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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell – Angel Dusk (Screwgun, 2018) ****

By  Nick Ostrum

Tim Berne (saxophone) and Matt Mitchell (piano) are two stalwarts of the New York scene who have collaborated for nearly a decade in Tim Berne’s Snakeoil. Although Mitchell has recorded a solo album of Berne compositions (FJB review here), this is their first proper recording as a duo. And, it is an impressive one.  Most notable about this CD is the lack of a leader.  Berne and Mitchell approach these compositions as equals. (No writing credits are given, further indicating a deeply collaborative and balanced effort.) There are a few stand-out tracks, as all follow similar themes of shared lead, catchy and deconstructed melodies, homophony, blurred consonance and dissonance, and modulating scales that evoke Coleman’s harmolodics. This speaks to the power of each piece and the cohesiveness of the album as a whole, rather than any sort of stale repetition. Tracks tend to be short for the genre, making them pithy, pointed, and effective explorations of harmonic communication. If you are already a Berne or Mitchell fan, you probably already know the technical and emotive qualities to expect. If you are not familiar with the duo, this intimate recording is a great introduction to two accomplished and forward-thinking musicians, deeply rooted in the free jazz tradition yet still fresh and inspired. 

Beyond those brief notes, I will let the album speak for itself.



Saturday, March 23, 2019

New Sounds from Sweden

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Swedish label of reeds player Jonas Kullhammar documents the most exciting musicians in the Swedish scene for almost twenty years. The latest three releases of this label are no exception.

Per Texas Johansson / Torbjörn Zetterberg / Konrad Agnas - Orakel (Moserobie, 2018) ****½


Orakel is one of the albums that you fall in love with already in the first listening and fully understand why. It brings together three Swedish musicians - Per Texas Johansson on the tenor sax and clarinet, double bass player Torbjörn Zetterberg - both have been playing together since the mid-nineties and until Johansson retired to pursue a career as anesthetic nurse more than a decade ago, plus young drummer Konrad Agnas, with whom Johansson played in recent albums of pianist Johan Graden (Bakgrundsmusik, Bakgrundsmusik Records, 2016, and Olägenheter, Moserobie, 2018).

The trio of Johansson, Zetterberg and Agnas swings so naturally, but it has its own kind of swing, free, sharp and seductive and full of clever games. Just listen to the gentle and nuanced conversation of the trio on the opening piece, “Blodspredikan” (In Swedish: blood prophecy), to understand the profound, intimate and immediate connection of these musicians - thicker than blood - that keeps nourishing the powerful and emotional interplay.

You may trace references to John Coltrane melodic phrases in the warm voice of Johansson, the the rich, singing bass of Charlie Haden in Zetterberg playing or enjoy the open senses of time and space in Agnas drumming, but Johansson, Zetterberg and Agnas have their own strong and personal voice as a trio. There is a strong feeling of easiness and balance in the loose flow of this trio, like surfing beautifully between high and spectacular waves but keeping a delicate equilibrium, even when all three stretch their muscles and ride a bit faster on “Var Är Storken” or singing an infectious melody on “Oraklet på Ringvägen”. “Torbjörn Monk” is the piece with the most intriguing title and uses some Monk-ish angular phrases but its peaceful spirit may also reminisces the time that Zetterberg spent in a Buddhist Temple about ten years ago. And only that last, folky “Vintertid” introduces some Nordic melancholia.




Joakim Milder / Fredrik Ljungkvist / Mathias Landæus / Filip Augustson / Fredrik Rundqvist - The Music of Anders Garsted (Moserobie, 2018) ****


Swedish trumpeter Anders Garstedt died of cancer on April 2000, only 31 years old. The head of Swedish label Moserobie, reeds player Jonas Kullhammar, who had played with Garstedt in the band of drummer Fredrik Norén, dedicated the first release of his label and the first album of his own Quartet to Super G - Garstedt (Slaut, Moserobie, 2000). Kullhammar asked the original members of Garstedt’s quintet - sax player Joakim Milder, Atomic’s reeds player Fredrik Ljungkvist who subbed Milder in the quintet, pianist Mathias Landæus, double bass player Filip Augustsson and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist - to reconvene and record seven compositions of Garstedt.

