It is rather amazing to comprehend Andrew Cyrille’s longevity as an artist—someone whose productivity over the last couple decades easily rivals that of his prime, when he was making his mark with Cecil Taylor in the 60s and 70s or confirming his legacy with so many superb Black Saint/Soul Note recordings during the 80s and 90s.One only has to hear the music he’s made recently with the similarly ageless Oliver Lake and Reggie Workman in Trio 3 to know that he’s still got plenty left in the tank.And that’s good news indeed.
What’s particularly noteworthy about Cyrille is his relentless exploration: his desire to continue evolving and trying out new approaches to his instrument.As a drummer, Cyrille can certainly bring the heat, but he often seems most content when he’s simply a colorist, offering subtle commentary and pared-down rhythmic structures rather than explosive bombast.This is evident on his latest ECM release, Declaration of Musical Independence, as well as this duo outing with tenorist Bill McHenry.Although McHenry is the youngster in Cyrille’s company, the two have recorded previously.They released a record years ago on Fresh Sound New Talent with Henry Grimes (Us Free), and a live recording from 2012 (La Peur du Vide) on Sunnyside with pianist Orrin Evans and bassist Eric Revis.On this record, recently following a live duo performance at the Village Vanguard, McHenry and Cyrille were compelled to go into the studio to document the results of their partnership.
The results are quite enjoyable overall, as the two musicians clearly have a mutual affinity.McHenry’s warm, inviting tone on the tenor is perfect for the spare, haunting “Bedouin Woman,” which opens the record.Over Cyrille’s quiet mallets on just a couple of toms on his kit, McHenry puts his touch on a track clearly inspired by the spiritual searching of late-period Coltrane.Cyrille continues his avoidance of the cymbals on the next couple tracks, using just the drums to tease out melodic phrases on “Fabula” and “Drum Song for Leadbelly,” and in response McHenry offers jaunty phrases of his own. Later on the record, though, on tracks like “Let Me Tell You This,” or “Drum Man Cyrille,” the two musicians break free of the tempered constraints of the earlier cuts and the music becomes much more exhilarating, with McHenry’s soaring flights and tempestuous flurries of notes met by Cyrille’s equally spirited contributions.
At only 38 minutes or so, the record does feel too brief, as it’s clear these two have a lot to say!But since Cyrille shows no signs of slowing his pace, I’m sure they’ll find opportunities in the future to continue their collaboration.
There is no rhythm, explicit or otherwise, on “Burn,” the first of the two long pieces that make up Aithein, the debut collaborative release by Oren Ambarchi, bassist extraordinaire and shaman Massimo Pupillo (Zu), and the hushed creative force of guitarist Stefano Pilia. Instead, it builds its inner tension with textural expansions and contractions, and through clashes of extreme sonic abstractions. In a way, the effectiveness of the fabric of this music is amplified by its simplicity. Shrieks try to come alive only to be maximized through reduction by endlessly processed and fed back guitars. Vast and bulbous sounds, wails, and screeches float like fragile bubbles in an abyss in which colossal beings communicate gently. The trio’s roars oscillate and reverberate, as if searching, trying to understand and learn, discovering their own dialect of Morse code. Almost unintentionally, the three musicians chisel out a transparent, elastic wall of sound—a byproduct of their exploration. It’s existence is sine qua non for music devoid of any perceptible buildup or climax point. Music that rather relies on constant and simultaneous creation and destruction, a process lost amidst a sense of desolate beauty. Near the end of the cut, one of the guitars will venture into what could be described as a field of accidental harmonies, while the other will try to pull it back in with grating, sawing sounds. It’s unfortunate that this poignant interplay is cut short when Pupillo’s bass starts to rumble a transition to the second part of the performance recorded live in Bologna in April 2015.
True to its name, “Shine” takes the patient glow of “Burn” and flares it up a thousand times, bringing it ever closer towards a painful explosion. It makes for a wonderfully contrasting half and evokes stills of darkness, light, and a certain dreadful inevitability from Danny Boyd’s film “Sunshine.” With Ambarchi moving from guitar to drums and percussion, “Bright” is delineated by a solid and at times very structured rhythm. It’s a driven improvisation that keeps rolling forward, towards the brightness, never looking back or even alluding to what came before it. The piece thus feels closer to conventional forms, but Pupillo and Pilia keep it from sounding anything but conventional by weaving abrasive textures around it. Their resonances are dynamic and loud, often reduced to short bursts of energy. While “Shine” progresses, a sense of urgency emerges and the tune starts to dissolve into shapes close to post-rock and drone. The crescendo that was hidden in plain sight, now slowly reveals its full glory as all of the sounds coalesce, forging a rocking whole.
