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In Order to Survive: Cooper-Moore (p), William Parker (b), Hamid Drake (d), Rob Brown (s)

Shapeshifter Lab, Brooklyn, NY. July 2017. Photo by Paul Acquaro

KALABALIK: Raoul Bjorkenheim (g), Gerald Cleaver (d), Anders Nillson (g)

Downtown Music Gallery. June 2017. Photo By Scott Friedlander

Anthony Braxton

jazzwerkstatt Peitz Nr. 54, Petiz, Germany. June 2017. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Thomas Herberer (t) and Pascal Niggenkemper (b)

jazzwerkstatt Peitz Nr. 54, Petiz, Germany. June 2017. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Ravi Coltrane (s), Matthew Garrison (b), Jack DeJohnette (d)

Jazzfest, Denton, TX. April 28, 2017. Photo by Rick Joines

Monday, July 24, 2017

Christian Lillinger/Tobias Delius - Dicht (Relative Pitch, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray

Julia Neupert, the host of the SWR2 Now Jazz radio show "Freejazzblog On Air", has a theory about the way musicians play their instruments: She claims that their style is similar to the way they talk. Be it quick, moderate, hectical or bewildered - everything is reflected in their music. And she has a point: Think of Peter Brötzmann, who could declaim very uncompromisingly and brush off other people’s opinions very harshly when he was younger. However, he’s seemed to mellow with age when you talk to him these days and so has his music, for example on Münster Bern. Another example is Han Bennink, who likes to tell funny anecdotes and whose performances always have something clownesque.

This theory also works for the young German drum wizard Christian Lillinger and saxophonist/clarinetist Tobias Delius. Delius, a real cosmopolitan who was born in Argentina and has lived in Mexico, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, speaks eight languages and he can easily jump back and forth between them. On the saxophone he combines the swing sound of Ben Webster and the hard bop tradition of Sonny Rollins with elements of the blues and a traditional free jazz attitude. Or, as Olie Brice put it: “I like his massive, warm sound and his melodic style rooted in the great jazz tenor tradition, with a completely flexible and free approach to improvised interaction.“

In conversations Delius often mumbles, he sometimes gets lost in anacoluthons, just to use very elaborate and eloquent constructions in the next sentences. Lillinger, on the other hand, is someone who talks very rapidly, his sentences ricochet through the air. He throws in ideas, interrupts his thoughts, turns in another direction, just to be absolutely precise within a second. As a drummer his style is incredibly inventive and unpredictable, it’s as if he was an electric toy which is wound up and cannot be stopped.

In their duo they combine Delius’ instant melodies with Lillinger’s quick-witted responses, it’s a fascinating dialogue, a give and take that works in raucous and laid back moments. "Pea Jaw Zinc Zee", the longest track on Dicht (German for "tight"), is a good example of this. Delius plays chopped and blurred lines, he quotes Evan Parker motives and creates tender blues riffs, he interrupts, starts anew, tries something completely different, while Lillinger pushes him forward and forces him to zigzag with his phrases, click sounds and sparse notes. It’s as if they were eyeing each other. When Delius plays a swing riff in the middle of the track, Lillinger resigns attacking it and prefers to support it delicately. Only in the last few minutes they seem to agree out of the blue and tighten the reins. When the listener has just noticed that something has changed they stop the track track right in the middle.

Dicht is like a high speed conversation in different idioms. It’s fun to listen to it over and over again to discover Delius’ hidden references and just to acknowledge that Lillinger is the most interesting European drummer at the moment.

You can buy it from www.downtownmusicgallery.com or www.instantjazz.com

Watch them live here:



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Two from Tomeka: Part 2

By Eric McDowell

With her stunning quartet debut in 2015, Tomeka Reid made her full emergence onto the scene after a period of incubation with masters like Nicole Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, and Mike Reed. That we’re still eagerly awaiting a follow-up quartet album, though, isn’t to say that the cellist has been on vacation. Not only playing a supporting role on fellow Chicagoan Jamie Branch’s own recent knock-out debut, Reid has also shared the spotlight in duo and trio settings—on Nessa and International Anthem, respectively—that showcase the varied aspects of her talent.


Hear In Now - Not Living in Fear (International Anthem, 2017) *****


Whereas Nessa has been promoting creative music for half a century, Chicago-based International Anthem released its first album less than three years ago. In just that short time, though, the label has grounded its reputation by turning out some of the most exciting and rewarding sounds around—not only high-profile favorites like Jamie Branch’s Fly or Die or Jeff Parker’s New Breed, but also gems like Aleuchatistas’ Arrebato and Bottle Tree’s self-titled debut. (Of course, it also brought us Nick Mazzarella’s Ultraviolet in 2015, too.) Getting the idea that wherever International Anthem goes—math rock, soul, free jazz—the common denominator is quality? The label’s foray into chamber music will only confirm your suspicions.

