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Anna Högberg Attack

Summer Bummer, De Studio, Antwerp, 8/22/2019

B.A.N.: Peter Brötzmann (sax), Farida Amadou (b), Steve Noble (dr)

Summer Bummer, De Studio, Antwerp, 8/22/2019

Fred Van Hove (p), Peter Brötzmann (sax)

Summer Bummer, De Studio, Antwerp, 8/23/2019

Hanne De Backer (sax) / Paal Nilssen-Love (dr)

Summer Bummer, De Studio, Antwerp, 8/22/2019

Biliana Voutchkova (v), Susan Alcorn (g), Isidora Edwards (c)

Berlin, August 2019. Photo by Christina Marx

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Alan Tomlinson Trio - Inside Out (FMR, 2019) ****

By Nick Metzger

The great English trombonist Alan Tomlinson has been sharing his cheeky brand of free improvisation since at least the early 70's, playing alongside the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Barry Guy, Tony Oxley, Jon Corbett, David Toop, and many others. He's performed across Europe in this trio with Phillip Marks and Dave Tucker since 1992, but living in the cultural void that I live in, I wasn't aware of them until the release of their first album, 2017's "Out and Out" also on FMR which compiles live recordings from 2009-2016. Guitarist Dave Tucker spent the 70's involved in the Manchester punk scene before landing a gig with The Fall in the 80's, recording with the group on their album "Slates". He eventually transitioned to playing free music, in addition to producing music for television and dance, and has played with the likes of Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, and Barre Phillips to name just a few. His excellent group 'Velocity of Sound' includes Parker, Steve Noble, and John Edwards. Drummer Philip Marks has impressed me greatly on both releases by the trio, providing some of the most tasteful and energetic free jazz percussion you're likely to hear. He's provided his talents to ensembles including members like Derek Bailey, John Butcher, Evan Parker, and John Edwards and has released several albums with his group Bark! (the exclamation point is part of their moniker, I promise I'm not shouting at you). Here the listener is treated to a handful of solid improvisations by the trio (with one in quartet with bassist John Edwards).

Throughout the set Tomlinson expresses in a rough cut honking tone that pairs well with Tucker's slicing no-wave guitar sound. Prickly swells of mutant goose chatter emanate from his horn along with the obligatory salival sounds of free jazz trombone. Tomlinson utilizes the instruments' full potential, his playing not subdued in the least; on the contrary it faces you head-on, teeth gnashed like a rabid street dog. Marks' style here is reserved yet highly active, providing an excellent foil for the guitar and trombone. Almost every bit of background space is covered in the patter of skins and the splash of cymbals. Tucker's guitar playing resides somewhere between quintessentially English free jazz playing of Derek Bailey and the American avant-garde styles of Rudolph Grey and Thurston Moore. Very minimal effects on the guitar maybe just a bit of overdrive. On the title track, bass fiddle extraordinaire John Edwards joins the trio for a quarter hour romp that's arguably the best piece on the album. His playing really fills out the sound and his presence markedly increases the group dynamics, making for a piece that has more shading and nuance than the previous four.

All in all it's a very enjoyable album from a cast of players that have a long history in free improvisation. If you haven't heard the first Alan Tomlinson Trio release and like what you hear on this set then obviously you should pick it up as well, you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tim Daisy's Vox 4 – Roman Poems (Relay, 2019) *****

By Tom Burris

First, a reintroduction of sorts is in order. Vox Arcana is now known as Vox 4, updating the longstanding trio of James Falzone (clarinet), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics), and Daisy (drums, marimba, percussion) to include Macie Stewart of OHMME and Marker on violin and piano.
Did the trio need an upgrade? Not as far as I was concerned – until I heard this release. The fact that this is the finest Vox release to date speaks for itself.

Quietly opening this suite is “Prelude.” With hard mallets on toms, wood & cymbals, Daisy duets with Falzone for a minute and a half - when they become embroiled in a duel against the string section, the music leaning into atonal disarray but not succumbing to it. Macie and Fred make good on their threat exactly 43 seconds into the next track, “The Collector,” when they smash into Daisy & Falzone head-on. Things get quickly sorted out though, with Daisy swinging like Blakey underneath a wild solo from Falzone. Daisy locks in with Lonberg-Holm, who is finger-picking the cello's hard-bop bass line. Another full stop-and-start with Stewart's violin leading the way as Lonberg-Holm kicks into electroskreech mode. And as soon as you have a grip on that, the theme's head appears again to close out the track – before ramming itself right into the next one, another crash-bang-fire whack of freedom noise featuring Stewart & Lonberg-Holm in an apparent victory duet.