Japanese Keiji Haino, Tokyo-based American Jim O’Rourke, and Australian Oren Ambarchi are all sound sculptors and multi-instrumentalists that never cared much about genre or style boundaries. Free improvisation, art-rock, noise, minimalism, ritual music and live poetry just begin to describe the dynamics of this trio's seventh album since 2010, and as the previous albums, one with a suggestive, poetic title (and if you will follow Haino tweets you will find many more of such koan-like poetics). This album documents the trio's entire set at Tokyo’s SuperDeluxe club on March 2014. Haino recites and sings his metaphysical ponderings in English (for the first time) and Japanese, explores the Turkish string instrument baglama (that sound almost like the Japanese shamisen) and the contrabass harmonica and adds electronics; O’Rourke plays on effects-laden, processed bass and Ambarchi plays percussion and drums.
This performance as many of the trio past ones is a kind of futuristic-tribal ritual and Haino, no doubt, is the master of ceremonies. He leads the first piece, "Who is so cleverly manipulating The word ‘Everything’", with a fragile, haunting recitation in English and economic, repetitive riffs on the baglama while O’Rourke and Ambarchi build the tension methodically with psychedelic, heavy bass pulsations and pulse-free percussive touches. The second piece "Be careful of this word ‘New’ With it's glittering trap" adds a mysterious vein to the already established ritualistic spirit. Haino recites now in Japanese with a much more authoritative command, soon his guttural growls are washed in a dense electric storm comprised of the tortured-spacey of O’Rourke processed bass and Ambarchi massive, cosmic pulse. This epic and volatile eruption becomes even more bizarre when Haino experiments with the contrabass harmonica, a sound that softens the previous tsunami waves of ecstatic noise.
The third piece "The universe is tired Please For just one second stop thinking" changes the course and now O’Rourke resourceful bass work is in the center, heavily processed with an array of effects, sketching a magnificent, hypnotic noisy drone, backed by the repetitive, thunderous drumming of Ambarchi and occasional screams of Haino. This sonic storm suddenly quiets and leaves Haino pondering his cryptic-metaphysical ideas in a tempting-tortured voice, often obscured by O’Rourke bass noises. The last piece "That ‘?’ Squatting Proudly at the Edge of Surface Tension Is It Perhaps a Mystery..?" continues the explosive spirit with a simple but highly addictive single-chord grind that brings to mind Haino seminal psychedelic group Fushitsusha. Haino keeps screaming “explode” between his Japanese growls. Again, suddenly the grind halts and Haino closes this ritual as it began more than an hour ago, chanting with a soft and compassionate voice and playing gently on the baglama.
Pale Calling is the first collaborative work of three electroacoustic sculptors - Australian Oren Ambarchi, Parisian composer Kassel Jaeger, and Australian composer, Los Angeles-based James Rushford. The two side-long extended pieces of this vinyl album, recorded at GRM studios in Paris in 2014, sketch an intriguing and quite accessible sonic territory. Both are layered like gentle, surreal puzzles of weird-sounding field recordings, unintelligible vocals and child-like cries, processed electronic sounds with fragmented, rippling percussive touches.
The two pieces, “Pale” and “Walking”, navigate organically and patiently through hazy, atmospheric terrains according to their inner dream-logic compass. “Pale” suggests a more subtle and sparse sonic scenery, spiced with a surprising, minimalist reference to the iconic organ theme of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” at its coda. “Walking” has a clear narrative, progressing along an addictive rhythmic pattern matched with a seductive cinematic theme played on the harmonica and the piano. This theme sounds as coming from a futuristic David Lynch film, obscured more and more by disturbing wordless, human vocals, but ends with a field recording of distant animals and insects.
In the worlds of improvised and experimental music, the company you keep can be just as significant a choice as the compositions (or lack thereof) that you play. Oren Ambarchi is no stranger to this maxim, having associated himself with some of the weightiest names in the game: Keith Rowe, Merzbow, and Keiji Haino, to name a few. On Behold, Ambarchi once again shows his penchant for first-rate collaborations, as he here joins Jim O’Rourke. O’Rourke cuts an interesting figure in the music industry - he’s released or been associated with a mind-bogglingly diverse range of projects, from acerbic pop (Insignificance, Eureka), to the Fahey-indebted folk stylings of Bad Timing, to the free-jazz guitar workouts of 2014’s Vandermark/Nilssen-Love collection, Extended Duos. While Ambarchi and O’Rourke have worked together numerous times in the past few years, this is only their second duo recording (the first being 2011’s Indeed).