Cellist of the hour Tomeka Reid makes up only one-third of Hear In Now. New York violinist Mazz Swift’s impressive resume includes appearances not only with the likes of William Parker and James “Blood” Ulmer but also with Whitney Houston and Kayne West. And Sienese double bassist Silvia Bolognesi has extensive experience in both classical music and free jazz, having and studied with Parker and played in the Butch Morris Orchestra. The trio was born out of a commission for the 2009 Woma Jazz all-female festival, and they recorded their self-titled debut on Rudi Records in 2012. Five years later, Not Living in Fear finds the trio in top form. Especially for a group brought together by outside forces, they play with natural compatibility. At the same time, their collective dynamic benefits from the infrequency of their collaborations and the collision of worlds that attends their meeting up: Reid, Swift, and Bolognesi play with a drive bordering on competition—not the kind that declares a winner, of course, but the kind that pushes each player to new, otherwise unreachable heights.

Not Living in Fear begins with a sample of these dynamics. For an album loaded with tight compositions and heart wrenching themes to open with an untitled improvisation (“Impro 3”) asserts Hear In Now first and foremost as a trio of accomplished and daring players, ever ready to plumb the unknown. Whatever assumptions you come in with, these first four and a half minutes are sufficient to wipe them clean. Forget the tradition of jazz cello or violin. Instead, think Shostakovich. Think Schoenberg or Ferneyhough. “Impro 3” is dark, chaotic, physical—when the trio finally sync up at the end, it’s to lurch away, maimed but in harmony.

The album’s compositions are no less affecting—or impressive. Follow-up “Leaving Livorno” is as pained as its title suggests, Swift spinning a tender folkish melody over a pizzi bass/arco cello ostinato. While much of the album resides in what might be called the heavy-hearted—see “Prayer for Wadud,” another tribute to the master cellist, for a prime example—some pieces make the argument for “bittersweet” as a more accurate descriptor. “Last Night’s Vacation,” for example, contains some of the album’s most buoyant themes, starting with an all-pizzi introduction and settling in on angular melodies passed back and forth between cello and violin. But the jaunty lines are continually washed over by harsh, dissonant textures. The title track builds from more pizzi improvising into an upbeat, even uplifting ostinato, over which guest singer Dee Alexander perfectly captures the album’s delicate balance of despair and optimism: “Don’t be afraid / Living in fear / It’s very clear / That life throws a curveball / Every now and then.” It’s wise to position this moment smack in the center of Not Living in Fear, since we need six tracks to prepare and six more to recover. But of course the effect comes not merely from the lyrics themselves but as much or more from Alexander’s skill as a vocalist.

In fact, the same could be said for the trio’s interpretation and development of each of the album’s compositions, which are potent on their own but gain their true power from the playing. Reid herself often acts as something of a middle-woman, calling on the cello’s relative versatility in this context to supply rhythmic support, melodic counterpoint, and all manner of complexities. Not to say she doesn’t step out: see her solo on “Transiti” for some of her boldest playing yet. While Bolognesi’s instrument similarly inclines her to certain roles in the trio, she’s by no means stuck playing support. Naturally on “Requiem for Charlie Haden” she takes the lead over her colleagues’ anguished bowing, soloing with fierce energy. And on “Cicle” she gets to have it both ways, underpinning the cello ostinato in the theme and then delivering another demanding solo. Swift and her violin may take on much of the responsibility for the album’s many memorable melodies, but her improvisation is no less noteworthy. On tunes like the menacing “Terrortoma” or the daintier “Cantiere Orlando,” her solos are frankly breathtaking: wonderfully dynamic, they range and rage, equally technical and lyrical.

“Cultural Differences,” the thirteenth, final, and longest track on Not Living in Fear, seems to summarize all of the album’s disparate elements—free improvisation, heartbreaking melody, freewheeling solos, even some singing. If in society, cultural differences can be either a source of tension or a cause for celebration, in Hear In Now they’re both at the same time.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Two from Tomeka - Part I

By Eric Mc Dowell

With her stunning quartet debut in 2015, Tomeka Reid made her full emergence onto the scene after a period of incubation with masters like Nicole Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, and Mike Reed. That we’re still eagerly awaiting a follow-up quartet album, though, isn’t to say that the cellist has been on vacation. Not only playing a supporting role on fellow Chicagoan Jamie Branch’s own recent knock-out debut, Reid has also shared the spotlight in duo and trio settings—on Nessa and International Anthem, respectively—that showcase the varied aspects of her talent. 

Nick Mazzarella & Tomeka Reid – Signaling (Nessa, 2017) ****½


Now in its 50th year of operation, the Midwestern label Nessa’s slim but carefully curated catalogue includes landmark AACM albums like Lester Bowie’s Numbers 1&2 (the label’s first release), the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s People In Sorrow, and Roscoe Mitchell’s Nonaah, along with more recent releases by Von Freeman, Anthony Braxton, and, again, Mr. Mitchell (but who can get enough?). Nessa’s latest measures references to the past against in-the-moment freshness in an intoxicating blend.

