Perhaps I've fallen into a bit of a pattern here, restarting this page again around this time of year, but I'm also feeling as though we're moving into a new wave of musical developments, as well as that there's more than ever to discuss within the general realm of global politics & musical fusions... for which "jazz" has been a prototype. And I keep working on my own thoughts & reactions as well, so although the previous year's entries were a little less voluminous than for the period before, I also felt that much of the discussion was gaining in significance. Or I suppose that could be my vanity speaking....
Anyway, particularly as far as vanity goes, I do (as always) have a list of favorite albums here (i.e. to sediment my trajectory in this space...), but there've been relatively few so far this year. In the prior introduction, I'd noted that an anticipated pandemic slowdown (specifically of album releases in this arena...) hadn't really occurred, yet, but then soon felt some slow months. There're at least a few intriguing items imminent though, and I'm starting to feel more like post-pandemic music is back — back & with new developments, that is. Or maybe that's a matter of my own adjustment... or maybe not a matter of adjusting, but of patience: I've heard e.g. various solo releases illustrating exciting new techniques, but my orientation here has been on musical sociality, i.e. on coming together in a collective to exchange & to interact. And so I do believe that these various new ideas from the realm of individual musical work will be making their way (back) to collective interactions soon. Then, as I might have remarked in the past, while the duo confronts the other, the trio confronts the world.... (My focus here is thus on relatively egalitarian interactions of 3/4/5 musicians... sometimes more if they can all be heard. And I do end up reviewing some duos too, maybe even a solo....)
And I really have no inclination to shift my focus, as I'm craving more engagement with the world (versus insularity, or soloing... pace my own "solo production" here, the conditions of which can wear on me as well). After all, even with more solo releases appearing, and fewer newer releases (i.e. moving into pandemic era performances), I still averaged around an entry a week here, i.e. basically "recommended" one album a week. I mean, I very rarely base an entry on negative feelings.... I do try to write quickly here, though. It's my notion of kind of joining a broader improvisational project.... (As I've also noted before, I also feel as though there's always time for more sober reflections.... I don't want to choke spontaneous reactions — or to become routine. Of course, as this opening text might already suggest, becoming self-absorbed is also a potential issue....) So I still feel a need to embrace some foolishness in my responses, but there's also a politics of public space that comes to bear: I just ran through a few issues elsewhere in Thirty years on the web, but there're other political issues around the old-fashioned design here: I've felt increasingly awkward e.g. when people have included different symbols in their names or titles, variant spelling, typography... all of these things become more fluid, and rightly so. (Although, I also picture a sort of "corporate branding" limit case, where fonts, colors, etc. are considered to be aspects of someone's name....) But I also have my situation here, so basically I'm transcribing everything into a relatively limited character set, as well as into "standard" typography. (My sentences can be complicated enough, without injecting someone else's typographic equivocations — even if their own setting also makes sense. So hopefully no one is all that offended....) And before that particular digression, I articulated various — completely different — matters of orientation in e.g. Postmodern Aesthetics (2019)....
Of course there's always more politics involved in music criticism, particularly around approaches to history. (But the impetus here was always collective social interaction, broadly speaking.) And I'm not trying to examine jazz history per se, nor prioritize more "historical" approaches or interrogations here — although these can be interesting. Rather, I really want to focus on coping with the world today, both in our personal lives, and in terms of global issues.... In that, jazz & improvisation also provide a sense of process or journey, rather than a focus on outcomes, i.e. a sense of experimentation that's still so important, even as the world situation becomes so urgent.... (And my own sedimentations here, soon to register over a dozen years, can sometimes work against maintaining a sense of openness. I still feel a real sense of "searching" at times, though, including recently.) But then some examples here will still be arbitrary — although perhaps there're still some "central" activities & releases to be found among the various traditions braiding together under the "new & improvised" musical umbrella.... And as far as more "thoughts" then, I'll be continuing to interrogate our general situation over in the open-ended Decolonizing Tech (2020-) series....
So scroll to the end for the latest entry.... Hopefully I('ll) still have something (else) to say.Todd M. McComb <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Anthony Braxton continues to be one of the most significant musicians in this space, i.e. continues to innovate (now at age 77): Duet (Other Minds) 2021 is an example of his latest music system, called Lorraine, "that governs the 'sonic winds' of breath." And there's a fairly lengthy discussion, including thoughts from Braxton's co-performer here (& long-time colleague), James Fei, but there's no notation presented, and so ultimately only a vague sense of what the Lorraine system entails.... My impressions are consequently preliminary, but those impressions are also powerful. The presentation on Duet (Other Minds) 2021 might be preliminary too, and I suppose it wouldn't be surprising if Braxton released a full set of Lorraine performances soon: After the very detailed blu-ray release of 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017, Duet (Other Minds) 2021 is also "only" in (16bit) CD quality sound. And of course it's only one set, rather than an entire series.... (The ZIM set, despite the enhanced sound engineering, did also seem more preliminary than previous Braxton sets in other ways, i.e. a little rushed in its musical presentation.) The particular composition on Duet (Other Minds) 2021, per the notes, is also apparently relatively simple within the Lorraine system, beginning & ending in unisons across the two horn players. Not unlike Scelsi's "music on a single note," though, Braxton expands on the riches "between" these unisons, i.e. register, timbral & microtonal deviations that might then even be amplified or extended by SuperCollider electronics (functioning as a sort of third musician). Per Fei, this work thus "includes" some DCWM, which itself includes GTM... the GTM (Ghost Trance Music) being quite apparent here in some moments, and seeming to figure the temporality in general. (The musicians proceed in a variety of directions, and incorporate a variety of allusions, but when the steady GTM returns, there's a sense that however lost one might have felt, we're actually right where we've always been.) It's then the amplification & expansion of what had been slurs & articulations in the melodic realm into structural generators here, including "melting" the twelve-tone segmentation that had continued to mark Braxton's music, that invokes a new (or expanded...) direction, now surely showing a "spectral" inspiration around resonance & timbre within the smallest spaces.... And my own history involves Scelsi specifically, certainly recalling the unison orientation here, but spectral-timbral music continues to grow as a genre or general technique — from e.g. James Tenney to Steve Lehman. (And perhaps I should note the Other Minds organization specifically here as well, as it seems to be moving beyond being "only" a festival, into a record label per se: E.g. last month they also released Inhale / Exhale by a trio recording in New Mexico around Tatsuya Nakatani & Raven Chacon, i.e. not associated with their San Francisco event. That album is a darkly ritualistic noise-rock affair....) So I'm finding this exploration, connecting to a variety of prior Braxton projects, to be fascinating, even if the "trio" might not really be a trio.... Of course, that was already the case — in a similar way — for 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012, and that collection of albums, particularly the sets with Katherine Young on bassoon (i.e. reed), provides the most obvious comparison for Duet (Other Minds) 2021. That earlier collection retains a sense of 12-tone segmentation for the musicians, though: Even as SuperCollider might involve glissandi etc., there's really no question of what is the pitch. (And perhaps another brief comparison should be made with Braxton's Solo Victoriaville 2017, there with a variety of articulatory techniques, but ultimately in monophonic-melodic music — versus the sort of resonant timbral mirroring here, i.e. teasing the overtone spectrum....) But there's still a sense of shearing involved, both of shifting glissandi, and of "slicing" between the two quasi-independent instrumental parts: With Duet (Other Minds) 2021, the result thus reminds me that much more of e.g. In Search of Surprise, Udo Schindler having investigated a spectral sense of harmonics in duo formations (i.e. with precision & beats etc.) for quite some time, there with struck percussion "dividing" the two horns, not so unlike Braxton here.... (And perhaps I should note e.g. Music for Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinets & Electronics as well for its exploration of the finest grains of reed timbre, there contextualized rather differently... more symphonic than linear-cyclical, seeming less spontaneous. So maybe that's another pole.) As opposed to the big prior DCWM set, though, which seems to present more of this sort of balance between the horns from the start, the Lorraine piece here (Composition No. 429) really "opens" out of unisons (pace Scelsi — or even e.g. medieval conductus...), seeming to forge its own space "between" quasi-identical notes, in a sort of fanning out that can then be captured & boosted by the electronics, which are also rather quiet (because unsure?) at times.... (One might even speak of melody determining form....) There're also issues of articulation more generally explored/expanded, including via speed & density between the two horns, often yielding a sort of "laminar" presentation that can sometimes turn into a thicket. So those are some thoughts so far.... (And I feel foolish for not attending this concert: I keep saying that I should get out more, but I don't....) And hopefully Braxton will have a chance to present more of this Lorraine music system (at which point, the relevance of some of these scattered thoughts might also become more clear...).19 September 2022
Damon Smith is then another prolific musician — noted here recently as "surely one of USA's great improvising bassists," in a February 2022 review of Volumes & Surfaces with Jason Stein — who continues to record with a wide variety of others: Smith relocated (again) from Boston to St. Louis in the past couple of years, and that move apparently set the stage for (among others) the quartet album Ghost Tantras, recorded on a single date in Kansas City in June 2021. (That album, quite long & recorded in crisp 24bit sound, was released on KC's Mother Brain Records in April, but I only noticed when it appeared at Smith's site earlier this month. And Smith's site does become confusing, with releases from various sources appearing in different orderings....) Moreover, Ghost Tantras involves presumably younger musicians who were new to me (so that's motivating...), Seth Andrew Davis (electric guitar & laptop/electronics), Michael Eaton (soprano & tenor saxophones) & Kyle Quass (trumpet). It turns out, though, that Eaton has already relocated to Brooklyn, he & Davis having e.g. performed recently at DMG.... (And Quass lives in Indiana. Maybe I should mention percussionist Kevin Cheli as part of this circle too — as he & Davis already released Composite with Smith last year....) Davis & Eaton are also obviously central to the KC scene though (based on what I've heard in response to this release...), and both are striking here, especially Davis: At times he sounds more like a "typical" guitarist, but opens the album with a variety of twittering & burbling electronics that almost recall SuperCollider (pace the previous entry — & also recurring here...), including some "noise" (judiciously) at times as well, perhaps according to a sense of novelty, but also injecting a sophisticated creativity (perhaps e.g. in the "locale" mode, pace Braxton again...). The horns also employ more extended techniques at times, but more traditional sorts of calls too, particularly bold & broad (i.e. over a "landscape") from trumpet, turning more to "shredding" at times from sax.... In this context then, Smith's bass tends to be more in the background, but often works with the electronics to create a powerful, shifting landscape: There's a sort of floating, multi-dimensional sense to which the horns react, almost like solos, but striking off at various angles within that shifting-dimensional space.... (Ghost Tantras is indeed very long, more than 70 minutes. Also quite loud at times, but never oriented on intensity per se: That seems to be more a matter of enhanced dynamic range for the recording.) And the title is taken from Michael McClure's book from 1964, there figured as even beyond zoomimesis (i.e. as already animal...), with a sense of the (super)natural perhaps figuring here too, i.e. framing the "humanity" of (especially) the horns.... But I also suspect the titles were applied retroactively to the improvisations. Maybe Ghost Tantras involves a sort of jungle then, & with layers of undergrowth, but it's also surely a jungle with hallucinogens... (as probably is appropriate to the inspiration). And some of the exchanges & interactions do come to seem a little more routine, almost a taking turns... with some more jazzy idioms to the fore at times too, even some repose & a sense of becoming-rhetorical.... Still, it's the contextualized assertiveness around skittering electronics that's probably most striking.20 September 2022
And after my extended (& seemingly randomly timed...) re-review of Flock this past March, Great Waitress has released a fourth album: Back, Before was actually recorded in Sydney back in June 2018, i.e. before the pandemic, but only just appeared on Australia's Splitrec label (which had released Great Waitress's first album, Lucid, in 2011). It also turns again to the two-track format (of both Flock & Hue), and so shows considerable conceptual continuity: Each track has its own particular orientation, perhaps involving a sort of quasi-process. In this case, the album opens in luminous mode, an appealing sound, including for its (eventual) sense of suspension, but relatively unidimensional for Great Waitress. The longer second track is then particularly dark, the two openings (at least) contrasting, the latter skittering & seeming ominous... a sort of howl developing for both tracks, the latter coming to leave shuddering collective resonances hanging in the air, almost yielding a sort of stasis. (As "howling" suggests, there's also more of a sense of outdoor here: Flock was recorded in a church, and projects a more "indoor" sense of ritual.... I'd also noted the "plastic" cover of the earlier album as maybe working against me embracing it, but Back, Before has a beautiful, naturalistic cover photo....) There's also a sort of nautical feel at times, as Back, Before — an older recording now — does seem to cycle through the "standards" of this genre.... (It's also probably worth noting Ize specifically here: It's, likewise, HMZ's fourth album, also recorded in 2018, but released back in 2020, while their first album was from 2012, i.e. a year after Great Waitress's. And the two fourth outings do feature some similar textures at times....) As far as the nexus of motion & stasis then, Mayas seems to investigate these concerns at another level (of multiplicity) with Confluence, recorded the year following Back, Before.... (And then, per recent remarks generally revisiting "Australia" around the review of Jon Rose's State of Play last month, it's probably worth noting that a new issue recorded in 2018 only seems to confirm that they're in a relative trough there lately.... I assume it's because of politics.) Still, I appreciate the overall approach & vibe from the Great Waitress trio, making for another enjoyable listen, even if Back, Before does feel more like it's of the past at this point....
And pace another "nautical" reference above, also from the past is Harbors by Theresa Wong (cello) & Ellen Fullman ("long string instrument" — 70 feet!), an album released back in 2020, but that I only recently noticed: The piece, which was recorded in Berkeley in 2018 (as well...) for release, after touring since 2015, was inspired specifically by the San Francisco Bay, with the "long string instrument" providing a rich & immersive set of resonances. (As far as this entry, I'll also note that it appeared on the Australian Room40 label too... involving enough coincidences to motivate this pendant.) So I missed noting Harbors when it was new, but when it comes to "nautical," it's as extended (& abstract-ambient) an exploration as it gets.... (And Wong — already introduced here in a double entry from March 2020 — is generally developing a sophisticated Chinese-infused sense of musical naturalism, i.e. cello as qin.)21 September 2022
When writing the prior entry, drawing parallels between trio HMZ (& Ize) and Great Waitress (& their fourth album Back, Before), I had no idea that HMZ had just released an expanded sextet album, [ru:t]. Well, sort of. There's actually plenty to mention around the relations of that album, and I do want to do that (as usual) here, but I also don't want to lose sight of the music itself: It can be highly affective, including both more breezy & intense sections, involving a variety of extended resonances in both high & low pitch ranges, and with a strong bass presence via breath, various trills & e.g. chiming percussion. Indeed the Metaculture (the name of the new sextet) concept explicitly seeks musical figuration not only beneath idiom, but beneath cultural figuration per se, i.e. interrogates the sonic elements common to music in general. It's thus an ambitious notion, but doesn't start from nowhere, as of course non-idiomatic music per se has been explored for decades... as have e.g. acoustic resonance patterns beyond notions of chromatic or diatonic scales, etc. Moreover, the collection of musicians talked over these issues in advance, not generating written notation (or presumably anything so specific), but some different, general orientations/figurations/processes for the different tracks. (The result is a little under an hour, but consequently feels very substantial, like a sequence of symphonies, or perhaps, of worlds: Per my new introduction & issues of "transcription," I'm also — tentatively — going to render the album as Rüt, even though [ru:t] is clearly typeable in ASCII... itself taken here as a pronunciation diagram.) So Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba) & Philip Zoubek (piano) from HMZ were involved in recording Rüt in November 2021, with Hübsch writing the included discussion, but (according to what I read elsewhere...) Martel was unable to travel for the session in Cologne due to pandemic restrictions. (So it's not all of HMZ.) Perhaps he was involved in the preparatory discussions mentioned? In any case, Martel's role in performance was taken up by Tiziana Bertoncini (violin): A classically trained violinist, she was new to me, but actually has a duo album with Thomas Lehn already in this space, Horsky Park (on Another Timbre) from 2011 (i.e. from around the beginning of my project here). (Of course, one needn't look very far for other projects involving Hübsch & Zoubek: E.g. Werckmeister Musik, released in 2020, pairs them in a more consistently intense & dissonant, flowing quartet interaction.... Both have appeared here since early in this project....) And then joining HMZ — whose style is used as direct inspiration for the first track on Rüt — are three "soloists" (as named by Hübsch, but this is never a concertante sort of interaction...): Angélica Castelló (Paetzold recorder, tapes) was recently discussed here (March 2022) with the winds & strings quartet/quintet Zimt & their release Ganz, itself involving a slowly shifting tapestry of various subtle continuities & repetitions, not so unlike Rüt at times, but perhaps feeling a bit more "new age" at times too.... (There's also some quiet speaking, which I thought could be random, but it occurs a couple of places here too, so perhaps that's "tapes....") Sandra Weiss (bassoon, saxophone) was then already featured here with Ramble (from 2015), whose opening track "Water in Tubes" does also already suggest aspects of Rüt for me, but starts to seem like it's from an older album too, albeit an album that (obviously) marks an increasing trajectory in this space, particularly e.g. when it comes to calmly clearing "earworms," i.e. feeling some relief from advertising & general pop production.... (Rüt is at another level of sophistication.) And finally, Shiau-Shiuan Hung (percussion) was unknown to me, Taiwanese from her online bio, apparently e.g. hailed for Stockhausen performances.... (So the sextet isn't entirely European, although that's where Hung seems to be now, but without Martel, I do hear less sense of "North America" coming through....) Then as far as relations for the release, there're others that I want to go on to note as well: This isn't the first appearance of the Impakt Köln label here, for instance, as Live at mœrs festival '20 (also featuring Hübsch, as well as Etienne Nillesen from Werckmeister Musik...), a shorter album developing waves in continuity, was reviewed here in July last year. And the label's immediate prior release revolved around Zoubek, The Loft Sessions (recorded the month before Rüt) by the quartet Silt (with Hautzinger, Schick, Buck), post-industrial grooves, becoming a little spacey.... However, the clearest parallel, likewise out of the Köln scene (but released on Leo Records...), is probably Skein, i.e. based on a regular "working" trio (also including piano...) bolstered to a sextet for the occasion, and producing a long album moving through a variety of affective spaces. (But Skein does also have tracks with more traditional musical figurations, e.g. moving into dodecaphony, although there're various more extended, searching moments too....) From there, I still feel a need to note individual tracks — something I'm usually reluctant to do — at least in terms of different parallels to other musicians: The opening track does already go beyond HMZ, particularly in the "spectral" domain via the added winds, but evokes some of the classic mood of Drought as well.... And then the "archaic" style of the second track can suggest a more "acoustics"-focused musician like John Butcher (& what could be more "meta" than acoustics?), indeed the recent Induction, itself more stark as a "mere" trio.... The timbral blending of the short third track then recalls Music for... & the grains of its (also) three horns, while the "intensity" of the fourth track might even suggest Sawt Out, itself generating far more of a din, but certainly also asking the question "What comes after intensity?" (The more mellow opening track of that album can recall Rüt as well, as do various sections of Music for..., maybe even the speaking....) With Rüt, clearing the mind can be a little more mellow, but e.g. some traditionally "big" (& fast) piano playing does end up being engaged as well. Finally, regarding the notion of "metaculture" versus e.g. "anthropology music" (i.e. as I've sometimes raised here...), the latter often seems to revolve more around specific naturalistic inspirations, particularly zoomimesis (as so often cited here lately...), but even "landscape" (or geometric) effects that could be more regionally specific.... Zoomimesis is thus relatively absent on Rüt (& especially from e.g. Induction or Ramble, perhaps there with more geologic parallels...), at least until the (sparse, distant) post-intense scene of twittering birds & chirping insects, then (surely) evoking some whinnying in the more rhythmic final track.... Of course, there could be more to say about these aspects, e.g. about the historical-geographic range of strings, about regional responses to geography, or indeed about figuring the nature-culture dual per se. However, I believe I'll leave some of these interrogations for another time — as I want the listener to (be able to) explore the music on Rüt without too much description. It's taken what was already quite a worthwhile musical project to another level (yet, as elemental, shouldn't rely for appreciation on prior listening — an aspect I can't possibly assess myself...).26 September 2022