“Behold One” opens with muted, spectral tones, and quickly unfolds into something resembling an ambient soundscape. From the get-go, it’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone into fleshing out these textures - far from simply being a homogeneous drone, this first piece is packed with unanticipated textures and effects: snatches of conversation, cars starting, synths that bubble up out of the ether and rapidly dissipate. A few minutes in, when Ambarchi’s drums enter, it’s clear that Behold cannot be written off as just “ambient.” In fact, quite the opposite: it actively seeks your attention, and it rewards careful listening. Midway through, Ambarchi’s kick-drum is the slowly-beating heart of the composition, while O’Rourke’s alien sound-effects orbit and swirl all around. When a thick, bone-rattling bass-tone rises up from this whirling mass, it’s both startling and exhilarating. Clearly, Ambarchi and O’Rourke know how to establish atmosphere and ratchet up musical tension; the first half of Behold is proof.
“Behold Two” exhibits the same meticulous attention-to-detail heard in the first, but it seems more willfully “song-like,” with organ effects and retro synths that recall the spaced-out melodicism of mid-70’s Tangerine Dream. A few minutes in, Ambarchi’s drums return to provide a steady pulse to the composition, while blissful layers of sound stack themselves up to the heavens. More than halfway through, all of this build-up (though admittedly enjoyable in its own right) results in a simple, repeating motif on the piano from O’Rourke, one that helps drive the piece upward. While the opening is somewhat minimalistic, akin to floating in the frigid depths of interstellar space, “Behold Two” eventually pushes itself into a more celestial sphere, with squalling guitar feedback from Ambarchi and percussion that gets louder and louder.
On Behold, Oren Ambarchi and Jim O’Rourke meet at the glorious intersection of electronic and analog, producing something that marries the best tendencies of both. It’s swathed in synths and textures, but it is warmly human; it’s driven by Ambarchi’s percussion and (later) O’Rourke’s stirring piano, but it is often otherworldly. These are contradictions, sure, but one of the joys of experimental music lies in its ability to cut through seeming contradictions, to show us combinations and configurations that we thought impossible. Behold does all of this, while still being eminently listenable and engaging - I’d call that a success by any metric!
If among Oren Ambarchi’s staggering nonstop flood of releases you missed 2012’s Audience of One and its centerpiece “Knots,” you have not one but two more chances to enjoy the Australian guitarist’s epic composition. Live Knots, released last year on PAN, pairs two different versions of the piece, one recorded in Tokyo and the other in Krakow. Even if you didn’t miss Audience of One, you’ll want to see what Ambarchi can do with “Knots” in these varied contexts.
Side A, “Tokyo Knots,” represents what would technically be considered an abbreviated version of the piece, though it still runs upwards of 25 minutes. But even pared ten minutes down from the original and retaining only drummer Joe Talia from the 2012 line-up, this version astonished me with the hugeness and intensity of its sound. It begins with Talia’s driving accented ride cymbal, a through-line for the piece. In contrast Ambarchi builds ambient textures veined with alarming feedback whine. Here as elsewhere Ambarchi proves capable of singlehandedly producing an impressive array of sounds—YouTube footage of the gig, recorded at Tokyo’s SuperDeluxe in March 2013, shows Ambarchi seated behind a bank of electronics, his guitar obscured by knobs and wires.
Minute after minute, Ambarchi and Talia build the piece masterfully, overseeing an almost imperceptible mounting of tension and drama. Along with his indefatigable labor on the drum kit, key to this effect is Talia’s control and restraint. He adds new elements to the beat judiciously so that he always has room to match Ambarchi’s increasingly vertiginous playing, which hits a peak with strobe-lit shredding more likely to risk inducing a seizure than a trance. Inevitably but thankfully the piece comes back down in its final moments—knots coming untied?—leaving things in a distinct state of aftermath with the guitar groaning distantly and the drums methodically thinning to a shimmer.
It may be advisable to rest before starting up “Krakow Knots,” the 42-minute version of the piece that occupies sides B and C, though back-to-back comparisons offer the opportunity to consider which aspects of the composition are fixed and which depend on variable factors. “There is a clear composition and a clear arrangement,” Ambarchi says in an interview on The Quietus. But: “The intention is that it still has a very open and free atmosphere.” The obvious difference here is the number of people on stage—along with Ambarchi and Talia, there’s sound artist Crys Cole on contact mic/spring and violist Eyvind Kang, who’s also conducting the Sinfonietta Cracovia on strings (watch a similar line-up play “Knots” at Cafe OTO here). Along with providing new depth and texture, the added players help draw the composition out to its expanded length, especially towards the beginning and end, including noteworthy moments of eerie tension occasioned as swells of strings are superimposed over the fading groove.
