entry, Joëlle Léandre does have another new trio album featuring a US flautist, this time Dick, Solar Wind (recorded last September in New York City). I suppose the near simultaneity of the releases was coincidence, but it's interesting to hear two trio albums with Léandre & flute appearing at the same time (& they literally arrived in the same box for me), in this case with the more flexible koto — in the person of Miya Masaoka — rather than piano. (Solar Wind is also similar to Map of Liberation in that it consists of many short tracks, actually one more & shorter....) I'd last mentioned Masaoka in a (belated) discussion of Braxton's Diamond Curtain Wall Music in April 2019, including her participation on Duo (DCWM) 2013 (which is improvised outside of any specific composition), and here she serves to buoy & articulate the Dick-Léandre interaction: In fact, at first I heard Solar Wind as more of a duo album, with a bit of metallic plucked string accompaniment (overlapping the bass, of course), but then came to realize just how active Masaoka is throughout in sculpting the sound.... The flute-bass interaction does still jump out, though, here in the somewhat earlier recording of the two from Léandre. (Going back a few years, one might also compare to Léandre's participation in the Stone Quartet, e.g. on Live at Vision Festival, where Campbell sometimes takes up the flute, and where the bass-flute-piano format is augmented to fine effect by viola....) And although Léandre is again in fine form, Solar Wind is especially a tour de force from Dick, who employs not only glissando flute of his own design, but bass & contrabass flutes more generally, and even a piercing piccolo at times. (Given his innovations in flute construction, I'm also reminded of the "pronomos" quarter-tone flute that appears — also with bass & piano — on Pascal Niggenkemper's Talking Trash, as discussed here in May 2016....) Dick also erupts into ferocious vocals to open the second track, an outburst that's especially surprising from someone who really does look like a retired music teacher, and that's echoed on a later track by rather vigorous yet more extended & dialoguing vocals from Léandre herself (as has become expected of her at some point). The liner notes — & I don't really know what to make of the NASA cover photo, as the music seems plenty "earthy" to me — emphasize the indistinguishability of the instruments, which I don't find to be generally true, but the music does involve equivocation at important points, as sonorities do blend, such that subtle articulatory differences within the contrabass duo seem to be a significant fount for the album as it unfolds at times from unisons. Or, moving up the texture, "flutey" bass harmonics might align with more conventional flute ranges.... (The album also benefits especially from good stereo sound, as some recent equipment problems I've been experiencing have made only too clear. It can still be surprisingly harsh & aggressive.... Perhaps I should also note that, uncharacteristically, neither of these two recent Léandre albums was recorded by Foussat.) There are actually many extremes in general to Solar Wind, particularly in pitch, but also between e.g. delicacy & power — although it does tend toward being rather forceful, even to the point of percussive sounds from all three instruments (including via "attack" on the flute). Such percussive qualities also balance an exploratory orientation on timbre/grain & flutter, here — strikingly — within an entirely acoustic idiom (pace the recording itself!). And again, that's where Dick is so amazing on flute, seemingly having no limits to what he can articulate or emphasize, down to broad quasi-"electronic" noises. (I should also note Dick's recent duo album with Adam Caine on guitar, The Damn Think recorded in December 2017: It can also be aggressive, even outrageous, behind strong vocalizing & flute glissandi. It can also be rather mellow, and is a little more conventional at times. Still, with koto in place of guitar, and of course adding bass, Solar Wind seems to build on some of the ideas & combos developed on The Damn Think, which did arise from an ongoing working duo....) One might even suggest that different sorts of wind or breath conjure different sorts of spaces or imagery, but Solar Wind also moves quickly on to different spaces & interactions more generally. The frequent return to low pitches does emphasize a sense of gravity, though, and the proceedings remain (surprisingly) energetic throughout. The result is brilliant sonically & quite potent: Such affectivity might even include some fear, a glimpse into the gaping maw of sound.... (So maybe this is indeed the context for "pied piping" in the twenty-first century?)21 August 2019
And to close out this little series of entries involving flute, I also want to note Dropping stuff and other folk songs, recorded in Amsterdam in February 2018 by a trio of Ig Henneman (viola), Jaimie Branch (trumpet) & Anne La Berge (flutes). La Berge is actually the one with whom I wasn't previously familiar, and I wouldn't characterize Dropping stuff and other folk songs as a flute album, but she does make an impact changing roles & tessituras from soloing high in the texture to becoming a broad foundation for others. Indeed, that's the most striking dynamic to Dropping stuff and other folk songs in general, with Branch also able to move between piercing solos & broad windy breath (as pedal) against which the other two can perform faster exchanges. Such a harmonic foundation makes sense as a role for viola with two horns, and Henneman joins (or perhaps spurs) that dynamic as well, particularly given that her string technique often sounds like a saxophone anyway. Of course, Branch has burst onto the scene with rave reviews, but this is the first I'm mentioning her: Her more groove-based albums didn't really speak to me, but I was already intrigued by the recent Party Knüllers X Jaimie Branch at the Casa with Fred Lonberg-Holm & Ståle Liavik Solberg: That's quite an aggressive, even crunchy album, but also rather more abstract (rather than groove-based), if often soloistic. It comes off like a traditional free horn trio in many ways, and Branch's traditional virtuosity is on fine display.... And I'd already mentioned Henneman with Perch Hen Brock & Rain (also on Relative Pitch) in a discussion from August 2016, and noted her horn-like playing.... In any case, Dropping stuff and other folk songs ends up being a relatively intricate three-way interaction with fluid roles, and that's something that I enjoy. Sometimes it's more in the manner of extended technique, sometimes the instruments are more traditionally recognizable; sometimes it's eerie, sometimes wistful... a landscape that itself becomes the call. It can also be soloistic & assertive at times, amid shifting textures, which although generally active, can be limited in their fullness by the limited pitch ranges involved (pace change of flutes, etc.). It's something of a study, then, of intertwining lines & switching roles.22 August 2019
I'd discussed Tse, by the rather starkly interacting trio of Cyril Bondi (shruti box, pitch pipes & harmonica), Pierre-Yves Martel (viola da gamba, pitch pipes & harmonica) & Christoph Schiller (spinet & preparations) back in June 2018, and now want to note a relatively short followup album in Awirë, recorded in London in October 2018. The latter actually derives from a concert from the end of the tour promoting Tse, meaning that it was an opportunity to develop that material further (& the credits listed here are actually those of the more expansive forces on Awirë), but it also involved adding Angharad Davies (violin) for this one concert. (In that, it thus recalls Dethick, as discussed here in May, another mellow album, but more generally percussive & exotic-sounding around its strings.) The basic procedure is thus still that from Tse, in which there's prior agreement on particular pitches (one or more) to use at particular points in the performance, here including a couple of "free" periods as well — which nonetheless retain a similar feel. I'd said that Tse "projects a strong sense of calm," and Awirë retains that direction, now in a more supple interactive orientation. There's still an overall stark quality, with much of the articulation seemingly remaining about pace & timing, but Davies seems to bring some warmth, with the overall smoothness of the resulting tones largely broken up via varied attacks, most strikingly on spinet. The result is a sort of dreamy ambience that is consistently affective & transformative of mood. And just to emphasize: I don't find the formal procedure here to be of any special interest "in principle," or rather only in the sense that it turns out to be effective, but the affectivity is really the point & the motivation for noting Awirë. In that sense, it's then a breath of fresh air after so many heavy or "busy" albums (with more to come) — and surprisingly potent. The musicians seem to be building an increasingly robust style, "minimalist" or no, step by step.25 August 2019
It seems that there's already plenty to say about Never without even engaging with the music, so let me instead open by saying that Never is a fast & aggressive album from Ben Bennett (percussion), Zach Darrup (guitar) & Jack Wright (saxophones): Interactions are intense throughout, based on a distinctive & personal sense of detail, and at more than an hour, the album feels like a marathon for the listener. (One might simply want to start by listening to the first track, one of three of considerable length. The shorter two, however, present no real easing, and are at least superficially similar....) Due to the long histories that these performers have together, or at least that the two younger musicians each have with Wright, the sorts of structures & figures & textures they use are both unique & well-established between them, such that they move quickly between different ideas, erecting novel sequences from what are otherwise already unusual musical relations. It takes a while to settle into this music (& clear audio equipment is a real plus), which can seem harsh & even overwhelming at first. It's closely mic'd & generally fills the sonic spectrum, as all three musicians tend to be active throughout. It's also consistently loud, even seeming strident on some equipment, with perhaps the metallic percussion being the most striking sounds from Bennett, but involving skins etc. as well.... Despite the added percussion (& minus bass), Never seems almost like a followup to Roughhousing on You Haven't Heard This (discussed here in March 2017), there featuring the Wright-Darrup duo complemented by Evan Lipson on bass: The latter was relatively new to the interaction, and so Wright & Darrup take their exchanges relatively more slowly, such that drawing in Lipson can serve to draw in the listener as well, continuing to position You Haven't Heard This as a good entry into Never. (And Lipson continues to perform with Wright et al., no doubt intensifying the interaction, such that perhaps there will be a quartet album at some point....) Bennett is very much a star on Never, though, really bringing his music into focus for me: I hadn't actually discussed any of his prior releases specifically, but did note his work with Michael Foster during the initial discussion of Bind the hand(s) That Feed (this past January), and in fact he's been working with Wright longer than he has with Foster. (The latter album is generally much more subtly textural than Never, built around wind grains & shifting landscapes with often understated percussion....) There've been some briefer, prior recordings, and a short duo album with Darrup as well.... The vigorous quality that Bennett seems to bring consistently to his work with Foster is in evidence here as well, but perhaps it should also be noted that Bennett is very much into meditation (& is actually best known for long videos of himself simply sitting & smiling). And I still haven't heard Darrup with anyone besides Bennett or Wright, so in that sense his style is more singular for me, but he does articulate a dizzying array of quick & fractured figures: Never even presents as a "guitar trio" at times around Darrup, perhaps not unlike the way that Tipple & e.g. Live at Elastic Arts can come off as a guitar tour-de-force around Watson (with whom I am likewise unfamiliar outside of this context — & whose surrounding percussion & horn parts sound so very different). Turning to a rather different ensemble — & the trio instrumentation on Never is one that I've enjoyed for a long while — let me also note the recent Sawt Out for its basic sonic aggression & likewise close mic'ing with loud & dense relations around various metallic sounds.... But the album that Never most recalls for me is actually Ewen / Smith / Walter (now a classic here, from 2012) for its extreme length, fast moving guitar variety, generally frenetic pace & sustained intensity. (Ewen / Smith / Walter finally starts to seem both more traditional & even slower as a result! There's also a sort of "punk" quality to the two albums, however, that continues to suggest parallels beyond pace, etc. In this, e.g. Roughhousing comes off as a little more classically free & a little less punk in comparison. So perhaps if Roughhousing & Never were to combine into a quartet, it would sound a bit like Rotozaza....) So I've found that Never is both a very substantial album & occupies a fascinating crossroads between various other items of interest here.... It's also a release with other curious properties: For one, it lacks almost all documentary information, noting on Ben Bennett's Bandcamp site (which is the only place that Never can be heard or purchased, as far as I know [er, sorry, it's at DMG too!]) that it was recorded in 2018, but no mention of where or the number of dates. (Perhaps it's mostly Philadelphia & separate dates for each track? I don't know.) I've noted before how this sort of thing bugs me, but the music itself forces me to set such concerns aside.... And whereas the physical CDR package does say 2019, Bandcamp says that this is a 2018 release: I'd visited Bennett's site before, but I guess not earlier this year, so I hadn't noticed Never until it was noted on the same day at the Free Jazz Blog & in the Downtown Music Gallery release listing, a strange coincidence. Then I thought, wow, yet another 2018 release — after I'd already noted Live at Ftarri only this past April, in a discussion that also happens to mention Roughhousing — but I decided to go with the date on the physical release (which has been what I've done here in general), so I guess I'll call this a 2019 release.... (Still, 2018 does seem to continue to occupy me with relatively many albums.) Finally, there is the matter of the track titles (which do not appear on the physical release), and I guess these are made from emojis: They don't look like what I've usually seen described as "emojis," but apparently there's a huge variety, and so I took time to decode these pictographs, particularly so that I could find the HTML codes to put them in my track listing here.... (The last track, for instance, seems to indicate that CDs thrown away end up in the ocean, providing some sort of — perhaps facetious — music for sea creatures. OK, point taken, and I could probably do better adjusting to contemporary music distribution possibilities myself. Another track seems to suggest that an increasing number of fires means an increasing number of firemen, but that sure seems optimistic....) Perhaps it's a bit like Anthony Braxton employing graphic titles, although personally I struggled to even see what these tiny emoji characters were.... Anyway, those are some strange (titles) & unfortunate (documentation) aspects of Never, an album that otherwise seems quite central to (at least fast paced) improvised music today. (And Wright is, of course, already an American legend. He sounds like no one else.) It's also basically a relentless, driven album, forging new idioms & modes of interaction over a period of time. It's percussive & noisy, and maybe a little harsh, but its sounds also become wonderfully detailed & perhaps almost warm with exposure & good equipment. (And I say that again because it's really only some of these very "busy" & timbral albums from the past few years that made me notice my equipment limitations: This music is simply becoming higher bandwidth in basically every sense....)9 September 2019
Although it was also already discussed at the Free Jazz Blog, and I don't really have much else to say, I do want to note Rupp / Tom / Mahall (recorded live in November 2018 in Berlin) — particularly having just featured a similar ensemble with Never. Rupp / Tom / Mahall is likewise fast & with a great deal of simultaneity, also seeming harsh or even shrill in some moments. In other words it's an aggressive album featuring quick exchanges. Indeed, it might be contrasted with the previous trio from Rupp & Mahall, Happy Jazz with Jan Roder on bass, discussed here in May 2017: I'd noted how that album seemed to adopt a slower pace so as to make motivic exchanges of this sort easier to follow for the listener, although perhaps that was more about making space for arco.... (Covers are similar too, here in high definition....) I'd also just mentioned Rotozaza Zero, on which Rudi Mahall is also featured on clarinet, as something akin to a composite of the Never & Roughhousing bands.... And of course Olaf Rupp has been appearing in this space regularly with Ernesto Rodrigues of late, first around the increasingly iconic Traintracks..., and most recently with their fourth trio album, Man is wolf to man discussed here briefly last month.... (And the "calm" increasingly conjured in these trios by ringing tones from Rupp can be heard on Rupp / Tom / Mahall too, but woven into a more aggressive fabric overall.) I wasn't previously familiar with Kasper Tom on drums, but he supports & sculpts what often presents as a Mahall-Rupp duo rather well, with the fast interventions available from the drumkit serving to quicken (or at least not slow) those exchanges. His "modern music" style also presents its own sort of commentary, albeit generally remaining rhythmic per se. (The Scandinavian Barefoot Records label further suggests a parallel with Happi by the Swedish Tatakai Trio, discussed here in June 2018 & featuring Martin Küchen et al.... Both are quite reminiscent of Pool School, with the set of influences being remarkably similar on Rupp / Tom / Mahall, although the exchange is a little faster & a little more shrill.) Anyway, Rupp / Tom / Mahall is an album that would have attracted my attention absent seeing a review, but as is often the case, a review is the first I knew of the album. I also continue to be fond of clarinet in these settings, timbrally speaking, and Mahall is so proficient.... (Oh, and I should note the recent Flayed trio from Weasel Walter as exhibiting a similarly fast rock or punk-tinged orientation on motivic exchange, there with the more inherently legato trombone of Jeb Bishop, and indeed a continuing preference on my part for Alex Ward on clarinet over guitar — although he's increasingly on the latter, making Flayed often sound more like these other albums....)16 September 2019
Fundacja Sluchaj continues to be one of the most prolific free improvisation labels of late, with many or most releases featuring very well known performers, and with Inferences featuring Evan Parker — in a close-playing saxophone trio with Lotte Anker (b.1958) & Torben Snekkestad (b.1973) live in Copenhagen from September 2016 — being no exception. Parker continues to be an active force in free improvisation after fifty or so years, and apparently I continue to wrestle with his style, most recently with the rather different Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf (discussed only last month). In particular, the dreamy character of that electroacoustic album is driven substantially by Parker's soprano line, for which the other musicians aren't so much providing context or contrast as they are absorbing themselves into Parker's abstract melodic cycles. In short, per the terms of Joe Morris's helpful discussion accompanying the simultaneous release (also on Sluchaj) of his duo album with Parker, The Village, all of these performances find Parker in more of a "solo" mode (versus a more traditional jazz configuration, i.e. with contextual harmonic roles elsewhere, which he does continue to adopt in some projects) — to which the other musicians adapt. (The Village is also worthwhile for its music, with Morris often adopting a "unison" style in response.) And as noted previously, part of my attenuated response to Parker is surely on account of having come late to the party myself, after his various techniques had been so widely emulated elsewhere, such that hearing him with later generations of saxophonists makes a lot of sense.... (And so I find myself thinking in a more historical mode here, although I've generally tried to emphasize contemporaneousness in this project.) On Inferences, the impetus to spin meatier harmonic implications from soprano lines, rather than deriving them from a sort of ground up, is in some sense more straightforward, since although there are a few register changes, the most striking sections generally involve three sopranos — with plenty of clashes & collisions, and an approach to multiphonics & timbral matching that often seems to mimic the dynamics of e.g. recent violin family improvising groups. (The horns also combine to sound like an organ at times, and can make a real din.) The music is also a bit slow or static at other times, or perhaps minimalist, with such collisions driving much of the energy. In this, the horns come to determine the surrounding space collectively, rather than having it imposed from elsewhere — in contrast to e.g. Empty Castles, on which the environmental space is itself an actor (rather than involving a rhythm team per se, in more traditional terms), and more differences in horn timbres & registers conjure their own layers of counterpoint.... (Another horn trio to note is of course World of Objects — discussed here in September 2014 — on which Parker appears in both a more differentiated timbral setting, and with significant electronic post-production.) One might thus observe that Inferences involves a purity of conception, then, not around a soloist, but around a composite space generated simultaneously by three overlapping soloists. (And I hadn't featured either Anker or Snekkestad here before, although I'd already mentioned Anker with Parker & most recently with Fred Frith & Storytelling in November 2017... & Snekkestad, whom I hadn't really noticed, with Barry Guy in March 2016....) It's top down music in that sense. And its often relatively sparse orientation then allows the resulting delicate space to coalesce, rather than moving quickly elsewhere....23 September 2019