Returning to a sequence of albums that I was expecting (although surprise is welcome!), Great Waitress certainly isn't the only group involving accordion these days, a "flexible" sort of keyboard instrument that seems to be enjoying increased attention. So I want to add some remarks on Les Capelles, an improvised quartet album recorded in Barcelona (on an unknown date) in a 14th century religious building, yielding music that "lives in an intermediate space between the archaic and the contemporary." This might describe my project here in some sense (& even e.g. Metaculture from the previous entry...), but then, recording in a church is not exactly a novelty either. However, despite the cryptic recording date (& a contradictory CD release for a label named Tripticks Tapes...), Les Capelles yields a strong affective sweep, seemingly articulated in "main" lines for each of three tracks, almost throbbing drones, but thickening harmonically (pace accordion...) & with various chimes & resonances as accents. The quartet for Les Capelles seems to center on percussionist Vasco Trilla then, as there's tremendous formal similarity to his recent Implositions (recorded in early 2020, and reviewed here in June 2021), a trio album involving two horns. But Les Capelles boasts a rather different timbral palette around Trilla, especially including Miguel A. García (electronics): García seems to have been one of the driving forces behind favorite Sitsa (a sextet album recorded in 2018), producing a sort of similar sound there around electric organ & various close mic'ing. Sitsa is more in the realm, perhaps, of sound installation though, involving a considerable spatial sense with multiple dimensions. But Les Capelles, whose accordionist (Garazi Navas) I hadn't noted to this point, also adds Àlex Reviriego on double bass (whom I'd heard with Trilla & others at various times, but not mentioned...), yielding a sort of heavy metal or "doom" feel overall. (Implositions has less in the way of idiom, more "nuts & bolts" around gurgling trombone....) The ominous quality on Les Capelles is relatively subtle, though, and in fact, the album produces an affective calming overall — presumably as a release from those tensions. There're thus senses of drama (even with e.g. some dissonant, Scelsian rubbed percussion) & architectural interrogation animating the musical waves, sometimes becoming intense, sometimes remaining more latent, but erecting a distinctive sound world of low grinding & organesque chords, punctuated by ringing resonant lines of flight. (And when it comes to accordion in general, a recent pole for comparison is of course Play as you go, featuring legend Pauline Oliveros, not so "atmospheric" as here, but intensely dialogic, traversing a series of worlds.... Then even more "conversational" is Attrape-mouches by the Dionée trio around Éric Normand, Robin Servant on accordion, a sort of pesky, buzzing interaction per the title.... So that also-new-this-month "accordion trio" eschews "gravity" per se, and neither involves a sense of metal/pop....) So the overall sweep on Les Capelles is more unified than what I usually feature here (i.e. involves less polyphony per se), generally including a consistent sense of momentum moving forward, but the affective sculpting has nonetheless been consistently successful (for me) as well: There's a sense of (abstracted) metal, but with a sparkle, a sort of numinosity that indeed the "metal" genre does seem to seek, i.e. quasi-industrial ceremony installing a spatial sense of "presence" from beyond....27 September 2022
Then (presumably) even more recent, Ernesto Rodrigues continues to record together with clarinetist Bruno Parrinha in 2022: The provocatively titled Distilling Silence comes from this past May, i.e. prior to Definitive Bucolic (as reviewed here in July, after being recorded in June...), and turns to a different guitarist: Emídio Buchinho had recorded with Rodrigues already, back in 2016 for the trio album Fall, itself evocatively titled, very sparse & quiet music. (This was also a period when I was lamenting that many "silence"-themed albums were simply too quiet, i.e. quieter than the ambient noise of my apartment & neighborhood, i.e. too quiet to be useful....) That album was also rounded out by electronics, and here that's accomplished by Carla Santana — new to me, but also already on the new Uranium (recorded last November) by Isotope Ensemble — to form a quartet. While "fall" (i.e. autumn) & "bucolic" suggest outdoor scenes, though, Distilling Silence evokes more in the way of the indoor & its smaller spaces: There's a sense of "lowercase," i.e. of amplifying the smallest, everyday sounds — the sounds of a quiet home (& e.g. Jeff Shurdut had already released an entire series of albums on this theme...) — i.e. of bringing (the potentially ignored) to presence, but not simply as amplified per se, rather as arising reworked by collective instrumental expression.... (In its sense of the everyday, Distilling Silence thus projects an immanent affective quality, contrasting e.g. with the transcendental-metal yearnings of the previous entry....) One might even recall e.g. Rodrigues' A late evening in the future (noted here in June 2019), a sort of sparse urban outdoor interrogation, but pace the "absolute" orientation here, perhaps a more direct comparison comes from the quintet album Prima pratica (reviewed here in November 2019, and with no other musician in common...), more atmospheric or "outdoor" in its inspirations & perhaps more rambling too.... These covers actually seem to suggest a sequence with Nor, askew now for Distilling Silence (itself lit not unlike A late evening in the future...), another intriguing quartet album (originally discussed here in September 2015) with a frustrating tendency to vanish.... But back to Distilling Silence, a much tighter album than these earlier efforts: There's indeed a real sense of presence brought to the fore here, although one wouldn't call it a foreground, yielding a coherent "musical sweep" that's nonetheless beneath any sense of genre. (In comparison to Metaculture, then, that group employs a more conscious virtuosity or sense of expression, but both can suggest a sort of ambient vibe, rather less naturalistic than is typical for Rodrigues.... And pace notions of "anthropology music," various sounds of the environment have certainly been inspirational for "music history," but there's still a notion of human selection at work, and so specifically of human thought. (And I should also mention the intervening releases including both Rodrigues & Parrinha, the etudes-like quartet album D'Improvviso, featuring new-to-me horn player Michel Stawicki, and a strange experiment in a sort of flat or "unexpressive" virtuosity in the quintet album (with percussion) Unpoem, both including João Madeira on bass as well — & both actually recorded in June 2022 too, i.e. subsequent to Distilling Silence.... (The latter was also recorded in multitrack, if that's worth noting, but not HD.))) Moreover, opening with breath, Distilling Silence develops a sort of post-Cage "sound," a sort of fluttering timbre, slightly echoing, perhaps likely to fade away, but also a sense of deep throbbing (drone?) at times too, forging an ongoing kind of (elevated?) continuity for the space... or for time (& its presencing). There's an intimacy (as canonical lowercase...), and a sort of flow, a feel for pacing... a (non-rhetorical, becoming unconscious...) repose. In short, while nothing is striking, and the album isn't sparse or particularly quiet, there's indeed a sense of distilling silence, i.e. of bringing "everyday silence" to presence. Moments don't stand out, expression doesn't stand out, but one's sense of situation & time are thereby slowly transformed. (And "outside" everyday sounds seem almost charming when they do return.)30 September 2022
Releasing later this month will be Stepping Out by the octet Playfield, around Daniel Carter. I've actually had an advance copy for a while, but decided to wait until closer to the release date to put some thoughts down, so I guess this'll be a little less spontaneous than usual.... And Stepping Out is itself more of a "produced" album too, in a popular music or hip hop sense, pace e.g. the various layerings of Sélébéyone & Xaybu (as reviewed here in August...), immediately striking in terms of overall sound & depth of materials. (The producers, including guitarist Aron Namenwirth, are specifically credited e.g. with "heavy new effects.") That "sound," though, derives in part from Playfield's history, i.e. as an outdoor ensemble during the pandemic: Carter is of course a legend in NYC, an adept & understated melodist on a variety of wind instruments (credited on Stepping Out, for instance, with tenor sax, alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute & trumpet) — & I've heard him in dozens of settings, although I don't usually comment. (As cofounder of 577 Records, he regularly records with other black jazz musicians in New York, plus many others....) In this case, Carter actually joined a developing quartet around Ayumi Ishito (tenor sax & electronics) for jam sessions in Harlem in 2019, yielding the album Open Question Vol. 1 (released this past January), already free-wheeling & richly multi-dimensional in sound, but also very tonal-harmonic & "firmly rooted" in jazz (& even blues). That quintet — also including Eric Plaks (piano, rhodes), Zachary Swanson (bass) & Jon Panikkar (drums) — was then joined in 2020, for outdoor sessions, by Namenwirth, Yutaka Takahashi (also on guitar & electronics) & Luisa Muhr (voice) to make Playfield: They then produced three short albums from one recording date in October 2020, released on 577's "Orbit" imprint: Sonar, The Middle & After Life. (Stepping Out isn't really much longer, but per the "production" remarks, more intricate....) This was an outdoor recording session, and so the indoor Stepping Out, recorded in June 2021 in Brooklyn, takes up that history by including samples of outdoor sounds in its overall tapestry.... Further to the musicians then, Panikkar is the only one (besides Carter) whom I'd mentioned in this space before (in a March 2019 entry around Blaise Siwula, another big NYC "pick up" reed player...), but both Ishito & Swanson also have leader albums already out on 577 (while I'd heard Plaks too, elsewhere). So while Stepping Out can project a strong jazz vibe, the double guitar setup can suggest rock as well, especially funk. And then Muhr on voice (who is otherwise new to me... along with both guitarists) is silent for most of the opening track (which revolves around Carter's pastoral flute for a while early on...), starting a little background vocalizing by the end, as the octet accumulates layers & builds an overall sound.... But she's often at the center of the second track, generally mellow & welcoming (a typical mood for Carter...), suffused with joy, funky grooves & flow, moving through a wide variety of (technical but mostly) non-verbal material.... And then the final (& longest) track projects a more rhetorical orientation to open, perhaps more exotic (including cartoon voice & featuring bent tones...), but also layered & increasingly percussive-multidimensional across the octet — until it ends. Although there's certainly a polished surface to Stepping Out, and an interesting trend to bring hip hop production stylings (& higher resolution formats...) into jazz, the NYC "pick up band" character recalls Jeff Shurdut for me: For instance, Yad also features an octet playing indoors, but after some history outside & incorporating a variety of outdoor noises... e.g. yelling, traffic (but not sampled). (Pace the previous entry then, Shurdut worked various of these indoor-outdoor transitions through an earlier decade, but also went generally for a more raw, "urban jungle" sort of sound....) There's likewise a dense interweaving of material, a sort of cacophony, but on Stepping Out there's more of a segmented or kaleidoscopic quality, pace Sélébéyone.... There's thus some real musical intensity sometimes as well, but the overall tapestry can project a sort of lightness too... yet "heavily" atmospheric (including strongly contoured bass...), hiding & almost cabaret at times (pace indoor...), but forging its own world, a world in which one might well want to linger. (So one might speak eventually of Braxtonian locale too, but earlier tracks give more the impression of harmolodic, versioning inspirations....) So Stepping Out comes to feel (melodically) luxurious & often relaxed, floating, opening for the listener, transporting....3 October 2022
And I'm surely (relatively) late in discussing Evan Parker in this space, but now want to turn to his latest release in an ongoing project that I do seem to have noticed in more timely fashion: Grounded Abstraction — recorded in January 2022 & released on FMR Records — reprises the Trance Map duo (from an album recorded between 2008 & 2011...), now as a trio, following the quintet version on Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf (as reviewed here in August 2019). But before turning to the two extended tracks (totaling well over an hour...) on Grounded Abstraction, there're some other preliminaries: First, the new album gives the ensemble name as "Transmap+" (rather than as "Trance Map+" per Crepuscule...), but considering that Parker himself continues to use the Trance Map designation in the included notes, this appears to be an error. (Unfortunately, although they release many fine albums in terms of music, FMR also has relatively many typos. Or I suppose the change still could've been intended....) Second, regarding prior thoughts on Parker, there were basically another two factors at work: I started this project wanting to emphasize young & American musicians, so a well-established performer elsewhere wasn't a priority, but I also was reluctant to embrace English music because of imperialism & the basic political ambiguities of the so-called British Invasion — of which Parker was crucially a part (albeit less spectacularly so, pace popular culture...). And I still feel ambivalent on the politics of this music — although there're obviously people in England who share my attitudes, and even though I soon realized that I needed to review the leading musicians in this space, at least so as to contextualize my other thoughts.... (I mean, I'm not bothered by e.g. Parker's comment on ESP, but it doesn't resonate either.) Anyway, that's about what I call "trajectory" here... and now I'm listening e.g. to Grounded Abstraction, because it's significant music in the technical sense (& may be more...). The original project had to do with music for falling asleep, as reflected in the Crepuscule... title, and although I'd found that (live) quintet outing intriguing, I also described it as a "main line, with many shifting accents" (i.e. not especially polyphonic), and "toward the gossamer" that "often seems to be an eerie held whistle or ongoing ostinato." For Crepuscule... though, the three musicians added ("+") by Parker all play electronics (including Adam Linson on bass), particularly the Spring Heel Jack processing duo (in addition to Matt Wright, Parker's original duo partner). There's thus a lot of processing & repetition "within" the ensemble. And then a couple of Parker's projects collided, as basically this entire quintet (albeit employing the FURT processing duo, instead of Spring Heel Jack...) reappeared on the latest album by his ElectroAcoustic Ensemble, Warszawa 2019: There's a lot more happening there, more material to be processed, including e.g. as arising from Paul Lytton as another "pole" to that group, plus piano & other horns etc.... But in some ways, Grounded Abstraction is more like Warszawa 2019, in that it likewise consists of two long tracks, and pairs a horn with Parker's soprano sax. One might even characterize it as a paring down of the (usually) rather busy Warszawa 2019, Parker & Wright now joined ("+") only by Robert Jarvis on trombone: I wasn't familiar with Jarvis previously, as many of his credits go back to the beginning of my time in this space, but he's very precise here, and continues a basic trend of trombone processing, probably most closely associated with AACM legend George Lewis, but also with e.g. the English Earshots duo (as reviewed here in November 2020 with Eddie Prévost, another English 60s legend, on High Laver Reflections, an album that's partly an exploration of external, physical space — while Grounded Abstraction might be described as an interrogation of internal space.) In fact, the result can sound much like a horn trio at times (perhaps recalling e.g. Spectral, as first mentioned here in July 2014, later to turn to encounters with physical space themselves...), but the textures do also sometimes build to a lot more. Yet at others they're very sparse, bare trombone grain, slowly burbling... i.e. the "gossamer" again, per this investigation of line per se. There's indeed a sense that horn calls actually generate their own landscape, but there's still a feel for landscape itself emerging. (Parker thus continues to investigate a notion I once called "melody determining form....") Everything can feel like line, or the crossing of two close lines, yet somehow a world can feel generated (at least at times...), as a kind of harmolodic superposition perhaps, but also as suggestive of Anthony Braxton's work, specifically the recent Duet (Other Minds) 2021: There the unisons are more explicit, the electronics are operating independently, and there's more sense of underlying structure (specifically temporally, via Braxton's Ghost Trance Music).... (And this is also probably the moment to note that Parker says that Wright's "reaction times are astonishing," presumably vitiating the need for more processors — or an AI processor. There's a bit of spaciness in some moments here, but for the most part, Wright's electronics are less obviously identifiable as electronics than e.g. Braxton's SuperCollider system....) Indeed there's a similar sense of a single line opening to two, with the space "between" generating multitudes.... Grounded Abstraction is more apt to suggest foreground & background, though (including a sense of moving at different speeds), than the more "balanced" Braxton, although these do swap, and notions of a general ground can appear, hence "landscape" as noted, but usually pace spinning.... (Feelings of spinning tend to occupy many of Parker's longer expositions, across projects. And this is actually a Sufi image... although I don't feel that specific resonance from Parker.) There's thus also a sense, at least at times, that not a lot is happening, perhaps due to the more experimental orientation here, but also due perhaps to the original "sleep" project, which isn't explicitly reiterated here, although there's certainly a trance-like feel overall.... (I mean, are we supposed to maintain concentration? That's difficult. Each track is album length, and should probably be heard separately if so....) Overall then, there's a sense of getting down to essentials with Grounded Abstraction, a paring away of the excesses of the EA Ensemble (& much of its color...), further refining the sort of (paradoxical?) "backbone" of this (line-centric, extended continuity...) style. There's thus also a latent or embryonic sense (indeed not so unlike GTM...) that time itself becomes multi-dimensional, i.e. folds back... or spins.14 October 2022
With an album such as Distilling Silence, an emphasis on spontaneous reaction here can work against doing a more thorough review. Of course, that's true in general. And sometimes I do feel more occupied with other thoughts (& although I try to bring the same perspective & openness to each release, I'm not sure that's always possible). Or sometimes, it just takes more exposure, or else some other kind of slippage or breakthrough in my other interactions to yield a new perspective.... For Distilling Silence, though, I did already think I might return here when I wrote the other review: One thing about reviewing so many albums from Ernesto Rodrigues over the years is that there're so many albums from Ernesto Rodrigues. (I mean, that's obviously fine. It's only an artifact of what I'm doing here that I need to "sort" into buckets, whether to review, etc.) So what stands out above other projects? (It's the sort of question I ask around various prolific musicians, but they often have releases rather outside my interests. Rodrigues always seems to be intersecting with something relevant here....) And with an album such as Distilling Silence, it was always going to be about random hearings at random times, i.e. to form a more thorough impression, so that took a while. (And it was also about continuing to think about what Rodrigues is doing. Like e.g. Anthony Braxton or Evan Parker in recent entries here, he seems ready, in the "post"-pandemic world, to continue forging new music. Unlike some other arenas where it seems that everyone is stuck in 2019....) Well, it turns out that it's become one of my favorites, so I'm indeed back here for a few more remarks. I'd talked before about cultivating a sort of blandness, which is part of what took me a while with this recording, as it didn't stand out at first.... But what's strange in hindsight is that various passages are quite intense, including rumbling bass & searing high tones, i.e. general framing of audible space, while there're also various held resonances & an overall tendency to vary attacks. (I'm often looking for something to obliterate earworms & other general noise, but Distilling Silence was more subtle about its effectiveness in this domain. It provides more of a "reset" than a frontal assault on jingles.... One might even suggest that it targets "mental noise" more broadly, i.e. the main political tactic of our era, figuring generally overwhelming sensation & emotion — here retuning dissonance itself in order to quiet the mind.) The opening has already taken on a "classic" feel for me, the sense of breath, the unfurling braided timbres, the inviting sense of space.... As already noted (as "tight") in the prior review, there's also a sense that this music is rather refined & so has been "produced" — i.e. akin, perhaps, to some other prominent (& more "jazz"-based) releases discussed here recently, Xaybu & Stepping Out: As usual, there's no real discussion of how Distilling Silence was created, but it fits apparently under "improvisation," even as there was presumably some prior discussion as well as electronic processing. However, Rodrigues has actually moved into composed music at this time as well, or at least has decided to release a recording: The string quartet from Dis/con/sent recorded an album last November of four compositions, one by each member, graphic scores that were then rehearsed & released recently as Kompositionen. (This is actually the group's fourth album, without personnel changes, so that's already unusual for Rodrigues. Various organizational ideas & string techniques of the 20th & 21st centuries are deployed.) And it's not only the opening to Distilling Silence that impresses, as there're four distinct tracks, each seemingly separately conceived & articulated. Of course, including per the title, they seem to be something out of a post-Cage school, and so it's probably worth recalling Cage's famous disdain for improvisation... but then his complaints were also specific & practical: The situation is very different since the development of non-idiomatic improvisation, including moving beyond note-focused music into varying timbral combos. Particularly since Cage's late music often includes a sense of filling intervals of time, these basic notions also lead me into ideas around "coloring" time itself, i.e. beyond the coloring of different beats in rhythmic music (e.g. by a pioneer of the previous generation of European free jazz such as Baby Sommer...), to a more general coloring of interval & temporality. There's thus a sense of sculpting timbral combos here as well, with viola & clarinet fusing with guitar & electronics in different shades (& shifting foregrounds, what I call braiding...). And for me, upon further reflection, the result specifically recalls Coluro (another album from Rodrigues, first reviewed here in July 2018...), a very substantial album by length, also less "economic" in its forces (there as a sextet), but with a similar vibe around timbral combos, and what I called the "spanning" of space thereby. That album long made an impression on me, but ends up seeming rather more rough than Distilling Silence, almost a trial run — although the only musician in common is Rodrigues himself. And then another influential album for me from his recent catalog was Setúbal (recorded shortly before lockdown in February 2020, and reviewed here at the height of lockdown in May 2020), an album with a superb sense of flow (& flowing timbre), part of a much wider trend (perhaps) of flowing water inspirations.... So that sense (& technique) of "flow" seems to inform Distilling Silence as well, coming & going, serving to color time per se. (The other recent album from Rodrigues that I've especially enjoyed this year, Chiaroscuro, uses "flow" passages as well, there packaged more classically — & vertically — into a play of shadows....) But then, it's not only Rodrigues on Distilling Silence: I'd already noted how Bruno Parrinha has contributed to so many projects this year, and I still haven't found anything else about Carla Santana, but Emídio Buchinho (b.1963, Angola) does have more of a media presence, working theater/film music (& via various technology...), sound installation, etc. He doesn't release many albums, and is surely a major factor here (& his prior album with Rodrigues, Fall, although tending to be very quiet, is precise & clear in its conception as well, as noted here last month), i.e. contributes to the singularity of the result. (Buchinho has been collaborating with electronics artists his entire career....) And the result really ends up doing something for me, i.e. the album is useful. As noted, sometimes the passages are intense or even shrill, but somehow, a sense of soothing seems to emerge overall, I guess highlighting the nuances of time, but not in an overbearing way.... Perhaps the key to success here is also its sense of envelopment, i.e. the very low & very high (not to mention the basic timbral variety...) subtly framing-shaping space. Maybe the ringing guitar can even come to suggest the beach (as well) at times. And much like Cage, maybe it can feel emancipatory without being loud or even expressive.25 October 2022
