Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts

I've been writing new introductions here, more or less on an annual basis, in large part because this page remains in written order — so do scroll to the end for the latest thoughts. But I also find it worthwhile to write new introductions, as part of revisiting with myself around what I'm doing here. The other challenge is not to make this opening entry too long — while still being appropriate for both first time & returning readers. Of course, there're the prior intros as well, which can still be read, starting from the previous year's entries (including reviews)....

And most of those entries, maybe all, were oriented toward reviewing individual recordings, so that's largely become my writing prompt here, although I started with more open-ended notions.... And I've wanted to support younger performers as well, from the start here, although I soon found that many senior performers continue to have much to offer. So I've come to feel that I must first select for music here, for context if nothing else, hopefully without becoming too immersed in my own familiarities over time.... I thus listen to many less established artists, but I suppose often in a more prospective sense. In that, though, I also retain a broad preference for smaller ensembles (& especially their "social" dynamics), e.g. trios & quartets, i.e. beyond solos. (Yet I'm usually left soloing here....)

Hopefully I also retain an emphasis on learning too, and so on experimenting with music (& in turn elsewhere): I'll note striking albums here, maybe without seeming like finished products, but I also maintain a "convenient" list of favorite albums, i.e. for repeated listening & reference. In that sense, concepts of "use" arise here, and I try especially to interrogate what I'm getting out of music — which is already presented as a "product" by the time it reaches me. Much of that revolves around affectivity, but not necessarily arousal (or expression per se), rather notions of environment or ambience (& silence), therefore of modulating the everyday. (I'm not necessarily interested in "argument....") So I find much of this music — as well as the thrust of "experiment" in general — to be helpful in everyday life. It can be cleansing, and it can be a spur to (further) thought, but the impact is (hopefully) beyond mere thought....

Much of the "cleansing" then revolves around a decolonizing project — moving in accompanying theoretical discussions from e.g. Postmodern Aesthetics (2019) to a Decolonizing Tech series (2020-) — such that "jazz" figures a particular response to globalism & indeed decolonization. (And as opposed to "post-" formulations, jazz doesn't note simply the passing of history: It's been an active "de-." So one might say that jazz is about consciously moving from one world to another....) Some of this has come as well to interrogate what is "natural": I've been especially interested in music outside of 12-tone equal temperament, for instance, and developments in that arena seem (finally) to have real momentum. (Some of this is called "spectral music," but there're more indigenous-derived formations, plus ongoing explorations of "acoustics" per se....) Thus I've also continued to take an interest in that most (paradoxically) "natural" of instruments, the human voice. But anything from around the world seems to be coming into this (musical) space, part of a sort of generalized fusion....

I've been interested in musical "production" as well, e.g. various combinations with electronics, which permeate recorded (& increasingly live...) performance anyway. (I've been broaching e.g. AI for a while here now.) And as noted, everything is already (multiply) mediated by the time it reaches me in this space, so I do try to focus on the result, however it might be made. Again, is it useful? And then "how it's made" can be an exciting topic as well.... (All of this points further to broad notions of music already as (a) technology....) And where or how is it useful? Most of what's discussed here is improvised, so the idea that it might be less appealing for repeated listening doesn't imply a flaw per se... it's just something less easy to register through all this mediation. (Subsequently illuminating immediacy is certainly easier said than done....) At some level, I also want to feel some kind of "wow" though, even if it passes. And there's just so much more music in this space than when I started, including more along lines that would've surely drawn my attention in prior decades.... (I also see elements of my own style appearing elsewhere....) So there's far more that I could be discussing within & around this general space, not only individual albums.

It can thus become something of a challenge to decide what to review here, as it'd be "easy" to write far more entries, if only to note other "similar" releases by musicians I've already appreciated. Ties of similarity & relation branch in all directions after all, but I'm still trying to write something here only when really prompted. (This does sometimes lead to gaps, e.g. where I forget something because I didn't write about it here — so I'm not entirely satisfied with my "system" either. There's also simply a matter of not duplicating what someone else has to say, although again, that can end up meaning subsequent lacunae....) And I want to remain open to new ideas, not always filling my head with what I'd heard before.... In any case, while I'm generally "recommending" any album that I actually discuss here, I don't want to imply that there aren't other albums of similar style & quality as well. Sometimes my choices simply have to be contingent, especially in order to avoid routine. (Although many people like to see their work mentioned, I don't believe that a routine discussion is actually very helpful. Maybe it would be better instead to have "news....")