When I suggested that I might not write as much in this space as I'd been writing for a while, I certainly didn't imagine that my remarks would become as infrequent as they have of late, but that's largely about the sort of lull in releases that happens from time to time, leaving me without much new to hear the past couple of months.... Anyway, I expect that'll change, and I do want to note the new duo album between Mette Rasmussen on alto sax & Julien Desprez on electric guitar, The Hatch, recorded back in September 2016 and released this summer on Dark Tree. In some ways, it reminds me of the horn & drums duo Quand fond la neige, où va le blanc?, as discussed here this past May, with Christine Abdelnour & Chris Corsano: That album becomes about sonic conflation & pushing instrument boundaries, and The Hatch likewise passes both roles & sonorities between horn & guitar. However, the latter tends to focus on more stable textures, with drones emerging, or particular counterpoint based on specific extended techniques. It's a real tour de force for Rasmussen, though, especially since it's recorded in such fine sound: Her horn tone is amazing throughout, even while investigating various boundaries between horn & e.g. voice or percussion. (The combination of horn & voice opening track #2 is quite striking, for instance, reminiscent of some material from Isabelle Duthoit....) And whereas I'd mentioned Desprez with the guitar trio album Tournesol (also from Dark Tree) in June 2016, I hadn't actually mentioned Rasmussen (b.1980) here thus far: The comparison seems appropriate, then, since some of her most appreciated albums have been with Corsano or indeed guitarist Tashi Dorji (mentioned here in October 2018 around Hiljaisuus et al.), although I've mostly heard her in more traditional "free music" settings.... (Another relevant comparison is with the recent Never, there in a trio guise, or perhaps heard as two intersecting duos: There's a similar sense of shared precision involved, as well as some technically similar interactions at times, albeit eschewing stability....) Anyway, The Hatch seems to focus on particular sorts of exchanges between the duo, shifting with track breaks (or during tracks), with Desprez often supporting Rasmussen, but sometimes more to the fore, giving it a bit of a minimalist sense — although their process can certainly be intense and/or dissonant at times. It's thus quite a carefully crafted & presented album, showing a lot of fluency in extended technique & duo exchange. (Affectivity is present at various moments, but not really developed through the album, which seems to remain more technical, i.e. as studies....) Despite its dissonant technical novelty, this is actually rather pretty music at times, leaving me impressed by Rasmussen's scope in particular.6 October 2019
As album releases in this space start to heat up again, and with several items suddenly in the pipeline, I want to note The Visitors by a quartet of Phil Gibbs (guitar), Neil Metcalfe (flute), Adrian Northover (soprano & alto sax) & Marcello Magliocchi (drums): There are two obvious comparisons for The Visitors, i.e. two recent albums on which three of the four members play in a different improvising quartet, Runcible Four & Sezu. The former is a quartet for its first half hour, and in that case, it's with Daniel Thompson on guitar, rather than Gibbs. And the latter (discussed here in November 2018) included Maresuke Okamoto on cello (& voice) rather than Metcalfe: Despite that the instrumentation is different, and that it even includes a long track featuring vocals, in some ways Sezu is the more similar in its varying combos & more frequent use of reduced forces. And then Runcible Four, with nominally the same instrumentation, highlights the shift that occurs with Gibbs — who is actually listed first on both of the albums involving him. In fact, I'd just mentioned, around the discussion of Nauportus in July, how I'd particularly come to value Thompson's participation, even as he seems so often to be in the background, and so it's hard to avoid a direct comparison.... (And among his trios, Ag is surely the closer comparison to The Visitors, since it involves Northover, as well as a more aggressively metallic percussion palette....) Gibbs often has such a bright & sparkling style, as I'd noted around his work with Dunmall, as well as a grounding in progressive rock styles that seems to return frequently, but little of that is really heard on The Visitors: There are moments when Gibbs projects a ringing tone, but he starts in a muted style (recalling mbira), and is often more a part of a rhythm team with Magliocchi. Indeed, sometimes he really isn't noticeable, so some similar comments might apply, as e.g. a swirling high horn duet or varying & sometimes aggressive percussion attracts more attention. I'm consequently not entirely sure what to make of the situation, but this quartet is obviously trying to forge a new style. In that, it seems less polished (or even classical) than Runcible, with less interweaving of longer lines, and more tendency to reduce forces, often highlighting duo configurations. There's also a sort of "world" or primitivist vibe underlying all these albums, and as I've mentioned, part of that involves questions of musical technology (& so e.g. guitar projection...). The Visitors seems to treat those issues explicitly ahistorically, i.e. via some sort of "ancient aliens" imagery: I tend to regard the typical "ancient aliens" history-entertainment genre as intertwined with racism, given the usual premises involved in its appreciation, i.e. that various peoples couldn't have possibly built something... and I feel like I have to mention that here, since I've recently reiterated it as a theme, but here the musicians seem to be taking a more "innocent" tack around reinventing global music history. (And "aliens" probably does characterize some actual world historical encounters well enough....) There's thus an exploratory feel, as well as some great moments, especially dual horns against percussion, moving at times from calm to raucous & back. There's a lot of presence too, relatively speaking, and so perhaps The Visitors is also more approachable than the other albums mentioned in this entry.... It didn't really speak to me as directly, though.21 October 2019
After revisiting a more traditionally conversational & acoustic style in the previous entry, I want to turn to some extended, electroacoustic tapestries involving more extended technique, starting with a couple of new releases from Mikroton: Using popular radio samples extensively, and so incorporating more of a mainstream rhythmic vibe into what is otherwise some rather experimental music, is the double album Kangaroo Kitchen by a quintet of Joke Lanz (turntables), Jason Kahn (modular synthesizer, radio, mixer), Norbert Möslang (cracked everyday electronics), Günter Müller (ipods, electronics) & Christian Weber (bass, revolver). (The second album-length track is called Mountain Monkey and was recorded in Moscow three days after the first was recorded in Kaliningrad, in September 2018 as part of the Mikroton Mikroten Festival....) Kangaroo Kitchen has another clear precedent in this space, Five Lines (recorded in California in 2010 & discussed here in March 2015), which likewise features the central trio of Kahn-Möslang-Müller within a quintet performance of independent lines & broad electronic sonorities. (And that central trio released a couple of trio albums on Mikroton in the interim as well, Instants / Paris & Teplo Dom.) I'd really only heard them with Mikroton & Liedwart, but in fact Kahn has dozens of albums, including early on Creative Sources & more recently for solo acoustic voice.... Kangaroo Kitchen is about dense interplay, though, and given the pulsing electronics, might even be called glitch music. And it retains a lot of stylistic continuity with prior albums in the Mikroton universe, but is actually hard to compare to other items I've featured here: E.g. Coluro is far more spacious, almost austere around its timbral parameters.... And MMM Quartet, more so in Live at the Metz' Arsenal, shows some similar inspiration in interweaving popular music samples (& even includes a bass!), but also ends up with more of a classical vibe. (And the "radio" track on Music for Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinets & Electronics also shows some real similarity, although again within a more classical-seeming production that also focuses rather intently on interrogating specific instrumental timbres much of the time....) Indeed on Kangaroo Kitchen (& its followup, which is similar yet different), there often seems to be little interaction between the five sound streams, even as they generally remain clearly audible with respect to each other, i.e. within a sort of mutual navigation scheme that yields strong forward momentum.... The resulting sense of distance also maintains throughout (& the one "live" instrument is in no sense a soloist), such that the music ultimately yields feelings of calm in the face of its gathering momentum: There's thus a real balance, but also a wide variety of "raw material" employed, such that its goofy and/or grating qualities don't necessarily age well. (Layers of noise also lift at times to "reveal" what is underneath, forging a further three-dimensional perspective... perhaps even a sense of vertigo.) Still, the improvisational result is impressive, particularly for its uncompromising polyphonic feel & insistent potency. Rather than austere, one might call it lush, or even a "kitchen sink" approach to material — but it's also masterfully combined & articulated into a powerful flow of sound.22 October 2019
Also just released on Mikroton is No One's Island by FEN (Far East Network), an Asian improvising quartet formed by Otomo Yoshihide, and including Ryu Hankil (max/msp software), Yan Jun (electronics) & Yuen Chee Wai (guitar & electronics): If anything, No One's Island is even noisier, emphasizing various swells of distortion etc., and something of a rock inflected approach. Actually, the fifth track seems like some sort of off-center rock ballad, and the sixth comes to orient on various post-rock surges, but the first half of the album (recorded in New York on two dates in May 2016) is more abstract: Its aggressive, raucous & exotic experimental timbres might be compared to Sawt Out, but the latter is ultimately more about precision in its piercing tension than the broad noise swells that underlie so much of No One's Island.... Still, in its various rings & twisting, the sound of the latter is also less traditional for a collective improvising ensemble than the two previous albums from Yoshihide mentioned here, Psychogeography (another quartet discussed in March 2019) & I Nm I Nente (a quintet discussed in April 2019), both featuring South American musicians.... There's various bouncing strings & squeaky (daxophone-like?) repetitions on No One's Island that contribute to its distinctive tapestry, including e.g. almost a liquid gonging quality to open the last track, making for various unique combos. And there's likely still more to say: FEN is also an ongoing collaboration, and the notes state that this is actually their third album (although I'm unfamiliar with the other two) & first studio album, so what comes next?23 October 2019
More acoustic, but still involving electronics in its shimmering tapestry is The Map is not the Territory, recorded in London in March 2017, and recently out on the "Core" series on Confront Recordings. The trio features Mark Wastell (b.1968), label director for Confront, on tam tam, metal percussion & piano frame — so without his nominal instrument, cello. (In fact, my first mention of Wastell here in July 2015 — in an entry that also happens to mention Five Lines, apropos a discussion earlier this week — was with Membrane — also with John Butcher & Burkhard Beins — where he also plays mainly tam tam....) Joining Wastell are then two other musicians with whom I was previously unfamiliar, sculptor & sound designer Max Eastley (b.1944) on arc electro-acoustic monochord & Fergus Kelly (who has many solo albums around found objects, including recent releases) on invented instruments, found metals & electronics. Per accompanying commentary, The Map is not the Territory then "manipulates perception of time" across its eight tracks, including a variety of what ultimately turn out to be rather pretty sounds, perhaps even involving a sort of electronic heartbeat within a generally quiet shifting tapestry: One might compare e.g. to Nashaz, also with something of a plucked string & percussion orientation, but also with almost a mellow & lyrical approach to dissonance. (One might also compare e.g. to Stratus for its mix of strength & delicacy amid an evocative texture of shifting colors, there more around recognizable instrumental timbres. Or perhaps to Coluro for its basic extended textures, although there again in more of a spatial spanning orientation....) The shifting colors on The Map is not the Territory then yield a simmering intensity, but also (per the recent examples) a generalized sense of relaxation & calm. So the quasi-popular aggression of the recent Mikroton tapestries generally doesn't appear, in favor of more abstract sound with less concrete associations, but within what is nonetheless a cathartic approach to dissonance. Or perhaps a dissonant approach to minimalism.... I very much enjoy the first couple of tracks, but also feel as though the trio has fewer ideas as the album proceeds, including into shorter tracks: Their work involves a dynamic reforging of basic textures, though (including in a post-spectral & post-concrète sense), so what is achieved is definitely notable, building on so many vaguely similar albums from Wastell & so many collaborators.... Perhaps there will be more from this particular trio then? This is already useful music for mental productivity (& non-productivity)....24 October 2019
I ended up waiting on the end of Confront "Collectors" series, as The Map is not the Territory & the next Core issue were delayed, but the last releases in this fine 100-album set/sequence include some notable items: Most unusual is EFZ by the Brain Dead Ensemble, built around the "feedback" cellos of Alice Eldridge & Chris Kiefer, bolstered by the feedback double bass of Thanos Polymeneas-Liontiris & animated by Thor Magnusson on threnoscope. The "feedback cello" is basically a cello modified (since 2016) to work like a speaker, such that electronics can play through it & such that the cellist is then feeling (& perhaps resisting or amplifying) those vibrations along with those they produce (more conventionally) via traditional & non-traditional techniques on the instrument. (They rigged a bass later.) And the threnoscope is another sort of synthesizer that involves a non-traditional user interface (as did max/msp from an entry earlier this week), and so sound production (at least partly) unbound by Western (or other traditional) musical conventions.... EFZ itself consists of five tracks totaling more than fifty minutes, and says (elsewhere) that it was recorded live in Brighton, but no dates are given. (It was also released simultaneously by Emute Lab as the first release on a new label there....) Per the technique of the "feedback" string instruments, there's a broad interrogation of tactility being engaged, but the result tends to be something of a grinding roar, coming & going in waves. (The two shorter tracks feature much less continuity, and are interesting for their changing approaches, but also end up being rather less affective.) Perhaps one can compare to the scraping drones & dark sound palette of Sîn, but the waves of EFZ are more evocative of a sort of Scelsian austerity: There's an economy of sound, even a bit of basic monotony at times, but also a real potency that emerges seemingly from elsewhere.... (The emphasis on low pitches also suggests something of an opposite to the beginning of Growing carrots in a concrete floor, with its high strings & electronics, likewise both smooth & dissonant at various points.... And for more of an industrial rattle echoing across the gamut, there's also Sitsa, with its own version of grain v. smoothness....) Indeed, part of the sonic power comes from an emphasis on string grain itself, as emerging across a multiply tactile process, and going on to project a gritty quality through the texture: Perhaps the resulting shear is what makes for dead brains? (I assume that's actually about the instruments seeming to animate themselves & thus the musicians following....) Harmonics also come to appear more clearly, and by the end, even squeaky howls across a mysterious inner landscape.... The result is ultimately quite surprising for how affective & satisfying it can be, suggesting that there are many more possibilities to be found within this relatively novel setup & approach.25 October 2019
I was excited to see the recent quartet Rome-ing by Urs Leimgruber (soprano & tenor saxophones), Andreas Willers (electric guitar, devices), Alvin Curran (piano, sampler) & Fabrizio Spera (drums) — nearly an hour of music over four continuous tracks, recorded in (Rome) November 2018 — appear on Leo Records. In particular, that was because it includes half the MMM Quartet, e.g. whose Oakland / Lisboa continues to be a favorite surreal tapestry, as recalled for instance in the recent discussion of Kangaroo Kitchen. (I was also familiar with Willers from Grid Mesh, another bass-less quartet first discussed here in November 2013, and had recently noted Leimgruber again this past June in the half-electronic duo Face to Face.... I wasn't really familiar with Spera, though, and hadn't featured Curran since Symphony No. 106 by Musica Elettronica Viva — also associated with Rome, as discussed here in December 2016....) It turns out that Rome-ing is rather more conventional in its sonorities & interactions than those reference albums, but it does present something of a dreamy tapestry as well, particularly around piano (& so isn't so very different from Musica Elettronica Viva in that). Sampling & electronic accents are modest compared to those & other albums recently mentioned here, though, and it appears that swapping out a couple of members of MMM (while retaining three quarters of the instrumentation via another guitarist) makes for a big difference: Rome-ing is much more classic — classic jazz or even classical — although it does also include some extended technique to spice up what is sometimes a rather supple or even quasi-Romantic atmosphere. (And Leimgruber does get assertive, or even raucous at times, as the horn front line....) It's more simply enjoyable, even with its many layers, than it is really thought provoking or challenging, then.26 October 2019
Before returning to some ongoing themes, I also want to note the enigmatically titled Hangkerum (recently from Clean Feed), recorded in Bern in December 2018 by Tom Arthurs (trumpets), Isambard Khroustaliov (electronics) & Julian Sartorius (drums & percussion). Hangkerum doesn't really remind me of anything else, although featuring trumpet in a trio with electronics is certainly not new (as I could mention e.g. the more post-serial Trialectics, or even the relatively popular Big Bold Back Bone, also on Clean Feed...): Trumpet calls repeat in waves over a texture that slowly builds in complexity via electronic glitches & percussive displacements, seeming to fold the linear calls themselves into their own ongoing context.... It's striking in that sense, not only for the trumpet playing itself — which does also emphasize extended techniques at times, e.g. repeating windy roars or percussive pops, yet returns regularly to pure tone (& I'd noted Arthurs elsewhere in the past — e.g. Chats with the Real McCoy, as mentioned here in July 2014 — which is part of what attracted my attention now) — but for the distinctive electronic enfolding, from little percussive glitches up to a broad yet generally subtle rumble. The result doesn't seem especially contrapuntal, as it usually consists of identifiable trumpet calls over a roiling background, but the latter not only becomes increasingly conditioned accordingly, but often projects its own sense of temporal independence. Indeed, sometimes one has the feeling of very separate lines (e.g. per Kangaroo Kitchen as discussed here last week?), and often of a rather soloistic orientation, as the trumpet remains seemingly dominant & aloof.... Yet, somehow, starkness & complexity come to appear simultaneously when considering the perspective of the other parts: Line troubles context, over which line nonetheless continues.... It's an intriguing approach, and various passages end up seeming both novel & convincing. (And I was unfamiliar with both of the accompanying musicians prior to Hangkerum.)27 October 2019