This track, “First Travels” is an even more interesting ride than its predecessor, as its reach is broader in both scope and length. The first section is the duet of Stewart and Lonberg-Holm, of course, which ends on a sweet-n-sour slathering of beehive droning. The second section looks down the other end of the hive; and it's all sunny, damp and strange, made up of marimba and wire holding up some kind of sculpture in mid-construction. We spend awhile studying the blueprints during Daisy's subdued marimba solo, later becoming a fascinating duet with Lonberg-Holm. Falzone circular-breathes a note before the full band enters, with Daisy at the drum kit & Lonberg-Holm again in the bass role, the third section of the track. The fourth section is the collapse of the third and the vision of the phoenix that is Fred Lonberg-Holm.

“Intermezzo” continues with the chaos instigated by the cellist, now joined by the rest of the band – including Stewart on piano, who injects clusters into the firestorm of the rhythm section (Daisy on drum kit, Fred on “bass” cello) relentlessly. Piano & clarinet pitter-pat w/ Daisy's tapping, with Stewart eventually opting out – beginning the next track, “Classic Vox,” recalling Steve Reich without all of the instruments bleeding in and out of each other. Vox's approach, as we've seen up to this point, is the stop-and-start. Chords aren't going to weave into being; they're going to crash into birth. Of course, the crash comes at the 1:15 mark. [I don't want to give the impression that this is like Naked City. Vox 4 is much more organic than that - but they do cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.] The remainder of the track takes you on a trip from Clarinet Chase Music to Flying Cutlery before dropping you off at a stop sounding not unlike the intro to “Prelude.”

“Litografi” begins with Daisy on marimba, in duet with Falzone, on a piece that sounds carefully composed – although one can never be sure with this band. Once Stewart (on violin) and Lonberg-Holm enter, the piece takes on a melancholy longing mixed with tension. It's at this point where it becomes obvious what a perfect musical match Stewart and Lonberg-Holm are, with her perfectly poised playing in the upper-register next to his everything-all-in approach. Bringing Macie Stewart into this group was a stroke of genius. Daisy's lone marimba closes this stunningly beautiful piece of music.

Closing the suite is the title track, named after the City Lights collection of Pier Paolo Pasolini's poems in their Pocket Poets Series. Daisy swings as Falzone plays the theme, followed by group improvisations that find Stewart, Falzone, and Lonberg-Holm jockeying for position at various points. The best bit is when it collapses around the three-minute mark with everyone contributing to a full-on shouting match that stops hard and begins abruptly with a solid-as-a-mountain drum solo from Daisy. The cheers of the crowd at the end jar me every time. It's such a perfect creation it's easy to forget this is was recorded in front of an audience. Bravo!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Denman Maroney, Jack Wright, Reuben Radding - Fuse (self-released, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

Jack Wright (saxophones) and Reuben Radding (contrabass) join Denman Maroney (hyperpiano) for six freely-played tracks across 63 minutes on this studio recording from 2005. Around that time, each musician was in the midst of collaborations that now characterize their careers thus far: Wright with Bhob Rainey, Bob Marsh, and Tom Djll; Radding with Daniel Carter and Nate Wooley; and Maroney with Mark Dresser, Ned Rothenberg, Hans Tammen, and Leroy Jenkins. Radding and Wright had just begun a rich run of live recordings the year before. And Radding and Maroney would later play together on Gaga and Udentity with Rothenberg and Michael Sarin (plus Dave Ballou on the latter). But this is the first recording with Maroney and Wright together. So Fuse offers a glimpse into this previously unreleased power trio during an especially fertile creative period for each of these musicians.

Maroney flits from melodic tunes ostensibly belonging to the jazz tradition to manic, muted, rapid rhythms on the keys to his idiosyncratic inside-piano work that can and does sound like an airplane flying too low to the ground, a broken jack-in-the-box, fireworks launching, clocks. He creates a beat by knocking on the wood, and uses cymbals or bowls inside the piano for more metallic percussion. Wright often sounds like Steve Lacy’s ducks, and draws attention to the limits of breath like Lacy does too, with short, petulant attacks. He’ll switch this up with long-held whistles. Occasionally a soulful note. And more breathy moments that sound like fluttering, farting, a toddler spitting on the cake trying to blow out the candles, or throwing sand. The tracks are sequenced in such a way that Radding seems to adapt to the timbral oddities of these two fellows. He begins with relatively pedestrian walking lines, then arco, then bow tapping, perhaps playing below the bridge, and eventually getting to creaking wood, violent plucks that slap the strings against the neck, and deep, resonant bowing during some moments towards the end. Each player is instantly receptive to the others’ shifts in timbre, rhythm, and dynamics, mimicking changes, tangentially building off of it, then returning. It’s more of a conversation than an environment.