That said, we're still in a summer lull, and I don't actually have anything lined up to review at the moment, such that I'm writing this intro into relative vacuum. So let's see what happens next....

Todd M. McComb <>
22 August 2022

And as it happened, the very day that I finished the new intro above, String Noise Sounds was released by the Infrequent Seams label. The latter has been building an eclectic catalog, including appearing on streaming sites beyond Bandcamp, featuring various composed music albums too, along with improvisation. And indeed the violin duo "String Noise" — Pauline Kim Harris & Conrad Harris — had already appeared on the label playing composed music, as seems to be their norm: They have a variety of albums exploring contemporary compositions in the latest styles (i.e. post-Cage), as well as e.g. popular music arrangements, but String Noise Sounds (apparently recorded on two dates in 2022), is an improvised album (& so more typical of the space here). It also takes String Noise first to a quartet, which the very short (& somewhat confusing) notes state to be the original formation, here with Jessie Cox (drums) & Sam Yulsman (synths, piano) — then also with "guests" Bethany Younge (voice) & Jesse Stiles (electronic drone). The latter two are described emphatically as composers, and may appear only on the "B" side of this very long (nearly an hour & a half, so basically a double album) cassette. There's certainly voice low in the texture at times there, simmering breath, or muted screams... and I'm not sure how to distinguish someone playing "drone" amid someone playing synth. (None of the additional musicians was familiar to me previously.) In any event, the "A" opening is immediately striking, with shimmering metal & soon frenetic twittering suggestive of some kind of industrial jungle (with muttering voices only early), coming to open out around what present almost as harp arpeggios.... The opening track is also the longest, and doesn't feature piano, rather various electronics (perhaps in glissandi...) & spatialization. It can even come off as a sort of variant on Braxton's Diamond Curtain Wall Music. (Later tracks have passages that are more dominated by piano though, including playing classic styles at times, such that there can be a sense of "genre" evoked later in the program, even as it's passing....) String Noise Sounds is thus a world-making sort of album, sometimes evocative of other contemporary improvising string formations (e.g. Ernesto Rodrigues & e.g. String Theory), but generally challenging direct comparisons: The focus on developing through continuity does suggest various contemporary pan-stylistic bands though, particularly as the core violin duo can be rendered almost unrecognizable through the ensemble interactions, despite nearly constant (e.g. "whistling" & creaking) activity. That said, the more open textures here are probably the more striking overall, in what can seem like a relatively preliminary (& generally energetic) (re?)-exploration. Both dates-sides then end abruptly, each having settled into similarly aggressive & dense collective textures.

