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It's time, once again, to roll over this page, and so to write a new introduction. Please continue to consult the previous set of entries, particularly as introducing a break in this way is arbitrary. (I simply don't want this page to become absurdly long.) There will be a great deal of continuity with previous entries, some of which are from earlier this month.
Please scroll to the bottom of this page to see the newest entries. Although the "break" with the previous series is basically arbitrary, I do want to present the text in written order. I know that some people prefer to see new entries at the beginning, and can appreciate the convenience, but also think that it suggests a sort of "atomization" of entries. (In other words, they might come to seem more independent than they are.) Likewise, I've considered writing some more "modern" code to facilitate reader choice here, whether concerning the order, a specific search feature, or displaying only some entries according to topical tags. At one point, I had such a system sketched & even sat down to write it, but reconsidered according to my atomization concerns. Anyway, that's my current thinking on this issue.
Similarly, although some entries are & will be straightforward, the topic generally concerns complex music, if only complex conceptually, and so I don't believe that I'm making undue demands on the reader by writing (often) in a complicated style. Although it's usually a specific recording (or two) that prompts an entry, I freely mix remarks on other albums. Such an orientation reflects the relational quality of music in general, and contemporary improvisation in particular. I've also articulated some rather idiosyncratic ideas about the music, and I don't apologize for that, since I'm taking a "searching" approach here, but I do apologize for factual errors. For better or worse, my focus here is on articulating thoughts in response to auditory experience, rather than on asking questions of people who might know. In other words, I often have nothing more to go on here than listening to a recording, same as anyone else, and sometimes I get confused. So be it, and I'll correct if needed. I want to take a quasi-improvisational approach, and better confused than tentative. Despite the occasional issue, this approach seems to be working.
There's also the basic issue of what (albums) to write about, how I end up hearing (about) something, and what I choose to say. In particular, learning of new items of interest is often complicated by learning someone else's impressions of them, usually in a review. I'd prefer not to be "contaminated" with other thinking, at least not prior to listening, but the basic reality is that reviews are an important source of information — especially about the existence of a release. (When musicians whose work I've enjoyed send me their new albums, that does solve this problem.) Mostly I will write about albums I enjoy. Sometimes that enjoyment will lead to considering something to be a favorite, and the reader can consult my favorites list, arranged by year. Sometimes my enjoyment fades quickly, or doesn't conform to priorities here, but the experience is still worth noting. This seems like a very normal outcome for improvised music, which is only new once, and probably describes the majority of entries. Nonetheless, I do prioritize albums that reward repeat listening. I do also make some negative remarks, but try to keep those to a minimum. (Sometimes it seems necessary by way of clarifying something else.) I hope that being mentioned here will generally be received in complimentary terms, and perhaps it goes without saying, but I don't write anything about most of what I happen to hear: I need to feel as though I have something to say. I'll leave it to context (and previous introductions) to clarify what sort(s) of music I enjoy, though, which might evolve anyway.
Finally, if this introduction isn't already too self-indulgent — just look at all the first person singular! — I've recently finished Basic mechanics of modernity, which is something of an introduction to & summary of some of my more extended theoretical work to this point. I hope that it will be intelligible without reading my previous, much longer articles, although perhaps some readers will want to read those too. (Other writing is linked from Basic Mechanics, or from older entries here.) Together, those articles provide more context than readers could possibly want for my approach in this space.
Thank you for your continuing interest. At a minimum, I expect to have some different things to say here — different from what appears elsewhere, that is. Hopefully some of these thoughts will even be worthwhile.Todd McComb <email@example.com>
It was only a couple of months ago that I discussed the Daniel Levin Quartet's Live at Firehouse 12 here, and that album was the first with Mat Maneri replacing Nate Wooley. It's unclear (at least to me) how long Maneri has been playing with Levin, although some liner notes do allude to it, but the two had already released a duo album, The Transcendent Function (also on Clean Feed). Now they've released a trio album, on which they're joined by Tony Malaby, New Artifacts. The latter was actually recorded prior to Live at Firehouse 12, but after The Transcendent Function. Unlike those previous releases, which include compositions by Levin, New Artifacts is entirely improvised, however. I actually listened to Malaby quite a bit in the early days of this project, especially when I first noticed Clean Feed (on which he so frequently appears) in Spring of 2011. I heard him with Tom Rainey & Kris Davis in particular, including Davis's nonet arrangements of his music on Novela. Since then, I guess his albums haven't quite spoken to me, although I did discuss his leader album Scorpion Eater (with tuba & cello) in December 2014, as well as his participation on Nick Fraser's Too Many Continents in August 2015. Whether those albums resonated with me or not, Malaby's insertion into the Maneri-Levin duo seems perfect, lending a new layer of texture & melody to the music. Indeed, his inclusion reminds me a bit of adding piano to Gjerstad & Conde on Give and Take, an instrument from a different family inserted between a pair of similar instruments, and providing something of a pivot. In that case, the two horns generally retain the foreground, but on New Artifacts, in something of an inversion, it's the existing string duo that sometimes feels more like accompaniment. Beyond that, there's a great sense of simultaneity with Malaby in the middle, and the strings often ramp up their own intensity in response to his interventions — even when he's taking a break. Sometimes they even seem to reflect a horn sound themselves, although Malaby does bring the full resources of his horns (apparently both tenor & soprano) to bear, and can dominate sonically when he wants. (And all three of these musicians typically take the front line in more traditionally configured ensembles, not so unlike those on World of Objects, and can do so here.) Given the ensemble of two members of the violin family & horn, not to mention the microtonal orientation, Baloni seems like a natural comparison (albeit there with bass instead of cello, and more often clarinet over saxophone). Their sounds are very different, though, as the trio on New Artifacts doesn't project the same eerie, disorienting mood. Their microtonality is friendlier somehow (not so much infra-chromatic as detailed tuning), although not lacking in aggressiveness, and does reward close attention. Marty Ehrlich suggests in the liner notes that the trio is rich in gesture, with a lyrical ethos based in vocal forms, i.e. that the human voice is basically being translated to instruments. Given the extended technique, the latter is literally untrue, but I do appreciate the lyricism of this trio & their frequently beautiful tone. The third track is the "slow movement," but the first two in particular can be quite energetic, including even piercing tones & percussive accents. Although the trio often project a sort of late romantic chromaticism, they embrace dodecaphony at other times, and take a sophisticated approach to microtonality (as implied, perhaps, by the final track's title, "Joe"). Consequently, this was an album that I enjoyed right away, and am continuing to enjoy.
After a bit of a pause, Levin has been releasing albums quickly again, including another improvised trio, Spinning Jenny on Trost (for which the recording date isn't given). There he's with Chris Corsano & Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, who have prior relationships with the Austrian label. The album starts strong, with a jazzy bass & big percussion, and Levin basically taking the front line. It's very energetic, perhaps with a "rock" energy at times, but also features tracks of slow staticky sounds & creaking, with Corsano typically entering to modulate the mood. Sometimes the strings seem to form one instrument, but at other times, there are more traditional roles. It took me a little longer to warm up to this album, which sometimes doesn't have a lot of foreground, but it's worth hearing. Trios with two instruments from the violin family seem to be increasingly popular (or at least I like them), and so Spinning Jenny might also be compared to e.g. the Judson Trio's An Air of Unreality, as featuring Mat Maneri (per above) with Joëlle Léandre & Gerald Cleaver (and which, being only on LP, I have not heard). Likewise one can compare to Environ (discussed here earlier this month), although there the strings are viola & bass (as on An Air of Unreality), rather than cello & bass (or viola & cello). Environ often takes a similarly layered, role-based approach to ensemble interaction, but it involves even more in the way of extended technique. I hope to be able to continue hearing Levin in more & different improvisatory settings.23 April 2017
When it comes to using electronics in improvisation (or as part of a compositional basis for improvising, à la Braxton's Diamond Curtain Wall Music), I've basically taken the attitude that if the result is engaging, I'll engage with it. I admit to something of a soft spot for acoustic albums, though, particularly as musicians develop some of the physical techniques for broadening their timbral pallets to include sonorities derived from electronic music. Of course, considering that I so often interact with music via recordings, there is usually some element of "electronics" already involved anyway in what I actually hear. That said, I'm still emphasizing the element of spontaneous group interaction, rather than some fully rendered composition or process. Within this "improvising with electronics" idiom, Thanos Chrysakis had already stood out to me for his sense of line & form, basically the way that he sculpts sounds & brings them to one's attention within a broad tapestry. This is true, once again, on Skiagraphía, a new improvising quartet release on Creative Sources, and a collaboration with Ernesto Rodrigues (with whom Chrysakis had collaborated most recently on Exaíphnes, a tightly conceived & brightly colored album, first discussed here in September 2015) & Kurt Liedwart of Moscow. Filling out the quartet is Nuno Torres (alto), who has appeared on many similar projects with Rodrigues, including the rather comparable Primary Envelopment, with Wade Matthews on electronics. The latter was recorded in the first half of 2014 (discussed here in March 2015), and features an especially wide pitch canvas, from growling to piercing tones, amid which the listener often finds themselves surrounded. Although it includes a range of pitches, including timbres from helicopters & foghorns (metaphorically speaking) to whistling teapots, Skiagraphía proceeds more from the middle (i.e. human ranges), and shows Chrysakis's talent for rendering "strange" sounds into a coherent foreground presence. In that quality, it's rather similar to Carved Water, recorded later in 2014 (and discussed here this past January): Although the latter album has a different emphasis, particularly around wind articulation, and a resulting liveliness, it features a remarkably similar ensemble of two electronics artists (including Chrysakis) with viola & saxophone. It's an earlier recording, though, with Skiagraphía originating in Moscow only this past June. I had heard Kurt Liedwart (b.1977) in a couple of albums previously, including with AMM legend Keith Rowe, but they hadn't really spoken to me: In particular, his work often seems to remain rather atmospheric, exploring the edge of audibility & articulation. That isn't the case with Chrysakis involved, and following on the "sound installation" concerns of Carved Water, Skiagraphía ("silhouette") can really capture one's attention, sometimes with urgency. Although it's a short album, I've found it to be consistently potent, with a strongly interactive dynamic across a range of timbral combinations, as explored by these experienced improvisers. There is a sonic richness that is never overwhelming, yet is also difficult to qualify amidst many shifting resonances: It makes for a satisfying haunting (or interrogation of haunting), somehow.
Rodrigues had actually recorded with Liedwart earlier last year in Lisbon, in a quartet with Ilia Belorukov (prepared alto sax, from St. Petersburg) & Abdul Moimême (a frequent Rodrigues collaborator, on guitar). Skiagraphía can thus be regarded as something of a followup to their album, Kletka ("cell"). I had likewise heard Belorukov with Liedwart (here on "ppooll" electronics system) & Rowe, and both his & Moimême's contributions do add a distinctive quality. As with many Creative Sources albums, Kletka is generally quiet however, making for a broad & often desolate landscape punctuated by big growls & roaming whistles, building only to a fully dynamic presence in the last few minutes. I do (especially) value that conclusion, but most of the album involves the sort of "straining to hear" dynamic that I don't necessarily enjoy. That said, perhaps the most stimulating earlier interactions for the quartet are when the (assisted) wind resonance seems to engulf or infuse the strings — not so unlike on Nashaz, although the latter has a very different (more human-oriented) feel most of the time. Both Liedwart & Belorukov display strong personal aesthetics on Kletka, though — beyond the general environmental landscape form in which Rodrigues works so often.24 April 2017
Another recent Creative Sources release, this time without Rodrigues or his regular collaborators, is Conference of Analogies by the Eckard Vossas 4, recorded at The Loft (Köln) in April 2014. I was totally unfamiliar with Vossas, who plays a variety of synths & keyboard-like electronics, prior to this, but most of the quartet he has assembled is very well-known. I had heard trumpet player Brad Henkel only on a few Prom Night (out of Brooklyn) releases a few years ago, but both Scott Fields & Simon Nabatov have extensive discographies, including many as leaders. I've mostly heard Fields performing his own elaborate compositions, sometimes with large ensembles, and his sphinx-like approach does appear to be integral to the many bizarre sequences on Conference of Analogies. In the case of Nabatov, I've been awed by his ability to erupt with massive waves of improvised counterpoint, but also wondered how such technical prowess could be balanced against a varied ensemble. Here the answer is via electronics, and indeed the piano is able to move in & out of the texture within what is generally a rather strange combination — three chordal instruments & a trumpet. Conference of Analogies is a very long album, and it's only the second track (of four) that is said to be composed by Vossas; it features a kind of spacey synth & extensive (although frankly not very engaging) trumpet solos. The other tracks are more convoluted, with the opener alone lasting over thirty minutes, and incorporating a wide variety of references (which largely remain abstract) & interactions. The improvised tracks go in many directions, invoking many analogies one might say, and it would be difficult to characterize them as forming a coherent whole: A wealth of ideas is on display, though, from classical dodecaphony to fragmented rock guitar to various crackling & twittering & pitch bending. The idiosyncratic sense of movement & transition does continue to remind me of Fields elsewhere, though, and so I wonder if Vossas specifically studied with him. In any case, if this is a debut, & even if it isn't, Vossas seems to be full of ideas. I'm interested to hear more.25 April 2017
En corps, by the (classic) piano trio configuration of Eve Risser & Benjamin Duboc & Edward Perraud attracted a good deal of enthusiastic attention elsewhere, as has their recent followup album, Generation (recorded in Austria in March 2016). I discussed, briefly & belatedly in January of 2013, how En corps (an almost 5-year-old release now — amazing how time flies in this space!) didn't really speak to me, and I have a similar reaction to Generation: I thought that it might be worth making a few further remarks, however, regarding why. I remarked, basically, on the insistent ostinato of En corps, and Generation continues in a similar vein: It starts slowly, with a confident air of mystery regarding what's about to unfold, and with a variety of timbral figures invoking the full range of twenty-first century piano trio technique, then builds, assembling these figures into a powerful wave of momentum (that eventually fades). The opening track is quite an extensive tapestry in this sense, and makes little use of standard genre clichés, so I can understand why people find it exciting: It's not a collage, world music-derived or otherwise. (The title presumably refers to the act of generating a large-scale piece from tiny figures — and perhaps to biological filiation as well, given the label & graphics.) I tend to find its ongoing insistence on a single main pulse, its gathering together so to speak, to be relentless & even exhausting or oppressive, though. (By way of comparison, e.g. Feldman's late work has a similar early sense of "musical figure" but remains resolutely multi-pulsed & non-climactic.) I guess the idea is to nullify temporal differences & come together as one... so an example of the "convergence" (which one begins to feel distinctly by the short pause/reset about ten minutes into the first track) or groove genre. The second track — now titled about souls, rather than bodies — comes to include some explicitly jazzy figures after a stormy beginning & so has more of a jazz sense of ostinato, but once again settles into an insistent primary pulse. Comparing recent explorations of musical continuity, I actually found both Boule-spiele (with its extended articulation of dissonance per se) & Lignes De Crêtes (with its strange sense of musical material for development) to be more engaging & thought provoking. There is an intensity to Generation, though, one I guess I identify as somewhat oppressive & single-minded, that makes an impression, and there's no questioning the talent involved in creating such a "non-idiomatic" (albeit eventually rather tonal) yet seemingly inexorable flow of increasingly insistent musical figures. Admittedly, there's a potency to the result.30 April 2017
I should probably also mention that the Dominic Lash Quartet included Solage's "Fumeux fume" on their second album, Extremophile (recorded in Bristol in August 2016), also featuring Alex Ward. It's a fairly straightforward, rumbling arrangement, yet nonetheless comes off as weirdly tonal with its non-medieval tuning. The surreal mood of this & many Ars Subtilior pieces, building on the late work of Machaut (as in e.g. Samuel Blaser's A Mirror to Machaut) seems well-suited to a jazz interpretation, although this strangely matter-of-fact rendition doesn't dwell in the dreamy mood that's so often associated with this piece. (Here's a brief discussion of why most medievalists don't believe it's about smoking drugs, though.) The album also concludes with a Cecil Taylor cover, after compositions by Lash that often take a jazzy head-solo-head form but include some other combos as well, from slow-moving resonances to straightforward interwoven horn lines. There's a rugged simplicity at times, energetic rock guitar at others. I don't know how widely available Iluso Records is, but Extremophile could have fairly broad appeal (relatively speaking, that is).1 May 2017
Chant might be the most prominent example here, in that case augmented by marimba, but improvising ensembles of instruments from the violin family seem to be something of a general trend. (Perhaps they were also a trend at another time? I haven't noticed that in historical listings, at least not in the same way as e.g. the saxophone quartet, but rarely is something like this really new.) That's especially true of productions from Portugal (think also of e.g. Meia catorze by Basso 3), and at least in part because Ernesto Rodrigues is a viola player himself, Creative Sources has been releasing multiple items in this basic genre (including duos, but also in the trio & quartet configurations that I tend to favor): Xenon (recorded in Lisbon this past February), subtitled "String Theory," is just such an album, with three tracks by Ernesto & Guilherme Rodrigues on viola & cello, Miguel Mira also on cello — with Miguel Almeida augmenting the string trio (not so unlike Pedro Carneiro does the string quartet on Chant) on classical guitar. It's probably worth situating this album a bit: Xenon apparently follows another recent Creative Sources release subtitled "String Theory," Gravity, by an ensemble of seventeen musicians (but all strings of various sorts). That seems rather different to me, but both are acoustic ensembles. Another recent example from Rodrigues is Iridium (discussed here last May), by another string quartet of Rodrigues & Rodrigues, this time with Mira on bass instead of cello & a violinist instead of a guitarist. Iridium is a rather smoothly flowing album, featuring a unified sense of gesture in each of its two tracks, whereas Xenon (also a chemical element) includes a wider range of timbres & dynamics, mixing bowing & plucking into various sorts of string resonances, from harmonics to deep rumblings. Such an ensemble obviously has at least partly a classical inspiration, as did Chant, but also eschews the highest & lowest ranges in order to focus on the middle voices of alto & tenor. Whereas using bass in a string ensemble is a more contemporary innovation, of course the violin & its bright tone (times two!) have been a fixture. (Extremes are a typically contemporary concern, generally, though.) Here the lines are closer, & although extremes can be reached via harmonics or percussive accents, intricate crossing voices seem to be a major feature: Indeed, this reminds me of e.g. Ars Subtilior songs (often for countertenor & two tenors) & some other medieval repertories conceived prior to clearly distinct pitch ranges becoming standardized in the early modern period. (Note that recent favorite New Artifacts also concerns itself with similar ranges, most of the time, albeit there with the timbral contrast of a horn available. And it's much more "lyrical" than the rather diffuse Xenon.) With the plucking, the guitar can be integrated into the ensemble in a variety of ways, although it generally has the brightest attack. There's a delicacy, though, and an emphasis on the edges of audibility, as is so often the case with Rodrigues, making for a rather subdued album, even as it does draw the ear (at least when it's not so quiet, which it is to end track #1) with its complex string timbres. There is a lot of detail that rewards close listening, even if it doesn't yet forge a distinct (or at least a non-quiet) musical statement, and so I am looking forward to hearing more releases of small improvising string ensembles from Rodrigues. There is a lot of latent potential in this genre.
I don't have to wait long to discuss another release, though, as the string trio Incidental Projections (recorded at CreativeFest #10 last November) appeared at the same time. It also features a viola & two cellos, this time with Rodrigues & Mira joined by Fred Lonberg-Holm (there presumably because of his duo album The Pineapple Circumstances with guitarist Luis Lopes, released last year). Incidental Projections consists of a single track (and not an especially long one at 25 minutes), and has something of a different orientation, despite similarly applicable comments about middle voices & mixing acoustic timbres of bowing & plucking: It has a lot more presence, making it a bit more of a mainstream essay (not so unlike favorite New Dynamics in its style of interaction, albeit there with more richness of articulation). Perhaps this is also why the cover design is a little different for Creative Sources (although still credited to Carlos Santos). In any case, similar ensemble concerns are evident, despite that it has perhaps a hint of "rock" energy, particularly in its strong ending, & amid its fully audible & quickly alternating style. (The timbral variety isn't quite as rich as the Brand-Rupp string duo on last year's Shadowscores, though, which I mention because they have a new trio album with Rodrigues, Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris, which I just missed in this batch, but will hear in the next month or so. These string albums are coming fast.) Since Incidental Projections was recorded prior to Xenon, it might have provided part of the inspiration for another viola-double cello ensemble, but Rodrigues makes so much music, it's hard to say. It does seem like a more spontaneous performance.
Not on Creative Sources, but again featuring Mira on cello, is House Full of Colors (recorded September 2015 in Coimbra) on JACC Records. The ensemble, called Staub Quartet, is another "augmented string trio," with Marcelo dos Reis (who may have initiated the project) on acoustic guitar. Besides Mira, who — in addition to the above — has appeared on such "classical"-style favorites as Earnear, as well as e.g. in the more jazzy Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio, Staub Quartet includes Carlos "Zingaro" on violin & Hernani Faustino on bass. Zingaro is of course something of a legend, participating on Chant, as well as on earlier favorites such as Live at Total Meeting (with two "horns" & percussion, yielding more differentiated colors than these string albums). Faustino is known for a more specifically jazzy style in such ensembles as Red Trio (also with Rodrigo Pinheiro of Earnear), and it shows here: There is often a fairly typical jazz bass, brighter tones from the strings in general, and a more mainstream-oriented sound around ostinato, tremolo, extended tonality, etc. (Such brightness is enhanced, as opposed to the orientation of the previous items in this entry, by eschewing viola & its "middle" emphasis.) House Full of Colors retains something of a "classical" orientation at times, though, via its exploration of harmonic regions & noisy chromaticism, and so has something more in common with Chant than previous items. (It can be heard on the JACC Records Bandcamp site.) Of course, Marcelo dos Reis is part of Open Field String Trio, along with João Camões, and something of a "Spanish" guitar sets the initial tone for House Full of Colors, giving it a bit of a subtle "world music" vibe (not so unlike a Mary Halvorson Quintet album), while also seeming to traverse regions of film noir, etc. I enjoy the ensemble combinations, which sometimes feature soloist & accompaniment, as in a typical jazz performance (or, for that matter, as it's done here, in a typical classical period string quartet), even if the material itself is a little less adventurous. Particularly with its overlapping set of musicians, House Full of Colors provides yet another glimpse into the dynamics of the improvising string "dynasty" developing in Portugal. I don't know how widely it will be distributed, but it could bring more of an audience to this format.2 May 2017
A new trio album from Evan Parker, PEN with John Edwards & Steve Noble, has already been attracting attention. PEN, recorded in Antwerp in January 2015, is (apparently) the fourth release on the Belgian Dropa Disc label: It's a quality production, with very nicely defined sound, and heavy-smooth paper packaging that feels sturdy without plastic (although I don't know about the coating). Parker has enjoyed a distinguished career, and has many fans, so I can't claim any special expertise on his output: Many people have followed him a lot more closely, and for a lot longer, than I have, but I've heard him in a variety of projects at this point. Most recently, that was on another trio album, As the wind (discussed here in November), featuring an unusual & creative combination of metal & stone percussionists. (Among my favorites, he's on World of Objects, a differentiated horn trio, and so another unusual ensemble.) I've also heard Edwards in a variety of projects, and he already stands out for me among English bassists. I can't say the same, really, for Noble, although I've heard him with Edwards before: I enjoy e.g. the sort of "clip clop" (almost a horse in special effects) percussion he adds in one sequence on PEN, for instance, but I doubt I could differentiate him stylistically from a handful of other English drummers. In any case, PEN is a rather standard improvised sax trio across two medium-length tracks (39' in total), and highlights Parker through much of its length. It begins with a dynamic & active rhythm team, and they do (especially Edwards) have their own solos, but much of the album features Parker navigating over roiling accompaniment, usually maintaining continuity through slowly morphing figures. The first track climaxes in an extended circular romp, for instance, where Parker's command of line & tone are to the fore. So it's a fairly "normal" sax trio album, featuring top notch performers (& sound), and several fine moments to enjoy. It was good to hear Parker in an updated, straightforward improvisation like this.
