Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts

Perhaps I've fallen into a bit of a pattern here, restarting this page again around this time of year, but I'm also feeling as though we're moving into a new wave of musical developments, as well as that there's more than ever to discuss within the general realm of global politics & musical fusions... for which "jazz" has been a prototype. And I keep working on my own thoughts & reactions as well, so although the previous year's entries were a little less voluminous than for the period before, I also felt that much of the discussion was gaining in significance. Or I suppose that could be my vanity speaking....

Anyway, particularly as far as vanity goes, I do (as always) have a list of favorite albums here (i.e. to sediment my trajectory in this space...), but there've been relatively few so far this year. In the prior introduction, I'd noted that an anticipated pandemic slowdown (specifically of album releases in this arena...) hadn't really occurred, yet, but then soon felt some slow months. There're at least a few intriguing items imminent though, and I'm starting to feel more like post-pandemic music is back — back & with new developments, that is. Or maybe that's a matter of my own adjustment... or maybe not a matter of adjusting, but of patience: I've heard e.g. various solo releases illustrating exciting new techniques, but my orientation here has been on musical sociality, i.e. on coming together in a collective to exchange & to interact. And so I do believe that these various new ideas from the realm of individual musical work will be making their way (back) to collective interactions soon. Then, as I might have remarked in the past, while the duo confronts the other, the trio confronts the world.... (My focus here is thus on relatively egalitarian interactions of 3/4/5 musicians... sometimes more if they can all be heard. And I do end up reviewing some duos too, maybe even a solo....)

And I really have no inclination to shift my focus, as I'm craving more engagement with the world (versus insularity, or soloing... pace my own "solo production" here, the conditions of which can wear on me as well). After all, even with more solo releases appearing, and fewer newer releases (i.e. moving into pandemic era performances), I still averaged around an entry a week here, i.e. basically "recommended" one album a week. I mean, I very rarely base an entry on negative feelings.... I do try to write quickly here, though. It's my notion of kind of joining a broader improvisational project.... (As I've also noted before, I also feel as though there's always time for more sober reflections.... I don't want to choke spontaneous reactions — or to become routine. Of course, as this opening text might already suggest, becoming self-absorbed is also a potential issue....) So I still feel a need to embrace some foolishness in my responses, but there's also a politics of public space that comes to bear: I just ran through a few issues elsewhere in Thirty years on the web, but there're other political issues around the old-fashioned design here: I've felt increasingly awkward e.g. when people have included different symbols in their names or titles, variant spelling, typography... all of these things become more fluid, and rightly so. (Although, I also picture a sort of "corporate branding" limit case, where fonts, colors, etc. are considered to be aspects of someone's name....) But I also have my situation here, so basically I'm transcribing everything into a relatively limited character set, as well as into "standard" typography. (My sentences can be complicated enough, without injecting someone else's typographic equivocations — even if their own setting also makes sense. So hopefully no one is all that offended....) And before that particular digression, I articulated various — completely different — matters of orientation in e.g. Postmodern Aesthetics (2019)....

Of course there's always more politics involved in music criticism, particularly around approaches to history. (But the impetus here was always collective social interaction, broadly speaking.) And I'm not trying to examine jazz history per se, nor prioritize more "historical" approaches or interrogations here — although these can be interesting. Rather, I really want to focus on coping with the world today, both in our personal lives, and in terms of global issues.... In that, jazz & improvisation also provide a sense of process or journey, rather than a focus on outcomes, i.e. a sense of experimentation that's still so important, even as the world situation becomes so urgent.... (And my own sedimentations here, soon to register over a dozen years, can sometimes work against maintaining a sense of openness. I still feel a real sense of "searching" at times, though, including recently.) But then some examples here will still be arbitrary — although perhaps there're still some "central" activities & releases to be found among the various traditions braiding together under the "new & improvised" musical umbrella.... And as far as more "thoughts" then, I'll be continuing to interrogate our general situation over in the open-ended Decolonizing Tech (2020-) series....

So scroll to the end for the latest entry.... Hopefully I('ll) still have something (else) to say.