The result is good old-fashioned free playing that feels like part of the American jazz tradition in its rhythms and tunes yet remains true to the characters of the individuals in its freewheeling timbres and structures. A welcome addition to Maroney’s recent archival releases from the mid-’00s that include last year’s excellent Bleu Boeuf with Barre with Barre Phillips and Unknown Unknowns with Leroy Jenkins and Rich O’Donnell.

Fuse is a digital-only release.

Denman Maroney has also self-released Solo @70 this year.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble - Where Future Unfolds (International Anthem, 2019) ****

By Martin Schray

Where the Future Unfolds is a live recording of a concert at the Garfield Park Conservatory at the Red Bull Music Festival in Chicago on November 15, 2018. What originally was started as a solo sound collage in which Damon Locks, an African-American musician and visual artist, has sampled the speeches of prominent figures of the civil rights era to create an improvised palette for performance on his drum machine, finally expanded into the full Black Monument Ensemble consisting of 15 musicians (among them Ben LaMar Gay and Angel Bat Dawid), singers (alumni of the Chicago Children's Choir) and dancers (members of the Chicago Youth Dance Company Move Me Soul). The result is something one might call political jazz in challenging times. Locks also contributed the album cover art and wrote all the lyrics and compositions. The idea for this project came to him in a special place - in a prison: in 2017, he gave art lessons to eleven convicts at a time when police violence and racial profiling in the USA were actually returning to the media focus (the most prominent one was the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson/Missouri, in 2014). Locks then went deep into African American history, he became interested in civil rights speeches - e.g. by Martin Luther King and Angela Davis - and used them as the basis for his musical project.

These spoken snippets give the album a militant edge, recalling interludes from the classic hiphop records, where speeches from activists were combined with funky grooves reminiscent of early albums by the Last Poets. Not only is the music an excursion into political activism and Afro-futurism, it’s also one into blues, gospel and the spiritual fire music of the 1960s. But the music is not only a hip retro project, it is rather astonishing how appropriately these quotations and the music represent the social state of the USA today. Lines like “Every morning there’s one cause of murder / every morning at least one lesser life / I see all the same things happen for my people / they tell the same line“ are gritty sentiments on the one hand but on the other they also radiate hope because they conclude with a call to action: “So we choose our next move / The time is now, it has always been / Respond anew / Pass the guard and get through, because some things never change.” In the way these statements from the 1960s can be sampled and re-organized, Locks’s album reminds us to have a look back at history and make sure that were not doomed to repeat it.

That’s why Where the Future Unfolds can be regarded as classical protest music. It speaks for the black community, it’s both musically and politically a statement about what is happening at the moment. W here the Future Unfolds sets the most beautiful monument to the self-empowerment of an Afro-American community in search of its roots in jazz. One can imagine this music as the soundtrack of a movement that has experienced its spiritual socialization with Archie Shepp, Malcolm X, John Coltrane, Public Enemy, Curtis Mayfield, The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Marvin Gaye.

Where the Future Unfolds is available on vinyl and as a CD.

You can buy and listen to the album here:

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Xavier Charles - Impédance Clarinet Déluge (Remote Resonator, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk 

Impédance Clarinet Déluge is one half-hour track of overdubbed, multi-layered clarinet solos collaged from recordings cut in 2015 through 2017, performed and produced by multi-instrumentalist and composer Xavier Charles. It is his third solo release and, like Invisible (2010) and 12 Clarinets in a Fridge (2014), it emphasizes the moving air - especially breath - in the environment, whether it’s a pasture, a street corner, or a kitchen. All the sounds created by Charles went through the clarinet, whether out from in or in from out, with microphone placement sometimes in, sometimes out of the clarinet, with what I believe is accompaniment from birds and maybe bees, among other things. It serves as a succinct manifesto of Charles’ unique approach to sound, recording, and the clarinet that’s explored in his solo work.