As emphasizing "normality" above might have suggested, an album like PEN gives me an opportunity not only to hear one of the giants of free music in a straightforward featured setting, but to do a little self-auditing of how & why I enjoy certain albums. (I do a lot of self-auditing, as I imagine readers notice here, and hopefully it's worth reading. I know it's necessary for me, at least, and much of it is never written.) So I wanted, specifically, to revisit sax trios from my current "favorites." A brief, summary takeaway has been that I'm not particularly wedded to a bass joining the sax, and that I probably want something striking or original from the percussion. Indeed, there are only a couple of "true" sax trios on the list: The most obvious comparison to PEN is The Apophonics On Air, since it also features Edwards with an English saxophonist. Although some sequences employ a fairly typical free sax trio configuration, the album is striking for its exploration of resonance, not only via John Butcher's horn, but via Gino Robair's rubbed surfaces, etc. The trio can produce quite a growling, shimmering racket of confusing whistles & extended sounds. There are some solos, but the textural variety amid aligning resonances stands out. Perhaps more typical of the configuration is Beyond Quantum, featuring three distinguished performers with extensive histories in American jazz per se. Anthony Braxton exhibits a similar emphasis there, i.e. continuity in the top line (which is rather tuneful at times, despite its high energy) over roiling accompaniment, as does Parker on PEN, but it's Milford Graves' wonderfully inventive percussion that drives this (relatively dated) performance for me — with William Parker adding variety via extensive vocalizations (I think) on track #2, and a switch to a reed himself on track #5. Beyond Quantum is a classic. It appears I often favor electric guitar over bass, though: Pool School has been a long-time favorite, with drummer Tom Rainey as the leader providing a strong multi-pulsed presence & Mary Halvorson's varied guitar attacks often at the center of the action, with Ingrid Laubrock's sax coming in & out of the texture to yield a tautly creative & egalitarian atmosphere: The result insistently seeks new textural forms. Similarly, Live Tipple features a wide variety of spacious textural interplay, down to eerie whispers amid a quietly egalitarian vibe including, well, literally vibes from Kevin Norton. Frode Gjerstad (who sometimes switches to clarinet) creates a dynamic sense of emergence, of something from nothing, amid an often (although certainly not always) sparse & subtly electric atmosphere from David Watson on guitar. Moving farther afield, electric guitar & electronics more generally are to the fore on Tesla Coils, but a strong polyphonic foundation from Harvey Valdes, and house of mirrors-type manipulations by Gian Luigi Diana still serve to project the subtly varied (yet so often lyrical, discursive) articulations of Blaise Siwula's main sax line — making for a sort of "alternate" (electronic, distorted), yet recognizable, sax trio idiom. Another (double) album where there's no question of the lead role for the horn, despite a creative sense of ensemble & accompaniment otherwise, is Conversations by Roscoe Mitchell: This is a very long set, but Mitchell varies his articulation in so many ways that the result is a (somewhat exhausting) tour de force of sax interaction. Mitchell also employs the flute, so Conversations is not quite a sax trio, but features inspired drumming by (the otherwise unknown to me) Kikanju Baku, with Craig Taborn including some electronics (along with piano) as well. More recently, on You Haven't Heard This, Jack Wright combines the first two formats mentioned here, i.e. omits the drummer but includes both guitar & bass: The style is highly fractured, uncompromising, refusing idiom or anything that might draw undue attention from an audience, and thus forges an egalitarian tapestry in which no one consistently takes the foreground. Nonetheless, the instruments themselves are readily recognizable, if somewhat extended. Perhaps I should also mention the "classic" clarinet trio on 3 on a Thin Line: The clarinet features similar technical demands & resources as the saxophone, but also overblows odd harmonics, rather than even (due to its cylindrical bore), so creates a different mood. So many horn players play both these days, though, and the multi-continent interplay on 3 on a Thin Line is inspired (if a bit overlong at times) in its fantastically (in the specific notional sense) differentiated three-way dialog around Harold Rubin. Even farther afield, there is the Kaufmann-Gratkowski-De Joode trio, with "piano as percussion," and Gratkowski (also) often on clarinet.... They don't really have the feel of a sax trio, though. I'm also omitting (from this recap anyway) trios that include two bowed strings, other horns, etc. So, percussion — or what replaces it — is a consistent theme in my exploration of this ensemble space. It's also interesting to note that I hadn't really undertaken a survey such as this: The "sax trio" is so ubiquitous that it had apparently become invisible to me as a specific form, although obviously I also let its specificity waver. Another general takeaway is that I often favor ensembles that shift or problematize more traditional ensemble configurations, whether from jazz or classical music. "Changing the instruments" is indeed a broad & open-ended theme for contemporary improvisation.3 May 2017
I want to make a few brief remarks about Four Ways by Roscoe Mitchell with Yuganaut, a 50th anniversary release on Nessa Records (with which Mitchell was involved at the beginning). Yuganaut is a sort of "piano trio" of Stephen Rush, Tom Abbs & Geoff Mann — but each plays so many instruments that that combination only rarely holds, and indeed Rush sticks to electronic keyboards (when he plays keyboard) on this album. I was unfamiliar with them, but they have a couple of older trio albums on other well-known jazz labels. Four Ways was actually recorded way back in 2009, on a visit by Mitchell to the University of Michigan, so presumably the anniversary inspired its belated release. (One might also compare to e.g. Nessuno, another belated release featuring Mitchell, but that was a live concert from 2011.) Four Ways is a meaty album at more than an hour, although the six composed pieces tend to come off as rather pensive: The musicians are obviously engaged in a lot of thinking, as necessitated by these complex works that often take their inspiration from Mitchell's music of previous decades & jazz history more generally. There are also three group improvisations (totaling 12+ minutes) that are clearly more spontaneous & produce a motley, layered sound in off-center rhythms amid various (often electric) accents. There is a sense of tunefulness throughout, although sometimes partly obscured by noisier hauntings. Including due to its having been recorded nearly eight years ago, Four Ways thus conjures something of a layered historical vibe between jazz & contemporary composition. It seems like something of a specialist release, particularly when it comes to exploration of compositional forms.7 May 2017
It didn't happen immediately, but after a time, New Artifacts got me to thinking about Mat Maneri's recordings with Ivo Perelman (b.1961). That's not to say that I had heard the latter, because I hadn't, but I knew they existed. It surprised me somewhat to realize that I hadn't listened to anything from Perelman since early in this project — most recently The Hour of the Star, discussed here in July 2011. I remembered generally enjoying that album, and so wondered what I had had to say... did I feel more negatively at the time somehow? No, and in fact, and this is amazing to me to consider, hence this somewhat goofy intro, what I said was that that album — the notes for which emphasized the "first meeting" character of the recording — would have benefited from the musicians playing together more. Fast forward more than five years, and it's safe to say that Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, Joe Morris & Gerald Cleaver have played together more! Indeed, they've played together so much, and Perelman in particular has released so many albums with so many closely overlapping ensembles, that nothing had jumped out to me as new or distinctive enough to hear — or so I can conclude after five years have passed. So whereas I felt silly to read my old comment, I guess it was sort of appropriate somehow, but more to the point, Perelman's prolific output really doesn't provide an obvious place to start — or restart. It's an intimidating (simply by its volume) series of at least superficially similar releases. I mean, as I'm writing this, Leo has only recently released a series of 7(!) albums featuring Perelman with Shipp (& sometimes others). I haven't listened to any of those, but prior to that was a six-volume Art of the Improv Trio, and I do want to visit that series. Indeed, not only was I interested in Perelman with Maneri in particular, but I wanted to eschew piano, likewise inspired (somewhat anyway) by the interplay on New Artifacts: I was interested in the microtonal possibilities. Sure enough, Counterpoint (released in 2015) by Perelman & Maneri with Morris quotes Perelman saying that he's more accustomed to piano, and that its absence changes his playing... specifically that having a different chordal instrument (guitar) changes his playing. The trio on Counterpoint acknowledges being inspired by the regular trio with Maneri & Morris & Joe Maneri on horn, and whereas the playing ranges far afield, there is a nostalgic quality at times. The relative equality of the three instruments, and their abilities to sound like each other, charges the counterpoint on the album, which starts immediately with fantastic interwoven lines. A melodic sense is generally maintained, although there are some noisy squeals at times. There's an appealing sense of polyphonic interplay, but also a sense that the musicians are finding their way — that it's more a series of studies (10 tracks) than a finished product. Counterpoint was actually recorded in March 2015, and a more "conventional" quartet featuring these three performers, with Cleaver (& Morris on bass this time), Breaking Point was recorded in July 2015. The next album I want to highlight, The Art of the Improv Trio, Volume 2, with Maneri & Whit Dickey joining Perelman, was recorded in August 2015 — as was New Artifacts (although the latter is a live concert recording, the Perelman album does not give a precise date, so the exact sequence cannot be ascertained). (Most of the "improv trio" series seems to have been recorded in 2016, though.) This is a close sequence of performances, then, and The Art of the Improv Trio, Volume 2 (released in 2016) follows the piano-free theme into a more freely microtonal environment, as supported by drums rather than a chordal instrument. (All of these follow Perelman's duo album with Maneri, Two Men Walking, in turn following the soundtrack A Violent Dose Of Anything with Shipp, both recorded in 2013.) Given that my inspiration came from New Artifacts, it's probably also worth noting one of the few albums by Perelman that features a distinct set of performers (& a different label), Soulstorm with Daniel Levin on Clean Feed — another album that I discussed briefly in July 2011. In any case, The Art of the Improv Trio, Volume 2 features some fascinating interactions between Perelman & Maneri, usually supported coloristically by Dickey, who does get to initiate at times, but likewise has the sense of a series of studies (13 tracks!). There is a lot of close interaction & colliding lines... perhaps one might say, a sense of magnetic repulsion at times, such that collision can lead to stasis & a lingering emphasis on a particular note. Perelman's top register technique is fascinating here, but again, one gets the sense of exploring technique per se. There's very much a foreground in the sense of pitch collision, and usually pulse, so minus the background "weave" that Morris often brings to Counterpoint. There is mirroring, though, sometimes conjuring the illusion of more instruments — sometimes even a sense of chasing each other, which can be appealing. Given that Perelman just released another massive series of recordings featuring piano, where might he go with this more microtonal style? History suggests that other projects won't preclude him from releasing other albums in this vein, maybe dozens, so we shall see (er, hear).9 May 2017
Another appealing recent album is the rather goofily presented Happy Jazz by a Berlin-based trio called (also in retro style) JR3: Olaf Rupp (electric & acoustic guitar), Rudi Mahall (clarinets) & Jan Roder (bass). The cover photo is a kitschy & awkward shot of the musicians pretending to play their instruments — quite reminiscent of a previous generation of jazz covers. The title, which is also the title of the opening track of this very long (over 76 minutes) album, surely relates to the contemporary sense of protest that has returned to animate exploratory music in the 21st century — and presumably some listeners' distaste for it. However, the title, along with many of the eight track titles, is obviously tongue in cheek, as the music fits its time very well: One wouldn't really call it happy or unhappy. In fact, the style is something of a slower-paced version of the sort of quick ensemble interactions I tend to enjoy, intervallic relations amid shifting textures & timbres. In that sense, in terms of the entry on sax trios around PEN last week, one might consider Happy Jazz to be a clarinet trio analog for You Haven't Heard This, i.e. likewise with guitar & bass. (I probably should have also mentioned Anomonous as something of a clarinet trio analog for the "electric" sax trio Tesla Coils at the time.) I wasn't familiar with Roder previously, but he & Mahall are in a group (Die Enttäuschung, with Axel Dörner) that has multiple albums on Intakt, and also participated with Alexander von Schlippenbach in his Monk cycle. So there is a bit of a more mainstream orientation there, presumably similar to the motivation for slowing the interplay on Happy Jazz. Mahall also appears on recent favorite Rotozaza Zero, by an ensemble that basically adds drums to that of JR3, and an album with much more happening at any particular moment. That's not to say that Happy Jazz is actually slow — it is more analogous to the sort of shifting textural context in which e.g. Ingrid Laubrock, to name a German musician who has appeared more than once on Relative Pitch, revels — but it does make interval relations & timbral shifts easier to follow without repeat attention, and also without collapsing them into a single pulse. In that sense, it's a longer album not because of more material, or a different sort of temporal ordering, but because of pace alone. (The musical figures themselves are sometimes quite fast. It's the pace of interaction per se, i.e. the number of different things happening simultaneously, that I'm noting.) The result is enjoyable, never over the top, and may well bring this style to life for more listeners. I hope it finds a broad audience.10 May 2017
FMR Records seems to have really branched out from a focus on the English improvising scene, with distinctive material arising in a variety of countries appearing there of late. (In this, they join such labels as Leo, Clean Feed, Creative Sources, etc. in documenting a wide range of contemporary music making around the world.) The recent batch of releases, which isn't listed yet on their web site for some reason, continues to reflect & illustrate the increasing breadth of the label, and so there are multiple new albums that I intend to discuss, beginning with Still now (if you still), fronted by Hungarian-Serbian violist Szilárd Mezei (b.1974). I first noticed Mezei relatively early in this project playing on In Just, a half-German & half-Hungarian improvised quartet album from Canada that was one of the more enigmatic releases for me at the time: It was an on again, off again favorite, first discussed here in January 2012, and most recently mentioned (still) in February 2015. Mezei's playing stood out to me in particular, and consequently I started watching for his name — which did dutifully appear on a variety releases, mainly composed music, often folksong based, and for larger ensembles. So now, an "international" improvising group again, this time a trio... and quite a striking album too. Still now (if you still) is by another "alternate" piano trio, basically with viola instead of bass — much as e.g. It Rolls substitutes electric guitar for bass, and indeed both albums show a strong "classical" focus from the pianist, as incorporating preparations, etc. (Weber's work recording Kurtág further underlines the Eastern European connection, even if the trio on It Rolls is actually entirely Western.) Despite the fascinating & personal style of classical pianism from Marina Džukljev on Still now (if you still), though, once Mezei enters — after a dramatic & foreboding opening duo intertwining piano & percussion — he is often at the center, displaying incredible energy & technique. Whereas his style might be placed more in the domain of the post-Romantic, in the way that it invokes line or refers to tonal regions, the spiky rhythms & polyphonic layers give it a contemporary edge, particularly as buoyed by the incredible physical precision of the ensemble as a whole. (In this, it might readily be compared to that of recent favorite The Moment In and Of Itself, another "piano trio," albeit one even farther from the traditional instrumentation.) While Džukljev has already participated in various of Mezei's projects & ensembles, and so had a strong working relationship with him, it was also apparently Džukljev who forged a prior partnership with Vasco Trilla, reflected in the strong duo interaction between them right from the opening sequence of the album — as already noted. (One is often left to wonder what is piano & what is "percussion.") Trilla had already appeared on FMR, including with a solo album, so presumably his connections made publishing this album there possible, and indeed albums with Trilla have been appearing elsewhere lately too. (I will likely be discussing another from Creative Sources soon, for instance, after having discussed Tidal Heating on Not Two, more of a "free jazz" album, in February.) Whereas the title suggests stillness, there is not much stillness to Still now (if you still): It's often quite fast & usually high energy, with a taut sense of drama & quasi-Romantic urges — stormy! Percussion from Trilla is varied & creative, from shimmering metal to detuning drums, from provocation to commentary. Distinct articulation & a wide variety of attack characterize the ensemble as a whole, including percussive accents from the viola, with ostinato only coming to the fore (always under strain) in a couple of tracks. (The nuanced, yet precise, manner in which Džukljev handles repeated notes, for instance, is perhaps the most impressive aspect of her technique.) As a result (again, not unlike The Moment In and Of Itself), one would not call Still now (if you still) a noisy album: It's acoustic, and would appear to reflect practical (classical) concert technique & from within a strong rhythmic framework. Slower moments consequently retain a continuous sense of drama, and give way to more vigorous activity before ever seeming to wane. Considering that it's a relatively long album (at least by the numbers, at more than an hour), that it can retain this "edge of one's seat" character through multiple auditions is its most striking aspect: I enjoyed it right from the beginning, and am enjoying it just as much after several hearings. Perhaps it's the sophisticated polyphonic conception that most sustains my interest: All three performers bring distinctive styles to a compelling interaction (recorded over two days) that also becomes much more than the sum of its parts.21 May 2017
Another recent release on FMR is Shift, fronted by saxophonist & educator Rob Burke from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. I was not familiar with Burke previously, but was drawn to the album by the presence of AACM legend George Lewis, who adds electronic manipulation of captured sounds, along with his trombone. Also appearing in this improvising quartet — and Shift's eleven tracks include only 4 quartets, amid 2 trios & 5 duos — are pianist Paul Grabowsky, whom I didn't recognize immediately, but whose playing I've heard featured with Dave Douglas on the latter's medieval-infused Fabliaux album (explicitly partnering with Monash), and bassist Mark Helias, a well-known & respected longtime free jazz player (whom I had not previously been prompted to mention here). Burke's speciality apparently involves teaching & conducting orchestral improvisation, and using different forces on the different tracks is something of a weakness to the album for me. (I don't get much from the duos, and the trios, both of which are without Helias, are perhaps the "jazziest" tracks.) I do especially enjoy the opening quartet, though, with eerie trombone & electronics, accented by piano & subtly underpinned by the bass, then slowing into the second, more "scenic" quartet — before continuing into six straight duo & trio tracks. Burke's horn comes to dominate at times in the later tracks, as the album starts to take on the feel of a series of studies (perhaps based on particular procedural ideas, given the track titles), marked by more traditional jazz riffs. Still, there's a different sense of interaction here, one that suggests further possibilities.22 May 2017
FMR's cross-pollination, particularly by Portuguese musicians, continues with Amethyst by Pedra Contida, recorded in Coimbra in November 2015. The quintet Pedra Contida was formed by guitarist Marcelo dos Reis (first discussed here in September 2015 around Chamber 4, another FMR album), and the core of their articulation appears to be the string interaction between dos Reis & Angélica Salvi (harp) — in the wake of their duo album, Concentric Rinds on Cipsela (which received very positive attention online). Amethyst is actually the second album by Pedra Contida, and the first (Xisto on JACC Records, 2014) featured field recordings: Here, electronics by Miguel Carvalhais are more abstract, and generally understated. The quintet is completed by Nuno Torres (who appears on so many interesting albums with Ernesto Rodrigues) on alto sax, and (the previously unknown to me, although appearing with dos Reis & Luis Vicente in Fail Better! — a group only on vinyl so far) João Pais Filipe on drums & percussion. The name of the band might refer to rock music, and there's some rock "drive" & characteristic ("filthy") distortion at times over five tracks that are sometimes quiet, and generally emphasize continuity. Articulations are usually subtle, almost ambient, though: There are extended ostinati, drones at various pitch levels, some of it slower, some of it noisier, often returning to the timbre of plucked strings. A rock vibe does come through at times, though, with snippets of jazzy or "world" horn, and seems almost suite-like, even as each track can be taken as a distinct (albeit related) exploration of musical continuity per se. (Exploration of musical continuity has become something of a general theme of late, as can be observed in many recent entries.)
Continuing the cross-current, also offering a strong exploration of musical continuity is City of Light (recorded live in Paris, April 2016) by the "Chamber 4" ensemble (dos Reis & Vicente with the Ceccaldi brothers), this time on Clean Feed, following their (well-received) debut album on FMR. Here the string players also contribute vocally, in a vaguely Léandre-an style, particularly in the second half of the second track. City of Light begins with a long, romantic violin line emerging against muted trumpet, and its tautly "modest" (i.e. chamber music) sense of material generally retains a lyrical sense, even as it become more eerie or becomes more active in waves. (Legato plays against repeated, sometimes percussive tones.) There's also something of a buzzing, ambient quality that underscores — and sometimes strains — the insistent emphasis on continuity more generally, until the album fades away. (And of course, bebop was based in bass ostinato, so forms of continuity are relevant to any tradition in its wake.) In any case, these & various intersecting ensembles continue to explore a variety of musical ideas — especially continuity on these two recent examples featuring dos Reis (who plays acoustic & prepared guitar on City of Light, but electric guitar on Amethyst). I expect this cohort, performing on a range of instruments, will continue to be quite prolific. What's next?23 May 2017
While I'm preparing remarks on more of the string albums that Ernesto Rodrigues has been releasing so rapidly, I want to note a couple of recent non-Rodrigues releases on Creative Sources....
Among other things, Creative Sources has been releasing more vocal albums than anyone else, and Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens featuring Viv Corringham is the latest in that genre. Corringham (b.1951) is from the UK, and apparently lived in Minnesota recently, but the album was made in Brooklyn last November. Besides Corringham, whom I had at least seen mentioned elsewhere, and who notes work with the late Pauline Oliveros on her web site, the other performers were totally unknown to me: Stephen Flinn is on percussion, and Miguel Frasconi is credited with "glass." I'm not sure if some of the "percussive" sounds (such as those opening the album, parts of which seem like glass to me) are actually made by glass, but the album does at least feature the hum of rubbed glass. As that might suggest, there are novel sonorities throughout, including Corringham's voice, which might be compared to Isabelle Duthoit (e.g. Light air still gets dark) or Andreas Backer (e.g. Eye of the Moose). The Duthoit album is the most comparable overall, though, not so much because the voices are so similar, although they do share some techniques, but because the ensemble conception is fairly rigid on both albums, not featuring as much interchange as I often like. Indeed, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens opens with a pregnant interaction between interesting sonorities, and has some compelling ensemble interactions at other points, but often doesn't seem to come to more than the sum of its parts: It ends up feeling like solo & accompaniment much of the time — and that the accompaniment is even two musicians isn't usually obvious. (It could be a duo.) Corringham tends to be much more overt with her sounds than Duthoit, though (and the latter does include clarinet, sometimes seamlessly, whereas Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is a straight vocal album), and is generally very clearly audible (adding to the solo versus accompaniment feeling). The last track opens with one of the more charged ensemble interactions, and then the vocals become highly sexual, for instance. So it's aggressive in that sense, and there is actually a lot to like here, even if I don't feel as though the trio builds its intriguing set of sonorities into a compelling whole.