These five musicians do justice to the music of Garstedt whose work was not properly documented during his lifetime. The front line of Milder and Ljungkvist, who have since recording this album recorded another album together (Trädet, El Dingo Records, 2018), is one of the most articulate one that you can find in the Nordic regions or anywhere else on this planet. Milder - on tenor sax- and Ljungkvist - on tenor and soprano saxes and clarinet - work as one, expanding the playful-melodic lines of Garstedt’s compositions with great imagination, touching empathy and engaging games, especially on the beautiful ballad “F Minor”. Landæus, Augustsson and Rundqvist form a driving rhythm section, and often it is Rundqvist who navigates this quintet dynamics with modest, wise gestures. The liner notes of Kullhammar and sax player Karl-Martin Almqvist - in Swedish - shed more light about the the life - too short ones - of Garstedt. “Gone for good” is one of Garstedt’s compositions covered here, but this album insists: not so fast.




Magnus Broo Trio - Rules (Moserobie, 2018) ***½


Trumpeter Magnus Broo has not been very productive in releasing recordings under his own name, so far, so it's good to see a new addition with Rules. In addition to his work with the Atomic quintet, he plays in Martin Küchen’s Angles group, the I.P.A. quintet, and recently collaborated with Norwegian sax player Hanna Paulsberg Concept. Drawing on these collaborations, Broo employs I.P.A. rhythm section - Atomic’s double bass player Håker Flaten and fellow-Norwegian drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen, who also played in Broo’s last solo album, Swedish Wood (Moserbie, 2010) - for this new trio.

Rules offers Broo’s soulful interpretations for seven standards about love. Broo does not attempt to bend any rules or suggest a radical perspective of the Great American Songbook, just to add his personal touch and sound, well-versed with the rich legacy of jazz trumpeters. You can hear his distinct sound in his ironic, urgent version of Gershwin's “Summertime”, the restless, searching tone on “You’ve Changed” and the way his sings “Don’t Explain”, the song that was written by Billie Holiday and Andy Herzog Jr. Broo encapsulates the emotional drama and sober realization of a wounded relationship in few modest, touching statements that linger in your mind long after the song ended.



Friday, March 22, 2019

Michael Hoppe - Put a Filter to Your Ears and Just Smile Through It (Get On! Records, 2018) ****


By Nick Metzger

We all come into new musical experiences with our own mental databases populated with what we know (or think we know), based on what we've previously heard. As music writers, we utilize our own familiarities and appeal to those of the reader, trying to find some common datum from which to launch our descriptions and sentiments. Listening to this record made my mind race trying to find some psychological mooring to tie off to. It's not unique in this regard, but it does seem to be a rarer occurrence in these days of capitalism-driven homogeneity. Berlin-based composer Michael Hoppe's solo debut, the terrifically titled Put a Filter to Your Ear and Just Smile Through It was made over the course of three years and features no fewer than 50 musicians and colleagues, both professional and amateur, across its 9 tracks. Hoppe then inventively arranged these disparate sources into something morbid, pressing, and animate. Knowing this, you can imagine that it makes for a compelling and wide-ranging listen. The legendary French group ZNR comes to mind, however this is more in-line with Igor Wakhevitch's eclectic masterpiece “Docteur Faust” with a free jazz chip on its shoulder. But where those albums could be thoughtfully considered quasi ‘variety shows’ for the respective artists’ assorted ideas and influences, this record comes off as more cohesive to these ears. To put it another way, rather than a tray of hors d'oeuvres neatly arranged in discrete rows to compliment and contrast each other, Michael Hoppe has taken his ideas and influences through the sausage grinder, giving us a steaming helping of the best of his wurst (I cringed as I wrote that, but fuck it, I'm leaving it in).