25 August 2023

Then speaking of composition, the past year also seems to have been big for releases of music by Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016): Per the previous entry, Altamirage — consisting of improvised duos between the composer & bassist James Ilgenfritz, plus performances of two of Oliveros' compositions from the 1960s — actually appeared late last year, as noted in the previous review of a "K7 Commission" release from Infrequent Seams, Ekphrastic Discourse (in January). Sound Pieces then appeared on Another Timbre from cellist Anton Lukoszevieze & Apartment House, consisting entirely of compositions (from 1975-1998): I've found Sound Pieces appealing, and have continued to listen since it appeared, but didn't write a review at the time. In large part, this reflects uncertainty on my part, both in terms of the general context of Oliveros' compositional output (as I have no real survey, etc.) & the technical specifics of the works themselves: Many are "text pieces" with little or no musical notation, but instructions or choices for the performer. Discussions are then sometimes framed around Oliveros' Deep Listening practice, which seems straightforward in an overall way, but about which I know few specifics. So I've been unsure where to start (but part of that is going to need to be developing my own language connections...). And I've been affected by the Apartment House readings (which consist of performances from late 2022 into 2023...), but they also tend to be very careful, relatively smooth (in the way this group plays a lot of post-Cage music...), maybe even tentative at times. In contrast, improvisations with Oliveros herself can be quite intense, including on Altamirage — where the (early) compositions are rather spiky as well, showing an almost Webernian concentration of gesture. (Oliveros ultimately combines this sort of concentration with close attention to human intimacy per se, yielding a powerful affective stance.) So there's a sense of wondering just "how much" Oliveros' text pieces really contribute to a musical outcome, with such a question actually fitting rather well into my prior comments on judging the usefulness of musical outcomes (i.e. as products), and I've indeed found this orientation to be especially clear through the lens of the most recent release here: Two or Three (pace Altamirage) is also an older recording (apparently from March 2018), released just last weekend (on Chicago's Amalgam Music), combining Oliveros' compositions with improvisation. In this case, the title composition — a commission from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, completed shortly before her death in 2016 — is performed in three versions, interspersed with longer improvisations. (The performers are Chicago sax frontman Mars Williams (b.1955), noted here way back in May 2012 with Extraordinary Popular Delusions, but perhaps best known for his An Ayler Xmas albums since 2016, and a musician currently recovering as I understand from a serious illness — plus CSO musicians Katinka Kleijn & Rob Kassinger on cello & bass.) And as usual here, I have no idea what is really specified in the composition, although it's described as offering the performer choices, but the fact is that the composed pieces come off more compellingly than the improvisations. (Of the latter, the first seems to be a memorial, almost a dirge at times, while the second is more open-ended & exploratory, but only really comes together around a typical free jazz, horn-centric dynamic....) Again there's this sense of Webernian pointillism, particularly at first, but weaving in more spectral shading as well, yielding a naturalistic (quasi-primitivist) counterpoint, a kind of haunting suspension or latency. (One thus gets a double sense of "spectral" here as well.) So how does Oliveros do it? What is the practical means by which her participation via texts makes for more compelling music? Again, I'm working with a very limited sense of what these pieces specify (i.e. tentatively myself...), but I've noted here in the past a sense of when free improvisation becomes more "coherent" (to pick one partly-useful word I've used...), and generally an issue with ongoing satisfaction isn't so much with the techniques or even the quality of the ideas per se, but rather in coming together into some kind of whole. And often there seem to be tacit agreements about where to go or what to play, sometimes a few comments exchanged between musicians to start, or maybe just a shared image or orientation that isn't even articulated. However, particularly as possibilities multiply, some kind of "framework" becomes more meaningful — or less universally implied (or tacit), I might say. Enter Oliveros, who seems to have anticipated this sort of scenario, the notion that maybe "improvisation" could use a further (variable) conceptual orientation or specificity.... (Note how e.g. Cage distrusted improvisation, albeit based on his practical experiences of what performers did under those circumstances. He thus didn't think "past" improvisation, i.e. to where we are today, basically not so much genre-bound anymore, but with "too much" in the way of possibilities for any particular moment.) So then given the "choice" framework for Two or Three, are we to guess e.g. that the orchestral musicians made the piece more contrapuntal than it might have been from others? I don't know, but I do know that these Oliveros albums seem to bring together something beyond the performers themselves. And I also know that a smooth, placid presentation wasn't how Oliveros appeared herself. (Even pictures of her meditating seem "socially" intense somehow.) However, there is also ultimately a sense of affective healing here, once again....