History of The Lisbon Chaplaincy was actually recorded (live at a church in Lisbon) back in 2013, and features an "organ trio" of Rodrigo Pinheiro (playing a c.1900 Fincham), Per Gärdin on soprano & alto sax, and Pedro Lopes on turntable & percussion. (It was the combination of Pinheiro, from e.g. favorite Earnear & the organ, as on e.g. Tuning Out, that attracted my attention. I was not familiar with the other two musicians, although I believe I'd heard Gärdin before.) Again, I'm not sure what sounds are "turntable" — "scratching" only? in which case it often blends into the organ "choir," which starts out emphasizing the high register — but percussion is sometimes noticeable. The sax relies on long, continuous lines, blending into the organ stops/timbres, but also maintaining a sort of conventional linear dominance. Consequently, I didn't end up finding this interaction all that compelling either: History of The Lisbon Chaplaincy is the sort of album that seems to build a lot of anticipation throughout, but doesn't move on to a "satisfaction" phase. (It also doesn't undertake a historical sequence, but that's for the best.) And although the sax does fit into the organ's timbral wall of sound, while remaining audible itself, it isn't invoking e.g. the sort of microtonal exploration of Tuning Out. Still, I did enjoy listening to the musical ideas of this rather unconventional ensemble & its possibilities. What else might Pinheiro do with organ?29 May 2017
It took me a little while to warm up to Five by the fancifully named Runcible Quintet, not that I didn't find it enjoyable, but because it's not really the sort of album that seizes one's attention with anything flashy or aggressive. Its various ensemble interactions & resulting polyphonic tapestry reward close attention to their sometimes subtle articulations, but Five has also been a very enjoyable album in a more "distant" sense: It's really helped me pull my mind together with a calm focus, on more than one occasion now. So in that sense, the music "works" — at least on me. Before getting to some details of the quintet & album, this outcome- or "use"-based approach both complements & challenges some of the basic notions I see about how free improvisation (or other styles tangentially related to free jazz) might be "too intellectual" & so lack an emotional component. (One sees this often enough in public discussion of contemporary "classical" music as well.) What such criticism tends to mean is that listeners want to hear a specifically identifiable emotion being expressed by the musicians themselves. What I'm talking about is more how I'm feeling after listening — perhaps because of a specific emotion being expressed, but perhaps because my emotional state has been plied via pre-emotional affective relation, etc. — whatever one wants to call it. So does an album have emotional depth because one identifies those emotions in the musicians, or because one feels oneself? Obviously, I'm arguing that the latter is the real gauge, and that it might or might not involve the former. Whereas this brief discussion might suggest that Five is about emotional manipulation, to pick one possible interpretation, I certainly don't want to suggest that the musicians were being inauthentic in their improvised expression: Rather they're pursuing their musical vision, and it's having a fine effect on me. Part of this effect, as noted, derives from the various ensemble interactions possible in a quintet, i.e. various duos & trios (& even quartets) forming spontaneously, then disintegrating as someone falls away or someone else joins. There's a broad polyphonic sense of continuity surrounding this activity, but not an emphasis on line, as e.g. on Amethyst (another recent quintet album, also featuring two strings, on FMR) or some other recently discussed releases (where I've focused on continuity per se). I've been listing (perhaps misguidedly) a particular musician with albums here, and that can be rather arbitrary, including here with its distinguished ensemble cast, but I tend to feel as though the Runcible Quintet pivots on Marcello Magliocchi on drums: His drumming is usually subtle, sometimes absent or not really noticeable, yet seems to animate the five tracks. There are almost two trios here, both including Magliocchi: The most prominent is basically a flute trio with Neil Metcalfe & John Edwards. They're the two most immediately noticeable performers, and at times, the album does have the character of a trio, perhaps supplemented. I've mentioned Edwards here in conjunction with many albums at this point, and he's a consistently interesting bassist. Whereas getting to know the English improvisers was a difficult task, particularly given their superficial similarities of style, Edwards is someone I always seem to notice — he's also billed first here, although it's (also) alphabetical. (And everyone reading this probably knows who he is too.) I can't think of another prominent English improvising flautist offhand, so Metcalfe is easier to distinguish. He's also excellent throughout, with great tone & technique, very precise: I had mentioned him in conjunction with another English (although Five is only mostly English) quintet album on FMR, I look at you (discussed March 2016): It also has something of a classical feel, but in that case, it's more specifically post-Romantic, suggesting the 20th century English chamber tradition. Five is not generally tonal, however (yet not abrasive, for those concerned), so more contemporary in that sense. Whereas those performers might be more noticeable, the others have fine moments as well, moments that become more apparent with increased exposure: Daniel Thompson is actually someone whose participation spurred my attention, since I've enjoyed his playing on Hunt at the Brook & elsewhere. Although maybe in Edwards' shadow a little bit here, and the two do engage in dialogs, Thompson has e.g. a wonderful duet with Metcalfe to open track #2, and various subtle contributions elsewhere. (Five is generally more subtle than minimal or slow.) As a trio, Hunt at the Brook often moves a little faster than Five, is a little more close & fractured, but does slow down at various moments too. Both are also acoustic albums, which makes for a ready technical comparison. Finally, there is Adrian Northover on soprano sax, with whom (like Magliocchi) I was not familiar: He has recorded extensively with Edwards in a band called The Remote Viewers, though. Northover intertwines Metcalfe subtly at various points, as well as having his own moments. Despite its relatively large number of players — and I note that improvising quintets are much less common in this space than quartets or especially trios — Five generally maintains an airy ("Air"-y?) sense of open space, even a sylvan feeling (not so unlike Hunt at the Brook), and of course there is something of a sense of whimsy, as suggested by the quintet's name. As already suggested, the ensemble seems to pivot on Magliocchi, allowing a rich sense of interplay to maintain even as some players are silent. The result is something of a study in pace. Chant is probably the most similar recent (quintet) example — to be featured in this space anyway — in terms of varying combinations & maintaining a sense of quiet balance, sometimes becoming animated, albeit there mostly within one instrument family. (The other non-composed quintet album in my current list of favorites is Ramble, and it isn't constructed to prioritize this sort of interaction, i.e. it could have been a very similar album, at least in many ways, with a different number of players.) One might say that these albums explore a geometry (here underscored by the title). The number-titled tracks on Five actually build in length from the first to the fourth, which slows down & becomes almost atmospheric after a while (perhaps heralded by sounds of distant traffic): At first I wanted more activity, but the resulting calm has come to seem very welcome, before the quintet returns to a more animated chirping interchange & into the brief final (almost an encore) track with its abrupt ending. (I might characterize some passages via the notion of "eye of the storm" except that there's never really a storm.) There are some tiny flashes of "jazz" along the way, little snippets of style, but this is mostly nonidiomatic music. It took me a while with this album, since it's hard to say what makes it come off "differently" from so many other English productions, but Five has taken on a distinctive & compelling feel with more exposure.31 May 2017
Ernesto Rodrigues has been releasing an impressive series of small ensemble albums including himself & featuring various overlapping groups of string players (most often including Miguel Mira and/or his son, Guilherme). Although it's another "string trio," at least in the literal sense, Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris, recorded in Berlin last October, is a bit of a departure in that it involved Rodrigues joining the preexisting Brand-Rupp duo, which has apparently been performing together for a while, and already had e.g. an album on Creative Sources, Shadowscores — mentioned here last month while discussing Happy Jazz. (I also mentioned Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris itself in May, when discussing Xenon, another album of strings — highlighting "middle voices" — from Rodrigues.) It also includes guitar, so a string instrument from outside the violin family — together with the increasingly characteristic viola & cello. I first mentioned Olaf Rupp in this space back in December 2011, and at that time, his music-making seemed to be concerned more with rock influences or the "classic" German free style. Ulrike Brand, however, is a classically trained cellist, and Rupp (here on electric) seems to have moved more into the world of non-idiomatic improvisation. In this situation, the remaining aggressiveness in Rupp's style tends to balance the quieter or more atmospheric concerns of Rodrigues to produce a potent mix around Brand. There are moments of less activity, or quieter activity, but lines are constantly intertwining in dense counterpoint. (The album was also mixed by Rupp, which might be why it has more presence than a typical Rodrigues album.) The album notes include an acrostic-poem by Brand on the titles of the four tracks (which, together, are the title of the album), and it's not clear if the poem was the inspiration for the music, or vice versa. The "transit" genre, though, is apparently one I enjoy, and something I tend to associate with US musicians: Transit (featuring Jeff Arnal & Nate Wooley) is one obvious earlier example, but there have been various inspirations from transportation noise used in urban improvising (for obvious reasons), including prominently by Jeff Shurdut. As Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris moves into more of a landscape mode — and it's never all that urban — it's also reminiscent of e.g. Bill Dixon's rather orchestral Tapestries, particularly its opening motorcycle road trip. By the time we come to "Debris," the imagery has more in common with e.g. Talking Trash — although the latter features clarinets & pianos prominently, plus some actual tunes at times. As the "orchestral" comparison suggests — & Shurdut tends to bring something of an orchestral concept to his work as well — there is a miniaturization theme that can be perceived here, and perhaps in Rodrigues's work in general. It's a matter of conjuring the smallest details, perhaps from each of one's four strings individually (per Scelsi), and building a bigger interaction, a basic technique of individual polyphonic articulation at which all three musicians excel here. There is thus almost constant exchange & transformation back & forth, sounds becoming more & less, ebbing & flowing, amidst a wonderful sense of detail & counterpoint. It's the concentration involved in such an approach, the basic smallness of the strings as individualized sounding agents, that differentiates it from those of the larger ensembles, such that every correspondence or timbral shift becomes charged, even (especially) as it fades. In this, e.g. the occasional ringing guitar chord can yield a comforting sense of familiarity amidst ongoing dissonance & desolation. (The sort of "industrial rattle" of e.g. Anomonous is thus turned on its head, but I'm once again reminded of comparisons from New York.) The result is engrossing, to the point that one starts to hear the illusion of breath amidst scraping mutes, strange static, etc. Of course, I'm also someone who's come to value writing (& especially editing) while riding public transit, so maybe this is my scene, so to speak. In another sense, it's the basic similarity of instrumental resources here, the constant crossing of ranges, that conditions the quasi-Scelsian polyphonic interaction & resulting resonance that I end up finding so engrossing: There is much more than transportation being conjured.12 June 2017
As long as I'm focusing on string-oriented trios & similar small ensembles, and before I continue discussing more of Ernesto Rodrigues's recent outpouring of albums in this general format, I want to mention The Selva, an album from the latest batch on Clean Feed. It features Portuguese cellist Ricardo Jacinto (b.1975), and while I've heard a few things by Jacinto, including some albums featuring electronics, I see that I'd yet to mention him in this space. The Selva also includes Gonçalo Almeida (double bass) & Nuno Morão (drums), with whom I was not otherwise familiar — such that the trio has the same constitution as the recently discussed (in April) Spinning Jenny. Although the latter features echoes of rock & jazz per se, it is also more fractured overall than The Selva, which generally maintains continuity on each of its nine tracks. Of these, two are longer, and travel through different scenes or styles, while also maintaining e.g. pulse, but most are shorter & quite gestural. The album also has a distinctive "world" vibe, with not only the expected "jungle" hubbub of mysterious creatures, but some explicitly East Asian evocations as well, especially qin music in the second part of the long track #3. (So it's not the typical, rhythm-oriented world vibe sort of production.) Compared to other recent albums interrogating continuity, The Selva uses track breaks to restart with different sounds, influences or ideas — so that's one approach. The result is a rather concentrated listening experience, but never of overwhelming density... mini-worlds are projected, one might even say studies of texture, rhythm & resonance, including melodic or legato moments, harmonics, etc. Sometimes the instruments sound as one, but more often, Jacinto is the clear front line player in what is basically a "cello trio" in the bebop sense (and the album does involve ostinato forms). Many of the "studies" seem to involve fusing a couple of basic, yet culturally divergent, musical ideas in novel ways. So we'll see what's next from this trio in the broad arena of (Portuguese) contemporary violin-family, world music-tinged improvisation.13 June 2017
Continuing from the (perhaps, slight) departure of Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris, Ernesto Rodrigues has already recorded several string ensemble albums in 2017, with Blattwerk (recorded in Lisbon this February) initiating a series of quintets in particular. I don't know to what the "Blatt" of the title refers, if it's a reference to shuffling pages or something else suggesting composition, but the music unfolds in ways that mostly fit with Rodrigues's recent output in general — more contrapuntal & less gestural than e.g. Iridium String Quartet. The core of the quintet here is very familiar at this point: Ernesto & Guilherme Rodrigues are joined by Miguel Mira, just as they were on Xenon (discussed here last month), which was also recorded (a few weeks prior) in February, and adds guitarist Miguel Almeida to that trio. Here that "central" trio of viola & two cellos is joined by Harald Kimmig on violin & Vasco Trilla on percussion. I had mentioned Kimmig in January when discussing the album Raw, on which his string trio is joined by John Butcher: Similar concerns of audibility, nature-culture duals etc. are evident from that Swiss trio as from many of these Portuguese releases. Trilla, of course, has been appearing in many interesting places — including on new favorite Still now (if you still). Once again, it's his metallic chiming percussion that is perhaps the most striking, albeit not used very often, and supplemented by various sorts of rubbing & buzzing. Besides these references for the musicians who actually appear on Blattwerk, it also re-raises recently discussed — particularly around Five — issues regarding the improvising quintet genre in general, and can most readily be compared to Chant in its ensemble constitution. (The latter uses marimba, specifically, rather than a general percussionist, and uses two cellos instead of cello & bass. Both are basically string quartets plus percussion, though.) As with many albums from Rodrigues, it starts slowly & quietly, and tends to build in waves, often returning to a more quiescent state or flow. At times, it is very active, with a wonderful contrapuntal density, occasionally evoking the string quartet literature, usually in a more contemporary sense, but in at least one extended passage, projecting a nostalgic mood. There are traditional string gestures, as well as individual string modulations & scrapings, high whistling harmonics (and Kimmig executes these very well), as well as boisterous accents. Although the ensemble moves into & out of different sections of its two tracks with continuity, the sections do take on different individual characters, in a bit of a collage sense (which is atypical of Rodrigues). It's these transitions that lend the album much of its emotional coloring — pace my remarks last month about emotional response & affective interplay: There's a visceral character here. Altogether, it makes for less of an "open tapestry" approach, though, as the polyphonic richness tends to be confined to particular explosive passages, and contracts into a more unified gesture before irrupting again. (Whenever the sonic gesture opens, it looks, rather sounds, different inside?) Although not always audible — not so unlike Magliocchi on Five — Trilla does stand out for his ongoing sense of rhythmic modulation. (The strings sometimes lead or follow into percussive plucking, but are more often concerned with bowing.) The result involves powerful moments emerging from a more general feeling of stasis, making Blattwerk (perhaps — which I say, because it's hard to know where he's going, other than that it's getting increasingly interesting) a notable recent release in Rodrigues's string series. (It consists of an event of events, one might say.) I'd stop to ask what's next, but I already have related albums that I'm preparing to discuss soon.14 June 2017
Blattwerk was followed closely by a couple of other quintets, both featuring Ernesto Rodrigues & Miguel Mira (the latter consistently on cello here), and both with not only electric guitar, but a horn as well. Nepenthes hibrida was actually recorded a couple of months prior to Blattwerk (in Lisbon this past December), and once again features Vasco Trilla, with Luis Lopes on guitar & Yedo Gibson on soprano sax & frula (a Serbian vertical shepherds' flute). I had not heard of Gibson previously, but he's from Brazil & has performed extensively in duo (& otherwise) with Trilla. I've referred to Lopes a couple of times here, most recently via his duo with Fred Lonberg-Holm: Whereas his playing sometimes involves extensive rock distortion, even a massive wall of sound, here it's much more subtle — with no "rock guitar" in evidence. The title of Nepenthes hibrida refers to carnivorous pitcher plants — not so unlike Natura venomous, perhaps, albeit with no performers in common — & further suggests human-nature interaction via hybridity. There are four tracks, and I find the first to be quite potent: The five musicians are all active, forging a dense & differentiated outpouring of polyphonic interaction right from the start. The result almost comes to seem like film music at times with its potent string "sawing" — & indeed the strings set much of the tone throughout — & bold presence via an unusual (for Rodrigues anyway) degree of rhythmic structure. (And Trilla is outstanding here.) Even the requisite fade leaves a sense of potency hanging in the air, a certain tautness, upon building from the quiet center of the track. (Gibson's particular contributions start to become more distinct, showing a tendency to come from background to foreground & back, almost mimicking the "sawing" of the strings, such that the horn can fade into the texture.) The second track opens in a rather subdued mood, however, as more than half of its length revels in calm, featuring some resonances & plucking, before emerging into more active counterpoint, to the point of almost starting to sputter (to fit awkwardly into its rhythmic jacket) at the end. The third opens in quiet again, before different (whistling, scraping — jungle?) sounds start to array themselves in space, gathering momentum into a fascinating collective texture. (I particularly find myself listening to the viola for much of this track.) After a warping percussive opening, the final track slowly becomes more string-oriented again, particularly via glissandi, and even features something of a (cello) melody amid resonant lines of flight. As the other performers become quiet or silent, it might be said to present something of the same (trio) ensemble as on Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris, albeit in a different context, and before speeding up for a driving conclusion with the return of drums & horn. So where's the sense of hybrid music among such chirping & growling — among other sounds, including traffic already in the latter part of the first track? Beyond juxtaposing jungle sounds & traffic, there's also a sense of process, i.e. of where a track starts & ends up. There's also a sense of hybridizing two duos who regularly play together, e.g. Rodrigues-Mira & Trilla-Gibson, with Lopes (and his cross-genre orientation) presumably part of the alchemy (or is that genetic modification?) between them. I very much enjoy the opening, and there are a wide variety of fascinating interactions throughout the album — it seems as though many of the combinations could be developed (or hybridized) further: It's an issue with a quintet, or a strength, that there are so many combinations to explore. The sense of the carnivorous, the sense of danger, does seem to fade as Nepenthes hibrida proceeds though. Perhaps that's the idea, for us to feel more at home in the world.
Another quintet, similar in some ways, is that on Klang, recorded in Lisbon in April: Here the guitarist is Nicola L. Hein, likewise much more subtle here than on e.g. recent favorite Rotozaza Zero, although sometimes displaying some of the same repeated striking. The horn player is Matthias Muche on trombone, invoking quite a sense of space for the proceedings, such that sometimes the musicians seem to be echoing around an empty warehouse — not at all unlike my original reference to Muche, Excerpts from anything, perhaps the first Creative Sources album I ever heard (discussed in a massive entry from April 2012). Finally, Carlos Santos — designer for most Creative Sources albums, and mixer/masterer for many — is on synthesizer (which is likewise subtle, and presumably also directly involved with the spatial exploration), rather than there being a percussionist. Klang is mostly a quiet album, featuring many Rodrigues-isms beyond the sense of space, with slow waves or crescendos fading back into more singular gestures. The second track is the more consistently contrapuntal of the two, but still generally quiet, sometimes focusing on e.g. string harmonics incorporated into a growling swirl that fades & echoes across space. It almost suggests a haunted house, and then perhaps some sort of mutant worker ants in a ghostly industrial setting. Much of the interaction occurs in the background, with e.g. various slow glissandi & (as noted) the guitar rarely distinctly audible as such: I might characterize the result as spirit volatilizing into sound.15 June 2017
Improvising string ensemble albums from Ernesto Rodrigues continue to appear at a dizzying pace. Before embarking on a more extended discussion of the series of six (so far) albums that he recently released under the banner of the "Lisbon String Trio," I want to note the newest issue in the "String Theory" series (that apparently began with Gravity, by a 17-member ensemble), Heptaphonies: The latter was actually recorded, also in Lisbon, this past January, i.e. a month prior to the previous issue, Xenon (discussed here in May). In this case, as the title implies, there are seven performers — making it something of an exploration of geometry in a sense not unlike that invoked elsewhere by Five — and the odd one out happens to be Ernesto himself on viola. He's joined by two each of violin, cello & bass: Maria do Mar & Thea Farhadian, Guilherme Rodrigues & Miguel Mira, and Álvaro Rosso & Hugo Antunes. The violinists have appeared on several albums on Creative Sources, and of course the cellists are two of Rodrigues's most frequent collaborators (Mira more recently), but the bassists are relatively new: Rosso had only appeared previously on the large ensemble album Quasar, such that Heptaphonies now seems to herald his role as part of the Lisbon String Trio (whose first album, Proletariat, was recorded later, in March, but released a few weeks earlier), and Antunes not at all (that I could find), although he has been featured on e.g. Clean Feed. As I had noted for Xenon, which is by a violin family trio plus classical guitar, the album "includes a wider range of timbres & dynamics, mixing bowing & plucking into various sorts of string resonances, from harmonics to deep rumblings." Particularly with the larger ensemble (septet), albeit all violin-family instruments here, one might also compare to e.g. the quintet Blattwerk (as discussed here last month), although that album does come off as more of a collage than the open synthesis here (& on Xenon, for that matter) — plus it includes a percussionist (to excellent effect, I should reiterate). The five tracks are generally short, and Heptaphonies is fairly short overall, often revolving around some sort of discursive figures, or classically-derived technical gestures, that might intensify or shift quickly into something else. Indeed, it opens rather powerfully, but doesn't necessarily sustain that through a variety of (often very fast) reconfigurations: Not only harmonics & deep rumblings, but percussive blips, hocketing, etc. litter the air as these musicians generally move quickly, yet sometimes chain figures together into quasi-diffuse arcs where a strained continuity becomes key. The music might be said to explore different forms of weak (in the sense that it's also tending to break apart), spontaneous continuity. (One might wonder if the frequent return to twentieth century "classical" string figures, amid the non-idiomatic explorations, reflects the mechanics of the instruments themselves. It's unlikely these musicians remain in standard tunings, however; that's not the norm for e.g. Mira.) It's difficult to treat such a volume of albums from Rodrigues individually sometimes — although obviously I'm quite taken with various elements of his approach — and so this release feels a bit like a step along the way, although that might only describe its place in my own musical life. (Indeed, I don't even know what defines this "String Theory" series, yet I continue to listen.) There is still much to enjoy & ponder, however, in the sound world of partial becomings on Heptaphonies. Rodrigues & his colleagues continue to forge new styles.12 July 2017
To begin a discussion of the recent series of Lisbon String Trio albums, it might be worthwhile — or at least amusing — to describe my initial experience of their existence: I received Proletariat together with some of the other (mostly) string ensemble albums from Creative Sources that I've recently discussed. My first impression, and by that I mean after hearing it once, was that there were some very striking passages & many interesting interactions, and that it was also a rather short album, such that I was thinking, "Hmm, it kind of leaves me wanting more...." Again, that was after one listen, and I often have a rather different impression of something the second time. In this case, before there could be a second time, I saw that there were two followups already, Télépathie & K'Ampokol Che K'Aay, on which horn players joined the trio. Great, I thought, my wish granted. Then, before I even heard those two, three more albums appeared: Akuanduba, Intonarumori & Liames — the last with a pianist joining the trio, rather than a horn player as on the other four. (As I write this, several more releases just appeared on the Creative Sources site, but no more with the Lisbon String Trio, not yet anyway.) Rodrigues already releases an enormous quantity of material, even counting only those albums on which he himself appears, and so going through the releases in writing can almost seem like stepping through individual tracks on an album, which is a style I tend to find tedious personally (although maybe some people like it). Such an approach seems like even more of an issue here, as I'm thinking about how to discuss six closely related albums that were recorded & released in rapid sequence: These recordings were all made between March & May of this year, starting with Proletariat by the trio alone. The series has a common graphic design, featuring collages by Dilar Pereira; the first recording was made by someone else, but the remainder were recorded by Carlos Santos, all apparently direct to tape with no mixing. The result yields quite a bit of presence for what can still be some rather diffuse music at times. So let me try to say some different things about the different releases... after all, they are purchased separately....
As already alluded, Ernesto Rodrigues (on viola, as he is on the vast majority of his recent albums) is joined by bassist Álvaro Rosso & cellist Miguel Mira to form the Lisbon String Trio. Before his collaboration with Rodrigues, I knew Rosso only from Basso 3 & their album Meia catorze, first discussed here in January 2016. Perhaps he brought a bit of classical structure to that project? At this point, so many Portuguese bassists have appeared on albums of interest here, including three on that album, that I have a hard time distinguishing them stylistically — as I've also noted at times of some of the English improvisers. I don't mean that as a criticism, but the various overlapping concerns & techniques are a bit dizzying sometimes. (So it's more that I'm lacking sufficient context by which to differentiate.) In fact, Rosso's participation is quite worthwhile & welcome, and goes a long way toward forging the sound of the trio, as his bass explores deep registers beyond the more centric viola-cello interactions that Rodrigues has been prioritizing on so many of his other recent albums. Rather than such an emphasis on criss-crossing lines (as discussed here in May), which do still occur, as they certainly do for Basso 3 as well, each instrument tends to rest in a different range — such that Proletariat might almost be said to reenact the mid-15th century shift to an independent bass line below the tenor (versus the crossings of the previous generation). Mentioning the different ranges can be misleading, though, because the instruments interact & overlap directly in higher ranges via harmonics. In that sense, the music can blend vertically into a sort of Scelsian composite, or spin counterpoint in various pitch tiers with one or more instruments in harmonics. The frequent invocation of counterpoint marks the style of the Lisbon String Trio as more than Scelsian, but the sense of individual strings as individual instruments does hold, such that one might speak of twelve strings & three musicians. There's also a twentieth century classical sensitivity more generally, particularly in the play of different harmonies, such that Mira's participation on e.g. Earnear seems as relevant as his participation in so many Rodrigues projects. That's not to suggest that Proletariat maintains a light touch, however, as it can be quite aggressive, particularly with some big booming bass resonance that can really benefit from big speakers to convey a strong sense of space. There is a resulting feeling of power, even awe, as musical processes seem to pass through one another via resonance & harmonic-timbral shifts. The single track starts out with rather abstract counterpoint, which comes to seem almost transverse to the sense of interiorized sound & timbre that's also being explored — yielding a sense of double tapestry. Indeed, Proletariat is perhaps the most abstract album in the series, although it does also allude to such sonic poles as jungles & automobile traffic. The counterpoint contracts to a unified gesture or pulse midway through, a sort of halting yet forceful composite rhythm, and soon expands again with renewed tautness & power. (Perhaps this is the moment when they "really" forged the trio, the moment of collective consciousness one might say?) The music is immersive for the listener, meaning that there is no sense of "God's eye" perspective across a landscape: Perhaps this is exactly the sense in which I've objected to so-called musical landscapes or atmospheric music: They project a concept of exteriorized surface, of looking from the outside, whereas this sort of music engulfs. Although I've suggested some styles as being involved, even environmental sounds, the result remains both more & less than that, such that the performers forge a unified, non-idiomatic sound, within which musical collisions (or hybridities) occur between the smallest technical elements — rather than via collage effect as e.g. on Blattwerk. (The technical orientation might be compared to that on The Moment In and Of Itself, or at least to my remarks from last August about that album, although it has a very different sound.) That Proletariat forges a style more than it references styles is further underscored by the subsequent Lisbon String Trio releases that grow from it. They allow one to forget or forgive the brevity of this initial offering, while continuing to expand on its ideas, sometimes into more lyrical areas. I should also emphasize that, although Rodrigues has a reputation mostly for electroacoustic music (according to descriptions I see elsewhere), at least recently, he has been producing many acoustic albums, and this series of six is entirely acoustic — at least to the extent that a digital recording can be considered to be acoustic.
The next five albums by the Lisbon String Trio each involve a different musician joining them to improvise as a quartet. The next four use a horn, which seems like a natural addition to the string sound. Indeed, Rodrigues has done similar things before, not necessarily adding a horn to a preexisting ensemble (although I have no idea who has played with whom outside of recordings), but having a single horn amid a mostly-string ensemble. An obvious precedent is the quartet album Sukasaptati, recorded in Berlin in 2010, but released in 2015, and featuring Andrea Sans Vela (viola) & Klaus Kürvers (double bass) along with Rodrigues & Micha Rabuske on flute, bass clarinet & soprano sax. So this is a very similar ensemble, and was recorded seven years prior. That album involves more of what I would call meandering harmonies, sometimes with a hocketing style of polyphony, and less of an emphasis on shifting tones. Some of it sounds almost like film music. More recently, Dé-collage features a string quartet of Rodrigues & Rodrigues, Kürvers again, and Thea Farhadian on violin, with (frequent Rodrigues collaborator) Nuno Torres on alto sax. It is a generally quiet, squeaky, atmospheric sort of album that tends to weave a single tapestry. Admittedly, these albums didn't manage to attract my attention at the time, at least not relative to the many other albums released by Rodrigues, but do seem (more) relevant in the context of this series. Other relevant examples — that have already been mentioned in this space — are, once again (recently mentioned in the discussion of Blattwerk after being discussed here in January), Raw with John Butcher joining a Swiss string trio, as well as recent favorite New Artifacts with Tony Malaby joining the preexisting Maneri-Levin string duo. Further, of course there is Chant, which presented me with something of a paradigm for this sort of string-based joint interrogation of nativism & abstraction. (It always leaves me listening to the world differently.) Perhaps the latter is most comparable to the sixth Lisbon String Trio album, on which they're joined by a pianist — i.e. a fixed-pitch instrument that might at first seem out of place in such a setting. One might think of all of these albums almost as improvised concerti, although the textures are often far more integrated than the typical (oppositional) concerto.