Some sounds stay for some time, like a howling, white noise breath with a low-end pulse, a bee’s nest that could be many overdubbed clarinets or a hive but probably both, or a woody “woo-woo” siren. Some sounds are more transient, like rhythmic valve releases, something like the undulating resonant rimming of a crystal glass, a thrilling string symphony effect, drains, tablas, and crumpling from fetch across spit, what is probably birds, more recognizable clicks, wails, and blows from the clarinet, and some sections of split tones and multiphonics. Many more. It’s a soundscape of several layers cataloging extended technique for the clarinet with accompaniment from the recording environments. But whereas some such recordings might fall into ambience or feel static, Impédance Clarinet Déluge is thoroughly dynamic: volume from near-silence to deafening; register from tinnitus high to low enough to make most techno and hip hop producers jealous; pulse from rapid to flatline; and well-paced overdubbing of a menagerie of technique that doesn’t let sounds dwell too long or leave too soon.

It’s a satisfying continuation of Charles’ characteristic solo clarinet work, which by now should be considered as essential and exciting as the well-beloved Dans les arbres and Contest of Pleasures ensembles. It’s a kind of studio foil to John McCowen’s recent work demonstrating the dimensions of the clarinet through live performance in quartet, duo, and solo. Necessary listening for admirers of the instrument, and the quieter, extended-technique-based free playing that might be found from Michel Doneda, Stéphane Rives, and some echtzeitmusik musicians, among others.

Impédance Clarinet Déluge is a digital-only release.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Mette Rasmussen and Julien Desprez – The Hatch (Dark Tree, 2019) ****

By Nick Ostrum

If one were to consider just the last few releases by these musicians covered on FJB, one would think they are coming from opposing corners of the free jazz world. Rasmussen, as covered here, comes from the 70s-inspired skronk which fit seamlessly into the heavy, punk rock of MoE . Desprez, for his part, came onto my radar in his deliciously noisy collaboration with Luís Lopes . On closer inspection, however, this collaboration is not the collision of opposing sub-subgenres that I had assumed. Rasmussen has collaborated with everyone from Chris Corsano ( here , here , and here ) to Alan Silva to, maybe most appropriate for this release, the guitarist Tashi Dorji . Desprez has performed with a similarly wide range of collaborators including fellow French musicians Benjamin Duboc and Eve Risser to Chicagoans Mars Williams and Rob Mazurek to Californian Larry Ochs. (Hat tip to The Bridge project for facilitating many of these transatlantic collaborations.) Both Desprez and Rasmussen, moreover, have worked in Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra , which masterfully marries the Scandinavian post-Ayler tradition with more contemporary avant-rock and post-punk aesthetics.

Although one might be able to anticipate the elements on The Hatch – the clicks and clatters, the boxy abstractions and the deep, heavy undercurrents, the moments of exuberant outbursts – their mixture and interactions make this album more than a aggregation of elements. Indeed, this is not just a meeting of young luminaries doing their own things in the same room but a true collaboration wherein Rasmussen and Desprez push each other to explore different sides of their instruments and abilities. Tracks range from the schizophrenic and clattery (Roadkill Junkies, Twin Eye, Black Sand) to the angularly delicate and droning (Clay on Your Skin) to the spacious, sibilant, and subtle (Offenders, Orange Plateau) to the gloomily spiritual (Matters of the Soul). In other words, this album runs the contemporary improv, extended technique, electroacoustic gamut with great curiosity and confidence and to great effect.

I am not really sure how to categorize the hatches they have spelunked here, or the musical offspring they have incubated. That said, the corridors they have discovered are rich and variegated; their creation, a deeply textured sonic wonder. Hopefully, The Hatch is not the last of the brood.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Astral Ascending - Astral Spirits at Five Years

By Lee Rice Epstein

When I saw that independent label Astral Spirits was celebrating its fifth anniversary, I felt certain we should run a small feature. For one thing, it’s remarkable that a label publishing releases at their volume (minimum 16 per year, in quarterly batches of four cassette/digital releases, plus limited-run digital, vinyl, CD, and cassette releases) has sustained a breathless pace of remarkable quality. We have tried (and mostly succeeded!) to cover as much of the label’s output as possible over the years, and several have turned up on our various year-end lists. To celebrate and reflect on the 110+ albums released on Astral Spirits and Astral Editions , we wanted to take a few days to talk about the label, its impact on the Austin scene specifically, and some of the recent and upcoming releases to take note of.