Ivo Perelman is another very prolific musician in this space, and so I want to turn now to his massive 12 album set Reed Rapture in Brooklyn, twelve duets with other reed players recorded over the course of six months in 2021. I reviewed Perelman's saxophone quartet album (D)IVO in February, and mentioned this set: (D)IVO was actually recorded later, although it was released first. And some of the remarks & conclusions from that review apply as well to Reed Rapture in Brooklyn, a release I'd already mentioned there. There's something basically intimidating about this specific project, though, and so I should say it up front: There's more going on here in terms of the individual histories of playing the saxophone (& clarinet) than I'm possibly able to capture in this discussion, or even really to hear on relatively short acquaintance. (Talking about four-part polyphony is a long part of my history, though, so that seemed different — saxes or not.) There's an impressive sequence of collaborators then, and very detailed (& lengthy) interactions. Duos are also outside my usual focus, but I was immediately impressed — blown away, even — by the production (hence this review...): For one thing, the entire result evinces such great clarity, both in terms of the conception itself (all basically by Perelman, I assume....) and in the recording per se, which is striking & sparkling, the two saxes rendered in exquisite detail on two sides of a high-def stereo sound stage. (The physical CD version won't appear until Spring, so I can't comment on its sound specifically, but what I heard as a review copy off of SoundCloud is especially clear. The set is available now from Mahakala Music on Bandcamp.) There's also a documentary film to be released for film festivals next year. The basic idea then, that this is "a kind of reed summit," lends an emphasis to the sorts of "nuts & bolts" technical interactions that I sometimes emphasize here — although it should be added already that Perelman et al. are also often lyrical. And they manage this sort of synthesis despite most of these recordings being first meetings. (Judging by the track labels that I saw on the review copy, some sessions had their track orders changed for the release, while some improvisations were omitted. It appears that most of what was recorded found its way onto the albums, though.) The overall feel of this set of sets, which is of varietous articulation & crisply detailed interactions, takes much from Perelman himself, of course, but his collaborators also include major figures in the extended jazz world: I'm not intending to run through this lengthy set in order (& it also appears that the order of presentation was being tweaked until the very end...), but some remarks on the other musicians are warranted, at least so as to situate my reactions. It would also be wrong of me to remark that "some" musicians stand out, while implying that other sets are more mundane. I want to emphasize that each of these albums projects its own distinctive feel & synthesis. (And if I'm to criticize anything, generally, in that domain, it's the same as for (D)IVO: This is basically note-based, i.e. largely segmented, chromatic music. So more or less in the "free jazz" lineage, not as extended or "contemporary" as some. But there're still a few tracks where the musicians aren't playing "straight" this way.... Shifting rhythmic figures are also the norm, although obviously there's no jazz rhythm team, no grooves....) Let me start, though, by highlighting Roscoe Mitchell's participation: His was the only set recorded outside of New York, in Milwaukee, and he's a musician whose releases I otherwise tend to follow. And although his set does often involve the sorts of quick exchanges of quasi-melodic figures that dominate much of the Reed Rapture in general, Mitchell (here entirely on bass sax) seems at times to be trying to slow Perelman... to induce more of a slippage, in layers perhaps, a ritual tumbling even... working into a sort of (grave) anthem by the end. I'm also relatively likely to check into a new release from Lotte Anker (here on soprano & alto saxes), since she isn't as prolific, and her participation here can also be singled out for two reasons, as the only woman, and as the only musician coming from outside North America: There's a sort of synchronicity (already) early in her set with Perelman, a kind of close dancing, but not really tender... more brittle, maintaining an elemental distance. I've also heard a variety of music over the years from Joe McPhee (tenor sax), Tim Berne (alto sax), Ken Vandermark (clarinet), Vinny Golia (soprillo, clarinet, basset horn & alto clarinet) & Jon Irabagon (slide soprano sax & sopranino sax), and have reviewed them previously in this space. And as one might expect, their sets here couldn't be more different: McPhee is the only player to pair with Perelman directly on tenor, and their set employs more vocalizing (by both) as well. There's thus a sort of collegiality emerging, a sort of evening "buddy" feel, often reposeful & even nostalgic (with McPhee himself often in the lower register). Berne went on to appear on (D)IVO, and one can hear the "suggestion" here already: Their set seems often to be invoking resonances and a sort of call for more horns... as if they're already being haunted. Vandermark is amazing (technically) on clarinet, especially in the high registers, the interaction coming to suggest a sort of irony or rhetorical noir.... (Impressive technique is a hallmark of Reed Rapture in general.) And then Golia is a master of many horns by himself, playing the biggest variety here, yielding a particularly full & intricate buzz, a lush garden thicket eventually heading into dusk.... Irabagon brings a sense of the "outdoors" as well, including a sometimes noisy or intense sense of variety (despite "only" using two horns here), more of a tropical garden (i.e. with bigger insects...), pushing the intensity into higher registers... wild, even becoming-cartoon. (And of course, Perelman is right there on tenor throughout.) There're also three musicians here who I think of more as "classic" jazz men, Joe Lovano (on the more unusual C-melody & F-soprano saxes), David Murray (entirely on bass clarinet, so one of the more surprising sets...), and David Liebman (on his usual soprano). And it turns out that I hadn't mentioned any of the three here specifically before, but know at least some of their work.... (Murray has a new album on Intakt, in fact, a trio... much more "inside.") Anyway, these sets are actually fascinating, presumably pulling these guys away from their usual (i.e. more so than some other players who get wild on a regular basis): The Lovano set leads off the release, and it's one of the most melodic & instantly engaging, suggesting a kind of elegant choreography, swinging at a distance.... The set with Murray comes off as more peripatetic, i.e. walking together, a journey eventually into a sultry night... Liebman is more chatter & human-horn articulation, and even added some ("talky") liner notes to the production, i.e. about the "exposure" of two-melody-line improvisation, the choices involved.... Was it a rainy day? Maybe, but there's also a sort of melancholic rhetoric developed. And then there are two sets from musicians I didn't know previously, and who (if I understand...) often work in more popular arenas: James Carter (baritone sax) isn't actually new now, since he (subsequently) participated on (D)IVO, and his set here does show a real impulse to challenge Perelman, to be combative (as even their "whimsy" comes to seem competitive...), ultimately seeking parity it seems (not so unlike Mitchell, sliding...), into that "similar chirping" I'd noted in the prior review.... (And recall that Tony Malaby, not included on Reed Rapture, plays soprano to complete the quartet on (D)IVO.) But Colin Stetson (contrabass sax & tubax) was definitely new to me, and he seems to have come particularly ready for this exchange, as his support for the "high" tenor seems well-conceived & sophisticated from the jump. (His control of the low wind grains is also superb. Other musicians should be looking into this guy! I mean, it's not the most adventurous set either, despite the instrumental novelty...) So the whole thing comes off as something of a spectacle — & there's certainly plenty more to say about each of the sets. (Hopefully I've conjured a little snippet of the overall vibe for each, though....) But generally, they tend to be quite human (occasionally zoomimetic...) & expressive, less often atmospheric (& only Mitchell's goes into anything more "minimal"), but taut & detailed, occasionally slowing, but mostly proceeding in quickly articulated exchanges. Individual characters emerge, as do exploratory arcs internal to the different albums. Close interactions thus come to reveal some sort of "essence" of reed playing here, oriented on tenor sax, indeed almost yielding an encyclopedia of playing styles (pace the chromatic segmentation... and the usual emphasis on equality). Conversations are gripping. Interrogations are mutual. (And probably the only comparison I can really make at this point is with the various & ongoing duo releases from Udo Schindler: Those are also highly detailed close interactions, but also delve more into spectral ideas....) The question then is on the impact of this release: It seems to be of clear value to horn players & anyone who wants to study these sorts of close interactions. But what about the general listener? (What about use? What about the politics?) There's certainly a broad sense of virtuosity, but maybe this is a good time to question the Western history of musical virtuosity. What does it do exactly? I mean, Perelman is very good at playing tenor sax. I think anyone would agree. And now he's finding projects to use his talents... to make some impact on the world. (I can relate to such a desire.) But what is this impact? One aspect I've highlighted in this space is that Perelman is simply never at a loss for ideas, so navigating these sorts of projects validates the strength of human creativity — which we do need today. But there's also a lurking sense of heroism behind the virtuoso, right? And I don't know that we really need heroes today so much as action from everyone — that notions of "a hero" might actually inhibit. (And there's also the question of perfection: Earlier jazz included a sense of extension, of going beyond one's physical limits on the instrument, but not perfectly, rather roughly, a conscious striving....) What I might pick out here instead is the sense of motion: Our world is constantly moving (& always has been, despite limited philosophical recognition of this fact), and Perelman is constantly moving, navigating, reacting, changing.... So maybe his can be called a kinetic music.31 October 2022
There are some basic instrument-timbre combinations that seem to attract me in this space, flute & bass being one... such that (since I often enjoy percussion too) I tend to notice "flute trios." There can also be a sort of "American" quality to the flute (although there needn't be...), even as this continent didn't have anything resembling the string bass before the European invasion — but of course it did have percussion. And some American qualities are indeed announced in the track titles of the recent Aqrabuamelu, a trio album on Tripticks Tapes featuring flautist Camilo Ángeles. Tripticks continue to release striking combos (& like Les Capelles, reviewed here in September, this isn't a tape...), Aqrabuamelu appearing together in fact with Religion (a duo for vocal nori & accordion, plus more...), following shortly after Polycephaly (a duo for sax & Ondes Martenot). And so joining Ángeles on bass for Aqrabuamelu — a confusing title that, contra the rest of the album, seems to point back to the Old World, although not without a similar sense of "spirit animal..." — is Henry Fraser, who actually appeared on the first album that I reviewed from Tripticks (in June 2021), Thip: That was after reviewing Fraser with Grist (featuring two thirds of the trio from Thip, and recorded later...) the previous October (& after mentioning him first alongside Dre Hocevar in a December 2016 review...). And then there's Jason Nazary on drums, becoming something of a mainstay for a new generation of performers, i.e. quite prolific recording, including e.g. with the SSWAN quintet reviewed here around Invisibility is an Unnatural Disaster (in July 2022). So it's a strong trio, but there's also a pretty clear sense of role around Ángeles, with the drums only seeming more fully integrated by the final track — which ends up in a brief solo, perhaps to consummate that aspect. There's thus less of a "multi-dimensional" quality (or scope) to Aqrabuamelu than to another "flute trio" favorite, Solar Wind. (That album is generally more extended & varietous, but does have its slower, more textural moments too. It also features e.g. contrabass flute on some tracks, i.e. a changing foundation.) But there's some thematic similarity at times nonetheless, again echoing a sort of New World vibe.... And I didn't actually find much about Ángeles, but his Bandcamp site states that he's in Mexico City — while the label mentions Peru as well. (The fourth track title appears to be in Quechua.) Then there's a bit of a repetitive quality to the album at times, although not in what seems like a very conscious (& short) introductory track-totem, but later in building the trio texture (again each time, perhaps into a groove...), i.e. after starting slowly for each subsequent track. There's a bit of hypnotic quality, virtuosic playing (very assured on flute...), the ensemble becoming more percussive (& unified) overall for the final track. The sense of "jungle music" that emerges at times also prompts me to recenter on the Americas: The association "jungle music" is usually made with Africa (I believe...), but there's more "America" in "jazz" than usually seems to be figured.... (I think I've also noted here in the past that I've heard old movies present (Asian) Indian drumming as "African drumming." Does Hollywood even know what African drumming sounds like? It seems not, but I digress....) Anyway, one doesn't find so many flute trios, at least not outside of more minimalistic approaches, since it makes for a difficult instrument from which to bring enough sonic variety to lead such an interaction, but Ángeles is outstanding here. Sometimes the trio's quite tight on Aqrabuamelu (which was recorded, apparently in a single session & moreover as a first meeting, in "fall of 2021"), lending a kind of canonical feel to the interaction. There're some resets, i.e. before starting another build, but the trio keeps coming back over a typical album-length program, offering strong "free jazz" energy with a generally lively & jagged sense of time.7 November 2022
So now seems like a good time to turn to another sort of "flute trio" in The Way We Speak, recorded in a London church in June 2021. And although the previous entry involved a string bass, and so a more traditional sense of jazz trio (& indeed a basically angular & jazzy orientation...), The Way We Speak instead employs violin, for more of a double frontline around drums & so an airier presentation.... It's also a new release from Bead Records, a label I hadn't encountered before, but now online, and releasing some older material around Philipp Wachsmann as well. Wachsmann has of course been featured here many times, including with various string ensembles, often employing electronics, but The Way We Speak involves sparser acoustic music. Moreover, that it was recorded in a church doesn't confine its "acoustic awareness and explorative mindset" — per remarks by Norwegian drummer Emil Karlsen (b. 1998) on his page for this "Spaces Unfolding" project — to indoor situations, as the trio embark on a sort of journey through their sonic influences, including outdoor scenes: Karlsen (whom I'd yet to mention here, although he's been recording with prominent English musicians at a young age...) & Wachsmann had already released In Air this year (also on Bead, but I only saw it as co-released on FMR...) by a trio called Tern, and that album is so sparsely evocative (specifically of marshland) that it could almost involve playing along with field recordings. It does involve electronics though, including specialist Martin Hackett.... But The Way We Speak also weaves more than classic indoor ritual & outdoor landscape, suggesting a broadly conversational musical journey, some of its itinerant character seeming to come from (the Ugandan) Wachsmann himself, even a Sephardic intimation at one point.... There's thus perhaps a sort of nostalgia as well, and certainly human-rhetorical animation to the proceedings, especially from flautist Neil Metcalfe: Metcalfe hasn't been as prolific in the UK scene as Wachsmann, but I've appreciated him especially e.g. on Runcible Four, i.e. from a group cultivating a sort of "anthropology" vibe. And while Runcible Quintet is a more densely polyphonic group, pace the sparser & more episodic Spaces Unfolding trio here, a similar "worldly" sense does animate the conversations at times on The Way We Speak. There're thus some dramatic passages, amid a bit of allusive theatricality in general, including paths through e.g. zoomimesis & dodecaphony, but maintaining a sort of spacious tunefulness as well, a kind of mental clarity (or clearing), an airing of musical thoughts I suppose, a cultivated calm.... (I also suppose this sort of airy quality to be associated with Nordic improv in general.) Perhaps the result yields a kind of melancholy at times, but a sense of exploration as well, i.e. via reposeful grounding in the world (including its silences), centered expression looking backward & outward & so forward.... So The Way We Speak never quite grabbed me, perhaps (with its rhetorical calm...), but does continue to exert its own broad vibe, including a sense of (unfolding) renewal, pace its ongoing & variable sonic fusion of human & landscape....14 November 2022
Variations on the classic "jazz trio" continue to animate this space: Even as I continue to discuss more post-classical ensemble constitutions or other creative combinations, the pairing of horn & drums, along with some kind of string instrument, continues to figure a kind of pole — at least for these "jazz thoughts," and likely for practical improvisational activity in general. As I've noted, the string instrument is the novelty from the American perspective, and that's most often been bass or of course piano (more often in quartets...), but guitar makes for a sort of hybrid choice, i.e. a flexible articulation instrument with more chordal potential. And there's plenty of variety possible from the other roles as well, i.e. a wide choice of horns, and then "drums" does have a sort of standard "jazz" meaning, but are at least as often buoyed or tilted in some personal direction, as regards not just expression per se, but kit.... I've also particularly enjoyed clarinet, since before this project, and even as saxophone is the more prototypical jazz reed, clarinet isn't far off. So Tom Jackson has been one of the more compelling players for me over the past few years, including for his choice of colleagues. And I do want to feature his new album Dandelion, but I also feel compelled to address the trio format a little more generally: The obvious precedent around Jackson here is Nauportus (also featuring clarinet, guitar & percussion), first reviewed here in July 2019, and so in some ways, Dandelion seems like a reprise of that effort. But Dandelion also seems more taut & coherent overall, pace the (one-off?) festival context of Nauportus, each track here forging a little gem. Jackson's wonderful sense of precision, both in rhythmic sections & in arrhythmic passages featuring held tones, brings distinct individuality to each track in this case, never really "in the weeds" as improv sometimes is.... There're also the different players alongside Jackson, excellent "acoustic" (specifically) guitarists in both cases, Daniel Thompson on Nauportus & now Dirk Serries on Dandelion: I've been hearing Serries regularly of late, but of course he entered this space for me alongside Thompson in SETT (& has since recorded again with Thompson, alongside Martina Verhoeven on Today and all the tomorrows, as released earlier this year...), and while Serries can also seem like "the third" to this interaction, his sometimes-ringing guitar intervals & general sense of accent (& indeed reflection) provide a fascinating intervention — such that I've enjoyed listening to Dandelion by focusing on the guitar perspective. The latter's drummer is then Kris Vanderstraeten, whom I hadn't mentioned here, but who's appeared on Serries' A New Wave of Jazz label previously: He opens very much in colorist mode — pace the track titles — but also shows great fluidity in & out of more traditionally rhythmic interactions, a structuring flexibility (not so unlike Vid Drašler's on Nauportus, as each percussionist is actually mentioned first by his label...) incorporating a broadly machinic animation into the individual tracks. (And I seem to enjoy the metallic chimes too.) There's thus a sense of natural resonance to Dandelion, but almost as a frame, an arrhythmic-rhythmic turning inside out of elastic musical relations, as e.g. the first two tracks begin with held resonances — emerging from silence, one might say — transforming into more traditionally jazzy rhythms. (Other tracks might transform through smoothness in the middle....) In describing Nauportus, I'd also already closed by noting its "floating, timeless globalism" — & since then, I've figured the latter more in terms of "anthropology music," i.e. generic inspirations of broad human activity, as relatively close to the divergent sounds of nature. But while Dandelion can be said to reference those sorts of callings, its intricate sense of sculpted control also seems to move beyond such a genre. Its "colors" come to suggest particular perspectives or situations, often sunny here (& so appropriately recorded at Sunny Side Inc., I suppose...), but e.g. becoming nocturnal for the long central track: There's something seemingly self-contained about these little machinic-affective tracks, little gems I already said..., figured by specific (& usually bright) colors. The album seemed long at first, but now I'm usually sorry when it ends.