Most of the musicians who recorded with the Lisbon String Trio were previously unknown to me. The big exception is Blaise Siwula, whose work I've followed. (More about that in a subsequent entry.) So when I saw his name in the next pair of releases, it definitely increased my sense of anticipation, and hopefully I wasn't prejudiced accordingly. I suppose I might well have been, but I do try to fight my own expectations (if that's actually possible). I'm going to wait for a separate entry to discuss his album K'Ampokol Che K'Aay, though, as well as for Intonarumori with trombonist Carlo Mascolo & Liames with pianist Karoline Leblanc. (Mascolo does have a previous solo album on Creative Sources, so he is the second best known, at least to me.) The release after Proletariat is Télépathie featuring Etienne Brunet (b.1954, Paris) on soprano sax — although it was actually recorded after K'Ampokol Che K'Aay (the third album released) — and the fourth is Akuanduba featuring Luiz Rocha, a "Brazilian based in Barcelona" on clarinet & bass clarinet. Perhaps it's coincidence that these musicians play instruments rather similar to Siwula's, which is entirely clarinet for his collaboration here, but their albums did not speak to me as strongly. Télépathie (recorded in April) begins with a percussive strike, becoming quite active right away, and also features some real "tunes" — maybe a bit of Steve Lacy, certainly some brief middle eastern horn, contrasting with something of a web of city traffic (again). There's a sort of "cool" repose, even of contrast, with sax tunes against shifting glissandi — as well as moments of extended dodecaphony. I particularly enjoy the contrapuntal opening, which tends to contract markedly in the second track, finally into a kind of walking chase that could almost be considered traditionally jazzy (and that in turn, together with the break following the galloping end to the first track, recalls & transforms the central moment of Proletariat). Rocha writes about his focus on Brazilian music such as the choro, as well as admiring Black Sabbath, and indeed Akuanduba (which is apparently Swahili, and which names a longer album than either Télépathie or Proletariat), recorded at Fundação José Saramago in May, has a sort of roughness about it. This general sort of European-Brazilian interaction peppers so many of these albums that it's difficult to say anything too specific about that orientation, although it's palpable: A basic quietness, present from the beginning, sometimes moves into percussive exchanges featuring staccato horn, but there's also a kind of a reactive quality, sometimes infused with ostinato. The result tends to shift the basic presumption of nature-culture poles, as signifying sounds penetrate each other from strange angles. (The bustle in turn comes to seem distant, even as the familiar resurfaces at various moments.) Indeed, Akuanduba often involves calmly swirling activity, including hocket. Although I'm not emphasizing either here, both albums are intriguing in their own right: It's impossible to know what I'd think of them if they were released in isolation.24 July 2017
Two days after recording Proletariat, the Lisbon String Trio was joined by Blaise Siwula to record K'Ampokol Che K'Aay (also live): The title is Mayan, and indicates the "song" of a particular tree or shrub in the same large biological "order" as coffee. I don't know its significance (although it seems to be translated generically as "wood" in some sources), but such a title would seem to invoke Siwula's Mérida Encuentro series. (The second volume, Songs of Deception, was discussed here in July 2016.) Like most Creative Sources releases, K'Ampokol Che K'Aay doesn't have a textual discussion included, but Siwula adds a few remarks on his site(s): He suggests that it consists of "sounds from nature in a dance of light" & "natural twists of wind." Although not mentioned by Siwula, such naturism is allied to classical technique, such that one might even speak of a Romantic sweep, of a series of tone poems. The tapestry includes emergent traditional gestures, both European & American, and once again a bit of traffic as well. Indeed, one wonders (as in a recent entry) whether some of the gestures, both from clarinet & strings, derive from the basic mechanics of the instruments themselves: This is undeniably true, but the conjuring of idiom per se also seems to arise from instrumental configuration, sometimes without intent. That said, the playing is highly virtuosic throughout, with the musicians showing plenty of "straight" technique behind their more experimental timbral explorations: Indeed, the Lisbon String Trio tends more toward traditional string virtuosity than many of Rodrigues's ensembles. (Of course, one might also think of the title, translated as "wood music," as indicating their instruments.) Beyond that, Siwula's description of his first Creative Sources album — the duo Waterscapes, recorded in New York in 2016 with guitarist Jorge Nuno — seems apt as well, noting as it does a "constant shift from foreground to background." The tapestry metaphor seems particularly worthwhile here, as K'Ampokol Che K'Aay does not exhibit a particular moment of coming together (in consciousness or otherwise), or much of the "gallop" noted in the previous entry: It maintains a "chamber music" feel, with ideas weaving in & out quickly, and with the different tracks marking new starting points. The first track starts very quietly — thus invoking a bit of my usual fear that such music will be quieter than my own environment — but emerges strongly by the two minute mark, and yields a piece in which so much occurs that it seems almost symphonic on its own. (It's amazing how much happens in this one fifteen minute track.) This seems to be something of a characteristic of Siwula — who was first mentioned in this space back in September 2014 — as his trio album Tesla Coils also opens with its longest track, a forceful introduction & interrogation of what's to follow, almost a summary in reverse. Although Siwula plays saxophones on Tesla Coils, and the album is otherwise electronic (including the guitar), there's a familiarity that emerges from his approach, and indeed a similar density & speed. (The fineness of the resulting cloth is obviously something I appreciate.) The result is surprisingly sophisticated when it comes to relating Siwula's brand of Americanism with that coming out of Lisbon these days. Even the slower moments retain a sense of drama & tension, amid constantly shifting harmonies & foreground-background motions — perhaps "meandering" in the terms of the previous entry, and in this case (at least per Siwula) evoking wind. K'Ampokol Che K'Aay does leave one listening to the environment in its wake — a sometimes-awesome "awareness" effect of some of these albums — but it's not really environmental (or traditional) music: This is music music, about tones & intervals & rhythms & timbres & tempos, etc. (It's informed by serialism.) And so ultimately it's also about human mediation & relation per se.26 July 2017
When I started this project, I intended to emphasize US musicians. In part, this was because I hadn't been emphasizing US performers in my other projects, but also because, after all, the US had originated Jazz per se. It was also the home of John Cage, Morton Feldman, etc. Despite mainly following US musicians in the early days here, I slowly encountered many others, and at the moment, European musicians dominate my favorites list. It's not very close, actually, although I've broadened the original US emphasis to an American emphasis more generally, so do feature some contributions from elsewhere in the hemisphere. It's hard to know what to say about this — since, after all, it may simply be personal preference in spite of myself — but obviously this country assigns a very low value to artistic creativity, music making, etc. (Creativity leading to financial gain, ethical or not, is widely hailed of course.) On the other hand, even among Europeans whose music I've enjoyed, many aren't formally trained, etc. Perhaps more than that, and despite Cage et al., this country also retains a significant emphasis on composition per se, where "being a composer" is somehow more important than being a musician. I discussed some thoughts on the merit of composition — particularly how one can conjure muscle (& conceptual) memory to be used in subsequent improvisation — here in February. In summary, although improvisation is more closely aligned with living, composition can be a useful means of introducing (some) new, collective ideas. So composition has been what's prioritized by heralded American musicians such as Steve Coleman (& Henry Threadgill, etc.), someone who receives mainstream "record of the year" attention & large grants. Although the music is more tuneful & "inside" than what I usually discuss, I do want to mention Coleman's new album Morphogenesis (recorded over three days in September 2016), largely because his music influenced earlier layers of my project. (Indeed, I even mentioned Coleman's Harvesting Semblances and Affinities in the "Investments & Relations" section of What is familiar?, as an example of "treating the circulation of signs differently" relative to capitalism positing & then feeding on differences.) Morphogenesis is the first album by Coleman's Natal Eclipse ensemble, an octet that expands to a nonet with a percussionist in about half the tracks. Natal Eclipse retains Jonathan Finlayson from Coleman's Five Elements ensemble: That was a group whose albums always seemed a little out of sync with Coleman's musical developments, as both Harvesting Semblances and Affinities & The Mancy of Sound involved tracks recorded years apart, and showed an obvious evolution internal to the albums. That wasn't true of Functional Arrhythmias, which showed much more internal coherence, although it does have performers who join its core trio for only a few tracks. I would also say that it's of relative lesser scope, although the basic coherence did make it a critical example for me for a while. It was followed by the large ensemble piece Synovial Joints, something of a summation. Although Morphogenesis involves a large ensemble, it's not really a "large ensemble" piece in that sense, and seems to reflect Coleman's musical concerns in a relatively unified, self-contemporary way. Coleman himself dominates the album, not only via his various arrangements, which involve carefully layered choral approaches to many of the instruments, but with his alto sax. Finlayson is also clearly audible as an individual voice at times, as is (literal vocalist) Jen Shyu, who also returns, & (pianist) Matt Mitchell. (The voice isn't generally set against the texture, though, as on some of Coleman's earlier work. It mostly blends as a horn, including into choirs.) I was unfamiliar with the other performers, and they are presumably younger: The ensemble includes violin & bass (which is mixed such that it isn't handled well by portable speakers, not that I'm complaining: I'm more surprised by how well little speakers work in so much of this music), with the violin played surprisingly straight (i.e. not mimicking a horn) in the few moments it does sound through rather than blending into the choir, along with four different horns. Voice & percussion sound most individually on the two short improvised tracks, but most of the album consists of Coleman's gem-like (prismatic), carefully layered compositions. (Five of these were inspired by boxing maneuvers, recalling Milford Graves for me, although he isn't mentioned.) The result projects an exhilarating sense of what the world can be, with a variety of activity segmented & arranged so as to happen simultaneously & without conflict, coming together at various moments in brief (yet grand) choral statements. It reflects a transcendental sense of composition, of course, a particular vision (and Coleman mentions visualization specifically) projected onto the musical canvas of the octet/nonet: Despite its "inside" sense of tune, and even its pre-bop emphasis on choral writing, Morphogenesis is thus thoroughly modern. Indeed, it engages (& refigures) a stratification machine to format the world.27 July 2017
I've mentioned Nate Wooley recently in the context of appearing on early (for this space) favorites by the Daniel Levin Quartet & Transit, and it seemed as though I'd recently discussed some of his other albums, but the last extended discussion was actually back in 2015, specifically in April, around the quartet album Battle Pieces: Then I noted of his recent work that it "seemed to entail either music based more on late 20th century popular genres than I tend to enjoy, or more soloistic explorations." Following on his extended solo project to refigure what's possible with the trumpet, Syllables Music, his new Clean Feed quartet album Knknighgh indeed confronts notions of popular music. Before returning to specific thoughts on that landmark album — an album that both intrigues & (frankly) annoys me, but more on that soon — I should note further discussion of Wooley in 2015 around the trio album Ninth Square & Daniel Levin's Friction. There, I also recalled World of Objects, with its trio of noisy horns, and consequent orientation toward linear or (given some latitude, one might say) lyrical form. Something else to note of these four prior albums, none of which particularly evoke popular music, is that they have no drummer: Two do have vibes, with piano joining the vibes on Battle Pieces. Those albums still seemed recent to me, and now with Knknighgh, Wooley is returning to a more traditional ensemble, with an album that Clean Feed calls "a radical new take on the classic free jazz quartet tradition." There, Wooley on trumpet is joined by Chris Pitsiokos on alto sax, Brandon Lopez on bass, and Dre Hocevar on drums. Pitsiokos & Hocevar have leader albums of their own on Clean Feed (with the most recent of each discussed here in the past year), and even appeared together previously on Hocevar's Collective Effervescence (discussed back in February 2016). Although their work hasn't really engaged me at this level to this point, those albums did pique my interest. (I am not very familiar with Lopez, although I see that I had named him previously as part of Weasel Walter's Igneity large ensemble.) Knknighgh is subtitled "Minimal Poetry" & "For Aram Saroyan," and seeks to forge a new language for this traditional free quartet, a language in which the material itself (i.e. the sense of composition) might be minimal, but whose elaboration can be rather extensive & varied. One might think of the various, open implications of Saroyan's brevity. As already suggested with World of Objects, there is a particular linear feel here, and Wooley's trumpet does tend to dominate the proceedings. (This is not to say that the other musicians don't make important contributions, but this is Wooley's music, and he's the master of it. That sense of ensemble imbalance is a weakness for the album, as I see it, but we can probably expect more fluency to come with time for the other musicians, as for e.g. Henry Threadgill's or Steve Coleman's ensembles.) I had already noted the impulse to strip away excess & reach a sort of purity of gesture around Friction, and Knknighgh also yields a richness of sound deriving (perhaps paradoxically) from such a desire. Particularly given the trumpet emphasis, the sense of (linear) language & gesture & stripping away also reminds me of Thomas Heberer on Clarino - Cookbook: Given the inclusion of drums, the most sonically similar album featured here is probably actually the second HNH: The rhythmic orientation of the latter also has a tendency to burn tunes into one's brain, perhaps suggested already in Joe Hertenstein's first track about sausage making. (Both of those albums also feature explicit compositions, unlike most of the releases discussed here.) And this gets me to a significant source of annoyance, namely that Knknighgh "burns" an obnoxious "pop hook" into my brain — a Paul McCartney song I'll decline to name. I was confused to find myself humming it seemingly for no reason (and realized why only a couple of days later). OK then, isn't a memorable tune an important part of much music? It's surely the point of pop music... I think. Yet I generally find myself focusing on albums like e.g. Ramble that expunge earworms rather than install them. (The otherwise most "rock"-infused album currently on my favorites list is probably Grid Mesh Live in Madrid — which has some sonic similarities to Knknighgh.) So what is the definition (or locus) of pop music anyway, beyond literally being popular (which it isn't necessarily)? And more to the point, perhaps an aversion to having nonsense ringing in my head has left me more concerned with evading it (actual avoidance being largely impossible in public spaces) than constructing a real, functional message instead? (I'm sure that my writing here is not going to grab surreptitious hold of anyone, for instance. Well, I won't deny an element of calculation, but it requires investment....) In other words, Wooley's new language is telling us how to make something heard, and indeed deconstructing (or enacting?) the process of memory — again as evoked already by World of Objects. (The earworm, alas, remains an annoyance.) As long as I'm expressing annoyance, let me also mention that I haven't been very happy with the performance of the new Clean Feed website either. Returning to Knknighgh itself, the musicians begin with a fast & layered articulation that is both disarticulated (or deconstructed), and reintroduced in similar forms, sometimes more or less forcefully. Packed ideas become linear, and the quartet stretches out into thinner textures, (perhaps suddenly) re-thickening, sometimes almost violently in (what become) characteristic bursts. Whether the different tracks imply different compositions, or simply different improvisations based on the same material, I'm not sure, but the same earworm returns throughout the album, and the track numbers do suggest omitting some (takes?). The first track ("3") already suggests the basic contours of Wooley's new musical language, one clearly based in his Syllables Music, yet extending to a richer jazz ensemble, but there is much more to come. (Contributions by the other musicians become more apparent with time as well.) In fact, my first impression was that not much happens after the first track, but that's because of the general similarity of material, whereas the expression has more to do with developing a language — grammar rather than vocabulary. It's ultimately the creativity & precision of the approach that wins me over, despite misgivings regarding the use or effect of the album. Even pace the latter, the issue was always one for passionate argument, rather than disdain (or boredom). Knknighgh has already been widely hailed as something different, based in part on Wooley's considerable reputation — and it does manage to forge a distinctive language. So what does it say next?8 August 2017
Majorcan pianist Agustí Fernández is someone whose music had yet to really resonate with me, despite having been presented with numerous tantalizing opportunities: I first mentioned him back in December 2012, with Nate Wooley & Joe Morris regarding From The Discrete To The Particular, an album that drew considerable attention elsewhere. (Reviewing my remarks, I see that not only was I unmoved by the groove-based emphasis that evolves there, but that Morris had suggested the trio would tour & release a followup album. The latter hasn't happened, at least not as a trio per se.) And so I can't help but hear Wooley & Morris particularly prominently among the octet-nonet around Fernández on Celebration Ensemble, a live album recorded for his 60th birthday. Although the Polish record label seems obscure, the ensemble includes other luminaries: Frances-Marie Uitti appears, for instance, the first improvised release I've seen from her in years. Uitti's invention of buzzing string resonators (around Scelsi's music originally) colors many of the more "extended" moments incorporating inside piano scraping, etc.; presumably she's using her double bow technique as well. Also appearing is Mats Gustafsson, credited only as "sax," but who apparently accounts for a significant part of the (sometimes roaring) low end, at least when he's not engaging in a horn trio with Wooley & Pablo Ledesma (with whom I was otherwise unfamiliar, and whose contributions I am not actually able to isolate). Celebration Ensemble even includes a dancer (forming a nonet together with the eight musicians), Sònia Sánchez, who can be heard using (I think) different shoes on tracks 8 & 9: So we actually hear the dancer on (part of) the CD, basically as another percussionist, but the musical contribution of another artist participating in such a performance needn't be limited to the sonic per se: Anything performers do to influence what other performers do is potentially a significant part of such an ensemble, and so I don't have a problem with a multimedia performance being rendered onto CD: It's still about the sonic result. There are also two "actual" percussionists, Ingar Zach (whom I mentioned in conjunction with the composed percussion quintet album Glück in September 2015) & Núria Andorrà (a "classical" musician with whom I was not familiar). The liner notes emphasize a sense of "kindness" from Fernández, who does animate & direct (implicitly) the ensemble at several points, with strong statements in various directions, despite (again per the notes) the supposedly "super-abstract" Morris & "explosive" Gustafsson. I'm not so sure about all that (although I believe I do understand what the author is trying to say with the "post-avant-garde" notion; perhaps more on that in another entry), but this rather long improvised session does yield an extensive variety of fascinating interactions. Whereas I haven't tended to be so taken with albums that collect a main performer together in various distinct duos or trios, that's effectively what happens here. The difference, I suppose, is that who is playing at any particular moment is also improvised, ultimately yielding a strong collective sense that comes off especially powerfully in the full ensemble climax & again in the rather wild (but brief) encore. There is a tautness to the interaction that's maintained through the entire hour-plus concert, such that various smaller exchanges continue to build. In that sense, there is no searching, i.e. no waiting, but plenty of extended technique into new timbral combinations. As far as "use" for this album, and I'm not sure that the presumptive "point" (to paraphrase myself elsewhere) of celebrating is something that maintains ongoing interest, there are amazing interactions, particularly in the strings, that one doesn't hear elsewhere. It was obviously a special moment, and the quite extended (in both duration & quality) applause included with the album underscores that. Like Wooley's quartet on the just-discussed Knknighgh, an otherwise very different album, Celebration Ensemble is often restrained, but can be quite noisy & forceful as well (all without falling into a groove). I believe I'll leave the remainder of the sonic combinations & possibilities to the reader's imagination, and simply conclude by noting that Celebration Ensemble demonstrates masterful manipulation of long-form momentum & continuity without ever seeming stale or repetitive. It weaves & is weaved by the piano into so many amazing places.
Let me also note Fernández as (uncharacteristically) a sideman on a recent album on Tour de Bras, (Un)Fold by the otherwise Canadian quartet Stir, fronted by Yves Charuest (of e.g. the Peter Kowald Trio) on alto sax. (The other musicians are Nicolas Caloia, who also appeared recently on Tristan Honsinger's eclectic & composed string trio album In The Sea, on bass, and Peter Valsamis on drums.) The result is a fun, fractured rhythmic style, a horn player's album whose layering also reminds me a bit of Steve Coleman. One might note Fernández's strange sense of insistence on particular figures amid such swirling changes, only suddenly to move on to something else. (Un)Fold ends up being rather more "inside" than most of what I've mentioned here lately, but I particularly enjoyed it on first hearing.9 August 2017
As long as I'm thinking "inside," and since I just discussed Wooley's landmark Knknighgh, let me go ahead & add some very brief comments on a few other new Clean Feed albums....
First, I mention Ephemera Obscura specifically because I discussed the quartet's first album Mind Games back in October 2012. (At that time, I was drawn by the participation of Denman Maroney, but also explored other albums with James Ilgenfritz.) Ephemera Obscura was actually recorded back in 2013, and also consists mostly of composed tracks (by various quartet members) — again with Coleman-esque layering in the opener (by Ilgenfritz). I had expressed interest in further developments from this quartet, but unfortunately I'm not hearing much development. (And I have no idea what to think of the post-apocalyptic cover photo for what is often pretty music, generally calm & reflective.) I was disappointed.
In the West by a new, horn-less quartet formed by bassist Max Johnson is also worth noting for its unusual ensemble of bass, drums (Mike Pride), pedal steel guitar (Susan Alcorn), & piano (Kris Davis). Of course, I've also followed Davis, and she's been fairly quiet of late. In the West (recorded back in 2014) yields interesting pointillistic textures at times, but tends to be rather tonal, even romantic-nostalgic. I don't know about the musicians, but I don't have anything to be nostalgic for — certainly not the viciousness of the American West.
Finally, Flux Reflux by the half-Norwegian quartet Platform is not really inside, but more drone-based, slowly emergent music. The acoustic ensemble of Xavier Charles (clarinet), Katrine Schiøtt (cello), Jan Martin Gismervik (drums) & Jonas Cambien (piano) often suggests buzzing electronics or involves off-center accents. (And Cambien has become a regular on Clean Feed.) There's so much music appearing in this basic style lately, it becomes difficult to summarize in any meaningful (i.e. distinctive) way, but the timbres & pacing of Flux Reflux (the quartet's second album, with no recording date provided) remind me somewhat of recent favorite Drought — which isn't actually as droning-repetitive, and induces a feeling of ease, in part via its careful economy of forces. Anyway, Flux Reflux is the sort of thing I enjoy sometimes (and I end up listening to more of these drone albums, sometimes by accident, than might be apparent here), even if (or perhaps because) I don't know where it really leads. Is it just about filling time? It's also about process & inevitability, two big themes of our era.... (I will be articulating a further theoretical interrogation of such general, machinic approaches later this year, in what is to become section eight of the Practical listening series.)10 August 2017
As introduced in an extended entry a couple of weeks ago, on Intonarumori (recorded in Lisbon in May, nine days after Akuanduba), the Lisbon String Trio is joined by Carlo Mascolo on trombone. As also noted, Mascolo has a recent solo album on Creative Sources, My Tubes, featuring a growling trombone & preparations, including splitting the instrument into its different components. Intonarumori likewise suggests more of a technical, exploratory orientation than other albums in the series, as well as marks a change in register for the wind joining the trio: Although harmonics ramify the sense of pitch hierarchy, the previous three albums feature winds that are (most commonly) in the soprano range, so recalling that the string trio has the alto (viola) as its highest-pitched instrument, here the trombone occupies the middle of the texture. The result involves less sense of space, due to more crossing of lines (as typical of so many other, recent Rodrigues string-majority albums), and consequently some closer interactions absent the same sort of layering. It begins in percussive mode for the strings, lending a kind of forcefulness to what are otherwise some fairly understated sounds moving into harmonics. The opening track is rather contrapuntal (as is the fifth), and one of the more appealing in the series. The second track opens with what might be described as an extended "raspberry" from the trombone that almost seems percussive itself, yielding to mimicking string accents. The next track emphasizes more harmonics, at least in part to occupy the higher pitches, while the trombone growls below. The interactions are tantalizing, but the latter part of the albums seems to struggle a bit to recapture some of the opening energy, and especially to forge a contrapuntal style, as a sort of wheezing grooving chordal structure sometimes emerges while emphasizing particular pitches (& their displacement). Basically, the polyphonic implications are rather different for this ensemble, and the single (I guess?) performance date yields an album with a more exploratory feel than the previous releases. It does retain a sense of force (at least until it simply ends, not quite with a whimper), however, which is difficult to describe, as the trombone often lurks "behind" the strings, and "changes" can arise anywhere. There are also fewer environmental sounds invoked by this performance than previously in the series. The trombone itself allows for pitch glissandi much like the strings, which is part of what brings a heightened sense of overlapping resources, and indeed trombone was an instrument that particularly interested me in the early days of this project — since I knew that jazz meant horns. (Matched glissando contours are one of the more intriguing technical aspects here.) Strangely, I don't currently have any trombone leader albums listed on my favorites list, so that's a question to ponder. (Probably the most prominent trombone there now is Steve Swell on Sediment, although both Sebi Tramontana on Sudo Quartet Live at Banlieue Bleue & Johannes Bauer on Grid Mesh Live in Madrid have important roles in those mixed quartets. There is also Henry Threadgill's use of trombone — together with tuba.) The subtle shifts & multiphonics of the trombone tend to stay in the background? Perhaps. I'll need to pay more attention to trombone albums, and Intonarumori has provoked that. As I hope this delay in the discussion suggests, it warrants close attention, and perhaps a similar ensemble will be attempted. (I'd be inclined to try replacing one of the lower strings with a violin or a second viola.) As I write, there is still "only" one more album in this series, and I'll be discussing it soon (perhaps next). I'll also be listening more for trombones (again).11 August 2017
After adding the trombone on Intonarumori — with its register colliding with those of the strings — the Lisbon String Trio make an even greater departure by playing with Karoline Leblanc (b.1975, Québec) on piano on Liames (also recorded in May) — the one title in the series that means nothing to me. It's not the title that's a departure, of course, but the resources of the piano, both its fixed tuning & vast mechanics that can almost encompass a string trio, both in range & timbre. Playing inside the piano addresses some of the tuning flexibility issue (although it doesn't necessarily motivate using a piano in the first place) — and indeed let me note Ernesto Rodrigues's recent (although recorded in early 2015) duo album with Carlos Santos, called simply Piano, where they play a different style of "piano four hands" with Rodrigues inside & Santos outside — but there is still a question of balance between the instruments. Liames opens with two brief, more exploratory tracks, and slowly builds from there, becoming more pianistic as it goes. (The third track is longer than the first two combined, and the fourth & last is over half the album.) Leblanc, with whom I was not previously familiar, has apparently studied extensively with harpsichordists, and there is perhaps some of that (clanking) feel to some of her preparations, but the album itself takes on more of a romantic quality. (In fact, it highlights the romantic influences in the string harmonies at various points in this series, including on K'Ampokol Che K'Aay.) One might think of the classical piano quartet, which would involve substituting a violin for the bass here, and Liames certainly evokes that genre. (I can't really think of a comparable "free music" example, other than the string plus percussion albums that have been mentioned here so often already. And using bass, leaving the highest ranges to the piano, works just fine.) Environmental references once again fall more to the wayside, as the strings work to fill the piano's "interstices" with a variety of counterpoint (as opposed to simply reinforcing lines, as in the classical style). In this it differs from the more thoroughly classical articulation of Earnear (which also includes Mira) by being more impressionistic & rather less technical (although there is some matching of rubbed string contours & timbres between piano & other strings). Pizzicato is especially prominent at times, for instance opening the second track (which is perhaps the most like other moments in the series, and a highlight), and the strings go on to develop an almost 20th century Russian feel (even with something of a chase scene or two). By the end of this series, then, the whole production starts to sound normal: I mean, I start to get the impression that this isn't particularly novel music at all, although I still imagine that'd be anyone's first impression. There's more tonality, especially with the piano, but more in general than is initially apparent. Liames even starts to suggest a bit of lightness, as did Télépathie. There's probably more to be done with this piano quartet idea, particularly inside the piano, so we'll see (hear) what happens....12 August 2017
