It's time, once again, to restart this page, moving the prior year or so of entries to another page & writing a new introduction here.... There's plenty to read in previous introductions, if desired, so I'm going to keep this version brief. And as usual, this page is in chronological order, so please scroll to the bottom for the latest entries.
In the prior intro, I'd also suggested that there'd probably be a lull in releases, but I don't know that that's really materialized — not yet anyway. Musicians are certainly impacted, some quite seriously I'm sure, but recorded albums have actually taken up part of the slack (from concerts), and between that dynamic and the proliferation of self-publishing online, I've really had no shortage of items to hear. Indeed, I wonder if some intriguing items would've (ever or yet) seen the light of day, absent the disruption. Still, though, the lesser public interaction will surely be felt in the music, at least as a ripple, because there's simply less (artistic) input.... I've felt this myself, in terms of focusing my own discussions, i.e. without much public conversation. But I've also managed to continue a bit of "joint listening," even as my musical contexts have surely shrunk in the past year & a half: Mostly I just sit at home by myself listening to (these) albums, though, and I'm starting to feel a little too wrapped up in my own thoughts. Still, I guess I've been finding some things to say here, and so hopefully that can continue....
And I do try to restrict myself to entries where I feel I have something to say.... Of course, that's subjective, but I've slowed the pace a bit, instead of always noting the various albums — that I do continue to hear — that musicians I've followed have released: In that, I'm trying not to get too caught up with my own historical baggage, so to speak. People reading this page probably already have a feel for relevance, but I also think it's worthwhile to continue asking: Does this project contribute anything to the world? That might be harder to answer, more specifically, at least from my vantage point, but the relevance of new music does seem clear to me: It's about new worlds, new kinds of thoughts, new (human) interactions.... It's in some ways about making sense of our constantly changing world. (And so I've written longer theory tracts here too, such as Practical listening & Postmodern Aesthetics. And since then I've turned to another developing "thoughts" series, starting in 2020, Decolonizing Tech....) Sometimes I try to make sense here too.
So questions around the future of music venues & public performance are somewhat outside the scope, but hopefully there's value in discussing new music performances on recording here. There's also an enormous variety, so the project almost becomes a giant "sorting" operation, i.e. selecting releases to discuss or to feature more extensively.... And of course, my choices end up being conditioned by my background, etc. I mean, I try to hear everything fresh, but it's just not possible — there's always a history. (And in this, "jazz" continues to suggest an awareness of social contours, e.g. of the ways the pandemic falls hardest on the usual suspects, those always bearing the heaviest social burdens... as if a reminder was needed.) Sometimes I even feel as though I'm "caught up" & have a sense of what people are doing — but soon realize, once again, that so many of my ideas are contingent on what I'd already heard, and the order in which I'd heard it, etc. (I mean, I might be featuring different musicians if I'd heard them before the musicians I did hear.... That's the kernel of contingency. Or even questions of albums featuring one musician heard out of order....) But my preference for trios, quartets... "medium" ensembles, where everyone can be heard, but with the necessity of interacting more broadly & being challenged... is not contingent (or at least not on music). And I think I'll start using the term "trajectory" around this basic notion (of historical inclination...).
In any case, for much less discussion, there's also my compact & straightforward list of favorites, arranged chronologically. (It could thus be said to sediment my trajectory in this space....) And thank you for your (continuing) interest!Todd M. McComb <firstname.lastname@example.org>
And I'm going to begin the reviews for this month with an older recording from July 2014, just released: Play as you go documents the trio of Joëlle Léandre (contrabass, voice), George Lewis (laptop electronics, trombone) & the late Pauline Oliveros (Roland Button v-accordion) at the "VS. Interpretation" Festival in Prague. Why it took so long to appear, I don't know, because it's an immediately striking performance, one that quickly appears to be making waves, but a handful of performances by Oliveros have been appearing over the past few years.... This isn't a reissue (at least not per the usual sources), though, and is certainly the most exciting such issue thus far for me. And Oliveros is centered (physically) in the performance, but it was Léandre who worked (per the included notes) to release the album. Indeed, the latter had performed with both Oliveros & Lewis since the 1980s, and so functions as something of a "hinge" for this performance. (There's no mention of Lewis & Oliveros performing together previously, but no assertion that they hadn't either.) Moreover, the bass is the "straight" instrument in the trio, sometimes featured (almost always in arco, although occasionally percussive...) more clearly within what can be a murky & mysterious sound world generated by Lewis on laptop & Oliveros on v-accordion: I'm not entirely sure of the capabilities of the latter (which surely include sound fonts, or whatever they call them in that world...), and of course the laptop could be sampling & manipulating anything — such that Lewis appears to be sampling & smoothing prerecorded low growls & vocalizations from the very start (while adding "new" trombone only later?), and I believe it's Oliveros employing piano-style attacks early (& perhaps e.g. "chimes" later...). (There's also a video on Vimeo, that I only "discovered" from the Free Jazz Blog review appearing after I'd gathered most of my notes here, but staring attentively at a computer screen isn't really my thing, and casual inspection for visual cues as to who is doing what was challenging.) In any case, especially if one doesn't start "worrying" about who is making what sound, the overall tapestry becomes magical rather quickly, perhaps with some fits & starts after establishing sky high expectations, but ultimately moving through various unique combos & expressions. One might then characterize the interactions as also around the bass in the sense that both Lewis & Oliveros emphasize bass range as well, such that one can even speak of a sort of confluence of growls at times, especially into the flowing three-way wave toward the end... There's thus a sort of foreboding texture, including at least one huge dissonant swell, but ongoing attention to detail reveals many lighter moments, a real effusion of joy beneath the novel sound.... (The sound quality is also excellent: It's some of the best recorded bass tone I've heard from Léandre, and there's a great feeling for space. In other words, there's no lack of sonic clarity here, other than that generated intentionally by the performers mingling their sound productions. They've also omitted what I assume to have been thunderous concluding applause, which I appreciate, as this performance leaves a considerable wake if left to end in silence....) One might then speak of "locale" effects, forged especially between the two "electronics" players, i.e. a sense of little worlds that are visited. But as opposed to the "travelogue" style, there's not as much of a sense of sequence or linearity, or more to the point, senses of time multiply, especially with memory: Particularly with the prominent accordion as well, one could thus speak of "gradients" & so Braxton's massive 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 set (which involves a much larger group, and presumably significantly more planning...), but the sound world around Léandre that is actually most consistently evoked for me is that of MMM Quartet, particularly the sampling & the mysterious underlying texture. (Oliveros was also at Mills College, so this relation makes plenty of sense.) Then, whereas Curran (& Frith?) is involving various e.g. vocal samples for MMM, Lewis comes to construct a kind of polyphony out of voices... involving sampling (including of Léandre?), Léandre live at times (but quieter than sometimes), Lewis's own voice (I think it must be?) & then blurring into trombone growls too. (And then, guess what, Oliveros has a vocal font as well!) There are hints of jazz or noir idioms. Yet there's also a strange coherence that's rarely (& only ever intentionally...) "too much" — so I won't attempt to step through the various interactions, which do continue to reveal themselves. (And I should probably also note that 2014 was the year that Oliveros released the massive Phase/transitions set. And that, in ignorance of this performance, I'd reviewed Léandre with accordionist Pascal Contet on the duo album Area Sismica — from a performance recorded in 2019 — last September, stating that accordion made a perfect foil for her bass...!) But at this point, though, I should probably conclude this discussion & simply let Play as you go — the inspired work of three musicians at the top of their field — speak (or sound) for itself.14 September 2021
Moving to less established performers, I've been intrigued by the enigmatic Tripticks Tapes label, starting with a double review here in June, and so want to note their new quartet release Death in the Gilded Age, recorded in Upstate New York in February 2021. (Perhaps I should also state that I think that cassettes are silly. I won't be playing any. But with digital releases, there's no need....) Death in the Gilded Age is then a new sort of "string quartet" formed by Joanna Mattrey (viola) with Gabby Fluke-Mogul (violin), Matteo Liberatore (acoustic guitar) & Ava Mendoza (electric guitar). And I'd heard both Mattrey & Mendoza in a handful of (different) productions originating in New York (Downtown scene), while I'd recently heard Fluke-Mogul (again) on the intriguing Non-Dweller, a "friction" trio album (also with koto) around Bay Area percussionist Jacob Felix Heule, as released on his Humbler Records.... (Liberatore was new to me, though.) But then the "obvious" reference here was SETT: First and Second & its similar ensemble — in that case, all acoustic, and with double bass instead of violin. And while the latter is generally quieter, more naturalistic & ultimately abstract, Death in the Gilded Age involves considerable contrapuntal invention as well, amid its active (punk-infused) textures. It's generally aggressive & highly present, suggesting more than a bit of doom, as the title already suggests, but the elements of rock idiom are also relatively suffused, taking a while to bubble to attention, within what can be a very broad & shifting texture. (There's an element of "cityscape" here as well.) Like SETT, their quartet interactions tend to be quite close too, exchanging quick figures & more fragmentary affects, including material moving at different speeds.... Some "procedural" passages come to seem relatively static, though, even suggesting a bit of the "song" form at times. (And actually, the active & shifting string textures can suggest a bit of e.g. Oliveros' accordion per the prior entry, including swells & variations in attack....) Maybe a hint of Sephardic music drifts through as well.... So, Death in the Gilded Age does involve a wealth of ideas (including some melodic implications), often densely articulated, along with a sort of grimness... but can also lack some affective clarity (or detail) overall. Will this novel (particularly for the US) quartet become an ongoing project? There's already much to appreciate about their frequently jagged & dark sound combinations....15 September 2021
Then as digital releases continue to multiply, 577 Records — currently celebrating its 20 year anniversary — is one of the labels that's been greatly expanding its offerings, including a wide variety of music by very different performers. And they've clearly become one of the most prolific sources over the past year or more, especially including from Europe, branching out from their prior New York City orientation, while also continuing an emphasis on various items attuned more to US jazz traditions.... But I was still surprised to find a particularly potent mix in the soon to appear At Kühlspot, recorded in Berlin in August 2020 by the Takatsuki Trio Quartett & Silke Eberhard: I'd largely associated the latter with more mainstream productions, and indeed she was awarded Jazzpreis Berlin shortly before this set was recorded, but the Takatsuki Trio Quartett includes roots in more experimental music. So I also want(ed) to note their other recent release on 577 Records (Orbit series), Berliner Quartette, recorded (also in Berlin during the same residency) in June & September of 2020 (& releasing in October...), one track each with Tobias Delius & Axel Dörner. And that's the "trio quartet" concept, three musicians — Rieko Okuda (piano, voice), Antti Virtaranta (double bass), Joshua Weitzel (guitar, shamisen) — performing exclusively as a quartet with different guests (who, to this point, appear to be all horn players). It's not a new concept, of course: The Lisbon String Trio was featured here often (starting from July 2017, although they did release a trio album, Proletariat, too...), while there's also e.g. the Core Trio (their Featuring Matthew Shipp being first noted here in June 2014...). Anyway, the set with Eberhard (alto sax) released as At Kühlspot is then the middle of three appearing around the same time, and is actually only a handful of minutes longer than the track with Dörner (while the Delius set is under 15 minutes), but I can certainly appreciate the label's desire to release it more prominently: The quartet session with Eberhard (b.1972) displays an instant coherence, producing a relatively short but dazzling single track album that mixes considerably with the jazz tradition, while introducing a variety of more personal elements as well. Oh, the others are appealing too — & Takatsuki had already released Live in Hessen (recorded in 2019) on Creative Sources last year too, there with Matthias Schubert & experimental sax player Dirk Marwedel (with whom I'm not otherwise familiar) on two very different tracks — with the Delius set involving a sort of thicket of percussive extended technique around intricate string textures, while the Dörner set (the latest chronologically) invokes a sort of stillness, with stark calls & crystal piano, but also comes to suggest a variety of 20th century popular styles. In fact, pianist Okuda is incredibly fluid, with a real flair for jazz! A piano-horn "front line" then ends up being, as is traditional, a huge aspect of both the Dörner & Eberhard sets, bassist Virtaranta often playing relatively straight jazz (again with real poise, he & Okuda apparently having studied in Philadelphia...), while Weitzel functions more as a colorist, especially via percussive bent tones on shamisen. For a group that I'd associated more with "out there" procedures, and they do involve a Japanese string as "percussion...," the result is remarkably strong & assertive (i.e. often in the classic mode of "musical argument"). Indeed, this is exactly the sort of conversational, contrapuntal, multi-faceted & lively contemporary "jazz" that I'd sought from the beginning of this project, making me think that this generally bright-sounding album could make a wider splash as well.... Searching for comparisons, I have to note the quartet on last year's Flatbosc & Cautery, that being a longer album involving working together over a longer period, but with similar range & even fluency appearing at times on At Kühlspot, i.e. as what Georg Graewe calls in the liner notes for Flatbosc... "getting down to business." (And I'd actually noted Okuda & Virtaranta here together already with Lab H Tapes in a March 2020 entry: There, they're in a trio that doesn't add a fourth member, but changes its instruments & style between the two tracks, so a vaguely similar idea.... In fact, Okuda was also on viola for each of the earliest two albums noted here, but omits it for the 577 releases. Her vocal contribution to At Kühlspot then involves a passage with a kind of background chattering... one of the "extended textures" mixed into its single movement.) And so the "business" (of getting down) does appear to involve a dynamic alchemy of affectivity & abstraction, moving seamlessly & maintaining a sense of taut connectivity even through slower passages, i.e. preserving a traditional thread of jazz argument (& agreement) through some creative stretching....17 September 2021
Beyond jazz, my musical trajectories in this space also involve contemporary "classical" music, as that was my orientation from around 1990: From there, I then became increasingly involved with "world traditional music" & Western (especially) medieval music over the next many years, as what had seemed like smaller projects turned into huge occupations with the explosion of the internet.... But I'd been wanting to take up threads in contemporary music again, and eventually an improvisational trajectory around US jazz started to make sense, and so I dove into that. What I found, of course, was that 21st century jazz was incorporating so many of those same (c.1990) influences anyway, and an improvisational trajectory continued to make more & more sense for me. Anyway, relative to many listeners & writers in this space, my formative background is still more in classical music than it is jazz, rock, etc. And so one thing I ended up doing over the (ongoing...) pandemic year was to revisit those c.1990 influences more explicitly. And early in 2020, I'd already returned to Cage for an open-ended listening project, but soon came to expand that project, first publishing various sections of my Number Pieces discussion last August. That project was ongoing, but by October, I reviewed Scelsi Revisited here — where I also mentioned the Cage page for the second time, and suggested I'd probably need to revisit Scelsi myself & "probably" Xenakis.... Well, in February 2021 I finished a new late Xenakis survey & then a detailed late Scelsi survey in March. (I even went on to write a more preliminary essay on Milton Babbitt in April too, although Babbitt was a more general figure of that time than a personal influence — or so I'd thought....) So I felt (in many ways...) as though I was really hearing someone like Babbitt for the first time (pace a relatively recent review of his string quartets, posted here in March 2018...), but both the Scelsi & Xenakis discussions were basically followups — although I did realize that for the latter, I'd never actually written a similar analysis in the past. And then Cage had partially drifted from my musical consciousness... not his ideas in general, but (as noted in the essay) his own music had long fallen out of my rotation. I then found rediscovery to be almost revelatory (even as I'd thought I already "knew" Cage's music...), particularly for the basic "usefulness" of his Number Pieces today, but also for how much Cage continues to be felt in contemporary improvisation. I mean, I guess it's ironic in that Cage eschewed improvisation, but his particular reasons have largely passed (into history...), and there seems to be a wonderful confluence (with ongoing composition by others...) emerging in that arena: A label that's increasingly pursued that space, then, including with various reviews here, is Another Timbre. Indeed, it seems they'd already been moving more into the post-Cage space, involving more composition per se, but the pandemic also (apparently) prompted owner-engineer-producer Simon Reynell onto his own Number Pieces project, the 4CD set by Apartment House apparently beginning production in August 2020, just like my page! In any case, recording details aren't given for that set, but after several months of production (of which I was unaware...), it recently appeared. I've also mentioned Reynell specifically because it's his project (more than it is the group's, Apartment House, which has — however — released several contemporary music albums...), and his extended discussion of the Pieces is featured: In particular, they've involved some overdubs (for practical reasons, not unlike the Ogre Ogress recordings...), but also "blunted" the microtones of Five3 & Ten. To me, microtonal precision adds another dimension to these Pieces (& wouldn't have been notated as such, if Cage didn't mean it...), but the 4CD set includes many very worthwhile readings, including all of the Pieces for forces from 5 to 14 (as well as Four5, performed on non-sax reeds), making for the most significant Number Pieces program yet.... Reynell & these performances also ask the question (although of necessity due to overdubs?) of whether Cage wanted musicians to interact in these Pieces, i.e. should when one decides to play or not play be influenced by what the other musicians do? I say generally yes, as Cage's lifelong emphasis was on live music, and while he maintained a strong sense of personal boundaries, that definitely did not extend to indifference. But there's also a sort of (resulting?) starkness at times to Number Pieces that can be affective... it's a colder performance in general, one might say. But the the recording quality is also excellent, particularly for percussion & quiet harmonics, etc. That's automatically a worthwhile aspect to bring to e.g. Seven2, but I've also particularly enjoyed the second recorded performance of Eight (increasingly a favorite piece of mine in general...), as well as their take on Thirteen (sometimes claimed as Cage's final finished Piece...). I also like the idea of including many versions of Five, but feel as though that's undermined by doing them with such similar instrumentations.... Overall, there's a sort of coarse directness to the result, departing perhaps from earlier recordings by Cage contemporaries, for which (to be overly reductive...) a more tender quality tends to emerge. That's in part due to Reynell's decision to have the Pieces sound more than less (i.e. to hold tones closer to the maximum in the score than to the minimum period...). And a general aspect of the performance from Apartment House that I definitely support is the feeling that, once a choice is made, they're decisive with it. (There's otherwise a temptation to continue a feeling of equivocation in Cage's music, despite that one already made the choices involved....) So I've appreciated these varied interpretations in different ways, and individual remarks have been folded into my Number Pieces discussion. And I suppose that the timing of this big set will always connect it (at least in my mind) more specifically with my own project, although I do intend to review significant future Cage releases here as well....20 September 2021