28 August 2023

Hunt at the Brook (recorded in 2014) has felt like a pivotal album for me, in terms of finding my own interests in this space, i.e. as slowly moving away from following a variety of other sources (as can seem inevitable...), into more personal priorities & articulations. Moreover, that's been underscored by ongoing interest in the performers involved: Just this past May, I reviewed It used to be an elephant (recorded in 2022 & released on Daniel Thompson's Empty Birdcage label), a quintet combining the original trio with frequent collaborators Dirk Serries & Colin Webster. (That album comes off as more exploratory, preliminary again with its unusual ensemble....) And there I'd traced some historical relations as well, including to me in this space, so I'll skip over some of that now. Nonetheless, the recent release of two albums at once on Serries' "A New Wave of Jazz" label — Hunt at the Brook Again & with Neil Metcalfe — necessitates some further thoughts on chronology (as well as confirms that Hunt at the Brook was a significant project for the trio of musicians involved): The addition of Metcalfe on flute for the second album of this double release raises as well his participation (with Thompson) in Runcible Quintet, e.g. their own quartet formation on (half of) Four suggesting something of the quartet interaction here. Of course, the Runcible albums have more in the way of rhythmic articulation via drums, but there's a sort of tuneful "anthropology music" cultivated as well. (This is a notion I've been articulating here over the past few years, namely musical inspiration from "natural" sounds, e.g. zoomimesis, or in this case more in the way of outdoor resonances woven into a sort of harmonic tapestry....) And there's likewise a sort of pointillism much of the time underlying Hunt at the Brook, multiple relations woven more densely than a real (ecological) scene, evoking multiple perspectives & collisions in counterpoint.... So the chronology here implicates Runcible as well, the latter's most recent album Three having been recorded in March 2019 (& reviewed here in May 2020), followed by Hunt at the Brook Again in April 2019 & Hunt at the Brook with Neil Metcalfe in May 2019. And I'd already been emphasizing post-pandemic productions here, so this does come to seem like the past.... Still, both albums have been quite compelling, and further (even centrally...) illuminate subsequent productions: 2019 had opened for Thompson & Benedict Taylor recording the double duo album T'other in January (launching Thompson's new label...), as reviewed here in November 2020, i.e. only after I'd reviewed the horn-less SETT (recorded in November 2019, and first documenting the unusual double acoustic guitar formations that followed these trio & quartet chamber ensembles...). (Taylor himself also went on to record a series of duos that year, including Live Offerings 2019 with Serries, reviewed here in March 2021, plus e.g. Knotted Threads with Yves Charuest on Inexhaustible Editions.... Moving ahead then, he appears with Serries & e.g. with Stefan Keune for the middle disc of Live at Plus-Etage, Volume 1 too, recorded last September: That understated triple album, also produced by Serries, includes two striking duo recitals as well, from different musicians who also intersect this unit sometimes.) Meanwhile, I've had more of an "in order" (if sparser...) chronology for clarinetist Tom Jackson (who joined the core Hunt at the Brook trio later, replacing Alex Ward from Compost, as reviewed here in April 2013...), appearing e.g. with the trio album Nauportus with Thompson (reviewed already July 2019, but after the present recordings were made), and then Dandelion (actually recorded in the interim in 2021) with Serries instead on guitar. (The latter was also presented in big, dynamic 24bit sound — as are now Hunt at the Brook Again & Hunt at the Brook with Neil Metcalfe....) And then Thompson himself has recently e.g. reprised his duo with Webster, releasing However, Forward! (as recorded only last October) this month on Webster's Raw Tonk label, yielding a relatively tighter articulation for that ongoing formation.... So then one thing I've (apparently) learned from doing this sort of review over the years is that it becomes too easy simply to trace relations.... What about the specific music? Why do I return (even to 2019 yet again)? For one, there's always more to appreciate, even to learn! For instance, sometimes I feel smart for appreciating the original Hunt at the Brook, but the notes for this new release also tell me that I didn't pick up on title, which names the engineer & (studio) location. (So then I don't feel so smart.) Anyway, I'd instead focused on the outdoorsy quality (pace the previous), and even a sense of nostalgia, i.e. as "also" reflected in the track titles. (And admittedly, the fact that this was a substantial album, lengthy rather than short, figured into my interest in those days, i.e. offering more to chew on over time....) Now the "new" albums — & they're still significantly more recent than the original trio, even if one wonders why the delayed release... — dispense with track titles (as so often in this space...), figuring similar material inspirations into a denser & more detailed network, seeming to leave behind nostalgia per se (about which I've already expressed ambivalence...). (There's of course still the matter of my own familiarity....) So while Hunt at the Brook Again provides a remarkably taut & lively exploration of some of the earlier ideas in greater depth & concentration (as befitting a reprise five years later...), Hunt at the Brook with Neil Metcalfe then broaches some different interactions, more in the way of harmonic shading (e.g. via register between the two woodwinds), yielding almost a modernist vibe in more chordal sections (& incorporating e.g. traffic, beyond anything potentially idyllic...). A similar, more chordal (v. pointillist) approach then opens It used to be an elephant (without Metcalfe), before turning elsewhere.... Acoustic guitar particularly feels like a pivot for the quartet formation, articulating counterpoints rhythmically, the potentially chordal viola often functioning more like a horn, raucous even at times, almost an alto sax.... Hunt at the Brook with Neil Metcalfe can thus feel almost like three top lines — & regular readers will know that pairing flute with clarinet was likely to appeal to me... — yielding a "different" approach to (fluid) harmonic combinations, pace e.g. "spectral" ideas on ("natural") overtone relations. There's also some real "fire" on both albums, especially from violist Taylor, but the "modernist" feel also involves tangible affective modulation, a sort of sinking-calming at times (including dueling runs...), moody... maybe sometimes almost new age-y? But with its assertive opening & quicker pace of articulation & dynamics, Hunt at the Brook Again had already made Hunt at the Brook seem relatively more stark (or classic...), similar materials & inspiration worked further into more intricate articulations.... Both formations are still able to summon a sense of quiet (or even silence) as well, via basic fluidity figuring dynamics throughout. As far as musical parameters per se then, i.e. in addition to their articulation of an abstracted ecology, it's perhaps this sense for "dynamics" that most marks this group of colleagues as (sometimes) a collective. Theirs is thus a rich (rather than simplistic...) interaction with the world (& especially its outdoor sonic palette...), yielding a regime of actively shifting attention, figuration & human choice as well. Counterpoint per se then comes to feel like a condensation or embodiment of multiply intersecting experiences.