Anyone interested in but intimidated by Ambarchi’s discography might find Live Knots a suitable point of entry, streamlining as it does the guitarist’s varying interests in ambient/electronic soundscapes and head-banging rock.
Australian composer and multi-instrumentalist, primarily guitarist and drummer, Oren Ambarchi is a unique and important character in today’s experimental and improvised music scene. Never confined by genre or style, he seems to be fueled by a relentless desire to shape sounds into impossible forms, dissolving them from their original patterns and recontextualizing them into contemplative yet often ominous structures that show glimpses of an emotional substrate. Analog and digital, improvised and composed, the various modes of operation he discovers in solo works—looped and sampled guitars might crash droningly into themselves—are reflected in his numerous collaborations with varied but always impressive names such Keiji Haino, Jim O’Rourke, and Fire! Unequivocally, his work shows a musician with a keen, thirsty ear to the developments in improvisational, electronic, and experimental music and a voice that never fails to narrate something new.
When artists as prolific as Ambarchi are concerned—he appeared on over ten records in the past two years—it becomes difficult to cover all of their work with due attention. Since we at the Free Jazz Blog are guilty of neglecting Ambarchi, we’re dedicating a week to his recent output. Follow us during the next few days as we review several of his solo and collaborative releases from 2016 and 2015. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
This retrospective of Dutch pianist Guus Janssen, featuring his work as a brilliant improviser, composer for improvisers, and leader of excellent ensembles, will make you wonder why you have not heard more of him. The nine, previously unreleased live pieces selected for Meeting Points were recorded between 1989 and 2014. All emphasize Janssen smart and witty compositional and improvising skills, as a musician who likes to twist alongside the listener expectations as well his fellow musicians, a versatile pianist who is equally versed in the work of jazz pianists Lennie Tristano and Art Tatum and classical composer Franz Josef Haydn.
It is no surprise that Janssen was the natural choice to take the seat of pianist Misha Mengelberg in the Instant Composers Orchestra (ICP). Janssen acknowledges Mengelberg's seminal influence in his cover of “Peer Counting Song”, a duet with drummer John Engels, recorded in 2014. This gentle-contemplative piece sound now as a moving homage to the great pianist who retired from performing due to dementia.
The insightful liner notes of Dutch jazz scholar Kevin Whitehead shed light on the eclectic pieces, all were recorded at Amsterdam’s acclaimed Bimhuis club, close to Janssen’s home. The earliest one, “Rondo” from 1989, is a post-modernist, surreal piece, performed by the short-lived Cluesome Quartet, with clarinet player Michael Moore, cellist Ernst Reijseger and drummer Han Bennink (soon to be incarnated as the better-known Cluesome 3, without Janssen). This kaleidoscopic, epileptic piece mocks the sound of ancient Chinese instruments, swings hard, quotes briefly Charles Ives composition and is often intruded by musique mecanique sounds.
The brilliant 1999 title-piece duet with alto sax player Lee Konitz, another disciple of Tristano, shows these two quick-eared masters at their best, inventive, surprising with their sudden switchbacks and dropouts. Both are enjoying this clever, game-like improvisation. Another duet, “April” from 2007 with the hard-swinging Bennink suggests this long-running duo open and imaginative interplay. Bennink powerful swing enables Janssen to abstract on Tristano ideas.
Three pieces from 2011 feature the trio of Janssen with double bass player Ernst Glerum (who is also a member of ICP) and Janssen brother, drummer Wim Janssen, augmented by clarinet player Michael Moore (another member of ICP) and violinist Sanne van Hek. The playful performance of “Koto à Gogo” revolves around loose hip-hop pulse set by Wim Janssen; “Vrij naar AT” is a wise, spare salute to the hyperactive music of Art Tatum and on “Janus Bifrons” the quintet disturbs the melodic-swinging theme with typical ICP eccentric twists.
Two recent compositions from 2012 are by an impressive sextet with van Hek, Glerum, Wim Janssen, trombonist Wolter Wierbos (who also plays in ICP) and guitarist Raphael Vanoli. Both “Pogo 1” and “Pogo 2” are an amusing, speedy pieces, full of ironic, quirky game-like twists, twisting even the artificial distinction between instant composing and improvisation.