And the music on Dandelion does sparkle, but it's not only the playing: I've started to note some high resolution sound formats here, and so this seems like a good time for a little more of a digression.... In fact, the 24bit sound on Dandelion is very present, with bigger-than-usual dynamics, and very crisp timbres. Compared to the "warmth" notion that people like to apply e.g. to vinyl, it can sound stark or harsh. That's partly a matter of familiarity, but the sound does certainly carry in my apartment. And part of the reason I wanted to mention this is that there seems to be a lot of noise about high-def formats out there. On Dandelion, you can really hear the difference — assuming one has the decoder for it (& that's another reason I've tended to steer clear of this topic, since I really have no idea how music sounds in "different" situations...) — but 24bit releases have actually become quite common on Bandcamp. They aren't usually noted explicitly as such though: Indeed, per above, e.g. SETT First and Second was already a 24bit release (& maybe everything on A New World of Jazz is, I didn't check...), but while it sounds good, it sounds more like a CD era recording (i.e. 16bit). Meaning that simply releasing a high-def format doesn't automatically conjure a more vibrant recording from the sources, but more often lately, there's striking sound to be found. That's mostly in bit depth, though, as 24bit recordings are appearing at a variety of sampling rates, most often 48kHz it seems (& that's what a typical smartphone will play), but some are at 44.1kHz (i.e. CD resolution), or even higher numbers such as 96kHz: The latter has been much less common outside of classical in my experience, but e.g. Braxton's ZIM set was released at that resolution — & so put out on blu-ray as its physical format. These higher resolution formats have mostly been appearing silently in the improvised space online though, i.e. aren't hyped (although the great sound from e.g. Braxton probably should be...!), with few labels providing consumers a choice of resolution (a situation now ubiquitous in the mainstream "classical" download market). But Zurich's Intakt Records is one that does provide such an explicit choice, including different price points, and has been doing it for a while now. (Scan their Bandcamp site, and you'll see a variety of resolutions offered, across different albums, not only a single "high def....") Anyway, hopefully that little orientation has some value. The sound quality on Dandelion really is better than any CD recording, though — pace the unfamiliarity, which might figure "better" differently for different listeners (even as the level of sonic detail is certainly higher). Based on classical responses, some people really don't appreciate e.g. the increased dynamic range possible in 24bit.... (Whereas higher sampling rates lend a "lushness" to timbres, and I don't know that anyone has complained about that, but it does make the sound files much larger....)15 November 2022
Moving to a different sort of trio, I came into the jazz space without much appreciation for trumpet. I knew it was central to "jazz" per se, but took a while to come around to the sound, the sort of expressive stance that trumpet can bring.... However, I'd also come from "early music" with a taste for whole consorts of similar instruments, i.e. versus the jazz style of different roles for different performers (perhaps also involving a "competition" between frontline horns). So whereas medieval polyphony could emphasize a sort of presumptive equality between voices (including consequent "harmonic" illusions that more are sounding...), a jazz ensemble typically erected parity via competition and/or fundamentally different sound capacities. A 3-horn trio thus becomes a different sort of trio from a jazz perspective, but can also hearken more toward other collective forms. (Indeed over in my medieval space, I just reviewed an album of two three-part mass cycles from the fifteenth century, the different voices of that style likewise occupying particular pitch ranges....) I guess I've thus reacted to 3-horn trios both with curiosity & with ambivalence, but they've also tended to center on reeds. (And of course there was e.g. the big set of duos for last month's survey of Reed Rapture in Brooklyn....) That's different with The Texture Of Perception, though, from a trio called Hard Edges: The name of the band presumably alludes to brass mouthpieces (v. reeds), but refers to Chris Dowding (trumpet, piccolo trumpet & flugelhorn), Dave Amis (trombone) & Ben Higham (tuba, trumpet & flugelhorn), here in a lively LP-length interaction releasing (on CD) on London's Raw Tonk label in a couple of weeks. The recording is from Norwich in October 2021, and apparently that's where at least Dowding is based, as his very different trio album Silence, then birds (rather more tonal, even new age...) was also recorded there, and issued on Confront in 2019.... And the two other brass players were unknown to me, but have credits in English ensembles with e.g. Keith Tippett, Maggie Nicols & Martin Archer (going back many years). In any case, as the intro here might already imply, The Texture Of Perception involves distinctive "nuts & bolts" interactions via brass trio: Individual "voices" & instrumental timbres are clear — although they do swap horns as noted (& the resolution is "only" CD quality, but the sound is very present...) — yet its the collective interaction that's most striking. (And despite some ambivalence toward trumpet, I came into this space appreciating trombone for its glissando capacity, pace c.1990 classical music. And soon found an appeal in a breathy tuba bass too....) The different tracks also work through some different interactions consciously, i.e. move from "Broken Machine" to "The Embrace," including a sense of call at times (involving a relatively non-self-conscious range of zoomimesis as well...), but always suggesting a sort of non-competitive plural vibe. There's also a fine & detailed sense of what I've been calling grain (per e.g. Music for..., otherwise a sort of "opposite" album with reeds & electronics...), the basic element of wind articulation, here presumably figuring the texture of perception per se.... (And then a couple of earlier trios in this arena should be recalled as well: Spectral, involving two reeds around trumpet, was first reviewed here in July 2014, and subsequently went on to explore their collective sound within an echoing, resonant bunker. Earth Tongues, involving trumpet & tuba together with percussion, was first reviewed here in May 2015, and likewise went on to subsequent albums, in their case maintaining an impersonal, geologic vibe....) Hard Edges doesn't come off as impersonal though, as human articulation sounds through consistently (if more figurally than melodically). Rather, it sounds relatively non-rhetorically (more flowing, perhaps even post-Cageian...), yet more lush than stark — despite the band name, yielding a sort of bustling warmth & cooperative solidarity....18 November 2022
And then turning back to another striking duo that I'm feeling compelled to note here, Myotis is the latest from Olaf Rupp (electric guitar) & Ulrike Brand (cello): Recorded in Berlin this year, presumably over multiple sessions (although without those details...), it follows their previous duo album Shadowscores (recorded in 2015 & released, also on Creative Sources, in 2016), already quite long. And I'd noted the latter's timbral variety as well, already in a preliminary review from May 2017, but especially in connection with discussing Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris, now a long-time favorite here, adding Ernesto Rodrigues to the Rupp-Brand duo for a 2016 recording (also from Berlin). So pace my usual attitude toward duos, Myotis can be a little more insular in its interactions, but it also offers no shortage of distinctive textures newly generated together by this long-term partnership, shading through various delicious tensions. (If the material was selected from among more, it's definitely packed with original moments, never seeming to lack for inspiration.... In this, the Rupp-Brand duo might recall the otherwise rather different Laubrock-Rainey duo.) Indeed the playing is quite detailed & precise, drawing upon the differences between what can be similar instruments in a basic sense: Even their unison playing can suggest a field of tension, due to differences in overtone spectra, as well as varying attack & decay. Moreover, (traditionally) differing social milieus for the two instruments are cited in the orienting remarks as well, and although the interactions often strive for a sort of parity (or balance) — as typical of duos — some of the more intriguing moments can come to involve differing (simultaneous) notions of time. And although there're some "acoustics" passages (that can be starkly resonant) — as well as some evocations of transportation again (plus some customary zoomimesis...) — there's much more than technical inspiration here: The sense of landscape differs from e.g. Traintracks..., already less mechanically inclined, i.e. with a sense of incidental layering, colorfully arrayed, almost as a sort of sunset.... Some of the color derives then from a kind of musical-technical (enharmonic) "punning" between the instruments, hence maintaining a kind of whimsy & openness (in addition to microtonal differences on which to elaborate...), i.e. supporting an intricate overall density of ideas, but also tending toward lightness in some passages, even toward the ethereal at times.... And perhaps the latter is inspired by the genus of "mouse-eared" bats named by the title (with the individual tracks being named mostly for grassy plants, framed by a track citing a particular hiking attraction & another a generic river habitat...), but Myotis seems to be more a general compendium of textural ideas & juxtapositions between Rupp & Brand. A strong sense of presence — or buzzing co-presence — maintains then, with the varietous play of similarity & difference across the eight separate tracks (totaling well over an hour) perhaps even edging toward the shamanic (embracing becoming-bat?), i.e. involving the almost-incidental touching of different worlds....
[ And now that Rupp has released the album on his Bandcamp site, as Myotis Myotis, he states that it was recorded in one day in January 2022, and presented without edits. So the album is that much more remarkable. - 12/01/22 ]26 November 2022
Sergio Armaroli (vibraphone) has been quite prolific over the past few years, especially on Leo Records (but elsewhere as well). And Leo Records isn't selling CDs directly to the US anymore, due to customs changes, so that's unfortunate: They do have their own download portal, but it's from another era of selling lossy formats (so I don't do that...), and some general "classical" distribution as well, so their downloads are at the major retailers (but lacking written materials, alas). Anyway, after I selected Qobuz to hear Armaroli's latest album from Leo, the quartet Windows & Mirrors | Milano Dialogues — recorded in studio in Milan this past April, on two consecutive dates — I also found that it's been released on Harri Sjöström's Bandcamp.... And besides Sjöström (on soprano & sopranino saxophones), Armaroli (b.1972) is joined by Giancarlo Schiaffini (trombone) & Veli Kujala (accordion): The latter is a new addition, often serving to beef up the harmonic contexts behind Armaroli, but eventually undertaking some solos & interacting more like a horn at times, while the underlying trio had been developing a collective style already. Indeed they'd released Duos & Trios on Leo in 2020, and e.g. a quartet album with Andrea Centazzo, Orbits (on the restarted Ictus) also in 2020.... (Armaroli's recent releases on Leo include albums with Roger Turner & Elliott Sharp as well, so very different approaches....) Windows & Mirrors | Milano Dialogues seems like the most sophisticated release from Armaroli yet, though, at least in terms of textural investigations. And the group interactions do appear to be subtly orchestrated on vibes by Armaroli (who prior to undertaking these improv projects was apparently an orchestral musician...), often "supported" by Kujala as noted, with the two (senior) horn players engaging in general dialog across the dreamy, developing landscape. (The two suites, presumably reflecting the two dates, are Windows & Mirrors respectively, with Milano Dialogues apparently indicating an overall title.... The second suite is longer, the two combining for over an hour of music.) The resulting landscape can also seem relatively flat, i.e. with an immediate air of dodecaphony beginning the album, amid a relatively cacophonous interaction that actually comes to open more to lyricism as it unfolds: There's indeed a sense of dialog, of horns as characters in a sort of drama.... The different tracks also conjure their own sense of world, i.e. in the Braxtonian sense (via Joe Morris) of "locale," the shimmering vibes-accordion combo evoking recent Braxton sound worlds. In this, perhaps the most comparable album for me was instead In Search of Surprise, where I'd already noted the similarities to Braxton, the vibraphone there suggesting a sort of "diamond curtain wall" between the highly detailed horn articulations on either "side." Of course, Braxton is driving his scenarios from a reed, with the "middle" part coming from AI, while Armaroli is animating from the middle, but likewise with especially precise horn players articulating personalities in what can become a rather open interaction format.... (With Schindler, also very prolific, rather than the linearity of character drama, the music intensifies geometrically, into resonant clashes & a sort of vertical spectral-architectural interrogation.... The first track is thus the most similar, including "open" in its title, with the vibes player more of an addition to the existing horn duo.) With Braxton, of course there's also the Ghost Trance Music factor, i.e. its temporal interrelations, and that seems to remain in the realm of traditional dodecaphony for Milano Dialogues (i.e. without much time-concept), such that the latter never feels transformative: There's a series of intriguing textural interactions, and then they just end. (In contrast, e.g. Braxton's ZIM, with its otherwise similar textural explorations, is all transformation.... In fact, Sjöström's Move ensemble, e.g. Move in Moers as reviewed here in April 2021, is all transitions too.... Sjöström seems to have brought Kujala to this interaction as well, so he's an important factor here, but apparently not in terms of temporal form.) The underlying reference for me is then actually Lennie Tristano, flowing limpid melody in straightforward time signatures... subtly swinging, almost romantic at times. (Of course Tristano was a significant influence on Braxton, so this all tracks.) So I enjoy the general sound of instruments like vibes, trombone, accordion & soprano sax coming together... as well as the general moodiness, but I don't feel transformed by the listening here. It's a sophisticated effort, though, and seems to be building, i.e. through interweaving lines & slow resonances, various call-response textures... opening at times to the point of becoming diffuse (perhaps conjuring an intricately delicate mood). And then it moves on to the next window or mirror — i.e. still as a series of studies.5 December 2022
The piano (with its 88 fixed-pitched keys) is an instrument that I tend to associate with an earlier generation of music (even canonically so...), and so don't feature as often here, at least not traditional pianism, but I've still been attracted to a few pianists, especially those who play inside the instrument, including for some piano-centric productions. And Denman Maroney (with his "hyperpiano" — that we now learn he was originally calling "unprepared piano," apparently emphasizing spontaneity, but had to change due to ensuing confusion...) was someone that I noticed relatively early in this project, reviewing Udentity in October 2011: That quintet album centered on Maroney's compositions (i.e. before I'd moved more to free improvisation in this space...), but also specifically evoked Harry Partch & his "undertones" (including as latent relations between rhythm & harmony). Udentity consequently appealed to me, but the results also seemed relatively preliminary, both relatively stiff & thin on the bones.... So I'd been following Maroney for a while, most recently with Itinerant on Creative Sources (reviewed here October 2017, longer ago than I'd thought...), a trio with Michael Lytle (clarinets) & Stephen Flynn (percussion). That's a relatively exploratory fully improvised album, perhaps anticipating (or reflecting...) some textures of Magda Mayas formations (e.g. most recently her trio with Christoph Erb & Gerry Hemingway — Dinner Music, released in 2021, being the more substantial & developed of two albums deriving from a late 2020 tour...), i.e. percussive piano extended by drums, escaping resonances buoyed by horn squeaks.... And perhaps I can even continue that parallel by noting the 20th anniversary album by the duo Spill (Mayas with Tony Buck), Mycelium, albeit their fifth album (so not really comparable... released this past October by Corvo Records), against an earlier duo album that I'd originally failed to notice from Maroney, Intimations with French drummer Denis Fournier (b.1954) from 2017. (The two had met the year before via a film about Barre Philips.) Both duo albums have their more tuneful moments, even as Spill tends to be more starkly contemporary, but both also reflect ongoing efforts, as Maroney has now reprised his partnership with Fournier, the two adding Scott Walton (double bass) to forge a classic piano trio for O Kosmos Meta (recorded in Pompignan, France in June 2021). I hadn't mentioned either Fournier or Walton here, and Fournier doesn't appear to have released much lately (until his Bandcamp site...), but did have an earlier leader album on RogueArt, Watershed (2012) featuring younger AACMers, while Walton actually has credits with various prominent jazz musicians in the US. Where I remember him, though, is from Dependent Origination, a Southern California quintet album around clarinetist Peter Kuhn (mentioned here in March 2018), involving a spiritual vibe similar to that of O Kosmos Meta.... (The latter expresses hope for a better world after the pandemic, hope that the liner notes suggest has already largely been crushed since the time of recording....) O Kosmos Meta also emphasizes its acoustic quality (indeed per most previous Maroney albums), even giving off an anti-technology nostalgia vibe at times (which is certainly ironic for post-pandemic hopefulness...), its evocation of undertones projecting a sense of mysterious depth (& coordination from the beyond). Fournier, who has apparently been a professional drummer since a teenager, has a very fluid style of his own, though (e.g. moving to hand drums for the second track), and any seeming stiffness from Maroney's earlier work seems to have vanished here... there's quite a free vibe, albeit more traditionally jazzy for some tracks. Besides his study of Partch (who isn't mentioned as an influence, among others in the notes...), and broad invocations of Americana, I've also appreciated Maroney for the balance he brings between inside & outside piano, the opening here (as well as on Intimations...) projecting an especially taut mix, tinkling keys against broad string glissandi.... (The next most striking passage is in the penultimate track, with everyone playing "bent.") Projecting a sense of mystery to open then, O Kosmos Meta often maintains a ritualistic feel, a calling to or from the numinous (including via jazzes past...): There's often a sense of rhythmic intricacy across the full trio too, as well as a general fluidity through the nine tracks, ranging narrowly between 4' & 9', totaling nearly an hour... & yes, ending with a yearning for something better from our manifested world. And with some strong, straight pianism too, big & varied drums, and a jazzy (& sometimes extended) bass to yield a mature, worldly piano trio for the 2020s... clearly something of a consummation (by way of France, where he's lived the past few years...) for Maroney (b.1949).9 December 2022