The album is a murky undertaking, but not in a sense of muddied production. The mixing and mastering are extremely good and all of the elements are easily discernable, if not necessarily easily identified. The murk I’m referring to is a persistent gloom underlying the album. It carries a bleak tone that I’d attach to existential dread, perhaps topped off with a bit of the theatre of the absurd. The promotional materials seem to indicate this as well; there are no platitudes contained within, only a defiant smirk. The range of sounds utilized on this record is vast. There’s plenty of your typical horn fare scattered about, as well as piano, vibes, flute, guitar, etc. The expressive free jazz drumming is really the glue that holds this brute together, but what makes the biggest impression are the electronic effects. The synths are menacing throughout, sounding at times like wind ripping through the dead branches of some ancient Bavarian forest. There is almost no attack to be heard from the electric bass and this elevates it to a physical presence, rather than a mere rhythm instrument. There are a few brief interludes between the longer pieces, but even these don’t offer much respite, only more grotesque experimentation. Then there are the vocals/voices. Some menacingly Attila-Csihar-like as on “Tastes Better Than I Expected”, others shouted and angry, exemplified by the track “Step Aside, Please.” Of all the pieces in the collection, “Have You Ever Heard of Indonesia” best sums up the aesthetic, if you can call it that. The menacing arco contrabass sets up a heavy, heady delirium that features the best orchestration on the record in my opinion.

Put a Filter to Your Ears and Just Smile Through It is an extraordinary record that has stood out to me for several reasons that are obvious once you’ve given it a spin. However, getting back to the sausage metaphor the record could’ve used a few more shades of black, namely in pacing and dynamics. But that’s just my taste and it may not be a concern for others. In the album’s promotional material Hoppe rightly notes that if you search his name on the internet you’re more likely to find info on the Grammy-nominated new age pianist than our hero. And I can’t help but snigger thinking that some poor enthusiast from the Age of Aquarius might unwittingly stumble upon this incubus. For some free jazz connoisseurs albums like this will never be taken seriously, mainly because it doesn't take itself too seriously. This is a pity; as listeners of the avant-garde I think it's imperative to maintain an open mind. So, even if my tired descriptors haven't sold you on it, I'd recommend you have a listen anyway if/when you're feeling adventurous. You can preview the album in its entirety via Bandcamp. Music will continue to evolve regardless of our wants or needs, just as it always has. As Seneca the Younger put it (though in a different context), “Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt.”

Listen and download from Bandcamp.




Thursday, March 21, 2019

David Sewelson -Music for a Free World (FMR, 2018) ****


By Paul Acquaro

It's feeling a bit urgent, isn't it? Autocracy and corruption, intolerance and extremism, hash-tag wisdom and anti-critical thinking all seem to be in high fashion. So, a good dose of free thinking music is, to my ears, a welcome respite from this unthinkable Zeitgeist. Microscopic Sextet founding member, and long-time member of NYC downtown music scene, saxophonist David Sewelson's first release under his name since 1979's Synchro‐incity, Music for a Free World, fits the prescription perfectly.

Sewelson's group consists of bassist and downtown scene cornerstone William Parker, the fantastic trombonist Steve Swell, and drummer Marvin Bugalu Smith, who has an impressive CV that includes study with Max Roach an Elvin Jones, and work with Archie Shepp and Sun-Ra. It seems that this seasoned group brought everything to the studio when it laid down the music here, from the spiritual to the fiery, with hints of reflection and moments of focused exploration throughout. 

The opening title track apparently reprises a theme that Sewelson has been carrying with him over the years, while the rest are full band improvisations. The tune has elements of folk - I hear echos of Dylan 'Master of War', as well a yearning howl that invokes thoughts of Albert Ayler. These are indeed some heavy names to invoke, but the tune does just that - touching musically on the urgency of the times, and not just working themselves into a fury, the musicians take a measured approach and deliver some outstanding work. So, after the kick-off with tandem melodies from the horns that seem ready to rip at the seams, underscored by vertigo from Parkers bass, the group splinters into simultaneous improvised melodies that reprise moments of the melody, while ever enlarging their range. Parker delivers the first solo, pulling back the energy and then diving deep into a narrow passage. Swell follows, tepidly at first, then gaining momentum, until his instrument is soaring over a tight rhythmic figure. When Sewelson takes over, he's breathing fire, over blowing the sax and taking along Smith and Parker for an energetic stretch. 