Returning to Confront — and indeed to electronics, although within a more "traditional" conversational interaction than those of some of the electronic tapestries already mentioned this month — I also want to highlight Speak Easy @Konfrontationen. Beyond the participation of analogue synthesizer (in the person of Thomas Lehn), it also continues an ongoing focus on vocal improvisation in this space.... In particular, Speak Easy features two vocal soloists in Ute Wassermann (also credited with birdcall whistles) & Phil Minton, supported by Lehn on unusual timbres from the synth & Martin Blume on (often sparse) coloristic percussion. This is then something of an all-star quartet: I've mentioned Wassermann regularly here, particularly around Natura venomous (recorded & released in 2015), with its more intimate & focused orientation on zoological intoxication from an otherwise similar (but with one voice) ensemble.... I first mentioned Lehn specifically in October 2013 around Exta (with Tilbury & Butcher), and in fact had heard Lehn fairly regularly early in this project, but he seems to have fewer releases lately.... Similarly, Blume also appeared early, again with all-star casts, but did reappear recently with Low Yellow (with De Joode & also Butcher, as discussed in August 2018).... And although I hadn't really noticed previously, both have also recorded multiple other albums accompanying improvising vocalists, so they appear to be among the most experienced musicians today for such a project. One of those prior albums was, of course, Backchats (recorded in 2008 & released on Creative Sources in 2009), the previous record album by Speak Easy. And as it happens, that was shortly before I started writing in this space, so I never discussed it. Indeed, I hadn't really featured Minton before — although I mentioned his participation in Simon Nabatov's Readings project back in May — in large part because he hasn't released much since I started. (I'd expected to find a Minton album to feature several years ago, but I guess that just never happened.) Anyway, Backchats appeared relatively soon after Speak Easy formed as a quartet, and so the interaction — while aggressive & even thrilling at times — comes off as less sophisticated in comparison (& in comparison to developments in vocal albums since...), i.e. as rather soloistic around the vocal duel & accompanying instruments, often with direct timbral mimicry driving the interaction. (Speak Easy also appeared on two DVDs around the same time, but I haven't heard those.) @Konfrontationen (recorded in Austria in July 2016 & consisting of one long track) involves a more subtle interactive dynamic, less in the way of call & response, and with timbral comparisons & contrasts arrayed across an evolving spectrum: One almost gets the sense of symphonic form, or at least of a tone poem, across its length, given both its spacious stage conception & sometimes leisurely interweaving. @Konfrontationen also comes off as something of a technical exhibition, with poise tending toward a lack of urgency: In particular, Speak Easy continues to tour, and I have the feeling that releasing this festival performance from three years ago is a prelude to an upcoming, more focused artistic statement. (Of course, perhaps I'm wrong....) In that, a comparison can be made to another recent vocal duo album featuring Wassermann, Improvisors (as I called it in a discussion this past March — although perhaps the title is supposed to be Wassermann, Blonk, Vorfeld) with Jaap Blonk: Then I already wrote, about an album that definitely seemed to break down as a vocal duo & accompaniment, that "relatively few interactions & textures have been elaborated into full artistic statements." One of the vocal contrasts that also drives that album is low growling by Blonk against high whistling from Wassermann, and a similar dynamic holds at times on @Konfrontationen: The approach to high tones — which can be quite aggressively squeaky from Wassermann — is buoyed by the synth, which isn't generally engaged in immersive sounds, but rather accents & punctuation, and also subtly by Blume on percussion. (And none of this comes with a lot of presence, at least much of the time, such that it tends to seem mysterious.) Meanwhile, in terms of following what can seem almost like a series of bewildering scenes, the (nonexistent) bass can be a guide: Rumbling from Minton or Blume or (least often) Lehn alternately occupies a bass position, and keeping one's ears attuned to that frequency range (which is sometimes vacant) can be illuminating as to the construction of forward momentum. (I guess it still plays on the jazz tradition in that sense.) And forward momentum does maintain... although @Konfrontationen can be quiet, with a wealth of fascinating technique coming & going between the four musicians, there is an overall feeling for form — and especially staging, from which derive its feelings of distance. (It's thus almost the opposite of the disembodied ultra-presence of Monopiece + Blonk, although again, it does also feature electronics.) The way the musicians are arrayed across space also parallels the way that various textures are spanned & cultivated — again, such that one gets the sense of a (rather thorough) technical exhibition. Basically I end up enjoying the music quite a bit while I'm listening, but it doesn't leave much impression. It simply isn't transformational, at least not on recording, much as I want it to be.... So again, sometimes I get the impression that (even) few(er) people are interested in avant garde vocal improvisation, but then some enthusiasm does appear elsewhere, including for @Konfrontationen. It really is masterful, particularly in terms of extended & extensive vocal technique embedded (doubly) within a rather "classic" free exchange-tapestry, and I hope that Speak Easy is indeed planning more of a "statement" release. Their experience performing & touring together is already very audible.29 October 2019
Continuing the improvising vocal theme, now with a four-voice ensemble (instead of a mere two!), I want to note the latest from VocColours, Live in Japan (recorded in Tokyo in September 2017). I didn't take note of VocColours myself until their previous album, Ganglia (recorded in April 2016 in Köln & mentioned here in the extended, April 2019 discussion of Braxton's GTM Syntax choral collection) — also on Creative Sources, which continues to feature so many vocal albums... — there with a pianist as fifth member, but they have at least three prior albums (two on Leo) with different guests. (Perhaps I should also note that this is an older performance, relatively speaking, and that their website has vanished....) Four voices provide various opportunities to move between foreground & background, i.e. to vary the texture around vocalizations, and of course simultaneously to vary timbre, attack, etc. The result is often a rather mysterious atmosphere of shifting textures, made only more mysterious by the participation of Yoichiro Kita (who is otherwise unknown to me) on trumpet & laptop on Live in Japan: Sometimes the trumpet is very noticeable as a trumpet, sometimes it fades into a general vocal murmuring or even an evocation of crickets, and sometimes the electronic contribution is critical to the texture by supplying very high or low (or even percussive?) pitches.... The result is even more mysterious as to who is doing what, including some (natural) indeterminacy between voice & horn, sometimes quiet & sometimes raucous, as momentum comes & goes, seemingly moving across scenes.... Indeed, Live in Japan also seems to emphasize a sense of staging — not so unlike Speak Easy @Konfrontationen, as just discussed — with the different vocal personalities surely being more apparent (i.e. differentiable) in person. And the quintet with trumpet & electronics is also far more flexible, timbre- & intonation-wise than their prior, piano-supplemented albums, so this is the more intriguing VocColours release for me. (It's perhaps over-weird too, but why not?) After the relatively lengthy first track, then, three more musicians join the quintet, in what becomes a rather large affair for the shorter second track, including a dramatic Japanese vocal intervention, amid a more lyrical-melancholy (yet noisy) orientation. It's not that identifying who is doing what, at least vocally, becomes any easier, but the ensemble does come to sound a little more "traditional" in its interaction, i.e. less radical, simply on account of its size & volume (or so I suppose). In any case, Live in Japan invents new textures as it goes, including via sometimes subtle electronics, and so is very worth hearing for its development of choral (I guess?) improvisation. (The basic sound of a crowd is also invoked at times, and that seems to be an increasingly appropriate image in our times.) Actually, few contemporary albums present anything like this degree of textural novelty. (And the potential for extended collective vocal improvisation, more generally, likewise seems only to have begun to be realized....)30 October 2019
Joe Morris is someone I've noticed since early in this project, and little wonder since he's been so prolific & involved with so many other musicians. (I first mentioned him here in June 2011, playing bass on early Daniel Levin albums, and Morris's many recordings with students & other younger associates do continue to be a significant theme, including for this entry.) I've also had difficulty contextualizing his music, that is relating it more broadly to my own practice in specific ways, i.e. building a deeper appreciation beyond simply being impressed by his agile plucking style & creativity. And that's partly due to the seemingly unrelated volume of his improvisational activity.... I've also felt that more of Morris's concerns & orientations are coming into better focus for me of late, though, particularly as he's moved away from more traditional ensembles, and that's especially true of the recent Paradoxical — a composed work, although it's quite unclear exactly what about it is specified in advance. But before I return to more specific thoughts on Paradoxical, I want to consider a couple of other recent releases from Morris from within the perspective it's generated: In particular, I want to consider close duo interactions between Morris & another musician on a plucked string instrument, a sort of interaction that comes to seem so characteristic of his music. (One might even generalize e.g. to piano as another sort of "string" etc....) Such close interactions involve a lot of crossing, i.e. without differentiated pitch or harmonic regions, such that the instruments individualize & contextualize themselves in the intertwining relations of small rhythmic figures, constantly varied & buoying. This isn't groove music (which might be considered another sense of unison, and something Morris has also invoked at times), because there's no long-range arc or rhythmic repetition, but rather small varying figures that nonetheless provide a great deal of kaleidoscopic liveliness & momentum. (Morris also tends to eschew a stereotypical, alternating solos approach in favor of near-simultaneous playing & intertwined temporalities — something I appreciate.) And on Paradoxical, it's just such a duo interaction with Brad Barrett (on bass) that underpins significant parts of the ensemble unfolding, but whereas the music folds into other areas there, that particular duet is worked out in a quite insistent & thorough way on Cowboy Transfiguration — recorded in New Haven in May 2018, and released on Fundacja Sluchaj. Cowboy Transfiguration adds Tyshawn Sorey on drums & percussion to the duo of Barrett on double bass & cello & Morris on guitar: It actually appeared this past April, but I didn't feature it here, in part since given the fame of Morris & Sorey, I was sure that it'd receive attention elsewhere, and it did, but it's also characterized by Barrett as his debut — & (now) also seems like a strong comparison for Paradoxical. Barrett dominates at times, particularly later in the album, but his intricate duo with Morris is usually to the fore, with Sorey providing a variety of accents from vigorous to silent.... It also requires close attention to the various figures exchanged. (In this, it's not so unlike the recent Never, with its constant rhythmic variation within a shifting yet somehow consistent pace: Cowboy Transfiguration actually displays both more ongoing continuity & more twists within the smallest spaces....) The instrumentation is obviously that of a traditional "guitar trio," but the relative equality (& more) of the string bass (or cello) — which, as implied, is most often plucked in its pairing with Morris — confounds that image. (And while Sorey often seems to be operating on the periphery of the duo, commenting or emphasizing or not, Barrett & Morris actually have a previous trio album, Value — recorded & self-released in 2017 — with Eric Stilwell on trombone. There's much to compare there, even if Barrett doesn't consider Value to have been his debut, especially the contrast of a legato instrument in the center of a similar duo interaction, albeit with more soloing....) And as lines twist around each other on Cowboy Transfiguration, there's also an invocation & transformation of "the blues" that apparently figures the title — and indeed comes off rather effectively, as centered on Barrett.... (Since I'm mentioning Sorey here, I should also note his recent duo album with Marilyn Crispell, The Adornment of Time, recorded in New York City in October 2018: It's a single long track, and continues Sorey's ongoing fascination with the piano, here in a generally quiet & extended tapestry that nonetheless rumbles with considerable energy at times. In that, it continues some of the concerns of the massive Pillars — discussed here during that same month, October 2018 — as well, but does so with more fluidity: Instead of rough juxtapositions between different stylistic moments, other layers of movement seem to suddenly reveal themselves as having always been present, perhaps even ominously. It's thus more subtle, although I do wonder about Sorey's continuing focus on piano....) Finally — & of course it's not really final, as Morris has undoubtedly produced many other related examples over the same time period — another novel style of close (plucked) string interaction can be perceived quite directly on Macrocosm, the second album on Morris's new Glacial Erratic label, recorded in September 2018 & released in December by the duo of Morris & Doyeon Kim on (Korean) gayageum: I didn't mention it at the time, in part due to the duo orientation, as well as to being rather busy myself, but Macrocosm (which shares a basic graphical design style with Paradoxical) does forge another close style of playing, even coming to involve a wide variety of timbres beyond plucking. The technical interaction tends to be cumulative as well, continuing to forge an interactive style as it goes, often mellow, but sometimes more aggressive or fantastic (or even a little cheesy). Again, as generalized string interaction, Macrocosm comes to take on a meaning beyond cultural exchange. (And I'll further note that the first Glacial Erratic album, released back in 2014, was a guitar duo. And I also don't know why Morris started Glacial Erratic on top of Riti: His two Bandcamp sites seem like a mishmash — & at the moment, don't actually include most of the albums specifically featured here. It reminds me of how bewildered I felt when I first encountered his discography, which as of this writing, hasn't been updated on his web site since then, by the way....)
So, Paradoxical itself was recorded in Massachusetts in March 2019 (on a single date) by a quartet of Morris (guitar), Barrett (bass), Elinor Speirs (violin) & Dan O'Brien (clarinet & bass clarinet): I'd heard Barrett already with Cowboy Transfiguration (with its more focused theme & ensemble), but wasn't familiar with Speirs or O'Brien. (Both have recorded with Leap of Faith, but I don't recall specifically hearing them, although I continue to listen to a smattering of Leap of Faith albums — as last mentioned here in September 2017.) It's thus not a particularly "untraditional" ensemble, and certainly yields a "chamber music" vibe — including via the two bowed strings, an instrumentation Morris seems to enjoy (that is, when he isn't expanding it to three — e.g. per Ultra, as discussed here in January 2018, including reference to an inquiry on Camera from back in July 2011...). The latter musicians don't seem to be as experienced as some, but nonetheless do bring excellent technique & real musical openness to the proceedings. The clarinets, in particular, bring a welcome contrast to the sonorities of these other albums... the horn seeming to function as the most rhetorical instrument here, often seeming specifically to open new spaces. (The sometimes saturated closeness of e.g. Cowboy Transfiguration thus opens, or escapes or bleeds, into other dimensions here....) The result ends up "sounding good" then, in a very fundamental way around woodwind & strings. Yet the music remains intricate too, again featuring a lot of intertwining or quasi-unison playing, at times generating varying senses of what might be called basic heterophony. (The latter might then be compared to e.g. Counteract this Turmoil like Trees and Birds by Morris with William Parker & Hamid Drake, as discussed here in October 2016.) The ensemble might also be compared to last year's Geometry of Caves, with violin instead of voice (& clarinet instead of trumpet), there with the intertwining duo of Morris & Tomeka Reid again generating so much of the context for the wind instruments. And the relative pacing & sense of subdividing ensemble, etc. seem similar as well: Although Paradoxical tends to be denser, it also opens onto more solos or duos (often featuring extended technique), and continues to suggest pliability.... And presumably the sense of scope or vision that arises from Paradoxical also derives from the fact that it's composed music: Again, I don't know exactly what that entails here, but Morris says it's from a multi-part musical work called Instantiation, and that it's presented in three different (improvised) versions. The three tracks do indeed sound rather different, with each feeling like a fresh start: The first opens in especially impressive fashion, particularly within the context of the other albums noted above, but the others also project their own differing senses of spontaneity & even melancholy. (Sound quality is also excellent, and although the CD doesn't come with much discussion, it's a "real CD" & does come in a glossy foldover sleeve.) The compositional process apparently functions to open such alternate vistas, i.e. lines of flight from within the almost claustrophobic density of intertwined lines.... Morris thus comes to join some other USA composers featured here, despite my ongoing emphasis on improvised music. The music "sounds" improvised, though, and indeed Morris suggests that its concepts are based on what he's learned while surveying & studying in preparation for his book Perpetual Frontier: The Properties of Free Music — in particular "synthesizing the meta-properties of free music in new and creative ways." such that it's "impossible" to play the same way twice: Presumably this involves some sort of formal parameterization of notions such as density & speed, and so Morris comes to join USA legends such as Anthony Braxton & Henry Threadgill in this broad contemporary compositional space, particularly as he also involves students in building ongoing sound worlds. (And I have no idea how the degree of planning, i.e. composition, involved in Paradoxical compares to various other "improvised" albums for which there was clearly at least tacit agreement on how to play....) I'll thus be rather interested to hear future installments of Instantiation, particularly around broad questions of use, and e.g. how it might come to problematize musical hierarchy. In the meantime, I seem to be captivated by the twisting sense of musical relation on Paradoxical. Maybe I'll even come to learn more about its compositional structure....5 November 2019
I also want to note Negoum, another string duo album, recently released by Mode Records: In fact, Negoum was recorded back in February 2011 (in Virginia), and becomes Ayman Fanous Edition 1, with several other releases apparently pending (to occur over a few years). I wasn't familiar with Fanous, generally described as a classical & jazz guitarist (who also plays the traditional Egyptian bouzouki on four tracks on Negoum), but apparently he's made recordings with various relevant musicians across these genres. In this case, it's cellist Frances-Marie Uitti. And in this space, I've featured her a bit around the discussion (in August 2017) of the Agustí Fernández Celebration Ensemble album, but of course I was familiar with her work long before due to Scelsi.... Uitti is specifically credited with using two bows on five of the nine tracks on Negoum, and shows great technique throughout, less avant garde (e.g. scraping) than on Celebration Ensemble, but with wonderful precision & lyricism both on simultaneous melodies & high into the instrument's range. The album actually begins with both musicians in more traditional idioms for their instruments, with Fanous sounding very traditionally Egyptian (& the cover is a classic Arabic illustration of the phases of the moon), but over the course of playing, it's as if their styles submerge into each other, as both become less characteristic themselves into a kind of plaintive, pan-Mediterranean blend. (In this, one can compare to Macrocosm, as noted in the previous entry: The latter certainly adopts a less traditional idiom right from the start, and employs less alternation, etc. Still, the quasi-Romantic opposition early on Negoum is also transformed into something else....) At times, one has the sense of a lyrical (perhaps wailing) cello with guitar accompaniment, and some tracks feature more continuity than others, but there's also some stormy dissonance & a variety of other creative textures. The notes state that the two musicians had only met the day before & improvised for ten minutes — and then decided to make this album. I have no idea why it's waiting eight years for release, but this is a cross-cultural string duo interrogation worth hearing. And now, what's next from Fanous?6 November 2019
Returning to recent Creative Sources releases, Piano Trialogues involves three different trio recordings, i.e. Nicola L. Hein (prepared guitar) & Etienne Nillesen (extended snare drum) with three different pianists for three tracks (recorded respectively in September, November & December of 2018, and appearing in chronological order) totaling well over an hour: It's an interesting approach — & I'd thought originally that the album used three pianists simultaneously — & involves a lot of extended technique, such that instruments are rarely individually recognizable. Of course, I've been following Hein for a while here, so let me just mention his trio album Digressions (discussed September 2018, i.e. around the time of these recordings) with Kriton Beyer, and also his solo album released this year on Shhpuma, The Oxymothastic Objectar.... I didn't end up discussing the latter, but the deconstruction of "guitar sound" is analogous to that employed on Piano Trialogues (although, obviously, more to the fore). Nillesen was new to me, though, and as the credit suggests, his playing involves a lot of buzzing, etc. Pianists also work mainly inside & via various preparations, with the first to appear, Eve Risser (first mentioned here in September 2013 around En corps), being a staple of "free jazz" discussion more widely: The track with Risser does make a strong impression — with a variety of rumbling, scuttling, squeaking, buzzing & clunking merging & building into some sort of mysterious pulse that almost suggests a groove. As do the other trios, it also involves a variety of evocations from industrial train yards to swelling squeals.... The next pianist is Magda Mayas, whom I've featured most often here (starting with Flock by Great Waitress in May 2014), and she likewise doesn't disappoint: Low grinding vibrations shift into gamelan-esque exchanges, back into electronic feedback & static, again pulsing into a pause yielding more mysterious grinding & evocations of wind. The track also maintains a taut intensity, ominous from the start, fading toward the end.... The final pianist to appear was new to me, though, Marta Warelis: Much of the track is the most "pianistic" of the three (& this is, barely, the longest track as well), such that there's also a sort of delicacy that emerges from springy tinkling overtaking percussive clunks, although it also comes to involve a slow howl.... Overall, there are many appealing sounds & combos on Piano Trialogues, then, but the results also seem to remain more exploratory than major statements. So, I'm not really sure what to make of the approach to record an album with three different pianists, or what it says about the future of a Hein-Nillesen duo... they tend to function more as accompaniment here (if one can even be sure). I did enjoy the music, though.7 November 2019