11 September 2023

Moving to a shorter & more recently recorded album, next I want to note Flight Rvw2349 by Georg Wissel (alto sax), Guilherme Rodrigues (cello) & Michael Vorfeld (percussion) — recorded live by Sacred Realism's Bryan Eubanks in Berlin this past April. The result is relatively short, basically including a restart midway, but capturing an intense sense of ritual sonic communion, especially through its opening gesture. (The reference is again to a "spectral" sense of harmony, of blending instrumental timbres via overtones, i.e. "acoustics" in the sense of e.g. John Butcher & Induction, there with more sense of intentionality or distance, here seeming more intimate per se....) Of course, I've noted Rodrigues here often, especially with his father Ernesto (e.g. with recent favorites Dérive & L'âge de l'oreille), but also in finding his own style, intuitive & sometimes warmly lyrical, but also with its own kind of starkness, linear & distended, e.g. articulated in trio (without Ernesto) on Kita, Rodrigues & Yamagishi (as reviewed here in July 2020). But while that album can come off as something of a (linear) travelogue, Flight Rvw2349 cultivates instead an intense sense of vertical resonance & place. (And a similar sweep & energy dynamic could describe another notable Rodrigues trio album to appear recently outside of Creative Sources, Zwosch, Zwosch, Zwosch from A New Wave of Jazz — pace the previous entry... — there with Carlos Zingaro & José Oliveira, also yielding a single 32' track, but recorded already in July 2021....) And I'd recently mentioned both Wissel & Vorfeld here as well: Wissel released a "similar" album in Thirty Nine Fifty Five (as mentioned in a March 2023 review of Etienne Nillesen & T.ON...), the second with his C/W|N trio, "generally sparse but deeply fusing the instrumental resonances & timbres," i.e. involving a similar approach, but there more ethereal around sparse piano (versus rich cello tone). Wissel's horn thus ranges here from a sort of background resonance or accent to brief, piercing intensity — i.e. as the "edge" of a twisting, composite trio timbre. (There's some quietly intense vocalizing as one climax too, but I'm unsure of the source.) And then Vorfeld was e.g. involved in longtime favorite Nashaz (from which I eventually started talking about a "nautical" style of overtone relations...), plus more recently (again) with Sawt Out, that trio's Black Current & Machine Learning having been reviewed here together just this past July — all involving explorations of overtone alignments, often with high intensity. So this trio & its unassuming self-release (only on Rodrigues' Bandcamp site...) came as a surprise, but there was still plenty of reason to anticipate an intriguing result. And as far as the sense of ritual? I guess that's how acoustic resonance & timbral blending can present themselves, fusion of relations per se as always already a sort of ritual. (And I should note as well on this point Rodrigues' own solo album from last year, Acoustic Reverb, set in a variety of churches....) In that sense, one perceives the evocation of an evolving genre or scene here, while also being especially direct, i.e. with strong intimacy (as already suggested), but without much sense of superfluous ideas or busy-ness. (Such a sense of "genre" can come to mark tonality per se as itself a broad abstraction....) What one finds then, or so I think I hear, is the trio overcome by its own ritual intensity, coming to skulk about midway (so moving to some reflexive techniques...), trying to process (intellectually, emotionally) for themselves what just occurred.... (That would be as opposed to the sort of "distance" or planning suggested elsewhere above... but also not atypical of an improvised meeting....) So maybe they'll reconvene at some point. In the meantime, Flight Rvw2349 (the title of which eludes me too...) already has some electric moments.