And I didn't know it was coming, but a new album from Henry Threadgill Zooid already provides an opportunity to offer more thoughts on composition & my own trajectory in this space: Poof was recorded in Astoria in December 2019, and features the same quintet of musicians as on the album for Threadgill's Pulitzer Prize winning composition, In for a Penny, In for a Pound (recorded in 2014). So Poof also presents something of a return to that format, after the albums Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus & Dirt... And More Dirt (reviewed here together in June 2018), which I thought sounded "very composed," involving larger ensembles, e.g. multiple pianos, etc. And although that (2018) discussion does bog down around my own trajectory remarks, it did already provide an opportunity for some thoughts on composition in this space: Threadgill's This Brings Us To (recorded in 2008), also composed music (in the jazz sense...), was ready & waiting when I started this project, and soon became a couple of albums that I auditioned repeatedly, very much with a sense of discovery.... Those albums were thus sedimented into my trajectory, and Poof does return to something of a similar focus, i.e. smaller compositional ideas, still featuring offbeat & funky rhythms in serialized intervallic conversations. If anything it's more flexible in its "system," sometimes involving a more intimate sense of melody in its inner tracks. (Poof also substitutes cello for the bass guitar of This Brings Us To, as had In for a Penny, In for a Pound already, after passing through a sextet format employing both....) In contrast to such a "smaller" conception (sometimes projecting interiority...), while it also pulls back (or "stretches out") to lines featuring soloists, In for a Penny, In for a Pound features a larger overall conception (i.e. "concerti" v. "sonatas" despite the identical ensembles...), grand arcs suggesting structural spans (with their reduced force sections recalling e.g. the way that Josquin Desprez articulated larger forms...), such that the "thinner" sections retain a sort of overall structural tension. The "outer" tracks on Poof also (densely & enjoyably) recall much of the material & feel from these earlier albums, although more in the sense of memory & orientation than within a process of discovery per se.... And in that sense, this latest album does seem something like an appendix to the bigger releases, but it's definitely worthwhile to hear Threadgill in this more intimate setting (sometimes even tender, or e.g. in #4 also becoming abstract & extended...) & again with these same musicians. (The remarks from Pi also note that some bigger multimedia productions will be coming, along with a book.) Poof thus evokes more the overall feel of classic chamber jazz than Threadgill's other recent projects, his wonderful "nuts & bolts" style (developing around Zooid...) being both stripped down & made more flexible... pace some more specific affective content at times too, e.g. poignancy. (And trajectories aside, I probably still won't be featuring much jazz composition per se here, but rather "free" & "improv" albums more broadly....) Pace some refinements & differences then, Threadgill's style over the past 10+ years generally remains clearly audible (rather than pushing more boundaries).28 September 2021
Well, I guess the opening about having had "no shortage of items to hear" is already starting to sound like a bit of a jinx, although I was reacting (at least in large part) to a contrary such presumption.... And of course this entry might still be premature itself, but it's starting to feel as though I might go an entire month without a review here: It's not that I've been busy, not really, more that those ripples are being felt... I think.... In particular, the sort of collaborative improvised music that I've mostly featured here seems the most impacted, i.e. music without (much) planning but also a larger number of people coming together. Indeed, my feeling is it's the "chance" meeting before the meeting before the meeting to make the album that's vanished.... (And hence the lag in impact.) In other words, getting together to play music has become more planned in general, and that's also meant more composed music being released by some of the same musicians. And of course more solos, or projects where another's participation is relatively straightforward. (And I haven't wanted to turn so much to solos here, eventually declining to review — most recently — Dots from Roscoe Mitchell & Dirge from Joanna Mattrey — although I'd've certainly mentioned the latter if it'd've been released by last month's review of Death in the Gilded Age.... E.g. the Relative Pitch label seems to be turning more to solos too.) Anyway, one thing that this situation has done is to confirm for me the "social" quality of improvised music, especially moving to three or more players (& with large groups, perhaps paradoxically, seeming less so...): Three's a crowd? Something like that. But again, new ways of living together are exactly what we need, and I don't hear those ideas coming from more closely planned (especially top-down...) interactions, but rather from more improvisatory solutions.... And again, that's a place for the chance encounter yielding the chance encounter yielding the... (i.e. the transversal). But people are simply coming together less, particularly without planning (which becomes more necessary), and this is a serious political situation: In fact, it's an intentional & ongoing disruption (via trash talking vaccines, etc.) of public space & public presence, i.e. an attempt to reconfigure public presence politically. (As the tech industry consolidates its already enormous power alongside....) And in that sense, the situation certainly bears more careful consideration — which might be figured as a sort of "composition" itself, but pace my (many) prior remarks about composition (often) seeming preliminary to improvisation.... And I do expect these various intriguing solo releases & compositional ideas to rebound (eventually) into more of the small group collaborations that draw my attention & thoughts here.... But I'm also forced to turn to more general questions about what we (or I) want to hear in these changing times: In some sense, there starts to be a (further) polarity between music to be heard alone (e.g. at home) & music to bring people together, except that these are not really separate fields. Or at least they're "separable" mainly when involving differing energy levels, which is sometimes the case. (Just as healing, in general, might require being alone or being together....) And that brings me back to a Cageian focus, in some sense, but when I tried to orient there very early in this project, I soon noted one obvious fact: My living space, my apartment, my block, my metro area... are simply not silent. In fact, they're quite loud. And so in another sense, listening alone is still always already listening together. Where I feel more of the crisis, then, ends up being in matters of consciousness per se... (suggesting, I guess, a sort of music that diagrams itself?).21 October 2021
The trio album Loss And Gain — just released on Infrequent Seams, but without recording date(s) given — is something of a followup to Opalescence, that album by a trio of Robbie Lee, medievalist Norbert Rodenkirchen & James Ilgenfritz (& released on Lee's Telegraph Harp label), as reviewed here in July 2018. However, whereas the earlier album is more of a horn duo between Lee & Rodenkirchen, as supplemented by Ilgenfritz for some tracks, Ilgenfritz (contrabass) is often central to Loss And Gain, while the second horn is replaced by Brian Chase (drumset), joining the eclectic Lee (saxophones, recorders, flutes, electronics). While I'd already noted the "variety of tunings" on Opalescence, Loss And Gain centers more of these ideas — & indeed new member Chase (whom I'd noted here back in 2014 with Jeremiah Cymerman...) contributes the one composition to the program (of 11 tracks...), mostly played on bass with "accents" from the others: That piece (#5) reminds me vaguely of something from James Tenney, i.e. "perfect" intervals cycling through microtonal relations. It also slows the flow of the album when it appears, setting the stage for other "study" type tracks later, after what seemed like some rather spontaneous & compelling opening tracks. (This is also why I tend to suspect that the album dates to multiple sessions. Note further that Lee also just released a solo album on Relative Pitch, Prismatist, recorded back in 2018... right around when I reviewed Opalescence, in fact.) And while the tracks centering tuning & string effects on the bass can be intriguing (with e.g. #9, the title track, projecting a viscerally challenging quality...), at its best, the trio also evokes a sort of (collective) naturalistic primitivism (perhaps not so unlike e.g. Nauportus... although in both cases, strings are not actually "primitive" instruments), but also some particular world or jazzy styles at times too. (And maybe a Scelsian quality even emerges at other times....) After all, this is ultimately a horn trio (whose "electronics" are at most subtle...)! There can be a sort of immersive feeling as well — as "tuning" can conjure notions of a distinctive environment (although not "industrial" here, as on e.g. last year's Werckmeister Musik...) — but sometimes also a (preliminary) feeling of waiting for something to happen. And while it doesn't necessarily seem like a "finished" project as a result, this trio & its frequently twisting (pitch) relations is certainly suggestive of more potential: One might even suggest that (e.g. as "preparation" in general...) scordatura is a kind of composition. (And it's fascinating, in general, how "pure intervals" can immediately evoke outdoor environments. The "indoors" suggests temperament then?!)9 November 2021
I haven't inspected the physical product myself, but Petrichor apparently includes a magnifying lens in its packaging, in order (the intro says...) to read the small print of the liner notes, and I suspect also to look at the pictures of rocks being "decomposed" (the pictures, that is...) by bacteria from those same rocks. (I suspect that's why the album was listed as an "upcoming release" for so long too....) Petrichor is also a Creative Sources release, and another such release — following Aggregate Glows in the Cold (reviewed here this past August) — that involves a "group" that I've already been following moving to the larger label (versus so many CS releases involving performers who are new to me...). But in neither case is the ensemble quite the same: Petrichor involves a trio called Virtual Balboa that I haven't really reviewed, namely Ben Bennett (percussion), Zach Darrup (guitar) & Evan Lipson (double bass). And that trio is thus a sort of "intersection" (minus Wright) of a couple of other trios featuring North American improv legend Jack Wright: The Never trio (including Bennett & Darrup) most recently released Not Nothing (recorded in Chicago in September 2019), while the Roughhousing trio (including Darrup & Lipson) had already appeared on You Haven't Heard This (as reviewed here in March 2017).... And then for Petrichor, recorded live in Seattle in May 2019 (i.e. prior to Not Nothing...), Virtual Balboa does add a horn player — although it's not the quartet with Wright on sax that seems like such a ready idea... — in Greg Kelley on trumpet. And I wasn't previously familiar with Kelley, but he adds a variety of fractured & percussive horn figures, as well as some quietly screeching continuity in other moments, his sort of tense but also subdued "graininess" (e.g. tonguing) blending into both quick electric guitar swells & arco bass figures.... (The trumpet, which isn't always noticeable as such at first, is thus rather different in sound from e.g. Benjamin Vergara's from Chile on the duo album Birds of Our Abyss with Bennett, released last year on Orbit 577, and involving more in the way of traditional "calls" within a sparser, ritualistic setting....) Petrichor is also relatively short, under half an hour, but ends up seeming rather substantial via its sequence of seemingly independent & often short sounds, a kind of broadly percussive tapestry filling space around Bennett insistently, but not aggressively.... The "decomposing" going on here — in an album self-described as saprophytic... — thus involves a sort of quietly seething simmer, as well as various "nuts & bolts" (e.g. timbral) correspondences between the players. In other words, the result can seem almost monolithic from a distance, but ends up being quite colorful on closer inspection. (The textual discussion also seems at least partially tongue-in-cheek, whatever the magnifier signifies....) Maybe there's a bit of stasis via a consistent pulse developing, a kind of quasi-hocket (that seems to appear in some of these productions, unconsciously, as taking turns...), but the quick-note texture is increasingly lively to the ear upon further exposure. (There's also a sort of visual quality to the resulting sound tapestry. And a ready European evocation for me, albeit obviously different in various ways, including via electronics, is actually Coluro, i.e. for its sort of close-figured timbral & temporal balancing.) Again, I'm not otherwise familiar with Kelley (& don't know e.g. if he was on the entire tour with Virtual Balboa, or only for this final West Coast concert...), but this is a morphing ensemble of associates that's cultivating its own (highly relevant, deconstructive, postmodern...) style. They also cultivate & (sometimes) project a (transverse) sense of expressive tension (& even urgency, fading by the end here...), perhaps more so than do ready (sonic) comparisons....10 November 2021
British electric guitarist N.O. Moore has become rather prolific of late, i.e. a couple of years after bursting on the (recording) scene with the trio Darkened, yet shone: I reviewed that enigmatic album in September 2018, including its philosophical essay (thus linking Moore with e.g. Nicola Hein among contemporary philosophical guitarists...), and sometimes soloistic execution (by which it seemed that even the highly accomplished John Edwards & AMM legend Eddie Prévost could struggle to match Moore's sheer volume of material novelty...), but Moore has seemingly moved well past that intro, pace a series of recent & upcoming releases. In particular, he's also started his own Dx/dy Recordings label with a couple of releases back in January: I failed to notice this until recently prompted elsewhere, but want to review The Birds of Four Mirrors: Neither release is accompanied by recording date info, so I can't reconstruct a chronology here, but for The Birds of Four Mirrors, Moore is not credited with his usual "guitarism," rather "stereo field" & "dark energy." Whatever this means (specifically) to Moore, they're actually seemingly straightforward descriptions, in that "constituent" instrumental inputs appear to be heavily remixed (on the fly?) & indeed darkened, the album proceeding largely in shades of black & grey.... Given the electronics, there's also a general spaciness to the proceedings, highlighted specifically by the participation of Tom Mills (theremin, ring modulator), but going far beyond basic sci-fi evocations: It often feels as though we're on some distant planetary body, dark, occasionally shining in flashes, wind blurring into sandstorms & even flows of dark gravel. And Moore explores some similar imagery as well on his upcoming solo release for Orbit 577, Lunar Sync (recorded "during 2019-2020"), where he plays modular synth. In fact, that album credits Sun Ra, and the observation of being in the space age, but explores far beyond the latter's sound. The "jazz" evocations have been explicit on all of his 577 Records releases, though, especially (the also imminent) EMPoWered (recorded in January 2019), by a quartet adding Alan Wilkinson (sax) to the trio from Darkened, yet shone: In that case, Sonny Sharrock & Elvin Jones are mentioned, in what might be termed a free jazz rock affair... with more of an ensemble result than Moore's debut. Then, The Secret Handshake With Danger, vol. one was actually released back in March (also on 577, & recorded in March 2020), explicitly evoking Miles Davis' electro-jazz in its big overall sound landscape, also pairing Moore with Henry Kaiser on electric guitar, once again featuring Prévost, along with Olie Brice on bass & Binker Golding (another "new" performer looking to make a splash...) on sax. There's some traditional intensity to the navigation of "confusion" there, but also more novel textures developing.... And again, there's a consciousness of history & particular (jazz) styles. That doesn't seem nearly so explicit on The Birds of Four Mirrors, by a group named Improvisers inside electronics, though (here a quartet), as there's a more thorough reworking underway, joined as inputs by Antonio Acunzo (electric bass, objects) & Tony Hardie-Bick (acoustic guitar, modified tape echo) as well, such that it's immediately unclear what we're even hearing. (And I should note that the group "Improvisers inside electronics" appears to be open-ended around Moore, with e.g. a concert posting online including John Butcher & Phil Durrant....) Perhaps the most similar approach is then actually that from Ed Pettersen's massive double guitar trio double album Plumes of Ash in Moonlight (reviewed here in January 2020, recorded in February 2019), a sextet again involving Prévost (& e.g. Hardie-Bick, the only other participant on The Birds of Four Mirrors that was familiar at all) in a series of long-form, rock infused "tone poems." Moore is the second guitarist on that album, and Pettersen actually disfigures the other instruments rather less, involving more variety of swirling colors.... (I could also contrast with the more keyboardistic, linear reworkings of e.g. Thanos Chrysakis e.g. on Music for...: That album is also brighter, more blue... i.e. not in shades of doom rock. In double contrast, though, is Chrysakis' own recent Five Shards — as reviewed here this past August, and actually as recorded in the same London studio — with its own, more swirling sense of sound painting....) And then, farther afield, I could mention other albums that involve sampling, e.g. Kangaroo Kitchen (reviewed here in October 2019) & its more "found" (& highly polyphonic) approach to musical inputs, or even Compassion & Evidence (also explicitly philosophical...) & its brightening, hearkening sense of "locale...." Not that The Birds of Four Mirrors is exactly uninhabitable, but it's harsh... and apparently with rather consciously produced inputs as well, i.e. not sampled (per se) or "found" (as befits Moore's adoption of modular synth elsewhere, I suppose). Once more in contrast, though, is the other initial release from Dx/dy, Secant | Tangent with Moore back on guitarism, along with Sue Lynch (appearing here increasingly frequently, it seems...) & Crystabel Riley (drums): It's almost a traditional free sax trio, but with Moore's distinctive electric palette peeking through in warped tones, ultimately suggesting a sort of collective "60s freedom" vibe.... (And that seems to be the way that horns appear for Moore, absent as they are from much of his work so far, including e.g. his participation on Plumes..., a much longer & more "finished" album.) With The Birds of Four Mirrors, then, the sort of post-rock (or prog rock?) influence is relatively diffuse, but comes through affectively (& rather clearly when contrasted with superficially similar tapestries...), and such that that kind of angsty tension does seem to define Moore's work thus far. (And I continue to have the feeling that the prominence of bass continues to mark "materialism" for some musicians of this generation, an easy correspondence that makes me uneasy in its superficiality.... A fruitful tack Moore certainly continues here, though, is challenging what I call segmentation... i.e. the perceptual chunking of entities as entities.) In any case, that kind of sinking feeling starts here pretty much immediately. And definitely contrasts with the mostly white cover.13 November 2021