Signaling begins, in fact, by nodding to history with “Blues for Julius and Wadud,” a tribute to the great sax/cello partnership of Julius Hemphill and Abdul Wadud. Over Reid’s nimble plucking and strumming, alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella—yet another member of the Chicago scene—blows lyrical, probing lines. The follow-up title track, in contrast, shows the duo in a slightly different mode: lacking the structural reference of the blues or the historical reference of honored forebears, Mazzarella and Reid have only each other to interact with—a task for which they’re more than equipped. While “dialogue” could well describe the fragmentary, equal exchange of musical ideas that results, the chosen title better captures the telepathically sensitive interplay between the two musicians.

And it’s this quality—so rewarding to listeners and players of improvised music alike—that makes Signaling such a success, whether Mazzarella and Reid are playing with a single mind or exploiting the contrasting capabilities of their instruments. Such contrasts are on further display on “Like So Many Drops of Water,” where Mazzarella’s long, doleful lines range over Reid’s busy plucking as if to call up Ornette and his “Lonely Woman,” another key alto reference point. “Rediscovery of an Age” and “Let It Be Known” form a mirrored pair, the former accelerating from a mellow stroll into scrambled sprint, the latter de-escalating from the tension of Reid’s sawing arco to the relative relaxation of something like a walking bassline. And “The Ancestors Speak” highlights the saxophonist and cellist almost in isolation, with Mazzarella starring in the first half and Reid in the second, the two crossing paths along the way.

At just over two minutes each, the album’s shortest two pieces highlight the different directions the less stratified and more immediate approach of the title track can take. Whereas the quick-witted interplay on “Interstices” is fueled by the energy sparked by the two musicians’ focused attention on each other, closer “Invoking a Spirit” is as solemn as its title promises, Reid’s rich arco matched perfectly by Mazzarella’s sustained phrasing. On the other hand “Topographies,” the longest track, splits the difference, beginning as another chatty match and ending as a broad-textured meditation. Hearing the duo ride that transition without losing each other in the least encapsulates the pleasure of hearing Signaling as a whole

Friday, July 21, 2017

Catching up with Küchen

By Eyal Hareuveni

Swedish sax player Martin Küchen moves freely between free jazz projects, with his groups Angles 9, All Included and the Trespass Trio, to free-improvised, experimental projects where he explores new sounds and textures. His recent releases highlight his free and always searching spirit.

Trespass Trio - The Spirit of Pitesti (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½


This is is already the fourth album of this Swedish-Norwegian trio, featuring Küchen on baritone, alto and sopranino saxes, fellow Swedish veteran improviser, drummer-percussionist Raymond Strid, and Norwegian double bass player Per Zanussi. The Spirit of Pitesti was recorded in Oslo on November 2015 and tells the story of the Romanian city Pitesti, known for its notorious local prison that was used during the early fifties, at the time of the totalitarian communist regime, for re-education experiments of political prisoners In that brainwashing process of the prisoners, violence between the inmates was common and even encouraged by the Securitate secret police. The procedures got so out of hand that the communist authorities stopped everything after five years. The prison staff was pardoned, but 16 inmate collaborators were sentenced to death penalties.

“The experiment is not over”, Küchen writes in the liner notes. “A dry, hot and edgy wind that leaves you every time you feel it coming - and yet it comes again, with new promises, with new procedures how to tackle the now unspirited spirit”. Trespass Trio transform this sad story of Pitesti into a highly cinematic, emotional journey of resistance and defiance, charging the painful memories from that dark era with disarming compassion and tenderness. The interplay of the trio is telepathic, full of emphatic, gentle passion that brings to mind some of Charlie Haden's most spiritual, bluesy ballads. These melancholic, fragile ballads are delivered with a rare economic restraint for such a powerful free jazz unit, except for the playful, rhythmic “Fri Kokko (Free Retardo at the Koko Club)”. Only 36 minutes long, but every second radiates with profound beauty.



Küchen & Müntzing Scheibenhonig ‎– Rop På Hjälp (Inexhaustiable Editions, 2015) ***½


Küchen's Scheibenhonig duo finds the saxophonist working with former electric bass player Herman Müntzing. Today Müntzing is a teacher of improvisation at the Academy of Music in Malmö, and plays on many things. All these things are spread on the studio floor - kitchen gadgets, strings and sticks, old harmonium case, toy electronics, metal, various wood and plastic things, megaphone, toy synth, mandolin and “failtronics”, begging for Küchen and Müntzing attention. Küchen occasionally plays also on the sopranino sax and Müntzing plays also on the flexichord, a 12-stringed electric instrument made out of strings and pickups from 2 electric guitars, built especially for him by his brother, and contact mics. 

The duo was formed in 2010 and Rop På Hjälp is its debut recording, released in a limited-edition of 100 copies (plus a download option), with paintings by Tímea Ferth. It was recorded in Küchen's home town, Lund, during June 2014. The two pieces are free-improvised following Küchen and Müntzing associative train of thoughts. The first track is a busy one, gravitating around a mechanical, toy sounding pulse, ornamented by imaginative yet cacophonic rattle of weird sounds and noises that stress the duo great sense of invention, playfulness and clever drama building. The second, shorter piece suggests a sparse, naive texture that touches and goes a game-like rhythmic pattern, still, captivating with its amusing, sometimes bewildering sonic inventions.