Janssen is a one of a kind, don’t miss this fascinating retrospective.
Sylvain Guérineau – tenor saxophone
Itaru Oki – trumpet, flugelhorn, flutes
Kent Carter – double bass
Makoto Sato – drums
This recent release on the always excellent Improvising Beings label features four masters of improvised music, gathered together in a quartet specifically created for this project. The most widely known in the group is Kent Carter, a member of Steve Lacy’s bands of the 1970s and a true jazz giant that returns to improvisation after a long absence. By contrast, the main originator of the album, Sylvain Guérineau, is virtually unknown outside France, and probably more famous as a painter there (his delicate yet incisive abstract art adorns the CD package), even if he is a long-time collaborator of French free jazz pioneer François Tusques. The group is completed by two Japanese musicians who both moved to Paris in the early 1970s: Itaru Oki, a key figure of the Japanese free jazz scene who continues to play in strikingly different contexts, and Makoto Sato, former assistant of percussionist Masahiko Togashi and a constant presence in the French jazz community.
The album is dedicated to sailors from all over the world, their often rough living conditions and the adventurousness of life at sea. The opening “Terre Neuvas” effectively illustrates the exploratory character of the album and its thematic subtext: Carter and Sato cast a wide net of different impulses, with long arco bass lines and sparse percussive accents patiently building an increasingly intense free form piece that highlights Guérinaeu’s huge tone and Oki’s lively phrasing. The following “Bateau Phare” follows the same steps, but keeps the music on a more restrained ground, with Guérineau, Carter and Sato creating a richly layered textural soundscape, until Oki’s muted trumpet brings some fresh melodic material to the collective dialogue. With “Récif” the mood changes drastically: a bouncy bass and cymbals rhythm pushes trumpet and sax into a light, humorous melodic exchange, but frequent changes of tempo challenge the soloists to continually reinvent their respective roles, with the whole band finally converging on a well structured coda. “Le Rideau De Mer” returns to a suspended atmosphere, until Carter lays down a dark ostinato that channels trumpet and sax towards a long abstract finale framed by Sato’s busy brush work.
The closing “D’Une Rive A L’Autre” underlines the continuous tension, present throughout the album, between structurally defined and open form sections. The musicians navigate these different scenarios with confidence, moving from a tight interplay to simultaneous digressions with a captivating sense of discovery. Guérineau and Oki promptly pick up each other’s ideas and develop thematic cues that are further expanded in different directions, eventually converging on beautifully crafted melodies or dense contrapuntal exchanges, while Carter and Sato are particularly effective in balancing their activity between a solid supporting role for the soloists and a completely independent voice, equally contributing to the improvisational dialogue.
Carefully conceived and beautifully played, D’Une Rive A L’Autre is a passionate, powerful example of creative music expression, bringing the excitement of early free jazz into a flexible and ultimately timeless musical dimension that highlights the unique personalities of these extraordinary improvisers.
Lotte Anker and Fred Lonberg-Holm, recorded live at the Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery in Chicago, on a split-release with Dave Jackson and Dirk Serries, recorded live at Café Oto in London. It’s almost like free jazz bingo. If you had “Astral Spirits” in the label column, you win! The title Two Duos plays like a droll joke, once you start listening. Both halves contain breadth and depth well beyond the simplicity of a duo.
Anker and Lonberg-Holm’s duet plays on all their strengths. Their extended improvisation takes a kind of narrative approach with the titling, “Ice King” / “Melt” / “The Frigid Air” / “Cold Only Hurts Those Who Feel,” and the playing is thrillingly free. Anker and Lonberg-Holm both have a way of taking tuneful lines to their scorched edges, successfully mixing atonal leaps with extended techniques.
On their live improvisation, recorded at Cafe Oto, Dave Jackson and Dirk Serries come screaming, but right around the middle of their duet, Serries swerves lightly into a solo stretch, toying with the volume knob to give his chords that echoey coming-going effect. Jackson intersects with some shockingly high-register, staccato playing that reminded me of some earlier Roscoe Mitchell solos. The whole second half, they stay in this bright and open, atonal space, creating a playful banter.
To be honest, this doesn’t have the feel of a must-have entry in all these musicians’ catalogs. Both are certainly enjoyable improvisation sessions, but I don’t feel like I can give an unequivocal buy-this-now recommendation, which frankly feels a bit odd, considering how much I enjoyed the album. I have a thing about not messing with a label’s canonical release, but you could take the digital versions and split it into two shorter, EPs, rather than leaving it as a single split. You might find yourself dipping into both more often.