In Search of Surprise is the first post-covid — in the sense (not unlike that of "postmodern") that "post-" only indicates a seemingly perpetual sort of stasis — recording that I've added to "favorites" here, so a few additional remarks on its origin: Udo Schindler (here on cornet, soprano saxophone & baritone saxophone) has been prolific, releasing albums with a variety of musicians, many otherwise unknown, and I've been auditioning many, but not all.... (In particular, most are duos, and per my predilections here, I'm generally more interested in trio albums — such as In Search of Surprise.) And in this case, Schindler's partner on (exotic) horns is Etienne Rolin (basset horn, glissotar), himself famous enough as a composer to have some works appear on anthologies on well-known classical labels. (That's not the norm for musicians in this space, including for those who enjoy the label composer....) And then, per the notes for the album by Rolin (b.1952), they met in late 2020 & had a series of 14 musical encounters together over three months, before inviting Luc Lainé (vibraphone) to form this trio, recording (in Munich) in February this year. I know even less of Lainé, who is also described as a composer by Rolin. The documented result is magical, though! The long, initial track — before pulling back to the one (quite intricate) wind duo track on the album — is immediately enthralling, with intricate lines negotiating a stark resonant field of percussive strikes. (Rolin describes their work as a "dense micropolyphony with enharmonic extensions.") In featuring In Search of Surprise, though, I also have to ask what the album — & in turn Schindler — are really "about." Indeed, the album title itself can suggest echoes of privilege, i.e. the trope of the bored suburbanite looking for stimulation.... And of course, Schindler's technique, including across wind families, is amazing: He's a master of the tiniest articulations, exotic timbres, microtonal precision... precision in general. (It's interesting that he also "plays rough" at times, including here. He's incredibly precise at that too!) There's thus very much an aura of classical technique & mastery to his work, into which Rolin's own masterful playing (albeit a little rougher on the glissotar, a sort of tarogato rigged with a metal strip for glissandi — & for which Rolin apologizes, saying he'd only just received the instrument!) fits very well, so I was also somewhat surprised to learn that Schindler once identified as a rock musician. Subsequently he became an architect, though, and his use of acoustic resonance can presumably be linked to that orientation: Shifting resonance becomes a part of "line" or even melody for Schindler, as he & Rolin thus explore extended concepts of intertwining melodies. Before even discussing the vibraphone, which is capable of quite quick & precise interpolations itself here, it's the extended concepts of melodic expression that come to define this world: From a distance, there can even be e.g. a sort of "cool jazz" vibe evoked (from soprano especially, of course...), and expressivity tends to come to the fore in general, emerging from the advanced technique: Explorations of line also tend to move beyond idiom, i.e. develop new concepts of melodic invention — usually focusing on "beautiful" tone — e.g. beyond primitivism or classic jazz, etc. There's also something of a measured quality, never particularly slow or minimal, but not frenetic either, i.e. retaining a sort of centering. And notions of "center" do suggest the vibraphone here, or maybe I should describe it as a pivot between the two horns (i.e. per a similar scenario as I'd described in e.g. a review of Give and Take from Frode Gjerstad & Argentinian collaborators back in July 2016, there with piano as pivot...), as Lainé can be more in the background, not always reacting or accompanying, but sometimes provoking or situating.... Indeed at times the result suggests to me something of Braxton's Diamond Curtain Wall Music, the basic resonant shimmer of the vibraphone often evoking the electronics, while the two horns engage a close dialog from either "side" of the intervention. However, there's something of a "busy-ness" or noisiness to the electronic interventions/setting on DCWM that instead comes off rather more starkly or precisely on In Search of Surprise.... And so what is this surprise anyway? Pace the suburbanite remark, it obviously refers at least in part to Schindler's general project, i.e. musical investigations, e.g. what leads to more than the sum of its parts? What leads to something new musically? (For me, the simple addition of a third musician may figure such a label as well....) And that's really the relevance here, i.e. the intricacy of expression, not restrained by previous concepts of tonality (but not really atonal!), the twisting & nonlinear complexity of life itself.... (Asking what is melody can ask even what is — at least human — life?) The sense of melodic invention within a microtonal context can then even be analogized e.g. to the Spectrum Pieces (or at least those for smaller forces...) by James Tenney: That work explores perceptions of melodic continuity across a broad microtonal frame, but is also stochastic in its motion, while Schindler et al. do engage a more thoroughly human expressivity & capriciousness.... But then, there's more than melodic innovation to In Search of Surprise, as the vibe resonance lends a sort of (yes, also quasi-Braxtonian...) "fun house" mirroring quality to the horns, often suggesting (without electronics!) the multiplication of entities (& so polyphony): Perhaps this is an "architectural" contribution, despite seemingly being imposed by Lainé.... (And the sorts of physical-geometric titles that occupy most of the program can also suggest for me something akin to the Cyclone Trio & e.g. The Clear Revolution — reviewed here in January 2021 — in a sort of "inversion" of the rhythmic basis for that trio, the opening "triangle" image here corresponding to the open "circle" label there....) And again, somehow In Search of Surprise also ends up sounding (surprisingly) jazzy. It's not delicate either, acoustic resonance per se apparently generating a sort of Scelsian strength of emergence that gets to be figured as pretty & intricate... i.e. via an attention to detail that can take the trio in any direction — as a sort of perpetual melodic (quasi-dual) exploration that really comes together into something more: Schindler is simply never at a loss for "alternatives," & that alone can be a valuable message (particularly as he forges practical implementations too!).23 November 2021
And I've been "wanting" to write a review of something by Wadada Leo Smith (b.1941) for a while now, but although I've regularly auditioned his major releases, I guess I'd yet to find myself with much to say: That's, of course, a fact partly arising from Smith's AACM standing & interrogation of a history with which I've only partially engaged.... But there's also, perhaps, a more traditional-melodic quality to his music that sets it outside some of the more exploratory efforts featured here. And that's perhaps most obvious with a title like The Chicago Symphonies, i.e. the latest multi-disc set released on Tum Records for Smith's 80th birthday year. That these are "symphonies" is an intriguing label, especially given the relative starkness of the music: The notes do also note "extensive scores" being involved, but it's not clear of what they consist: I'm thinking that this is traditional notation, based on the chorus-unisons that articulate various structural points (especially beginnings), rather than Smith's graphic "Ankhrasmation" style.... And as something of a digression, that form of notation was indeed employed for Pacifica Koral Reef, a trio album imminent on 577 Records with Henry Kaiser & Alex Varty (another guitarist, there sometimes evoking Sephardim or Indian tanpura...): That album, recorded in January 2018, is actually (almost) the most recently recorded I'm going to mention in this entry, its "underwater" inspiration coming off as suggesting something of a brightly colored aquarium.... its starkness then figuring a sort of echoing joy. But The Chicago Symphonies — actually recorded in New York — date from March 2015, the first three that is, with the fourth from June 2018: The former group includes Smith in a "classic free jazz" quartet with Henry Threadgill (alto saxophone, flute, bass flute), John Lindberg (double bass) & Jack DeJohnette (drums), while the latter involves Jonathan Haffner (alto & soprano saxophones) replacing Threadgill. And no offense to Haffner (with whom I'm not otherwise familiar...), but that Fourth Symphony doesn't come off as compellingly: That's also a matter of its more discursive or rhetorical quality, i.e. inspired by a couple of US Presidents (& including both the Gettysburg Address & Obama's speech at Selma in the booklet...), rather than artists, yielding something of a dramatic or even relatively theatrical result: Its sense of rhetoric or theater perhaps recalls Smith's prior Ten Freedom Summers (another 4CD set, released in 2012), there involving a classical ensemble along with a "jazz" quartet (also including Lindberg, who's been a main collaborator for Smith...), an intriguing quasi-classical production that likewise seems to orient mostly on human relations.... And such an orientation does shine through the relative starkness of The Chicago Symphonies, but the latter suggest feelings of epic grandeur as well: A strong sense of space is projected, with various (structural) contexts projected via long spans, arcs of melody (sometimes beginning from unisons or subtle accompaniments...) generating extended perspectives & situations for reduced passages. Smith's work — & he participates more in younger musicians' projects than many of his AACM peers... — tends to involve just such a sense of space, or even silence, and in fact Cage is mentioned in the included discussion: That reference seems ambivalent (at best), but I do also hear Smith's interrogation of silence (which likewise dates to 1960s titles...) as suggesting a similar concept of love or care, i.e. the maintenance of personal space & independence. So Smith relies heavily on his fellow musicians, with the (earlier) quartet on The Chicago Symphonies actually dating to The Great Lakes Suites (a double album released in 2012) — but also recalling his more recent America's National Parks (recorded in May 2016, i.e. after the first three Chicago Symphonies).... And both of these are oriented on "outdoor" themes, which seems to echo a kind of Mahlerian quality in Smith's work, i.e. the inclusion of "everything" within a symphonic form, generally programmatic, but not otherwise unified in the musico-technical sense. However, even Smith's outdoor invocations involve a sort of humanization, i.e. refiguring the sublime (one might say, pace Mahler), perhaps making Shostakovich (another pan-stylist, weaving various associations...) the clearer referent. And then, this is hardly the only 80th birthday release from Smith: There's the triple album Trumpet of solos (recorded in 2016), presenting various compositions & suites, as well as the triple Sacred Ceremonies (recorded in May 2016 for the duos, but December 2015 for the trio), forging a trio with Milford Graves & Bill Laswell for the final disc ("after" duos with each). And I've not really enjoyed Laswell's "world pop" contributions with Graves much in the past (although I do love the monocord in principle...), but their trio with Smith likewise involves plenty of space, with almost independent activity from each, sometimes sitting out, but sometimes coming together in a sort of fun (profound? funky...), rhythmic groove: Smith thus often strikes out melodically against their (electric) rhythm duo. (There's a 7CD set of String Quartets composed by Smith announced for release as well....) Anyway, I'm not sure why (especially the first three) Chicago Symphonies seem to have been held back for release, but they also seem to summarize & develop many of these concerns. There's thus a clarity of expression here (unlike, I would say, the somewhat similar Made in Chicago around DeJohnette & Threadgill, recorded in 2013 & mentioned here in March 2015...). (And in this, The Chicago Symphonies does also come to seem more iconic within Smith's oeuvre than e.g. Threadgill's own recent Poof, reviewed here in September, more as an incremental stylistic development after major summaries....) In any case, Smith's distinctive & transformative sense of space & (quasi-architectronic, linear) in(ter)dependence is quite audible here, rendered (canonically?) via seemingly vast & arcing melodic lines, generating not only powerfully evocative moods (almost as windows into something beyond...), but carving out elbow room for collective feelings of leisure & repose... i.e. space for (individual, human) life per se.30 November 2021
Chicago's Amalgam Music continues to produce documents of worthwhile improvised interactions, and in the post- (perpetual...) pandemic world that's now involved a "Chi Away" series, initiated by cellist Ishmael Ali & producing three recordings of newly formed Chicago groups: I want to feature Akjai, recorded this past May by a quartet of voices & strings, but the first Chi Away album was Anemoi (also recorded in May), by a horn trio (also featuring Ali, also with label co-founder Bill Harris...) expanded to a quartet with synth & electronics, while the third (supposedly final?) album remains a mystery at this point.... [ Edit 12/29/21: The final Chi Away album, released already this month — but recorded live back in January — is called Hearsay, featuring turntable-ist Allen Moore in extended post-industrial drones/grooves alongside label mainstays Ali & Harris, including some uncredited vocalizing & various more boisterous interactions.... ] And the lineup on Akjai (& per the project, these were all groups that hadn't played together before...) features, other than Ali, musicians with whom I wasn't previously familiar in Brianna Tong (vocals), Johanna Brock (vocals & violin) & Andrew Scott Young (double bass). Words are credited to Tong, R.A. Washington (someone I also didn't know...) & Octavia Butler. And sometimes the words — & it's apparently Tong who handles the lyrics — come fast (& maybe even furious...), but at others they're absent or more understated. Sometimes there's a sense of alternation with the string trio, but the strings do seem to take up the "material" from the vocals, amplifying & extending the narrative. That includes various vocalizations as well, to which it appears Brock restricts her vocal contributions — but she's often quite active on violin, with various advanced techniques. (There's a subtle vocalization duet later in the album as well, but mostly it seems that only one vocalist is active.) The texts can also be appealing, including for the long sentences, almost seeming like "gibberish" in some sense, taking on a "musical" feel... a sort of (layered?) contextualizing of rhetoric & rationalization. (Some other vocal outbursts, especially as emerging from the strings, seem even to recall Joëlle Léandre... perhaps this is Brock. Tong, at least, can certainly be forceful at times with her expression....) There's thus a basic turbulence to Akjai that's reflected by both voice(s) & strings (including e.g. some extended, grainy grinding from the bass...), projecting a surprisingly coherent result (including from diverse texts...). Chi Away states that "the goal of the project as a whole is catharsis" (i.e. "post"-lockdown), but it sounds as though the new quartet (e.g. pairing rap vocals with classical violin...) on Akjai has captured interactions & cross-fertilization worth developing further: The collective result already seems to go beyond preliminary exploration.6 December 2021
I've had little exposure to Earle Brown's "organization of pitch content," most of that unconscious, and so I'm unsure how to approach one of the major (stated) influences on pianist Eli Wallace for his recent album on Infrequent Seams (the label itself having just appeared in this space, in November, with Loss And Gain...), Precepts. I'm also writing after a bit of an interim, after a holiday change of pace, and that's not how I've generally been reviewing these albums: I've usually tried to capture more of the sweep of early impressions, but decided I needed a break (in general) after determining that I wanted to review this album.... So let me try, at least, to remember some of that initial excitement, as Precepts — recorded in Brooklyn in March 2021, i.e. well into the pandemic — made a strong & immediate impression (before I took a short break from listening in general): The "pitch" ideas cite Brown, but the notion of individual players being bound to individual notes (with some potential to swap...) is clear enough, lending a definite tautness to the proceedings. Such a description might well conjure Scelsi as well, and indeed there's an immersive quality (to this work "for piano and strings") that seems to seek a similar sort of ecstasy, at least at times, and certainly the "insides" of notes. Yet, some of this impression comes straight from the deployment of string instruments — & the piano is generally treated as a string instrument here (plus some chimes...) — in extensive glissandi, etc. I.e. there's a sort of physical correspondence with Scelsi, and certainly a kind of resonance around the idea of maximalism-minimalism, but the more specific compositional concerns — the pitch content per se, perhaps — don't seem as Scelsian. They do appear to be about the pandemic & social interactions with other musicians, though, the tension of restraint & exchange being heightened in general.... And although I hadn't noted him yet in this space, Wallace has been quite active around New York City of late (after moving from Oakland in 2015, where he was under my radar...), as I first noticed some output from him with Sandy Ewen & some other productions around DMG. I'd thought I'd been hearing a good sampling of his activity, but when I first started getting excited about Precepts, I looked more closely, and there're more worthwhile items in different styles: So let me note Striking by Eli Wallace Toronto Quartet (with Nick Fraser, et al.) released in 2020, involving a generally percussive pointillism & close interactions around a variety of preparations. And also Dance Chaos Magic, also released in 2020 by XNN, a quartet around Daniel Carter (but not issued on 577!), a group supposedly "rehearsing since 2016" & involving a jazzier, tangled world vibe. Precepts certainly comes off much more austerely than the latter, though, and also features quite a strong presence & rich soundstage — mastered by Elliott Sharp. The players Wallace engaged — to record, this time, without a rehearsal — are also top flight, namely Erica Dicker (from e.g. Anthony Braxton's 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012), Lester St. Louis (appearing e.g. on Clean Feed with Dre Hocevar, first reviewed here in June 2015...) & Sean Ali (having been reviewed here regularly, especially alongside drummer Carlo Costa, since March 2015...). And Dicker's involvement seems especially apt, as the other font noted for Wallace's music here is Braxton's graphic notation. In that sense, I almost have to compare with Confluence, another pianist-composer album I particularly enjoyed in 2021, especially as I often express ambivalence toward piano here: Mayas' work is of course also graphical, and in the case of Confluence, of a single piece-image. Precepts, however, involves four different tracks featuring different sorts (shapes, perhaps...) of interactions within the same basic framework. (In fact, perhaps I'm starting to feel as though using a piano these days already implies some sort of compositional approach... maybe that's true of any instrument, if one decides in advance at least some aspects of how it'll be played. Maybe an association between piano & composition is simply "traditional" then....) There's also a sort of aqueous quality to Precepts, not so much recalling Confluence per se for me, but actually long-time favorite Nashaz, which despite its different instrumentation, can provide some uncanny listening continuity via its sometimes-nautical rattle. There seems to be something "fundamental" to both albums. But of course, perhaps the most similar ensemble among long-time favorites here is that of Chant, with a seemingly more naturalistic orientation, something of a thicket, but still flickering in shadows (in a sort of quasi-romantic mode...). Did I just say that Precepts seemed aqueous? Now I mean industrial, in contrast, more raw, and much more three dimensional.... Maybe "a sort of sloshing sea, intensity to tranquility & back, both chaotic & smooth... turbulent or laminar?" What is laminar music? I believe this album asks that question. (I'm also driven to ask whether impressionism is always, strictly speaking, an abstraction. I find some next implications to a "yes" here....) It's also "striving for urgent immediacy." Hence it's rather assertive — but I'm unsure it's ever aggressive. (Perhaps the sort of "play" Wallace develops can be analogized to e.g. interval restrictions by Threadgill, but Wallace's approach comes off as more elemental, while Threadgill's generates melodies.... Maybe the sort of taut intricacy of Grammar II is a better comparison, but that album also tends to be relentless... both building a sort of ecstasy via constraint, though.) Wallace seems like someone who's definitely ready to roll, musically that is, in the wake of this pandemic, then. (I believe I'm being more unsuccessful than usual transcribing any sense of this music's vibe into prose, too. Maybe that's due to other circumstances, maybe not....) Not only is this real 2021 music, but Wallace himself seems to have graduated to another level with this production. (Precepts can seem relatively straightforward, yet remains rather mysterious in its scope. Not so unlike the next entry, it comes to project a broad sense of life per se.)3 January 2022