Todd M. McComb <mccomb@medieval.org>
16 September 2022

Anthony Braxton continues to be one of the most significant musicians in this space, i.e. continues to innovate (now at age 77): Duet (Other Minds) 2021 is an example of his latest music system, called Lorraine, "that governs the 'sonic winds' of breath." And there's a fairly lengthy discussion, including thoughts from Braxton's co-performer here (& long-time colleague), James Fei, but there's no notation presented, and so ultimately only a vague sense of what the Lorraine system entails.... My impressions are consequently preliminary, but those impressions are also powerful. The presentation on Duet (Other Minds) 2021 might be preliminary too, and I suppose it wouldn't be surprising if Braxton released a full set of Lorraine performances soon: After the very detailed blu-ray release of 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017, Duet (Other Minds) 2021 is also "only" in (16bit) CD quality sound. And of course it's only one set, rather than an entire series.... (The ZIM set, despite the enhanced sound engineering, did also seem more preliminary than previous Braxton sets in other ways, i.e. a little rushed in its musical presentation.) The particular composition on Duet (Other Minds) 2021, per the notes, is also apparently relatively simple within the Lorraine system, beginning & ending in unisons across the two horn players. Not unlike Scelsi's "music on a single note," though, Braxton expands on the riches "between" these unisons, i.e. register, timbral & microtonal deviations that might then even be amplified or extended by SuperCollider electronics (functioning as a sort of third musician). Per Fei, this work thus "includes" some DCWM, which itself includes GTM... the GTM (Ghost Trance Music) being quite apparent here in some moments, and seeming to figure the temporality in general. (The musicians proceed in a variety of directions, and incorporate a variety of allusions, but when the steady GTM returns, there's a sense that however lost one might have felt, we're actually right where we've always been.) It's then the amplification & expansion of what had been slurs & articulations in the melodic realm into structural generators here, including "melting" the twelve-tone segmentation that had continued to mark Braxton's music, that invokes a new (or expanded...) direction, now surely showing a "spectral" inspiration around resonance & timbre within the smallest spaces.... And my own history involves Scelsi specifically, certainly recalling the unison orientation here, but spectral-timbral music continues to grow as a genre or general technique — from e.g. James Tenney to Steve Lehman. (And perhaps I should note the Other Minds organization specifically here as well, as it seems to be moving beyond being "only" a festival, into a record label per se: E.g. last month they also released Inhale / Exhale by a trio recording in New Mexico around Tatsuya Nakatani & Raven Chacon, i.e. not associated with their San Francisco event. That album is a darkly ritualistic noise-rock affair....) So I'm finding this exploration, connecting to a variety of prior Braxton projects, to be fascinating, even if the "trio" might not really be a trio.... Of course, that was already the case — in a similar way — for 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012, and that collection of albums, particularly the sets with Katherine Young on bassoon (i.e. reed), provides the most obvious comparison for Duet (Other Minds) 2021. That earlier collection retains a sense of 12-tone segmentation for the musicians, though: Even as SuperCollider might involve glissandi etc., there's really no question of what is the pitch. (And perhaps another brief comparison should be made with Braxton's Solo Victoriaville 2017, there with a variety of articulatory techniques, but ultimately in monophonic-melodic music — versus the sort of resonant timbral mirroring here, i.e. teasing the overtone spectrum....) But there's still a sense of shearing involved, both of shifting glissandi, and of "slicing" between the two quasi-independent instrumental parts: With Duet (Other Minds) 2021, the result thus reminds me that much more of e.g. In Search of Surprise, Udo Schindler having investigated a spectral sense of harmonics in duo formations (i.e. with precision & beats etc.) for quite some time, there with struck percussion "dividing" the two horns, not so unlike Braxton here.... (And perhaps I should note e.g. Music for Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinets & Electronics as well for its exploration of the finest grains of reed timbre, there contextualized rather differently... more symphonic than linear-cyclical, seeming less spontaneous. So maybe that's another pole.) As opposed to the big prior DCWM set, though, which seems to present more of this sort of balance between the horns from the start, the Lorraine piece here (Composition No. 429) really "opens" out of unisons (pace Scelsi — or even e.g. medieval conductus...), seeming to forge its own space "between" quasi-identical notes, in a sort of fanning out that can then be captured & boosted by the electronics, which are also rather quiet (because unsure?) at times.... (One might even speak of melody determining form....) There're also issues of articulation more generally explored/expanded, including via speed & density between the two horns, often yielding a sort of "laminar" presentation that can sometimes turn into a thicket. So those are some thoughts so far.... (And I feel foolish for not attending this concert: I keep saying that I should get out more, but I don't....) And hopefully Braxton will have a chance to present more of this Lorraine music system (at which point, the relevance of some of these scattered thoughts might also become more clear...).