Another recent album from Creative Sources, in this case taking a while to make much of an impression on me, is Prima pratica by another quintet led by Ernesto Rodrigues (on his usual viola), and recorded in the Azores this past January. Prima pratica is another long album (over an hour), and largely features musicians with whom I wasn't familiar. The exception is Gianna De Toni (double bass), who appeared e.g. on the short yet often potent quartet album Synchronous Rotation with Vasco Trilla & the two Rodrigueses (as discussed here in March 2018).... Beyond that, Biagio Verdolini (homemade instruments) is credited with zither on string 11tet+1 album Sul (mentioned here in August 2018, although not Verdolini himself), while Luis Senra (tenor saxophone) & Luis Couto (electric guitar) were unknown. (I won't assume they're all young, but they may be....) In any case, what instrument is making what sound tends toward the opaque on Prima pratica, as sounds are decontextualized (i.e. per classic musique concrète, but done live) & then used gesturally. Beyond the imposing album title, individual tracks are also titled "dissonanze" I-III (thus evoking e.g. Nashaz, on which sounds are actually far easier to place), providing an enigmatic prompt for what is otherwise rather sparse music. (And when it does emerge into a rare forte, it's usually tonal.) The sparse decontextualization involves taking another step — toward austerity or essence? — from e.g. Coluro, on which timbral spanning is rather systematic, yet also "thicker" & more individually discernible. Prima pratica is then not only more distended in its sonic materials, but adopts a more linear approach (via its gestural clarity) in order to sketch long arcs & their imputed space. It's also largely acoustic. Further, I wouldn't be discussing this album (at least in any detail) if it weren't ultimately affective, and although that affectivity does require listener investment, a potent & calming quality consistently emerges via such attention. (I'm thus unsure whether to differentiate Prima pratica from ambient music — in that, absent investment, very little seems to happen: Nonetheless, the affectivity is real.) The sparseness thus comes to suggest something essential about musical line & timbre, as well as asks one to take (often subtle) dissonance per se seriously: A plaintive quality also comes to emerge, somehow evoking its island setting (in modes seemingly allied to those of Rodrigues' work with his Suspensão ensemble...), while remaining carefully balanced. Quiet thus comes to yield transformativity, as muted colors arc like threads through invisible space.... (In this, Prima pratica is similar yet different from Stratus, which although layered in pastels, is tauter & in broader timbral strokes, featuring more general continuity....) In some ways, the sometimes mysterious origin of the sounds contributes to the impression of space, but in other ways, concerns of that sort tend to fade away: The first track is already especially satisfying in that regard, invoking a sort of kenosis that's expounded into the second (which does come to seem a bit overlong, at over a half hour by itself...) with its sometimes extended "radio signal" atmosphere. Shadows of melody do also appear, though, amid various bubbling & bouncing fluid streams. The shorter third track soon seems overlong again too, but its pulsations also continue the theme, as arcs of color continue to outline broad affective spaces. It seems that this sort of style could continue to be abstracted & elaborated quite broadly & evocatively....8 November 2019
I was intrigued by the latest album from Earth Tongues, Atem recorded in Brooklyn in August 2017 & relatively short at just over half an hour: I'd first become intrigued by Carlo Costa's "geological" music back in 2015, apparently, when discussing Sediment (March 2015) & then Strata (December 2015, composed & for a larger ensemble), and that basic orientation is ongoing via the Earth Tongues trio that adds Joe Moffett (trumpet, objects) & Dan Peck (tuba, cassette player, objects) to Costa on percussion. This is the third release from Earth Tongues, and the previous Ohio (discussed here in October 2016, after Rune which likewise appeared in 2015...) was a double album of concert sets — a generally extended, often sparse tapestry of sound, & rather impersonal (or perhaps imposing). Atem, though, promised to be the trio's "most confrontational and focused" recording yet, and its relative brevity reflects that: In some ways, it's a burbling brass analog of close string interactions recently discussed, in this case with instruments often occupying different temporalities, i.e. projecting processes of different speeds, including via the various rattlings & scrapings from Costa. As promised, it does start with more simultaneity (or "confrontation"), but comes to thin out at times as well, again seeming a bit episodic (as did e.g. Strata, not unlike the discrete layers it named), as differences in speed present differing intersections. The close interaction between the brass instruments & percussion (or other objects) thus remains sonically appealing throughout, but also seems to occur at a distance, i.e. (still) impersonally. And whereas an inhuman orientation fits the presumed geological inspiration, it also leaves me feeling un-transformed by the sequence — as if it simply passed through me.... (One might compare, then, e.g. to Stratus with its sense of layering & natural processes, even its approach to articulating different colors in bands, and also ultimately its more affective stance.... And Prima pratica, per the previous entry, is also considerably more sparse overall, yet yields an affective result, i.e. a collective personalization or spiritualization of the material.) In other words, Earth Tongues remain apparently opposed to projecting a sense of teleology (or anthropomorphism) through their music, and whereas I do respect the integrity of such a stance, the music — despite some wonderful timbral combos — ultimately leaves me unmoved. And the latter does seem like a strange result for music that involves a great deal of motion itself — again, as if its flows remain separated or at a distance....9 November 2019
On the heels of discussing Negoum earlier this month, another duo album featuring cellist Frances-Marie Uitti & recorded several years ago has also appeared, Peregrinations on Elliott Sharp's ZoaR Records. Peregrinations was recorded in New York all the way back in September of 2006, mixed only this past September & released this month, but sounds remarkably fresh. (It follows a recent trio release from Sharp — also on ZoaR — that I'll note now, Swervitude by The Clinamen, featuring Sharp on electric guitar, synths, etc. along with elite English improvising rhythm team John Edwards & Mark Sanders: Swervitude is a substantial album, recorded in Venice in August 2017, and often features a potent combo of punk-ish guitar or synth across e.g. tribal rhythms or all sorts of roiling & detailed responses. The punk rock evocations in particular make it stand out as an intense personal statement....) Peregrinations is also improvised, and features close interactions between Uitti & Sharp, who does turn to soprano sax on some tracks (especially the last), but is heard most strikingly on acoustic guitar, both overlapping in pizzicato, and providing a ringing contrast against the cello's (sometimes double) arco. The closeness of the interaction contrasts with Negoum, which was a quasi-first meeting, starting from relatively traditional & separate tunes, and building something collective as it went, while Sharp & Uitti have been musically active together since the 1990s (& even attended college together). Indeed, the interactions & sonorities are actually more reminiscent of those on Traintracks... for me, with classical evocations, especially from cello, set against similarly ringing guitar (also perhaps with a hint of punk in its background) — & with the viola almost filling the role of the second cello bow. (There's ultimately less simultaneity & steadier rhythmic procedures from the duo on Peregrinations, but Uitti's cello does often seem like two bowed string instruments.... The degree of independence that she maintains is amazing.) Great energy & a resulting musical tension emerge pretty much immediately from the Uitti-Sharp duo, then, lending a quite contemporary (& surprisingly affective, at least for a recording that languished so long) sense of intimacy. And such potency maintains & ramifies across the seven stellar-named tracks, involving a variety of musical procedures & processes.... Apparently the duo is also playing a couple of album release concerts next month in New York, so although this recording (their second?) is thirteen years old, the musical interaction is ongoing.25 November 2019
Another prolific musician whose recordings I've heard far more than I've discussed them is Matthew Shipp: It's not only that Shipp releases so many albums with similar forces, but that he focuses on straight ahead pianism — albeit incorporating e.g. the percussion insights of Cecil Taylor — rather than preparations & extended technique. The latter hasn't been a priority for me, but Shipp is surely among the most fluid & creative musicians within the traditional 88 key limit.... I thus continue to audition a sampling of his releases, although I haven't listened to even a majority, such that this entry is more a footnote than an attempt to survey a style in any systematic way. In particular, it continues previous mentions of Shipp here — especially around Ivo Perelman, as both first (The Hour of the Star, mentioned July 2011) & most recent (Strings 4, discussed May 2019) — & most extensively (to date) around Tangle (with Lehn & Butcher, discussed December 2016). Shipp has produced so much more, including e.g. a series of solo albums, but here I want to focus on Symbolic Reality (recorded in Brooklyn in August 2019) by the Matthew Shipp String Trio: Symbolic Reality is not fully improvised, but rather involves Shipp compositions throughout, as the pianist is joined by long-time associates Mat Maneri & William Parker on viola & bass. (Symbolic Reality, like many of Shipp's recent albums — at least those without Perelman — is out on RogueArt, but the String Trio has two prior albums on Hatology, both recorded in the 1990s & not mentioned here.) So, in some ways, the ensemble suggests only subtle differences from Shipp's other recent activity, but that it involves composition throughout also marks it as more substantially different: Overall, there's quite a classical vibe through much of the program, with Shipp often engaging in the sort of pomp & rhetorical interrogation that one might associate with Beethoven or Brahms, and with the strings often occupying relatively limited ranges within a piano gamut that tends to subsume them — until the penultimate track, that is, for string duo alone & involving more extended technique, yet still apparently devoted to a Shipp composition within the same suite(?). That track tends to refocus the listener on pianism for the final (longest) track, which seems to sort out (or extend) some of the temporal(ity) issues suggested by earlier tracks.... (Considering that so much of the string playing is otherwise arco on the trio tracks, one might compare e.g. to North of North, a piano trio album with two melody instruments that are also sometimes subsumed by relatively straightforward piano articulation, but that are also buoyed & supported by the piano as a colorful sort of "orchestral" percussion instrument. Some of the sonorities around ostinati etc. thus produce similar ensemble evocations, but from rather different perspectives — "demonic" Australia being considerably farther from the fonts of jazz per se....) In the meantime, Symbolic Reality summons a considerable sense of musical gravity, with its piano timbres very well recorded (technically, that is) so as to illustrate Shipp's remarkable dexterity & rhythmic independence: It comes off as very much a classical-jazz hybrid much of the time (as had so much of e.g. Ellington, of course), with its compositional orientation not appearing so much in the basic sound of various passages (which "could be improvised"), but in a general exploration of musical causality (ranging freely from aggression to tenderness, much as in Beethoven). In this, the strings help to set a classical tone, but the piano remains very much in the center — continuing to maintain a sense of (perhaps extended) tonality throughout. A traditional sense of musical space is also evoked, as broadly tonal ostinati tend to maintain continuity, such that fractured figures (with the obvious exception of the fifth track) slide back into tender passages or swells, making Symbolic Reality seem (perhaps) less lengthy than some other albums recently featured here, particularly those involving "composed music." (Tonality comes to feel like a means of extension or even waiting....) It thus constructs its own sense of repose — including via solos, etc. — in what ends up being a rather full & mature musical statement (or at least signpost) from Shipp (returning to an ensemble most recently documented twenty years prior).2 December 2019
Pioneer Works Vol. 1, recorded in New York in March 2019 & just released on Balance Point Acoustics, is by JeJaWeDa, a quartet of performers who've all been featured here multiple times: Jeb Bishop (trombone & electronics), Jaap Blonk (voice & electronics), Weasel Walter (percussion) & Damon Smith (double bass) thus revise & extend various other projects, in this case within a rather traditional "free quartet" format that especially highlights voice-trombone duels. Within the context of this space, North of Blanco (first discussed here in May 2014) is the most obvious precedent, an extended (& rather experimental) quartet already featuring Blonk & Smith (who've appeared elsewhere together as well): In some ways, North of Blanco (with its similar, Blonk-designed cover) is actually the more "out there" issue, as it doesn't generally employ the more traditional (albeit personally distinctive) percussion style of Pioneer Works Vol. 1, or indeed reference an Ornette Coleman format.... The latter does, however, feature extended dialog between Bishop & Blonk, as well as Smith moving up in register to form a triple front line at times, all against Walter's ever-restless & timbrally varied rhythmic permutations. In this, its experimental quality comes off as "idle musings" at times, with an unusual emphasis on shorter (rather than legato) figures from Bishop: Sparse mumbling thus tends to juxtapose with rather clear figural assertions, such that a vocalizing "growl" is often given space to operate in the tenor — forging a sort of recitative style & reveling in general weirdness. (The recitative style is also emphasized by spacious mixing from Walter, itself tracing spatial duels across a sophisticated acoustic stage.) New textures are thus generated, at times even suggesting groove or chill... but mostly more aggressive or fractured ideas. In this, the obvious comparison is with Flayed (as noted here in September), a trio album featuring Walter & Bishop with Alex Ward, and recorded one day later (when Smith was originally set to join them): The latter is actually the more striking & assertive album, especially given the (recent) frequency of similar vocal productions from Blonk.... (And I only just re-surveyed some of those issues from Blonk around @Konfrontationen — a production on which he doesn't actually appear, mind you — in October: Here I should also note, again, the recent Monopiece + Jaap Blonk with its less historically-based interrogation of presence & ensemble form, e.g. in a production that ultimately places even more emphasis on electronic mixing....) Development is continuous on Pioneer Works Vol. 1, however, such that it almost becomes a textural machine — particularly impressive e.g. in its juxtaposition of various trills, including via electronics.... (And I should note Vol. 2 as well, an "unpublished sound poetry score from 2001" recorded on the same day & released at the same time on cassette: I'm not exactly sure what was involved in the production, i.e. the degree of composition involved, but there the JeJaWeDa quartet seems that much more consistently integrated, with more genuine repose & longer vocal arcs....) I'd say the result of Vol. 1 is then more "a part of" multifaceted pioneering work among various shifting musical forces than it is an end per se.... Nonetheless, it generates a variety of distinctive textures amid associated contexts.3 December 2019
Before I turn more specifically to the recent Kimmig-Studer-Zimmerlin And George Lewis, I want to step back in time a couple of years to 2017, which is when Im Hellen (recorded in Zürich in July 2015) was released (apparently that August): Im Hellen was not the first album from String Trio KSZ, but it's the first after Raw with John Butcher (& also after an obscure issue that can be found on their web site). Although I'd discussed Raw (recorded in January 2015) here in January 2017 — comparing it to another classically tinged, violin-family based album in Chant & leading up (in part) to my extended discussion of the first six Lisbon String Trio albums in June & July 2017 — I didn't really notice Im Hellen, hence this preamble. Graphically & numerically, it appeared on Hat Hut's "[now]Art" line, and so I'd parsed it as composed music: Evidently, Hat Hut wanted to position the improvisational String Trio KSZ — Harald Kimmig (violin), Daniel Studer (bass) & Alfred Zimmerlin (violoncello) — as spontaneously producing music every bit the equal of composition, but the gambit completely failed on me, since I didn't realize that Im Hellen was an improvised album (with poetic titles supplied subsequently). (I also don't need a sales pitch for spontaneously produced music in general, but that's another topic....) I should've paid more attention, instead of jumping to conclusions (& I only noticed now, in part, since I've been listening to more composed music in this space lately), because Im Hellen is an impressive improvised string album: Whereas Raw can feel like there's a soloist (Butcher, that is) at times, as well as seeming a bit muted or procedurally minimalist at others, Im Hellen is better integrated & consequently richer in its interactions throughout. (And String Trio KSZ continues to perform with Butcher, so perhaps another album will appear....) Indeed, the first track is by far the longest (at nearly eleven minutes, so not actually all that long), and is quite engaging throughout, with the Trio's characteristic percussive approach to their instruments (overplucking, slapping string, etc.) on full display along with the musicians' feelings for & construction of space via interlocking segments & forceful waves. It's a remarkably rich interaction to open, and shows Kimmig-Studer-Zimmerlin as having developed a sophisticated personal-collective style contrasting e.g. with that of LST (or indeed ad hoc groups around e.g. long-time European violin improviser Carlos Zingaro).... Like Chant, Im Hellen is also generally a quiet album & can present audibility issues on so-so (e.g. portable) equipment, and so (like so much of LST & related groups too) requires close listening, including so as to pick out the ensemble interplay (which can be subtle). In this, it also recalls Stellari String Quartet & the recent Vulcan, which is itself quite rich in motivic relations, but can also sail right past the ears (or mind) absent close attention... & which likewise indulges & distends all manner of contemporary string procedures & techniques. KSZ, though, is "only" a trio (to which Stellari adds viola), and so seems suited to adding another musician to form a mixed quartet — as they do in recording with Butcher & Lewis, and continue to do in live performance with a variety of others. And so the remainder of Im Hellen, in briefer forms after the more widely ranging opening track, does take on more the character of studies.... In the meantime, though, it forms a backdrop not only for hearing other albums from KSZ (as did e.g. Proletariat, as introduced here in July 2017, for LST), but for the Zürich scene more generally: Since I haven't been able to do much traveling over the past years (& I don't know that that will ever change), my "on the ground" knowledge of physical scenes is minimal at best, but in some cases, contours do come (audibly, that is) to present themselves to me even from afar — such that, of course, I've explicitly contemplated New York, Berlin, London here... & increasingly it seems, Zürich. And whereas 2017 was apparently the year that I definitely plunged into improvising string ensembles (with KSZ there from the beginning, even if I didn't quite realize their centrality at the time), 2019 seems to be the year to contemplate Zürich more explicitly: I'd discussed Espresso Galattico — by a much more conventional "jazz" ensemble, at least per instrumental forces — already in May, leading into the Studer-Frey bass duo & Zeit in the same entry, and then to more from Studer this July: Extended was actually an album of composed music (for KSZ & additional forces), while Suites and Seeds (without Kimmig or Zimmerlin) involved a horn & percussion in working through more of the classic textures of free music (in its own way) — provoking a discussion that already sent me back to Raw & "Why Zürich?" questions at the time. (I don't have much else to suggest by way of an answer now, other than that I'll note the history of Dada there, but I'm still paying attention....) In any case, perhaps the contents of Im Hellen can now be summarized as prototypes, studies & spanning figures that nonetheless project & accommodate quiet, with little or no soloing amid a generally anti-competitive & detailed interaction. (And in worse listening conditions, one hears only some of that.) Yet somehow the trio also manages to be both exploratory & quietly assertive....