12 September 2023

Sestetto Internazionale is another ongoing collective developing its own sound, now with a third album, Due Mutabili from Munich live in March 2022. I'd reviewed the sextet's second album Live in Munich 2019 in March 2020, there including some fascinating six-way material at times, but also some tracks for reduced forces, a bit of odds & ends, maybe even seeming somewhat genre-bound in moments.... Their lineup of three soprano instruments against three "harmonic backdrop" instruments remained intriguing though, and Due Mutabili provides two substantial tracks documenting ongoing developments, also with more in the way of overall continuity (although, of course, still with passages of reduced forces, etc.). Moreover, there aren't many sextets that manage to stay together very long to develop a collective sound. In this case, there was actually a change from the previous album, with Philipp Wachsmann (violin, live electronics) replacing Alison Blunt, but the core of the group remains the soprano saxophone duo of Harri Sjöström & Gianni Mimmo, joined by violin on the front line, and then a timbrally rich "continuo section" of Achim Kaufmann (piano), Veli Kujala (quarter-tone accordion) & Ignaz Schick (turntables, sampler). Although the sextet does turn to what I might call "intentional weirdness" at times (e.g. the cartoonish, haunted or carnivalesque...), there's a growing sense of continuity as well maintained through the tracks: Sestetto Internazionale seems to be adopting something of the "ontology of motion" from the Move quintet (& e.g. their second album Move in Moers, as reviewed here in April 2021...), a group also founded by Sjöström (with vibraphonist Emilio Gordoa) & similarly involving Kaufmann: "Move" seems to retain more of a jazz reference though, i.e. with bass & drums, but the main difference from the evolution of Sestetto Internazionale is in the latter's double (& then triple, with violin...) top line, also distinguishing it from e.g. Evan Parker ensembles (i.e. around a single soprano, & to which I'd already compared Move...). There's also an electroacoustic component here then, and indeed Parker himself introduces the subsequent (acoustic) soprano duet album between Sjöström & Mimmo, the surprisingly full-bodied Wells (recorded in April 2022). So that original duo can still seem like something of a reduction of the larger group, or at least as evoking it, i.e. not unlike Parker's recent release with Sergio Armaroli, Dialog (on Ezz-thetics), on which he responds (later, in solo) to Armaroli's vibraphone solos: That album illustrates harmonic context & line as sorts of inversions of each other — & a similar nexus informs Sestetto Internazionale as well. But I wasn't turning to Armaroli arbitrarily: Kujala appeared with Sjöström on Armaroli's Windows & Mirrors (as reviewed here in December 2022), and also with Schick on Frank Gratkowski's Kuden (recorded in 2021) — which I'd mentioned in a brief "accordion survey" around a review of the trio album Stranger Becoming with Jonas Kocher (also in December 2022). I've been noting accordion regularly of late it seems, here with quarter tones extending pitch flexibility-fixity for the sextet, but also e.g. pairing with "reedy" horns or suggesting an electronic (e.g. synth) quality themselves. I also seem to encounter Schick in many places lately, e.g. with John Butcher on his "celebration" quartet album Lamenti dall'infinito (reviewed here in a series in February 2022), although his contributions can be less obvious at times (pace e.g. the static "ticks" opening the second track here, but then also "cartoon" eruptions...). And most of these instruments do have pitch flexibility, with Kaufmann's piano being the main exception, yet Kaufmann always seems to be able to contribute meaningfully to these sorts of tapestries.... (I'm not sure how he's able to transcend his own pitch limitations so regularly.) In any case, there does seem to be some real commitment to this sextet formation at this point — & Sjöström has self-released Due Mutabili, with e.g. Wells (released already in July) having made it onto streaming sites... — even as it can still seem rather exploratory. (It would probably also benefit from the clarity of 24bit recording.) The pregnant, rhetorical opening — plus the subtle entrances of the various instruments — will surely make an impression, though. There're also some feelings of routine developing over the long album, for better or worse, sometimes broken up by self-conscious novelty. However, the basic structural setup, combined with ongoing explorations of continuities (i.e. with further parallels to Anthony Braxton & ZIM), suggests much more potential — as well as seems to line up with broader explorations & trends....