At some point as the lockdown phase of the pandemic was winding down, I openly wondered what sort of music I wanted to hear now. And as life is becoming more active again (in fits & starts), there do still seem to be lingering effects from all that time & solitude, and so maybe some new listening habits do generally emerge as well.... I'd already been interacting with various sorts of quasi-minimalism & other post-classical ideas, but then 2020 involved e.g. an extensive Cage project for me too, i.e. an emphasis on the sonic coloring of time — versus the "expressive" focus of e.g. free jazz. (Focus thus shifts from personal expression to affective modulation....) That seems to have become a response to my wondering, then, as my favorites for 2022 now come to include three albums operating in that (often) quiet timbral tapestry mold, recently adding the sextet Same Place. So before some other thoughts on broader similarities or differences, let me situate the participants: Swiss soprano saxophonist Christian Kobi appears to be behind this hour-long production, as it was recorded in Bern (where he's based) this past May, and released there on his Cubus Records. And I'd only mentioned Kobi here twice before, but both instances are quite relevant: Most recently, I reviewed the "sound installation" quartet Carved Water around Thanos Chrysakis (back in January 2017, so a while ago), on which Kobi provides the horn (also in an electroacoustic context), making for an intriguing release, but also involving rougher textural exchanges than this year's efforts.... Earlier & also still relevant was the soprano sax quartet Cold Duck (released by Poland's now defunct Monotype Records, reviewed here too briefly in January 2016), in that case initiated by Kobi himself: It's a precise (& sometimes elegant) technical interrogation, well worth continued attention (with nothing quite like it since?), also involving more famous horn players — including John Butcher, who seems to stand rather murkily in the background of Same Place (which was released early last month, although I only recently noticed). It's not that Butcher was involved this time, or that the music even sounds as though he's involved, but that my acquaintance with most of these musicians, including Kobi, runs significantly through Butcher: Rhodri Davies (harp, electronic harp) was first discussed here with Common Objects, an ongoing group with Butcher, Whitewashed with Lines (a rather sparse double album, half composed by Davies) first being reviewed here in June 2015. And then Liz Allbee (trumpet) was most recently mentioned with Lamenti dall'infinito, i.e. from the Butcher anniversary series, as reviewed here in February 2022. Even Magda Mayas (piano) was involved in the latter event, her Vellum trio with Butcher likewise appearing as Glints. (And then Mayas' album Confluence, also including Davies in her Filamental octet, presents almost an opposite pole to Same Place, i.e. being all about movement & flow.... Mayas is obviously in the middle of a lot of great music these days....) The other members of the sextet are then Swiss, Christian Müller (electronics) whom I'd heard only with Kobi (but he's a clarinetist when not on electronics...), and Enrico Malatesta (percussion) from Glück: I reviewed the latter (percussion quintet, recorded in Berlin...) here in September 2015, and it also seems to keep returning to this narrative... although this is the first I've encountered Malatesta since (as opposed to his colleagues there). Speaking of such ongoing influences then, let me go straight to Nashaz: There's no overlap there with Same Place (pace that Michael Vorfeld was also on Glück...), but there's still a sense that Nashaz pioneered various of the sonic textures that these more recent tapestries employ.... I say a sense, because the actual trajectories of influence probably run through live recitals that I'll never hear, but as far as recordings, Nashaz (from 2015) was one of the first really to capture my attention around some of these timbral combos. (And it's also a rather "economic" album, an electroacoustic quartet via guitar, but without much duplication of instrumental capacities.) So Same Place might not seem economic in the same way, but there's a great deal of timbral potential (& in this case, as opposed to most of what's mentioned in this entry, no classical bowed strings...) — & of course affective potential, pace those earlier references. And then there's this question of "same place" — & moreover, Kobi calls this group "In Situ Ens." — which can actually come to seem more complicated than a (watery?) sense of musical flow.... After all, e.g. Heraclitus famously tells us that we can't ever step in the same river twice, so how might these musicians stay in one place, while the world moves? It's definitely not via classic ("minimal") repetition: Sounds change then, but never really go anywhere? As opposed to more spatial interrogations, there's also a kind of incoherence (as e.g. resonances might become denaturalized via electronics), in that the musicians don't seem to be articulating the same "place," but rather differing versions. There's thus a sort of (quite welcome, overlapping) multi-dimensionality, even yielding some disorientation at times. (And the last of the five tracks, all of which start over from silence to project a different sort of feel, is certainly the most aggressive — almost into white noise... — sometimes becoming unsettling. Others might instead reduce to bare, quiet static for some passages.... All are sophisticated in their own way though, forging distinct temporal tapestries, the 4th being the more extended in duration....) One's "sameness" thus invokes a sense of being adrift, becoming affectively transformative.... (So attaining a "same" place yields an active sense of searching! In other words, contrary to traditional Western philosophy, sameness & repetition are never obvious.) In contrast, Metaculture (also a sextet...) with Rüt is acoustic (or mostly, pace "tapes"), and doesn't "mess with" senses of acoustic space, but does involve more senses (specifically) of breath, including via continuity & process.... Distilling Silence is then more "economic" as a quartet, and can evoke similar sounds (i.e. those of a quiet apartment), i.e. interrogates a similar sonic palette, but organized differently, with more sense of forward momentum, basically spontaneous (contra Schaeffer) classical-symphonic.... So Same Place is music for space & sanity, but not really environmental music (or is unspecifically situated, I might say, generic — paradoxical locale), yet almost comes to seem like a hearth for me, here during this cold December weather.... I.e. it helps me to be where I am (anyway), its idiosyncratic projections of stasis (paradoxically, but consistently) yielding affective transformations & openings for thought.... It thus took a couple of hearings to come together for me, but Same Place is clearly a great album — at least per the shadowy post-pandemic (& post-Cage) criteria that seem to be developing....12 December 2022
I also didn't know it was coming, pace some entries above, but this year's release from Neither / Nor Records seems further to investigate distinct timbral trends already appearing here: Stranger Becoming was recorded in February 2021 in a church in Ins, Switzerland, featuring a trio of Jonas Kocher (accordion), Frantz Loriot (viola) & Hans Koch (clarinet). And I'd actually noticed Loriot (b.1980) rather early in this project, having reviewed the first Baloni album Fremdenzimmer in January 2012: It struck me in my survey of "What's new today?" for its incorporation of ideas from spectral music (especially Scelsi) into a quasi-jazz context, and spectral blending does feature as well in Stranger Becoming.... But Loriot also soon joined forces with drummer Carlo Costa (of Neither-Nor) in the trio Natura morta, their first two albums not on Neither-Nor, although discussed here only with the arrival of that label (in some rambling thoughts from March 2015). And I've continued to appreciate Loriot's virtuoso style, but it can also seem soloistic, i.e. delicate & intricate, e.g. as noted of the string duo Live at Zoom In (reviewed here in March 2020), or indeed not noted of another Creative Sources duo release, Sceneries (with Christoph Erb, recorded in 2015), itself perhaps anticipating more of his interactions with Koch here.... And then Koch (b.1962) is the senior musician on Stranger Becoming, having appeared e.g. in S4 on Cold Duck (returning immediately from the prior entry!), and after first being reviewed here (briefly in May 2014) with the trio album Species-Appropriate Animal Husbandry (also from Creative Sources), also involving live electronics from Gaudenz Badrutt, e.g. cited by Kocher (b.1977) as a duo partner in his interview with Henry Fraser about this project. That interview also underscores the "timbres of European folk music" aspect noted of this release (although doesn't note e.g. old Carl-Reichel FMP albums, which seem to be a backdrop here, while remaining more stylistically wild themselves...). The accordion seems especially to be a theme for 2022 then, and I wasn't familiar with Kocher prior to this (the album being co-released by his Bruit Editions as well...). However, I'd just recapped some "accordion thoughts" around Milano Dialogues earlier this month, after having noted more in the September review of Les Capelles.... (But let's not stop there: After I'd already started the notes for this review, Kuden from Frank Gratkowski & Impakt Köln appeared, featuring Kujala again on accordion, as another relatively rustic, this time rather accordion-centric, soundscape — also involving a sense of "glitch" from Ignaz Schick.... And let's not forget how many recent albums with clarinet I've been featuring here too, e.g. Dandelion....) Anyway, Stranger Becoming itself presents as a sort of Cageian reduction at times, tending toward spectrality, i.e. motivic sublimation & smooth textures. There's also a sense of "spreading out," a sort of thinness perhaps (not unlike with Cage's late music...), but conjuring a sort of delicate atmosphere that I'd enjoy hearing continue.... The subtle invocations of prior music become more rhetorical at times (& do seem to rebuild a tune per se over the course of the concluding, title track...), but can also become more spiky or percussive (even quasi-dodecaphonic), albeit usually returning soon to a sort of timbral blending. And the different tracks do present welcome changes — or resets — in approach, continuing to show development of this trio interaction, suggesting more to come.... (The accompanying material suggests this as well, as did the statements about the previous Neither/Nor album Paris, a pre-pandemic recording by a quartet called Diaphane — Loriot & Costa with tubaist Hübsch & previously unknown extended-pianist Raphael Loher — suggesting a variety of stylistic paths while invoking & confirming those musicians' prior work....) Fraser also notes being struck by different senses of time, a sense of "drawing out" time moreover seeming to figure Stranger Becoming in general..., and Kocher responds that it's about the "natural breath" (i.e. idiomatic phrasing, pace extended technique) of the instruments, which very much recalls longtime favorite New Dynamics for me (pace my review from May 2016). But there's a different sort of folksy articulation to Stranger Becoming that comes through at times too, suggesting a distinct sort of collective individuation.... To accomplish this (technically, texturally), Kocher is especially supple on accordion, bending pitches like a monophonic reed, or else (perhaps simultaneously) fanning out into harmonic backdrops & spectral connections. (His accordion thus comes off nothing like a piano here. There're also some little "pops," suggesting an electric instrument, but not via variety of "fonts.") The result comes to involve something of the pensiveness of distance (a.k.a. nostalgia), but there's a subtly rich interweaving too, yielding a (preliminary? contemporary...) affective distillation....20 December 2022
It shouldn't surprise me that Fred Moten's album with Gerald Cleaver & Brandon Lopez ended up attracting attention, and now that it's on so many Record of the Year lists, I feel as though I should add some belated thoughts here.... I'm not calling this a review though, because I'm largely going to skip over the music: Cleaver & Lopez are great musicians, and good choices for this project, but when I hear this, if I just tune out Moten's words, and listen to Cleaver and/or Lopez, it's hard to claim that this is an interesting album (relatively speaking) of music by either.... And it was similarly hard when the album first appeared, on the mysterious Reading Group label this past April, so I'd decided not to review it. (I'd leapt to hear it.) Then it was released again, this time on CD instead of LP, by Relative Pitch in September (after having been recorded in 2020...). Anyway, what else do I want to say now? Moten is a major author, and I'm a writer & reader: I think (hope?) that many people reading this will be at least aware of his classic monograph, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (2003)? That's a more technical discussion. Personally, I was very taken with his later theory duet with Stefano Harney, The Undercommons (2013): While also technical, it continues to be broadly applicable, including (perhaps paradoxically) to my experience on the internet during its commercial colonization.... (Their followup published last year, All Incomplete, includes some further thoughts, but doesn't make as much impact.) And then there's Black and Blur (2017), the beginning of a solo trilogy from Moten for Duke University Press: In the Break had already been "poetic" writing (in various senses...), but that's especially true of Black and Blur, the beginning of a trilogy of consent not to be a single being, followed by Stolen Life & The Universal Machine (both published in 2018).... And so I suggest that musical-poetic readers will get more by starting from Black and Blur....25 December 2022
And releases from 2022 will still be appearing here for a while, of course, although with the increasing prominence (& speedy distribution) of digital releases, there'll soon be a lot fewer as 2023 takes over.... (There's still at least one pending review though, with another likely candidate on the way....) And Offshore Adventures, the second album from the trombone & strings quintet Discoveries (recorded in March 2022), is indeed another album I'd been expecting: Named after their first album, Discoveries (recorded in 2016, reviewed here in October 2017), the quintet around cellist Hui-Chun Lin & bassists Ulf Mengersen & Klaus Kürvers actually changed personnel since then, substituting Matthias Müller (trombone) & Uygur Vural (cello) while retaining the same basic instrumentation. (And it's a fascinating instrumentation, i.e. low strings & growling 'bone... not so unlike e.g. Cage's classic Five3, although there much "lighter" with violins: Offshore Adventures isn't actually sparse either, generally featuring a murky & roiling fluidity....) And although in some sense the result is as one would expect, featuring a variety of nautical depictions — that being a general theme of the Berlin scene, as cited here so often... — coming to nearly an hour, there's also a wealth of relations to trace. They begin with the basic relationality of the music itself, grinding & shifting, sloshing its way through different watery textures, but also invoking some traditional figurations, even conjuring a romantic air at times.... (And there'd already been more of a "safari" character to the quite lengthy Discoveries than I'd noted at the time, although I was also right to note its sometimes traditional-classical textures & lyricism... its air of calm. So it's somewhat zoomimetic, as is Offshore Adventures, but also suggests a broader setting....) It also extends to the players, co-releasing here (with Creative Sources) on Lin's Maybee Records, as most recently with Music with Birds (reviewed this past July), with Lin first being mentioned with Discoveries itself...! (And perhaps I should also note that, coincidentally, I discussed Underwater Music here at the same time — another CS-Berlin string trio album, on which Lin herself does not appear.) And then there's Hunter Underwater, a cello quartet around Guilherme Rodrigues (recorded in August 2021), with Lin & others (but not Vural, who's entirely new to me here...): Its single track seems almost as though it could lead into (or away from...) this program — whose tracks can be rather continuity oriented or processual themselves at times.... While as it happens, the first appearance here for Kürvers was with the double bass quartet album Rotations (around Meinrad Kneer, reviewed December 2014) — whereas for Mengersen it was also Discoveries (although he's since appeared here with e.g. Adrian Northover & Ernesto Rodrigues — as Kürvers last appeared with the latter on Fantasy Eight, reviewed here August 2021...). And Müller, surely one of the most dynamic trombone players today, was just featured with the "more traditional" free jazz trio Der Dritte Stand (reviewed here in July), but also appears e.g. with the Rodrigueses on Wind Elegy, a richly textural quartet album from this past May (recorded in 2021) that I didn't end up specifically reviewing.... Still, it'd be difficult to suggest that Müller projects his full creative personality here: The quintet blends, with the trombone timbres adding a distinctive element to that blend.... (One might also compare e.g. to the first "trombone album" from Lisbon String Trio, Intonarumori... with no actual musician in common, but already cited in the Discoveries review....) And while the blend here does sound like low strings & trombone, perhaps the most (paradoxically) similar evocation for me overall is an otherwise unrelated duo album from Texas, the massive double See Creatures Too (reviewed here in May 2021...): There's a similar evocative sense, lengthy & even distended calls, likely more whimsy there (more zoomimesis per se...), and certainly more electronic feedback.... But then, Offshore Adventures turns to what must be ringing alarm clocks to close the album (pace a weird variety of quiet snapping throughout the final track...), emerging into the texture... & ultimately yielding an effect not unlike Scelsi's orchestral Pfhat (1974). The evocations thus do become more sophisticated, but I guess still seem more like a series of studies, starting from the lovely & mysterious opening.... while generally maintaining (usually arrhythmic) elements of continuity for each of the eight tracks. Offshore Adventures would appear to seek the broadly inchoate character of flowing (& circulating, oceanic) water then, its many guises around the ostensible (but always at least quietly roiling) "smoothness" of the sea....3 January 2023
Among other 2022 releases remaining to discuss, SDLW was actually released back in June (after being recorded in 2021...), but I only noticed when it appeared in "classical" listings last month. Indeed Bastille Musique is a classical label, including albums devoted e.g. to Bach & Beethoven, and SDLW is release #21 in its idiosyncratic catalog. (My attention had been drawn earlier to Bastille Musique by release #11, a double album of the complete Chemins by Luciano Berio, certainly one of the most impressive sets devoted to that composer....) And the SDLW title is the name of the quartet, the DLW trio (Christopher Dell, Christian Lillinger, Jonas Westergaard) being augmented here by Tamara Stefanovich (piano): I was completely unfamiliar with Stefanovich previously, but DLW is an important ongoing trio in this space — its Grammar II (recorded & released in 2019) seeming to establish a new baseline-standard for its collective musical interactions. And actually I'd first heard DLW on Boulez Materialism — there including Johannes Brecht, the producer for SDLW, on live electronics — an album that made something of a splash, such that I returned to discuss it in an August 2018 entry after an initial June 2018 review, mostly to clarify (& interrogate) some unexamined thoughts I'd acquired (as it turned out) via Pierre Schaeffer... thoughts Dell appears to share (specifically concerning the "discrete" character of serial music). And the "Boulez" reference (deriving from a quip, not an actual intent to render Boulez's music...) does make sense with DLW's sound world around vibraphone. Boulez Materialism was a relatively thin album though, certainly as compared to the massive Grammar II — & as compared to the nearly 80 minute SDLW too — i.e. a sort of teaser.... (Also released this year, by Dell's ENW label, was a 2015 quartet performance by DLW with Mat Maneri, Monuments: Maneri's style does allow the trio to explore its stated "spectral" influence, but Monuments also comes off today as more preliminary, i.e. pre-2019....) I guess the plan was then always for DLW to be an ongoing band collaborating with others, and "launching" with a pianist for SDLW makes some sense: DLW already seemed almost like a piano trio, and SDLW seems even more so... the vibes straddling the keyboard-percussion line. And although Stefanovich does involve some inside preparations, SDLW is often rather straightforwardly pianistic — piano almost seeming to occupy a full half of the partnership. There're a variety of "genre" invocations arising from piano too, including some great fluidity & energy through different 20th century popular (& classical...) styles — as well as while negotiating the band's overall post-serial orientation. Stefanovich might thus be said to be adding "content" to DLW's abstract frame, but transitions are also quite sophisticated. (Indeed the extensive included discussion — which nonetheless declines to tell us exactly when these recordings were made, or if they involved more than one session... — states that the musicians stopped & reheard what they'd just done, separately for each of the instant-composed pieces. There were also various general discussions in advance, but only a few words orientating each piece specifically for these sessions. There's also a discussion of recording in Dolby Atmos to capture the large performance space, and the latter does appear sonically, although even the digital release is only in CD-format stereo sound, at least at this point....) So while there's thus potentially a naïve sense that Stefanovich is filling a "rhythmic grid" forged by DLW, and it might well be fair to suggest that they do forge a framework, as the liner notes also assert, rhythmic conformity versus rhythmic nonconformity can seem in practice here to be almost a contradictory dual: Is Stefanovich "filling in" the space DLW opens, or is DLW surrounding & encapsulating (contextualizing...) free pianism? Both. And so what rhythm is primary? All or none. So the result is quite intricate rhythmically at times (including when more subdued...), involving explosive climaxes, but also amazing fluidity & articulation, i.e. subtlety (even delicacy...) & flare together in close contact. (Remarks about a contradictory rhythmic "grid" could be another way of saying that they swing....) E.g. the sometimes tonal-romantic quality of the piano might not be according to my main musical orientations, but SDLW is also quite a substantial release that cannot be ignored: Each of the eight tracks is basically presented as a contemporary composition, not that they're so different (generally musically-technically) from those of the usual "instant composition" albums featured here, but the presentation also downplays the spontaneity (in some sense), with instrumentations given for each track (titled, i.e. evoking a specific concert/scene...?), along with composition dates (i.e. 2021). Also the infusion of genre here, i.e. into the DLW framework, takes the (now partly retrospective) experience of hearing Grammar II to another level for me: The various hypothetical possibilities come even more strongly to the ear & mind... such that DLW's overall scope resonates more. (And note that I still haven't heard the first Grammar, recorded in 2011 & out of print by the time the second appeared.... Presumably it'd sound quite preliminary today. Of course, one might also compare to other ongoing "additive" bands, e.g. pace comments in the prior entry, Lisbon String Trio adding a pianist for Liames & then Rhetorica.... Or alternately also pace the foregoing, Müller's Superimpose duo, as reviewed here in June 2021....) And SDLW does involve considerable scope as well, but a sort of unity too, i.e. progressing through the pieces, building a big & coherent group sound.... (Both the unity & flexibility of what DLW have to offer a musical collaborator seem to come through here, although perhaps even SDLW will someday sound preliminary. And apparently there's already another quartet album with piano, Supermodern Vol. 1 featuring unknown-to-me Bob Degen, also recorded in 2021 & released as a double LP earlier last year, but I don't know how to hear that either.... I guess the trio does have a tendency toward "exclusivity" that I don't necessarily appreciate — & that I also try not to criticize, i.e. if it helps them to operate. And the "supermodern" title does likely reflect DLW's general rejection of minimalism....) So SDLW, including for its expansive production, excites me for future DLW quartet(s) projects... while establishing a weighty, new offering of its own.9 January 2023