And George Lewis has some similar audibility issues at times, and definitely benefits from better sound equipment as well, but can also be much more aggressive (amid its sparseness). That's generally due to Lewis letting loose on trombone, something he does only infrequently, but his various low growls & electronic manipulations also color & inflect the string figures & interactions throughout the nearly hour-long album (recorded in Zürich in April 2018). In this, Lewis sometimes provides a welcome contrast, but rarely sounds like "a soloist" beyond a momentary incipit, more often penetrating & ramifying the general texture with further layers of musical relation.... One might go on compare with Lisbon String Trio, especially their two trombone quartet albums, Intonarumori (discussed August 2017) & Tactile (discussed July 2018) — both of which prompted some thoughts on combining trombone in a string texture (as had Sextet / Quintet by Polyorchard, as discussed here two weeks prior to Tactile), thoughts that And George Lewis largely bring to fruition with the help of electronics (& presumably mixing). Of course, while LST was releasing a (welcome) series of albums, KSZ was "only" giving concerts... so for those of us who weren't there, the results were more opaque (only to appear more suddenly now). And perhaps there's more documentation to come? The Trio's web site does mention several ongoing musical interactions.... (And I should mention too that Kimmig has also appeared on Creative Sources with Ernesto Rodrigues on a few albums, e.g. Blattwerk again in June 2017, but I haven't encountered Zimmerlin elsewhere. He's cited as a classical "composer," however, per whatever pecking order the Hat Hut liner notes seem to feel a need to reiterate.) As for Lewis himself, as one of the younger musicians involved with the AACM (already) in the 1960s, and surely one of the most academically inclined, he needs little introduction, but I'll note not only that he first appeared in this space with Streaming (with Muhal Richard Abrams) in June 2011, but most recently (with Roscoe Mitchell, also of Streaming) with Voyage and Homecoming — an album involving both electronics & a computer pianist, as discussed here in February 2019. The latter is almost more of an anthology, but does involve an impressive track from Lewis on laptop, which is presumably more what's happening on And George Lewis than a computer/AI player per se.... Such work does also continue to suture notions of contemporary trombone together with electronics too, something that's become a broader association in the US (perhaps?), likely due to Lewis — as indeed the shifts from more boisterous to a generally spread out texture on And George Lewis seem to reflect those twin modes of trombone participation as well. (Natural slide glissandi raise issues of infra-chromaticism that always seem to suggest further electronic interrogation, I guess....) The interaction can still be sparse, and mysterious as well, with the horn quietly growling beneath the texture or matching string harmonics via electronic echoes, suggesting almost static at times, often with a tendency to hide. (Although I haven't generally been noting it during these series of string-centric discussions, one of the most similar albums in overall sonic terms ends up being Sudo Quartet Live at Banlieue Bleue, there with Paul Lovens on drums rather than a cellist, but continuing the similarities due to the sometimes percussive orientation of String Trio KSZ.... Sudo Quartet is more traditionally "free" in its interactions, however, more generally aggressive, especially when vocals are involved, with more perceptible soloing & explicit dialogue.) Given the hide & seek, evocations vary widely, and different tracks do take on different characters — including the two shorter tracks in conclusion (which are definitely punchier than their analogs on Im Hellen) — making for a long, meaty album of varied interactions that can take a while to emerge into consciousness from within the sometimes seemingly distant & opaque overall texture (which is most sparsely atmospheric during the long second track). As far as overall weirdness, there's also the Japanese hash tag (simply saying "hat," I'm told) found all over the new Hat Hut "ezz-thetics" site & CDs, and the (obsessive) liner notes as discussed: They seem to be far too worried about judging an improvised-composed dual, whereas as far as I'm concerned, it's more a matter of what one prepares in advance of a performance (up to & including, of course, a plan to reproduce exactly the entirety of music someone else already wrote or even recorded).... In an attempt to navigate "serious music might not involve much explicit planning" (my summary, not a real quote), Lange even describes Cage as being anti-improvisation, when it'd be more accurate to describe Cage as anti-system, improvisation generally having proceeded according to the dictates of an existing (if sometimes only implicitly) system.... At that point, though, I think I need to leave off discussing an album that's (already) surely going to be striking to anyone (at least somewhat) familiar with these performers who wants to put in the effort (i.e. probably most people reading this). Yes, it's difficult music — like contemporary composed/classical (and that assessment is the yawner, not the music). And it features George Lewis — whom I used to expect to feature more here — quite well: It seems like most of what he does ends up being more tangential to my interests, but not in this case. (And Hat Hut does continue to make its mark too, eccentric as it may be at times, after all these years....)9 December 2019
Geometry of Caves is one of those albums in this space that I instantly enjoyed, continued to enjoy as I listened to it with heightened expectations based on first impressions, and continue to enjoy now.... (There are certainly other albums that have followed this pattern, but sometimes I also find the first hearing of an eventual favorite to be rather opaque, particularly when I have no idea what to expect....) So of course the new Geometry of Distance — recorded in December 2018 by the same quartet of Tomeka Reid (cello), Kyoko Kitamura (voice), Taylor Ho Bynum (this time only on cornet) & Joe Morris (guitar) — was a release I was excited to hear, even if it seemed to come rather quickly after Geometry of Caves. Sometimes it also seems as though direct sequels (i.e. not adding or swapping a musician or two) are relatively rare in free music, but that's not really true: In fact, I've reviewed a sequel here in each of the past three months, including already in December: Symbolic Reality, Atem & Speak Easy @Konfrontationen are those albums in reverse order... albeit two being sequels to albums from more than a decade ago. Coming into this project with a "contemporary music" mentality, I've also been inclined toward the most recent productions & musical developments as performers continue to push their ideas, such that preferring the latest album seems like an ordinary (& preferred) outcome. Even beyond musicians shifting their orientations into other directions, though, that hasn't always been the case, as sometimes earlier (especially improvisational) encounters retain a certain magical freshness that replumbing the same depths doesn't necessarily surpass or undermine. Geometry of Caves also occupies a particular historical place in this project, as it was both my first real favorite on Relative Pitch (after many good or "interesting" albums) & my introduction to Kitamura: To that point, I'd only been dabbling in the massive recent Braxton catalog, and hadn't noticed her contributions. Having spent a lot more time there earlier this year, though, I've come to appreciate e.g. 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 & especially her contributions to the "trio" setting on the first four albums. (That's another way of noting, again, how contingent the first impression of an album can be....) Another thing I've emphasized of late regarding Braxton's work is that it continues to orient on the usual chromatic set of notes, i.e. doesn't explore much in the way of microtonal interstices & their timbral transformations. For this generation, though, Kitamura in particular continues to extend technique into that arena, such that Geometry of Distance includes ongoing developments of overtone singing & noisy breath in waves, shudders & even whistling.... The shift in titles between the two albums, moreover, gives a clear indication of the different sorts of interactions employed: Whereas Geometry of Caves had evoked a sort of groping, blind quality (as I'd related to medieval conceptions of musical blindness, e.g. as discussed in notes to the classic album Cecus, back in June 2018), Geometry of Distance strikes out into more of an exploration of open space, with notions of spanning distance replacing a sort of "right hand rule" of proximate interaction. The marketing blurb equates this more "spacious" conception with maturity, but in many ways it's simply different, interiorization having been (partially) replaced by calls & anticipation. (And despite this sense of "distance," the recording itself is quite close, allowing for rich timbres down to a whisper to be very present: There's still a real intimacy at times, even a sense of seduction — inspired, in part, by the jazz vocal tradition, even as Kitamura is not always active.) Notions of calls also evoke the horn, and although I don't notice any obvious technical developments from Ho Bynum, the title suggests his Apparent Distance (released in 2011, mixing horn calls with groove), and while Geometry of Distance doesn't really involve the sort of lush choreography characteristic of his own recent albums, it does show Ho Bynum's imprint in some of its vectorial concepts & overall formal sweep.... Reid was someone with whom I was also relatively less familiar (last year), largely because she's been working in both straight(er) classical & jazz, but she's also appeared on more albums in the "free" space since Geometry of Caves. In keeping with that album — & indeed with the basic articulation of e.g. Paradoxical (as discussed here last month, and still an analogous ensemble) — Reid's string duo with Morris continues to form the "backbone" of Geometry of Distance, and both continue to explore new string techniques & sonorities, particularly in combination, from gamelan-esque strikes to various strums & bends.... The album then begins (perhaps) more rhetorically, suggesting not only non-cave-like openness & reflection, but even a sort of travelogue aura based on spanning distance... which itself can involve ostinato & other sorts of temporal filigree, such that the ongoing intricacy of Geometry of Caves is transformed into a different sort of intimacy: Various new techniques are explored, often in relief, building to a more assertive & syncretic last track — in turn suggesting a next volume. In the meantime, Geometry of Distance (despite being a little longer, at nearly an hour) actually seems like the shorter album because of this sort of spanning (i.e. via repetition, akin to the way that tonal harmonies or regular rhythms can allow one's expectations to relax), as its exteriorization comes to figure seduction (as well as to interrogate ocularcentrism, at least nascently). In other words, it's appealing, but also seems like an intermediate result: There are already many dimensions to this intriguingly balanced quartet, but it still seems like they have much more to explore & to articulate in sound, in both inner & outer worlds.17 December 2019
After I'd just discussed Trio KSZ & And George Lewis earlier this month, the similarly inspired Lisbon String Trio has released their twelfth album, Sediments featuring Gabriel Ferrandini on percussion, recorded live in Lisbon last month. It's a relatively short album, but opens with a (percussive) bang to make a strong impression: I hadn't been very familiar with Ferrandini (b.1986), that is outside of Red Trio (another group that had a run of quartet albums with various guests) & elsewhere alongside his usual bass partner, Hernâni Faustino. (It turns out that Ferrandini's more personal explorations are recently available on Clean Feed with Volúpias, an album of composed music for a classic free jazz sax trio — sonically dominated by the horn, as is traditional.) Ferrandini also joins fellow Red Trio member Rodrigo Pinheiro in recording with Lisbon String Trio, the latter's Rhetorica (discussed here this past August) having appeared recently as well. Ferrandini further joins Portuguese icons Sei Miguel (on From Faust) & Carlos Zingaro (on Theia) — both albums first discussed here in July 2018 — in recording with LST after developing a reputation elsewhere. But the most similar album, at least in some ways, might be Merz with Gil Gonçalves on tuba (discussed in July 2019), in that the soloist is relatively centered & quite audible in what comes off as a concerto format. (From Faust already showed some of this concertante character.) In this, compared to some of the subtler articulations in the series, it's relatively easier to hear & follow. The combination with strings & percussion also seemed relatively rare, but upon recalling some precedents, it's more the way that the musicians interact on Sediments that's different: There was actually a run of trio albums of this basic sort — i.e. drums, bass & either viola or cello — in 2017 for some reason (as I don't believe I've been ignoring them since): Natura morta's fourth album Environ (with Frantz Loriot) was discussed here that April, followed quickly by both Spinning Jenny (featuring Daniel Levin) & the Judson Trio's An Air of Unreality (with Mat Maneri) later that month, and then The Selva (featuring Ricardo Jacinto) in June. (Of course, there've been many other trios with e.g. guitar or electronics in an otherwise analogous sonic configuration.) What these albums have in common, though, is the basic layered format of a jazz sax trio, i.e. with the higher string as "horn" supported by a rhythm team. Sediments, besides being a quartet, adopts a different configuration, however, in centering the percussion in a concerto-like format. Perhaps a more relevant, seemingly classically-inspired example would be the album pair Blattwerk (quintet) & Zweige (sextet), likewise from Ernesto Rodrigues & featuring Vasco Trilla on subtly pervasive percussion amid string ensembles. (These albums also hinge with Trio KSZ via Kimmig's participation, and the second even seems to anticipate the LST series, as Alvaro Rosso joined the prior quintet already including Miguel Mira.... It's also interesting that, although Rodrigues records so often with other string players, his participation in such ensembles augmented by percussion — beyond those just mentioned with Trilla — has been relatively rare, the last trio apparently being the evocatively titled Aether with Monsieur Trinité, as mentioned here in October 2016.) Perhaps the most direct comparison, sometimes featuring marimba in this way, is still the quintet album Chant.... (And in another direction, I should cite the recent Trappist-1, on which Ramon Lopez & Mark Feldman perform strongly contrasting roles, but it's still creative percussion supported by classical-inspired violin, if more traditional in the latter case....) In any of these situations, it seems as though balance issues could present themselves, mandating either restraint or layering of roles: Indeed, struggling to hear everything happening has been part of the experience of listening to many of these albums in the past (although updated equipment has helped greatly), but Sediments takes a different approach. (It's also different from the similarly named Sediment — first discussed here in March 2015 — from drummer Carlo Costa: There, the geologic inspiration yields relatively impersonal layers to be traversed in time as a sort of travelogue, although it does end up being sonically similar at times....) Sediments instead begins with a sort of percussion eruption, as even the strings are percussive to start, a sort of initial uncoiling slowly sedimenting & smoothing into longer lines & legato string tones, as well as quietly rolling percussion, while retaining an original nonlinear dynamic. Later timbres can seem quite a contrast to the sharply metallic opening, passing through wood blocks & other material sonorities as they develop, until the opening seems almost to have exhausted itself — all while balance issues are ultimately handled impressively (in both loud & quiet modes). There's a lot of presence, and generally some lively figures, even as the sediments start to harden. I don't feel personally transformed as a result (although Sediments does transform its own material), but such a "percussion concerto" arrangement has much to offer: It's the flashy opening that continues to make the strongest impression, with little aura of jazz per se, but the various timbral combos & nonlinear directions generated by the quartet on Sediments already suggest many (more) possibilities for such a combination of forces.20 December 2019
I want to check in with another of Poland's worthwhile free improvisation labels, Multikulti Project & especially their "Spontaneous Music Tribune" series — particularly after Points (recorded in May 2017 by another Portuguese-French quartet around Luis Vicente & Marcelo dos Reis) was hailed elsewhere.... Released at the same time, and without so much precedent, Quartett Non Locality was recorded (without further specification) in 2018: The only member of which I'd been aware was Ramon Prats on drums (mentioned here in January 2018 around The Liquid Trio Plays Bernoulli), but both Sarah Claman (violin) & Dominik Strycharski (recorders) appear on other available releases, the former with a large ensemble on Creative Sources & the latter also fronting Pulsarus with its (regrettably titled) album Bee Itch on ForTune, while Zbigniew Chojnacki (accordion, live electronics) is otherwise undocumented. And whereas Quartett Non Locality shares some of the rock & film influences that dominate the loud Bee Itch, as its instrumentation might already suggest, it's also much weirder sonically: Indeed it almost recalls e.g. Manuela+ & Live in Berlin (a 1999 recording that happened to be reissued this year on Destination: Out), and perhaps something of its successor (around Zingaro) in Live at Total Meeting, the latter also featuring three "melody instruments" around percussion in a more classically-tinged & sometimes mellow interaction. Quartett Non Locality does build intensity, particularly as the musicians forge four-way textures with more rhythmic alignment as they proceed, and does recall popular music more explicitly at times, but also involves quite a bit of timbral mimicry & sonic blending throughout the ensemble: The violin might be percussive while the drums sound like bent strings, or the recorder might take up a strand from accordion, whose reedy timbre might be evoked by violin, whose flutey harmonics might in turn overlap recorder or rubbed percussion.... In this, the accordion is perhaps least identifiable, at least sometimes, moving through extended techniques & via electronics, including into higher registers, but sometimes functioning as bass in what can become a quasi-traditional "free quartet" lineup, or seemingly becoming a trombone — not unlike the low recorder, whose breathy grain (or even vocalizing) can open almost-motivic interactions. Claman on violin is perhaps the most consistently striking, but the high recorder also punctuates frothy ensemble passages that come to have almost a "traffic" vibe around the drums, as slow clashes intertwine more frenetic simultaneity: The quartet comes to sound very distinctive, both in reduced passages & at full throttle, as "scuffling" can give way to textural richness. And although the result hasn't had a transformative effect via listening, it does provide energy via the basic glory of sound, and does so around novel timbral combinations throughout. So even if the ensemble's "coming together" doesn't seem to take one anywhere beyond, it does yield creative musical moments, making Quartett Non Locality well worth hearing for its surprisingly sophisticated interaction amid its unique ensemble configuration.30 December 2019
Now coming to the end of the calendar year, although presumably not nearly to the end of albums "officially" produced in 2019, I also want to note Blasphemious Fragments, recorded in London in July 2017 by a trio of Phil Minton (voice), John Butcher (soprano & tenor saxophones) & Gino Robair (percussion, electronics, piano): This is an album released back in May that I only "discovered" via end-of-year lists at the Free Jazz Blog, but the discovery is also fortuitous on the heels of mentioning Minton here this past October while discussing the quartet album Speak Easy @Konfrontationen (itself recorded in 2016).... Moreover, Blasphemious Fragments reprises the Butcher-Robair duo, the Apophonics, as consolidated in Apophenia (recorded in 2009) & first featured here around the trio album The Apophonics On Air in November 2013: Their extended, timbral creativity needs little further introduction. And of course, Minton's own timbral creativity on voice seems almost unbounded, including on Blasphemious Fragments, where (as on @Konfrontationen) he sometimes functions as bass (in an anything but traditional "sax trio"), but also engages in all manner of chattering, groaning, squeaking, creaking, whistling, etc... in what can be an interaction that comes to frame various senses of quiet, as it moves its center around the pitch gamut. (And I'm not sure if e.g. the whistling duets involve Minton's throat or lips or both... his performances sometimes beg for the visual element.) The overall effect is thus mysterious, as the sound can be sparse around various duo reductions etc., and as e.g. sax can become almost unidentifiable itself. (In this, I should note that Blasphemious Fragments retains a rather different, i.e. more open & spontaneous, vibe than e.g. some recent multi-tracked pop-inflected vocal albums, although it does also involve some electronic manipulations.) In this, it's perhaps most sonically similar to Light air still gets dark, particularly when the trio emphasizes the bass register & as the voice can almost become a horn.... But Blasphemious Fragments does also retain something of the character of a technical exploration or exhibition, particularly as Minton's varietas doesn't appear to be contained (or containable?) by the album concept. There remains much to hear, however, within this very flexible configuration, which could (& should) perhaps continue....31 December 2019
