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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Latest from Leo (Part 1 of 3)

“Jazz is a form of expressing freedom” – Leo Records

By Martin Schray
There are only some legendary label bosses in free music, most of them are often behind the scenes figures who prepare the ground for all the music we adore so deeply. People like FMP’s Jost Gebers, Hat Hut’s Werner X. Uehlinger, Emanem’s Martin Davidson, Black Saint’s Giovanni Bonandrini or Intakt’s Patrik Landolt, to name a few. And there is Leo Feigin. Feigin, who had emigrated to London in 1974, founded his label Leo Records there five years later in order to give Soviet free jazz – especially the legendary Ganelin Trio - a platform for their music in the West, but he also published seminal albums by Cecil Taylor, Marilyn Crispell and – foremost - Anthony Braxton. What makes his approach to manage a label so unique is that for him music is not business, for him business is music.

Over the next three days, we are going to review some of the label’s latest productions.

6ix: Almost even further **** ½ 

In Bernd Schoch’s wonderful documentary “But the Word Dog Does Not Bark” about the Schlippenbach Trio (hopefully soon to be released on Intakt) Evan Parker remarks about the process of improvised music that “it’s a question of finding a new path in an essentially known landscape (…). We sort of know the territory and when we get to the edges of the territory, what happens then? Can we see something we didn’t see? We go to that corner of the territory but instead of looking back to the things we know, for once we take the chance to look out”.

This is particularly true for 6ix’s “Almost even further”, the musicians explore their territory, they go out really far before they proceed even further. 6ix is Jaques Demierre (piano), Urs Leimgruber (saxophone), Okkyung Lee (cello), Thomas Lehn (synthesizer), Dorothea Schürch (voice, singing saw), and Roger Turner (drums), together they sound like a micro ensemble reminding of Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble or King Übü Orchestrü. You feel like sitting on a hide listening to the music of the forest at night, unknown sounds come up, strange creatures communicate in a foreign language, which is fascinating because you are allured and attracted by this strange world. However, you have to be careful because the voices are very shy, as soon as you think you can catch one it immediately withdraws.

There are a lot of great moments on this album: Lehn’s synthesizer blends so well with Leimgruber’s saxophone and Lee’s cello, and Schürch’s voice is both scary and exquisite. When she enters the scene for the first time she is breathing heavily, whispering, panting, like the wind sweeping eerily through the treetops. Lehn works with her sounds, supports and processes them. It is a magical moment of high intensity – actually sensational.

The whole album is a game of concentration, sound colors, spicks and specks everywhere - as if a Jackson Pollock painting came to life - great art, really demanding. The more often you listen to it, the more beautiful details you can find in these sound landscapes.

You can watch it here:

Vinz Vonlathen, Cyril Bondi, Christophe Berthet: Silo ****

The guitar is a difficult instrument in free jazz. Compared to other instruments there are not many players whose sound matches with this music, although there were the late greats Derek Bailey and Sonny Sharrock and there are James Blood Ulmer, Christian Fennesz or Raoul Björkenheim. But I have my difficulties with Marc Ducret, Kim Myhr or even Olaf Rupp (sorry).

Another interesting player I discovered recently is Vinz Vonlanthen. Silo is his first collaboration with Christophe Berthet (saxophones, clarinets) and Cyril Bondi (drums) and it converts a wide range of improvised music in which especially the quieter tracks are the more interesting ones. “Passage”, for example, is a highly contemplative track with Berthet stumbling in on bass clarinet while the guitar is picking dissonant chords. A spooky atmosphere is created here – like listening to the jungle at night. Towards the ending the sounds fray out even more before a long and lonely note on the bass clarinet ends the song. “Chimère” is another almost tender track, it is timid, the muffled sounds are very shy, as if they did not dare to come out of the instruments. Finally, the exception proves the rule.

“Cynagogene” uses looped wah-wah-guitar riffs as a foundation to build up several layers of guitar sounds so that a hectic and nervous saxophone and staccato drums can soar over the track. A very varied and interesting album.

Mangia, Ladisa, Volpe, Urso – Ulysses ***

“Ulysses” is an album of an improvising string trio plus saxophone, guitar, harmonium and voice, namely Stefano Luigi Mangia (voice, alto sax), Stefania Ladisa (violin, voice), Adolfo La Volpe (guitars, harmonium, voice), and Angelo Urso (bass, voice). Particularly the voices sound like early Blixa Bargeld (Einstürzende Neubauten), they display the whole palette from ethereal singing to squealing, twittering, gargling, screaming, and buzzing. The ensemble is at its best when it creates drone-like sounds like in the four “Impro” tracks, they can create a really spooky atmosphere all the more when they integrate blues riffs. But sometimes the album is really hard to listen to, especially the vocals are over the top now and then, for example the yodeling at the end of “Stratosfonie” or the children’s voices in “La Virt”.

"Ulysses" can be regarded as a symbolic and utopian voyage because the musicians of this quartet dedicate the tracks to Demetrio Stratos, Jorge Luis Borges, Fjodor Dostoevskij, Albert Einstein et al. – all of them modern travelers searching for meaning. Ulysses' mythological voyage has been the leitmotif of the album, first intimately by each musician before the whole thing comes together.

Form a first impression here:

© stef