Also featuring strings & composition is Rag'sma, composed by Christopher Otto & recorded recently by three iterations of the JACK Quartet. This piece doesn't appear to involve improvisation, although it does involve the Quartet playing "live" over two recorded versions of itself, and so is more "contemporary classical music" per se. However, I particularly want to note it for its exploration of unusual interval ratios via the strings. (I'm also unsure how so many people seemed to know about this, the third album from Greyfade, because I felt as though I stumbled upon it quite randomly online — only to discover that there were already a variety of reviews. So they must be promoting somewhere, perhaps radio, and indeed the new label's output is of interest in general....) And in this case, that interval is specifically the "ragisma" — yielding a real tour de force of execution around differently tuned versions of the quartet to illuminate this shadowy ratio. The JACK Quartet (Otto is first violinist...) should also be familiar, but they haven't recorded Tenney (at least not that I know), and various aspects of Rag'sma come off not unlike Tenney's music — although more suggestive of the immersive "swell pieces" than Tenney's own late, more ethereal string quartet, Arbor Vitae. For instance, the two prerecorded versions of the quartet are not random at all, but rather carefully arranged to move through an interval sequence in opposite directions... opening up further "harmonic" space "between" them for the "third" quartet to exploit. (There's also a "plain" version included without the third quartet, as well as for the digital release, a version folding the two prerecorded versions together differently....) The result is basically mellow (based on thirds & fifths...), a slowly shifting set of (intervallic) drones that don't really repeat... rather intervals (& fundamentals) slowly drift. The resulting sound thus doesn't seem unlike that of an organ, although the pitches aren't actually fixed.... Might one describe the result as uncanny? There's a feeling of "life" (open life...) that emerges beyond any restrictive sense of algorithm or mathematical ratio. Maybe even a feeling of "reality" per se... classical Western tuning involving a sometimes uneasy fiction, after all.4 January 2022
And I wasn't thinking I really had anything to add, as I'd "discovered" the album only via a Keith Prosk review (last month) at the Free Jazz Blog, but as time passes, I'm thinking that I should specifically note here Studio Session, a single forty-two minute track of extended collective restraint & continuity, recorded by the nonet "Ensemble Interactivo de La Habana" in November 2020: It's stated as their debut album, but coming after "seven years of ... evolution" (including street parades & artistic installations). That a large-ish group would produce a relatively quiet album (available on Bandcamp), shifting through a variety of timbral combinations & situations, seems unremarkable — after all, Ernesto Rodrigues releases many (superficially) similar albums, including with similar "classical" instrumentations — & so it's really the distinctiveness (& subtlety) of the worlds that the nonet traverses that set this release apart. Presumably this has much to do with the Ensemble's setting in Cuba, and so the sound worlds there (which obviously encompass more than "classical" music — although an orientation on European instruments, plus e.g. hand drums, is retained here...), even as any more specific evocations are (always, already) in the process of transformation. The "worlds" are not so much distinctive styles then, as they are fluid combinations, often nonlinear & generally unstable (but usually engrossing & frequently pretty...). Thus Studio Session ends up being a deceptively modest debut, indeed incorporating more into its musical garland than its single track (& measured aggressiveness) would seem to suggest.... And if the multi-instrumental nonet (including voice...) is able to continue to function as a unit, it might also signal a unique situation (evolving) within free music today....16 January 2022
Jason Stein is someone I noticed relatively early in this project, mentioning him already in a May 2012 entry (including e.g. Joshua Abrams...), but I guess I soon came to associate him more with composed music, and especially composed music exploring aspects of the jazz tradition & Chicago sound. But I recently noticed the trio album Volumes & Surfaces at bassist Damon Smith's Balance Point Acoustics, and that's very much a "free jazz clarinet trio" performance. I thought perhaps I'd been remiss in not noticing Stein's activity in this arena, but checking out his most recent albums, After Caroline (released in 2018) by his long-time trio Locksmith Isidore retains an orientation on clear & jazzy figures, although I now notice more of the "out" sections. These tend to operate briefly & with less density. And then Threadbare (released in 2020 on No Business) is also composed music, not actually by Stein, and likewise features coordinated interactions & tunes (there with more of a rock vibe...). So Volumes & Surfaces does seem like a departure — & Stein is an impressive clarinet player, in all of these guises. Joining Stein & Smith is then drummer Adam Shead, with whom I wasn't really familiar: I'd heard his horn duo album The Flower of Paradise (recorded in January 2021) on Amalgam Music.... And he's got his own composed album, Full Cycle, Thread New by the Adam Shead Quintet (featuring musicians from recent Amalgam albums...), releasing this month too. (That album is also jazzy, described as "swinging.") I'm also impressed by Shead here (& listening to the duo more for percussion now...). Obviously this adds up to an entry: Although Volumes & Surfaces does feel a little more ordinary by its second half — after a central track doing a classic "build...," a sort of savannah sunrise, eventually with big game calls — it very much engages the full quick-witted "free" tradition early on, particularly considering the "clarinet trio" format. (Perhaps the most sophisticated prior example noted here, i.e. of a clarinet-only trio of this classic sort, was Intention by the Peter Kuhn Trio, including bassist Kyle Motl & reviewed in March 2018....) This is almost more like a European album, and track titles are from sculptor Eduardo Chillida, rhetorical & offbeat to start (i.e. in the "paradoxical" mode...), but with the rhythm team soon juicing the proceedings around a dazzling pointillism, and eventually various extended effects, likewise remaining in bite-size chunks for quick combinations.... (Perhaps it's the presence of Smith, who is surely one of USA's great improvising bassists at this point, but Volumes & Surfaces can almost feel like a Weasel Walter album. Shead has some similar start-stop precision in his arsenal: He also designed the album, as it looks different from most of Smith's releases. It looks as though Balance Point Acoustics is now on the big streaming services too, so I guess this release is readily available, not "obscure" at all.... Of course they've long been on Bandcamp.) Anyway, this album was actually recorded in Chicago this past August, meaning it's from well into the pandemic, and in fact it's from two sites in one day: These alternate tracks on the album, but I'm assuming they didn't go back & forth? At both sites, though, they forge a concentrated collective expression, combining a wide range of musical inspirations (including the "anthropological"). Shall we expect more from this trio? Volumes & Surfaces is eye opening for both Stein & Shead, the former well established in Chicago jazz, the latter new. (Smith is superb here as well, continuing to refine his own personal style.)5 February 2022
I'd've started this series of three entries last month, but was busy with a medieval project. And the series of 5 LPs devoted to John Butcher on the previously unknown Ni Vu Ni Connu label (out of Luxembourg), all appearing on New Year's Day (on Bandcamp, that is, but I now see dated "2021" for the LPs...), required more focused attention. (The label itself did have several releases e.g. devoted to Sven-Åke Johansson prior to this, although nothing suggesting the "centrality" of these. Apparently they're also producing films.) The provenance of four of the albums was then a John Butcher Festival at Ausland in Berlin, November 2019. And while I'd immediately wondered if this set of releases had been planned, the record label's "news" section isn't very active, so I was readily able to see the 2019 announcement of their partnership in the Festival, already stating an intent to release a series of LPs. (Who knows if release of these pre-pandemic performances was delayed, though....) That accounts for four of the releases, then, two recorded each day at a two day festival, most involving musicians Butcher had worked with extensively in the past, mostly in different combinations here, and with no musicians (save Butcher...) repeating between the sets. Then there's Induction, recorded earlier that June, and apparently added to these release plans — presumably based on its compelling result. And there are indeed compelling results to be found here, all albums seemingly being made more "for posterity" than necessarily results from improvised meetings: They all fit the classic LP length of around 40 minutes, for instance, and I wonder how that was managed. A Braxton-style hourglass? Editing? (Interestingly, Butcher is credited with editing on Bandcamp, but the LPs themselves only say mixing. It may just be a formulaic credit on Bandcamp....) In any case, these are all relatively compelling releases, i.e. more so than many performances that can seem more "random," e.g. with great moments but also passages where musicians are waiting for something to happen. Releasing them all at once — & that does seem natural, given the Festival — also presents strange paradoxes of choice for someone writing reviews: It always seems as though I'm "supposed" to pick a favorite among a set such as this, and I dutifully did that. But my goal is to treat these releases individually, rather than pooling them mentally or feeling as though they need to be compared between themselves. (I've generally felt myself in a similar situation with Ernesto Rodrigues's many, often simultaneous, releases....) After all, hundreds of improvised albums appeared last month. These will surely be noticed by more people than me, though. And of course Butcher's reputation plays into this, as I might not bring the same individual attention to five simultaneous releases by most musicians.... But I'm also not equally attracted to every situation, and so before discussing a couple of albums here in more detail, and a couple more in separate entries to follow, I'll merely note the duo album La pierre tachée, between Butcher & pianist Sophie Agnel: Agnel is a fine performer, attracting attention herself via various projects already, but I'm not particularly into straight pianism or duo settings, and this duo is particularly sparse, i.e. even presenting as a series of solos (or lightly accompanied), alternating at unhurried pace.... It's also the most traditionally lyrical album of the series. And it's creative in its own way. Indeed, the Festival — celebrating the saxophonist at age 65 — seems to have given Butcher an impetus to refine his style, which I've long found fascinating (& with broad implications...), but often mixing better & worse outcomes in various sets (i.e. as improvised music so often does...). Perhaps it's all gradual evolution (or it's editing...), but there're few "waiting for something to happen" passages in these releases. There are also, basically, two more acoustic albums to discuss (& those, as it happens, will be the longer reviews...), with two discussions of albums including electronics to follow immediately below. (Each day of the Festival had one electronic set.)
And I've been featuring more electroacoustic releases here, so don't want to suggest a privilege for acoustic improvisation (although I probably came into this project with that notion...). As I said, hopefully I'm evaluating these albums individually, but it takes conscious effort.... Shaped & Chased forges a trio with two frequent collaborators, but is apparently the first recording for this group (although, per the liner notes, they'd toured the US in 2009...): I first mentioned Thomas Lehn here (October 2013) with the trio album Exta, featuring John Tilbury together with Butcher — in fact, that was also my first mention of Butcher. Later there was a reprise of the Butcher-Lehn combo with Tangle, now with Matthew Shipp on piano, and I reviewed that in December 2016. (By then, I had the idea that these albums don't happen every day, but with the first one, I still had no real sense of context.) And I'd mentioned Butcher's work with Gino Robair as well, especially the trio The Apophonics on Air (with John Edwards, first reviewed here in November 2013), but they've been active together: So given the electronics context here, perhaps the better comparison would be with A Geography For Plays (reviewed here in April 2018...), on which Robair (on Blippoo Box...) is joined by Dieter Kovacic on turntables to form a trio around Butcher called The Open Secret. Both of these are then what I'm going to call "hinge" albums relative to this set of releases: While The Apophonics on Air is one of Butcher's more notable pairings with Robair, it's also in a traditional "sax trio" configuration — like Induction. And while A Geography For Plays is another trio with Robair, it also involves a contemporary "noise" setting around turntables, per the next paragraph.... In any case, Lehn is on AKS synth for Shaped & Chased, while Robair revisits the Blippoo Box along with objects & percussion. There's also a strong & elaborate opening sequence, perhaps pre-conceived (by Robair?), soon into a sort of electronics thicket.... I particularly enjoy the opening — & the various shifting & twisting surfaces of The Apophonics on Air are also stronger to start, seeming to run out of steam after a while... — but later sections can seem static or even sedate. (Or maybe more traditional, as a horn trio, as Butcher does seem to assert himself as central at times... on all these releases, this being his Festival, I suppose.) The latter might be said as well of Robair's Compassion & Evidence, there with more sampling... in another hinge with the following paragraph. But here there tends to be more of a "main line," sometimes a horn with two (often "weird," e.g. burbling) accompanists. I.e. there's a sense of chaos (for the horn to navigate...), but relatively little polyphony, and more "popular" evocations (although subtle...). The main vibe is then a sort of eerie uncertainty amid subconscious memory.
Lamenti dall'infinito, from the second day of the Festival, is then the only one of these releases to involve a quartet, but is also an album with more of a rock or even (doom) metal vibe at times, i.e. "more contemporary" in some sense, i.e. more "new" for Butcher: Among these musicians, he'd only played with trumpeter Liz Allbee previously ("around 2010" per the included discussion...), had talked some music with turntablist Ignaz Schick (also on sampling & general "electronics" here), and apparently knew nothing of tape machine player Marta Zapparoli (also credited with antennas...). But Allbee herself has been rather active of late, e.g. with a new solo album on Relative Pitch. And Schick has been appearing on various new albums as well — although I hadn't mentioned him here to this point (while there's a mention of Allbee in an entry around Kriton Beyer from March 2017...). There's thus a kind of crackling "noise" vibe here, amid a tendency to linearize, perhaps suggesting e.g. Compassion & Evidence (another quartet...) to significant degree through some passages, but generally without its cultivation of calmness. Indeed, in some sense, Lamenti dall'infinito is more of a "free jazz quartet," beginning around a horn dialog with the others more as accompanists. But the horn players do also turn to extended techniques, basically sinking into the texture themselves, to create more of a roiling background. (At those points, the album lacks foreground. It's thus the least satisfying here, albeit with a creative ensemble, e.g. sounding almost paradoxically nautical at times — in what seems to be an ongoing sonic theme for the Berlin arena....) And in some sense, the extensive "background" recalls Butcher's participation in Common Objects, especially e.g. Skullmarks (recorded in 2016 & reviewed here in February 2019) — so another hinge album — with its electronic processes & drones. Here, though, instead of Butcher so often functioning as soloist, there's usually a more unified texture, in some sense, as well as a basic repetitive quality, not quite droning, but a more consistent background from the electronic interactions, i.e. perhaps even recalling (very distended...) dance genres. I might thus describe Lamenti dall'infinito as consisting of broad waves & pinched howls (& might not have reviewed it as a one-off release...): Despite the unusual instrumentation, it's relatively easy to follow (at least in its resulting sound, if not always exactly who is doing what...), and I don't feel transformed by the music. As with popular music, much of its articulation seems to suggest anticipation per se, anticipation & (again) memory.8 February 2022
Induction is then not from the John Butcher Festival at Ausland, but was recorded in June 2019, across consecutive dates in Leipzig & Berlin (with the Berlin set placed first on the recording). It's also an LP — & I guess I've spent so much time with downloads lately that the physical release format has become a virtual non-factor for me, although it should probably be noted that I haven't actually auditioned the vinyl product.... However, the download was obviously sufficient to make a strong impression: Induction is basically a sax trio reprising & extending Butcher's work with Polwechsel, featuring Polwechsel co-founder Werner Dafeldecker on double bass, along with current member Burkhard Beins on percussion. (Butcher himself joined Polwechsel in the 1990s, prior to Beins, and left in 2009, i.e. shortly before I began this project.) But while Polwechsel deals with composed music, Induction is improvised. And Beins himself was first mentioned here in a review of Membrane (also with Butcher, also improvised...) in July 2015, in an entry that also cites Polwechsel's Traces of Wood (released in 2013, but as noted then, Butcher's participation was before my time here...). I hadn't featured Dafeldecker otherwise, but he has e.g. a new duo album with Roy Carroll, Paroxysm recorded in February 2020, typically clear & concentrated expression, process oriented with a tendency toward minimalism.... So Induction tackles the classic "sax trio" format, but refigures it into very different music. And while Butcher had tackled the format in e.g. The Apophonics on Air (including pace the previous entry...), that album does involve a synth — whereas Induction is basically acoustic, "basically" in that the middle two tracks (of four) involve close mic'ing, first of the percussion & then of feedback saxophone as well. Such a close mic'ing situation can act as something of a "substitute" for electronics, but also serves to amplify acoustics per se (rather than synthesizing sound...) — there's thus a sort of "lowercase" concept at work in this music, even as it can become loud or aggressive. And such quasi-lowercase aggression can be quite apparent on another Beins album, Sawt Out (reviewed here in March 2019, including the only prior explicit mention of Dafeldecker here, as part of its production team...) around trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, also in close amplification: Although the two albums can make very different impressions, the noisier Sawt Out does correspond to the middle tracks of Induction, especially the third, or at least parts of Sawt Out do, pace its more ostinato-insistent character, reveling more directly in specific technical explorations.... Induction is more subtle & transitory, though, projecting a powerful ceremonial character: Gongs & bent metal provide an immediate sense of anticipation, while various buzzing resonances suggest a ritual gravity. It can be aggressive in its own way, and comes off as a very substantial album (despite its relative brevity...), tautly maintaining a sort of ritual vibe throughout. And part of that ritual is of course arising from the sax trio format per se, something Butcher really refigures here with an audible sense of formal perfection (especially) in the first (but last, chronologically) track. Unlike The Apophonics on Air (recorded back in 2012...), it seems that nothing is wasted here, no aimless sections or strange transitions, but a constant sense of being in the moment, of being "on." (Although that earlier album does herald parts of the approach here....) Induction might thus seem a bit sedate by its end, but its ongoing operative tension is soon obvious — as it leaves an almost deafening silence in its wake. There's an (in)definite sense of flow involved prior to that, as well as a feel for quietude that invokes the post-Cage tradition, but there's also a feeling for acoustics more generally, indeed of letting vibrations & resonances set the pace for the interaction: There's thus a strong feeling for space throughout, a kind of overall geometric quality that appears to define the music (i.e. acoustically) beyond any (linear) sense of melody. There're thus hierarchies of resonance, with "musical dialog" between them, but no overriding tonality (nor stable "tones" — themselves always an abstraction): It's a sort of "received" music, i.e. of mimesis, not only of echoing wind or rustling leaves, but of animal calls as well... various naturalistic cries & resonances refigured into a sort of musical hierarchy. (I might note e.g. the "crane cries" recalling Gagaku music on track #2....) But beyond the mimetic, these three musicians also make their own sounds their own: This thus becomes very human music. So there's a sense of "anthropology music," as I've come to call it in this space (& to which Stuart Broomer apparently alludes with "cave" references in his included notes...) — a sense of quasi-prehistoric music, perhaps, but let's recall that refining metals is a relatively recent activity (& this is a very metallic album). Pace the (unusual for the previous few centuries of music, but not really for this space...) orientation, there's a directness to the expression. There's also a sort of process music implied, particularly by the final track, as the trio spreads out in hockets & breathing to involve longer tones, i.e. a sense of layering: That track, returning to the acoustic means of the first, is also called Confluence, i.e. suggesting (presumably unintentionally & in parallel...) the recent album Confluence, there often involving a more (subtly) turbulent mode. Here there's more of a laminar flow — as I'd suggested last month of Precepts. (And while the latter is acoustic, the sense of flow opening Werckmeister Musik can present some similar resonant waves, there pushed by synth temperament, rather than natural resonance... & rather noisier, more "industrial" as a result.) Induction retains a sort of "natural" feel, though. It's also highly economical, not unlike Polwechsel, in the sense that no sound is really wasted... even resonant lines of flight are allowed to follow their own course & timing. (Butcher's work with Common Objects includes similar elements of style, but that's also a larger ensemble, and thus projects a different sort of musical economy... various, often low, "process" sounds coming to merge into a more general tapestry.) And Induction also doesn't seem like an experimental album, but rather an arrival: It's not so much exploring or developing techniques as refining form. And the result is controlled austerity, resonant flight stopping at precisely the edge of our perceptual frame. So what is the politics of this music? What does its sense of achieved precision & formal "perfection" in this arena imply? It certainly suggests ritual, a kind of communing with something broadly beyond humanity. But in what sense is this a new world achieved? (Is it an old world revisited?) Is this a wild world? A calm world? We seem to be suspended beyond those notions. (Ceremony is then beyond technique? I'm reminded of traditional Christian arguments around ritual efficacy....) Frames of reference basically come to coincide with the music itself, as it comes to fill its (perceptual) frame — to the point, almost, of escaping. (Different sorts of sonic relations come to the fore, seemingly inevitably & with high gravity... but remain well-mannered, at least to this point.) What does it provoke or allow next? What can we do now? The politics does appear open, but then an open politics is presumably open to change... perhaps to very sudden (i.e. nonlinear, geometric) change.11 February 2022