Slovenia's Inexhaustible Editions was first mentioned here with the triple album Superimpose With (pace tangential remarks in the past couple of entries...), and continues to be a label to watch, i.e. releases a relatively wide variety of music in this general space (across multiple venues, etc.). In particular, a couple of albums appeared online this month dated to October of last year (to go along with already-appearing October releases there...), and while I'm not sure why (the backdating), I do want to note Live At Porgy & Bess by Austrian quartet Plasmic: Recorded in Vienna in May 2021, Live At Porgy & Bess is actually the third album from Plasmic, but somehow I didn't notice the earlier two. Indeed their second album Live At Chilli Jazz Festival 2013 was released on Leo Records in 2014, and seems like the sort of album I'd've wanted to audition at the time, but doesn't seem familiar to me now at all.... (I'm not sure why I never saw it — perhaps it didn't make it to the US.) Anyway, that album does seem more preliminary than their latest, i.e. more pointillist, more whispery.... Live At Porgy & Bess comes off as much more taut & compelling, as the quartet now maintains elements of tension across longer lines & passages, i.e. forges a more coherent style, but without sacrificing textural creativity. And their collective idiom does seem to be hard won over the years, beginning in 2003 (per the Leo notes) with a piano trio consisting of Elisabeth Harnik (piano), Uli Winter (cello) & Fredi Pröll (drums). I haven't actually featured any of these musicians yet, although I've mentioned Harnik (with Dave Rempis, in May 2016) — & I've actually heard a dozen or more recent releases (including e.g. her duo with Joëlle Léandre)... her pianism striking a balance between traditional articulation & extended work inside the machine. (Harnik has been one of the more prolific pianists in this space of late, in fact, appearing on a variety of labels....) And then I've only ever encountered Winter alongside Pröll, but the latter does have another recent vocal album, Primus 17 on Creative Sources (released in 2021, under half an hour in duration...), a duo with Mara Kolibri (another Austrian, perhaps his wife...): That recording features more presence, perhaps more intimacy than Live At Porgy & Bess, but also moves into textual material (rather than vocalizing only...), the French & English lyrics on later tracks only seeming to rein in the wilder musical expression.... And Plasmic does add vocalist Agnes Heginger to its "piano trio" since 2004 (their first album, Dr. Au, recorded in 2008, still presented as "featuring" Heginger...), and in this case, Heginger doesn't involve textual content per se, rather a variety of vocalizations.... (These can be "traditionally musical," i.e. voice as a sort of horn, but also involve e.g. panting & some other mouth/throat effects. In this sense, of course the voice is the ultimate "flexible pitch instrument" — & moreover always projects a sense of individuality, even virtuosity, regardless of how it's approached. And I'd been totally unfamiliar with Heginger previously, somehow.) So although various passages can build to greater intensity, there's an overall continuity maintained, and as noted, a kind of long-form modulation of tension, producing a generally mellow album, i.e. projecting an overall similar vibe despite track differences. The ensemble also ends up being rather canonical, i.e. vocalist plus piano trio (pace cello variant), and evokes various traditional (free) jazz figurations. There's a sophisticated collective atmosphere, a generally unified tapestry, a feeling of "locale" in the Braxton (pace Morris) vein.... (There're also some more soloistic passages, pace the free jazz idiom.) The quartet's world-making is still more or less tethered to traditional tonal figuration, though. (That's different from e.g. another very recent vocal album of note in this space, And John from a duo of Maggie Nicols & Mark Wastell, seeming to invoke a sort of intentional weirdness, an apparent 1960s era spirituality around quietude & gonging....) And although Live At Porgy & Bess can seem relatively mellow, after more than an hour, it does also leave a strong (affective) wake when it concludes. There's thus a relatively traditional (chamber) feel to the music of Plasmic, with a great deal of ensemble sophistication as well (honed over almost two decades of performing together...), yielding almost a canonical "free jazz quartet featuring bent tones & extended vocalizing." The result can be dreamy & even hypnotic.13 January 2023
Returning to discuss pre-pandemic performances, Spectra & Affrays, the latest from Skein, was released very late last year (by Vienna's Klanggalerie, seemingly without a download option...), after having been recorded at Nickelsdorf in July 2018: I'm not sure why, but I was expecting a more recent performance. However, while waiting for that item to appear (as it was announced months prior...), I also noticed 13 Asperities by an augmented Skein ensemble, now featuring the poetry & vocals of Gabriele D.R. Guenther. And it turns out that, although it was released back in 2020 (& I didn't notice...), 13 Asperities — recorded across four, consecutive live dates in Berlin & Köln in March 2019 — is actually the later recording. So release dates aside, it didn't make sense to ignore it when considering Spectra & Affrays. And it turns out that I've really come to enjoy 13 Asperities, from what came to be called the Trokaan Project... itself perhaps becoming the destiny of Skein. But first, more discussion of the latter! The original Skein sextet release (on Leo) was recorded in 2013. (I'd recently mentioned it as another sextet album augmented from a core, ongoing trio in September's review of Rüt....) And then for Spectra & Affrays, Skein is a septet, adding Liz Allbee on trumpet, while also substituting Kazuhisa Uchihashi (guitar & daxophone) for Okkyung Lee. (Allbee is appearing in this space again soon after In Situ Ens., Same Place having been reviewed in December. And it should probably also be emphasized that Skein retains a definite modernist vibe: Pace Same Place & Rüt, it's not really music for calming the mind or vanquishing earworms, but rather involves twisting post-serial intricacy....) Allbee's trumpet "vocalizations" add a new dynamic to the group too, as do Uchihashi's sometimes more rock- (or even funk-) infused interjections (which present rather differently from the more emotionally vulnerable Lee...). I'd also never noticed Uchihashi specifically, but he released e.g. a trio album with Joëlle Léandre in 2002, and has various ensemble credits since.... It's probably worth reiterating a chronology here, too: After the first Skein, album releases involving the Gratkowski-Kaufmann-de Joode trio have been Oblengths (the last by the trio alone... recorded in 2014), Flatbosc & Cautery (by a quartet including Tony Buck, recorded May 2018), Spectra & Affrays (septet, July 2018), and then most recently, 13 Asperities (octet with vocals, 2019). Of these, Flatbosc & Cautery is the most traditionally jazzy & aggressive.... But the others include their more raucous passages as well, again generally suggesting modernist figuration. Are Kaufmann et al. specifically anti-minimalist? Perhaps. (Although I do often try to downplay piano here, especially traditionally tempered piano, there're pianists who continue to make an impression, and Kaufmann is obviously one. He records a variety of jazzier or more popularly oriented material as well, relatively speaking of course, although it's his post-serial work that's particularly resonated with me....) While previous albums generally include slower passages, as does Spectra & Affrays, are these interrogating minimalism, or functioning more as "slow movements" per classical forms? It can seem that they're more interludes, albeit often timbrally appealing themselves, than actual musical ends.... And having already noted "vocalizing," I should probably also note the "jungle" vibe that opens Spectra & Affrays (& recurs toward the end...), a variety of seething zoomimetic chirping, electronics perhaps seeming more distinctive here than on the prior outing.... But then there're the more traditionally jazzy passages as well, plus post-serial harmonic relationality encompassing a multi-dimensional tapestry that doesn't so much proceed according to a series of scenes (pace the travelogue genre...), but twists itself (figurally) into new shapes & perspectives. A particular contrast can be noted with Evan Parker's recent ElectroAcoustic Warszawa 2019: That project employs multiple electronics, meaning that the mixing happens in a different (virtual) domain than for Skein, but the overall sense is also one of line & vista, perhaps even of opening new domains to conquer.... However, these Kaufmann projects don't suggest a similar "God's eye" perspective, as transformations seem more internal, turning on motivic alternations & details..... Yet it does also seem that Spectra & Affrays wants to dwell in certain figural-timbral combos, perhaps newly uncovered (e.g. the buzzing metallic texture maintaining for a while mid-track #2...), i.e. resists constant motion (pace the "Move" ensemble, last reviewed here in April 2021 — of which Kaufmann is also a member!). One might even note a desire to cultivate more specific interactions than on the more wildly varying original Skein album... a typical dynamic for ongoing groups. (One might also start to feel a sort of rhetorical repose, i.e. a sense of self-reflective maturity.... Correspondingly, there's also at times a more specific urge toward weirdness per se.) One might then say that Spectra & Affrays comes to assert a sort of patience. But it also continues to suggest a sort of braided, timbral flow of sound, not really collage (in the early postmodern sense), because there's nowhere from which to view it (but plenty of internal points for pivoting...), so more as a variety of iterated enfoldings, yielding nonlinear (rhizomatic) outcomes.... Skein thus seems to be seeking to develop its own sense of flowing non-hierarchical coherence, remaining as a kind of collective laboratory....
So in some sense, it can also feel as though the Skein septet simply presents too many possibilities: How to produce something coherent, beyond the "excitement" & fresh discovery of the first album? Apparently involving Guenther's poetry is one answer: The ten tracks on the double CD — & it should be noted that these albums are all quite substantial in length — involve twelve preexisting poems, plus one for the occasion. Musicians sometimes made modest plans for how they would interact around the poems, but there was no written music. And the poems are relatively sparse, meaning e.g. that 13 Asperities begins with substantial (& intricate!) instrumental passages, including a variety of vocalizing from the instrumentalists. (When I first listened, I'd thought that Guenther was involved in the vocalizing, but apparently not. She speaks very clearly, almost entirely in English. And it's not only Allbee, Uchihashi, Gratkowski doing the quasi-vocalizing... at times it seems the entire ensemble is suggestive of voices. At other times, it certainly doesn't.) The sense of an "asperity" is also textural, differing surfaces with points of contact... a sense that the words themselves are floating tips of textual icebergs, so much beneath them being left unsaid, except that there's the twisting musical flow too.... And I have to reiterate that I also have misgivings about a "spoken word" album: Per the previous remarks on Plasmic & voice (& also piano...), voice has a tendency toward auditory centrality, always implying a kind of personal(ized) virtuosity. I guess I've tended to prioritize non-semantic vocalizations (or words I can't understand...) in order to temper feelings of centrality then, but here Guenther is reciting with very clear English diction. (And although she's German she has no real accent, so it's interesting how English continues to dominate in this space.... Guenther actually had quite a cosmopolitan youth though, and some other languages do appear in brief snippets.) So that's been an adjustment, but the way the words seem to straddle styles or even to steer nonlinear motion has been fascinating... there're thus nonlinear, even non-narrative outcomes. I'd also noted Guenther here previously in the review of Oblengths (February 2016), for which she supplied the titles: I don't normally mention this sort of thing, so maybe it was a premonition, but clever/coined titles have been a part of all these albums.... And that's usually involved a sense of paradox as well, such that especially combined with her "professional" English diction, Guenther recalls Claudia La Rocco & Landlocked Beach (reviewed April 2018) for me (& to a lesser extent, parts of Akjai i.e. with its twisty strings, as reviewed here December 2021...). Yet, the much larger Trokaan Project ensemble — including working together already as Skein — provides many more timbral & dimensional possibilities as well.... The album itself (& Trokaan also publishes books of poetry) is in excellent (24bit via download) sound too, mastered by Olaf Rupp, appearing on Achim Kaufmann's Bandcamp. The four consecutive dates were all live — & I know that's important to Kaufmann, since he corrected a misreading I had on this point once before — but I don't know if everything was included for the album. Trokaan also employs Gerry Hemingway on drums here, instead of Buck (likely for reasons of availability...), but otherwise the same group (plus Guenther) as for Spectra & Affrays. And Trokaan had premiered (in concert) as "Skein extended" in 2016: So per the chronology above, that falls between Oblengths & Flatbosc & Cautery — as did Loitering, disrupted, a duo album between Guenther & Kaufmann (himself rather orchestral there, including synth etc.), recorded in December 2016 (& also almost entirely in English). So the orientation on words for 13 Asperities can perhaps work against the musical dynamic (per se) at times, as there can be a sense of taming the counterpoint when the poetry enters, but there's also a strong liminal feel around when the vocals "might" enter or pause... & again the sense that the words themselves are selected from among those describing much more. (Guenther says "the tableau becomes immense.") Guenther's voice can also seem to "give voice" to others at times. (The result can be both mellow & with an edge, as another perspective always about to emerge....) And it's these elements, this feel for "diagram" (amid a generally nonlinear liminality), that move Trokaan beyond modernism per se. It thus comes to figure & reconfigure a somewhat novel & broad sense of "text."17 January 2023
Bassist James Ilgenfritz & Infrequent Seams have been quite active in releasing a variety of relevant music lately, and that includes the first real 2023 release for me here: Ekphrastic Discourse, recorded in Brooklyn in June 2021, is actually the first album in a new (& apparently download-only?) series labeled "K7 Commissions." I don't know what that's about, but the others (listed so far, but not released yet) don't involve Ilgenfritz himself, nor (it seems) free improvising.... So Ekphrastic Discourse does stand out as an improvised album, Ilgenfritz joined by Sandy Ewen & Michael Foster: More specific credits are vague, but the brief introduction focuses on found objects — & so implies prepared instruments. And much of Ekphrastic Discourse — something I'm undertaking here, by the way... — does feature a sense of mystery, including about who's doing what (via the various extensions), but there's maybe something of a "horn trio" vibe coming through at times as well... around spectral tuning & various (e.g. zoomimetic) quasi-vocalizing across the trio. Although Ekphrastic Discourse thus has a strongly experimental vibe, it also comes off as hard won, in the sense that echoes of previous outings seem almost tangibly to inform the musicians' approaches: Ewen first appeared with Ewen / Smith / Walter, but fast drumming (from Walter) hasn't defined her music generally, as e.g. the weirdly rambling North of Blanco (released in 2014) already involved a sort of croaking "vocalization" across spacious textures. (And notions of pseudo-zoomimetic "vocalizing" were confirmed by e.g. See Creatures, its sequel again noted in review of Offshore Adventures early this year....) Coincidentally, I also first mentioned Foster here with Weasel Walter, on Igneity (reviewed September 2016) & other projects, but the album that seems like a real precedent for Ekphrastic Discourse was Bind the hand(s) That Feed (reviewed here January 2019): There's a similar textural approach (including mic effects), various rubbing from percussion (i.e. often instead of rhythm per se), then building to more of a "horn trio" feel for the final track... after some wilder passages. So Ekphrastic Discourse is probably more subtle, maintaining more conceptual continuity across its length. That has much to do with Ilgenfritz, in that his bass can be both the most & least obvious instrument here at different times: Formal articulation on Ekphrastic Discourse seems to build almost directly on his trio album Loss And Gain (with Robbie Lee & Brian Chase, reviewed here November 2021), another mellow-spectral album of shifting textures, including one composition among what can be a bit of a mixed bag of tracks.... There's more rhythmic momentum at times on Loss And Gain too, but Ekphrastic Discourse can also be processual (e.g. hocketing).... (And Ilgenfritz actually appeared in this space prior to his two colleagues in the trio, i.e. in my October 2012 remarks on the quartet Mind Games around Denman Maroney, the latter also coincidentally having appeared here again last month.... And then for Infrequent Seams, I should also note specifically the recent Altamirage featuring a couple of compositions by Pauline Oliveros, as well as duo improv tracks between her & Ilgenfritz.... The latter also studied with Anthony Braxton, and I do feel as though he's slowly developing his own style in trios such as this....) So Ekphrastic Discourse can involve a sense of flow or spreading out, a kind of ongoing howling or growling too, but also more delicate fluttering articulations & an echoing sense of space. (And Ewen is basically the percussionist, pace those on Bind... & Loss..., for this mutant horn trio.) Interactions are detailed from the start, but also searching... maybe embracing a sort of "foundness" at times (e.g. concretely in objects as extensions)... but also conjuring e.g. feelings of windswept desolation. It's also increasingly clear how (naturalistic?) spectral music (e.g. spiraling through untempered intervals) continues to suggest the outdoors: Perhaps a related sense of ritual comes to be forged here as well (pace say, the "acoustic" Induction, an album from unrelated European musicians, likely also in development longer...). There's thus a general, emerging sense that nothing is solid (or maybe, that solidity per se is always already an achievement).20 January 2023
Aeon — the most recent quartet album from Ernesto Rodrigues & Creative Sources, recorded late last month — presents a contrasting followup to Definitive Bucolic, a trio album (also recorded in 2022) reviewed here in July: The quartet adds Guilherme Rodrigues on cello to the previous three musicians, who all change instruments: Flak switches to acoustic guitar for Aeon, Bruno Parrinha is back on his more frequent bass clarinet (versus saxes), and Ernesto changes too (I guess to follow the switching theme), to violin. So it's obviously a more classical instrumentation, versus that (I'd already noted that) Definitive Bucolic can project something of a "pop vibe" (e.g. around electric guitar). Also I wrote about Definitive Bucolic because it yielded a distinct affective stance, while moreover noting its paradoxical sense of time, i.e. its "cyclical or self-referential temporal scheme." The latter notion is then explored further for Aeon, including as announced explicitly by the eight tracks (called "Chronicles") appearing out of numerical (& so recording?) order: These are apparently each intact acoustic tracks, so don't involve pop "cut up" technique in a "details" sense at all, although it's interesting to note that presenting tracks "out of production order" has become so common in this space (e.g. as in film production).... But the sense of contrast also does come off as intentional, the mysterious opening of strange clicks, twangs & rumblings — not so different from the sound world of Ekphrastic Discourse from the previous entry, including some unusual & recurring senses of quasi-vocal production as well... — yielding immediately in the next track to strongly contoured & aggressively expressed string figures. The result (of the full set) is ultimately temporal bewilderment — yet also bringing the mind a kind of "reset." I've thus found Aeon to produce a powerful wake, leaving me listening to silence for many minutes.... And the title (from Greek mythology) does contrast with Chronos, the "usual" sense of chronological time (reasserted differently by each chronicle...), whereas Aeon involves the emergence of "time" per se, i.e. the substance on which more mundane chronologies rest. (Note that Rodrigues had already released albums involving music presented out of order, or rearranged electronically according to e.g. cyclical symmetries, so this sort of temporal-sequential interrogation has a history in his output....) "Smallness" consequently opens to a sense of eternity. And one finds oneself asking what just happened.... So Aeon did make a more specific impression than a couple of other recent Rodrigues quartet albums, but ongoing studies of string textures are also appealing to me in general (& that Rodrigues produces so many of these can make it seem more exciting when they appear from elsewhere, although his work certainly remains among the most advanced... & of course the most prolific): Brecht, recorded in November with Dirk Serries & Nuno Torres joining the two Rodrigueses (with no Parrinha on either of these...), is generally taut & multidimensional, bringing an urban-frenetic quality, as well as some romance, to an intricate post-serial interaction (as Serries himself becomes increasingly central...). And before that, presenting even more as a sequence of studies (& absent horn, so via different ensemble shape...) was Chaos (recorded in September) with double bassist João Madeira & percussionist José Oliveira (the latter returning from e.g. Chiaroscuro — also only just recorded in 2022!). So all three (or four) quartet albums feature innovative textural passages, while Aeon also seems to project something ineffable about time & temporality.23 January 2023