'Tensiana' follows, and here is where we are in purely free improvisation territory. At 21 minutes, the track really is a standout on the album. It begins with Parker developing an idea solo, then Sewelson and Swell enter at about the same time with contrasting, but still complementary, ideas. Listening closely, but heeding their own inclinations, the two interweave lines expertly, delivering the type of musical synergy that is pretty impossible to preconceive. The group proceeds with a push and pull of tension that keeps the long improvisation breathing free. Around the half-way mark, they slow down and start to explore the space. Swell takes a prominent position while Smith provides an askew groove that is both reassuring and a bit unsettling. The group come out of the tune with syncopated call and response between the horns. 

What follows is just as intriguing - 'TB' starts off with a disjointed groove and 'Well' is a exploratory piece that is built from sound fragments. 'Calm Pose' opens with a group caterwaul and then is anything but calm (measured, yes, calm, no). Both Sewelson and Swell deliver enthusiastic solos, and the track offers a penultimate jolt before the emotional eulogy 'Bill', dedicated to guitarist Bill Horvitz who passed away around the time of the recording in 2017. 

Music for a Free World is a welcome recording from a downtown master who needs to be heard - and now seems as good as time as any to listen!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Alex Cline, Dan Clucas, Peter Kuhn, Dave Sewelson, Scott Walton– Dependent Origination (Dependent Origination Music, 2018) ***½

By Nick Ostrum

"Dependent origination” is a Buddhist concept defining the existential linkages between and, therefore, interdependency of separate phenomena or dharmas. Very simply put, it speaks to the interconnectedness of being (and occurrences) and the potentiality of reemergence. For reedist Peter Kuhn, Dependent Origination – the album and group – embody this concept of linked actions and rebirth in a literal, as well as ethereal, sense. This group marks his return to music after nearly three decades of musical silence. Formed in 2013 with slightly different membership, Dependent Origination now consists of Alex Cline on percussion, Dan Clucas on trumpet, Dave Sewelson on baritone saxophone, Scott Walton on bass, and Kuhn on reeds. All of the music on this album was recorded live on November 6, 2016 at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock, CA. In a nod to the contingent implications of the title, all the music is also improvised.

The first track, “Aspiration,” begins as a convocation. A bell chimes. A mournful saxophone follows. The rest of the band fades in, slowly building the song into a free blowing tempest churning atop Cline’s restive percussion. At nine minutes, the song transitions from heavy sound to spacious, intermittent, and resonant colloquy. As through the rest of the album, Cline is the binding force over which the horns and bass riff. More than anyone else, he turns the collection of abstract shouts into a conversation, then a dance, then a meditation. That said, beyond the rhythm – which Walton, whose bass is often muffled behind the other instruments, admirably pushes as well – this is a balanced effort that lacks a discernible leader. In line with the title, it seems more focused on organic, interconnected development than discrete, individual expression. At times, the music is serious. At others, around the 20-minute mark, more ludic, as Cline and Walton briefly intertwine and Sewelson ebbs in and out playfully. Even here, there is no competition for control but balanced negotiation. The more compact “The Nibbler” follows a similar trajectory and is based on a similar tender rapport rather than predetermined theme. Needless to say, such an approach takes skill, patience, listening, and practice. It does not always feel as natural as it does here. Track three, “The Way Out (Is In),” begins with an extended dialog between Sewelson and Clucas. Almost three minutes in, the band joins and falls into a walking groove that, as one might anticipate, builds once more in to a hard-blowing, discordant finale.

Had I seen the performance live, I imagine I would have been blown away. Much of that spirit and immediacy is lost on this recording. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that this is a document of a one night of expertly practiced collective improvisation, rather than a singular epic recording. Another performance on another night would charted its own path. The unique causal chain of dependent origination (if that is a thing) would have laid different elements, both internal and external to the group, in a different configuration. This night, in other words, was worth documenting. And for those of us (reviewer absolutely included) still fascinated by unscripted, soulful free jazz bent on exploring the innumerable potentialities of unscripted moments, this release is worth the listen.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Ken Ikeda & Eddie Prévost - The Whole Moon Rests in a Dewdrop on the Grass (Matchless, 2018) ****


The Whole Moon Rests in a Dewdrop on the Grass presents another fantastic duo release from Eddie Prévost on his Matchless label, this time with composer, video artist, and electronics wizard Ken Ikeda performing live at London's Cafe Oto in January of last year. Prévost we all know and love from his numerous collaborations through the years and as the bedrock of the legendary group AMM. For those not already familiar with Ken Akida, he has recorded for Touch Records, composed for director David Lynch, and recorded in collaborated with David Toop, Tetuzi Akiyama, and Edward Lucas to name a few. Ikeda last recorded with Prévost in a trio with guitarist John Russell on 2016’s excellent but all-too-brief digital release In Search of Wasabi on Weekertoft Records. Here Prévost and Ikeda spin a woozy phantasmagoria of electronics and bowed metal on a single long track of cerebral and well paced free improvisation.