Finally, from the second day of the John Butcher Festival (November 2019, Berlin), Glints: Glints was actually the first album that caught my eye when this list of "upcoming releases" appeared at Squidco, adding Butcher to the Spill duo of Magda Mayas & Tony Buck. Mayas is of course another musician I follow, and her album Confluence was already noted as another sort of (oblique) "hinge" for these releases from Butcher, there with a larger ensemble — & featuring a kind of convergence-divergence, a turbulent flow... but also a sense of continuity. (And Buck is also known for maintaining continuity through a variety of styles in his work with The Necks....) Glints is then much more "economic" than that larger group, as well as relative to another hinge album here, Skullmarks: That album (recorded in 2016 & reviewed here in February 2019) involves a sextet, episodic, with slower background sections, but also passages with a strong sax foreground. For Glints, prepared piano can project a similar sort of "orchestral" quality, a complex background (with drums...) that can serve to set the saxophone in relief as well. Indeed, that's much of how Glints functions — pace that this is Butcher's festival! — in that there're prominent sequences during which the sax dominates the texture in more of a "classic jazz trio" mode. Although these more raucous passages tend to stand out, there's also more of a sense of the suspended tapestry of flowing timbres with which I've come to associate Mayas & Spill at other moments: Butcher is quite accomplished at adding subtle resonances, and other background shifting, and he does begin in that sort of mode here... but at other times it's more of an eruption. (It's also fascinating how the interactions across these releases seem to span different prior activity from Butcher, a situation I've tried to evoke with the "hinge" notion....) And at those times, while Buck can drum fast, I also feel as though Mayas' style is more in the background, or else she's also hammering away, sounding almost like a Fender Rhodes perhaps, although this is an acoustic album.... (Some of the most appealing passages also evoke nautical ideas again, a sound-scene that seems to have become a theme for the Berlin arena. Here those evocations also run into a sort of moor-marsh scene, i.e. another evocation I've been noticing more from English improv....) So I've found this album a little harder to enjoy over a longer period than I'd hoped. Spill seems kind of spilt sometimes, not calm.... (The album also features continuity across the track break, the only one of these releases with that issue, i.e for the LP. They all do feature a single track for the first side....) This isn't Butcher's first participation with Spill either, as they'd already appeared together on Plume, for half of that album recorded in 2013, as mentioned in the extended June 2015 discussion where I reviewed Common Objects here around Whitewashed with Lines.... (Per the notes, this trio's also called Vellum. And Broomer titles his essay for the release "Mutual Aid," which seems a strange coincidence with Nate Wooley's recent Mutual Aid Music: All of the essays for these releases have titles that aren't the album titles... generic themes seemingly added only later, but maybe already closer to 2019?) And I'd already featured Spill by then too, first with the album Spill Plus (reviewed in January 2015, but recorded back in 2010) adding Damon Smith (e.g. recalling remarks earlier this month around Volumes & Surfaces...). So Spill have often worked with third musicians, and perhaps Vellum will return to do a less "sax trio" recording in another context. Anyway, despite my preference against the soloistic orientation raised here at times, there's some real clarity to the expression as well, Butcher's sax set against a sophisticated two-person orchestra.... And there're some intense moments too, i.e. fireworks for saying goodnight to the festival, I suppose.14 February 2022
Colin Webster, British alto saxophonist, has also been making a lot of albums — & I've heard many of them. But this is his first mention here, basically because there're so many albums, it's hard for anything specific to stand out.... (Webster runs the Raw Tonk label, and I've been auditioning their releases.) However, I do want to note the recent Scaffolding — recorded in a London studio in September 2020 — specifically: That's an album featuring Webster with regular partner, drummer Andrew Lisle, but also Otto Willberg on (electric) bass guitar. And the latter had already appeared on the album that really put Raw Tonk on the map for me, Live at Ftarri with Toshimaru Nakamura, but on acoustic bass. Here, Willberg not only constructs a novel "vocalizing" style, but seems to take on more of the "other" sonorities from that album as well. (Willberg had been noted here most recently, in an August 2021 review, with Aggregate Glows in the Cold....) And I hadn't noted Lisle yet either, but he adopts another offbeat style of clustered strikes, another sort of post-punk or start-stop alternating style (i.e. that I'd also noted of Adam Shead earlier this month...). Some of Scaffolding, especially the short final track, does also sound like a fairly standard free sax trio, but there's a sort of funky pointillism around the guitar vocalizing that has an appeal. (And the vocalizing is distinctive & consistent, in a few different modes. Does it involve some sort of digital presets, or is it really about fingering precision? It's a sort of "dirty," i.e. grainy, precision. Also sometimes spacey or watery, or even suggesting a didgeridoo, Willberg seems to be in the early stages of developing an ear-catching personal sound on the instrument, whatever it is exactly....) And Webster himself is constantly inventive: I should also note his recent duo album with Daniel Thompson, Hakons ea on Empty Birdcage, recorded six days later in September 2020, but then that's also at least their third recent duo album together (including on Raw Tonk, as well as on A New Wave of Jazz, where Webster is also a fixture...). I consequently didn't have much to say about it, but the most distinctive part is Webster blowing (not with reed...) into the microphone: I didn't find that to be particularly affective (& maybe that's the "ea?"), but who knows where he'll go with it.... In any case, Scaffolding did catch my ear more specifically, particularly for its novel bass guitar & resulting textural explorations. (Indeed, the same trio had already released an album in 2018, also on Raw Tonk, Static Garbled Dreams with Willberg on "conventional" double bass, pace plenty of arco....)15 February 2022
Bassist Brandon Lopez (b.1988) has been quite active, with a variety of recent material, including leader & solo albums. I've been listening, but have also yet to feature him specifically in this space: Actually, looking back, I see he was first mentioned here in a (September 2016) review of Weasel Walter's Igneity, and most recently again alongside Walter, on Throes are the Only Trouble (reviewed February 2018). So that's presumably coincidence, but now I want to feature Lopez with another drummer (that I've often cited here), Tom Rainey. And my appreciation for Rainey goes back to very early in this project, prior even to a fascination with the album Pool School (reviewed here across multiple entries in June 2011). That album, including Ingrid Laubrock & Mary Halvorson — to form the Tom Rainey Trio, really did seem like "jumping in" at the time, an extensive program of improvised tracks by three leading (or emerging) musicians forming a group for the first time.... Its starkness & extended technique, combined with a variety of rhythmic invention & basic jazziness, made a big impression on me — & indeed (it appears) on the musicians. I thus reviewed subsequent releases from the Tom Rainey Trio, more often involving composed music on later albums, never quite recapturing that initial magic for me, but always with worthwhile musical explorations.... And that continued into the Laubrock-Rainey duo, which has developed a substantial discography, including e.g. a series of 60 online episodes, Stir Crazy produced during the pandemic. (Each has also appeared, but not together, on landmark Anthony Braxton albums....) And apparently they met Lopez musically by something of a coincidence in 2017, but No es la Playa — recorded in New York in April 2021 — is their first album together. Like Pool School, it's also quite substantial, and features a series of distinct improvised tracks, incorporating a variety of musical techniques & inspirations. With Lopez in the center — moving from a sort of noise arco to jazzy plucking & various other techniques (apparently including preparations) in between — this new trio is then endlessly inventive. No es la Playa is thus another compelling "sax trio" album (without the quotes), feeling at times perhaps more intimate from Laubrock than some of her early work with Rainey, but also involving a wide range of texture, chirps & rumbles spanning primitivist evocations as well as the avant garde.... It's also well produced by Intakt Records, as they're a label that e.g. continues to include liner notes, as well as releases their material with an option for 24bit resolution. (And the bigger sound is quite enjoyable here.) There's also the matter of my personal trajectory around an album such as this, since as noted, it follows other experiences (& their extensive narration...), but the participation of Lopez has really enlivened my appreciation, pace these very prolific musicians.... No es la Playa also more often takes an "inside" approach, pace that Intakt is more often inside than I usually feature here, i.e. can come off as a traditional horn trio, including as e.g. assertive & propulsive (& with the rhythm duo taking off on its own, or the sax soloing...), while the "extended technique" passages can also come to be some of the most captivating, particularly as they never seem to overextend themselves. (That's also where one finds more of a three-way interaction, versus the clearly layered expression of a horn trio per se....) At times, one might even feel a sultry vibe, although (pace Lopez & the title...) a sort of "edge" generally returns. No es la Playa thus continues to be inventive throughout, and with no real low points across its substantial length, although I do wonder if it really pushes beyond "entertainment...." There's a kind of balance here, and the music can be edgy in spots, but it might also let the listener off the hook overall (i.e. lets us bask in musical enjoyment & hence diversion, i.e. the unreal). And in the wake of the pandemic, I'm unsure what to think on the latter point: I guess time will tell (& hence we have a "problem of transition," transitions themselves being handled so masterfully by this trio of musicians...).21 February 2022
And I hadn't really registered composer (& prepared pianist, multi-instrumentalist...) Magnus Granberg (b.1974, Sweden) to this point, although I'd been hearing some of his releases (or at least samples) on labels such as Another Timbre, Meenna, Insub.... He's actually quite prolific, including with his Swedish group Skogen, although he has other groups.... And of course I've been pondering the world of post-Cage composition here, e.g. in the October 2021 entry, openly wondering what I want to hear these days.... Part of that involved an alone-together dynamic, and of course recordings address such a dual in their own particular way (& that's nothing new). But I've also been trying to make some sense of the post-Cage space in general, largely in terms of rather similar, usually quiet, musical tapestries exploring extended temporal durations. Another Timbre has really been specializing in this sort of composed material, moving beyond improvisation per se. Yet Granberg's music does involve improvisation extensively, and so in that sense it's very much a departure from Cage: The latter famously disliked improvising, but as I've noted in various places at this point, that had a lot to do with the results in his era. Today, improvising from Granberg et al. takes on a "non-idiomatic" air, sounding not unlike Cage's own material... the textures themselves also spreading out in layers, i.e. akin to Cage's time brackets. And Granberg is also dealing with material, of course, so whereas Cage's material (especially in the late Number Pieces) can be enigmatic (yet crucial!), Granberg generally derives his from specific prior music. And in the case of How Lonely Sits the City? — recorded (by Skogen) in June 2021, and released earlier this month on Another Timbre — the material is derived from Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps, as well as (per the title) from Lamentations settings by Tallis & Byrd. In fact, Granberg apparently began this "composing in times of crisis" project (& hence involved the Messiaen...) in 2019! So the pandemic provided additional impetus, specifically its feelings of urban emptiness. I'm thus unsure if this is really one of Granberg's best pieces — & I took the opportunity to apply more attention to a selection of his earlier releases — but it does seem to fit the moment very well. (It's e.g. more tonal than some compositions, although all seem to project a feeling of calm distension....) The material lends something of a subliminal quality too, the sound being out of a sort of icey Nordic font (pace ECM perhaps...), taut in spanning musical gamuts, but never overwhelming or even agitated. (I might thus compare the icey tautness of this septet performance to the trio album Ize: There's more sense of breath to the latter, and the restarts for different tracks are definitely welcome. The single movement of How Lonely Sits the City? can seem overlong in comparison, but I guess if one has plenty of time, as one very well might these days....) Given the ensemble, e.g. violins & harp around prepared piano, Confluence — another "composed" album (albeit sans musical notation...) — is another obvious reference, but there the "filamental" concept does seem relatively prominent, versus the sort of "2d canvas" suggested by Granberg & How Lonely Sits the City?.... (The filament... the sinewy sense of continuity really seems to draw me in... there also being a sense of breath.) Granberg's ensemble & performance can also seem very direct, as e.g. there's whistling at times (instead of e.g. rubbing cymbals, but with the same effect...) & other "noise" effects are very practical (if often subdued), rather than seeming to derive (perhaps mysteriously) from broader instrumental practice: In that sense, the "compositional" stance does seem to slice through an affective fog (sometimes afflicting other projects...). And the result is indeed evocative & appealing, although without a satisfying conclusion. (A sort of world, or locale, is visited. But not in the sense of travelogue. Rather, it's the ongoing development of a single locale. And the visit simply ends.) How does one distinguish between these sorts of post-Cage musical tapestries then? Affective response is one obvious answer, assuming something specific or consistent materializes in that arena.... But much in this space — & I mean beyond Granberg... — is similar in this regard, a sort of calmly ambient attentiveness... often a kind of crystalline or pointillist quality, perhaps pace layered held tones as well... a sort of (direct, again) simplicity, but (likely) involving various background calculations (of material, timing...). There's also a tendency toward abstraction & deconstruction (in this repertory, in general...), and I do think that can depart from Cage... into, I suppose, sometimes-jaded memory. (And of course there's the sonic environment per se, and a piece such as this does abstract, or distract us from our own locale....) Even pace the epochal shift in the status & sounds of "improvisation" then, it's unclear if "post-Cage music" actually develops Cage. It's clear, of course, that we want new pieces, but what does newness mean in this mode? Or is it simply more? In any case, the prolific Granberg (both composer & performer) seems to have captured a general vibe today rather well. I'll keep listening, but aren't these pieces all variations on the same formal theme? (Some have less tonal orientation, it's true.... So that's, again, a matter of material.) I guess they do continue to feel useful (but not provocative...) in my life.22 February 2022
Moving on to a relatively obscure release, I also want to note the self-titled Hypersurface from a trio of Drew Wesely (guitar & objects), Lester St. Louis (cello) & Carlo Costa (percussion). Wesely was new to me — although I note as well that his Bandcamp site includes e.g. an intricate duo recording with Eli Wallace — but the other two weren't: I've been following Costa since Sediment by the Carlo Costa Quartet (featuring e.g. Steve Swell) appeared in a March 2015 review here, having already reviewed Natura morta's second album Decay in February 2014, after mentioning their own self-titled debut in a June 2013 entry... closely followed by e.g. a review of Rune by Costa's Earth Tongues trio in May 2015.... And I hadn't featured St. Louis as much, but he's first mentioned here during a similar time frame, with Coding of Evidentiality by Dre Hocevar (reviewed June 2015) — & I'd already heard him e.g. with Jeff Shurdut.... So Wesely was the unknown factor, although he's apparently been a student of Joe Morris (& maybe they all have...), who's probably the reason I saw this album cited at DMG: Morris offers glowing accompanying remarks, and moreover, Hypersurface does seem to be comparable, if only vaguely, to some of the sorts of improvised combo sounds that Morris goes after lately, e.g. on Switches.... And apparently the Hypersurface project began around the end of 2018, with the present recording(s) being dated, also vaguely, to Summer 2019. The album thus comes off as more preliminary than some I've featured here, and would probably benefit from better sound quality too. But it also illustrates a potent & distinctive three-way interaction. And this release was apparently so as to be ready for some new shows: I'll be interested to hear the result of that.... (I'm also wondering if they'd be releasing something different from the past couple of years, if not for the pandemic....) Meanwhile, Hypersurface the album comes on with a burbling-buzzing rumble, soon suggesting a sense of breath, although no wind instruments are named (or obvious in their identities...), and with powerful bass. This is no rock vibe, however. Indeed, massive & not-so-massive sound complexes seem to pass through each other, usually with a bustling activity, but sometimes more slowly or even in a sort of Cageian (or pointillist...) vein. So the music is about transitions — although it does feature five tracks, with track break "restarts" — i.e. suggests (& develops?) some of the vibe of Braxton's 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017... while consistently forging a powerful sense of flow & motion of its own. (Of course, the album also appears to be highlights from some number of sessions.) Questions of "foreground" are then among the musical-ensemble parameters under continuous interrogation.... Senses of pitch (& individuality per se...) start to blur as well, amid textural smearing. And the result is often a strong feeling of immersion, but of emergence too, i.e. including of a developing style, sometimes with rather visceral intensity. So Hypersurface the trio already makes a real impression.24 February 2022