I don't know about the impulse to emphasize the rarity of John Butcher's recordings: He makes a lot of recordings; not as many as some people, but a lot. (Both Raw — multiple times recently — & Tangle have been mentioned here in the past year, for instance.) I suppose he doesn't make as many recordings as John Edwards, though, and Butcher is joined by both Edwards & (the also prolific) Mark Sanders on Last Dream of the Morning, a "straight" sax trio album of five tracks, recorded in the UK last November. I'd be tempted not to say anything about the album, since in spite of much accomplished playing, it doesn't really speak to me, but The Apophonics On Air (featuring Butcher & Edwards) is on my favorites list, so I guess some thoughts are in order. Gino Robair, playing "energized surfaces" on the latter album, has a distinctive percussion style that works so well with Butcher's physics-inflected sax explorations, but with Sanders, there is more of a normal style. Basically, I expressed similar thoughts, and then went on to discuss recent sax trios of interest in a fairly lengthy post here in May, around PEN by Evan Parker (also with Edwards, there with Steve Noble). I certainly don't mean to be insulting, and he's obviously very talented & has a wealth of technique, but I'd never be able to distinguish Sanders from other UK drummers: There's a use of chimes at a few points here that I enjoy. (Edwards, on the other hand, as already noted in that May entry, has become a fixture, most recently with the intriguing Runcible Quintet. He stands out for me here too.) So maybe this post is basically a non-entry. (Or rather, it's something I felt formally obliged to produce.) I don't have anything new to say about Butcher's playing: Last Dream of the Morning makes for a pleasant listen, though, in reprising the basic sax trio format — from boisterous to quiet & back.14 August 2017
It seems curious that the website is rarely up to date lately, and moreover that some of the most recent information there is laced with errors, but FMR has been releasing a very impressive series of distinctive albums lately, one of the most recent of which is Kontakte Trio by pianist Steve Beresford (b.1950), guitarist Ian Brighton (b.1944) & label director Trevor Taylor (b.1947) on percussion & electronics. I've not listened to much by Taylor, although I did discuss Electro Acoustic Ensemble by his group Circuit in March 2016, but we must share some musical interests, given the recordings he's been producing lately. One of those shared interests appears to be Stockhausen's Kontakte, a pioneering piece that famously used electronics to bridge — or bring into contact — the vibrational frequencies of pitch & rhythm. (My very short page on Stockhausen, one of the rather old "modern music" pages on the site, and perhaps surprisingly, one of the most read, features the piece.) And although I haven't heard much of Taylor's own output, I'd heard even less from Beresford & Brighton. Apparently the latter took a long break from public music-making, with only a few recent recordings, but the former has been more prolific. I guess I simply hadn't noticed, although given what I've seen of his output since seeing this recording, it spans genres that I'd have been unlikely to pursue. In any case, humor appears to be a regular part of Beresford's music, and so the sometimes silly (sometimes literally cartoonish) voice samples on Kontakte Trio are probably attributable to him. (One might compare with some of the sampling by Alvin Curran on Live at the Metz' Arsenal, another album, although often rather different in sound, that includes both piano & guitar amid electronics.) The electronics sometimes play on clichés as well, such as sci-fi or a ringing cellphone or briefly blaring car horn, and indeed, one might find a parallel in the increasingly intentional absurdity of Stockhausen, particularly in how they're woven into the fabric of the music. Another obvious comparison (at least among my favorites) is It Rolls, by a similarly formed "piano trio," with Fred Frith on electric guitar (as with MMM Quartet). However, whereas It Rolls is often tuneful, and features more traditional percussion, Kontakte Trio opens with prominent serialism (most striking on vibes & marimba), and generally maintains a high level of musical abstraction. (Perhaps that's exactly what I've found appealing about some of the recent FMR releases, i.e. the development of a post-serial collective improvisatory style. Whereas such an endeavor might be fairly characterized as elitist, do note that Boulez et al. explicitly developed serial music in response to fascist appropriation of e.g. Beethoven — and I've discussed the development of strongly hierarchical tonality in European music in parallel with the era of imperial expansion rather extensively elsewhere.) So whereas, despite having written a bit about comedy in theory articles, it's fair to say that I haven't given it much practical attention in this space, here it's part of a larger play of affect ramifying a broad network of musical relation. As the Stockhausen precedent would suggest, there are many extremes of pitch & rhythm, in all directions, in addition to the variety of material. For instance, whereas the album is often diffuse & electronically modified, the fourth & fifth tracks also feature pianistic allusions across styles, from serial to church music (or perhaps Satie), even to blues. (The sense of controlled abstraction across a broad tapestry also recalls Nessuno — although I'd describe Kontakte Trio as rather more "elastic" in its relations, both formally & "within" individual notes. As some sections move into e.g. gravelly sparseness, humming, or shimmering chirping, it also recalls Carved Water at various points & its approach to sound sculpture. Despite some differences, though, Live at the Metz' Arsenal is still probably the most similar precedent in terms of articulation & pace: Both do slow down at times.) I probably wasn't as familiar with any of these musicians as I could have or should have been, but their trio features a unique collection of talent: Brighton was previously associated with Taylor, apparently, and often stands at the center of the narrative: His guitar is the most consistent source of sound, as the other musicians frequently shift instruments or registers, and indeed the slower points reward close attention to guitar amid that fabric. I should note that I found Kontakte Trio sonically engaging right from the start, but as an abstract & longish album, it does make stamina demands of one's attention. (Its generally serial textures are also what made the Lisbon String Trio start to sound tonal for me: I suppose I should call the latter's music "spectral," but I'm resistant.) The minimality of the music — at times — suggests some further comparisons, perhaps, but I'm reluctant to make more acoustic references, since the electronic component is so strongly present here (particularly in the weird English voice-overs, squeaking, booming...), despite various shifts in foreground & background. However, the musicians do sometimes revel in the sort of high & twisty pitches, rubbed strings or resonators, tinkling etc. that has become a standard of exploratory acoustic albums. (Should I be wondering why the final track isn't named in parallel with the others, i.e. e.g. Kinesis?) The sound & interplay are ultimately distinctive, ending in pregnant silence, and making Kontakte Trio a quick favorite. This album clearly needed to happen.16 August 2017
Alvin Fielder & Damon Smith have been documenting their partnership extensively of late: Since their first (recent at least) album, From-to-From (discussed here at the end of 2013), in 2016 alone they recorded The Shape Finds Its Own Space with Frode Gjerstad — about whose Tipple Live at Elastic Arts more soon, but both are aggressive albums — as well as Six Situations with Joe McPhee, and now After Effects with Danny Kamins & Joe Hertenstein. (Actually, the latter is the middle date, as far as when these were recorded.) Fielder's drumming can be austere, and so this dialog with Hertenstein adds another dimension. They can be quite engaging together. Indeed, Hertenstein's extensive work with Houston bassist Thomas Helton seems to have prepared him well for this Houston-based ensemble. I had also mentioned Kamins before, briefly last November, in conjunction with his album with Sandy Ewen, Etched in the Eye. No instruments are named on After Effects, but Kamins appears to be on baritone (throughout). The sax tends to sit low in the texture, often using held notes in a sort of slow burning. This is the aspect of the album that didn't come off as well for me, and it's a long (over an hour) album. I've not really gotten into that sort of smooth sax over a roiling accompaniment style, and moving the sax down in register doesn't seem to change that much. I feel as though more should happen, and much of the movement does come from Smith, who plays that "connector" role typical of such albums, leading between more contemporary & traditionally jazzier areas (or the "tension between swing and sound" as Smith puts it for a recent issue of his 2008 session with Weasel Walter & John Butcher, The Catastrophe of Minimalism). Anyway, After Effects is well worth hearing, at least for the rhythm team, with apologies to Kamins here: I do feel some Texas mosquitos, though.17 August 2017
FMR's impressive 2017 series of releases continues with Tipple Live at Elastic Arts: Unlike the other albums I've featured from FMR lately, this is not a newly formed ensemble, however. In fact, this is Tipple's fourth album, following Live Tipple (also on FMR) & No sugar on anything — the latter originating in a session from the day before Live Tipple was recorded (in April 2013), and subsequently released by Frode Gjerstad on his own label (discussed here in December 2014). Live at Elastic Arts (recorded in 2015) continues the aggressive miking & mixing of the latter, making for a very bright, if not harsh, sound — markedly different from the quieter, more chamber-like mix on Live Tipple. The interaction of the trio, also featuring Kevin Norton & David Watson, develops in a welcome fashion, however, also increasing in aggressiveness, but in confidence & sophistication too. Tipple has become a quite potent improvising trio — perhaps comparable to the great Kaufmann-Gratkowski-de Joode trio, most recently on Oblengths — forging a rich & distinctive group style. (Perhaps I should also note that the design on FMR is becoming more austere, less colorful, with covers featuring simple textures. Indeed, the latter reminds me of Red Toucan around the time I began this project. There also seems to be an uptick in quantity of releases: All of FMR, Clean Feed & Creative Sources hit catalog numbers in the mid-400s around the same time, but FMR is the much older imprint.) Whereas Live Tipple might have been characterized by its sense of restraint, such restraint is rather less evident on Live at Elastic Arts, particularly during the massive first track, opening with a sharp vibe attack (forceful articulation being the norm here) & alternating whistling resonances shooting off in all directions. Whereas it features sharper attacks (partly a result of close miking) & faster interplay, as well as some novel sonorities, the opening track does recall much of the taut dynamic from Live Tipple, though — at least until the guitar erupts from its more subtle articulations & background humming (lending a "metallic" sense to what often feels like an acoustic interaction) into a massive rock explosion after about twenty minutes. Frankly, particularly with the high mix, that section is almost too much, and I start feeling (a bit sheepishly) as though I should turn down the stereo out of consideration for the neighbors. It does get a reaction, though, and that's undeniable. (And yes, this should be an amusing reaction, since I've more often complained about albums being mixed too low! It did give me a chuckle.) Moreover, this sequence reminds me that, despite an ongoing appreciation for Tipple, I know of David Watson from nowhere else. (A similar aggressiveness is also evident on e.g. the recent Still now, an album of very high energy in spite of its ostensible "chamber" orientation.) Of course, both Gjerstad & Norton appear in a variety of settings, and indeed Gjerstad's underrated Give and Take (discussed here July 2016) shows some of the same piercing qualities, although with a general air of calmness amid its dialogic exploration. Likewise, a sense of poise can be felt to emerge from Live at Elastic Arts amid the sharp articulations & aggressive responses — a very confident forcefulness, one might say. The more explicit "rock" energy that erupts at times might not be quite my thing, but there is plenty more to hear here: The shorter, subsequent tracks have rather different moods (although still relatively loud), sometimes taking on a more discursive quality, maybe even a hint of funk at one point, until the album ends with similarly jarring suddenness. Although the previous Tipple albums have their strong qualities, this one captures another level: It shouldn't be a foregone conclusion that an ongoing improvisatory group will increase its energy level, after all, as sometimes the reverse happens — perhaps due to lagging novelty or something else — but there are no such concerns here. And despite its departures from the classics, Live at Elastic Arts (unlike Kontakte Trio) is likely to be generally popular with free jazz audiences.22 August 2017
Evidently I stumbled into a rather long debate when I made some uncertain remarks about Payne / Lindal / Liebowitz — an album from the lineage of Lenny Tristano & Connie Crothers — last December. In particular, I noted how easy the musicians made some rather complex improvised music seem, and the strange effect of that ease. I might not have returned to the style so soon, but on pianist Carol Liebowitz's newest release, Poetry from the Future, the quartet called To Be Continued features well-known free improvisers Daniel Carter on a variety of horns & Kevin Norton — fresh in my mind via the recent Tipple Live at Elastic Arts — on vibraphone & percussion. So their participation made me take notice. Also involved is Claire de Brunner on bassoon, a former classical player with whom I was not familiar, but someone who moved into improvised music a few decades ago & has worked in several projects over the years. The lyrical bassoon playing is a highlight here. (The bassoon album I have listed at the moment is Ramble with Sandra Weiss, and it's a very different album of extended technique & non-melody.) Indeed, the music as a whole is dominated by a lyrical, classical quality... Romantic harmonies & rhythmic suppleness, improvisation well inside Western tonality. One could be listening almost to Schumann or Brahms, except that the music heads off in unexpected directions sometimes. The result has almost an unyielding smoothness to it, although it does build more of a "jazz edge" by the last couple of tracks. Of course, most of us are accustomed to spikier rhythms in this sort of music, for instance, and not only because musicians are pressing the limits of their instruments: Jazz was often music about overcoming one's present circumstances, and so temporally, about projecting a different — perhaps multiple (hence syncopation) — sense of future. Instead, Poetry from the Future (the "from" being important, perhaps) is a smooth tapestry: Nostalgia for imperial times? "Beauty" defined as synonymous with Western tonality per se? I'm opposed to both of those notions, but as I understand, the counterargument goes something like this: Anger is a strong emotion, and takes over too many records, and a less angry (or straining) style of expression allows one to express a greater range of emotions. I might ask in turn, are these authentic emotions or presented with a sense of distance? Where is the "interpretation" exactly? The future isn't angry, but sounds like the past? (I might note another approach on e.g. Happy Jazz, as discussed here in May, where the usual fractured figures & dialogs are presented for the listener at a slower pace. The "happiness" is probably wry, but it doesn't come off as nostalgia!) There's also the issue of expressing not necessarily opposition or strife, but the complexity of the world: Western tonality excludes much, but it does allow for emotional complexity, and that's often evident on Poetry from the Future, even as it sometimes feels relentlessly sunny. There is affective nuance, yes, but it's projected with a sense of interpretive distance — like playing a piece by a Victorian era composer. The whole experience starts to feel oppressive to me, but then, I'm probably hopeless. I suppose I should feel refreshed, having taken a break from my troubles? The musicians are certainly talented, and spontaneously traverse harmonic relations in creative ways. I don't feel better off for it, though, because the music offers only something of a respite, rather than a new situation. Put another way, there's usually something to be said for appreciating what one has, but such appreciation does tend to imply support for the status quo.26 August 2017
Maybe it's only a short term trend, or not really a trend at all, but (of course) I've been struck by how many items of interest have been appearing on the same few labels of late. What's also striking is how none of these are USA labels, particularly since (as recently noted) I started this project intending (or expecting?) to emphasize USA musicians. As it stands right now, the only USA label with more than one item on my favorites list is Pi Recordings, and (as also recently noted) they mostly emphasize composed music. Moreover, they emphasize a few well-established musicians, mostly from AACM, with their releases (which are not terribly frequent anyway) by younger performers being a very mixed bag. (Many seem pointless to me, to be honest.) This has a lot to do with the state of art & music in the USA, and of course the state of music funding, which is mostly private — and emphasizes what I can only describe as pretty, impotent music. (I don't mean to suggest my personal list of favorites as somehow definitive either, but it's an easy counting reference for something like this.) Such an observation is likely overstated, though, relative to similar developments elsewhere, and so the conversation should probably be different: The big European labels should be praised for continuing to release so much worthwhile music. (Of course, there are also the online-only labels, becoming more prevalent, but I'm not seeing that as USA-specific.) I guess I don't actually feel such a temptation, but perhaps I should simply spend more time listening to every release on a few quality labels, and less time hunting around for other things: From a pure expenditure standpoint, that would probably make sense, but there's something about the process of hunting around in a variety of places.... For one thing, I don't want to feel as though what I hear is determined by only a few people. (Are we in danger of being incestuous? To some degree, probably yes, despite the many "adventurous" orientations out there.) Anyway, that's a long-winded way of saying that I do want to support USA musicians, at least those with something to say, and I continue to hunt small labels: MZM, a trio by Myra Melford, Zeena Parkins & Miya Masaoka recently appeared on James Ilgenfritz's Infrequent Seams (CDR) label, with liner notes by Nicola L. Hein — of recent favorite Rotozaza Zero. I'm not sure how Hein is connected, other than being another improvising string player (and these are all string players, if the reader will accept that designation for the piano, where it's admittedly only partial), and the notes are rather generically about free improvisation. Still, it was a surprising connection. The album itself was recorded on two different dates in Berkeley (March 2014 & January 2016), without it being clear which is which, yielding nearly an hour of music in ten modest-length tracks. (Conceivably I could have attended these concerts, although I've been so busy that traveling a couple of hours each way starts to feel like quite a burden. That's my loss, I'm sure, and I should really make more effort to support people in person. I keep telling myself that I will....) An obvious comparison for this highly detailed & dynamic improvised album is Tiger Trio Unleashed (discussed here in February, and also evoking Japanese music at times), also featuring pianist Melford with two other distinguished women. Despite my parenthetical comment, I've actually heard both Parkins & Masaoka live, both together & with Rova, but I see that I had yet to mention Parkins in this space, whereas Masaoka was mentioned briefly (last October) for her participation on Ingrid Laubrock's Serpentines (an album recorded later than both sets making up MZM). MZM offers some fascinating close interaction between strings, but also hovers in the realms of tonality & pop music (or ever so slightly, new age) at times, and more significantly, poses significant balance issues between the instruments. The traditional "bent" string sound of the koto (whose sound I know better via the related Chinese zheng) offers wonderful opportunities for complex articulation & exploration of particular notes via timbre. However, it's not a very loud instrument, and so pairing it with piano (which has some similar sonorities) is difficult. At its best, this trio does that very well, particularly via preparations, but Melford mostly remains at the keyboard, and many tracks have a strongly pianistic feel. Parkins' harp is kind of the chameleon here, due to its shimmering electronic sustain, making it sound like a bass, or even sometimes a horn. There are some real "harpisms" at times, and of course the piano can revel in glissandi too, but the harp is often filling other roles, rather than standing at the center of the string discourse. Despite a basic misgiving about balance, MZM can be powerful, particularly in its exploration of complex-composite string articulation-attack. (One might figure this as a simultaneous interrogation of similarity & difference, i.e. developing a sort of heterophony.) And there is some obvious attention paid to making the koto audible alongside the piano, even if it sometimes seems (only) to be ornamenting piano figures. There are some moments that don't do much for me, though, whereas others reward close attention to this novel trio. (I hesitate to invoke another acoustic album, but at times it projects something of the balance of Drought, although it usually remains faster. The peaceful ending can also be compared.) In my opinion, there is more to be done with such a group, particularly playing inside the piano, i.e. with its strings used in more open modes.28 August 2017
The Not Two label continues to release interesting albums regularly, and the Poland-Barcelona nexus continues to articulate with Spontaneous Soundscapes by a trio of Agustí Fernández, Artur Majewski (cornet) & Rafal Mazur (acoustic bass guitar). Of course, this is close on the heels of recent favorite Agustí Fernández Celebration Ensemble, another release on a Polish label (recorded in Barcelona). Indeed, whereas Spontaneous Soundscapes involves a much smaller ensemble, and was recorded in Krakow more than a year after Celebration Ensemble, similar concerns are evident — the sonic pallet around Fernández basically being a subset. I was not very familiar with Majewski, although I had heard him do some Polish post-bop, but he is impressive here, including on "echo" (I assume echo cornet, four valves). Sometimes there is a bit of "over the top" ensemble feel, which seems almost inevitable in a trio like this, but Majewski is often well-integrated, soon joining Fernández & Mazur to forge a lovely three-way opening. I had recently discussed Mazur in conjunction with Tidal Heating (also on Not Two, featuring Vasco Trilla in more of a "rock" mode), and his style continues to intrigue: I am rather unclear on what this "acoustic bass guitar" really is, given how strongly it projects some very low notes. I would not expect a guitar to have that sort of resonance, so I'm confused. Nonetheless, Mazur has some great sequences, although his lesser (rather, more subtle) sonic resources do leave him lost in the texture at times, particularly when blending with piano preparations. The different, simultaneous articulations between the two yield some taut moments, though, occasionally evocative of Celebration Ensemble (particularly to open track #4). When it comes to piano-brass interaction, I should probably also mention Grey Matter by Christine Wodrascka, Jean Luc Cappozzo & Gerry Hemingway (discussed here in February 2014) by way of comparison: That album features somewhat different instrumentation, but can have a similar feel. (Mazur's bass sound remains unique, however.) Spontaneous Soundscapes has some great moments, but can also slow down or revel in ostinati more than I tend to enjoy: That's probably based in part on my reaction to the seemingly restricted forces as compared to Celebration Ensemble, though. Even with a few slow spots, Spontaneous Soundscapes is itself a meaty album — by three distinctive musicians, albeit centered on Fernández — with much to enjoy.11 September 2017
After noting an intention to pay more attention to trombone in last month's discussion of Intonarumori, of course I felt compelled to listen to Konzert für Hannes, seemingly arriving right on cue from Not Two, by a trombone trio of Jeb Bishop, Matthias Müller & Matthias Muche. Whereas a trombone trio might seem a bit obscure & technical, because of the occasion of Johannes Bauer's death, the album is attracting attention, with e.g. a nice review on the Free Jazz Blog: The concert (in Köln, May 2016) was supposed to be a quartet, but Bauer's health caused him to withdraw after plans had been made, and he ended up dying the very same day. I won't claim any special knowledge of Bauer's music, but I've enjoyed his playing on e.g. Grid Mesh Live in Madrid. The quartet was supposed to involve a JB2 duo (to mirror MM2) with Jeb Bishop, whom I see I've never mentioned in this space, and whom I associate (rightly or wrongly) with more mainstream jazz. Müller & Muche have both appeared here, Müller most recently with the album The Jersey Lily (again with Frank Paul Schubert, also with John Edwards & Mark Sanders) in a Creative Sources-themed entry from March 2015. Muche I mentioned much more recently, this past June, in conjunction with the quintet Klang (also from Creative Sources). Those two had a standing duo, MM2. So a planned double-duo quartet becomes a trio... and probably picks up a much larger audience in the process. Such is the music business. That said, I want to focus on the trombone interactions, and not the unfortunate circumstances: When discussing Intonarumori, and why, despite my general fondness for the instrument, the trombone shows up relatively infrequently here, I noted its lurking growl, facility with glissandi, but also its overlap with instruments in the middle (textural) ranges, and wondered whether its "subtle shifts & multiphonics ... tend to stay in the background." In an all-trombone ensemble, of course trombone must be foregrounded in some sense, but Konzert für Hannes is not terribly assertive — with much of the more interesting interaction happening at relatively quiet volume, as suggested. It's not super quiet, although it does begin that way — and one can only wonder if the somber occasion contributed to a subdued (& relatively consistent) mood — but it's not very eruptive either. It's generally a busy conversation at modest volume, illustrating an assortment of both individual & collective techniques. Indeed, there's something of a collective rhythm that seems to emerge from many of the interactions, perhaps with a sense of layering (i.e. different players playing at different speeds), a "machine" one might say, and then they're off to something else. Sometimes they're even briefly tuneful — and certainly playful, with variations in articulation being a significant aspect of technique. Konzert für Hannes doesn't reach out & grab my attention, but it does reward attention given. So, now, what else can be done with trombones in different sorts of ensembles? Is it only my imagination that the trombone has been relatively neglected of late in free groups? Konzert für Hannes suggests that there are many more possibilities, even absent one of the most respected players of his generation.12 September 2017
While I'm writing about more recent Not Two releases, they continue to field a strong catalog generally, and that includes unusual releases: Given the description, I wasn't sure if I wanted to spend time on Kyle Bruckmann's double album Dear Everyone, but since it got mentioned positively on a couple of disparate sites, I decided to check it out: There's no precise recording date(s) given, although apparently during 2016, nor is there any real indication of how the vocal samples were used: Bruckmann evidently collected & used recordings of 99 different people — and the voices are very different, young & old, some serious, some finding the experience humorous, some highly dramatic — reading a 2016 (published by Brooklyn Arts Press) text by Matt Shears: The text, in a variety of snippets — sometimes starkly in a few words, sometimes rambling, sometimes simultaneous & heterophonic — forms the backbone of the musical performance, with a quartet (sometimes a quintet) of improvising musicians reacting & further articulating it: Again, I'm not sure if the textual articulation was entirely set for the performance, or if there's some improvisatory quality to using the voice samples. However, the "actual" music is surely composed as well, presumably then articulated via improvisation, some of it with a hard rock edge, shredding or thrashing, some in a more chamber mode, maybe mysterious or spacey, sometimes tightly interlocking, maybe even with a few dodecaphonic lines drifting off.... I put "actual" in quotes, because of course the whole thing, 99 readers & all, becomes music, but there is the text — sometimes using different electronic treatments to give readers more presence or e.g. sound as if they're from an older recording — and there are the instruments. The creative articulation of the text across so many divergent voices intrigues me, and the content ranges so wildly & relevantly too. (One early section features a reader keeping her mouth tightly shut, for instance.) But "the music" is just not very interesting: I mean, the double album wouldn't be satisfying with only the readers, but most of what the instrumentalists play is rather standard fare, even as the genre references vary a bit. It might be silly to call an oboe quartet standard — and indeed there are some "oboe band" highlights (such as the second half of CD2#4) — but that's the effect: It's almost ornamentation or accompaniment for the text, although there are extended sections without text, and despite some aggressive moods. (Bruckmann is joined in his Degradient ensemble by Aram Shelton, also on horns, and Jason Hoopes & Jordan Glenn on electric bass & percussion: The latter two appeared recently on Fred Frith's trio album Another Day in Fucking Paradise, and that's my only experience with them. Shelton was mentioned in this space all the way back in June 2011, although not much since, and Bruckmann was introduced here in April 2012, soon to reference his chamber ensemble, Wrack, a suitable precedent for the instrumental portions of Dear Everyone. They are joined by Weston Olencki on trombone on some tracks.) Simply put, I would have expected to be more taken with "the music per se" on a production such as this, but again, ultimately the entire production is the music. (Perhaps it should be compared to Steve Lehman's Sélébéyone for its creative combination of words & music, but many stylistic differences could also be noted. Yet, there is something of a similar feel at times.) All that said, it's an intriguing creation, particularly since the words are usually clearly audible, and it makes a strong impression: "From far away, no one is responsible," it tells us (to encourage the opposite situation, one might conclude) at the end.13 September 2017