Ernesto Rodrigues has been releasing so many improvising string ensemble albums, especially with his son Guilherme on cello, but also in various other contexts (e.g. the Lisbon String Trio), that they almost become their own genre. Moreover, Ernesto's recordings with Guilherme & Dietrich Petzold (on violin, viola, and sometimes other instruments) have become so numerous of late that they start to form a subgenre: In particular, while their series of interactions began (at least on recording) with Sacred Noise (a double album recorded in October 2016), much of this activity occurred in 2018, with the quartet album Get Your Own Picture (a meaty, hour+ long album recorded in Berlin in October 2018) being the latest installment. Get Your Own Picture actually follows (by recording date) closely on the heels of two "Creative Sources Digital" albums already appearing with Petzold & recorded a few days earlier that month (as already mentioned in December 2018), but also shortly after the second trio album, Ljubljana (also discussed here in December 2018) & the quartet albums Crane Cries (discussed April 2018) & Dis/con/sent (discussed October 2018): The latter, along with the digital-only releases, features Matthias Bauer on bass, while the former involves Elo Masing on violin (& thus, unusually for this developing genre, includes no bass) to form a more classical string quartet. And I say "more" because Petzold not only switches between violin & viola on Crane Cries & elsewhere, but sometimes includes e.g. keyboard, or even jagged bowed metal on Dis/con/sent.... Get Your Own Picture, however, not only continues to reprise the "jazz string quartet" with double bass, but involves Jan Roder for the first time: Roder had been discussed here (in May 2017) around Happy Jazz (with Olaf Rupp), and his participation apparently yields a more generally classical motivic & assertive atmosphere. Get Your Own Picture is then an extensive album, alternating shorter & longer tracks — & although the shorter tracks aren't necessarily punchier than passages within the longer sequences, the album does begin that way (i.e. almost in a late Beethoven-esque mode), before becoming sparser on the second track, which does itself eventually return to more straightforward melodic figures.... There's thus more traditional counterpoint, and more motivic repetition in general, than on many Rodrigues albums, but extended technique (e.g. in pizzicato or harmonics) is also sometimes featured beyond the basic arco sound: There's thus some "quiet scuffling" at times, but also boisterous "traffic" activity amid a variety of procedural journeys.... Given the ensemble & concomitant sophistication, a ready comparison is with the Stellari Quartet & its recent release Vulcan (itself recorded back in 2016), on which an ongoing group of four virtuoso string players develops a variety of styles & interactions over an extended series of tracks — apparently deriving from at least a couple of sessions & maybe more: Such an approach to performance & selection yields a rather weighty tome for the listener, deriving from years of interactions, whereas Rodrigues releases albums prolifically (often quite soon after recording).... Rather than such a dense & singular result (as Stellari makes an impression in part by being distinctive), Rodrigues' output thus consists of endless internal variation, both in quotidian inspiration & via a developing series of musical partners: It comes to elaborate its own sense of familiarity, and bares that development to the listener by releasing so much similar music, even if one outcome of such an orientation is to diminish the impact of individual issues. (In turn, the "process" becomes that much more transparent.) Within that context, then, Get Your Own Picture provides a relatively accessible (even melodic at times, yet still stimulating) snapshot of Rodrigues' work with Petzold in Berlin in 2018.5 January 2020
After the long & appealing — & relatively obscurely released — Never, as well as learning more about his meditation activities (which contrast with what I'd taken to be the frenetic quality of his playing), I've been watching for more from Ben Bennett. And now I want to note an even longer trio album in Pinkie No, recorded at Elastic Arts in Chicago back in 2016, and recently released on Notice Recordings. (This is a cassette of nearly 80' length: The label is apparently releasing only cassettes, but also has some other intriguing albums that, although I won't be discussing them for now, did cause me to make some mental notes of previously unknown musicians.... And I noticed this release as new via Squidco, although it hasn't come into stock there yet as I write this, so regards to them....) Bennett on percussion is joined by Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello & Zoots Houston on synthesizer & objects for this tour-de-force of mysterious & overlapping timbres, sometimes vigorously rhythmic & sometimes drawn into lengthy unstable drones. Lonberg-Holm has been appearing in this space with more "out" music of late (after being associated with e.g. the circle of Ken Vandermark in Chicago), including e.g. Incidental Projections with Ernesto Rodrigues (discussed here in May 2017, so a while ago now) or Bow Hard at the Frog (discussed May 2018), while Houston was new for me. (The connection with Rodrigues is quite apt when considering Pinkie No, which generally projects a timbral landscape, including — both sides — beginning from a percussion outburst that is then "smoothed" by subsequent activity — i.e. somewhat akin to Sediments as discussed here last month. Some of the timbral explorations in recent favorites Sitsa or Coluro are also comparable, even as Pinkie No is rather more arbitrary & seemingly without similar systemization....) The label notes that both Lonberg-Holm & Houston have actually moved (independently) to Kingston NY, home of the label, so this later release comes in part from a subsequent geographic alignment.... And while percussion & cello can clearly be themselves at times during this lengthy exploration, the latter even supplying conspicuous "grain" for elaboration, Houston's activity generally remains more mysterious, with the impression of a horn (including via various percussive pops, perhaps ironically) seeming to emerge. (The entire result might then be described as initially sounding "more electronic" than it really is.) The result isn't as loud, and generally isn't as jagged or aggressive, as Never (recorded a couple of years later), with rhythms subsequently blunted by ongoing interrogations, but close listening & quick shifts are likewise emphasized, here expressed in swelling, clattering, grinding & creaking. The fusion of mellowness with intensity is then perhaps the main affective impression: Some sections are more appealing than others, as waves of activity continue to recur (again, not systematically), and as fast juxtapositions yield a sense of multiple simultaneous temporalities.... (This occurs within a strong ritual or ceremonial mood, yet with various "natural" or jungle evocations at times — not unlike the combination on Ag, which is nonetheless much more "crisp" in its sound world.) The result ends up being both industrial & meditative, as sonorities such as strange snarling & rolling marbles combine to maintain a sort of continuity throughout, sometimes more energetic than others, but retaining strong precision, even within frequent dissonance. Perhaps the result could benefit from some editing, but Pinkie No does forge an imposing & distinctive collective (trio) style.13 January 2020
Not so unlike the extended affective modulation of Pinkie No, or indeed the jagged percussive precision of Never, is another recent double album (& the first 2020 release mentioned here so far!), Plumes of Ash in Moonlight: Plumes of Ash in Moonlight is another unusual album from guitarist Ed Pettersen (b.1962), whom I hadn't really featured in this space yet, but who's been releasing a series of iconic projects: I did mention (in April 2018) the rendition of Cardew's Treatise for which Pettersen was apparently the driving force, and he's also released a couple of recent albums (one a duo, the other an octet) with Henry Kaiser, as well as e.g. an impressive (documentary) triple album in The Cooper-Moore Sessions.... Pettersen's musical career had apparently been dominated by the singer-songwriter (Americana) genre to this point, including mainstream recognition, but he's now entered the world of contemporary improvisation with a bang. And Plumes of Ash in Moonlight (recorded in February 2019, and totaling nearly 90 minutes) continues his work with the London scene (as on Treatise) by forming a sextet around AMM legend Eddie Prévost: The result is actually something of a double guitar trio, with Prévost joined by Ståle Liavik Solberg on percussion, and Pettersen (on lap steel) paired with N.O. Moore on electric guitar, while Olie Brice (double bass) & Tony Hardie-Bick (tape echo, piano) round out the group. (I was not familiar with the latter, but both he & Brice have already appeared with Pettersen. And coincidentally per the previous entry, Solberg was last mentioned here with Lonberg-Holm in August 2019....) As the relatively large ensemble suggests, there tends to be a lot happening on Plumes of Ash in Moonlight, but there's also a great clarity to both the recording & the conception, such that textures tend to sparkle, even when involving looping & various sustained feedback, in what continues to be (after the Kaiser sessions as well) a generalized rock vibe. So there's generally a lot of electronic hum (& swells), but creative percussion as well to provide a more discrete element (sometimes quite extensively), coming together into a sequence of improvised tone poems. Indeed, something of a symphonic quality emerges from the sophisticated interaction, and the tracks (& album) are titled by Moore, both recalling his earlier trio with Prévost (& John Edwards), Darkened, yet shone (discussed here in September 2018), an hour+ tapestry of precise motivic interaction centering electric guitar.... (One might relate e.g. the "shimmering" quality of the two albums. Both also come off as quite polished, despite their apparent one-off novelty.) The resulting tone poems do seem a bit "spacey" at times, and certainly alien in their landscapes, but the multi-faceted & multi-layered synthesis of simmer, clatter & boing remains remarkably audible, as it fills space & extends time across a variety of carefully sculpted — & often searing — timbral combos. (Piano is only very rarely audible as such, with Hardie-Bick's contribution being the most mysterious. Brice's bass also provides some grainy timbres, not unlike those on Pinkie No....) The music requires some sustained attention, but it's probably going to please the post-progressive crowd, as Pettersen & his group of all-stars continue to forge impressive new concepts in these five post-rock "symphonic poems." (And Pettersen apparently has another collaboration with Prévost in the works as well....)14 January 2020
There's been a bit of a lull here, with arrivals slow to pick up so far in the new year, but as that appears to be changing, I first want to note a couple of recent releases from Adrian Northover (soprano saxophone) on the Plus Timbre digital label out of Greece: The first is Xoo — recorded in London in December 2018 (or May 2018 if I'm misreading the date notation), and another "official" 2020 release — by a trio with Daniel Thompson (acoustic guitar) & Lukax Santana (percussion), the latter (from Chile) being new to me. And the second is The Sea Of Frogs — recorded in Genova in June 2019 — by a trio with Bruno Gussoni (flutes) — also new to me — & Marcello Magliocchi (drums). Although I'd already noted Thompson, first with Compost (in April 2013), and then with the similarly constituted Hunt at the Brook (in June 2015), my associations between Northover & Magliocchi & in turn Thompson are strongest around the Runcible Quintet, their first album Five being discussed here in May 2017 & the latest (Four) in October 2018.... (I'd also listened to Music from dreaming skaters, also out on Plus Timbre & recorded in 2016 & 2017, when discussing Sezu — also in October 2018 — but didn't note it here: That album consists of two trios with Northover & Magliocchi, one with Thompson & the other with Maresuke Okamoto of Sezu.... Magliocchi can be found on other albums on the label as well.) Turning to the evocative & relatively quiet Xoo, then, my next association was probably with Ag, on which a different senior drummer (Steve Noble) joins Northover & Thompson in a trio, and Ag does feature evocations from natural landscapes. However, it tends to be more metallic & aggressive (or human-inspired), and so the most similar album to my ear is actually the recent Nauportus, with Thompson again, but there with Tom Jackson on clarinet alongside young Slovenian drummer, Vid Drašler. The latter intersects more strongly with feelings of quietude & stillness, and that's the affective aura dominating Xoo — again suggesting just how central Thompson is to these projects. (I'd noted in the discussion of Nauportus — this past July — how his guitar so often seems to be in the background, but these naturalistic tapestries end up highlighting background....) Xoo suggests the atmosphere of marsh, both on its cover, and in its music, with an affective calm that very quickly establishes itself alongside a usually sparse texture that remains gently assertive around twitterings, scrapings & echoes. (Although Xoo is about human playing, and so explicitly human transmutation of natural evocations, it does also present something of the aura of Bow Hard at the Frog, discussed here in May 2018, on which cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm performs in the Florida Everglades amid participating fauna....) The articulation almost comes to suggest Feldman in its subtle ongoing variety of timbral combos & foreground-background attack, but the affective orientation continues to be natural: Tension increases at times, perhaps suggesting traffic or even static (here in an acoustic ensemble), but a sort of ecology maintains, perhaps delicately, and perhaps appearing more "musical" at times, i.e. in a traditional (Western) guise.... The Sea Of Frogs is then a later recording, although released earlier, on which the duo of high horns interacts with percussion in usually melodic ways, sometimes more aggressively & sometimes more sparsely, but also around figurations of a natural landscape at times, soon turning to a series of duo interactions, in what seems like a musically intriguing, but less conceptually polished, album.... (I'll have to keep an ear out now for Gussoni too... — and of course for Santana, who brought a unique & subtle percussion vibe to Xoo.)26 January 2020
I first noted German drummer Christian Lillinger (b.1984) here in September 2011, in a discussion of the most popular releases on Clean Feed (that I derived from the number of ratings that they displayed on their old web site, not from sales figures, to which I don't have access), including both First Reason (by the ongoing ensemble Grund, as again noted here around C O R in July 2018, & as already including bassist Jonas Westergaard) & Grünen (including e.g. pianist Achim Kaufmann & also seemingly ongoing...). Those albums didn't fully capture me, but I was impressed enough to continue tracking what Lillinger has released since — and that's gotten easier as he's continued to be featured by the Free Jazz Collective: Indeed, Boulez Materialism caused a bit of a stir there, and I discussed it here in July 2018 (& again around some theoretical points in August 2018). So Boulez Materialism actually marks my entry into the sound world of Lillinger's latest release, Grammar II, particularly since I'd never noticed the first Grammar — recorded in 2011 & released as a double album on the now defunct Gligg Records (from which I'd previously featured Geäder, by the Kaufmann-Gratkowski-de Joode trio, as first discussed here in January 2015). Grammar had already featured the DLW Trio, with both Westergaard (b.1976) & Christopher Dell (b.1965, vibraphone) joining Lillinger. That trio was then augmented by Johannes Brecht (b.1983) on live electronics for Boulez Materialism, but I still didn't notice their earlier album. And since hearing Grammar II, and learning of the prior release, I've sought opportunities to hear it, but that's been thwarted thus far.... So it seems suboptimal to start discussing a followup album without hearing the original, but then, life itself isn't particularly tidy, and this entire project was originally conceived as jumping into the middle of ongoing activity & not dwelling so much on history.... Boulez Materialism made a strong first impression, then, but it's also a relatively short — & relatively thin — album whose live "sound" interested me: Part of that is the electronics, but they're not always to the fore, and indeed Lillinger's general work with Plaist discusses a post-concrète orientation, and so directly acknowledges post-production. (Perhaps that's most evident on his glittering nonet album Open Form for Society, also from 2019, and also featuring a similar combination of timbres, there including pianos & synth, as well as vibes & related percussion, a variety of basses, cello, and of course Lillinger himself on drums & composition.... And Dell does appear there, but not Westergaard. A variety of suspenseful textures are involved from track to track, sometimes more electronic in orientation, but don't seem to me to add to something larger than their collected parts, as the overall compositional arc still seems preliminary....) That's perhaps less evident on Grammar II, which documents a relatively straightforward acoustic trio — a "vibes trio" — but the mixing & production remain excellent, while ideas from Pierre Schaeffer are still to the fore: In particular, I'd disputed the notion (as recapitulated by Dell for Boulez Materialism — & as deriving from Schaeffer, as I soon came to realize) that serial music must rely on discrete chromatic tones, and Grammar II does continue to involve that sort of restriction. (I've also mentioned how Braxton respects a similar restriction, with discrete notes & rigid space or segmentation between them. In other words, notes don't blend into other notes, via timbre-music or otherwise, but involve a variety of expanded relations as distinct entities only. Note further that dodecaphonic music ultimately relies on enharmonicity in order for chromatic relations to form a "closed set" of twelve tones....) Grammar II then forges (or recapitulates?) a rather rigid chromatic tapestry in that sense, underscored by the brightness (or brittleness) of the vibraphone (& often drums): The result is a long & meaty album, subsuming many of the best ideas & relations from both Boulez Materialism & Open Form for Society, particularly around smaller scale interactions & sonic combos. The overall layout & articulation seems far more ambitious on Grammar II, though, especially as continuity through its durations-structures tends to maintain, leading to a relentless quality that can yield an exhausting listening experience. (Perhaps I should also address the belatedness of my discussion here: Grammar II was released last month, and I did notice it rather promptly on Lillinger's site, but didn't want to deal with international mail over the holidays & so waited....) Some of that relentless quality dissipates as the music articulates through trees of relation into their "leaf" endpoints, and ends up sounding jazzier as it goes, although a consistent pace does tend to remain, eventually interpolated more by ornamentation.... (The serial tapestry again suggests late Braxton, particularly for its robust framework.) The deliberate interaction starts relatively slowly, although evocatively or pregnant with potential, as it builds into faster figures that are nonetheless anchored to the underlying structure — with the resulting intensity only easing near the end. (Perhaps the sort of jazzy, but structurally rich, serialism that arises can be compared to music e.g. by Milton Babbitt, whose String Quartets were discussed here in March 2018: Sonorities & individual interactions are rather different, but the mental pathways being engaged feel similar.) The sonic tapestry then resembles some of Boulez's music both for its vibes-oriented, shimmering crispness, as well as its cellular structures, but also Feldman for its sequence of varying figure articulations & ongoing tapestry, even as jazzy doublings tend to tauten the interaction as it proceeds. (It took me longer to warm to horns, absent here, and so the vibraphone was a "jazz instrument" that fascinated me relatively early in this space, such that the basic sound of this vibes trio does continue to appeal....) Unlike Open Form for Society, there are also no real breaks for the tracks, but also no clear image of relevance: The latter suggests the possibilities of a variety of intersecting group interactions, but Grammar II is a grueling tapestry of abstract music, engaging concentration, continuity, and overall directness of expression in a transformative way, with e.g. no evocations of "nature" — but rather, a reassertion of "modern music" within an increasingly postmodern musical context (i.e. of timbre-music, environmental mimicry, etc., as practiced elsewhere). Although DLW continues to forge a unique sound, then, the result (particularly in the latter sense) can also be compared to imposing favorites Nessuno & Instantiation: Paradoxical, particularly as those albums maintain a similar process density amid continuous articulation of forward momentum: Nessuno is more explicitly evocative of Feldman, especially with its systematically varying attack & approach to foreground & simultaneity, but also around pacing & structural articulation, while Paradoxical comes to seem less deliberate or straight ahead (or broadly linear), but similarly builds long lines from small & intricate figures.... In that, it's perhaps difficult to construct an argument for "use" around Grammar II, but it does involve a strong technical articulation that I've continued to find consistently engaging — if not fully contemporary. It's striking (including literally) & very robust, a sequel that (evidently) doesn't require the original.27 January 2020