To capture the history to date of Astral Spirits, founder Nate Cross assembled a massive three-hour compilation, Astral Ascending, available as a digital download only (so far, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these exclusives made their way to limited pressings of some kind—as far as I can tell, the only format Nate hasn’t used yet is the cassingle, which would be perfect for one or two of these). What makes Astral Ascending a notable release is how deftly it captures the intangible qualities of the Astral Sprits sonic aesthetic. In a sense, the evolution of the label’s visual design has paralleled its growth from a self-proclaimed home for the new wave of heavy free jazz to something a bit more amorphous and exciting while no less new, heavy, or free. Skirting a traditional chronological format, the compilation combines previously released, soon-to-be released, and unreleased material with an ebb and flow that juxtaposes tracks like Claire Rousay’s “Lovers” with an unreleased duo recording of John Butcher and Ståle Liavik Solberg (who released a trio album with Pat Thomas earlier this year on Astral Spirits).

As a sampler of the people and sounds that make up the greater Astral Spirits community, many are highlighted, like Butcher and Solberg, in new and previously unrecorded configurations. For example, the compilation starts with drummer Quin Kirchner expanding his sextet to a nonet, on a live recording of “Together We Can Explore the Furthest Beyond” (the original appeared on his debut album). Similarly, Lisa Cameron and Sandy Ewen are featured in an excerpt from a recent live performance that highlights their impressive range. Astral Spirits regular Charles Rumback appears with a new quartet featuring Macie Stewart, Nick Macri, and the great Ron Miles. Several tracks later, Jaap Blonk, Jeb Biship, Damon Smith, and Weasel Walter blow the walls off Willimantic Records with a four-minute excerpt of a live show. And Fred Lonberg-Holm, Anton Hatwich, and Avreeayl Ra appear in an as-yet unreleased trio performance.

Several groups with albums coming out in late 2019 get a preview appearance, including Kobra Quartet, members of Komeshi Trio, and the duo of Nathan Alexander Pape & Patrick Breiner, whose debut Ground Air is out on Astral Spirits sub-label Astral Editions. The label serves as a preview, of sorts, for some of the more experimental groups. Violinist Macie Stewart reappears with cellist Lia Kohl, who released Pocket Full of Bees earlier this year on Astral Editions. A track from that album, “Toothpick Bicycle,” appears here with the promise of a full-length Astral Spirits release in 2020. Among the other 2020 releases teased in the liner notes, is one that’s sure to capture readers’ attention, a double album from Karl Evangelista, Alexander Hawkins, Louis Moholo-Moholo & Trevor Watts. The sample here, “FDT,” hints at the greatness to come on this album, which continues to build on the powerful partnership of Hawkins and Moholo-Moholo.

With over 30 tracks, and running several hours, there’s plenty to explore on Astral Ascending, for both newbies, casual fans, and the hardcore supporters. And here’s to the future of radical sounds, psychedelic artwork, and ecstatic experimentalism.

Free Form Freakout's FFFoxy Podcast Astral Spirits Feature

Astral Ascending digital release

Astral Editions subscription

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Ilia Belorukov & Vasco Trilla - Laniakea (Astral Spirits, 2019) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Astral Spirits describes prolific Russian, Saint-Petersburg-based sax player Ilia Belorukov and Portuguese-Catalan, Barcelona-based drummer Vasco Trilla as “two under-sung heroes of free improv”. Both Belorukov and Trilla like to experiment with different objects and sounds in order to reinvent and enhance the sonic range and imagination of their respective instruments - the alto sax, fluteophone,  Belorukov's electronics and Trilla's assorted percussion instruments. Laniakea was recorded at Vasco's studio in Barcelona on July 2017 and later mixed and mastered by Belorukov.

Laniakea follows Trilla’s trio Phicus' meeting with Belorukov, K(nо́)t (Intonema, Belorukov’s label, 2018), and like K(nо́)t it harnesses both musicians inventive extended techniques in favor of sketching fascinating microtonal drones ad sudden rhythmic patterns. The first three pieces are distinct, experimental drones. “Zud” is quiet and one that employs extended breathing techniques and delicate rubbing of skins and frames, all suggest a kind of extraterrestrial, rich yet monotonous one, with industrial, rhythmic sounds. “Klaketta” dives much deeper into mysterious deep seas of overtones that correspond with subtle, crackling and rubbing sounds until all disappear in dark, dense ripples of white noises.