Whereas I still have no intention of featuring duos in this space, at least not significantly, I do want to note the double album Uncertain Outcomes by Christian Wolff & Eddie Prévost. These are two giants of free improvisation — Wolff emerging in the scene around John Cage in the 1950s, and Prévost in the more jazz-tinged world of 1960s London — and so their duo album is an event (although apparently Wolff had participated with AMM in the past): The first disc was recorded in London in September 2015, and the second at Dartmouth University in July 2016. Since the second concert was billed as a "concert of experimental improvisation," apparently to Prévost's surprise (although it came to form the subtitle of the album), he includes a thoughtful essay discussing what that label might mean. In particular, he wonders in what way experimental music from the 50s & 60s might have or should have run its course... yet apparently hasn't. But then, is there supposed to be a "result?" What is the point? Well, the point is often the journey, but we knew that. In any case, these tend to be rather calm performances, often fairly quiet, although rarely lacking for activity. The careful preparations & detailed use of percussion resonance often contrast with rather simple, even melodic snippets from the piano, forging a juxtaposed relation that comes to suggest a musical intersection for literature & politics. (And note tangentially that Giorgio Agamben's recent What is Philosophy? basically circumscribes the contemporary demands of philosophy within such an intersection. Although Agamben doesn't say much about music per se, he ultimately makes his topic musical.) There is thus something of a nexus between tonality & noise here... not especially noisy noise, though, given the other albums appearing in this space. Again, a sense of calm prevails, including within what might otherwise be perceived as attempts by the piano to impose particular (& pianistic) significance. Whereas such suggested imposition inflects many moments, the narrative of the performances themselves nonetheless remains open, continually suggesting possibilities that never occur: In that sense, it's a highly virtual dialog, and one might further suggest that the real falls away, or at least trembles (or equivocates). Once the musicians are finished, however, we do (safely?) return to (the same?) reality — for better or worse. (I'll refrain from making a simplistic, summary contrast between today's politics and that of the 50s & 60s, but perhaps that's what one ought to ponder in response. One might, in particular, ponder the global rearticulation of the "interior" of capital.)20 September 2017
As long as I'm mentioning configurations I don't ordinarily feature here, let me also make a few remarks about Daniel Levin's new solo cello album, Living on Belgian label Smeraldina-Rima. Levin notes it as a career milestone in terms of conceiving a personal approach to solo cello improvising: It's thus a more radical album than Inner Landscape (mentioned briefly here in June 2011), and indeed the technique is generally much more "out there" (or extended) than on Levin's quartet albums — the latter based significantly on compositions. The result is an intimate approach to the cello, an instrument often associated with intimacy, but there is more than the intimate in rethinking the cello as a physical "Assemblage" (the latter being the first track title) here: The entire instrument is engaged, and in different combinations with itself, such that e.g. an almost pianistic quality emerges at times, albeit across a smaller body: The variety of squeaks, brushes & rattles evokes the broader pallet of prepared piano. Yet Living is really about rethinking the cello, and so there is more closeness to the experience, a mix of quiet & loud, with the different tracks exploring different combinations & directions, including e.g. aggressive bowing or resonance combining usually uncombined parts of the instrument. Living was actually recorded (over two days) a week after New Artifacts (in August 2015), and recalls some aspects of Levin's sound on Spinning Jenny (discussed here in April, with unknown recording date) — both improvised trio albums, and both featuring more lyrical moments. One can thus perceive some of the progression that Levin references in the notes (as well as the more radical stance), and moreover the title suggests life itself as improvisatory — an orientation with which I wholeheartedly concur. So now, how about bringing more of this level of technical creativity & detail to ensemble improvisation? Living suggests many possibilities.25 September 2017
There's been a bit of a lull here lately, whether in my own enthusiasm, or more likely in the pace of releases (a lag from summer vacations & tours), and so once again, I want to turn to an album about which I have more modest thoughts: I had yet to mention David Peck's "Leap of Faith" ensemble here, despite their enormous discography (available from Evil Clown), and despite that the core trio of Peck (horns, etc.), Glynis Lomon (cello, etc.) & Yuri Zbitnov (percussion) continue to produce varied ensemble improvisations that fit the basic demands of this project: There are a variety of geometries explored across numerous timbral interactions, all in an improvised context — in their case, emphasizing coming together as one voice. There is also a certain sameness to many of their performances (nearly all of which end up on record?), building a relentless & powerful wave, a droning collective groove that fits with their psychedelic cover art. (Notions of droning groove, crescendo & inexorability are analogous to e.g. Catherine Christer Hennix's Live At Issue Project Room, mentioned here in June 2016. In that case, there is a more tangible Indian reference.) The general notion of a long-term musical collaboration of this sort seems great, even if the music doesn't speak very much to me personally. So I like the idea. I've also deferred commenting because I first learned of Leap of Faith from DMG, and Bruce Gallanter has been providing frequent, enthusiastic reports of their releases. (I've tried not to simply duplicate other comments here, although sometimes cross-references in this sense are important to make, for context if nothing else.) Recently, Domains — featuring special guest Damon Smith — (with unknown recording date, but 2016 or later) has even raised that bar, so to speak, with reviews appearing in other sources as well. It thus seems singularly unsuited for me to comment, but comment I will: Smith is a musician I've followed here for a while, first mentioned with Ewen / Smith / Walter in March 2013, an album (together with many others with Weasel Walter) illustrating the speed & intensity with which he can play. As often, though, Smith cultivates a more mysterious or restrained & quiet exploration of timbres & sound beyond tonality per se — perhaps exemplified on the "piano trio" Spill Plus — and that seems to be Smith's emphasis here. The Leap of Faith ensemble, also adding Silvain Castellano as another bassist to form a quintet, is relatively restrained, especially in the early going, as quiet string harmonics meet metallic percussion. (And "metallic" albums are some of Leap of Faith's more sonically interesting generally.) More geometries are evident within the ensemble, although they do eventually build to an energetic wave. There is always a sense of progressive "crowd" rock hanging in the background (& maybe a distant echo of e.g. Phish?), as well as of unusual timbre, in this case e.g. Lomon (who played with Bill Dixon for years) apparently sounding like an organ early on with the aquasonic (an instrument with which I wasn't previously familiar). Although Domains features more opening explorations than most, it does still seem to involve individuals dissolving into a common groove eventually, patterns that interlock to build a new whole. (Such a characteristic inexorability contrasts with e.g. Jeff Shurdut on e.g. Yad, despite the latter's similar sense of collective cacophony. Shurdut brings more of a classical sense of formal balance to his ongoing collaborative ensembles, rather than the sort of unidirectional proceeding Peck seems to prefer.) In that sense, there is often no traditional counterpoint, but more of a detailed heterophony — an observation that's relatively less true in the first half of (the single 70 minute track of) Domains (although Peck does eventually come to dominate the main line of action, if relatively subtly here). All that said, whereas I've yet to be strongly affected by Leap of Faith, the many hours of music they've produced over the past few years are indeed enjoyable. Whether this is the ("starter") album for you probably depends on whether you're more intrigued by the participation of Smith, or by someone or something else involved in one of their many other group improvisations.29 September 2017
I also want to note Simon Nabatov's new, "traditional" — albeit improvised — piano trio album with Max Johnson & Michael Sarin, Free Reservoir on Leo Records (recorded in New York in January 2016). It's a meaty & appealing album, beginning with Nabatov's massive contrapuntal technique, but also moving into sparser extended regions. There is often a bit of a popular, jazzy quality embedded in the larger textures, and usually a rather strong tonality, although sometimes shifting rather briefly into dodecaphony after an interlude (such as the bass solo opening the final track). I had mentioned Max Johnson's recent album In the West — with its novel ensemble textures — last month. And I first mentioned Sarin back in October 2011 for his work with Denman Maroney. Nabatov is another unique pianist, someone whose music I never seem to find completely compelling, but to which I nonetheless return. That's because he seems to intertwine so many ideas simultaneously & effortlessly: I guess what I miss is a sense of real dialog, although Johnson & Sarin do shine at times on Free Reservoir. There are also rather repetitive tracks (in something of the "trance" mode of the Vijay Iyer Trio), but the opening counterpoint also tends to overwhelm the brain a bit, thus helping the smoother sections to function in hypnotic fashion: After the rave-ish third track, for instance, the fast tinkling opening the fourth seems rather enigmatic, although also a highlight moving into another massive cascade (followed by a drum solo). Nabatov goes on to sound (effortlessly!) like two, independent pianists in the middle of the final track (such that I imagine he can play quite a Bach fugue). Altogether, Free Reservoir is a distinctive album, particularly for such a "worn out" format as the piano trio, and with a great deal of stylistic variety. Yet it also seems to be largely entertainment-oriented, albeit with more density than the typical popular album.30 September 2017
When preparing some thoughts on Knknighgh this summer, it surprised me to find that I hadn't discussed Nate Wooley's music in any detail since Battle Pieces in April 2015. I had a fair amount to say about that album, although I'm not sure much of it's actually relevant anymore, in the wake of Knknighgh. Anyway, with Battle Pieces 2 appearing, some further remarks are probably warranted. First of all, the latter was recorded in January 2016 (in Köln) — also with Ingrid Laubrock, Matt Moran & Sylvie Courvoisier from the first Battle Pieces album — while Knknighgh was recorded three quarters of a year later in October. So whereas Battle Pieces 2 shows some formal development, not to mention more familiarity among the quartet, Wooley was soon to interrogate related formal concerns in a more radical way: Despite the abstraction, some "pop" material remains evident in each, with Battle Pieces 2 using the occasional recognizable melody or melody fragment, not to mention much more emphasis on extended solos & concepts of line — although Knknighgh doesn't lack for the latter, despite its stacked chords. (Unlike the first Battle Pieces album, there are no tracks labeled "tape deconstruction" on the second. I never did understand what that involved.) In many ways it's normal to hear albums out of order, such as this, since the amount of time they sit before appearing before the public can be very random, and because so many musicians release on multiple labels concurrently. That we don't have to deal with exclusive contracts is surely a good thing, although likely derives in part from the sorry state of revenue generated by free improvisation.... (Of course, the solution is to follow musicians of interest around to live concerts, but I don't manage very much of that. There's no time traveling involved that way, though.) Still, it's (always) kind of strange & blunts the impact of Battle Pieces 2 — which does feature some fascinating interactions right from the opening, even if it slows down considerably for solos at various points. It's creative, and the individual playing (particularly from Wooley) is notable, but it's also an album that offers fewer challenges.9 October 2017
I decided to have a listen to Hyvinkää, recorded in Finland last September by the quintet Move, because of a review by Martin Schray at the Free Jazz Blog. So I was thinking I probably wouldn't write anything about it, since it's already getting good attention, but I suppose I do have a few thoughts to share: Actually the personnel itself would have likely attracted me, but I'd've probably never known of the album (on the obscure to me Unisono label) otherwise: I've very much enjoyed Mexican vibraphonist — and Move cofounder — Emilio Gordoa (b.1987) on Natura venomous with the trio Parak.eets, and so he has my attention. I first mentioned Achim Kaufmann, whom I assume everyone reading this already knows to some extent, in a minor note of February 2014, and then especially regarding his ongoing & iconic trio with Frank Gratkowski & Wilbert de Joode. I'm often weary of piano, but Kaufmann continues to engage. Joining them is Adam Pultz Melbye on bass — featured here already on (the very different, almost hyper-kinetic album) Rotozaza Zero, as well as Dag Magnus Narvesen (b.1983) on drums. I knew nothing of Narvesen, but he plays a major role in modulating & maintaining momentum on the single track, despite the many shifts in timbre: Among other things, his style is described as using "elliptical grooves ... creating a forward motion without playing in time." Finally, Harri Sjöström (b.1952) on soprano & sopranino saxophone is the other cofounder, and I hadn't heard of him either: I guess I should have, since he studied music in San Francisco in the 1970s, and worked with John Cage, Bill Dixon, Derek Bailey, Cecil Taylor, etc. Sjöström's style can be rather subtle, reminding me at times of Urs Leimgruber with MMM Quartet, but three quarters of the way through the album, a melodic sax line comes to dominate, with the others withdrawing to a more standard accompaniment stance, first around piano. It projects a starkly beautiful landscape, but the sheer tonality & linear emphasis is a departure from the (usually) more interesting interactions of the first half hour, particularly as they built some increasingly taut counterpoint leading into the melodic projection — which is apparently its resolution. (Consequently, I keep feeling as though Hyvinkää is a very worthwhile album, and of course I should feature it, until the melodic ending kind of overwhelms the rest. It starts to sound like "cool jazz" combined with the stereotypically "northern" or "crystalline" side of ECM.) There are some fascinating timbres among the subtleties of the earlier interaction, though: For instance, the photo on the quintet's website shows Kaufmann at a device that looks little like a piano, despite that he's credited simply with "piano." It's evidently designed for easy access to the internals; perhaps it's a common setup, an extended acoustic (percussive) keyboard. That's one way to transcend piano: Change the piano itself, and not only with temporary preparations. (Gordoa is also known for his vibe preparations.) Anyway, there's some harpsichord-like moments, and some lightly clattering metallic strings (that I suppose could be prepared bass, but the bass doesn't seem to be mic'd closely enough for that). Mostly there's a kind of quiet mystery & mastery — not so unlike Berlin-tinged favorite Spill Plus & its quiet sparseness, or perhaps Nashaz & its dissonant calm — a mystery that comes to resolve itself (for better or worse, I guess) with the melodic ending. (Hyvinkää is generally more tonal, although not oppressively so, even before the ending. That basis serves to animate the sense of mastery that is carefully maintained.) There is still much to consider from this surprisingly coherent tapestry, and it should be interesting to hear where the quintet goes from here.10 October 2017
Since I mentioned Yedo Gibson with Vasco Trilla on the Creative Sources quintet Nepenthes hibrida (with Ernesto Rodrigues) back in June, I thought I should mention their more traditional free jazz trio album with Hernâni Faustino on Lithuanian label No Business. No Business is fairly prolific, and has been releasing many albums only on vinyl lately — oh well — but Chain by the Gibson-Faustino-Trilla trio is available on CD, and is a meaty album of more than an hour, recorded in Lisbon in April 2016. The "free jazz" idiom is much more recognizable on Chain than on other albums I've been discussing featuring Trilla, including favorite Still now (if you still), which has more of a classical chamber feel (although with plenty of energy). Whereas there is e.g. some clear jazz bass early on, as Chain proceeds, there is more in the way of extended technique. Although rather different sonically, perhaps the resulting mix can be compared to Trilla's Tidal Heating on Not Two (discussed here in February). Both have something of a traditional format, i.e. are nothing like Nepenthes hibrida etc. In this case, Gibson (native of Brazil) has a personal & distinctive approach to breath on bari sax, most noticeable opening track #5 (particularly after the subdued howling dialog evolving through the second half of #4), and has a strong connection with Trilla — as forged already in various duos, etc. Chain is consequently apt to please traditional free jazz-oriented listeners who desire an international twist.15 October 2017
Creative Sources continues its exploration of improvising string ensembles with Underwater Music by Ernesto & Guilherme Rodrigues & Alexander Frangenheim: The string trio format follows Rodrigues's output with the Lisbon String Trio, discussed extensively here in July. Of course, Frangenheim has appeared often with Rodrigues — I first took notice with Nor (recorded & released in 2014), and continue to admire e.g. his music on Light air still gets dark (which also explores another ongoing Creative Sources concern, extended vocal technique). In this case, Underwater Music actually consists of older recordings than the Lisbon String Trio series, as well as than recent Rodrigues string albums such as Xenon, Blattwerk & Nepenthes hibrida. Discussed in May with "String Theory" Xenon was Incidental Projections, another string trio — but with two cellos. That initiated the subject for me, but Underwater Music, which adopts the viola-cello-bass format, had already been recorded in Berlin in "Spring" 2016 (details not given), not so very long ago in the context of album releases, but prior to all of these others, and basically a year prior to the Lisbon String Trio series. I had thought that the "underwater" term might refer to the techniques involved, perhaps to a literal use of water (further suggested by the watery cover art), but now I'm guessing that it refers to a notion similar to stocks or real estate being "under water," i.e. that the concerns of the album were greatly extended in various directions prior to its release. (So it's an example of what I recently called "time travel" in music via recordings.) Perhaps that's the case: There is a worthwhile "mission statement" included regarding the string trio format & new possibilities for ensemble improvisation: The statement could as well apply to all the albums just mentioned, based as they are around string trios or quartets. Underwater Music consists of nine brief tracks that seem to have the character of studies. They illustrate various ideas for interactions, particularly strongly at the start, and maybe fall off a bit in inspiration as the album proceeds. (The mixing, by Frangenheim, is usually easy to hear.) The trio of musicians pass through a wide array of territories, sketching a variety of interactive (& often contrapuntal) ideas, generally in specific ways. There is consequently a greater clarity of approach on Underwater Music than on the other albums named, which tend to go in multiple directions at once. Perhaps it's an ideal introduction, then, particularly for those for whom the style is new. (It's really hard for me to say: Since I've been time traveling, the style isn't new.)
Also recorded in 2016, in October (just) prior to any of the non-Underwater Music albums mentioned above, and also on Creative Sources, Discoveries explores yet more kinds of string interaction, this time adding Davide Piersanti on trombone to a string quartet of two cellos & two basses apparently organized by regular Rodrigues collaborator Klaus Kürvers. I actually first noted Kürvers on Rotations, a double bass quartet discussed here in December 2014, and the quintet on Discoveries likewise includes neither of the Rodrigueses. (Kürvers is joined by ongoing Piersanti collaborator Hui-Chun Lin, using some subtle vocalization with cello, as well as Sergio Castrillón & Ulf Mengersen on cello & bass.) Kürvers' participation, and indeed the configuration of the ensemble, can be compared to that on Sukasaptati (string trio plus reed) or Dé-collage (string quartet plus alto sax), both discussed here in July around the Lisbon String Trio series, both likewise being (only barely in the latter case) older recordings, and both including at least one Rodrigues. Discoveries can & should be compared to Intonarumori as well, for its integration of trombone into string ensemble tapestry. (And here involving only tenor & bass ranges.) Discoveries, like Underwater Music, comes off as something of a set of studies or inventions (perhaps reflected in its title?), and features more traditional classical textures (including wind soloist & accompaniment) than Intonarumori et al. It's perhaps most similar to the latter opening track #4, but includes drone & ostinato as well, and after beginning in rather leisurely fashion. Indeed, there is a general air of calm, despite the frequently dissonant — although sometimes tensely lyrical — counterpoint (which includes evocation of world styles at times too). Discoveries is less radical in its ensemble approach than these other albums, but undertakes & documents another worthwhile, contemporary (& live) exploration of trombone-string quartet improvisation across a range of textures: Trombone tends to be clearly audible here as such.16 October 2017
Clean Feed has been releasing more albums that seem unusual for their catalog lately, fewer Americans & a lot less post-bop, and that ends up meaning more "drone" albums — as I casually described a developing style in an August entry that included mention of Flux Reflux. Traditionally, a drone album is probably rather consonant, though, and recent release Der Dritte Treffpunkt is highly dissonant. What might be more accurate is to say that the style explores continuity, and on Der Dritte Treffpunkt, an extended dissonant wave fills the central half of its single track. (Perhaps Boule-spiele, discussed in January, is something of a paradigm for extremely dissonant, collective continuity.) After the storm breaks, the quartet seems almost tentative for the last several minutes (of afterglow?), and similarly, the first ten minutes or so seem to involve various starts & stops, basically searching for continuity: It's a search for spontaneous continuity, I suppose, but the plan is always already to find some sort of continuous wave — at least that's what the album suggests to me. There are actually a number of interesting (largely quiet) sonic interactions opening the album, but I guess I just find discontinuity more appealing, especially versus more repetitive sections — although Der Dritte Treffpunkt is never very repetitive. Who is involved then? The quartet is called Der Verboten, and apparently it's the fourth quartet formed around the duo of Frantz Loriot (viola) & Cédric Piromalli (prepared piano). (The first was called Treffpunkt, hence the title.) I was unfamiliar with Piromalli, and likewise tenor saxophonist Antoine Chessex, but had heard Christian Wolfarth a few times — featured on e.g. Glück (discussed here in 2015). His participation contributed to my interest, but of course I've been rather taken with Loriot in his work with Baloni, and also with Natura morta: I described their most recent album Environ — probably quite unfairly — as a solo by Loriot with accompaniment, and his technique does dazzle there. With Der Verboten, it's difficult for anyone to stand out as an individual, as the emphasis seems to be on a kind of dissonant "coming together." The political implications are clear enough, but the music never quite makes its mark for me. (Maybe that's because I don't believe that mere "unity" is going to solve anything meaningful politically. A lot of justice has been postponed.) Why so much of this drone style? It seems to be about spontaneously finding & using novel sonorities while maintaining a modest information density at any particular moment.
As far as unusual Clean Feed releases, let me also note the new Surface of Inscription by a sextet (of mostly unknown performers) led by Dre Hocevar: These are apparently pieces based on prior improvisations (and I didn't really understand the details of what's said about that on the Clean Feed site), and sonorities are completely different between the tracks: Most or all seem to be for much smaller forces, including many solo & duo sections. Unlike Der Dritte Treffpunkt, which emphasizes acoustics, in what comes to be a continuous & stormy soundscape, Surface of Inscription also includes electronics amid its frequent timbral changes. Whereas the individual sections are clear enough (& sometimes rather simple, even striking), I don't hear the sequence as a coherent statement, however, and can only wonder why it's an actual release, rather than part of a larger experiment. (I seem to be listening, though, so who can argue? Like the "drone" style noted above, the process here yields relatively modest density with high novelty — the latter even relative to itself — & so is, once again, collage.) As usual with Hocevar, I do like the track titles, especially "logic is a consequence." But is that really the case here?17 October 2017
Returning to a Creative Sources release that was recorded earlier this year, in May in Brooklyn, Itinerant ended up being the tip of an iceberg. Percussionist Stephen Flinn had already appeared on Creative Sources, most recently with vocalist Viv Corringham on Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, and "works with unusual sound sources, including self made instruments and found objects." The name that really caught my eye was Denman Maroney, whose own groups I had featured already in 2011. Maroney studied with Harry Partch, and brings some of that sense of American inventiveness to his "hyperpiano" concepts. The middle name I didn't know, Michael Lytle (b.1945, Missouri) on bass & contrabass clarinet. As it happens, though, Itinerant is not this trio's first album: It follows Anello, released in 2016 on Lytle's Elewhale Music label, founded in 1978. The Bandcamp site doesn't go back nearly to 1978, but includes a couple of dozen improvised albums featuring top performers. It was a lot to hear. Although a couple of the larger groups include electronics, there is an acoustic emphasis, and many recordings derive from the Acoustic Frontiers Series at Spectrum, curated by Michael Lytle, Denman Maroney and (flautist) Robert Dick. (Of course, a purely acoustic experience is already compromised by making a recording.) That trio has three recent albums on Elewhale, but the catalog also includes Ken Filiano, Steve Swell, Gerry Hemingway, Ingrid Laubrock, Andrea Parkins, Han-earl Park, Harvey Valdes, etc. I was very surprised not to have seen anything about this music, particularly as e.g. Bruce Gallanter is enthusiastic about Dick, but I guess the absence of physical albums (i.e. to sell) precluded that. Likewise, there was nothing on Maroney's own website, where I have periodically checked for discography updates. So Maroney has recorded several albums for Elewhale, and mentions none of them himself! Strange. Whereas Itinerant (& Anello) is rather sparse at times, even quiet, most of these albums are more active, even boisterous or frantic. Maroney is also more pianistic in other settings. The Dick-Lytle-Maroney trio albums remind me a bit of Give and Take, given the two wind instruments pivoting around a sometimes percussive piano. There is often a symphonic sense lurking, perhaps driven by using mostly classical instruments, and articulated e.g. via the number of tracks. Not only are both Itinerant & Anello in four movements, but both e.g. adopt a sort of blunted lyrical romanticism — or at least nostalgia — in the third movement. (One might compare them formally to some of Jeff Shurdut's output, such as Yad. But Shurdut is using "environmental" tuning, whereas Lytle et al. stick with the standards in that arena.) The trios & quartets featuring Swell & Filiano are also well worth hearing, as are the larger groups with electronics. The whole catalog was something of a revelation, especially listening to Dick in a fully improvised setting. I'm still feeling a bit shell-shocked for having encountered this large output all at once....
Since most of Lytle's albums are not sparse or quiet, that impulse apparently comes from Flinn. And while it's tempting to prioritize a physical release, Itinerant might not be the trio's best album: It's more precise, more succinctly sculpted & "perfect" than Anello, which comes off as more exploratory. With Maroney's use of piano strings, and Flinn's various percussive rumblings, their contributions often blend together in a general squeaking, shimmering, rubbing haze that's subtly animated by Lytle's horn. For Maroney, the obvious reference is Anomonous (first discussed here in June 2013), with Josh Sinton on contrabass clarinet, plus Ben Miller on electronics. Maroney's clanking is more precise here, more refined one might say, and mixes well with Flinn's similar activity. (Itinerant is most similar to Anomonous in the opening of its finale. Both take Maroney away from the post-bop he had been exploring with his own groups via composed music.) Anello in particular features a kind of timeless quality (or what I've called "epic" time) in its gonging, overtone-filled atmosphere: Lytle says he's reminded of an experience hearing the church bells of Rome that he wanted to recreate. Its finale almost sounds like an organ at times. The Apophonics On Air, especially Gino Robair's rubbed percussion opposite John Butcher, also comes to mind as an album with similar sonorities — but that's a more aggressive & louder album. All that said, The Flinn Lytle Maroney Trio does forge a unique sound, particularly given the sparse precision involved. In that sense, Itinerant fits perfectly on Creative Sources, and is generally less "dramatic" than anything on Elewhale.