Martin Küchen / Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga ‎– Bauchredner (Cathnor Recordings, 2015) ***½


Küchen's meeting with Greek, London-based Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga, who plays the amplified, stringed zither, was recorded in a studio in Lund on September 2013, following two previous sessions, the first at Lazaridou-Chatzigoga's home in London and the second in a galley in Malmö, the night before the recording. Lazaridou-Chatzigoga is theoretical linguist and an experimental improviser who employs ebows and objects on her old German zither resonance box to produce sustained or granulated sounds. She has collaborated before with other sonic explorers such as trumpeters Nate Wooley, and Axel Dörner, clarinetist Xavier Charles, and violinist Angharad Davie. Küchen plays on this recording the alto and baritone saxes, muted most of the times, and radios.

Bauchredner refers to a 1923 painting by Swiss-German Paul Klee, Bauchredner und rufer im moor (Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor), that is used for the cover of this limited-edition release of 150 copies (plus a download option). One of the interpretations of Klee painting suggests that the little, imaginary creatures inside the ventriloquist may symbolize the odd noises and voices that seem to emanate from him. The atmosphere of this album is indeed focused on such odd noises and voices, delivered in an enigmatic, intimate atmosphere. Küchen and Lazaridou-Chatzigoga patiently weave layers of static noises, noisy breaths and whispers, raw feedback and resonant metallic sounds. Both distill these weird sounds into a meditative storms that suggest, in their turn, disturbing dream-like states, but full of psychedelic colors.





Thursday, July 20, 2017

Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone (ESP-Disk, 2017) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Poet and activist Amina Baraka, has just released, I believe, her first recording on the storied ESP-Disk label. Her album of spoken word and inside/outside jazz is a spot-on debut, drawing deeply on her life, culture, and politics. Baraka is the widow of writer, activist, and music critic, Amiri Baraka, mother of current Newark, NJ mayor Ras Baraka, and has a lot to talk about.

It starts with a simple melody on piano, then sax, propelled by a straight-ahead drum beat, Baraka lets out a blood curdling scream matched tonally by the flute and sax, who help her land on the phrase 'Mama cries time step’. He words are sharp and clear, and her tone somewhere between scolding and excited. I still haven't figured out what all the words mean on this one, but I don't mind, the words fly by, syllables to be savored, and meanings to mull. The gun-slinger metaphor for Billy Bang’s playing in 'The Spirit of Billy Bang’, however, I get. Along with the spare accompaniment from bassist Laurie Towers, it's a parable about the late violinist - or maybe it is about the woman playing the bass - or maybe again its about the free associations and sumptuous imagery that end up meaning more that way, anyway.

The rest of the band re-joins on 'Things I Like', woodwindists Ras Moshe Burnett and Rocco John Iacovone (also on piano), drummer John Pietaro and Towers start in on a relaxed lounge number as Baraka cites things that she likes: a Monk tune, Albert Ayler's Ghost, Henry Fonda, a People's War, a Revolution, and sushi, among life's other pleasures. Later, over a caressing blues, Baraka reminisces about growing up on 'Afro American Child'. It's a tribute to the past and the hard truths of growing up, going from memories of “men in striped suits and big country hats” to “women standing over the stove frying chicken, one hand on the small of they back” but as time moves on, the music grows wilder, and memories turn to “growing up, taking rides in rich people’s neighborhoods” and then to “we grew up without civil rights … marching with Dr. King … knowing we couldn’t turn the other cheek”. This is a twenty minute free associative tour de force of American history, through the words of someone who lived it. It’s a reminder of where we have come from, and how much further there is to go. The music and words mix and feed off each other, reflecting each other's intensity and meaning, a quote from a Monk tune or the C-Jam blues may suddenly appear, and so may a passage as free as it comes.

While I’ve only made it about halfway through the album here, perhaps a little more, there's more to take in, especially later as the past turns to the present on 'Fascists'. With her sometimes acidic, sometimes sweet, but always on point lyrics, Baraka and her band of like minded travelers have delivered an unexpected gem.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Elliot Cardinaux - American Thicket (Loyal Label, 2016) ****


Pianist and poet Elliot Cardinaux floats into this set of music and poetry quietly and when the first track ’Thicket’ ends on the phrase "There never were any Indians in Columbus’ America" you know something is happening, even if you don’t know exactly what it is. Though it took me a while to get to this album, when I finally dove in, I soon found myself enjoying the unexpected moments when surreal snippets like "I’ve ruined all my life but I’ve got nothing to show for it – teach me how to ask a question, any question" jumped out at me. Yes, I thought, as I trudged to the train on my daily commute, what are the questions that I do not know how to ask? The ambiguity allows meaning to form from a multitude of angles.

