Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts

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 <>
3 August 2019

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


To favorite recordings list.

To early music remarks.

© 2010-19 Todd M. McComb