“Moutonner” is the most beautiful one. An enigmatic and suggestive soundscape that has strong cinematic qualities and immediate emotional impact, due to or despite its almost silent and subtle atmosphere, slowly gaining more volume and depth. The last “Kikimora” employs metronomes and bells to create elusive ritualistic-rhythmic framework, mutated by electronic-sounding. noisy comments on these chaotic patterns.

Highly inventive.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Nick Mazzarella Trio - Counterbalance (Astral Spirits, 2019) *****

By Tom Burris

There is a masterful quality to this music. It's in the nonchalance of the playing & in the musicians' relationship to create with each other, sure. But it's not just high caliber improvisational music. The trio's ability to hear each other so completely is so.. well.. mature. There is an unhurried quality here. There is nothing forced; but neither does any stone lie untouched. The music within Counterbalance is about being fully developed in one's practice – and then carrying that into a space where change and adaptation is a prerequisite for creative collaboration. The end result exudes a richness that only a maturing process can produce.

The recording happened in front of a live audience in Chicago early last year. There are six tracks, divided evenly onto the LP's two sides, that all begin and end with simple head arrangements which the band members use to explore the elasticity of those heads in between. Four of the heads remind me immediately of Ornette's early work, particularly the Golden Circle era, given the trio setup here – but two of them have the jumpy melody lines more associated with Thelonious Monk, particularly on the last cut, “Innermost.” It doesn't conjure up any particular Monk composition, of course – just an overall unmistakable feel. What the group make of the head is altogether unsuitable for Monk: it becomes a brooding collaborative composition made up of long whole notes from bassist Anton Hatwich, smoking spiraling runs by Mazzarella on alto, and distant ghosts rattling chains by percussionist Frank Rosaly.

Mazzarella has a natural ability to expertly map a course for the music out of thin air which serves the group incredibly well. Rosaly and Hatwich are always enthusiastically on board. They not only provide the type of active support most band leaders dream of; they also excel at staying within the psychic realm of the music while escalating the overall structure with precision and melody. Yes, even the drummer – especially the drummer. Rosaly's soloing couldn't be more melodic if he was playing vibes. The axis he creates with Hatwich is often a steady rumble, but they may be at their most impressive on “About Looking,” where they lurk in the shadows, idling patiently, waiting to strike. The strike never comes, by the way – carrying the sense of unease into the title track which follows.

The title track was what I was listening to as I wrote the first paragraph of this review. I want to be clear. This music is not ecstatic, unhinged blowing. There is not a full-on rager in sight. It does not scream (too much) and it absolutely does not showboat. It does serve as an elegant bullshit repellent with which to class up any room it envelopes. It will serve as a smudge to clear away bad mojo. These creations are solidly within the tradition of free improvisational music, which means they also constantly push against the definition of that term. The statement that I'm hearing is an addendum. We are adults and this is our music.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Sean Ali, Leila Bordreuil, Joanna Mattrey - I Used To Sing So Lyrical (Astral Spirits, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

Sean Ali (contrabass), Leila Bordreuil (cello), and Joanna Mattrey (viola) create dense arco textures for 37 minutes across three tracks on I Used To Sing So Lyrical. Ali appears on the blog with some frequency, especially in collaboration with Carlo Costa. Readers might remember Bordreuil from The Caustic Ballads with Michael Foster. And Mattrey just appeared on one of this year’s best recordings in Jessica Pavone’s Brick and Mortar. Ali and Bordreuil both appear on Lea Bertucci’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, though in separate performances; this is the first time these players have recorded together.

Most of the music is an impressive array of bowing techniques, shredding, scraping, and scratching the gut to its last thread, emitting timbres both deep and woody and high and tinny, evoking moods of tension, suspense, and sorrow. The space is full and the total volume is typically high in “Relic,” yet it displays excellent dynamics through relative volume, fluxing bowing speeds and pulses, and counterpoint. The maelstrom is briefly broken up with the introduction of some objects, perhaps chains and mallets to the body of the bass. “Something About This Room” begins more quietly, with plucked bass providing a clearer sense of movement for the wandering viola and cello, but builds to an all-out arco assault. And “The Air Thick Like So” is a kind of vortex of bows, occasionally separating and slowing harmonically only to converge and quicken, like a feeding frenzy of sharks at the drop of chum.

There’s a sense that other string trios could have made this as well, though that may be due to my relative unfamiliarity with the players and their individual characteristics, but the results are addictively listenable regardless. It’s quite an accomplishment for this new trio, that already move as a thoroughly cohesive unit with a fantastic take on harmony and dynamics.
I Used To Sing So Lyrical is available digitally and on cassette.