Just as important, though, is the music. The line-up speaks volumes: violist Mat Maneri, bassist Thomas Morgan, and percussionist Flin van Hemmen help Cardinaux in creating an abstract yet supportive environment for his words. The music is thick and buzzing on ‘Thicket’, it is 10 minutes of fractured rumbling that reaches a ruminative peak towards the end, which finds Morgan and Van Hemmen digging deep into the pulse and Maneri adding an affective shimmer to Cardinaux’s introspective playing.

Cardinaux has a flat affect to his voice. On ‘Questions (to the Thought)’, in a highly effective, near monotone, he recites the aforementioned words about life, before Morgan’s walking bass line forms a musical spine around which tendrils reaching out from the viola wrap around. The pianist lays down crisp tonal clusters and arpeggiated lines, and as Maneri starts digging in, van Hemmen responds, and they start building to an apex that only lightens up at the end with a series of drum rolls and a final decisive pluck from Morgan.

The tracks, some instrumental, some with short surreal verses interspersed, and at least one with a delightful parable ('Angel'), flow quietly from one to the other, often reaching muted climaxes that help round flesh-out Cardinaux's intriguing imagery. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Miriodor – Signal 9 (Cuneiform, 2017) ****


By Chris Haines

Maybe in part due to the amazing amount and quality of new improvised music that I had the privilege of listening to and writing about over the last year, I have recently been revisiting old albums, many from the seventies and eighties, some of which I probably haven’t listened to since then. Much of this music could be said to come under the umbrella of progressive rock, which in some ways has enabled me to ‘clean my ears’ in a way that Murray Schafer might approve of before I reconnect with the wealth of improvised music that is continuing to be released, with the audience interest for it also gaining momentum at present. One of these groups, Miriodor, is still going strong and far from reforming to hash out old favourites to a worn-out audience, as many progressive rock bands have, their music is still fresh and vibrant having recently released a new and interesting album in the form of Signal 9.

This is the ninth studio release from the avant-rock group who have been steadily releasing an original catalogue of work over the last thirty-odd years. A group that is also recognized and linked with the Rock In Opposition movement, and although they weren’t one of the original groups in that loose collective, there are sounds and structures in their music which are reminiscent of bands such as Henry Cow. Originally hailing from the French Canadian province of Quebec, the group has had many line-up changes over the years, with the current formation consisting of Pascal Globensky (keyboards), Rémi Leclerc (drums), Bernard Falaise (guitar), and Nicolas Lessard (bass, keyboards). Signal 9 is also dedicated to one of the founding members of the group, François Émond, who sadly passed away during the making of the album.

Miriodor’s music is often comprised of complex composed structures with sudden switches between a variety of stylistic themes and genres, making for a colorful and interesting heady mix of diverse musical moments. If I were to pull out one track off the album that defined the group’s sound the most, the piece ‘Portrait-robot’ would probably be it. One of the longer tracks on the album it starts with a motorik bass and drums rhythm, which is joined by an angular keyboard melody before the guitar comes in signaling an immediate change of melody. This gradually builds and builds in typical rock fashion, which then collapses into ambient and electronic sounds. After a while the music regains the strong rock rhythm section backing topped by mellotron sounds that quickly give way to a humoresque and circus-like music. Without any musical theme wanting to outstay it’s welcome it quickly proceeds into a final thematic section that is a development of the ambient and electronic passage. As mentioned previously it is these many changes in stylistic musical material, incorporation of humour and whimsy, classic rock backing, fragmented/angular melodies, and experimentation with sound, which are either all incorporated into the longer tracks or are shorter tracks juxtaposed alongside one another in the running order, that characterizes the musical mission statement of the group.

The album is excellently arranged and the clear structures define and shape the wealth of musical information that is being communicated to the listener in an ordered and resolute manner. Miriodor seem to find a way to keep an originality to their music without doing anything radically different from album to album. For me this is the essence of good musicianship and artistic vision, which they encapsulate in the cocktail of sound that they have consistently produced over the life span of the group. In this respect Signal 9 is a rewarding album for their many fans and as good a place to start for any who are unfamiliar with their enjoyable brand of progressive music.

Here’s the opening track off the album, Venin.







Monday, July 17, 2017

Toshimaru Nakamura and Martin Taxt - Listening to the footsteps of living ones who are still on the ground (Ftarri, 2017) ****½


By Connor Kurtz

In this reviewer's extremely biased eyes, Toshimaru Nakamura is one of the most important electronic musicians of the 21st century. Toshimaru Nakamura is best known as the man behind the no-input mixing board[1], and one of the earliest and most prolific names in onkyo-style improvisation[2]. What might be easily glanced over on the packaging of his new full length collaboration with Martin Taxt, Listening to the footsteps of living ones who are still on the ground[3], ends up being the most important aspect of what makes this a standout in Nakamura's recent discography: Nakamura is not credited on no-input mixing board, but simply credited on mixing board[4]. I'll explain the importance of this shortly. Martin Taxt is a young Norwegian tubist, best known for his work on the SOFA label which he co-founded. Earlier this year he performed as a member of the excellent EAI trio Muddersten, where he unleashed a huge array of electroacoustic tuba goop.