Timing also seems right to relate & contrast an additional improvising quartet album with voice & piano: Glow was recorded in Brooklyn in June 2021 & released this month by Tripticks, offering eleven diverse tracks around vocalist Shelley Hirsch (b.1952). Hirsch — who's been active in this arena for decades, e.g. mentioned here with Walking And Stumbling Through Your Sleep with the Koch-Schütz-Studer trio, in a May 2014 review... — brings a broad & dramatic performativity to this series of often short & targeted tracks: Voice can be centered at times, whether in more "musical" modes of articulation, or speaking in a popular-conversational style. There's thus still a strong "spoken word" component, such that e.g. the humor can become less effective on repeated hearings (as relying on spontaneity...), but also passages of weaving in & out of texture (per the recent review of Live At Porgy & Bess from Plasmic, there remaining more as a taut & unified tapestry, here erupting into vocal-centrism...). The vocal "chatter" is also often quite active, including becoming non-textual, so presents rather differently from the allocutory style of e.g. Trokaan & 13 Asperities too, isolated words there suggesting "icebergs" beneath.... Perhaps some of the more intriguing passages are actually "transitional" between speaking & the voice responding more polyphonically-texturally, where Hirsch musters a variety of paralinguistic qualities. In this, she can be compared as well to Kyoko Kitamura & Geometry of Caves (& followups... most recently reviewed here May 2022), a generally more pointillistic album (especially than Plasmic's), also less textual, but constantly shifting paralinguistically. Those albums (on Relative Pitch) also document musicians here in the US, including involving leading figures (& I often feel as though I should be devoting more attention to US musicians, as was my original intent here...), while Glow includes more of an up & coming cast: Unfortunately, it was also the final studio recording of drummer Michael Evans (1957-2021), who as it happens came first to this space with the Gordon Beeferman Trio & Out in Here (reviewed November 2014), also including James Ilgenfritz, who isn't on Glow, but did just appear with Ekphrastic Discourse... along with Michael Foster (saxes), who completes the quartet on Glow — Beeferman being on piano & electric keyboards. (I should also add that Foster released a lengthy tribute compilation of his working trio with Evans & Pascal Niggenkemper, MF|ME+PN, back in August 2021.) So Glow ends up with a contrasting voice-instruments dynamic, more jazzy (or cabaret, or maybe just "60s...") perhaps, but also involves exploratory contemporary playing in various passages, even as it's often less polyphonic, i.e. more centered on vocals-texts, including doing accents, etc. It's theatrical & can even be silly (such that a companion did laugh out loud...).30 January 2023
Then also newly released this month is Schnellissimo, a 24bit "home recording" offered for free by Plus Timbre. (It seems to be so easy to make a quality recording these days....) It's also a duo album, and the title doesn't seem to be literally true (to the extent that a language mélange can be literal...), but it's as appealing a recent example of violin & percussion duo improvisation as I've heard. In fact, the violin-percussion duo seems to be quite uncommon — as e.g. Leroy Jenkins or Billy Bang did relatively little in the format (although the latter's work with Abbey Rader might be the best precedent here...) — seemingly less common even than violin-electronics duo presentations! However, Schnellissimo features Matthias Boss & Marcello Magliocchi, who've worked together extensively, and seem to have developed quite a combined sound around fairly traditional violin playing (with e.g. rhythmic multi-stops) & metal-leaning percussion, both having been noted here in a review of Water Reflections (in July 2021), although Magliocchi didn't actually appear on that trio album from FMR. (I'd noted their prior trio album The sounding door there, and they also have a third album together on Plus Timbre, in a quartet. Of course, Magliocchi had appeared here since Runcible Quintet's first album Five, reviewed May 2017....) Regarding the format, the only other item I've noted has been The Emerald Figurines (Voutchkova & Zerang, March 2022), but that was "friction drums" — while Boss & Magliocchi do do some double "friction" sections as well (which tend to be less fast... but perhaps more eerie). And I'm not sure why violin-percussion duos aren't more popular, although I suppose it's partly the classical associations of the former, as there's also seemingly a need to "fill" the mid-range — where I might cite e.g. the recent Chiaroscuro, with violin & percussion as sorts of poles (at least at times), textural viola & (ambient?) reed between.... (And viola is certainly more popular than violin in this space these days, presumably for its textural-harmonic middle ground, and not only via Ernesto Rodrigues....) Yet, Schnellissimo doesn't suggest any real (textural) lacuna. It's lively (often forceful...) & colorful (& indeed very fast toward the end... perhaps demonic, I guess it's traditional to say...), while remaining expressive & directly enjoyable throughout.31 January 2023
I had no idea it was coming, pace prior remarks, but Works for violin, percussion, and machine learning environment — new on Neos Music (last noted here in a February 2019 review of Ars Nova / New Music...) — also addresses the violin & percussion combo, but with electronics as well. In fact, the "machine learning environment" is the main feature of this album (recorded in Ghent in June 2022), a system called "Archon" — that also provides digital photo renderings of its prospective self, plus liner notes involving "Archon trying to describe what Archon is." The Archon system (based in part on SuperCollider, as per Anthony Braxton's AI work) was developed by Marek Poliks & Roberto Alonso, the latter of whom also plays violin here (to be sampled & manipulated — joined on the second of two tracks by Christian Smith on percussion to form a "trio"), yielding remarkably sophisticated music: I've felt compelled to write this discussion in large part because the result not only reflects current (extended...) practice in free improvisation, but generally surpasses it in terms of intricacy — in terms of delicate intricacy, that is, quasi-mycelial relations spreading in gossamer threads across the musical tapestry.... There's thus little stable sense of individual line, but rather various diffuse divergences & recombinations, twisty as fog — yet not yielding a smooth texture, instead with variations in attack, projecting a general sense of percussiveness as well.... (And there's really no more of the latter on the second track, which is both shorter & perhaps less rich overall....) But there's also a sense of voice, or of finding a voice (pace the bio, etc.): The various (usually multiple) croaking or growling or chirping recalls various (zoomimetic) quasi-vocalization techniques elsewhere, indeed such that the basic "musical stuff" of Works for violin, percussion, and machine learning environment recalls e.g. Ekphrastic Discourse (as just reviewed here last month...): The subtle timbral variety thus suggests a larger ensemble, but also a do-it-yourself vibe... even feeling almost rural here at times? The "DIY" theme seems to resonate in the photos as well, and these can be rather creepy, even macabre: Archon seems to view itself as a hybrid between the living & the non-living, invoking even a sense of death... i.e. dead bird parts (butchered no less...), as it appears to "think" of itself as a sort of mechanical bird, a songbird one supposes.... There's thus a strong sense of naturalistic-industrial hybridity here (again, not unlike what e.g. Sandy Ewen cultivates with her "found objects" work...), and even a parallel sense of spatial (architectural) investigation via shifting resonances, etc. That involves (specifically) spectral relationality as well, i.e. proliferation of interval relations beyond twelve-tone equal temperament (as also on Ekphrastic Discourse, there even "rigorously" per James Ilgenfritz).... The sound per se then, its figurations & relations, is not wholly different from some other contemporary improv, but as noted, moves more fluidly & intricately, although not in a heavy way... its overall density indeed being typical enough, even tending toward filigree.... Works for violin, percussion, and machine learning environment thus challenges what I call "segmentation" quite broadly, both in terms of the hybridity of its "participants" — & that extends from the industrial-mechanical into the zoomimetic... — & in its approach to sound, i.e. as ramified far beyond the traditionally discrete musical "note." (So it's e.g. basically — although presumably not technically... — impossible to "count" the musical lines here.... One might note as well that Archon isn't just finding a "voice," but seems "intentionally" to retain a non-unitary identity.) In short, if the album had appeared from human performers, I'd've been impressed by its (very contemporary) technique (especially its rhizomatic sense of line...). And it's not incoherent either, but does lack a register of affective coherence, such that I end up more "impressed" than transformed myself. The delicate intricacy also leaves each instant composition feeling rather long, so probably best to hear one at a sitting....4 February 2023
Wow, and it seems as though once the improvising quartets with voice got going here, there's to be no stopping them, almost as if what I'm writing about lately is self-prompting.... So next I'll turn to a couple of recent (or upcoming) releases involving English vocalist Phil Minton: On A Clear Day Like This was recorded back in July 2017 (at London's Cafe Oto), and continues the recent theme involving pianists, here Pat Thomas (also on electronics). Although it's from over five years ago now, it's appearing only next month on 577 Records, so some thoughts are probably in order — generally regarding this quartet (with Dave Tucker on electric & acoustic guitars, Roger Turner on drums & percussion) called Scatter (after its previous album, Scatter from 2007 on FMR, the band having been formed by Thomas back in 1992...). And the accompanying remarks do cite a "philosophy of pure group improvisation" & the "energy of rock music with quiet intensity via non-idiomatic improvisation" so that seems to describe On A Clear Day Like This, a half-hour "main" track followed by a short encore, rather well. Energy does vary, and the interaction can be a bit thin at times, but it's also clearly the more aggressively contoured of the two new albums prompting this entry. Of course, Thomas (b.1960) has been quite active lately in general (including with some prominent, historically-oriented jazz explorations...) — after first being mentioned here with Berlin Kinesis (in a September 2015 review), also with Turner — although I'd yet to note Tucker (despite e.g. another series with Thomas on 577...). And Minton (b.1940) has been active even longer, last appearing here with the duo (with electronics) With, Without (reviewed October 2020), but previously with e.g. Speak Easy @Konfrontationen (reviewed in October 2019), from a quartet with duelling vocalists (& Thomas Lehn on synth). That sort of "alternative piano" & sense of a vocal duel then recurs for the recent I Dream I Was An Earopean, recorded in Italy in April 2022 & just released by Now Ezz-thetics (i.e. Hat Hut), another quartet around Sergio Armaroli (vibraphone): I'd finally reviewed Armaroli with Windows & Mirrors | Milano Dialogues (in December 2022) & even mentioned his duo album with Turner (Dance Steps, released by Leo in 2021), who likewise appears together with Minton on I Dream I Was An Earopean. (The accompanying details assign the musical copyright to Armaroli only, but this sounds like freely improvised music to me.) As it happens then, I'd actually first mentioned Turner (b.1946) in this space (in March 2015) with Kochuu (with Isabelle Duthoit, so already a vocalist...), also with Alexander Frangenheim, who then appeared with Thomas & Turner (along with Philipp Wachsmann) on Berlin Kinesis.... Anyway, the quartet on I Dream I Was An Earopean is filled out by Giancarlo Schiaffini (trombone) — returning from Windows & Mirrors | Milano Dialogues — serving to pair with voice, particularly given Minton's baritone & tendency to hover low in the texture. (Minton also plays trumpet at times, ramifying the pairing with trombone.) The whole album, which is over an hour long, is then quite dreamy or atmospheric in general (& acoustic, contra the other Minton albums named here...), often with little long-range tension, but e.g. occasional vocal eruptions. It's seemingly more in the way of textural studies from Armaroli, and probably not his most exciting either... although there're some fine "nuts & bolts" moments. And neither of these albums appears to involve lyrics (but perhaps a few passing mumbles...), meaning extended vocalizations, Minton's voice generally weaving mid-texture. Neither album appears to be a real "statement" either — but they do yield two rather different results, even with two musicians in common, i.e. under the "improvising quartets with voice" umbrella (pace Plasmic from only a few weeks ago...).8 February 2023
The eclectic Relative Pitch label continues its prolific release schedule, especially with solo & duo albums, but also with some classic trio & quartet combos lately, and now with the larger Fata Morgana, (appearing this week) apparently out of France. The premiere is noted there as being in 2021, so I guess that's this recording? Anyway, it's of a composition by electronics artist "ErikM" — whom I hadn't previously noted here, in large part because his releases seem more solo oriented in general... — but there're nonetheless some thoughts to share. The description (by the composer) is confusing, so it's also possible that I'm not actually following what's happening (& I certainly don't know e.g. what a "rim developer" is — per the credits), but let me take a shot at it: The project began with field recordings, including sounds beyond human hearing, and these were then manipulated electronically, rendering them audible & into written notation. What we hear is then a sextet (called Ensemble Dedalus; guitar, flute, trombone, trumpet, violin, cello) playing the notated field recordings — but also while listening to live streams of natural settings via headphones? (That part of the description is especially confusing, but I don't think we're hearing the live streams....) There seem to be some electronics in the final result as well, i.e. framing pieces via some very high & low pitches, usually subtly. The discussion of the composition is then titled "What we hear not in the nature transposed to the instrument," meaning there's an aspect of illusion being cultivated — as reflected in the title. The various tracks end up sounding like natural scenes to me, though — i.e. instruments playing along or rendering those sounds, pace e.g. David Birchall's "outdoor" productions, e.g. Watergrove Part 2, as reviewed here in February 2021... — but there's still that (formal) "transposition" involved (& I guess a sort of "blurring" via the headphones...). The opening track is then the most mysterious, with noticeable high electronics to open, but others go on to render zoomimetic or other physical sounds (e.g. dripping water) in more straightforward ways, such that one can seemingly picture the setting. (Pitches too high for human hearing apparently arise e.g. from frogs. Whales & bats are also mentioned specifically.) There's a sort of aggressive feel at times too, but more often a kind of slow simmering. So while I'm not sure how compelling Fata Morgana ended up being to hear repeatedly, I did want to note it as another sort of naturalistic-industrial hybridity, pace the Archon project reviewed earlier this month: E.g. human spontaneity finds a different locus between those projects (& is of course centered by Birchall), while the computer rendering by Archon actually ends up being more fluid & intricate than the mostly-human-rendered Fata Morgana — although both can include e.g. subtle clouds of high harmonics.... (ErikM is certainly using spectral techniques as well, i.e. in order to produce his double inverted "illusion" here.... One might note that "spectral" applies in its older meaning, as a haunting, as well....) And Fata Morgana does have its senses of drama at times. (The only musician involved whom I'd mentioned here previously happens to be Christian Pruvost, who'd appeared with Satoko Fujii on June, as reviewed back in April 2017....) But mostly it presents different methods & perspectives around a range of "natural" sounds, i.e. sonic environments that've become an increasing focus for contemporary musicians (at least in this particular space). The result also tends toward the impersonal (more so than the industrial per se), although it's also apparently designed to change (via the "backdrop" live streams) for each performance....14 February 2023
Udo Schindler continues to be one of the most prolific musicians in this space, i.e. embarking on an ongoing exploration of detailed timbral (microtonal, spectral) interactions in small groups of close-listening musicians. Schindler often explores in the duo format (albeit with an array of changing partners...), but his acoustic-resonant approach also means that notes & textures tend to blend (& shift), i.e. differ from traditional note-against-note polyphony & indeed depart from the chromatic scale. It's that sort of infrachromatic approach, plus the focus Schindler is able to bring on a variety of horns, that keeps me listening — although it's often a challenge to pick out a particular release for more detailed discussion. I'd reviewed In Search of Surprise back in November 2021 though, and that album articulates his underlying duo with Etienne Rolin together with vibraphone in trio. It's not easy to insert a third part into these ongoing horn duo interactions, but the extra tension or intervention brings an extra sizzle for me.... And In Search of Surprise had already involved some duo tracks too, these now being bolstered by Plastic Narratives, itself consisting of more than an hour (9 tracks...) of duet interactions between Schindler & Rolin, as recorded between December 2020 & February 2021. Although the album thus presents a bit as "odds & ends," it also involves more & different timbral explorations: Schindler is on clarinets, cornet & tuba this time, while Rolin adds bansuri to basset horn & glissotar, yielding striking (low) combos from the opening, and eventually including some extended vocalizing as well.... (It's an ongoing exploration of what two can do with horns, pace e.g. the review of Perelman's Reed Rapture in Brooklyn from this past October... where I'd also cited Schindler's work, more microtonal, acoustically twisty....) Although the result is generally tight, there can be a little more of a rambling quality as well, and that's given more rein in the other Schindler album just released on FMR: Rhapsodic Topologies returns to a trio format (with a spelling that varies across release materials...), this time with Nikolaus Neuser (trumpet) as the "other" horn & Georg Karger on double bass. The latter is new to me (but does invoke a jazzy vibe at times, and even solos...), but Neuser has been on my radar since Trialectics (from 2017), another surprisingly multidimensional trio album — there perhaps even invoking the creepy or inhuman. Rhapsodic Topologies retains a strongly human quality though (beyond merely being an acoustic album), also emphasizing more brass interactions (with Schindler on cornet, but also clarinets...), versus e.g. Rolin's reeds. Recorded in Munich in May 2022, it opens already with percussive pops, its abstract pitch clashes soon taking on more emotional contours, e.g. yielding almost feelings of romance, perhaps even a dance vibe around (jazzy) pizzicato bass.... The "rhapsodic" also yields a sense of joint-collective waves (i.e. a sort of spectral, quasi-harmolodic motion?), a kind of processual quality, but with subtle "noise" as well (as itself a sort of articulation), i.e. squawks, growling, static.... And then the music also drifts, intervals cycling absent e.g. piano, twisting lines & shadowy shapes, flowing without ground or destination.... (One might thus note a sort of open, incommensurate quality here: There're certainly more twists & tangents than e.g. the considerably more "linear" Braxton, pace his 2021 duet at Other Minds, but there's also an overall balance projected between the spatial-resonant & the animalistic-calling....) One thing about Schindler though, despite what the vocabulary here (i.e. from me) might suggest, he's always basically articulate & tuneful. (That's his exploratory, musical context.) More than anything then, the trio format multiplies the avenues for close interval correspondences & timbral interrogations (as e.g. there're three duos embedded in any trio). So Rhapsodic Topologies does seem like another good choice for more attention to Schindler, as well as provides some distinctive affective (open, quasi-)satisfaction itself.28 February 2023