So bringing Wachsmann into Sestetto Internazionale seems as though it could have led directly to his participation, with Sjöström, in an "alternative" Xpact quartet album — as also just released, on Wachsmann's Bead Records — Especially For You (recorded seven months later in October 2022, also in Munich). Apparently the concert was supposed to be part of a tour by Xpact — which I haven't actually reviewed (although it's an even longer running formation, sometimes now called Xpact II...) — but Stefan Keune & Hans Schneider couldn't attend, and so were replaced by Sjöström & Wachsmann, i.e. joining Erhard Hirt (guitar & computer treatment) & Paul Lytton (drums, cymbals, objects) from the original quartet. And without bass or the fire-breathing Keune (pace Hunt at the Brook Again thoughts here from earlier this week...), the quartet does come off completely differently: There's a generally ethereal, even thin thread maintained by electronics, often with subtle shifting & meandering otherwise. (The specter of Parker & his ElectroAcoustic Ensemble appears as well, especially with Lytton's participation, although the latter isn't apparently using electronics here himself.... And then, I'm unfamiliar with Hirt outside of Xpact.) The sound of accordion is also evoked from early in the proceedings, so presumably working with Kujala has made an impression on Wachsmann, who continues to be prolific himself.... So there're varieties of novel textures, some relatively understated, but also e.g. feelings of being asea, even evoking a sort of chaotic or imaginary realm, perhaps a kind of surreality — i.e. not really referencing physical space, but more a psychic space. There's again an issue with establishing-losing the feeling of novelty though, and the long (& often relatively unassertive) Especially For You ends up requiring sustained attention from the listener as well (i.e to its delicate continuities, rather than being actively gripping itself). In any case, pace the preceding, these are all flexible pitch instruments, and their interactions tend to feature airy (i.e. almost floating — as opposed e.g. to the basic gravity at times from the Sestetto...) & "twisting" textures. Thus it seems there would also be more to discover here, if the quartet does decide to develop its sound further. And of course Bead continues to be a label to watch (with, it seems, also some of their releases coming to streaming services...).