Although Nakamura began in the historically quiet onkyo music scene, his recent music has been taking a surprisingly unsurprising turn towards the noisy. On his most recent solo album, No Input Mixing Board #8, a duo with saxophonist Katsura Yamauchi and one previous duo with Taxt[5], Nakamura has made this stylistic turn obvious. These albums were certainly an enjoyable disturbance of the ears, but Listening feels like a step forward, perhaps a culmination in this maximalist style. Not just is the music harsher[6] than any of these earlier albums, but it is also more dynamic, more exciting and more progressive.

Let's get back to Nakamura and his mixing board. When they say that he is performing on a mixing board rather than a no-input mixing board, one would think that he must be using a some-input mixing board, which is indeed the case; and that some-input is nothing other than the tuba of one Martin Taxt[7]. What this means is that Taxt improvises live, and his output is then manipulated by Nakamura live with his some-input mixing board[8]. A wonderful idea – and what makes it even better, is that the dry single of Taxt's tuba is completely absent (meaning that we exclusively hear the output of Nakamura's mixing board).

The system for improvisation that these two have constructed is wonderful, because it completely changes around how duo improvisations are meant to work. They typically work by having both performers listen closely to each other, and basing what they play off of that. There's an element of counterpoint. One school of thought is to pay attention to nothing and play solely what your heart says to play. Either way, the name of the game is intuition – but the listener will always listen to the two performers separately, and try to understand them as a whole (and the performers are aware of this). In this new system, intuition remains king, but the context is completely different. I see there being two different ways of this being performed: 1) Taxt's tuba is led into Nakamura's mixing board which is led into headphones which Nakamura wears. In this system, Nakamura can only hear what's coming from his mixing board and Taxt can only hear what's coming from his tuba, so they can only respond to their own outputs, although Nakamura's is still determined by Taxt's. 2) Taxt's tuba is led into Nakamura's mixing board which is led into an amplifier. In this system, both performers can hear Nakamura's amplified mixing board and Taxt's live (acoustic) tuba, so Taxt can improvise off of how his Tuba sounds after manipulation and Nakamura can improvise off of what Taxt is currently playing. Another possibility in the second situation is that the amplifier could be turned up loud enough to provoke feedback from however Taxt's tuba is mic'd; this could explain some of the album's harshness. Either way, the listener exclusively hears the output of Nakamura's mixing board. So, to us, Taxt's improvisation is lost and only becomes used as a source for Nakamura's. Then an easy question occurs – is this really still a duo album? Well, I'm not sure, but I do know that I like when an album leaves me with a question that I don't know how to answer.

Taxt's improvisation is something that I have little to say about, simply because it's mangled beyond recognition before it even reaches my ears. Sometimes we get glimpses of the loud, full and deep sound of the tuba bursting through the electronic glob of noise, but more often than not we're stuck with something that I doubt even Taxt could identify as a tuba. So then, what of Nakamura's improvisation? Well, I'm glad to state that he is in top form here. On albums like Good Morning, Good Night and Between[9], he mastered a minimal style which was focused on analog electronic snaps, crackles, and pops, as well as simple drones resembling test tones. Even before that, he experimented with simple IDM-lite rhythms and melodies on his early solo albums which would make up the earliest entries in his No-Input Mixing Board series. As I previously said, his style here is blatantly maximalist, and perhaps takes from the rapid-fire madness of Japan's own noise scene. Sounds are distorted and pushed deep past the thresholds of clipping, and they're constantly mutated in high enough speeds that it will sound constantly moving[10].

It is generalizing to say that Nakamura's improvisations are always like that, this is just where they are most easily memorable (read: shocking). The album works in three tracks: two 10 minute pieces sandwich a 16-minute centerpiece. They are all named after the Japanese cities in which they were recorded. The tracks all have their own improvised themes and modes, making them all delightful distinct from each other. On Osaka, the opening track, Taxt's acoustic tuba can most easily be heard. He operates in slow but full patterns and rhythms as Nakamura gradually adds noise and pushes the track closer to clipping and eventually past it. The track is very linear, making it easy to take in and follow, but on Kagoshima things lose all predictability. It kicks off with some light percussive sounds. Feedback grows and noise overcomes, and the listener is dropped face first into a maze of electroacoustic textures and walls of electronic noise. Album closer Okinawa is an even deeper dive into the harsh noise maelstrom. In this track, it's often hard to tell that there was ever even a tuba at play, as the listener is lost in the void of sheer hellish miasma[11]. The album ends with a tuba howling like a foghorn before a full fade to black.

So all in all, this album thoroughly subverted all of my expectations in a way which I find to be both interesting and a joyous pleasure to listen to, and that's exactly what I want from this kind of album: it's one thing to give the listener something that they want, but it's another thing to give them something that they didn't know they wanted. There's an immediate level of novelty that the album grants from its pure noisiness, but there's deeper levels of enjoyment as well that keep me coming back over and over. The three track structure works flawlessly, allowing the listener to directly juxtapose the three. What we're left with is a great noise album that doubles as a great free improvisation album, and one that I'm certain will end up as a highlight of Nakamura's 2010's discography.