When it comes to collaborative, timbral-spectral musical investigations though, it seems that no one is really more prolific than Ernesto Rodrigues, and he's been very ready to articulate his ideas across a variety of social & environmental relations in the post-pandemic space, producing an ongoing series of notable new releases, even relative to his already imposing discography. Dérive — recorded in Lisbon in December 2022 — continues that trend, both "pairing" with Aeon (recorded one day prior, and reviewed here in January) to interrogate a sort of spatial (versus temporal) relationality, and addressing the Situationist tradition in particular. The album Dérive itself then suggests a series of nonlinear interactions & interrogations — or "strolls" per the flâneur track titles — via the music per se, but also through an array of potential opening remarks here: Staying with the Situationist theme, the psychogeography entailed in this (multi-)instantiation of a Dérive doesn't conform e.g. to literal geographic space — pace e.g. Psychogeography, an Improvisational Derive (reviewed here in March 2019) by a quartet around Marco Scarassatti & Otomo Yoshihide, which specifies actual latitudes & longitudes — but more to an abstract exploration of psychic space. (This might obviously be characterized as an inner space, pace Rodrigues' frequent naturalistic inspiration, although a more acoustic spatiality does also present itself.) And I should note moreover my favorite late composition by Pierre Boulez, Dérive 2 itself being a single long-form tapestry, various ideas (contrapuntally) taking off in all directions: Instead, this new Dérive both includes a variety of (timbral, deconstructive) restarts, rather than a single movement, and involves spectral counterpoint, i.e. beyond the twelve-tone space. And although it aims at a specific philosophical-historical method, Dérive also involves a continuation of Rodrigues' main recent collaborations, i.e. with Guilherme Rodrigues (of course...) & Bruno Parrinha (here notably on flute, as well as bass clarinet), both e.g. also on Aeon, ultimately projecting a folksier sound there, but also already forging the core trio album, Sans oublier les arbres (as reviewed here in the massive May 2022 entry introducing the newly ongoing series of collaborations between Ernesto Rodrigues & Parrinha...) — itself just reprised by Signes Émergents (also "only" that trio), a shorter & more recent (& less naturalistic) issue, recorded five days prior to that earlier (by release) trio.... All three had already appeared together for the quintet album Quelque chose prie la patience des nuages (reviewed in the same entry here...) too, itself more linear-distended around piano (& electronics), versus the tighter (& less minimalistic) new quintet on Dérive, now featuring three strings — adding João Madeira on bass — as well as Monsieur Trinité on percussion. The latter was reviewed here (in October 2016) in trio with the two Rodrigueses on Aether, and is sometimes credited (more specifically) with "small" percussion: Trinité often seems to be accenting the proceedings here, i.e. rather than navigating the intricate microtonal counterpoint per se himself, but does add distinctly to the timbral combos. And then Madeira (who made this recording, also doing the mixing & mastering...) has been an increasingly frequent collaborator for Rodrigues lately himself, e.g. with the étude-like quartet album Chaos (with percussionist José Oliveira & the same three string players) having been mentioned here in a January 2023 entry, that quartet itself being a followup to the string trio album Cosmos (recorded in January 2022) — plus e.g. other formations (with Parrinha as well) as noted in the first review here (in September 2022) of Distilling Silence.... So Dérive can actually come off rather aggressively, and is certainly mixed with a great deal of presence — not unlike Distilling Silence, to which it might otherwise be compared, not least for their two senses of liminality. And although the strolls can be quite atmospheric, and indeed highly multi-dimensional in their senses of spatial counterpoint, as already suggested, there's also no concrete sense of location. (Although there're certainly outdoor allusions, these don't tend to be figured into outdoor scenes: Perhaps they figure more as partial memories....) And so there's no concrete, physical sense of moving — but rather an internal, mental sense of movement... prospectively, of breaking out of mental ruts. (I found the full sequence of nine flâneurs to be quite disorienting initially.) So the sort of spatial nonlinearity (& abstraction) sets this exploration apart for me in the technical-planning sense, but the execution is also superlative, tautly articulated & frequently intense. There's a suggestion of electronics at times too, but this is an acoustic album — tending to add a bit to the aura for me. (The cover tends to remind of how I diagram my own paragraphs too. But it's difficult to find further comparisons, even as Rodrigues has traversed similar philosophical spaces in the past.... Farther afield, perhaps there's Precepts for strings & "percussion," itself with a different sort of ritualistic vibe, maybe more roughly articulated, more insistent....) And the distinctive general mix of timbres should probably be highlighted here more as well, i.e. from the richly contoured & sometimes imposing bass line to tinkling metallic percussion & various resonant shadings in between, the technique & experience that's required to develop this sort of (infrachromatic) "sound" can become deemphasized due to Rodrigues' prolific output.... For me though, this is useful & even central music for the 2020s, historical (& extra-musical) allusions & all, as Rodrigues & company balance (timbral, acoustic) strength against ethereal & open (harmonic) delicacy.... Indeed, a critical aspect of spectral music in general, i.e. for our new era of "post-"s (like it or not...), is that it doesn't smooth over the inherent physical complexities of sound & acoustics. And the Rodrigueses et al. also manage to articulate such complexities improvisationally, i.e. without stiffness or a heightened sense of (e.g. compositional) artifice. The music flows.7 March 2023
Finally returning to the US, I'd mentioned Kansas City's Mother Brain Records & electric guitarist Seth Andrew Davis already together with itinerant bassist Damon Smith in a review of the quartet album Ghost Tantras in September 2022. All three are now back with another aggressive & striking quartet album, Branches Choke — as joined by Alex Cunningham (violin) & Weasel Walter (drums), recorded in KC in July 2022. Davis continues to be creative & prolific, particularly moving between "front line" & rhythm section here, in what can sometimes present as an almost-classic "free jazz quartet" formation. But I'd also actually reviewed Cunningham back in April 2020 with the violin & percussion duo Specifically The Water (with Claire Rousay) — a fact I note more expansively now, because I somehow failed to notice when reviewing Schnellissimo in January. (Since noting a dearth of violin & drums duos there, there've actually also been two new such releases announced already: Fluke-Mogul & Dunkelman with Likht on Relative Pitch, and Wachsmann & Taylor with Two on FMR....) Moreover, the technically resourceful Cunningham had already released two trio albums with Smith & Lisa Cameron as well, so he's not at all new to this general orbit. Nor is Walter, of course, who frequently pairs with Smith, and does indeed bring his unique sound (& speed) to the proceedings on Branches Choke. (His mixing & mastering has also become distinctive, as heard again here.) And as one might expect, the overall sound can be very fast at times, the violin almost a blur, but there're slower & more atmospheric passages as well.... Still, the general growling & frenetic sections can conjure a sense of horror sometimes... of death metal, I suppose. There's plenty of intensity then, but also a broadly intricate sense of counterpoint: Davis (b.1994) in particular seems to have no shortage of fluid, timbral-textural ideas.... (And Smith & Walter's work with Sandy Ewen, e.g. on the massive [Untitled], is certainly a touchstone for me, but the sense of expression here soon departs....) Perhaps more striking overall though is the "elastic" sense of time developed, i.e. the sensation of smoothly speeding up or slowing down (vs. e.g. traditional, sudden halving or doubling of tempo units...), i.e. of shifting (quasi-cinematic) temporal perception, conspicuously at times by Cunningham. Otherwise, Branches Choke can seem also long & busy, passing through various worlds, while suggesting a kind of underlying compulsion toward (unreachable, full, free) expression....8 March 2023
The latest album from Impakt Köln, T.ON plays Herzog | Muche | Nillesen (recorded in July 2021), is the third release by the "trombone trio" of Matthias Muche, Constantin Herzog & Etienne Nillesen. And although there's limited discussion of their approach there, the album follows two specifically devoted to composers, first to Muche himself & then an anthology (featuring e.g. Nate Wooley). So although T.ON plays Herzog | Muche | Nillesen can sound like free improvisation, there also seems to be some planning, i.e. an overall theme-conception to the album, concluding with a recited text by poet Anthony Moore. I've also been featuring trombone here, including in more "traditional" ensembles such as this, e.g. Der Dritte Stand from Matthias Müller & company (reviewed September 2022), a more "traditionally free" trombone trio album, i.e. incorporating a variety of rhythmic figures etc., versus the viscous articulations around Muche here, which make for more of a textural flow. (The two "Matthias M" German trombone players are also connected on record, e.g. their tribute album Konzert für Hannes, in trio with Jeb Bishop, having been reviewed here in September 2017: That formation has a second album now too, From A to B released late last year by Jazzwerkstatt....) So Muche in T.ON plays Herzog | Muche | Nillesen should probably be compared to Müller in less "traditional" (more textural...) lineups, such as Implositions & Superimpose With (i.e. both from the same double entry here in June 2021), particularly as various flutterings & growlings tend to articulate broad continuities. And I'd already featured Muche too, going back to Excerpts from anything (a Creative Sources album, mentioned April 2012...) — & while I'd only noted double bassist Herzog with Pascal Niggenkemper's Talking Trash (reviewed May 2016), Nillesen (again on his "extended snare drum") has appeared with a variety of ensembles, although usually more in the background. (Indeed another recent album featuring Nillesen is Thirty Nine Fifty Five with Georg Wissel & Dusica Cajlan, there yielding delicate expression around piano for Brooklyn's Acheulian Handaxe Records, itself following that trio's CS album Fourtyfour fiftythree as noted here in April 2019, generally sparse but deeply fusing the instrumental resonances & timbres....) His buzzing, rubbed drum basically comes off as another streaming line, almost a melody instrument too.... There's then a tremendous sense of continuity overall here, buzzing intertwining streams in general, but also various resets for the twelve individual tracks (& this is a long album, well over an hour...), some of which articulate more specific textural relations (including via bass solo...), apparently as part of an overall program arc. And then the concluding text is apparently read by the author, in a not-particularly-hifi & somewhat spatial-echoing recording, both factors of which come to feel retroactively articulated by the space & distance maintained through the program arc: It's not a sonorous or lyrical text either, more of a "think piece," the music around it both seeming subdued & in substantial continuity with what happened before. (The musicians basically continue playing along with the speaker, ultimately moving into higher registers....) There's thus a sort of industrial sound overall, especially given the buzzing (& sometimes noise/static effects) & echoing, the understated/lurking metallic quality... & of course the feeling for sonic granularity. (There's of course also a contrasting sense of breath....) The overall effect is haunting, is of a haunting (yielding an understated, fraught atmosphere...), but there's also a sophisticated ongoing textural exploration around trombone & bass, sort of flowing & braided calls (sometimes involving more textural repetition, sometimes more animated...), maintaining feelings of (linear) tension even through extended pauses, while eventually becoming subsumed in or by text (or message? or composition...) per se....13 March 2023
And then releasing next month on Relative Pitch is the latest "modular composition" from Chicago native Scott Fields, now working in Cologne, where he conducted the Scott Fields Ensemble (of 20 instrumentalists & 3 vocalists) in a 9-track rendition of Sand in February 2022: Sand presents as a direct followup to Seven Deserts, released on New World Records & reviewed here in June 2020, such that if the same convention were maintained, this title would be Nine Sands.... In other words, although there's little documentation this time around (pace the copious materials from New World...), I'm given to believe that the 9 tracks (totaling nearly an hour and a quarter) on the album Sand are also nine different renditions of the composition Sand. They're each quite different, though. And so besides straddling a sort of US/non-US (& again Köln...) dynamic that I'd noted over a previous few entries, Sand is also another composed, large ensemble album from Relative Pitch: Although I've especially associated the label with solo albums lately (& these can certainly be intriguing...), somehow it seems as though I've become more attracted to the larger projects there — even as they've been releasing more albums by e.g. trios again lately.... Anyway, while I'd noted a rather steady pulse to Seven Deserts in general, Sand seems to be more shifting & so multidimensional in that sense, with various layers of material passing through each other, seemingly almost at a distance — but also yielding various points of lightness & repose, reduced forces being the norm at any particular moment. (Materials can apparently relate to each other more or less strongly....) There's also the addition of vocal texts, strange stories by Fields himself, likewise broken into modules (i.e. recited "randomly" as fragments), and that's become something of a theme here of late: T.ON plays Herzog | Muche | Nillesen had just ended with a text, but perhaps the better comparison (once again with a Köln connection — as well as with Frank Gratkowski involved in the two larger ensembles...) is with Trokaan Project & their 13 Asperities: Although instrumental lines occupy most of that album as well, and there aren't musical compositions per se, the voice is also relatively more centered, i.e. without a sense of ever being in the background. (And Fields goes further, i.e. in not assuming a foreground vocal projection, as some passages involve multiple voices colliding & obscuring each other... or not obscuring each other. These are some of the most distinctive textural passages.) Sand generally presents as open (even floating...) textures then, jazzy at times (less warm perhaps than Desert...), even desolate in moments, but its figures are generally pleasant too (almost suggesting a pop vibe? if also sometimes dodecaphonic...) & musically rich, suggesting a kind of composite temporal flow more than real transformation for the listener.... (Perhaps such a sense of music passing "around" the listener should be related to Charles Ives: Fields' work does feel distinctly American.) The passage of time even starts to feel, perhaps, like sands through an hourglass, particles of music flowing... but in more directions. And there's a technical aspect that's mentioned & does seem to be implicated here in a resulting, multidimensional (vectorial?) sense of flow: The music uses "organic cues," such that larger choices & timings become dependent on the smallest past articulations. (And so one might consider this as a sort of actualization of chaos theory: Various others have been inspired by such associations as well, of course, i.e. big changes coming from small seeds, er, sands....) The surface sensations are of mostly calmly shifting textures, an array of worlds & relations then, streams of consciousness across various layers, indeed with (affectively) limited sense of foreground.... And the experienced musicians here also, obviously, have a tremendous effect on how the largely improvised music unfolds, with e.g. Norbert Rodenkirchen & Matthias Muche being also among those who appear on both Fields albums noted here.... (While Fields himself was a guitarist on Seven Deserts. And I'm not sure the specific conductor matters all that much, even as someone needs to make the selections....) Overall though, the compositions suggest a kind of post-Cage temporal space, i.e. a breaking of material into pieces to be ordered (or ignored) arbitrarily... (with e.g. in Cage's Number Pieces, the chance ordering nonetheless becoming instantiated as the composition per se). A result is likewise a somewhat distant or impersonal feel for the passing of (full & multi-relational) time, now articulated in particles, amid a general sense of (often) swirling temporal motion. Yet there's also, usually a fleeting sense of focus, not really a foreground perhaps, but an occupation. And then it's on to something else (again).14 March 2023
The first Werckmeister album, generically titled Musik, made a strong impression on me: It doesn't recall early or Baroque music otherwise, but moving away from equal temperament to the Werckmeister system — a kind of historical "well-tuning," a term readers might know from Bach — provides a distinctive sound environment for what was a rather active quartet exploration. (And then there're the track titles too, suggesting a classical concerto. Those could be analogized e.g. to the Baldrian Quartett's album from last year, not mentioned in my December review of Stranger Becoming with accordionist Jonas Kocher, but drawing some attention elsewhere: It features a mock classical cover suggesting 19th century music, but Musik is rather more graphically wry, with its yawning cat....) Per last month's review of Udo Schindler, these sorts of investigations also interrogate the basic non-closure of musical relations, i.e. nonalignment of vertical & horizontal concerns, often (necessarily?) yielding a sort of rationalization per se.... (Western culture clings to its illusions of mastery in more destructive ways, but perhaps not in more fundamental ways....) So I was excited to hear the return of the Werckmeister Quartet, now with the album Two Movements, recorded in Munich in February 2022. Markus Eichenberger (clarinet) is apparently behind this project, and besides the previous Werckmeister album (from 2020), I should also note his reed duo with Christoph Gallio, Unison Polyphony released last year by Hat's Now Ezz-thetics line: I hadn't mentioned that album yet, but it's indeed concerned with two reeds in unison (including register shifts, which do account for some of the linear tension), i.e. yielding a rather stark or mellow investigation that recalls for me some of the old two-voice conductus (i.e. the origins of Western polyphony...). More recently, Anthony Braxton investigated something similar on Duet (Other Minds) 2021, there with SuperCollider electronics accentuating differences, but there've been other recent duo outings around inherent differences between instruments playing "the same" as well, e.g. Myotis Myotis (also not involving horns, as reviewed here November 2022). Then for the Werckmeister Quartet, Eichenberger also enlists some of the most enterprising musicians on the Köln scene: Etienne Nillesen (extended snare drum) had just appeared here last week with T.ON plays... (& Thirty Nine Fifty Five...), while Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba) & Philip Zoubek (synthesizer) remain must hears across their various projects here (including frequently together elsewhere, e.g. in HMZ). And the new Two Movements does come off rather like a second album, in that it seems in large part to be defining, rationalizing & ordering a prior (presumably more spontaneous...) interaction: The first movement begins already in a wonderfully eerie mode, suggesting strange flows & senses of breath, but soon yields to a more linear sense of relation, i.e. a parade of curiosities, as the musicians articulate various figures, one after another. (This seems to be about bringing more personality to the situation, and I do particularly enjoy some of the tuba articulations there....) The figurations are thus more spread out, less vertically oriented or confrontational. But that does change for (parts of) the second movement, a broad wave with two major climaxes, especially a sort of zoomimetic cacophony, basically transforming (what I'd previously noted as) an "industrial" sound environment into a naturalistic scene. So it's quite gestural, but also involves an element of pastoral satisfaction (now involving some curious sounds). The second album generally has less happening at once then, but maybe heralds more.... (And while I didn't think much of the cat cover, the newer sort of ultra-modern figuration, two people walking through a "clean" lobby type of area, seems almost more provocative: At first I thought, well, of course this doesn't fit the music at all, it's just ironic simplicity.... But then I thought, hmm, maybe it does fit the music, including its blurred edges. Or maybe it reminds me of that Baldrian cover, somehow....) I guess the followup release more often leaves a strange interval simply hanging in the air then, almost like a doodle. Yet there's also a sense of plumbing a new world, i.e. via exploring the affordances of its sometimes shimmering (& novel) timbres & sonorities.20 March 2023
Continuing recent threads on voice & trombone, let me turn now to the latest album from just such an ongoing duo: Beam Splitter is Audrey Chen on voice (& electronics) & Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø on trombone (& electronics, feedback, etc.), and I'd failed to notice them previously, despite a performance history dating to 2015: Their first (duo) album Rough Tongue was released in 2017, there without explicit electronics yet, followed by a pandemic production of shared tracks with various other musicians, but their new tape Split Jaw seems to entail another level of sonic exploration for this combo. In fact, it seems I'd somehow failed to hear Chen (b.1976, Chicago) to this point, despite various releases that might've piqued my interest, e.g. the quintet album Four Instruments Two Voices with Phil Minton, released on Sub Rosa in 2016 (alongside the duo album, also with Minton, By the stream...). And Chen does seem to have been rather influenced by Minton, likewise with a huge repertory of vocalizations. Of course, as it happens, my last discussion of Minton involved a pairing with trombone as well, in quartet on I Dream I Was An Earopean (reviewed here last month) — & moreover my only prior reference to Nørstebø was with a vocalist, i.e. as part of the Lana Trio on With Sofia Jernberg (reviewed June 2018). (And Jernberg herself most recently appeared here with a different trombonist, Matthias Müller on Superimpose With, reviewed June 2021... as referenced again in this month's earlier review of trombonist Matthias Muche on T.ON plays....) Pace that partially coincidental cycle of prior relations then, the Split Jaw release (on Tripticks) consists of two rather different performances, a 13' opening track recorded in studio in Berlin in February 2021, followed by two live tracks (totaling around 33') from Austria's Wels Unlimited Festival, November 2022. (So the first side of the tape is half Berlin, half Wels.) And I can hear why they included the opening track, but I don't know if it'd've prompted a review: The opening itself is intense, even frightening, with a sort of electronic scream (only slowly resolving to quasi-human form...) against a deep throbbing bass.... However, that intensity soon fades to a bare hum, seeming to go for a sort of emotional "reset" or calming, but maybe more of an extended draining.... In any case, at that point I'm ready for the live material to start, which never has the same degree of slowness. Intensity is generally maintained then, including over quieter passages: There's a close pairing of voice & trombone basically throughout, but ramified via spontaneous electronic manipulations & sustains, including in a series of convergences & divergences. Chen also brings some linguistic components to her vocalizing at times, but there's generally a wide technical variety, including a sort of interrogation of the human per se, i.e. within the electronic-industrial context — & with the trombone very much lending (at least sometimes) a tangible sense of human breath as well. (Pace the technical range of Minton, Chen also recalls Isabelle Duthoit for me, Light air still gets dark & its senses of interiority, of feminine mystique, and then its differing modes of almost-stifled intensity....) The various flutterings, grindings & vibrations can also suggest a sense of process, sometimes via seemingly purposeful repetition (or ostinati), but also by maintaining senses of continuity more generally: There's an overall sense of pinching or squeezing from both throat & brass, a sense that expression is actually fighting against itself at times, posing for me some tentative (& apparently "inhuman") thoughts on differences across a nozzle-throttle (pace fluid dynamics...) dual. And after several years together, especially with the lively Wels tracks here, Chen & Nørstebø do indeed develop quite a dual (or mutual) expressive context of their own.28 March 2023
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