I've been "distracted" with some other writing lately (which should be completed next month), so maybe I haven't engaged with previously unknown musicians or styles as much as I could, but my recent perception is still of something of a lull in releases piquing my interest more substantially. I do still listen to several (or more) new albums every week, so I feel engaged in that sense, but have had fewer thoughts to share in response lately.... That said, I want to note the recent Café Grand Abyss by the distinguished duo of Alvin Curran & Jon Rose: The latter's violin is probably the most consistently audible voice on the album, recorded in Rome (April 2016) & Sydney (September 2018), but he's also credited with amplified tenor violin, "6-string drainpipe" & singing saw. And the former is listed first on piano, which is sometimes clearly audible as such, but is often heard from in the world of electronic sampling (& on one short track, playing shofar...). Of course, these are two senior improvisers, and I first noted Curran in this space with MMM Quartet on Live at the Metz' Arsenal (in September 2012), but had already noted him around Scelsi decades prior, and then more recently with Rome-ing (as discussed this past October) — "Rome" being an attribute of Musica Elettronica Viva (as discussed here around Symphony No. 106 in December 2016) as well.... I also noticed Rose relatively early in this project, most spectacularly with Colophony (first discussed in August 2013), and have generally sought to hear his unique violin productions since.... Anyway, Café Grand Abyss is a long (i.e. hour+) album, recorded in two different times & places, and doesn't generally present a coherent theme: There's nostalgia at times, a variety of sonorities on different tracks, many ostinati etc., and even a rather strong cabaret evocation near the end. Multiple track titles also invoke the Frankfurt School (& perhaps they're specifically involved in the usually murky sampling?), but the effect is more one of extended dialog between colleagues, ranging over a variety of topics & sustained timbral combos. There are some great moments at times, and then they're on to something else....8 February 2020
I also want to note three new trio albums from keyboardist Thollem McDonas: Although I might not have noted most of them individually, the fact that they're all sequels released around the same time adds a little extra spice. In particular, two of the trios involve Nels Cline, and are presented as the concluding elements of a five album "palindrome," the first two being Gowanus Sessions with William Parker (discussed here in April 2012) & Radical Empathy with Michael Wimberly (discussed here in July 2015). In Thollem's trio project with Cline, those albums were followed by Molecular Affinity with Pauline Oliveros, which is only on LP (& was recorded in August 2015, for Roaratorio), and which I hadn't discussed. (I've since auditioned a digital version.) Obviously the latter cannot be reprised, but it's probably the most compelling of the cycle, while also initiating a two-track program format (i.e. a little under twenty minutes each, the sides of a classic LP). A sort of rock & new age fusion is evident on each of these albums, with Oliveros at times bringing a rather bluesy quality to the central release with her accordion. The latter also involves a variety of quick exchanges, especially impressively to open, with what appear to be guitar preparations making for percussive attacks. Thollem also changes his keyboards & style readily, such that classically pianistic passages might be followed by spooky synthesizer (even with some vocal timbres) or incorporate ostinato, drone, hocket, etc. The first two albums do have sequels, then, appearing in inverted order, Reality and Other Imaginary Places (with Wimberly again, recorded in September 2017, released late last year) & Gowanus Sessions II (with Parker again & from the original sessions of January 2012). The former in particular tends to be more rock-oriented, but also sounds the most like a classic piano trio at times too, again mixing e.g. classic ostinato with distortion & various simmering weirdness. (The series with Cline is noted in general for its instrumental preparations.) The latter does sound a little dated (& thin), coming from the older sessions, but includes some sparkling "romantic" piano amid more pensive passages or, again, extended weirdness & noise.... And both of these later releases appeared on ESP, after the prior albums were on Porter Records & Relative Pitch respectively — and both do consist of two relatively equal LP side-length tracks. Both also have an appealing mystical quality, but that the latter was held back for all these years (versus the shorter tracks on the original Gowanus Sessions release) in order to complete a "cycle" doesn't end up seeming very satisfying (as I was expecting something new, but then expectations are generally a prison...). All that said, let me go on to the third sequel from Thollem, still without participation of a horn, and this time returning to Relative Pitch: Dire Warning (recorded in Santa Fe, New Mexico in October 2018 & still marked as a 2019 release — as were both ESP albums) reprises People's Historia (recorded in Mexico, Connecticut & California, and released in 2013) by the Estamos Trio with Carmina Escobar (voice, etc.) & Milo Tamez (extended percussion), which I'd heard but hadn't discussed. (The credits are somewhat different between the two albums, and so for Dire Warning they're Thollem on "synthesizer, vocals & clay pot," Escobar on "voice, sound toys & guitarrón" & Tamez on "home percussions, stones, branches & electronics" — while Thollem had been only on piano for People's Historia.) Anyway, Dire Warning involves an explicit environmental theme, with a program that seems at times to enact progressive extinction: Some of the richer & more layered passages are the most appealing to me, but these tend to thin at various points — i.e. figuring extinctions — into stark recitatives & haunting, desolate landscapes. The timbral sense from the three musicians is also striking & different, sometimes making it impossible to know who is doing what, as even the voice is generally layered with processing, and some of the most obvious (spoken) vocalizations seem to be samples. (The short but evocative spoken or mumbled snippets are perhaps a bit suggestive of Landlocked Beach, discussed here in April 2018, there with more assertive speaking & more "glitch" electronics rather than layering: I probably wouldn't have mentioned it, though, if not for the Bay Area connection....) The layered approach to timbre does also allow for more simultaneity at times, but also solos, fitting together into a sort of collage atmosphere: But the sense of "program music" on Dire Warning is not derivative in that way, as it forges new sonic combos, and not only sequences or juxtapositions. (It doesn't have the feel of moving through other specific styles, say, as the "palindrome" series with Cline does. If anything, the new timbral combos & resulting trio style leave one wondering who is doing what, or even how many musicians are active....) Dire Warning is also only "program music" in a general sense, as the different track titles don't particularly align with specific musical imagery, but there's still an overall sense in which the storytelling is reflected in technical musical relations: Perhaps this is a new sort of North American fusion then? I know rather little of the music scene in New Mexico, but the stylistic results do seem to be of that place, including via starkness & as incorporating a surreal & sophisticated sort of Latin American drama into a rather polished & sometimes barren landscape.... So having forged this unique collective sound (around electronic processing), how might the Estamos Trio sound with a different thematic inspiration?15 February 2020
Creative Sources releases are seeming a little slow to appear of late — something to which the label had seemingly been immune, in the midst of its massive outpouring... — but Ernesto Rodrigues does continue to post his own work regularly on Bandcamp: In particular, the new string-focused quintet album Pentahedron, dating from CreativeFest XIII this past November, offers yet another collective interaction around a member of Red Trio: Bassist Hernâni Faustino had appeared elsewhere with Rodrigues, e.g. in Octopus on Mimus (as discussed here in January 2019), but he's much more a pole of the interaction on Pentahedron, to the point that I found myself spontaneously asking on first audition, "Wait, is that a bass solo?" In that sense, the music on Pentahedron is then rather more traditionally jazzy than e.g. that with the Lisbon String Trio (perhaps recalling some of the idioms from the first phase of Rodrigues' III Phases series, as coincidentally also noted here in January 2019) — such an impression being bolstered by the other musical pole on Pentahedron, Carlos Zingaro on violin. (Zingaro had of course already appeared with Rodrigues & LST on Theia, first discussed here in July 2018.... But the actual ensemble here, albeit around rather different formal investigations, is much more similar to the quintet with percussion around João Camões on Chant....) There's thus very much a sense of (e.g. FMP) tradition, as well as an investigation of momentum — including somewhat uncharacteristically around groove — more generally, via almost a world-weary working-through, (at times) pace some traffic figures & extended string timbres, especially from the middle of the texture. (There's also a sense of completion that arrives several minutes prior to the real close to the proceedings, resulting in a more timbrally transformative approach being engaged, nonetheless soon coming to reconfigure around momentum again, before fading to close.... One might thus speak of two tracks, although the total album length remains under half an hour....) And those middle textures are, in part, where Rodrigues has been so transformative in general, here with Guilherme Rodrigues (cello) as well, in addition to José Oliveira on percussion — the latter generally taking a more traditionally rhythmic "accent" approach, after being absent from the Creative Sources catalog for quite some time, especially relative to his early involvement (during which Oliveira appeared on the first three albums released by the label — & on the first five to include Ernesto Rodrigues himself). The result is that Pentahedron is relatively aggressive for much of its length, somewhat in keeping with e.g. the "concerto" style on Sediments with Gabriel Ferrandini on drums (as discussed here in December 2019), and certainly with the quasi-extroverted presentation on Rhetorica with Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano (as already discussed here in August 2019), such that it forms something of a set (i.e. around Red Trio) with those two (most recent, as it happens) LST issues. (That the participation of Faustino on bass would conflict with Alvaro Rosso of LST thus apparently figures this particular combination, although that's more about the way the bass specifically functions on Pentahedron: Generally adding another bassist to LST seems feasible to me, although it hasn't occurred....) Anyway, it doesn't seem that Pentahedron is especially innovative, at least compared to some of Rodrigues' other work, but it does make for an enjoyable, and presumably relatively approachable, release featuring more improvised string music in a virtuoso concert setting. Might it even be described as a crowd pleaser?1 March 2020
Turning to something a little — or a lot — different for this space, when I was spending some time with the five-way electroacoustic tapestries of Kangaroo Kitchen (discussed here in October 2019), I also came across Jason Kahn's Bandcamp site, and in particular the album Circle, which is a sort of distillation of blues figures for voice & guitar. It's far more earthy, one might say, than what I'd heard from Kahn — nominally a percussionist, but also very involved with electronics — elsewhere: There's no lyrics, but rather the various slurs & cadential figures that permeate blues singing, with a similar dose of canonical yet disassociated figures on guitar. It's not especially dense, but remains powerfully evocative throughout.... Besides being rather different from what I usually feature here, that album was also released back in 2018, and perhaps more surprisingly, already had multiple reviews by known writers in this space. So I didn't say much of anything, but Circle did pique my curiosity. Now, with Confront Recordings starting their own Bandcamp site with different, digital-only releases, Kahn immediately appears there too (alongside a solo album from Vasco Trilla), this time with Old and New Ghosts: There, Kahn doesn't vocalize, but rather adapts an old Stella 12-string acoustic guitar, an inexpensive instrument that came with alignment problems, for lap slide playing by using loose & heavy strings. The result, again, evokes the blues, which was Kahn's original plan, but the various modifications he's made to the guitar also give it a very contemporary edge. Again, the tracks are improvised in order at one session (just last month, January 2020) & without editing. And again, Kahn seems to have really captured something broadly important about music — and still without a hint of irony.2 March 2020
Moving on to a more traditional alignment — i.e. a classic horn trio around alto sax & clarinets — I also want to note Slips (released late last year, after being recorded live in Amsterdam in March 2019) on Michael Moore's Ramboy label: Joining Moore are then two other US expats, Barre Phillips & Gerry Hemingway, neither of whom needs any real introduction. (A comparable album from octogenarian Phillips that I particularly enjoyed in the past was 3 on a Thin Line with Harold Rubin on clarinet, first mentioned here in December 2013.... And Hemingway has appeared here with a variety of projects, starting from February 2012: The open textures of e.g. Bass Drum Bone also seem relevant to Slips.) I hadn't mentioned Moore (b.1954, Arcata CA) himself, but Bruce G @ DMG likes him, so I've noted his activity as well, and Slips is then the "improvised trio" release among a recent batch of divergent items from Moore — & so the most suitable here. Moore is known in part for his beautiful tone, and the track titles are apparently homages to Steve Lacy, amid what might be characterized as a sly or understated interaction overall. Perhaps coincidentally, Moore had also recently appeared fronting the Zlatko Kaucic Quintet on Morning Patches — an album I didn't discuss, but which did receive some end-of-year acclaim elsewhere — & the similarities between the two albums can readily be felt (pace the triple horn lineup on the quintet): Both are rather spacious, the quintet (recorded in a church) with more distance as well, versus the intimacy of the trio, and both exhibit a calm vibe (even when nominally noisy) amid very clear conceptions of line & rhythm. Slips is not particularly novel, then, but illustrates sophisticated technique & interaction, particularly between Moore & Phillips (one of the former's heroes, apparently). The duo interaction between Phillips & Hemingway can also be striking, i.e. when Moore drops out, but I also get less sense of direct chemistry between Moore & Hemingway within this generally leisurely paced interaction, during which everyone tends to be clearly audible at all times. (The result can sometimes seem soloistic, but mostly isn't.) There are then various synchronizations between the musicians, but no real groove or other specific process: There's an extended sense of melody — and perhaps even some Asian flavors at times around the ringing bass, in what remains an impressively controlled interaction, weaving between parts.... (There are also Moore's bird whistles, which are quite well controlled, but don't match well timbrally, in my opinion. Fortunately that aspect is brief....) In sum, Slips is basically an enjoyable album of original melodicism & rhythmic contextualization — and calmly modernist in orientation across its hour length.3 March 2020
Continuing with well-known improvisors, two more who need no introduction are Nate Wooley (b.1974) & Paul Lytton (b.1947): Their new album Known / Unknown, recorded in Düsseldorf in January 2018 (apparently on multiple dates, unspecified) & just released on Poland's Fundacja Sluchaj label, reprises their ongoing duo interaction in extended form.... Actually, although it seems as though they've released many albums, Known / Unknown is the first full duo release since Creak Above 33 on Psi (in 2010), following two Clean Feed albums for augmented ensembles, the double album (with guests) The Nows (released in 2012) & the quartet (doubling the trumpet-drums pairing) Live in Ljubljana (released in 2013). Most of that material dates to early in my project here, and so this will be my first discussion of the Lytton-Wooley duo: Although it's unclear why it waited two years for release, particularly if the musicians are especially proud of it (per accompanying comments), Known / Unknown is a quite extensive & exploratory album for this (rather canonical) instrumental pairing. A sense of extended "horn over landscape" is indeed elaborated beyond many previous examples, e.g. invoking some of Bill Dixon's work in that genre, as well as a broadly Cage-ian sense of background environment & calm. The full album can also be exhausting, such that I've been hearing the two long tracks separately: It's unclear if the first track title is supposed to signify musical interactions on which they've been working already, and the second a greater degree of experimentation, but perhaps that's the case. The variety of techniques involved, from both performers, is seemingly endless in either case, but the second track does appear to forge an even more alien world around electronics at times, plus also engaging a more fractured dialog (that I wouldn't really characterize as horn over landscape). The sense of breath is likewise greatly extended via percussive rumblings (& electronics), e.g. starting that second track by invoking a heartbeat — even if continuity is not generally the point.... The level of detail may be the point, though, as the musicians go on to engage a variety of rubbed tones, creaking, popping, sampling, skittering, novel percussive timbres including bending metal... all tending to concentrate senses of time in the moment. (The first track could almost be a Cage Number Piece, especially for percussion, albeit augmented by legato....) And all that concentration doesn't necessarily produce a sense of tautness — with the "landscape" image (that dominates especially the first track) suggesting feelings of repose. As the landscape description also suggests, the result usually maintains a sense of distance as well, and so is generally much quieter than e.g. the very immersive Sawt Out — another extended exhibition of trumpet & percussion across a wide variety of timbral techniques — even as the latter doesn't "officially" use electronics, as does Known / Unknown, but rather a variety of close (i.e. "lowercase") mic'ing. (The untitled third, or pendant, track on Known / Unknown does appear to concentrate the interaction into a closer dialog with more presence, and comes off as significantly more assertive, although aggression can be found elsewhere as well....) So whereas the horn & percussion combination is as traditional as it gets, Lytton & Wooley are more inclined to "spaciness" than primitivism per se, and indeed the inclusion of electronics (or "amplifier" as Wooley has been credited in the past, i.e. not so unlike mic'ing per se) does temper reactions a bit, in terms of technical mediation of a classic pairing: There's more a sense of interrogating audibility (& perhaps even a bit of the vibe of Sîn, albeit via very different resources), and perhaps a sort of post-AMM (or likely, parallel development) sensibility.... And as this somewhat rambling discussion also suggests, even after spending some extended time with Known / Unknown, I'm not so sure about its "use" or rhetorical point — other than exploration per se — but beyond a variety of intriguing small-scale happenings, it can also provide some affective transformation (perhaps best experienced track by track). Of course, that the result is so impressively varied in its details across a very broad & sometimes distended tapestry only confirms the unique mastery of these two improvising musicians, and in turn the ways in which they continue to push themselves in their duo project together.... (And, even as a duo, this is the most compelling actual 2020 release so far for me....)