Soon Soon.... (I've encountered a postal delay in auditioning some other material by Solberg, and other priorities are about to impinge, so that might be next month.)20 October 2017
Speaking of large recorded outputs of which I was previously unaware, a review at the Free Jazz Blog directed me to Noël Akchoté's Bandcamp site which is not only huge, but full of interpretations of (Western composed) music that has particularly influenced me over the years, from Machaut to Xenakis. I'd feel remiss if I didn't at least acknowledge his work, which is generally quite "straight" in the EM material & with an excellent sense of polyphonic voicing. (I've only listened to a relatively modest selection, so I don't know what else might be lurking. The recordings tend to have a lot of presence, but often a noticeable hiss.) There's a truly massive assortment of early music, including e.g. the complete Machaut, Hildegard & Gesualdo (madrigals), plus a who's who of guitar duets, music by Cage, Stockhausen, etc., and much much more — even Barbara Streisand. (Let me mention the Le Jeune Chansons album, for instance, as a "random" EM choice that I found to be particularly worth hearing.) And that's not to mention the Complete Anthony Braxton series that had prompted the review... Akchoté (b.1968) has been very busy, as many of these are recent recordings (especially from 2016 & 2013). Impressive.22 October 2017
In a May entry, I mentioned a few of Ivo Perelman's recent albums, particularly those exploring more microtonal situations. I also implied that I'd keep an ear out for future releases, so want to at least briefly mention two albums from his most recent batch of six releases on Leo: Octagon is again without a chordal instrument, a situation Perelman seems to be exploring rather slowly (or, I suppose, deliberately), and includes long-time collaborator Gerald Cleaver with Nate Wooley & bassist Brandon Lopez — who was also in Wooley's similarly constituted (alto rather than tenor) quartet on Knknighgh. The result is a classic "free" quartet. Scalene once again uses a chordal instrument with increasingly frequent collaborator Matthew Shipp (who is on five of the six recent albums), but adds another new participant in Joe Hertenstein on drums: Hertenstein seems like a natural addition to the Perelman universe since he's already recorded two albums with Shipp (& bassist Thomas Helton's Core Trio, most recently discussed here last November), and does bring a different energy to the Perelman-Shipp duo. (Both albums thus invoke something of a Cleanfeed-Leo crossover.) It's enjoyable enough, but all of this music also ends up seeming rather conventional compared to what I've been featuring here lately. I suppose one could simply say that Perelman is keeping in close touch with tradition.27 October 2017
As promised last month, I want to note a few thoughts regarding Soon, another recent Creative Sources album (recorded May 2016 in Lisbon, so not a 2017 recording as some other recent releases are) featuring Ernesto Rodrigues in a quartet with frequent collaborators Nuno Torres & Carlos Santos (here on synth, and doing the mixing & mastering): On Soon the "new person" is Norwegian percussionist Ståle Liavik Solberg (b.1979). I had neglected Solberg, so this was a good opportunity to revisit his music, and indeed his creative & subtle playing is highlighted very well by the quartet on Soon. (For instance, Solberg uses fast & precise "clicking" on all of his albums: Perhaps it's a daxophone or something similar? It's a way to inject flurries of different numerical groupings into the ensemble phrasing.) One thing I quickly realized is that Solberg was the only member of the Hot Four quartet on Eye of the Moose that hadn't appeared again in this space. That was an oversight, but also partly caused by timing: I had only just discovered Creative Sources at the time — and indeed remained intimidated by Ernesto Rodrigues's massive discography, so it took longer to open that box. And I was still sorting through the even more massive output by English free improvisers as a group, and so had relatively little sense of what might interest me in that area. (Whether I have much more sense now probably remains a question, but I feel as though I made a decisive step around Whitewashed with Lines in June 2015 — a relevant comparison to Soon not only because of its stark precision & process orientation, but because of John Butcher's participation: He has a recent duo with Solberg on Clean Feed, So beautiful, it starts to rain, where one does find something of an intersection of these ideas.) Prior to that, however, Solberg had participated in what seems like a clear precedent for Eye of the Moose, namely a quartet called VCDC with Norwegian singer Stine Janvin Motland (instead of Andreas Backer), plus Frode Gjerstad & Fred Lonberg-Holm. (And Eye of the Moose was then mixed & mastered by Gjerstad.) I should have noticed this group, especially their second album Insult recorded in 2012, but I probably associated both Gjerstad & Lonberg-Holm with more rock-oriented (e.g. Chicago) music at that point: It took me a while to realize just how varied many musicians' outputs are in this field. (Moreover, revisiting some remarks around Kontakte Trio, Solberg had also recorded with Steve Beresford on a couple of albums from 2013, Three Babies & Will it Float?. Kontakte Trio has another similarity with Soon in that it leaves me listening to the environment, and also soon left me eager to hear it again. As for why I didn't notice Beresford sooner? I'm going to answer the same, timing: He released a handful of albums right before I started paying attention — and I regularly revisit questions such as this in order to work on my own attention process.) Anyway, the duo album with Butcher was recorded in 2015, so prior to Soon, and the others are from even earlier in the decade. Soon is recognizable as a Rodrigues album, particularly with its quiet precision, perhaps reminiscent of a quartet like Nor, but in a variant mode with Santos explicitly playing electronics: Beyond & reacting to the varied percussive shaping, there are high held tones, squeaks, hockets & broader polyphony, bent gong tones, even a sense of breath amid much austerity. There is a timeless yet serious sense, a mood I've sometimes figured as "epic," but here with an ambivalent sense of presence. The (short) last track is downright Scelsian in its eeriness, and some of the intervening interactions remind me of Nashaz (recorded not long prior) for their sense of dissonant lightness & reintegration. The different tracks on Soon, albeit with some overlap, present different moods & processes, with the more polyphonic second & third tracks catching my attention more, but this quartet also makes me revisit concepts of "use" for music in that I found the album to be refreshing & useful as a creative spur for my own work, not to mention as something that brings me into closer contact with the environment (perhaps paradoxically, given the "artificial" sounds). The impact of such use did fade a bit with time, but Solberg has my attention now.3 November 2017
Since I know that many people have followed Fred Frith's career for much longer & in much more detail than I have, I'm not going to say a lot about his recent Storytelling album, but did want to note it not only for its "European Jazz Legends" series, which seems to be remarkably well supported for music such as this (given the various logos on the cover anyway), but for its vocal opening — which I thoroughly enjoyed. After a few minutes, the album opens up to some slower development, more minimalist or even groove-oriented, more soloing especially, plus mirroring exchanges between Frith & Lotte Anker. The album increasingly seems to reflect a more popular idiom as it proceeds, but I'd be remiss not to note the opening. (Anker, who has previous albums with Frith, is also especially impressive later in fast exchanges on soprano.) Actually Storytelling reminds me a bit of It Rolls in that I'm also enthusiastic about the opening, but find the later sections increasingly thin. (I guess I'm also surly enough to note that, production-wise, it's a lot easier to start a CD on track #2 than it is to program every track but the last one — if people are going to insist on including non-musical tracks, here an interview, on the same medium. Why can't the interview simply be found somewhere else though?) Anyway, to sum up, I've personally enjoyed Frith most with the MMM Quartet on Live at the Metz' Arsenal & Oakland / Lisboa, where he contributes to a broader ensemble tapestry. But as its series promises, Storytelling does do much to illuminate his personal style, including that tantalizing opening burst of extended vocals.5 November 2017
The theoretical series that's also been occupying me of late in this space is called Practical listening (as introduced in the May 2016 rollover here), but the present series of (mostly album-oriented) entries is actually the more "practical" side: The former is (obviously) theory. Still, the two projects interpenetrate, and hopefully prompt & improve each other, and one reason I mention the theoretical series again is not only that I've recently completed the eighth section, Legibility, spectrality, machines, but also because it's a reminder of the future-directed perspective of this project in general: Whereas it can be so tempting to dive into the history of even contemporary improvisation — and sometimes I get scolded, or simply feel guilty on my own, for not pursuing the historical media & documentation more — when I came back to contemporary music with this project (after a couple of decades focusing elsewhere), the last thing I wanted to do was jump immediately into its history. After all, historical music had been my focus... and I know history, historiography in general, very well. So it would have been the wrong move for me personally, just in terms of my own mentality if nothing else, and instead I've been able to focus on listening to new music in the moment, i.e. as actually new. Refraining from historicizing (so much) has also helped to keep my thoughts trained on what's next: How do we really create change? Or in more concrete terms, as often asked (at least implicitly) here, what might be interesting next steps for some ensembles or musical ideas? Moreover, what does this music actually do, and how might one use it? (Fred Frith remarks in the interview noted in the previous entry that he's given up on creating a better past, and that's a nice quip along these lines.) And that's the focus of my theoretical writing, even if it does intersect with history too, as here. (And I guess it's also a disclaimer for my research oversights in this space, e.g. such as noted around Soon — a future-oriented title if ever there was one, by the way — although I'll flatly add that discussing the history of an album or its musicians can allow one to avoid tackling the music per se, so it's often a coward's move.) Anyway, I had rushed a bit to write PL6 & PL7 late last year, frankly in part because I thought that with the fascists officially coming into power in the US, I might end up in jail, or the site could be forcibly closed as unpatriotic. That hasn't happened yet, but there are ominous (if slow-moving) rumblings, such as ending net neutrality & otherwise supporting monopolistic practices online, that suggest the time may not be so far off. (Slowly marginalizing, rather than promptly eliminating, dissent has the advantage of not creating martyrs.) Since I still have access to address the world (so to speak, that is, if anyone cares to read my thoughts), I tried to take a little more time with PL8, and in fact it's largely concerned with so-called motors (as noted here in August around process music) for global change. (It's not dominated by US politics, and didn't need recent events in order to motivate its logic. Nor did sections six or seven: They were sketched prior to the election.) Whether slowing my pace actually improved the result for the reader, though, I don't know. Finally, I also want to note specifically that, yes, if anyone wonders, I did write the last paragraph while riding public transit. (Those who know me well would likely assume as much.)7 November 2017
I've noticed German horn player Udo Schindler in the past, but had yet to explore his music in any detail. Not only does Schindler feature a quote from Scelsi on the front page of his website, but the site explicitly evokes his (personal) intersection of architecture with music, so my interest was piqued. It's not as though Schindler had been invisible (or inaudible), since he has recorded many recent duo albums: Indeed, not only does Schindler have five previous duo albums on Creative Sources & three on FMR, but he has a couple of trios on Creative Sources as well (Rot from 2009, and the double album — a duo & a trio — Quiet Notes And The Fascination Of What's Complex from earlier this year). However, I finally took the plunge, so to speak, with the two recent trios on FMR, Hell dunkel by Munich Rat Pack (a horn trio) & Waterway with two string players. Both feature more than ten short tracks, and both are from two live concerts, meaning that neither album seems all that coherent as a statement. (I should admit that such an impression certainly remains subjective, since e.g. Geäder is derived from three live sessions by another ongoing — like Munich Rat Pack — trio, and I've found it compelling.) There are many intriguing aspects, however, which might actually contribute to the lack of coherence — while also providing much to hear. I generally find Hell dunkel (which is, I think, the title, despite it being listed as Munich Rat Pack in some places) to be the more ear-catching of the two, particularly in its sometimes stark combination of various horn timbres, sometimes (conspicuously) with electronics. Besides Schindler, who plays a wide range of horns (clarinets, saxophones, cornet, euphonium, and even analog synth), there is Sebastiano Tramontana on trombone (plus some voice & whistling, as credited), whose playing I've admired on the great Sudo Quartet Live at Banlieue Bleue (mentioned most recently in August in a very brief survey of trombone), and Philipp Kolb (on trumpet, tuba & electronics), with whom I was not previously familiar. Hell dunkel is subtitled "Sound notes for wind trio plus," and this would appear to announce its broad, exploratory scope: As a set of studies, the range is impressive, with most tracks undertaking some sort of metamorphic project from one style of timbre or interaction to another, beginning with the opening, which moves from heavily manipulated high-pitched electronics into traditional brass (amid a surprising bass resonance). It can also be very quiet, but is occasionally even outright jazzy, but generally retains a precise quality (which, with its use of electronics, almost recalls Soon, as discussed here earlier this month). A feeling of precision permeates the project, including in the way horn timbres are used & contrasted, etc: There is not a sense of "in between" sounds, but an either/or of deliberate choice, usually with very specific articulations. The resulting (generally) calm exploration can be compared to e.g. Cookbook, albeit including string bass there, for its often quiet sense of space & leisurely interaction. Perhaps more potently, it can be contrasted with World of Objects, a horn trio favorite from 2014 which also employs electronics: In that case, electronics are used in part to meld the trio into a more coherent & unified ensemble after the fact, whereas in Hell dunkel they are used more restrictively at the time of articulation in order to distinguish & highlight lines & timbres, which in turn generally maintain a sense of independence. World of Objects is at least superficially more raucous & aggressive, and is certainly mixed more loudly, while exploring more issues of continuity in its longer tracks (especially the opening), whereas the Munich Rat Pack tend to remain precise (even with e.g. their use of static) & separate. Hell dunkel consequently rewards close attention to technique, indeed requires it, making for an album with only modest non-technical utility. Nonetheless, the "studies" involve an impressive sense of technique throughout, to the point of reveling in pure (restrained) sound via their own open quality. I'm particularly taken with the low brass (including euphonium), and e.g. a more concentrated album around such a sub-ensemble would be welcome as a future project.
Many similar comments apply to Waterway, which is an acoustic album, and begins with Schindler (on the same set of horns, but no synth) in duo with Dine Doneff on double bass (plus waterphone & toys), to be joined on the middle tracks by Johannes Öllinger on guitar & toys — and then back to duo for the last two. (The ensemble thus recalls that of the trio Roughhousing, although with a rather different emphasis. The latter involves rather more simultaneity, bolstering its "rough" quality of interaction, I suppose. Schindler also provides far more timbral variety via his many horns.) As noted, it derives from two live sessions, in this case more than a year apart (November 2015 & January 2017). Once again, there is a calm sense of exploration — which likewise contrasts with a trio such as Baloni on e.g. Fremdenzimmer (something of a classic now in this space), where the unmeasured interaction comes off as much more assertive & excitable — maybe even a bit of a languid quality. There is likewise exploration & inclusion of bent (almost primitivist) tones around ostinati that recall e.g. Drought for me — which likewise references water & was recorded (in 2015) in Germany. Waterway remains spacious & pensive, with everyone again clearly audible within a precise framework of collective interaction, here with a sense of breath set against different timbres (perhaps also recalling Nashaz — recorded in Germany too). The ear is once again drawn to individual timbres & their independence, more so than to combined sounds, although an "accompaniment" mentality does persist at times (on both of these Schindler albums). Once again, the euphonium is perhaps the most striking for me: There is a basically pleasant quality & a stark grace that once again recall Cookbook — in both cases amidst briefly sharp sonorities & breathy evocations of static. In all of these examples, a sense of clarity & concentration is evident, and such concentration does provide its own form of utility in focusing the listener (perhaps after suitable work) on articulations of forward momentum that can be subtle or obscure. Indeed, the musical style likely benefits (in particular) from an attentive collective audience, even subsequent to being produced, as it appears to interrogate collective focus per se.
From the same batch of releases on FMR, I also want to note Exuvia: This trio album attracted my attention due to the participation of Szilárd Mezei — and indeed he may be appearing again on FMR due to the success of the recent Still now (if you still), which I mistakenly framed around Mezei during my introduction presented in May, rather than leader Vasco Trilla — and includes Tim Trevor-Briscoe on reeds & Nicola Guazzaloca on piano as well. Exuvia (which again features Mezei with piano) was recorded in Bologna, where Guazzaloca is from & where (Englishman) Trevor-Briscoe lives now, in July 2015. I hadn't noticed previously, but it's actually the trio's third album, after Underflow on Leo (recorded April 2010) & Cantiere Simone Weil on Aut Records of Berlin (recorded one day after Exuvia, in a more public setting, rather than a private university space). The latter seems airier & more tuneful, perhaps because of the setting. (There is also a Trevor-Briscoe & Guazzaloca duo album on Leo, recorded in 2006.) The trio exhibits a similar emphasis on quick interchange & interaction as e.g. Kaufmann-Gratkowski-de Joode, as they pass around harmonic-rhythmic figures, making for an appealing — but not especially distinctive — result. Still, for some reason, Mezei always catches my attention: His previous (I think) leader album was Secret Public on Aural Terrains (released in 2016), which is apparently composed music, but rather diffuse and improvisatory sounding (& generally quieter than Exuvia, which is often boisterous) from a trio with bass & drums. Might he be featured in such a (less chordal) setting on FMR? In any case, I do appreciate the consciousness reflected on Exuvia.13 November 2017
Ever since Sediment, I've been following Carlo Costa's Neither/Nor label, so wanted to note the release of While We Still Have Bodies by a quartet of Ben Gerstein (trombone, radio, cellphone), Sean Ali (double bass, cassette player), Michael Foster (tenor & soprano saxes, cassette player) & Flin van Hemmen (percussion, mp3 player). The use of electronic gadgets does depart from Costa's emphasis on acoustic music, but then, Costa doesn't participate here — although frequent partner Ali does, as does van Hemmen, who has also released a trio recording on Neither/Nor, Drums of Days. (I had mentioned Gerstein in July 2015 for his participation on Rema Hasumi's Utzaka, although I've heard him in other contexts, and Foster in September 2016 for his participation on Weasel Walter's Igneity.) The interaction thus recalls Anthony Braxton's Echo Echo Mirror House for its sometimes dense use of portable recorded sources, as well as its length, but While We Still Have Bodies appears to be inspired more as a sound installation than a musical composition per se, and was integrated into Cheng Ran's "Diary of a Madman" exhibit at the New Museum, New York City — starting a month after it was recorded in September 2016, so I suppose that might not have been the inspiration at all. Somewhat akin to productions by the Earth Tongues trio (which is acoustic & includes Costa), there is an extended single track that seems to emphasize "coming together" in a single complex articulation, here a noise approach to groove (one might say) that doesn't include rhythmic drive per se. As a sound installation, then, it contrasts with other approaches (such as that on Carved Water, which otherwise uses many similar sonorities) in that it doesn't illuminate the space in which it's embedded: Rather the sense of background comes as a kind of intrusion, to which the musicians respond by intensifying their drive to do their own thing, i.e. focus on a foreground that may itself be noisy, but remains distinct from what isn't it, i.e. background. As it turns inward, then, While We Still Have Bodies suggests struggle against an oppressive culture, rather than a more general transformation or interrogation. (Perhaps that's where the madman comes into play.) In that, I would further contrast it with e.g. Marco Scarassati's Casa Acústica — which just received a nice review on the Free Jazz Blog — and which consists of a personal "improvisation diary" that very much incorporates external sounds & events into everyday, situated sonic ritual. (Scarassati's project is fascinating, but as an ongoing solo project, largely remains outside my emphasis here. Still, it's worth noting again for its unique sonorities & perspective.) Ultimately, whereas I found the sharp clanking & noisy breath of While We Still Have Bodies to be an appealing sonic combination, the longer interaction (more than an hour) didn't seem to add much to the shorter extract. This would, again, be a matter of how the musicians approached the foreground-background dual, and indeed counterpoint or polyphony per se. Maybe it galvanized the musicians, but it left me unchanged. (Maybe I'm already mad.)19 November 2017
I encountered Treatises on Trans-Traditional Aesthetics by Sandeep Bhagwati (b.1963, Bombay), recorded in Berlin in July 2016 & released on the (previously unknown to me) Dreyer Gaido label, in a mostly classical new release listing that I generally scan for medieval items. So it feels like a coincidence, and perhaps the album would have never appeared in the usual sources for experimental music. Who knows? I had never heard of Bhagwati, who after an academic career in Germany, is now a professor in Montréal, but the title caught my eye: It could have been anything, though, and I was prepared for the contents to be totally uninteresting (at least to me). Actually, given the title, I wasn't even certain it would be music. The accompanying text did reassure me, however, and the participation of musicians on various world instruments sounded intriguing: The Ensemble Extrakte consists of musicians (already) in Berlin gathered by Bhagwati basically to jam together for more than three years, and hear what happens. They are Sören Birke (harmonica, duduk, jew's harp), Ravi Srinivasan (tabla, tabla tarang, percussion, vocals, whistling), Cathy Milliken (oboe), Deniza Popova (Bulgarian vocals), Wu Wei (sheng mouth organ), Ji-eun Kang (haegum fiddle), Hoo Yang (daegum flute, changgu percussion), Farhan Sabbagh (ud, riqq tambourine), Gregor Schulenburg (flute, kyotaku shakuhachi, duduk), Klaus Janek (double bass), with a "DJ mix" by Gebrüder Teichmann included on one track. It turned out that the contents weren't uninteresting at all, and in fact this is likely the most ambitious, improvisatory multi-fusion project I've heard to date. Well, one might define the latter in various ways, of course, but as Bhagwati puts it, in this case, many of the musicians even came with "different ideas of what music is." In other words, in many cases, they had had little or no practical interaction between styles, whereas here we find several (at least) distinct world styles in evidence: Indian, Korean & Western European (especially contemporary improvisation) are probably the most audible, but Chinese, Arabian, Bulgarian, Japanese & Armenian are woven into the fabric, with significant variations within these regional traditions appearing, including some differing interfaces with neighbors. Although there is a great deal of timbral variety to go along with so many cultural references, including two vocalists, there is also a distinctly reedy (or double reedy, or even "organ," one might suggest) slant: If Evan Parker's method of composition is selecting the players, then Bhagwati clearly composed this timbral pallet. Bhagwati states that the album resulted from the musicians deciding collectively upon their best material as a group, and so to record that for an album, although he is credited with "scores and remixes" (and elsewhere, "scores and realization ideas" specifically on six of the thirteen tracks), and the Ensemble Extrakte is credited with "comprovisations and improvisations." Improvisation plays different roles in the different tracks: Some were scored based on previous improvised interactions, for instance ("comprovisation" I guess), and some are improvisations within a fixed concept that was previously discovered or articulated via improvisation, etc. The three years of the project thus impinge temporally in different ways in the different tracks, starting from the brief, opening haegum solo. (Such a temporal interrogation & refiguration might be compared to that of Casa Acústica, mentioned in the previous entry, and in that case, actually recorded across three years.) There are two other solo tracks, one duo, five trios, a quintet, and three "tutti" tracks, ranging in length from under a minute to nearly twelve minutes. The (nine minute, tutti) finale appears to be the "most composed," based on a Hindi poem by Kabir, read by each musician in their own language, and accompanied by various twittering bird sounds. Other tracks are sometimes more avant garde or musically abstract. (The notion of "treatise" apparently arises from the explicit or implicit assertion that each track represents a discovery in crossing aesthetic boundaries & frontiers.) There is a stated, and very welcome, desire to "avoid simple appropriations" — and so the collage form (although the translations of the final track do suggest collage) — and hence the musicians work from affinities (& I do mean to evoke Steve Coleman with the term) in the "nuts & bolts" of their musical techniques (a stance that I had specifically associated in this space with the more thoroughly Western-inflected The Moment In and Of Itself, which adopts a more aggressive tone, but was also recorded in Berlin). There is still what some might consider a "new age" sound at times, although I'm not sure that that's actually dissociable from Indian fusion, but Treatises on Trans-Traditional Aesthetics retains a probing quality around technique, timbre, and the relation of notes & sounds. In other words, there is dissonance or friction, likewise recalling Nashaz for its Berliner-Lebanese combinations & indeed some of its sonorities, that isn't (only) about helping the listener feel calm. Various musicians end up performing music that is neither (directly) from their own core tradition, nor anyone else's, and most compellingly (at least according to the terms of my project here), sometimes in combination together. It's the probing quality that makes for such an intriguing result, and of course the "result" in turn becomes preliminary material for further investigations, whether by these musicians or others.21 November 2017
The most recent batch of Clean Feed releases included more interesting items, and I'll have something to say about a couple of others, but wanted to start with Autres Paysages: This is the third album pairing violist João Camões & electronic musician Jean-Marc Foussat, this time joined by Jean-Luc Cappozzo on trumpet etc. — following the duo A La Face du Ciel on allied label Shhpuma (recorded December 2014) & the trio Bien Mental with Claude Parle on accordion (recorded in January & February 2015, discussed here in December 2015). Although the breakdown of the sessions with regard to the three tracks is not specified, Autres Paysages was recorded in October 2015 & March 2016, so indeed after those other collaborations, and "surrounding" Camões' recording of the landmark quintet album Chant. Both on the latter & e.g. on Earnear, Camões brings an intensely personal & specifically classically-infused style that operates as a pole on Autres Paysages as well. To that, Cappozzo — who appears on long-time improvised quartet favorite Live at Total Meeting, as well as on e.g. Grey Matter (discussed here in February 2014, & with Gerry Hemingway, who also has a new trio album in the same batch from Clean Feed) — brings something of a popular idiom, more explicitly jazzy, and often more tuneful. (Cappozzo also has a new "return to standards" album on Ayler, Garden(s) with Daunik Lazro & Didier Lasserre, so perhaps he is moving away from novelty at the moment.) The often separate(d) tunefulness of the trumpet adds another point of perspective to a pairing that was already highly varied in both timbre & concept, but also serves to frame Autres Paysages as more of a "horn trio" (at least sometimes) than its inventive instrumentation might otherwise suggest. However, whereas Camões might saw away in a manner suggesting the 20th century string quartet, while Cappozzo can call out over the texture, and while Foussat provides simultaneous rhythmic & harmonic support for their (sometime) front line duet, the trio does also reconfigure itself frequently, such that foreground might fade into background as new vistas come into view: The landscape of the title is palpable in this sense of movement, basically an album as travelogue. (So it could be said to use a variant of collage, in this case with an enhanced sense of — or urge toward — movement.) The trio's concept of travel is deep & far ranging, since the opening, with its squeals & increasingly thumping bass, seems to evoke the womb (or e.g. another electronics-infused improvisatory album, Primary Envelopment, with its "enclosing" highs & lows), and later passages go on to suggest (outer) space: Suggestions of "space," particularly in music using synthesizer, continue to be popular, and have a solid — & sometimes emancipatory — history, particularly in the euphoric music of Sun Ra & afro-futurism more generally. I've mentioned this phenomenon before, but wanted to include a couple of extra sentences here: Space travel, as an aspirational activity reified into a national program in the 1960s, largely involved taking focus away from earthly problems (such as racism & poverty), and continues to facilitate ignoring environmental destruction by suggesting (eventually) leaving the earth behind. Whereas such political staging can only be seen as disturbing & disgusting, particularly for the way it undermined US education for decades (i.e. by sending "the best & brightest" off to solve non-problems), of course I'm sympathetic to African-American demands for participation in the future. That such demands should become articulated via "space" is understandable in historical context, but unfortunately, such articulation underscored the (general) figuration of space exploration as future possibility per se. (That these sonorities, and so notions, were soon also taken up by commercial rock musicians only serves to drive "classic synth" further into kitsch.) In any case, Autres Paysages does indeed present us with many other landscapes, including an ongoing thread of transit — again arising out of an orientation toward travel more generally — that suggests an album such as Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris as well. (The latter is far more focused & so far less traditionally tuneful, however, whereas the former is more theatrical — at least at times.) There is a similar vibe of buzzing, growling, pulsing... yet almost a nostalgia at times, as more traditional musical concerns raise their heads & hands. Does "classical" become the name for a pole of abstraction then? (Clean Feed seems to view things this way.) I suspect it's much more about the very different histories of the three very different (primary) instruments, not to mention their performers, than it is about genre per se. The notes talk about tragedy & infinite sorrow: I'm not sure why, and it might be a matter of "dissonance" alone, but perhaps I've traced something of this path according to whatever trouble comes between the womb & fleeing into outer (other?) space. In traversing such a path, the roles (& capacities) of the instruments themselves seem to expand & shrink in various waves, reconfiguring & situating themselves for a longer or shorter duration, and then continuing again to question & so to move. (Or one might simply focus on the frequently strange sonic combinations.)4 December 2017
Recently released on Creative Sources, Goldsbleed seems to suggest a new layer of musical interaction from Alexander Frangenheim: In fact, he states that this performance from October 2015 arose from a period during which he consciously decided to meet & perform with more Berlin musicians. Recalling Frangenheim's work with Isabelle Duthoit, particularly Light air still gets dark (which was recorded a couple of months later), Goldsbleed involves vocalist Tomomi Adachi, with whom I was not previously familiar (and whose name order is reversed in some sources). However, whereas much of Frangenheim's music on Creative Sources to date involves sounds at the edge of audibility, including his work with Duthoit (& especially on their previous album Kochuu, recorded in 2014, which suggests another Japanese connection), Goldsbleed adopts a more traditional dynamic range. (It's also, unusually for Creative Sources, not designed by Carlos Santos. And apparently the title relates to a play of light that Frangenheim experienced, but the included text doesn't illuminate the "nonsense" track titles.) As an improvised quartet album with (non-semantic) vocalist, it thus appears in rather close relation to Eye of the Moose, as both also involve space & open textures, if not extremes of quietness. Goldsbleed adds Frank Gratkowski & Tony Buck to Adachi & Frangenheim, thus using horn rather than guitar (as on Eye of the Moose, which retains more of a metallic shimmer), and so involves two rather famous musicians (who had already recorded together on Skein). Moreover, I hadn't really noticed before, having "discovered" his music via Creative Sources, but Frangenheim had been a member of Zeitkratzer with Gratkowski — and Zeitkratzer is a rather assertive group, not so concerned with edges of audibility. The sense of sequence confirmed by Goldsbleed is also somewhat disorienting, in that Underwater Music (which I discussed in October as an album whose concerns had already been further explored, at least by Ernesto Rodrigues, elsewhere) is actually the most recently recorded Frangenheim album available at the moment. There one finds more in the way of classical etudes, almost a quasi-Webernian (with rather more expansiveness) sense of string trio (and so an album I should have featured more at the time). Goldsbleed, at least if one can accommodate a free vocalist into standard conceptions (& I retain a strong interest in that direction), is a more traditionally twenty-first century "free jazz" album in its sense of rhythm, energy, drama, etc. However, despite that the vocalist (who also uses some modest electronics) is the unknown & so the draw, the album sometimes seems dominated by the rather conventional horn trio, such that the voice might be silent or intertwine quietly in the background. The vocalist is the quartet member most likely to defer, in other words. (The background vocals have their own charm, somewhat reminiscent of those on Yad, although not so urban per se.) So whereas the participation of Gratkowski & Buck in a project such as this can only be welcomed, Goldsbleed is nothing special as a Gratkowski or Buck album: Those two seem rather conventional here, as does Frangenheim himself at times. That said, when the voice really does take the foreground, the interactions can be dazzling, particularly with the horn trailing & energizing: There are squeaky birds, subtly random banging, quirky ostinati, maybe a funky "tribal" groove across layering concepts for a jungle setting within which human activity can seem to fade into a windswept past. The rhythm team doesn't seem to push much on its own, though. Goldsbleed thus presents as something of a tapestry for the concerns of its time, particularly if (as I do) one includes vocals as such a concern, and if not as a highlight (or perhaps "out of time" anyway), at least as an interesting point of repose in the ongoing articulations of both Creative Sources as a label and Frangenheim as an improvising bassist.5 December 2017