The enigmatically titled (D)IVO, the latest album from Brazil-to-New York tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman (b.1961), is then a very busy album, basically all foreground itself. Instead of contrasting instruments, (D)IVO presents a dense buzz of saxophones, Perelman being joined by Tony Malaby (soprano), Tim Berne (alto) & James Carter (baritone) to form a quartet "to the left" (per the liner notes) of e.g. the World Saxophone Quartet or Rova. That's partly due to the exclusive orientation on improvisation, but also due to the strongly egalitarian character of the music: The horns don't really play roles based on register, but rather meet in a close, multi-faceted dialog, a conversational interaction in which similar figures are exchanged between the players, often in pair-wise interactions, shifting constantly through the quartet. In this, register per se contributes both to timbral differences between the players & to opening "space" for the (usually) quick figures. Indeed, Perelman has recorded extensively with pianists (especially Matthew Shipp...), and going back to the first review here (The Hour of the Star, July 2011), I'd noted his sophisticated approach to filling chromatic space. And (D)IVO isn't a dodecaphonic album either, but shows a similar structural sophistication in the way the horn interactions can seem wild, but still "spaced" in such a way that everyone can be heard & appreciated individually. In that sense then, it's a "jazzier" presentation than an album such as Hypersurface — although it might be said to offer something of a "hypersurface" itself, via its all-foreground orientation — in that it's an album that projects individual personalities from the musicians. And as Perelman is acting as something of a host for the event, Berne's is especially evident, while Malaby is unusually on soprano (sometimes with some very high squeals...), and Carter was new to me: It seems to me that having another tenorist on soprano was calculated to accommodate space for Perelman's register shifts upward.... And both Berne & Carter had just recorded with Perelman for a series of 12 Reed Duet CDs, also to be released on Mahakala Music, later this year. That project, recorded (& filmed...) in 2021 for Perelman's 60th birthday (for which Brass & Ivory Tales, a set of 9CDs with 9 different pianists was also released, in that case by Sluchaj...), hasn't been released yet, but per the included notes, prompted this quartet project: (D)IVO was then recorded only last month in Brooklyn, but is appearing first — & I'm indeed hearing these items out of order, a common enough experience in this space at this point.... (Already on Mahakala Music is also Magic Dust, a traditional free jazz quartet with William Parker, in a double album featuring spiritual-transcendental music... if one wants to hear Perelman in more of a Coltrane-Ayler mode, verging on dissolution at times.... Perelman has a large set planned with a series of guitarists too.) (D)IVO is then "only" a single album (although nearly an hour in length), but the result can be exhausting, as e.g. expression is assertive right from the start, forging a sort of dense micropolyphony — although sometimes slowing down (together, rather than shifting into different roles...) for other tracks, including via smears or glissandi, but mostly using clearly articulated notes. One might call the result almost a thicket, much of the time, but it does open & reveal itself, including via different contours on the different tracks. And I mention chromatic space in part because there're some microtonal effects here, if only concerned with timbral correspondences in the dialogs: Despite playing with pianists much of the time, Perelman has shown a keen ability to play with infrachromaticism as well, i.e. per the most recent reviews of his work here (in November 2020), e.g. The Purity of Desire: A sense of microtones shines through here as well, although the orientation does remain on chromatic space. And so the most straightforward comparisons are then Perelman's albums with strings, e.g. Strings 1 (reviewed here November 2018, and an even longer album...) on which his tenor takes the role of "cello" in a string quartet, producing another album of close exchanges & rotating figures/combos: That album seemed more experimental, with many textural clashes (far more than (D)IVO anyway...). But Deep Resonance (reviewed August 2020) had already refigured a "string quartet" interaction into more of a traditionally jazzy style, particularly via setting double bass below tenor sax, and so engaging a differentiation in role. For (D)IVO, though, Carter isn't mostly playing jazzier or more "foundational" material, but rather joins in a similar chirping (at similar speed) — but with a baritone's timbre. So while Deep Resonance can feel lyrical & project more of a classic vibe, (D)IVO does remain relatively opaque & affectively incoherent: It requires close listening, and its expression soon moves on to something else. The sense of four-way playing can be exhilarating, though, especially at speed, twisting into various (multi-dimensional) shapes, but always seeming basically (chromatically) sturdy. (That it always seems egalitarian in its interactions is seemingly more of a challenge for a quartet than for the duets, where this idea was apparently forged....) The players thus develop unique, dynamic textures — sometimes more "in your face," but sometimes more rhetorical, even featuring mimetic calls, some pointillistic amid a generalized hocketing... sometimes with some extended technique, but mostly "straight" sax tone. (That's another sense in which (D)IVO might be characterized as more modernist than some, more contemporary, orientations....) And although the egalitarian orientation is appealing in principle, I've generally been more fascinated lately by ensembles that incorporate more in the way of spatial-"geometric" resonance, which necessarily means hierarchy between registers.... There's some attempt to "spread out" on (D)IVO, but it does tend to return quickly to close interactions (& its sense of geometric space is more in terms of where the players are positioned on the sound stage...). The all-foreground approach is thus, perhaps, unsuited to more leisurely listening & affective modulation in general, but does yield a strong play of personal expression, personalities per se reacting & shifting against each other in a sort of ongoing kaleidoscope. In that sense, (D)IVO is very much about the human realm, exploring four distinct characters. (In the broader natural world, processes occur at different temporalities, including various biological processes. But human conversation does occur at a particular time scale....) In other words, it's "all melody" (or at least foreground...) densely & spontaneously woven together in (usually) short figures.28 February 2022
Biliana Voutchkova, violinist from Bulgaria, is embarking on a DUOS2022 series, digital only releases on Relative Pitch Records, starting with Michael Zerang to yield The Emerald Figurines. That substantial album actually dates to Chicago in July 2019, but Voutchkova's series is centered on Berlin, where apparently she & Zerang began their duo interaction (also in 2019), thus pre-inaugurating what was to be a DUOS2020 residency for Voutchkova.... (That's thus been incremented to 2021 & now 2022, although from the comments, I'm unsure if the DUOS2022 project involves more performances, in Berlin, or only recording releases.) And Zerang — credited specifically with "friction drums" (although some more traditional percussion sounds do appear at times) — proves to be a fascinating choice to begin this series, the "friction duo" quickly suggesting a suddenly-classic pairing in the mold of sax & drums.... The sound is usually active, although involves some eerie "night landscape" passages as well, combining a sort of gruffness with fragility, generalized trills & ringing resonances sometimes escaping from the extended interaction. A sort of frictional wheezing can almost produce a calming effect too, as affective tension is sculpted throughout the 4-track program, sometimes moving from anguish to catharsis. So besides a wide toolkit of violin technique, especially focusing e.g. on the basic "grain" of the frictional sound, Voutchkova also employs voice here, obviously not as a physical extension of the violin, but also with a sense of "grain," i.e. involving some throat singing & generally low burbling, similarly integrated into the texture. And various extended techniques suit Zerang perfectly, his last appearance here being with The Shuddering Cherub, a striking & percussive exploration of solo inside-piano (variously frictional as well...), reviewed in January 2019 along with a mention of Follow the Light, a sort of "string quintet" with Zerang on a theatrical hurdy-gurdy-like instrument... perhaps not so very different in technical inspiration from what occurs here (although that project was, thematically, around Moby Dick). The Emerald Figurines also seems like a title from Zerang's catalog, but Voutchkova has been ascending as a musician as well: She was first mentioned here (in a December 2017 review) with The Afterlife of Trees with Ernesto Rodrigues & Magda Mayas, and then most recently also (coincidentally) with Mayas with Jane in Ether & Spoken / Unspoken (reviewed in July 2021, and seemingly to be reprised...). And although duos do present more of a "closed world" (& so position the listener almost as voyeur...) — e.g. per my October 2021 entry, where I didn't mention the relative logistic simplicity of a duo specifically... — the series also seems central to Voutchkova's development, meaning I decided not to wait for more releases to note this initial issue.... (But I do still miss broader interactions in my own life more than ever, pair-wise exchanges generally remaining more practical lately....) And compared e.g. to another recent, extended tour-de-force violin duo album (that I didn't review...), The Quantum Violin by Mia Zabelka & Glen Hall (electronics) on FMR, The Emerald Figurines involves far more an exploration of locale & habitability: There's a sense of naturalistic scene at various points, perhaps quite wild, but an air of mimesis that always links the musical expression to physicality per se. In contrast, The Quantum Violin is exhausting, and via sampling & manipulation (usually deconstructive...), feels like a sonic maze without physical limits (for better or worse...). However, The Emerald Figurines centers the human (perspective, limits...) within its new (& still often machinic...) sonic provocations, forging a sophisticated exchange that does seem to lose some affective energy as it goes, although not its sense of sonic exploration. There's something of a real collective sound being developed too, so what does it herald for the rest of 2022?7 March 2022
While obviously oriented on the latest releases here, as I know I've noted in the past, I do go back and hear or rehear various items too. In particular, the pandemic has had me both moving toward a further orientation on listening to music via the computer, and reviewing some of my prior influences (especially from the 1990s). That's included going through old boxes of physical materials, (re)digitizing various things, undertaking some reauditions & reminders as well.... And not from the 1990s, but I'd also held onto Flock by Great Waitress, released at the end of 2013 (or January 2014 per their Bandcamp site), apparently unwilling to jettison it during my last physical purge (which I used to undertake more regularly, items having accumulated at quite a pace during the CD era...). Of course, that entire process of review has been stimulating, provoking various (perhaps subtle...) reevaluations, but I was particularly taken with Flock: I'd expected a sort of preliminary expression, i.e. leading to some of the later albums I've enjoyed, especially from Magda Mayas herself, but I found her trio output with Laura Altman (clarinet) & Monica Brooks (accordion) to be far more "advanced" on its own terms than I'd recalled. I guess, in many ways, I simply wasn't ready to treat this album as more than a curiosity, seeing as it doesn't involve melody per se, or generally the traditional parameters of music. But I'd also come to value such musical expressions more over time, including from Mayas (e.g. with the larger ensemble on last year's Confluence), and moving farther afield, Flock seems to prefigure other favorites for me as well, especially Nashaz (also a relatively larger group, and also out of Berlin...) & Drought (i.e. another "timbral" trio with prepared piano). Both of those albums were recorded in 2015, while the two tracks of Flock were recorded — in Sydney, Australia, home of Altman & Brooks (previously a duo...) — in January & February 2013. And I did actually review Flock here, back in May 2014, but can't claim any real prescience: Both Dan Sorrels & Massimo Ricci wrote enthusiastic reviews at the time, and they certainly picked up on more of the context. It's interesting, though, to read them both talk of "silence" in their discussions (without mentioning Cage...), while I was struggling to connect my own thoughts (eventually) to notions of ambient music — a commercial genre that I hadn't really thought through yet in these terms. So what is "silent" about Great Waitress? In fact, Flock is generally an assertive & active album, although as e.g. Ricci notes, sounds do begin quietly, i.e. emerge from silence — & leave one listening intently to silence by the end as well, an aspect I've long noted here. In the interim, though, Flock generally makes quite a racket! There's a basic sense of liminality to the quieter emergences, but also in terms of lines of flight, escaping lines, sometimes shrill... yet always suggesting coordination & control. The first track, Rite — & the two tracks were recorded in two different churches — is particularly brilliant in this regard, anticipating (albeit with a less standard ensemble configuration...) the sort of transcendence via resonance of e.g. the recent Induction. (The latter recalls Mayas' participation in Vellum on Glints as well. And a further "hinge" album for this entry is Boule-spiele, featuring both Mayas & Pierre-Yves Martel of HMZ, reviewed here in January 2017: I tried to respond to impressions from others, including in its own associated text, of dissonance around that album, but am finding it less dissonant than ever in this context....) But while the more masculine (I suppose...) Induction does involve a sense of anguished call, Great Waitress seems to present themselves in a more matter-of-fact manner, their ritual intensity seeming to build from straightforward sonic statements & elaborations. Turning back to the era of this recording then, their approach can be compared to e.g. Roscoe Mitchell in his trio on Angel City (recorded in 2012 & released in 2014), i.e. as a sort of interplay & coalescing of sound via timbre, resonance & motion per se.... The Mitchell reference seems quite apt to me too, despite that there very well might be no direct influence, because "sound" fits this music better for me — as a single-word epithet — than does "silence." The second track on Flock then seems a bit more technical-procedural, still involving timbral exploration, and suggests more of the trio's third album, Hue. And I was only just able to hear Hue! (I'd mentioned the release already, in the review of Boule-spiele, as it happens, but also that I'd likely never hear it, since it was only on vinyl.... Now there's Bandcamp.) Recorded in 2014, Hue is a worthwhile album as well — while the group's first album, Lucid (recorded & released in 2011) does seem less sophisticated (although it's impossible to know what I'd think if I'd heard it first...). Hue does suggest more of timbral procedures per se, however, including some more melodic-figural aspects. As I've remarked regarding some other followups, it seems almost an attempt to draw the listener more explicitly into the trio's horizons, i.e. to become more accessible.... (Hue was also recorded in a studio space, for Australian Broadcasting, rather than the churches employed for Flock, which surely do contribute to the latter's vibe, as well as more concretely to its resonance.... Perhaps I should also note that Australian participation in the international improv scene seems to have peaked around this period. E.g. Altman & Brooks have released little since.) So I do feel as though Flock is the strongest album from Great Waitress: There's a powerful sense of acoustic discovery, but also an original sound, an overall timbral brightness & consistently three-way interaction, a sort of directness as well (i.e. without a kind of affective "slant" — something I might come to associate with characteristically male exaggeration...), i.e. making for a remarkably assertive album (particularly pace other comments suggesting its ephemerality...). The "reedy" (but also droning...) sound around accordion — with clarinet emphasizing, contrasting or clashing within that field — also makes a great backdrop for Mayas' more percussive or bending interpolations. (Particularly with synth involved on some tracks, pace accordion, the most similar sound is probably that from HMZ again, i.e. their fourth album Ize, recorded in 2018....) And it's difficult not to think of Pauline Oliveros when it comes to accordion, although Brooks has a more austere style, i.e. absent that sort of vocalizing, but the instrument has also been appearing on more albums, including from other younger musicians on Creative Sources, but also prominently on e.g. Braxton's 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017.... I think that's ultimately the sort of company that this visionary album keeps (although I still don't like the cover). And I guess I wasn't quite ready for it at the time.15 March 2022