[1] No-input mixing board refers to when a musician plugs a mixing board's output into its own input, rather than connecting to any outside sources. This creates an internal feedback loop, which can then be manipulated with the levels on the mixing board.
[2] Most notably, Nakamura was involved on the now infamous, although in my opinion quite lovely, 2004 Erstwhile Records double album Good Morning, Good Night alongside Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide.
[3] The title is so lovely that I almost feel bad that I'll simply be referring to it as Listening from now on.
[4] This is so easily glanced over that Nakamura is still credited with no-input mixing board on the album's RateYourMusic entry at time of writing.
[5] Nakamura and Taxt's Pan on Fire, released on Monotype Records only a year and a half prior, could easily be seen as a precursor to this.
[6] There are moments on Okinawa where this music could be mistaken for the soul-shaking electronic noise of Incapacitants or Merzbow!
[7] If you are anything like this reviewer, you should be bouncing in your chair in joy at this realization.
[8] Some-input does feel more realistic than just-input, because I am very confident that the mixing board's output is still being processed by itself to construct feedback loops.
[9] Between is another Erstwhile Records double album, this time from 2006, by Nakamura and Keith Rowe. I personally consider it to be the masterpiece of the 00's EAI scene.
[10] This is assisted by the fact that there are two improvisers moving at once, so this ends up sounding like double speed.
[11] I wouldn't usually make a note to point out a reference, but the situation here is slightly different. Sheer Hellish Miasma is a famous album by American noise titan Kevin Drumm, and if you can make it through Okinawa with a smile I'd highly recommend that album.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Russian Connection: the Latest from Mikroton

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Moscow-based Mikroton label specializes in experimental, free-improvised electroacoustic music. Mikroton latest release offer challenging yet highly gratifying listening experiences.

Cilantro: Angélica Castelló & Billy Roisz - Borderland (Mikroton, 2017) ****½


Cilantro is the Viennese duo of Mexican Angélica Castelló, who plays here on paetzold, ukulele, organ, tapes and electronics, and Billy Roisz, who plays here on electric bass, organ, tv, piezzo, computer and electronics, and on live performances adds her video art. Castelló and Roisz collaborated before in a quartet with fellow Viennese guitarist Burkhard Stangl and turntables master Dieb 13 (Scuba, Mikroton, 2014), and are involved in many other like minded project. They have worked under the moniker Cilantro for the past six years. Borderland was recorded n a basement in the resort Austrian area Podersdorf am See.

The demanding, enigmatic music leaves no time for mind numbness. Cilantro, like the spicy herb, thrive on intense borderlands, between the ones who can’t have enough of this herb and those who can not stand its taste or smell. Castelló and Roisz play wisely on the contradictory sonic terrains. Their nuanced, labyrinthian soundscapes can sound sensual, fragile and and delicate and almost on the same time can be chaotic, mean and cryptic. Both move instantly between control and total freedom, evoking suggestive human, very emotional textures with their varied arsenal of noisy, feedback-laden and processed, electronic devices and sampled, fragmented vocals. Pieces like “Oruga” and “Skrimslo” navigate in stormy and hazy, hallucinogenic oceans while other pieces like “Whales on Wheels”, “Prinz Wompe” and “Lullaby For A Ghost” suggest delicate, meditative rituals. 

Beautiful and strange.





Ease: Klaus Filip / Noid - No No No, No (Mikroton, 2017) ****


Ease is another Viennese duo comprised of sine-wave explorer Klaus Filip and free-improviser cellist Noid (aka Arnold Haberl), both playing here on laptops equipped with the freeware audio-visual software ppooll. Ppooll is a project driven by Filip with contributions from many users, including Noid, Christoph Kurzmann (who plays it in Ken Vandermark’s Made to Break) and Christian Fennesz. Filip and Noid work together also in the Sonic Luz duo, exploring DIY optometric synthesizers. No No No, No celebrates the ten year anniversary of Ease. It offers two live recordings - the first, “Never”, from June 2014, captured at the Teni Zvuka Festival in St. Petersburg and the second, “Ever”, from January 2015, at the musicians-cooperative Klingt.org (sounds weird in German) annual festival in the Brut hall in Vienna.

Filip uses the ppooll software to generate pure sine wave synth sounds, while Noid employs the software to manipulate field recording as noises from various mechanical devices and recordings of wind, geysers and water revealing only microscopic traces of their origin. “Never” distills Ease aesthetics to its musical atoms. Its fragile narrative is comprised from abstract, transparent sounds, often reduced to almost absolute, still silence, leaving only fragmented contours of imaginary, stormy sonic events. “Ever” is more tense and raw, still, exploring surprising, more deeper and dynamic aspects of an elusive silent soundscape , sometime with noisy edges. Both pieces suggest a unique, hypnotic listening experience.





Kurt Liedwart / Andrey Popovskiy / Martin Taxt - Hjem (Mikroton, 2017) ***½


This trio also investigates quiet terrains. Mikroton boss, Moscow-based Kurt Liedwart plays the ppooll, using sinewaves and quiet noises; Saint Petersburg-based Andrey Popovskiy plays violin, electronics and objects and Norwegian, Oslo-based Martin Taxt, who runs the Sofa Music label and plays in the microtonal tuba trio Microtub, plays the tuba.