19 September 2022

Damon Smith is then another prolific musician — noted here recently as "surely one of USA's great improvising bassists," in a February 2022 review of Volumes & Surfaces with Jason Stein — who continues to record with a wide variety of others: Smith relocated (again) from Boston to St. Louis in the past couple of years, and that move apparently set the stage for (among others) the quartet album Ghost Tantras, recorded on a single date in Kansas City in June 2021. (That album, quite long & recorded in crisp 24bit sound, was released on KC's Mother Brain Records in April, but I only noticed when it appeared at Smith's site earlier this month. And Smith's site does become confusing, with releases from various sources appearing in different orderings....) Moreover, Ghost Tantras involves presumably younger musicians who were new to me (so that's motivating...), Seth Andrew Davis (electric guitar & laptop/electronics), Michael Eaton (soprano & tenor saxophones) & Kyle Quass (trumpet). It turns out, though, that Eaton has already relocated to Brooklyn, he & Davis having e.g. performed recently at DMG.... (And Quass lives in Indiana. Maybe I should mention percussionist Kevin Cheli as part of this circle too — as he & Davis already released Composite with Smith last year....) Davis & Eaton are also obviously central to the KC scene though (based on what I've heard in response to this release...), and both are striking here, especially Davis: At times he sounds more like a "typical" guitarist, but opens the album with a variety of twittering & burbling electronics that almost recall SuperCollider (pace the previous entry — & also recurring here...), including some "noise" (judiciously) at times as well, perhaps according to a sense of novelty, but also injecting a sophisticated creativity (perhaps e.g. in the "locale" mode, pace Braxton again...). The horns also employ more extended techniques at times, but more traditional sorts of calls too, particularly bold & broad (i.e. over a "landscape") from trumpet, turning more to "shredding" at times from sax.... In this context then, Smith's bass tends to be more in the background, but often works with the electronics to create a powerful, shifting landscape: There's a sort of floating, multi-dimensional sense to which the horns react, almost like solos, but striking off at various angles within that shifting-dimensional space.... (Ghost Tantras is indeed very long, more than 70 minutes. Also quite loud at times, but never oriented on intensity per se: That seems to be more a matter of enhanced dynamic range for the recording.) And the title is taken from Michael McClure's book from 1964, there figured as even beyond zoomimesis (i.e. as already animal...), with a sense of the (super)natural perhaps figuring here too, i.e. framing the "humanity" of (especially) the horns.... But I also suspect the titles were applied retroactively to the improvisations. Maybe Ghost Tantras involves a sort of jungle then, & with layers of undergrowth, but it's also surely a jungle with hallucinogens... (as probably is appropriate to the inspiration). And some of the exchanges & interactions do come to seem a little more routine, almost a taking turns... with some more jazzy idioms to the fore at times too, even some repose & a sense of becoming-rhetorical.... Still, it's the contextualized assertiveness around skittering electronics that's probably most striking.

20 September 2022

And after my extended (& seemingly randomly timed...) re-review of Flock this past March, Great Waitress has released a fourth album: Back, Before was actually recorded in Sydney back in June 2018, i.e. before the pandemic, but only just appeared on Australia's Splitrec label (which had released Great Waitress's first album, Lucid, in 2011). It also turns again to the two-track format (of both Flock & Hue), and so shows considerable conceptual continuity: Each track has its own particular orientation, perhaps involving a sort of quasi-process. In this case, the album opens in luminous mode, an appealing sound, including for its (eventual) sense of suspension, but relatively unidimensional for Great Waitress. The longer second track is then particularly dark, the two openings (at least) contrasting, the latter skittering & seeming ominous... a sort of howl developing for both tracks, the latter coming to leave shuddering collective resonances hanging in the air, almost yielding a sort of stasis. (As "howling" suggests, there's also more of a sense of outdoor here: Flock was recorded in a church, and projects a more "indoor" sense of ritual.... I'd also noted the "plastic" cover of the earlier album as maybe working against me embracing it, but Back, Before has a beautiful, naturalistic cover photo....) There's also a sort of nautical feel at times, as Back, Before — an older recording now — does seem to cycle through the "standards" of this genre.... (It's also probably worth noting Ize specifically here: It's, likewise, HMZ's fourth album, also recorded in 2018, but released back in 2020, while their first album was from 2012, i.e. a year after Great Waitress's. And the two fourth outings do feature some similar textures at times....) As far as the nexus of motion & stasis then, Mayas seems to investigate these concerns at another level (of multiplicity) with Confluence, recorded the year following Back, Before.... (And then, per recent remarks generally revisiting "Australia" around the review of Jon Rose's State of Play last month, it's probably worth noting that a new issue recorded in 2018 only seems to confirm that they're in a relative trough there lately.... I assume it's because of politics.) Still, I appreciate the overall approach & vibe from the Great Waitress trio, making for another enjoyable listen, even if Back, Before does feel more like it's of the past at this point....

And pace another "nautical" reference above, also from the past is Harbors by Theresa Wong (cello) & Ellen Fullman ("long string instrument" — 70 feet!), an album released back in 2020, but that I only recently noticed: The piece, which was recorded in Berkeley in 2018 (as well...) for release, after touring since 2015, was inspired specifically by the San Francisco Bay, with the "long string instrument" providing a rich & immersive set of resonances. (As far as this entry, I'll also note that it appeared on the Australian Room40 label too... involving enough coincidences to motivate this pendant.) So I missed noting Harbors when it was new, but when it comes to "nautical," it's as extended (& abstract-ambient) an exploration as it gets.... (And Wong — already introduced here in a double entry from March 2020 — is generally developing a sophisticated Chinese-infused sense of musical naturalism, i.e. cello as qin.)

21 September 2022

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