Music in entries such as the previous doesn't seem very jazzy sometimes, and so it's fair to wonder about the heading here: Partly I'm just trying to engage a consistent heading, instead of changing around every few months, or every entry.... But also, as noted, I tend to think of jazz as expanding the boundaries of Western music, i.e. as based in Western music, but involving both other ("world") influences & a basic desire to get "between" the notes — i.e. into the break, as Fred Moten famously put it. That's often meant syncopation, or "bent" tones as accents, but an area of composed music that's also continued to expand my own thinking in this arena has been that involving different notes from those of twelve-tone equal temperament: Without a "temperament," such a project might come under the heading "just intonation," but my interests have to do with the more exotic intervals & relations. (And my aesthetics is relational....) For instance, I reviewed violinist Christopher Otto's Rag'sma, using two pre-recorded string quartet performances together with the live JACK Quartet, back in January. That's an intriguing look at a particular interval relation, buried deeply inside tonality, but also comes off as a big sound & in a single sweep, perhaps more as an exercise. However, today I want to feature the new Aggregate Forms double album (recorded & released in 2021 by Kairos Music) by Catherine Lamb (b.1982) of Olympia WA (& now Berlin). This is another JACK Quartet release, this time featuring Lamb's two string quartets, Two blooms (2009) & Divisio spiralis (2019). The ten years between those compositions has also meant tremendous development for Lamb, and so although the works sound superficially similar, the latter is my focus here. Indeed, Lamb has been quite prolific, and possesses an easygoing sort of musical articulation, suggestive of one of her teachers, Michael Pisaro. She thus has many long pieces being recorded, e.g. releasing multiple albums on Another Timbre, e.g. the quarter-tone flute & bass duo Muto infinitas (2016/18) in 2019, a piece that evokes both the feel of dhrupad & of Native American flute, in a subtly kaleidoscopic & cyclic interaction of micro-intonation. Various of Lamb's pieces for mixed ensemble feature a sort of hovering sound too, and a sort of openness, suggestive of the post-Cage tradition (of which Pisaro is a part...), but the quartets come off more immersively, rich in string tones & their relations.... That certainly includes via the dhrupad inspiration, as Lamb both studied Hindustani music, and dedicated Divisio spiralis to Z. M. Dagar (a veena player I particularly admire... & whose famous residency at the University of Washington, documented e.g. here, overlapped with Lamb's birth). And then the first quartet is dedicated to James Tenney, another of Lamb's teachers: I've featured Tenney here as well, e.g. mentioning his string quartet Arbor vitæ in the review of Rag'sma, and the former is a relatively shorter, more filigree piece than are Lamb's. E.g. Tenney's Spectrum Pieces — which are for mixed ensembles — also proceed at a quicker pace, and with less "scope" in spectral terms. The most similar in general sound, though, would be Tenney's Critical Band (1988), shifting through different relations along a single overtone spectrum. Those pieces by Tenney are also playful, in that they present various relations in a partly-arbitrary order, i.e. as conditioned by Cage's notions on chance. In that, they mark a shift from Tenney's earlier, more didactic style, in which relations are presented in an "obvious" order. And in taking up a similar sort of matrix of extended rational intervals, this is Lamb's biggest development from Tenney, that is "development" per se: Lamb is not proceeding in an arbitrary order, but rather presenting an extended tapestry of relations in a series of snapshots suggesting an orientation on the presentation style (& ordering) of Hindustani music. (In this, Lamb can be contrasted with e.g. the "deconstructive" approach of Magnus Granberg, per a review here last month.... Her music is basically constructive.) So although Lamb is often presenting a sort of post-Cage sound, hers is not generally chance music, but rather features compositional progressions of the harmonic material, i.e. of the way the intervals interrelate. Contra Hindustani music, though, Divisio spiralis is not presented monophonically. Rather, there's a sort of multi-dimensionality right from the start, surprisingly intense to open (pace the slow alap of Hindustani music, usually easing into sound...), and basically "braiding" a variety of relations simultaneously across different registers. The "affective pace" of this music — 99 minutes in length, not atypical for a Hindustani raga presentation! — is then relatively slow, and in fact, my original impressions found it more distant in this regard, with little affective modulation, but I came to realize that this actually occurs more subtly over the full duration of the piece. In that sense, Divisio spiralis is powerful music, and I've thus gotten more from it than Lamb's other works so far, some of which seem a little lighter in scope. But there's also e.g. the deep rumbling of Parallaxis Forma (2016), a generally calming piece. Or the Prisma Interius series, most recently with VII & VIII, featuring the "secondary rainbow synth," a way of further projecting room resonance. The latter was developed together with the Sacred Realism group, including Bryan Eubanks & Andrew Lafkas, who've appeared in this space with Ernesto Rodrigues on 0 minutes and 0 seconds (reviewed here June 2018), as well as e.g. with jazz drummer Todd Capp in his Oceans Roar 1000 Drums project (mentioned in that earlier review as well...), the latter releasing an album in 2019 with Lamb herself on secondary rainbow synth.... And Lamb also prefers — not so unlike on Flock, from the previous entry — a directness of expression, downplaying notions of "intensity" in her public comments, i.e. ecstatic utterance, preferring to let matter-of-fact expression add up to something more. (That's embedded in a specific concern for liminality, though.) The sort of "sacred realism" invoked thus comes from exploring the physical structure of sound itself, not via its mystification. There's thus an air of pedagogy, which is something I've thought detracted from Tenney's earlier music, but Lamb seems to move beyond any sort of stiffness to her presentations: A sort of "play" does emerge, but not from chance... rather, her presentations are (apparently) based in the long tradition of raga presentations (which do have their own didactic history & intent!). Lamb is thus not merely presenting us with a series of "gamuts" — which can be didactic in their own way, i.e. spanning musical capacities — but rather with her own ideas on musical progression & development. And the result does suggest broad sweeps, a sort of acoustic vista where rasa (per Hindustani theory) itself comes to intertwine. (And there's no discussion of what the track breaks indicate. They seem to move to new orientations, but progressively — & include a "cool down" at the end.) Lamb also mentions the "long introduction" form, meaning the extended alaps of e.g. the Dagar tradition of dhrupad, and I did feel that "getting to the point" could be a weakness, but upon further listening, I find that "a lot happens." (And I found the music exhausting the first couple of times through, but then it started opening to the ear, and I've found it increasingly captivating... it really does seem like an extended, but multi-dimensional, raga presentation, complete with treatment of harmonic overtones, well up the spectrum....) In that sense, then, this is not ambient music. Rather, Divisio spiralis rewards attention & cognition. And the fine-tuned array of intervallic relations being explored & articulated does suggest an overall Hindustani architecture, i.e. with its traditionally developing sense of emotional satisfaction, but also something more. Lamb's "easy" & straightforward sense of articulation thus forges & enables a disarming experience, a further opening to sound.18 March 2022
And per the previous entry, bowed string instruments retain a fascination for me, meaning that I've surely discussed a disproportionate share in this space.... That includes albums by a prolific string player such as Ernesto Rodrigues, who besides his amazing work curating Creative Sources, continues to release a variety of stimulating & enjoyable ensemble results of his own. While that embraces a wide variety of style, there's something of an orientation on other string players there too, including of course cellist Guilherme Rodrigues. And the latter made the recording of the recent quintet album Echoes in a further range last November in Berlin: It's another substantial album from the Rodrigueses, including Ulf Mengersen on double bass, as well as Anna Kaluza & Edith Steyer on alto saxes (with the latter also on clarinet). There's also more of a classical-romantic traditional approach to the music being articulated across what can feel like a four-movement "sonata" form, including a lyrical orientation that seems to suit Guilherme Rodrigues well, but also some extended techniques & investigations of stillness. In this, both viola & cello participate regularly in the "front line" of the interaction, including virtuosic contributions (e.g. double stop passages) at times. There's still a sense of register, though, such that Echoes in a further range doesn't present as as "egalitarian" as e.g. the (D)IVO sax quartet (reviewed here last month), i.e. the bass plays a more foundational role: Upper registers thus suggest a kind of font or flowering from below, with cello-tenor at center (or as stem?). Although Ernesto Rodrigues is actually the only musician in common, the result recalls the Lisbon String Trio for me too, i.e. their inclusion of different horn players, e.g. Blaise Siwula on K'Ampokol Che K'Aay: There's a similar sort of intricacy & formal arrangement, although the albums differ thematically — & of course Echoes in a further range now involves two horns, forging a quintet. (And I was unfamiliar with Kaluza, but Steyer had been mentioned here, in April 2019, with the Bertch Quartet, in an entry around Henk Zwerver. And Mengersen had also appeared on Creative Sources already, but his previous mention here was actually with the "DIY"-vibe album, Grappling with the Orange Porpoise, in July 2020....) Per (D)IVO, the interaction also involves great clarity & spacing, i.e. often a classical sense of chromatic space & counterpoint. There's also more contrast in tempi. Indeed, Echoes in a further range projects considerable mastery around a "classical" (but extended...) string backbone, horns coming both to intensify & mellow the timbres of that backbone. There's then a relatively easy sense of melody & harmony, far ranging, but not really pushing boundaries. (And so notable for its fluency....) I thus tend to think of this configuration as developing a newly-classic idiom for contemporary improvisation around strings (i.e. still a quintet, but instead of percussion/piano). And that does include a jazzy, & certainly a rhetorical (or even languid...), feel at times — wrapped in a satisfying (overall, formal) package. A lot happens too, i.e. alluding to a wide range of human activity & feeling....19 March 2022
Schwebend ("floating"), recorded in Germany in March 2021, is one of the latest releases from Creative Sources, a part of getting things rolling again with performances & conceptions here from 2021/2022. (As many labels continue to scour 2019 for performances worth releasing....) And I was attracted by the lineup featuring Swiss bassist Daniel Studer, in a quartet paired with Stefan Scheib, also on double bass (paralleling, perhaps, the Studer-Frey duo, as mentioned here originally in May 2019... — & Schwebend was recorded by Scheib as well), plus Johannes Schmitz (guitar) & Daniel Weber (drums) to form SteDaJoDa. The six tracks, recorded over two consecutive dates, involve various bent tones & slides, a wide range of string "deconstruction" & starkness characteristic of the Swiss scene, but also an occasional flash of electric rock guitar, seeming at first to come out of nowhere.... I wasn't familiar with the other three musicians (although the Weber name appears with some frequency...), but the effect here is of exotic & twisting shapes, a bit of noise as ingredient perhaps, but more inclined to pointillism, even ringing metal (but also wood or membranes...), all somewhat distended (pace an occasionally concrete idiom appearing) — or, as some might say, presented as a little night music.... I could suggest, then, that feelings of anticipation are "answered" by (rock) guitar, only to float away... perhaps into a "distant radio" vibe, fluttering, then spinning, groaning, bending again.... Schwebend ends up feeling both figural & virtuosic: Actually, its opening sequence is already strikingly so, while later passages elaborate new timbral combos & figures as well. And this isn't the first quartet around Studer & crunchy strings to release an album on Creative Sources (with the sometimes quiet & breezy album by Anemochore having been reviewed here in July 2019...), again with considerable dynamic range & sometimes intricate extended counterpoint. To that foundation, SteDaJoDa adds an ominous quality, a sliding & crackling unease, a spicing of blues it comes to seem, always creeping up on us.... And even some shredding to close.25 March 2022
Another album that might not fit a "jazz" heading very well is then Ganz by Zimt, recorded in September 2020 at the Klangspuren Festival in Tyrol. But Ganz is improvised, and does involve another approach to collective momentum & continuity, in a sophisticated presentation around unusual instruments. And not unlike EIH & Studio Session — noted here in January — I "discovered" Ganz only via a review at the Free Jazz Blog, in this case by Eyal Hareuveni, who described it as a "dreamlike soundscape that manages to weave disparate elements from distant spheres." That would seem to describe many albums in this arena, including Studio Session (although the latter involves more traditionally idiomatic reference...). And Ganz is likewise a first release for the group, as well as for its label Beso de Angel, begun by leader Angélica Castelló (Paetzold flutes & electronics). However, as a quartet including Barbara Romen (prepared dulcimer), Gunter Schneider (contraguitar) & Burkhard Stangl (contra- & electric guitars), Zimt has also been around since 2007. (And coincidentally, I just revisited Stangl on the "other half" of Plume, i.e. around the review of Glints last month: That track, Fiamme, also happens to have been recorded in 2007....) So Ganz involves something of a broader reveal for their long simmering style, after a variety of concert activity, and now includes Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet) as well. As noted, there's an overall concern with continuity, including some ostinato activity at times, even ominously, but mostly this is a post-Cage sound world, with strumming strings at times, but also with what can seem like eerie bowed strings (including from woodwinds?), plus an overall burbling sense of space & breath. The latter can project an "installation" vibe, and so recalls aspects of Music for Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinets & Electronics (or perhaps more Carved Water, as reviewed here in January 2017...), with its attention to the "grain" of horn textures — as well as some static & sampling. However, that album is also less about figuring a continuous flow, such that a more apt comparison can probably be found in Confluence, the latter involving a sort of internal turbulence (e.g. eddies), such that counterpoint generally presents itself from a variety of angles, while Ganz tends to maintain a focus on a main "line" with various accents & tangents. Indeed there's a sort of 3d sense of space that then flows... evoking a kind of "traveling installation," i.e. bringing a sense of acoustic space along for the ride. (I might further compare e.g. to the exploration of timbral space on Coluro, there more about nonlinear spanning than flow....) The result, then, is a little more repetitive or focused than I tend to prefer, but does present a sort of post-Cage vista characterized by (highly modified) Alpine post-folk evocations. (Zimt thus seems to interrogate notions of smoothness & turbulence differently, i.e. less around two dimensions per se, than some efforts.) And there is, I guess, a sort of climax too. (Perhaps an "idiom" that presents itself here would then be film....) So after fifteen years, can Ganz be an opening to more?28 March 2022
Another contemporary composition album that caught my ear recently is The Torres Cycle by Wilfrido Terrazas, released on New Focus Recordings. Terrazas is from Mexico, and the album was mastered in Mexico City, but was mostly recorded around San Diego between 2019 & 2021. And it's unclear to me if the recording situation, which seems mostly to involve different musicians being recorded at different times, was motivated by the pandemic. Most of the tracks were recorded from December 2020 onward, though, while most of the pieces were composed in 2019 or earlier (with the finale, Torre del Oeste being the only exception to that...). Subtitled A music ritual for the seven cardinal directions, the seven pieces are also for different forces: The two duo tracks — for oboe & percussion and for trumpet & contrabass — sound the most typical of free improvisation, while four of the tracks are for "any number" of players, respectively brass, percussion, piccolos & woodwinds. The latter suggest a sort of layering, and have a post-Cage vibe (while perhaps suggesting Tenney too, although this isn't a spectral exploration per se...). Again, many & maybe all were recorded musician by musician at different times: Recording dates are given by month only, so it's hard to say, but sometimes the months or locations certainly differ. And there're apparently instructions for the musicians to orient themselves according to the cardinal directions, perhaps to change where they face, but the discussion is short on technical details. The music is described as improvisational, but the notes also mention written components, including canons — but then, recent albums from e.g. Anthony Braxton or Joe Morris involve extensive scored pages as part of their performances as well, while still presenting improvisationally.... Something similar happens here, but there's no discussion e.g. of how the music was recorded, overlaid apparently, how the number of performers was chosen, etc. But the greatest contrapuntal complexity does apparently belong to the earliest composition in the cycle, Torre del Sur (2014) for "five bowed string parts to be played in any combination": It certainly sounds composed & coordinated, but also seems to have been recorded separately. Do subsequent performers listen to what came before while playing? Again, there's no mention. There's a mention of some "towers" around San Diego, though, and a general exploration of the vibe of (dis)orientation here.... As the "ritual" label suggests, the music can also seem stark, although it's generally fairly active. (Torre del Este for 3 percussionists is the sparsest in this performance, and probably the most Cageian too....) And despite what can seem a motley collection of different pieces assembled for this cycle — & the cycle is not presented chronologically in composition order either — I've found the result to be consistently striking & affective. This is powerful music. I'd actually noted (flautist) Terrazas already here, in the December 2017 review of Discussions, a mixed album whose biggest pieces are orchestrations of prior improvisations by Roscoe Mitchell, but that also includes a couple of short duos between Terrazas & Mitchell. (I said at the time that they were the most striking tracks, despite being the shortest.) Terrazas is also not very active as a performer on The Torres Cycle, credited only on the piccolo & woodwind pieces, but still seems to bring a distinct personality to the entire production. Perhaps I should then go on to compare e.g. to Seven Deserts by the Scott Fields Ensemble (reviewed here in June 2020), in that case using the same musicians throughout (& from a single physical performance), but projecting a series of (also seven) rather different worlds, and from the same score.... There's also Micro Temporal Infundibula by Kronomorfic, a group out of UCSD (some of whose faculty are credited here too...) that I'd reviewed in March 2013 (& happened to revisit when I recently reauditioned e.g. Flock...), describing the album as a sort of Latin m-base: That album reflects more of a post-bop effort though, generally rhythmic, while The Torres Cycle is more evocative of contemporary free improvisation, generally without a stable pulse.... In any case, The Torres Cycle is also quite long, often involving shifting harmonics or overlapping intervals, starting from the opening Torre del Norte for 7 brass players, i.e. already projecting a strong voice there. It's being released as a "classical" piece, but (mostly...) fits into the sounds of the post-jazz improvisatory space — while bringing a distinctive sort of Latin-Mexican ritual vibe that can resonate rather strongly for me. (It's been consistently effective from first audition.) The Torres Cycle thus isn't about impressionism, but orientation & so affectivity more broadly, and I guess its overall coherence is then a part of its mystery....15 April 2022
Also of Mexican heritage, Martín Escalante (saxophone) pairs up with Weasel Walter (drums) again on Katyusha — recorded in Brooklyn in September 2021, there joined by Escalante colleague Teté Leguía on bass guitar: I'd mentioned their prior duo album, Lacerate, in a November 2018 survey focusing on Walter's Poisonous (also a duo, but with electronic manipulation), but didn't really feature it. I guess I was reluctant to review another duo then, but Lacerate did leave an impression, so I'd been waiting for a trio release from Escalante.... And Katyusha is quite an intense album, Walter himself being in especially muscular form on the drums, with big strikes & plenty of bass. (The title itself appears to be an oblique reference to our times, i.e. Russia's current war.) While Escalante's technique on saxophone continues to be basically unique, a sort of "screaming" glissando style, sounding "on a string" — or making me think of a ribbon, the sort of glissando horn where one pulls a tab.... But his is actually an acoustic sax, the accompanying discussion assures us, the sound arising "through sheer force and determination." (Indeed, there's a sort of "acoustic" quality to the playing, in the sense of resonances & registers, but via a kind of breathy portamento....) I almost hear Escalante as suggesting a turntablist, in fact, particularly with his playing speed (& sense of breath sometimes presenting as "static"). And then I wasn't familiar with Leguía, but it's his bass guitar that adds to the duo texture (i.e. from Lacerate), played & distorted in a "low tech" manner via found objects & magnetic fields, producing a "thick... wooly canvas." There's a sense of rock — especially metal — distortion at times, but also a sense of space projected via e.g. swell & reverb. Instead of the sometimes-stark (yet muscular...) texture of the duo, then, the bass provides a shifting orientation, almost recalling Braxton's DCWM & Supercollider... the two acoustic players reacting & commenting at high speed, in music without a consistent pulse (but constantly interpolating rhythms). The saxophone style, especially, is unique, but the overall production does recall some parallels. (The release notes say that Katyusha "probably isn't free jazz at all, but you have to call it something" before declaring that it's "ballistic fire music.") In particular, a couple of albums from my recent relistening to items earlier in this project come to mind, especially Bird Dies by the Ames Room (reviewed here in December 2011), another relentless album of shifting figures, there involving discrete notes (instead of glissandi), a somewhat jazzier vibe, and actually (as I come to hear now) a slower speed.... Bird Dies is an acoustic album (& also with Xenakis among its influences...), but another trio suggesting some of the "sound" of Katyusha is then Psychotic Redaction with Kyle Bruckmann (oboe) & Michael Zerang (reviewed here in May 2012), also with samples & electronics (from Jim Baker). But Katyusha launches into basically a full wall of sound across the frequency spectrum, although it does subsequently vary (particularly in "volume" from the bass...): It's almost as if we're "inside" rock distortion, hearing it articulated & deconstructed internally. The sense of screaming also recalls e.g. Ayler, or maybe even Tarzan: The relevance of music like this is clearly in its urgent quality, i.e. raising the social & political urgency of our current situation, functionally ignored otherwise.... (The "acoustic resonance" aspect of Escalante's style might also be characterized as almost a supercharged version of John Butcher's style, but is maybe closer to e.g. Don Malfon, as some of the tracks on e.g. Mutations start to approach the intensity here... albeit with more rattle than fuzz.) But that's the notion of "energy music," in this case a very masculine energy.... And Escalante did actually release a trio album subsequent to Lacerate, Parkour (recorded in 2018) with the Jerkagram duo, out on 577 Records: If anything, it suggests a turntablist even more (also via post-punk "raspberries," as here...), there embedded into a kind of "pop" vibe via loops, etc., projecting a sort of timeless spinning quality very different from relentless propulsion around Walter (which one might also characterize as the "free jazz" aspect of this music...). Despite the technical novelty, though, Katyusha should probably be heard as a sort of post-metal offering.... But then (& despite comparisons...), the whole production can also seem impossible (or at least highly uncomfortable).18 April 2022