13 September 2023

Now the DDK Trio has released their third album (on the eclectic & often stimulating Meenna label out of Japan), A Right to Silence having been recorded over a 5-day residency in France during June 2021, and presented as three differing sequences: One might call these three different albums, as the three members of the trio each arranged material gathered over the course of the residency into a single album. And so I want to discuss this interrogation of the production process, but also to highlight the musical material involved, which itself involves precise sorts of austere post-Cage figurations. The musical articulations & surrounding rhetorical-affective implications thus seem more sophisticated for A Right to Silence than DDK's previous albums, Floating piece of space (recorded in 2014) & Cone of Confusion (2017). The music would also seem to go beyond the presentation of a "triple" album per se, particularly as the production itself extends the trio's stated non-influence-in-the-choice-of-the-other attitude — an attitude seemingly reflected from Cage, yielding for him a sort of "affect at a distance," a notion more applicable to appraising the three versions of this album as a whole than it is to the musical interactions per se. There's thus a tangible sense of entering the production process for the listener: I've often wondered how e.g. the material appearing on a studio album was chosen, or ordered, because that's usually unstated. How much unused material is there, for instance? That's likewise unstated here.... What we're presented with, however, is a set of 14 different pieces, most appearing on all three programs (which consist of 10, 8 & 8 tracks respectively...), but not all, the pieces presented identically whenever they do appear, except for the possibility of inserting silences framing each, and in different orders. (There's an included discussion of this procedure, which is itself somewhat confusing, so I'm trying to run through it in some detail, because it's a new approach. One thing that does remain unspecified is how & when the individual pieces were named. I'm guessing it was collectively & after the programs were chosen.) The three versions are also personal choices, not chance orderings, so from a Cageian perspective, these would be performance choices. (One often lacks synchronicity with a musical performance, e.g. when discussing in this space, and such an interval is highlighted here.) And the result is three differing aesthetic narratives, although with considerable overlap, basically generating three perspectives on the material, yet yielding some kind of gestalt. These are thus relatively short quasi-ambient tapestries, which I'm usually disappointed to have end, even if they don't necessarily dominate my attention, while the differing versions do delay feelings of developing familiarity.... And as implied, the basic sound world of A Right to Silence recalls Cage as well, i.e. not so much indoor or outdoor sonic references (per various recent remarks here...), but sorts of "human" (i.e. musical-rhetorical) abstractions. (The articulation of piano chords, as well as the thin "extended" lines from others, specifically recall some of Cage's late sonic concerns....) The results can also feel like aural vignettes, intense or suspenseful in some moments (gestural, not unlike film music at times...), a sort of "nuts & bolts" approach that emphasizes precision & austerity over larger flow (e.g. contrasting with tapestries such as Due Mutabili, from the previous review...). It's also possible that illuminating the different individual perspectives removes the sense of "naturalness" (or magic) from the proceedings — such that the named (& "instant composed") pieces from DDK can come to seem pre-composed. (I'm not able to draw any clear conclusion on this point, however.) Their basic sound then overlaps with & differs from the field: DDK can sound quite pianistic around founder Jacques Demierre (b.1954), such that even when he's e.g. scuffling with strings, the results seem framed & piano-gestural.... And then accordion is becoming something of a theme itself, here again from Jonas Kocher (pace the previous review discussion & Stranger Becoming, a more ethereal, yet twisting or even flowery trio album...), who offers various held tones & pitch extremes in addition to some harmonic figurations, sometimes sounding like strings.... (And Demierre had appeared here previously only with Hans Koch — also from Stranger Becoming — i.e. with the duo album Incunabulum, reviewed July 2019.) The second "D" is then Axel Dörner, who's appeared in this space for a while (e.g. with Ernesto Rodrigues & the quartet Nor, first tentatively reviewed here in April 2015...), and most often performs windy breath or precise blasts of static here, again generally either in isolated figures or briefly repetitive backdrops. There's thus little in the way of traditional horn "expression," but the trumpet register also makes for differing interactions from those of what seems like the most obvious ensemble comparison, HMZ: The latter trio employs tuba instead, and viol rather than accordion (but then adds harmonica for e.g. Ize, after already functioning similarly via held tones...), but the piano comes off differently as well, generally less pianistic (e.g. more gamelan...) than DDK, yielding again even to synth (& so more of the "accordion sound"). Ize is then the fourth album from HMZ (recorded back in 2018, although released during lockdown), their first having been recorded in 2012, so over a slightly earlier time interval than DDK.... It does also yield a sense of flow (as less abstracted & "framed" than DDK's here). Indeed HMZ seems to involve a somewhat newer timbral grammar, more impersonal: A comparison can be made as well to perhaps Demierre's most prolific ensemble, the LDP trio & their most recent (double) album Last Concert in Europe (released last year by Jazzwerkstatt), there showing a similar (to DDK) urge toward abstraction (& various scuffling), as well as extended exploration of dynamics, but also being more explicitly moody & even retaining some feeling of jazz. There's likewise a lingering question there of "What about individual, human expression?" i.e. that a group such as HMZ seems be leaving behind.... (So this is in some sense a question of musical generations, in the case of DDK involving those born in the 1950s, 60s & 70s.) Then when it comes again back to nuts & bolts, and the basic sound of A Right to Silence, there're other comparisons, specifically both younger & older: Great Waitress (& e.g. their landmark second album Flock, from 2013) involves reed instead of brass in an otherwise similarly constituted trio, there eerily fusing timbres into ritualistic sculptures. And then Nessuno involved both brass & reed in a quartet, again a little more old-fashioned in its sense of ensemble dynamics, but generating various textural suspensions as well, eventually with great (virtuosic...) intensity. A Right to Silence thus comes to feel as though it establishes its own (sometimes starkly, always precisely...) gestural sonic dynamic, embracing a sense of human distance between the musicians, multiple (production) versions aside.

19 September 2023


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