And since I'm discussing yet another significant album on Sluchaj, I should also note the 2020 release Live in Munich 2019 by Sestetto Internazionale (apparently their second album after Aural Vertigo, recorded in Finland in 2015): The sextet, formed by Harri Sjöström, often projects a classical vibe, especially around its trio of soprano instruments. (It thus recalls recently articulated thoughts about Evan Parker here — e.g. around Inferences, also on Sluchaj, as discussed last September — with his focus on continuity specifically in the top line itself generating fuller textures....) Other instruments — including e.g. Achim Kaufmann's piano — provide a rumbling foundation at times, but also participate in melodious high counterpoint, which continues to be the focus of interest. (Both the focus on higher parts & the particular, sophisticated contrapuntal continuity suggest classical music....) Although Live in Munich 2019 can be a bit noisy at times too, it's thus generally pretty music & so also recalls e.g. Alison Blunt's participation in some chamber albums from Paul Dunmall.... (There are also three different duo tracks to go with the three sextet tracks, the first of the latter being meaty & album-length by itself....) So finally, why Sluchaj? I don't know the answer, particularly around how their economics work, but their online accessibility is nice for the listener, and their catalog increasingly encompasses some very avant garde projects from around the world, and in rather different styles too: Well done by them!5 March 2020
Only recently noticed (due to reading a review of another album) was Dawá, a "trumpet trio" album released late last year by Chicago's Amalgam Music: Dawá features visiting French trumpeter Timothée Quost with the Chicago rhythm team of Ishmael Ali on cello & guitar, and Bill Harris (who runs Amalgam Music) on drums — with all three musicians credited with electronics as well. And the result of the latter is a broad timbral palette, buoying various extended techniques into a variety of new combos, in addition to some more typical horn trio dynamics.... I'd mentioned Quost back in April 2018 as part of the quintet Escargot around the album Dart Love (the band & album names being reversed there, as I'd suggested might be the case at the time) — a discussion that particularly emphasized percussionist Camille Émaille, especially since Dart Love is such a broadly ranging album of so many strange sounds & interactions. There, as one of two horns, Quost is also credited with no input mixer, reflecting the sort of "pinched" quality he also brings to the trumpet, but the result is otherwise difficult to summarize.... (The mixer parallels, to some degree, e.g. Live at Ftarri, albeit there with sustained four-way polyphony as well, and indeed Quost — along with Tom Malmendier of Escargot — has already appeared on Raw Tonk with Quam!, as also recorded in 2017: That's another album of general scuffling & bending, perhaps with a hint of rock aura, that didn't really jump out.... Quost also has an environmentally-tinged solo release Before Zero Crossing out of Copenhagen....) In any case, Dawá — recorded in April 2019 — is quite striking to open, with Quost's daring & unusual trumpet technique making quite a splash against the novelty (for me anyway, as they were entirely unknown previously) of this rhythm team & in turn electronics. There's eventually more in the way of ostinato & groove, including with (simultaneous) variations of speed via fast clicking, etc. & so (perhaps) a general sense of multiple temporalities.... Meanwhile, bowed cello can give way to plucked guitar (& possibly electric bass, or perhaps that's a combo with electronics?), further varying the basic sound — which continues to vary throughout, including into some sort of strange lurching & noisy composite toward the end, and indeed after moving through some more typical jazz interactions. (The developing momentum & more aggressive three-way interactions thus differentiates it from the vaguely similar, but generally quieter, technical explorations of Known / Unknown, as discussed here last week.... There's still much timbral novelty to Dawá, though.) So the result tends to be quite busy — perhaps also with a bit of rock feel coming through by the end as well — but in ultimately what seems like a thoroughly free jazz format & with a healthy dose of contemporary creativity emerging around Quost's extended trumpet virtuosity: These are musicians to hear.9 March 2020
Another recent release featuring electronics even more heavily is the duo Elective Affinities — out on Infrequent Seams, and listed there as a November release, but still as a pre-release as I write.... Release date aside, Elective Affinities is from the duo of Andrea Parkins (accordion, objects, electronics) & Matthew Ostrowski (electronics), but doesn't give recording dates either: Elsewhere it's noted that they've been collaborating for two decades, and that sophistication does show in the result, but with no dates noted, perhaps some or all of the eight tracks were recorded a while ago? I might assume the recording is more recent, but its most obvious comparison is with Triplicates (discussed here in July 2019), a duo album from cousin Zeena Parkins (harp) with electronics (there, Jon Leidecker), & an album actually recorded in 2014, but not released until last year.... And the comparison is indeed striking, although Triplicates is generally slower moving & with more noticeable sense of melody at times. There's a hint of vocal sampling or synthesis involved at times on both, though, more obviously & extensively on Elective Affinities: As opposed to the general decay of harp attack, the latter is also inherently more sustained around accordion, and appears to feature percussion as well, sounding of hollow wood & later metal.... (One might also compare to e.g. Interfaces from Jeff Morris, as discussed here in October 2018, likewise showing a sophisticated cut-up technique, there around Karl Berger's piano — which remains rather directly audible most of the time — as well as a "pure" live sampling approach explicitly forgoing synthesis per se....) Both can be noisy albums, especially Elective Affinities, and the duo's decades of experience together apparently brings some quite aggressive intensity: It can also bring an industrial vibe via deep rumbling, various zapping & ticking, swells & glissandi... alarms, and then the vocal sampling (or deliberately awkward synthesis à la the speaking guitar?) that ends up being relatively tedious in my opinion. However, other combos are impressive, beginning from the first track. Of course, the natural accordion reference for this space is Pauline Oliveros, and e.g. the imposing triple album Phase/transitions (released, moreover, in 2014) — itself employing elaborate electronic mediation & response. (Perhaps the accordion is especially conducive to such a thing since it sounds something like an old synth anyway? And somewhat to my surprise, I hadn't really mentioned Parkins here yet, but she's been involved in numerous jazz projects, including with Ellery Eskelin.) Some titles on the two albums also offer similar invocations or provocations, so perhaps there's a direct inspiration.... In any case, accordion is generally less discernible as such on Elective Affinities, making for a rather thorough (electronic) reworking around various register changes, "cuts" etc.11 March 2020
I'd been anticipating new Creative Sources releases (of the non-Rodrigues sort, that is) for a while now, and some have indeed made their way through the craziness to me: In particular, Compassion & Evidence, recorded in Oakland in February 2018, presents a wonderfully disorientating electro-acoustic interaction from a quartet of Dominic Cramp (lyre), Mike Khoury (viola), Philip Greenlief (tenor saxophone & Bb clarinet) & Gino Robair (electronics). I'd first mentioned Robair — whose contributions to the album are among the least clear — here with the Apophonics in November 2013, and most recently with Blasphemious Fragments in December 2019, both of those albums involving John Butcher.... And although I haven't featured him here much — but perhaps most prominently with Animals & Giraffes & Landlocked Beach, first discussed in April 2018, and recalled just last month — Greenlief is perhaps the best-known participant: Although his horns tend to be creaky & atmospheric, more as part of the background texture (at least until the short, final track), they're usually audible as such. (Let me also mention Greenlief's recent duo album with Susan Alcorn on pedal steel, Prism Mirror Lens, released last November. That album starts with some intriguing counterpoint, but mostly focuses on more tuneful & even moody tapestries, sparsely sophisticated & generally mellow or melancholy: Some of those same emotional interrogations do haunt Compassion & Evidence as well... but are sharpened over the course of Prism Mirror Lens.) Joining Robair & Greenlief — two stalwarts of Bay Area improvisation — are two other musicians with whom I wasn't familiar: Khoury (b.1969) had been associated with the Detroit scene, plus e.g. some albums on Calgary's Bug Incision, and is apparently a trained economist as well, bringing a sense of behavioral science to the proceedings — actualized here on viola, which likewise tends to be audible as such, even as its sonic grain can be highly manipulated. Finally, there is Cramp — whose name does come first in the credits — listed only on lyra, which is only sometimes discernible. (Is it lyra sounding like staccato piano in the short first track, for instance?) Since Cramp, who performs more popular music under pseudonyms, is generally known for his electronic sampling & development of plunderphonics, perhaps he's using electronics as well? (The transformations of texture sometimes seem so acute that it almost seems as though at least two electronic poles must be involved.... And there is indeed sampling, with sampled voices even dominating the texture at some points.) The degree of electronic haze & distortion is immediately striking, to the point that the background of the album often seems noisy — but not with heavy metal-style feedback distortion, but something more engulfing & twisted. Somehow the result is both murky & highly present, evoking a yearning for timbral clarity that largely remains unfulfilled, as timbral shifts & their electronic mediation remain prominent. In fact, this "lack" of timbral precision can be found e.g. on Braxton's 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 via SuperCollider, and the sets with Erica Dicker on violin in particular have some definite sonic similarities. (No specific software is credited on Compassion & Evidence, though, and its unclear what might be automated — perhaps nothing.) Braxton presents more a play of melodies, but a similar sort of engulfing & timbral ambivalence.... The overall sound of Compassion & Evidence is not really "industrial" then — although some inputs project that character — but something more novel: Indeed, the track titles evoke "first philosophy" — Parmenides, I believe, but the web ended up being (surprisingly &) woefully inadequate at letting me confirm that — such that the entire production suggests rethinking musical articulation & interaction in fundamental ways. (And the production credits here are also not the usual Creative Sources staff, so apparently the album & its media were put together prior to that association....) The resulting sound is at times bright & spacey — the latter not according to e.g. 1960s clichés — but also not primal, as it projects a sort of varying or adjustable "twang" as noise (& indeed sonic mediation), evoking something timbrally "beyond" yet balanced. While the opening is quite striking — including pace the desire for clarity — the longer tracks do involve more in the way of static or repetitive material, the second interrogating shifting drones & glissandi eventually into a sort of quirky groove, while the third (yet more than twice as long) eventually moves through eerie windswept landscapes into a sense of desolation largely animated by white noise & strange vocal samplings, suggesting a sort of hovering above humanity: These results, including via their manipulation of timbral grain, are also rather suggestive of another recent favorite, Music for Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinets & Electronics with its eventual sense of "radio" etc. — although the latter never engages the sort of twisting inversions of timbre & texture that animate Compassion & Evidence. (I should also note, after having started to use the term "distant radio transmission" following a Roscoe Mitchell track, that Mitchell himself has just released a composed reworking of that same material, under that title....) Sometimes it feels as if one is listening underwater, and so the sense of immersion here tends to be rather distinct from that conjured by e.g. Sitsa or Coluro, two other Creative Sources albums interrogating distinctive timbral soundscapes electro-acoustically, there focusing more on extremes & "coordinate" spanning (& relative clarity). So although there are moments of seeming inactivity on Compassion & Evidence, a lot also happens over the course of its four tracks of four-way interaction: Timbral boundaries are consistently transgressed, leading to sensory inversion (& so disorientation) as well, but never in a relentless or even particularly aggressive way. For all its novelty, the pace thus feels natural. And whereas attention is often required to appreciate the music, the music sometimes generates energy for the listener in turn. So in a time of great agitation, Compassion & Evidence comes to evoke a different world, a world not so much new as previously unnoticed & untraced.30 March 2020
Moving to another recent Creative Sources release, Live at Zoom In is a duo album between Frantz Loriot (viola) & Theresa Wong (cello & voice) recorded in Bern in October 2017. It's a single relatively short track, under forty minutes, but presents a wonderful variety of impressive contemporary string technique, both individually & in concert. Of course, I first noted Loriot here with Baloni back in January 2012, and have followed his work since, most recently (as discussed in July 2019) his appearances with Daniel Studer, but also his work with the Natura morta trio — most recently around their fourth album, Environ (discussed here in April 2017). There I noted Loriot's fast virtuoso passages & wondered who could keep up: The answer is apparently Wong, another Bay Area musician whom I hadn't noticed previously. (However, Wong has an album of songs on Tzadik, as well as recordings with Frith, Bruckmann, Robair — pace the previous entry — & Butcher....) Whereas the opening featuring voice almost seems like a trio, Live at Zoom In generally focuses on close duets, particularly matching harmonics in the higher ranges for quick exchanges & correspondences, but also a variety of skittering & novel pizzicati, and even an entire range of narrow or broad vibrato or pitch bending (as eventually evoking Asian string technique & beyond)... percussive crackling, ultra-fast staccato, creaking, fast surges, drone glissandi.... A sort of coming & going is evoked, such that attention might shift more to one instrument (as pole), but there aren't really solos. And the sheer speed & volume of fast figures, moreover, makes Live at Zoom In into a rather long album perceptually — including via organic transitions & an intricate sense of becoming that never really arrives.... Both string players are indeed amazing for their technical control & precision in extreme positions, such that any aggressiveness tends to be found in micro-gestures. (In fact, seemingly magical figures & combos start to sound routinely easy after a while. The sheer technical exhibition can thus be compared to e.g. Udo Schindler, as e.g. remarked here around Mycelial Studies last August....) Individual acoustic string technique doesn't get more impressive than this, but the duet interactions do make the album.
Moving on, I also want to note another recent string duo release, Know More Knowledge by Treesearch (Keir GoGwilt & Kyle Motl, on violin & bass respectively, rather than viola & cello): That album, on 577 Records, is far more layered in its approach than Live at Zoom In, which tends to meet in the same register, and also more generally melodic & jazzy around its own (developing) style of virtuoso string playing.... Lab H Tapes is then another new Creative Sources release, featuring Rieko Okuda (piano & viola), Antti Virtaranta (double bass) & Girilal Baars (voice & hurdy-gurdy). The credits are actually different for the two tracks, though, as the first features piano & voice (around bass) exclusively, and the second only the three strings: The first has its moments, but doesn't really speak to me (despite the voice credit having originally attracted me), while the second revives the string theme, there with various scraping drones & overtone accents in another intriguing (& sometimes percussive) timbral array.... Finally, returning to Wong — within this rather far-flung (supplementary) paragraph — I also want to note Crossing A River By Rope, recorded in Yunnan (China) in July 2017 & released on Wong's Fo'c'sle Music label in 2018, by a quintet of Wong & another US musician (John McCowen) with three Chinese performers (Lao Dan, Li Xing & Deng Boyu): This is improvised music, and rather fascinating too, especially to start (although they do seem to fall into more ordinary collaborative patterns as they proceed). The Chinese musicians are said to form a rock band, but the music doesn't sound anything like rock: Bamboo flute & homemade percussion are prominent, for instance, plus more string bending. (It's a relatively easy album after the initial surprise.) Anyway, Wong is someone to know (with likely more from some others named here to appear soon as well).31 March 2020
Likewise not only from Portugal, but involving the Bay Area (& electronics again this time) is The Private Sector, the latest album (recorded in October 2018 & March 2019 across Philadelphia, Oakland & Tijuana) by the trio "Toned" — Tom Weeks (saxophone), Nathan Corder (electronics) & Leo Suarez (drums). I was attracted to The Private Sector partly as a followup to last year's Monopiece + Blonk, also on Shhpuma & involving Corder. (Perhaps I should note that Corder has also appeared on Amalgam Music, pace last month's discussion of Dawá....) But I didn't know that Toned already had an entire series of albums on their Bandcamp site, including both Cancelled (recorded across August & September 2018, and described as their debut, also released in 2018) & Four on the Top Floor (recorded in Philadelphia in October 2018, perhaps also on multiple dates) featuring Jack Wright to form a quartet (& released on cassette in 2019). Plus there are four live albums of varying lengths, recorded during this same time period.... Four on the Top Floor is actually probably the most striking to me, in part because of Wright (who is unusually on keyboard at times), but it also keeps to more traditional textures & interactions (at least relatively speaking), albeit generally at breakneck pace (per e.g. Never). But The Private Sector does also feature fancier graphics & first-rate production, and indeed generally shorter tracks than these other albums, presumably so as to sample a variety of the trio's interactions. And variety is something that they certainly do have, not only traversing a range of musical styles, but various instrumental techniques as well: At times, it seems as though Weeks & Suarez form a rather traditionally minded (or even primitivist) horn & drums duo, including aggressive & tonally varied material from both, but they also move far into extended technique at times, including various sparse textures. (I also learned that Weeks has a duo with Camille Émaille, the latter recalled here just a few weeks ago, named Ghoasts: It tends to emphasize the quiet, scuffling side.) Similarly, Corder's contribution varies considerably, from "filling" the horn-drums duo as a traditional third member — whether acting as bass or keyboard — to turning to a broad range of cuts, samples & other deconstruction. The albums in general thus span a wide range of interactions, such that The Private Sector doesn't seem particularly novel within Toned's output, although it does mark an entry into more prominent distribution.... It also involves audience cheering already in the first track, repetitive metallic clangs, various quirky grooves and/or hockets, the "distant radio transmission" style again, variations on industrial distortion, robotic voices, sampled rain (& even thunder on the Florida set), pointless chatter, even "cool" repose in some moments.... (And I should note the "distant radio" style as originating in the Bay Area: Given the current virus, I suppose I'm temporarily excused from getting out in person to support people, but once again I want to reiterate a desire to be more social... bad timing on my part for such an urge. Anyway, I haven't actually heard these guys live, even though I probably could have & should have....) The result isn't so much collage, then, as it is deconstruction — "some kind of punk-jazz" in Clean Feed's terms — as its endless changes in technique & interaction are inspired by other styles, but without really reproducing them. One might suggest rather that it mutates styles or even turns them inside-out.... (Monopiece + Blonk is indeed similar in many ways — including e.g. in its number of tracks — but is less "busy" without the horn. The other Monopiece members are also credited here, apparently as samples were used....) So the resulting style still seems to be developing rapidly at this point, and while not ultimately distinctive to me as an overall statement, The Private Sector does suggest far more to come from this multi-faceted trio. And Toned isn't always confrontational or aggressive, but that seems to be its most basic orientation....2 April 2020
Continuing with new releases involving electronics, Sway Prototypes, Vol. 3 from Carl Testa is perhaps even more centered in that space, or at least in software, as Testa's "Sway" system is designed to respond to "any number of performers" in real time. In this, it's clearly similar to Anthony Braxton's work with SuperCollider, e.g. for Diamond Curtain Wall Music, and indeed Sway is programmed in SuperCollider. I'd first noted Testa in this space with Tyshawn Sorey's massive Pillars (discussed in October 2018), but then noticed the first two Sway Prototypes albums when working on the long Braxton discussion — including of 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 — appearing here in July 2019. I decided to wait for a possible discussion of Sway Prototypes at the time, since mixing such a discussion with that of Braxton's music didn't seem fair in either direction, but then glowing reviews appeared elsewhere.... So I decided to wait, and now Sway Prototypes, Vol. 3 does seem well-timed for a discussion: In particular, all three volumes involve two different sets, the first two volumes revolving around first a quintet (in the first, shortest track) & then a stable sextet, also employed for the second track on the third volume, "Midst." The second volume also included a solo bass track from Testa, but otherwise the third is the first to use a new cast, with the opening track "Shroud" having been recorded in Chicago in January 2019, & featuring a trio of Chicago musicians on reeds & violin alongside Anne Rhodes (voice) & Testa (bass & electronics). That track is thus the first attempt at an "ad hoc" ensemble performing with Sway, and involves negotiating a range of Chicago "free jazz" style. The second track (recorded in Maine in September 2019) is what prompted me to join the discussion, though, as Testa's work with his sextet continues to advance in sophistication, here involving snippets of composed material at various points as well — not unlike Braxton with DCWM. (Besides Rhodes, who is absent from the first track of the first volume, the other musicians joining Testa for most of this material so far are Erica Dicker on violin, Junko Fujiwara on cello, Louis Guarino Jr. on trumpet & Andria Nicodemou on vibraphone: Of course, Dicker & Rhodes have appeared with Braxton in similar settings, including the former spectacularly on the massive 12 Duets set, while I recall both Fujiwara & Nicodemou from Joe Morris projects....) And perhaps the Braxton reference is too obvious, because Testa doesn't mention it: In fact, he compares his system to both Pauline Oliveros's Expanded Instrument System (as employed on e.g. the massive Phase/transitions set) & George Lewis's Voyager (as mentioned here in February 2019). That said, the most obvious difference from e.g. the 12 Duets is that Testa is employing a sextet alongside Sway, such that far more places & possibilities for electronic mediation are involved. And by the second track on Sway Prototypes, Vol. 3, the possibilities do appear to be limitless, as it seems to generate almost a seething surplus of ideas.... And from that perspective, the "prototype" title does remain apt, as the swirling tapestries & movements through a variety of instrumental emphases don't yield much of an overall message or indeed affective consistency. Moods seem to be particularly fleeting or contingent.... (In contrast, while the recently discussed Compassion & Evidence can seem rather less ambitious, even sparse at times, it does project more specific affective messages, including via cuts & samples, leaving one feeling more transformed than merely dazzled....) The choice of sextet itself is worth noting, though, as especially after the more conventional Chicago set, the contrasting timbres of trumpet & vibraphone are quite welcome — as voice & violin do maintain (sometimes in the center, but never dominating). The electronics then serve as something of an envelope for the proceedings, rather than as more specific interventions (although they're built up from specificity), with nothing ever feeling quite free: In fact, Sway appears to be basically a "disciplinary" system, acting to bring the musicians back toward other (parameterized) spaces after they "stray" too long. This aspect is particularly stark on Testa's solo track on the second volume, as he seems almost to be "navigating" the system at times, i.e. trying not to activate its interventions. The result is then not only timbral mediation — which can be fascinating, again akin to Braxton on 12 Duets — but conceptual mediation, basically keeping everyone from becoming "obsessed" with any particular sort of expression (or, perhaps, normalizing expression inelastically). At this point, it's probably also worth noting that the first track of the first volume was only recorded in September 2017, so these sets also span "only" two years of practical performance... i.e. they remain prototypes, but do move forward. And the music is already exciting to hear, again with a surplus of ideas, so it'll be interesting to hear Testa refine this project into more specific artistic statements.6 April 2020
Continuing with some more music from the US, & once again on a European label, I want to note a new trio album on Confront Digital (after Old and New Ghosts, as discussed here last month), In This Failing Light by Kyle Motl (double bass), Patrick Shiroishi (saxophones) & T.J. Borden (cello): I'd first mentioned Motl with the Peter Kuhn Trio & Intention (discussed March 2018), and again a week ago with the melodious string duo album Know More Knowledge, but hadn't mentioned Shiroishi or Borden. Borden is totally new to me — & impressive technically e.g. in high harmonics, not unlike Theresa Wong, also from last week — but Shiroishi (b.1987) already had two solo albums on Confront, as well as having appeared on FMR, Creative Sources (with a rather traditional quintet for that label), and Astral Spirits.... (Last year's Astral Spirits release Borasisi with Vinny Golia & two drummers is well worth hearing too, also from California-based performers, there in something of a primitivist dialog....) In This Failing Light was recorded in San Diego in May 2019, and so provides a slice of Southern California improvisation (as opposed to the Northern California items noted here last week, the two locales indeed sometimes feeling like different states, if not different countries...), here in a mode not of clearly distinct roles, but of timbral correspondences & blending: Shiroishi often brings a rock vibe elsewhere, but his central role in this trio involves various overlapping & intertwining of lines — not unlike Tony Malaby on New Artifacts (first discussed here in April 2017), but less melodically rhetorical. In This Failing Light also tends to be more consistently active, i.e. tighter in its texture & coordination — despite being noted as a first meeting — & so perhaps more akin to Ernesto Rodrigues' various work matching strings & horn. (Mycelial Studies, as discussed here last August to open this rebooted page, is one recent example of a similar two strings & horn trio in that direction... although sometimes more deliberate.) In any case, the Southern California trio — & are there really any prominent labels these days specializing in West Coast music? — tends to present a unified surface across a variety of technical explorations. (The recorded sound, by Motl, is also quite clear & spacious.) Quick exchanges & chirping figures animate a broadly swirling texture of relatively undifferentiated activity, pizzicato & quick bow strikes fading into & out of squeals, whistles, pops, deep rumbles & creaking... sometimes suggesting spectral waves & their dynamic shaping, but without extended lines or long-form continuity. At "only" three quarters of an hour, the dense interplay also projects an extended sense of time, making for what seems like a much longer album. Still, there's much to enjoy & (perhaps) to articulate differently in a new setting.7 April 2020
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