The latest release from Empty Birdcage involves a meeting between smaller groups around John Butcher (with Dominic Lash & Matt Davis) & Angharad Davies (with Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga, zither): Nodosus was actually recorded back in December of 2017 at Cafe Oto, presenting two substantial, exploratory improvisations. Of course, Butcher & Davies had already appeared together many times in Common Objects (around Rhodri Davies), with the latest release from that group (at least that I've seen...) being Skullmarks, recorded in 2016 & released in 2018: That album also engaged a sort of twittering naturalism, much of the group seemingly arrayed in a sort of concertante setting around Butcher, but likewise involved a sort of smooth, process-oriented articulation from most players. That aspect differs from Butcher's work with Lash in general, as e.g. their long-running trio with the late John Russell involved a much more rhythmically agitated style (albeit without a consistent pulse...) — as can be heard e.g. in (apparently) their final recording together, Discernment (also with Mark Sanders & released on Lash's label Spoonhunt last year). Some previous albums from Davies are then perhaps more evocative of Nodosus: E.g. the quartet Awirë (reviewed here in August 2019) is also "acoustic" & relatively sparse/layered, while the (vaguely credited) trio Dethick (reviewed May 2019) involves more ingredients, including (apparently) some broken electronics. And Common Objects did come to involve multiple musicians modulating processes electronically, but Nodosus is an acoustic album, perhaps evoking a bit of "lowercase" through it's mic'ing, but seemingly a result that one could've heard more or less as is without amplification while in the room? (The resulting sound on Empty Birdcage is also particularly good. And the label continues its run of beautiful covers by Beverley Waller, this one seeming particularly apt for the music, or at least its opening.... Moreover, I mention Russell here specifically in part because the label has already released two homages.) I also mention the "acoustic" aspect because that does seem to be what drives some of these explorations: I hear a similar sense of austere strings & shearing motion, for instance, from old favorite Growing carrots... (released in 2013), but there electronically modified. Somehow the combination can almost sound like a trumpet, though, or else braided timbres of strings & horns come to sound almost electronic here.... That's part of its exploration of timbres & smoothness, but Nodosus also involves a sort of multi-dimensionality, evoking (at least for me...) another old favorite, Coluro (recorded in 2018, so actually later, although also released back in 2018...): The latter album also explicitly involves electronics, but a similar (perhaps) string & horn palette as well, although there in a noisier & rather more industrial sound context. (I've written how Coluro seems to "span" timbral space, i.e. erects a sense of dimension — beyond geometry per se.) The sense of timbral abstraction here can be compared then, and indeed Nodosus takes on a rather "industrial" air at times too, blending with its more naturalistic evocations. At times it even seems to overlay (or collide...) jungle & cityscape — although I'm hesitant to attribute those aspects individually to the constituent ensembles. (And in that, Lazaridou-Chatzigoga was completely new to me, while Davis has recorded with Mark Wastell, although I hadn't really noted him to this point.... Here, the zither is especially difficult to identify within the string texture, but Davis's trumpet adds some distinctive yet subdued color. I'm also not sure why so many Butcher albums come out only years later, but that's another topic....) One might even suggest that nature tends to yield to an abstract pulsing smoothness here — "abstraction" itself figuring civilization? Or at times, maybe "smoothness" can suggest a seascape... there're certainly "the usual" nautical evocations. (And these 2017 ideas do recur already elsewhere....) Perhaps the affective result of this exploration is then a figuration of alienation, including via technical extension... into a sort of distant, post-Cage world. A klaxon can consequently seem smooth, even restrained (as society itself likewise ignores massive alarms sounding). The cover, of course, is still beautiful.... While the multi-dimensionality attracts me to the (perhaps perpetually preliminary...) musical intertwining & exploration.29 April 2022
Turning to some other recent (& forthcoming...) Creative Sources releases, clarinetist Bruno Parrinha had already appeared there on a variety of programs — & was first mentioned here in a review of the quintet album Lithos in June 2018 — but now appears in a "series" of four albums with Ernesto Rodrigues. (Beyond those two, the albums do vary in personnel, although all musicians involved have appeared with Rodrigues previously.) And I'll be proceeding chronologically by recording date: The first album, Dada (recorded in Lisbon last November), marks the return of the Lisbon String Trio (their previous release being Isotropy with Luis Lopes, reviewed here in May 2020...), and also presents a particularly integrated performance for that ensemble. Recent releases had involved "soloists" with a broader reputation in Portuguese free jazz, while early performances brought in musicians new to the CS scene. And while Parrinha's reputation surely continues to grow, he isn't as well known (although, as it happens, he's released e.g. an album with Lopes too...) — nor is he new here. His adoption of the alto clarinet on Dada is relatively new, however (& Parrinha uses only varieties of clarinets on these albums, pace some saxophone on earlier outings...), as well as being particularly integrated into the string texture (versus a more concerto-like presentation....): As its title suggests, Dada also evokes a sort of rhetorical abstraction (or concrete anti-rhetoric...), so presents rather differently from e.g. LST clarinet favorite K'Ampokol Che K'Aay, there with more in the way of an "anthropological" (& naturalistic...) air, likewise easing into sound to open.... Dada might thus be compared to LST's first album (without guest), Proletariat (reviewed here as part of an extended series in July 2017): There's more sense of musical unity, even as figures move & replicate, with a sort of quiet pointillism to open, but slowly developing an intricate counterpoint via various twists & turns, yielding a feeling of occasionally busy "sketched" lines (or diagrams...), overlapping parallels that don't necessarily meet or develop... even as a cool lyricism might emerge at times too. In this, of course dada is now over a century old, itself refiguring a kind of late imperial nostalgia — or perhaps critiquing a sort of historicism, basic exosomatization (e.g. object relations) traditionally providing rhetorical circuits (& various justifications for bad behavior). It's thus hard to envision dada without a sense of physicality, of objects beyond the body (i.e. the exosomatic ground of the postimperial subject). But its call toward anti-rationalization, a century ago, seems just as relevant to the antisocial rhetoric dominating much of contemporary politics today, i.e. to circuits of chatter that serve to enable base desire, "rationalizing" per se as the cancellation of sociality & care. In any case, Dada can thus seem to evoke a bit of historical (if not musical) survey at times, generally subtle, but also moving through various moods. The alto clarinet also invokes a subtly different feel, including when involving the various timbral shadings & (spectral) counterpoints for which Rodrigues is known, pensive at times (but generally active), and with a wonderful sense of textural balance. Shifting registers also invoke differing plays of light, although there's little "direction" overall (rather, a more deconstructive figuration that nonetheless erects its own sort of solidity...) — except via generalized drift toward a melancholy of familiarity. Dada consequently projects a sort of (intricate) modesty, also being modest in length, but I've continued to appreciate its unresolving tensions too.
And after recording with Lisbon String Trio, Parrinha turned to an even more classic Creative Sources formation, recording a trio with Ernesto & Guillerme Rodrigues in Porto Covo (e.g. title of a Suspensão album...) just this past January, Sans oublier les arbres: As the title suggests then, Sans oublier les arbres adopts a much more naturalistic orientation, rather than critiquing the human-rational side of (de)colonial thought more directly per Dada, and includes a poem from Ernesto Rodrigues to that effect. The orientation on impressionism might likewise evoke music of a century ago, though (with updated technique, of course), and the three different tracks tend to project a sophisticated, post-romantic feel.... There's also a sense in which the "trees" figuration describes the music technically, in that each track grows from a relatively small beginning, expanding & branching into sometimes thornier counterpoint, or even tending toward smooth resonance. And Parrinha adopts a different clarinet for each track as well, opening on alto, then moving to the more usual "clarinet" (a soprano) & bass clarinet: The final track, in particular, evokes a kind of night music (after a sunset to close the second?), explorations of nighttime becoming a Rodrigues standard it seems, involving a bit of a "distant radio" buzz as well, but also building a flow.... Beyond a tree-like sense of musical growth, then, Sans oublier les arbres does evoke a variety of natural settings, often with subtlety & restrained austerity (but sometimes with a more bustling mood). And within Rodrigues's output, it also recalls Setúbal rather directly for me, there with sax & a different cellist, but a similar trio & orientation, again involving (there especially watery) timbral impressionism, but building at a grander scale: Setúbal is a single track (& with a more virtuosic orientation per se, perhaps...), whereas Sans oublier les arbres resets its momentum (& timbre) for three different scenes. Again, it evokes a strong sense of color & shade, sometimes muted or breathy, but chirpier at others. Tension is also modulated in sophisticated fashion during these ensemble track "builds." (Sans oublier les arbres is the sort of album that could seemingly only come from Rodrigues, then, continuing to refine his prior efforts.... And it's well worth hearing on its own.) And that sense of tension is then reformed & refigured, extended by a quintet context on Quelque chose prie la patience des nuages (recorded at the beach in Colares, the next day), i.e. by adding Luisa Gonçalves (piano) & CS mainstay Carlos Santos (electronics) to the prior trio: Although I hadn't noted it here, Gonçalves already appeared with Rodrigues (& Santos) on Melt (& I'd actually reviewed another quartet album by that name, that from "Hearth" appearing first on Clean Feed, April 2021), taking up what seems to be a recent theme, but also adding a sort of icey quality through crisp piano. (Also from mid-2021, Rodrigues evokes a similar sort of post-Cage idiom in Flat Music — also including Parrinha in its quartet with piano & percussion, as it happens. Stark & smooth are two other apt adjectives for this album that seems to seek radicality in a sort of post-Wandelweiser mode....) Quelque chose prie la patience des nuages projects less of a twisting thicket than an airy backdrop, however — perhaps recalling e.g. Stratus, including via the latter's sometimes wispy, sometimes brighter colors... — and suggests a sort of windswept landscape (cloudscape?) at times. It's also the longest of these albums, in two weighty (weightless?) tracks, its quasi-tonality & temperament (although softened by understated electronic manipulation...) imposing a more extended canvas... often distended, sparse & eerie (process-like?), but sometimes more active (or even searing via high clashes). The piano & electronics might almost be said to present a broad, contoured canvas for the clarinet & strings trio, but there's also a sense that the trio is accompanying Gonçalves at times (or elaborating the latter, i.e. into smaller spaces...). And beyond the clouds evocation per se, Stratus does remain a significant prefiguration here — & is actually another album on which Parrinha had appeared. (These releases might also be characterized as drawing upon themes & techniques of spectral music, albeit in improvising contexts....) Indeed, he'd also appeared already with Rodrigues on the quartet album Backlighting (first mentioned here in August 2018), where this sort of delicate, translucent blend of timbres was first put at the center of an interaction (or at least in this way...). A sense of cloud, moonlight, and shading in sometimes-muted colors thus comes to figure an ongoing musical strand in this space....
And then with Chiaroscuro (recorded March 2022 in Lisbon), Rodrigues (viola) & Parrinha (clarinet & bass clarinet only here) turn to an ensemble formation with fewer obvious precedents, adding Maria da Rocha (violin) & José Oliveira (percussion). Rocha had appeared with Rodrigues on Iridium String Quartet (with e.g. Miguel Mira on bass, reviewed here in May 2016), but I hadn't noticed her since: Much of her work seems to involve classical music, including integrating electronics, but Chiaroscuro does appear to be an acoustic album. And Oliveira appeared on some of the earliest CS albums, but most recently on Pentahedron (along with e.g. Carlos Zingaro), another album under half an hour in length that I reviewed here in March 2020, calling it (potentially) a crowd pleaser...! It brought more of a "traditional" free jazz vibe, while more of a 20th century rhetorical balance does also maintain on Chiaroscuro, including via some "classical" figurations. Oliveira functions as a colorist on both albums, adding (especially) various metallic tones (e.g. chimes), as well as a sort of bent metal "bass" to Chiaroscuro. (The latter can be rather subtle, although the bent metal is at its most distinctive — & higher pitched — after a slowdown in the interaction about two thirds through.... Oliveira also opens the album with a tinkling figure, soon joined by pizzicati.) And then both the close coordination & independence of the quartet are remarkable, proceeding through a single track that (per the norms of free improv...) does have its slower moments, but sparkles with creative new textures & intriguing exchanges almost throughout: The title explicitly evokes the play of light & shadow, as well as (perhaps) a sort of 2d canvas, but Chiaroscuro has a significant "3d" aspect as well, its play of foreground-background forging a sort of equivocating texture overall, a mingling of solidity & space: The musicians forge such an impression via close interactions & attention to timbre & grain, i.e. technique beyond impressionism per se. One might even sense something of a café scene (pace Dada...) for instance, but also various skittering, an orientation on line that suddenly isn't line.... (One might even question what I call elsewhere segmentation, i.e. the "chunking" of perception into entities: The musical play of light & dark here can take on the character of illusion, but the segmentation-entities in our world are not given, i.e. are not "real" anyway. They are learned & culturally contingent.) There's consequently a sort of clustering sound in motion, traditional counterpoint at times, but just as seamlessly becoming unwound... sometimes sunny, maybe biological (e.g. via zoo-mimesis), but always (usually tightly) shifting perspectives. There's thus various motion through different styles, but in close (nuts & bolts) correspondence, and not really in a linear-temporal format, e.g. what I've characterized previously as travelogue style, moving onward: Maybe in that sense, Chiaroscuro can be characterized as a perspecti-logue... i.e. a tangled (nonlinear, ongoing) shifting of perspectives. (And Rodrigues does rarely seem to get bogged down in linear-temporal, i.e. narrative, progressions in general....) Such equivocation then suggests its own sort of translucency, although coloration does often appear more solid (if actually illusory) here. Yet, as the "café" remark already suggested, and the raising of "perspectives" per se only confirms, this is also human-social music: Evocations are not merely observed or narrated then, but felt & inflected. (And it's been difficult to find comparisons elsewhere, but e.g. Nauportus involves some similarly quiet & shifting counterpoint, but with more of an "anthro" feel, as well as a more soloistic horn.... And then New Dynamics, also featuring Rodrigues from 2016, suggests some vaguely reminiscent quartet counterpoint, but more in the realm of parity than spectral interpenetration....) Chiaroscuro thus ends up being short yet engrossing: Its density isn't overwhelming, but very real (making its duration seem significant...). As is its interrogation of perception, perspective & ontology per se — as figured into chamber music. And its basic sense of refined texture-in-motion, its sort of transverse intensity..., can be understated, but also relatively immediate.3 May 2022
The wonderfully varied ensemble from the quartet album Geometry of Caves (recorded in 2016, released in 2018) certainly made an impression, and apparently far beyond with me.... Geometry of Trees (recorded at Firehouse 12 on a single day in July 2021) is now the third album from that group then, following Geometry of Distance (recorded in 2018 & reviewed here in December 2019), again appearing on Relative Pitch. And although Joe Morris, Tomeka Reid & Taylor Ho Bynum continue in a variety of projects, this ensemble has apparently been the only working group for Kyoko Kitamura (voice), from whom I've seen nothing recent otherwise. As a third album, Geometry of Trees does also seem to continue "regularizing" the sometimes wild, maybe even "obnoxious," activity of Geometry of Caves, although the former's very brief opening track does revisit that sort of "thicket" approach, with the voice lingering in the undergrowth... articulation blending with that of others. The second track, though, arrays around the voice at center, coming to suggest a sort of post-Cage texture, with layered smoothness via shifting held tones & extended silences... into the third with its relatively novel whistling exchange early, low croaking from the voice eventually intensifying & emerging to establish itself at the center of the ensemble, where it will remain. Various forms of propulsion then animate or accompany the voice, itself often agile, maybe sultry, moving through a wide variety of techniques & mannerisms on subsequent tracks — but with instrumental support that rarely pushes any envelopes (relative to these musicians' other work, or indeed to their initial album together). Hence, although there's a resolute statement denying any specific leadership, they present increasingly as a quartet around Kitamura. The tracks aren't labeled as compositions, though, even as procedures do appear to become more specific — & are once again evoked by several fanciful titles — such that the quartet doesn't follow quite the same path as the trio from Pool School, i.e. with an unprecedented & impressive initial release followed by other enjoyable albums that don't quite make the same impact... in that case, also turning to various composed tracks for most of their subsequent work.... In other words, there's a growing collective coherence, figured by some writers as ensemble maturity, but also involving some loss of the initial excitement, or at least novelty.... (Again, the music can feel a little more routine, e.g. generating its temporal extension procedurally.... And Geometry of Trees is actually over an hour in duration, as these albums do increase in length as they go....) There're also some solos from others at times, but the overall focus seems to be more on supporting the voice (which drives much of the aural variety...), often yielding a sort of floating or pulsing accompaniment, sometimes bustling or pointillistic, but usually emerging from a core of calm. There's also something of an air of "popular music" that's never too far away here, transformed into various sophisticated textures & ongoing suspensions, i.e. around a sort of fractured & often ambivalent (but also making moving through a wide variety of techniques sound easy...) vocal expression. And Kitamura certainly does remain one of the most versatile vocalists in this arena (just as her colleagues are generally the best at what they do too...).16 May 2022
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