Although still not recorded as recently as Underwater Music, nor released quite as recently (i.e. ten catalog numbers earlier) as Goldsbleed, Trialectics documents Frangenheim in a lively & abstract trio with Richard Scott on synth & (the previously unknown to me, but appearing on e.g. the Mingus tribute album I Am Three released on Leo Records last year) Nikolaus Neuser (b.1972) on trumpet. Scott is of course familiar from Natura venomous — an album with a similar mood & density — & elsewhere. Indeed, despite the very different instrumentation, there is clear continuity in the style of interaction that Scott brings to both albums, although the etude-like character of the nine short tracks on Trialectics (all longer than three minutes & shorter than six minutes) might suggest a more direct comparison with Underwater Music & its nine tracks. However, Trialectics employs a broken consort, to use the old terminology, rather than three string instruments, and so revels in a differentiated pallet of timbres that can be exploited in different combinations. (One might also compare to another recent trumpet trio with bowed string & electronics, Autres Paysages, generally a rather more tonal & less extended album, as discussed here earlier this week: Despite the differences, it's fascinating how parallels present themselves around the same time.) I found Trialectics to be immediately captivating, particularly for the dense three-way counterpoint that begins immediately, and which is further articulated in various combinations throughout the album. I'm not particularly familiar with the concept of "trialectics" per se, which was apparently coined by Henri Lefebvre to figure (specifically) spatial concerns beyond the real & imagined — what might be called the "virtual" today. (There is an architectural, and so quite possibly familiar to these performers, refinement of this notion by Edward Soja to suggest a third sort of space that is both real & imagined. There are also theoretical connections to postcolonial hybridity, although I don't hear that aspect here.) In other words, it's an attempt to move beyond both dualism & the straightjacket of formal dialectic resolution (although it seems to echo more than escape the latter, given the sense of motion toward a third-term). In any case, philosophical (or phenomenological) terminology aside, there is a clear attempt to forge something both more than the sum of its (three, so perhaps that's the simplest way to receive the title) parts & fully integrated as such: There is thus no sense of collage, and stylistic influences are basically atomized in order to be reconfigured from the ground of the three-way interaction. In this, likewise as recently noted, there is less emphasis on quiet, particularly from Frangenheim, and indeed, Trialectics has sufficient presence that I was able to enjoy it while my driveway was being repaved. (I like to see how different music will function in "extreme" sonic environments.) This surprised me, due to the delicacy involved, but the interplay of high registers is particularly rich here, not so much continuous (or glissando) high pitches, but various beeps, blips & bloops that add percussive strikes & rhythmic sharpness to the high-end contours. Electronics are prominent in this interplay, which often has a sparkling or burbling quality, including chiming tones & whistles, but so is trumpet, and even bass via harmonics. The latter also emphasizes a low end growl sometimes (albeit not so audibly during paving), and generally retains a strong presence too. That said, Trialectics is not an album of extremes, even if the highs do tend to reinflect the counterpoint in various ways (including so as to differentiate the sound from e.g. spectral music, which otherwise influences so many recent Creative Sources releases). Moreover, not only might midrange timbres develop an independent twang, but e.g. radio calls are evoked, suggesting an (attenuated, at least) sense of (outer) space: Yet, it comes off as an electronic earthiness somehow. Perhaps this is where the trialectics concept per se comes into play, although I don't know that there was intent to articulate it in any technical detail. (Natura venomous had already explored an "earthy" setting in part via fanciful electronics, so that comparison returns here.) Such electronic earthiness, so to speak, might further be invoked, and quite starkly at that, by the figure of the old streetlamp on the cover. The result then presents not only a fresh variety of timbral combinations, but a potent sense of integration that continues to be consistently enjoyable & thought provoking. Finally, for those readers concerned specifically with the affective qualities (and I've already reframed the question with that terminology), it's not that an album such as Trialectics conveys a particular emotion, or even a particular sequence of emotions, but rather that it refigures (pre-emotional) affect according to new relations: Emotional responses open onto spaces beyond modern subjectivity, and in that shift, it's actually description (or conceptualization) that falters prior to feeling per se. Perhaps one question raised in turn is what the listener can continue to feel absent such a (conceptual) safety net (i.e. familiarity): Just how are one's affects configured & how are they traced (differently) by the unfamiliar?6 December 2017
Seemingly right on cue, as soon as I spent some time on music by Ståle Liavik Solberg, specifically around the quartet album Soon last month, Clean Feed released Imaginary Numbers, a trio album from Solberg with Pascal Niggenkemper & Joe McPhee. Niggenkemper's participation also attracted me, such that I'd've probably been interested in any trio with Solberg & Niggenkemper, but of course McPhee is more famous than either. Others have undoubtedly followed his career much more closely than I have, so I won't offer any sort of summary or retrospective, but obviously he improvises with a wide variety of musicians & appears on many albums. (I most recently mentioned McPhee in August, in conjunction with Six Situations, his album with Damon Smith & Alvin Fielder, in an entry featuring the Smith-Fielder album After Effects with Danny Kamins.) Both Soon & Six Situations were recorded in 2016, but Imaginary Numbers dates from December 2015 in Brooklyn. According to the label information, the trio was proposed by Solberg, and would appear to be an attempt to pair & contrast the differing musical emphases of Niggenkemper & McPhee. So whereas Niggenkemper does provide a traditional plucked bass at times, much of the interaction involves his unique style of bowed bass, with shifting resonances & buzzing preparations. It's a noisy, dissonant style, and so (perhaps?) McPhee often uses the pocket trumpet, with its rather pinched sound, to mirror the basic noisiness. At times it works, but McPhee simply sounds better on tenor sax, and I tend to prefer those passages, even if the three musicians remain in more separate timbral domains under those circumstances. While this "confrontation" between McPhee & Niggenkemper proceeds, so to speak, and it does have some moments that are more awkward than others, Solberg is often in mediative mode with a fairly traditional percussion pallet. He's there & present to support their dialog, although I did consequently enjoy his versatility in more traditional accompaniment as well. (And it's not as though McPhee & Niggenkemper are raging in conflict. In fact, the latter mirrors the former at various points.) As an improvised confrontation album, then, Imaginary Numbers is part of a classic free jazz lineage, not only in the person of McPhee, but in its chosen format. The middle track also invokes Coltrane by its title, and the more traditional tenor trio sound is rather enjoyable there, particularly as set up by the rhythm team in a creative opening duo. (The label suggests that the latter two are also confronting their indebtedness to American music in this setting, but I don't hear it as anything particularly dramatic or final.) As the Coltrane reference suggests, traditional aspects are often to the fore, and indeed that's typical of Clean Feed, in that their catalog continues to pursue material with clear links to jazz history or twentieth century popular music more generally, even if it might become rather abstract or distended. One can observe such an orientation, moreover, in the ensemble constitutions themselves: Here we have a classic horn trio (albeit with the less common pocket trumpet at times), and many other current releases observe this basic "free" format as well: The Sea, the Storm and the Full Moon (about which more soon) is another horn trio, albeit with guitar & bass, as is Witches Butter from Gerry Hemingway & (the Swiss) Tree Ear, again with guitar. Farther afield, but comparable to the latter, one might suggest e.g. the recent trio from José Lencastre on Creative Sources, the enigmatically named 08.30/18.09/10.10/10.18 involving Jorge Nuno on guitar (mentioned here in July around K'Ampokol Che K'Aay because of his duo album with Blaise Siwula, Waterscapes) & Pedro Santo on drums. (Lencastre has a continuity-oriented, simmering style reminiscent of Kamins.) Moving back to Clean Feed, as recently noted, even the rather contemporary Autres Paysages can be heard as a horn trio at times. So does any of this "make peace" with American jazz tradition? I'm not sure what that would mean. However, although Imaginary Numbers doesn't appear to forge a new style, it's an enjoyable album involving a stimulating spontaneous confrontation. I can't help but wonder what a more conservative listener would make of Niggenkemper's bass style in this context, particularly since McPhee's horn is generally more obvious on first impression. (Perhaps I'll find out soon. Experimenting on unsuspecting friends & acquaintances is something I can't resist, although locating the "unsuspecting" gets to be trickier.)10 December 2017
Not so unlike the situation with Imaginary Numbers, I was attracted to The Sea, the Storm and the Full Moon by its "rhythm" section, in this case Nicola L. Hein (prepared guitar) & Wilbert De Joode (double bass). But whereas Joe McPhee is almost too well-known, Ada Rave (b.1974, Argentina) was unknown to me. I do see that Rave, who is clearly the leader here, given that the trio is named for her — and moreover the album is dedicated to the son with whom she was pregnant at the time, much like Waiting For You To Grow by Kris Davis — was part of the Kaja Draksler Octet release on Clean Feed, but I hadn't noticed. (Actually, although it was released earlier this year, the latter was recorded a full year after The Sea, the Storm and the Full Moon, which dates from November 2015 in Amsterdam.) I first noticed Hein with Rotozaza Zero, recorded eight months earlier in 2015, and involving some similar sonics & stylistic conceptions: Whereas Rave also plays tenor sax & flutes, Rotozaza Zero uses only clarinet as its horn, and adds vigorous drums to the the horn-guitar-bass lineup. Consequently, the sound on The Sea, the Storm and the Full Moon is more open & intimate, whereas it's denser & more sustained on Rotozaza Zero. Of course, De Joode is well-known, and fits well into this style, particularly as an outgrowth of his famous trio work with Kaufmann & Gratkowski. (I should also mention Roughhousing for its similar ensemble — that of the first Jimmy Giuffre Trio, pace De Joode elsewhere, to dive into ancient jazz history a bit — and Give and Take for its Argentinian connection — although Rave has been living & working in Amsterdam.) While there is also tenderness, Rave often weaves passion & intensity into a strangely taut sense of ease via her interaction with the strings, which vary their repetitive ostinato figures with kaleidoscopic variety. The tracks that frame the album are the strongest in that sense, with assertive rhythmic figures often creating a sort of overlapping "spanning set" for temporal interactions. The middle of the album is not its strength in my opinion, particularly in the slower sections, although it builds a renewed rhythmic vigor during the intriguing sixth track, and so into the (eventual) lunar mania of the last (title) track. The second track already moves to noisy extended technique, suggesting various other current ensembles (with almost a Creative Sources-type sound), and that noisiness escalates into creative new textures with the sixth track leading into the finale & its deranged whistling energy. In the middle, there are some tentative moments, exploratory one might say, but moments that aren't immune to melancholy, particularly when looking to the horn (& changes of horn). So although the program loses some energy in the middle, it's still an impressive debut featuring creative combinations & figures: Rave e.g. slicing up Hein's rhythmic glissandi over a bass pedal with suspensions (i.e. harmonic layering) is particularly striking. So I'll look forward to more from Rave, and of course from the other two.11 December 2017
One of the "selection bias" issues that concerns me in this space is my treatment of labels (or other units, for that matter) that issue albums only occasionally versus those that release dozens a year: I have a tendency to pay attention to the single release, while neglecting e.g. album nineteen of twenty. This is normal, I suppose, and I've already noted the most obvious corrective: Concentrate more on the big labels (& so performers) I know & appreciate, rather than seek random one-offs. Yet such an approach never seems quite right: For one thing, the sense of "discovery" is displaced to someone else (i.e. the label editor whose judgment I've already embraced), "jealousy" of which could be taken as merely a point of vanity, except that discovery does remain a service, and discovering the already discovered is largely worthless — at least beyond my own enjoyment. (One could observe that the latter is the only possible situation here anyway, but there are still matters of degree.) Another issue concerns the fact that large, unknown outputs are intimidating: Where does one start? I've noted this issue with respect to individual musicians' discographies as well. Finally, does attempting e.g. to choose a "favorite" among ten similar albums really make sense? From the perspective of a reader who might not want to allocate so many resources, it probably does, but conceptually, particularly in parallel with choices made in different contexts, such a choice suggests an artificial outcome. Whereas these issues can be theoretical, and that's often the format within which I obsess over them, they can also be quite practical, and perhaps nowhere more powerfully so than in the dual example of Creative Sources as a label & Ernesto Rodrigues as a musician. Even as I continue to follow Rodrigues' work more closely, there are still dozens (if not hundreds) of albums I've never heard, and the same goes for the label: Does the fact that I'm paying more attention now mean that the earlier releases are of lesser value? Obviously there's no basis for that conclusion, other than (perhaps) my own orientation toward the most contemporary production. (I like to believe that individual musicians do develop their ideas, but such development is not necessarily linear, as various examples could illustrate.) Moreover, as e.g. noted last week around Alexander Frangenheim's output, these albums aren't always released in the (chronological) order in which they were performed & recorded either. For instance, today's album of interest, The Afterlife of Trees — recorded in Berlin in October 2016, i.e. the same month as Traintracks Roadsides Wastelands Debris — dates from about half a year after Underwater Music (as recently noted again around Frangenheim), but prior to e.g. Xenon (discussed here in May) & the Lisbon String Trio series. So where does it fit into Rodrigues' recent work with mostly-string ensembles? Well, it's generally less polyphonic than those other examples, with a sometimes ethereal feel that can suggest distance or a landscape. Of course, that distance might be implied by the "afterlife" concept itself, and one is indeed reminded not only that trees do have a concrete afterlife (as summarized by e.g. the term "wood"), but that it's an aspect of these musical instruments. (Moreover, although The Afterlife of Trees has little in the way of overt human evocations, such a tangible "afterlife" applies to human remains as well: Sometimes they're called relics.) While Ernesto Rodrigues records with some of the same cellists (especially) & bassists again & again, the violinists with whom he's recently collaborated vary: On The Afterlife of Trees the violinist is Bulgarian-born & (at least partially) US-educated Biliana Voutchkova, who had appeared on the 2015 Creative Sources release 77 Kids (with Rodrigues & horn player Micha Rabuske), and more recently on As Found with Michael Thieke & Roy Carroll ("electro-acoustic media") on Sound Anatomy (the label formed by Richard Scott, recently noted here for his wonderful participation on Trialectics). Joining Rodrigues & Voutchkova in the quartet are Guilherme Rodrigues & Magda Mayas — the latter having appeared on at least three prior Creative Sources albums, including Flock by Great Waitress, concerning which she was first mentioned in this space in May 2014. Most of the productions already named originated in Berlin, suggesting another (location-based) variant on the high-volume versus low-volume "selection" dilemma with which I opened, and farther afield in the Berlin scene (if one can evoke such an image for a locality), Nashaz (another album with Thieke, by the way) might be the "most" (pace my selections) similar release to The Afterlife of Trees in its sonics & evocations — although as the considerably different titles suggest, not all that similar. There is a sort of moderately paced, open & "airy" quality in common, however, sometimes calmly rattling along (almost like being on a ferry — here, of the dead?), as well as a density, although regarding the perceived airiness, The Afterlife of Trees doesn't involve a wind instrument: It's unclear what generates such sounds, whether it's viola harmonics, rubbed piano strings, etc. Another obvious recent comparison is Chant for its bowed strings with tuned percussion combination, there including bass to form a quintet (versus the quartet here), and recorded in Lisbon rather than Berlin. Chant is not only generally (highly) contrapuntal, but invokes (neo-Romantic) tonality at times as well, and so usually has a denser sound, whereas The Afterlife of Trees is not generally as (sonically) rich, i.e. has a more singular sense of flow while remaining timbre-based & atonal (non-motivic), perhaps even "minimalist" at times. As suggested, the latter often involves blurring lines between instruments in a collective sound, such that even piano & violin (surely the two poles of the quartet) cannot always be distinguished (in sharp stylistic contrast with e.g. Trialectics). Further, The Afterlife of Trees seems to make a more intense intervention into concepts of naturalism (whereas Chant uses nature as a straightforward pole against abstraction) via the danger & mystery of the afterlife notion itself: It can be both quiet & intense, yet suggests hearing at a distance (and so evokes ocularcentrism for me — despite what might be figured as intimacy — perhaps only intensified by the final track naming blindness). There's also a bit of a "traveling ethos" (particularly on track three) per Traintracks..., but the latter comes off as both more forceful & more mechanical. Some passages of The Afterlife of Trees do have a contrapuntal feel, particularly around percussive sounds (presumably arising from the piano as well as from striking the string instrument bodies), and its sometimes flute-y harmonics (evidently) arise from & so combine all the instruments, sometimes as set against a humming or croaking (organ-like?) bass (rather, bowed cello). Scelsian scraping "mutes" can also be heard (apparently, e.g. on track two) as part of a terrain ultimately formed by noisy & shifting resonances, and within which a few clearly tinkling notes on piano can stand in partial contrast to the generally amorphous sound. (So individual personalities do not emerge from the instruments in this style, but rather something of a post- or inhuman scene.) Does the stark, shimmering, "windswept" sense of landscape really differ in quality from some of the "soundscapes" I had dismissed in previous years? I'm not sure, but I am sure that with The Afterlife of Trees, the way that I personally hear Rodrigues, Creative Sources & the Berlin scene does continue to evolve. What's next for a group such as this? Probably going their separate ways, at least until some other recombination.... (As this discussion hopefully suggested, these relations crisscross from a variety of directions & at a variety of times.)12 December 2017
Since Roscoe Mitchell's double album Conversations with Kikanju Baku (whom I've still not heard in a different context, by the way) & Craig Taborn has been on my "favorites" list for a while, I feel as though I should comment on Mitchell's new Discussions album, likewise on Wide Hive Records, and recorded in Berkeley in November last year (i.e. about three years later). The two projects are directly linked, as four of the eight tracks on Discussions, including the longest, consist of orchestrations of transcriptions of improvisations from Conversations. These were done by different academic musicians, and frankly, I find them quite boring compared to the original album. (The statements in the notes about, yet again, interrogating a duality between improvisation & composition leave me cold too, of course. After all, e.g. Scelsi's music already consisted of transcribed improvisations. In fact, I don't know how anyone who has been around such music for a while could still find this topic to be thought provoking, although I make no such rhetorical claim regarding the orchestrated transcriptions themselves.) The other four tracks are more appealing, with two duets between Mitchell & flautist Wilfrido Terrazas, with whom I was not otherwise familiar, and two orchestral improvisations. I won't focus on the (improvised) duos either, and they're the two shortest tracks, but will note Terrazas (who I see has worked with e.g. Thanos Chrysakis), as he has a distinctive & probing style on flute. The larger improvisations, which use "only" ten of the nineteen musicians (twenty with the conductor) credited on the album, are also worthwhile: They're likewise fairly distinctive, far-ranging in their brevity & with a noticeable Bay Area flavor. (I've seen Jack Wright improvise locally, coincidentally I suppose, with a tentet, for instance.) Actually, the final orchestrated piece, featuring James Fei on electronics, is somewhat more interesting, but this notion of formally orchestrated transcriptions — as opposed to more fluid modes of influence & inspiration — is not something I'm inclined to pursue: It would seem to be more for conservative people, the sort who don't consider improvising to be "serious." That said, if a composite production such as this brings more attention to the music, that's a good thing.13 December 2017
In the wake of discussing Soon last month, Ståle Liavik Solberg also appeared on Into Darkness from Iluso Records by the quartet Stray, the latter including John Russell, John Butcher & Dominic Lash. Once again, I didn't know to expect this album, but a quartet with Solberg joining Butcher & Russell certainly caught my eye. Into Darkness was recorded back in December 2015, so a few months after Solberg's duo with Butcher (So beautiful it starts to rain on Clean Feed), the same month as Imaginary Numbers (as most recently discussed), and prior to Soon itself — which still appears to be Solberg's most recent commercial recording. This is actually the first time I've mentioned Russell, although his improvising career stretches back decades, especially with Butcher: Once again, others surely know his music & career far better than I do, and as I understand, the electric guitar (as here, exclusively) has not been his primary choice. More recently, Russell has appeared in a few duo albums & anthologies, and so not generally on a quartet album such as this (which is why I haven't noted his releases previously). However, in many ways, Into Darkness presents as a series of duos — especially between Russell & Butcher — & sometimes trios, except that they evolve fluidly within the single track. Indeed, it's not really an egalitarian album, and has a clear pecking order behind Russell on electric guitar — whose style is truly featured — and Butcher on saxophones: Solberg is usually audible, although more in an accompaniment role, as those two move through a series of creatively alternating textures, whereas Lash is only noticeable in a few passages: A brief duo between Lash & Russell toward the end of the album is a highlight, showing the quartet from a different perspective than most of the prior interaction, and leading into an appealing coda section of a handful of minutes. (Lash was recently mentioned here around Extremophile, with its medieval chanson setting, also on Iluso Records. Perhaps a more directly relevant comparison would be his earlier album Signal Gain with Josh Sinton, discussed here in August 2015, and involving various explicitly marked duos in addition to trio & quartet tracks. Of course, there Lash himself is featured.) The coda, as the "outcome" of this long-form interaction, presumably prompted release of the live session then. There are other highlights, though, mostly from Russell & Butcher alternating extended techniques, although there are also lengthy passages during which one of the two front line players — and the traditional "free jazz quartet" is certainly suggested by this lineup — takes a more traditional solo, both in form & timbre. As the free jazz image might suggest, the result can be quite aggressive & intense, including from the drums, but there is also a coloristic canvas articulated within the progression of the album as a whole — despite the strong duo orientation. A general noisiness is combined with technical precision, e.g. whistling guitar strings, detailed & varied horn vibrato or trills ("raspberries"), etc. (The resulting noisiness was muddied by the streaming app, at least in my experience, whereas a "proper" download of the music sounded fine. The former appears to compress the dynamics to the point of creating more distortion, although at this point, I have no idea if any of these audio device experiences are typical — but my comparison does use the same speakers.) The guitar leaves the greatest impression, though, and so Into Darkness can be heard as an exhibition of Russell's various electric guitar ideas amid small group textures. The result is often stormy, hence (evidently) the title.18 December 2017
Not only has the Tour de Bras label recently issued Boule-spiele (originally released on a Colombian label, as discussed here in January), but a breathy improvised quintet album as well: Torche! was recorded in May 2016 in Jonquière, Québec & includes Michel F. Côté on drums (& microphones), Éric Normand on electric bass (& caisse claire, which is a mystery to me), as well as horn players Xavier Charles, Franz Hautzinger & Philippe Lauzier. Whereas I had yet to mention Côté, despite that I've heard him on several albums originating in Québec & elsewhere, Normand appeared here with Boule-spiele — an album of extended, dissonant continuity that I've had occasion to mention more than once since. (The latter also features Magda Mayas, recently appearing here again on The Afterlife of Trees with its noisy yet muted terrain, as well as Pierre-Yves Martel of Drought, the latter also released on Tour de Bras, although mysteriously absent from their web catalog. In contrast to Torche!, Boule-spiele includes no wind instruments — only strings.) Together with the Canadian rhythm team, the three wind instruments account for the distinctive sound of the quintet: Charles was mentioned here in August with Flux Reflux, another continuity-oriented album (this time on Clean Feed), while Hautzinger appeared with the intriguing Ariha Brass Quartet & Mazen Kerbaj (discussed in February), and Lauzier (elsewhere) on many albums with Normand, Martel, et al. Although Torche! involves a strong sense of sustained resonance — too much for my little portable speakers to handle, in fact — its eight different tracks do articulate well beyond a (droning) wave-based approach. Although it can be loud, Torche! is also often quiet or pensive, with a sort of rumbling & rattling background from which one or more of the horn choir might emerge: There's consequently something of a "from elsewhere" orientation to the energy generated, which seems to sneak up on the listener. As such, it suggests a distinctive timbral interrogation of nativism & naturalism — the latter not so unlike The Afterlife of Trees — a style of interrogation apparently associated with the Québécois scene. There's an eerie quality to the result, a sort of inarticulate articulation of the world & reality. (Something similar goes for the track titles, although if my French were better, perhaps the nonsense terms would seem more specifically evocative.) Among albums I've featured here, the most similar ensemble is that on Ramble — & indeed it surprises me how few three-horn groups have caught my ear — which besides being entirely acoustic (although the timbres of Torche! could in principle be acoustic), takes a more open (or perhaps "inhuman") approach to temporality: There is more unity of gesture on Torche!, i.e. a rather particular haunting on each track: It's almost a series of emerging meditations, simmering & creaking world-mediations speaking from their North American setting.19 December 2017
Another album to note, as the year comes to a close — even if it's officially a January release, and even if there are likely to be more items marked 2017 appearing here — is that by The Core-Tet Project on Naxos. (I'm not sure if the album title should be given as The Core-Tet Project or as Keep Off, since the latter could be an incidental part of the cover design.) The album caught my eye for a couple of reasons: It's an improvised quartet album released on a classical label, and it pairs percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie (b.1965) with Szilárd Mezei as joined by Michael Jefry Stevens on piano & Jon Hemmersam on guitar. I'm not sure if The Core-Tet Project would have caught the eye of others who write about albums such as this — and I'd be curious to know, although now I've probably spoiled the potential experiment — and in fact it probably would not have caught my ear without knowing who was involved. However, Glennie releasing a freely improvised ensemble album, particularly with mainstays like Mezei & Stevens, needs to be noted. (I was not familiar with Hemmersam previously, and I have not followed Stevens much either. The two of them had recorded with Mezei already, though, including a trio album from 2009, Upcast, that apparently inspired Glennie to join them.) Mezei is, of course, featured on the electric Still now — and was most recently mentioned here in November around Exuvia, also on FMR. (He's also got a new album with guitarist Samo Salamon, Planets of Kei on Not Two, but that has yet to be available from my usual sources. And today I see he has another album about to appear on FMR, Cink.) The liner notes for The Core-Tet Project talk a bit about the history of improvisation in "classical" music, and of course that was normal until audiences became so conservative that even e.g. cadenzas were played from notation (by others). That had not been the case previously, though, and one might even suggest that classical music became less improvisatory as part of a bifurcation with jazz — although avant garde (composed) music since the 50s & 60s has in turn included a wide variety of improvised elements: The point is that the notion of classical music not involving improvisation was not around very long, except with the most conservative listeners (alas including those cowards who dictate funding, and who want to hear only the same thing over & over). Anyway, The Core-Tet Project is a long album (14 tracks & 72 minutes), and includes evocative notes by Glennie discussing each track. I don't know how familiar Glennie is to this readership, but not only do the notes claim that she is "the first person in history" to make a full-time career as a solo percussionist (a ridiculous claim with all manner of hidden context & assumptions... one wonders if the people who say such things realize how parochial & stupid they sound), she is also deaf: I'm not sure if Glennie herself really embraces the term, though, as she has written at least two extended articles on (bodily, not prosthetic) hearing by means other than the ear. She's also recorded a wide variety of music, including with famous popular artists, etc. (so some hype is warranted, even if it was articulated in an inaccurate way). On The Core-Tet Project, the result is generally a mellow, romantic chamber quartet sound... usually tuneful & calm, despite sometimes frenetic playing (of e.g. ostinati) & no actual eschewal of dissonance. (The Romantics did not think of themselves as eschewing dissonance either, despite how tonal they might seem today!) Although the sense of rhythm is quite different, it reminds me somewhat of Poetry from the Future (from pianist Carol Liebowitz et al., discussed here in August), given many of its textures & moods. There's a basic tenderness through much of the album, even manifest spirituality at times, yet a sense of fancy to the interaction, e.g. a smattering of Nutcracker at one point, a Webernian fugue, even some Spanish guitar in the distance: While it might not have captivated me on a personal level, there are still many passages to enjoy from such an ample album: After so many (largely classical) evocations, toward the end (track #12), Mezei finally lets loose with one of his dazzling yet lyrical solos, setting the stage for the next track, which is the highlight for me, with Glennie in the lead on metallic percussion. The finale then becomes repetitive, almost a dance (or in jazz-speak, a groove). Will other classical soloists follow Glennie's lead? What will the classical audience think?30 December 2017
When discussing Agustí Fernández's Celebration Ensemble octet/nonet album back in August, I had noted my excitement over Frances-Marie Uitti's participation, and even remarked that it was the first I'd seen her appear in such an improvised setting in years. However, I somehow neglected her duo/trio album with Fernández, Thunder, the second disc of the 4CD set River Tiger Fire — also produced (by Fundacja Sluchaj) for Fernández's 60th birthday, albeit recorded the year prior in Poland, and released in 2015. I'm not sure why this collaboration went in one ear & out the other, so to speak, but I wanted to make a belated note. (For some reason, I also didn't mention Mats Gustaffson's collaboration with Fernández on A quietness of water, an album I had discussed here only six months prior! So I guess I was in a neglectful state of mind.) Anyway, I do want to mention Thunder — which is indeed evocative of thunder right from the opening — and note that Uitti is quite prominent. She & Fernández are joined by Joel Ryan on electronics, but the album largely comes off as a duo, buttressed & enhanced by electronics that aren't as directly engaged in the dialog. There's a strong sense of (thunderous) climax at various points — evocative of some improvisation from Japan for me, particularly with the electronic enhancements — as the music tends to coalesce into one line, or knot of noise. There are also lyrical moments, particularly from the cello, which often takes the lead. (The piano is less often so pianistic.) There are also plenty of extended techniques, including Uitti's inimitable innovations, and some great (even polyphonic) moments (such as the middle of track #3).10 January 2018
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