Hjem was recorded in Moscow on September 2015, later mixed and mastered by fellow sonic sculptor Toshimaru Nakamura (who plays the no-input mixing board). The 28-minutes piece offers a surprisingly organic, restless drone that dismisses any distinctions between the acoustic, manipulated, processed and electronic sounds. The patient, careful approach of all three musicians blend wisely clouds of microtonal sounds, continuously sustained and resonating into this arresting, twisted sonic organism.






Burkhard Beins / Lucio Capece / Martin Küchen / Paul Vogel - Fracture Mechanics (Mikroton, 2017) ***½


Fracture Mechanics is a European quartet of sonic sculptors - experimental German percussionist Burkhard Beins, who plays here on hand oscillator, monotron, e-bowed zither, snare drum and objects; fellow Berliner, Argentinian soprano sax player Lucio Capece, who plays here also on sax samples and on wireless speakers; Swedish sax player Martin Küchen, known from the Angles 9 band and the Trespass Trio, who plays here on tenor sax, flute, radios, ipod and speakers; and Swiss-Irish clarinetist Paul Vogel who plays here on “air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware” transform the concept of Fracture Mechanics into a unorthodox but highly inventive sonic texture.

By definition, Fracture Mechanics is a scientific field focused on studying the cracks in any form of material. This metaphor is used for a careful, alchemical process of creation and investigation of sounds - in all its forms and manifestations, their ever-evolving elastic shapes, and their noisy breaking points. The quartet was recorded on October 2014 at Radio Student in Ljubljana. After a short vocal introduction that suggests the coming dynamics the quartet offers three extended improvisations. “Pebble Snatch” is the most engaging one, obviously, in its own weird manner. It is a quiet, colorful and highly cinematic soundscape, that may depict a lone journey in a deserted, icy scenery where the senses of time of space are almost frozen, turning into abstract yet tangible entities. The following “Pendentive” dives even deeper into minimalist oceans, where all stands still, except ritualistic, exotic oscillation of distant sine-waves and radio stations. The last, 30-minutes of “Transmogrification” expands the the methodical investigation of ultra-minimalist, static sonic terrains into a dreamy, meditative soundscape.



Saturday, July 15, 2017

Spunk – Still eating ginger bread for breakfast (Rune Grammofon, 2016 ) ****


By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

A few years back Maja Ratkje (a member of Spunk experimental quartet along with Lene Grenager, Hild Sofie Tajford and Kristin Andersen), when asked why she was making 'Noise', she replied “ in order to forget all the noise of everyday life”. Maybe I’m a bit paraphrasing here, but you get the picture.

My first impression, when I read that, was not exactly understanding. Time has passed and I’ve come to terms with what, at least in my opinion, this anathema was. Music – art in general – has numerous functions. Personal, social and political. Music has powers. It really, as Ratkje clearly stated, has the power to make us forget, to eliminate the vulgarities of everyday life, to provide a safe zone from the evils of the world. Since you are reading these lines, I guess you are pretty aware that there are a lot of them.

The democratic procedures of Spunk’s music (as presented also in a live setting) oppose, again, the functions of a society of hierarchy, sexism , patriarchy and racism. Before you comment on all this, just think of how many women are there in the music world of Noise, of experimental music? Of the avant-garde as a whole? Not many I’d say. Here we have a quartet of women trying to find their way in a male dominated but so called free thinking genre. It must be pointed out.

Spunk’s music has always been, at least in my perception, about process. I guess the collective way of thinking and reacting is transferred to the ways they present their material too. This also applies to their live recordings. This CD is a live recording too, a 20th anniversary concert held in Oslo in December 2015. The two tracks that comprise the bulk of this release are built layer-by-layer and follow a gradual process. Both tracks certainly fall into the category experimental, one which by now, of course, includes a trillion different sounds…

Their main sound generators (I do not say 'instruments' on purpose) are a cello, a trumpet, a French horn, a theremin, various electronics and the voice. Ratkje’s voice, following her solo experiments with her voice, seems to take a bigger part in the recordings that previous Spunk’s albums. I do not hear any preconceived ideas, just a general plan of how they react to each other attempts. They are freely improvising in real time. After so long of playing and most importantly, interacting together, they manage perfectly to combine their unique musical voices into a collective improvisation.

The gradual procedures they follow build up as time passes by into a less complex but more loud and noisy trajectory that, at times, become more and more chaotic. Do not think you have it figured out though… Although on the second track the climax reaches an apex when it’s time to end, on the first track things are different. Like a snake trying to devour it’s own tail, every time you think it’s coming to end by a catharsis of free noise, it comes back to haunt you with another audible gesture of four individual instrumental voices. They follow parallel lines conjuring something new and unexpected every time. I strongly believe that this is the core of Spunk’s collective improvisation.

@koultouranafigo