The piece is a decidedly subtle affair, which Prévost sets into motion with cymbal shimmer and harmonic overtones coaxed from the aether via rosined hair. Ikeda's offerings twinkle to the fore like dim stars at twilight, barely there but spectacular and essential. Ikeda often utilizes a ribbon controller, allowing him to be much more expressive than your general abstract electronics practitioner. An accomplished improviser, he also provides plenty of room for Prévost’s contributions, rather than dominating the proceedings as electronics can sometimes do. Prévost alternates irregularly between soft, slowly building resonance and sharply pulled scrapes and unsettling grima. Ikeda's electronics at times sound like the pings of some alien satellite, at moments sharp with a quick decay and just as often with the addition of delay, where Ikeda modulates the feedback in a way that recalls some of King Tubby or Scratch Perry's production sensibilities. The superposition of the duo's sound worlds is certainly compelling and works equally well when listened to actively or passively.

This is a very enjoyable release and a nice change-up to the sort of fare we free jazz heads usually revel in. I've been favoring restraint to full-on assault when it comes to music here lately, so this release was a welcome addition to my listening queue and I've found myself returning to it frequently. I'm a fan of anything Prévost is involved in, but have a particular affinity for his ability to provide contrast and dynamics on subtle pieces such as this. Likewise, Ken Ikeda’s style is very expressive throughout and he does a tremendous job of finding spaces within the sound field from which to provide subtle responses and/or warbling ambience.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Zach Rowden, Jarrett Gilgore & Ian McColm - First Lapse (Raw Tonk Records, 2019) ****


Raw Tonk’s releases offer a hard to beat two-way deal: the recycled cardboard card-pak cases are aesthetically flawless while the music (from a catalogue of around forty releases) offers some of the most passionate, energized free jazz and improvisational recordings of this decade closing to its end. While the latter is the core of everything of course, the former offer to all of us fetishists more reasons to buy the CDs (and LP’s lately) and support this totally independent label.

First Lapse presents us a trio of young musicians who have already been grinding their teeth among some of the greats like, among others, Paul Flaherty, Tony Malaby, Tyshawn Shorey and Tashi Dorji. Here they present themselves in the classic jazz trio line-up with Zach Rowden on double bass, Jarrett Gilgore on alto saxophone and Ian McColm on drums and percussion. Raw Tonk has created an international circle of likeminded improvisers but, correct me if I’m wrong, this is the first release by musicians exclusively from the US. This circle, seems to me, is constantly growing only to include more and more artists eager to explore.

This ethos directly goes back to the early days of European improvisation (the label still holds London as its center point) with legendary labels like ICP, Incus and FMP. It’s not like they are creating something that has never been achieved before. Raw Tonk’s multinational rotation of musicians encapsulates the simple basic need of people getting together, forming bonds and expressing themselves freely without mediators.

Certainly the way the three musicians battle with their instruments is atypical of the standard drums-sax-bass trio. Thankfully I would comment. First Lapse is not a free jazz album, but more of non idiomatic improvisational recording, if you want to pin down the music. I really really enjoyed their lack of egos and the way they play more as a trio and less as individuals. First Lapse gives me the chance to believe that the three of them have left, already, the free jazz blow outs (now a tradition for jazz coming from the States) behind them for a more organic, focused egalitarian sound.

I think the key word here is focus. At any point they seem to have ears only for their fellow musicians so to act and react accordingly but without preconceived ideas. The three instruments seem so intensely close to each other that you could say all were performed from the same person. Their level of interaction kept me to my toes (as they were if I should make a guess) throughout the thirty minute something duration of the CD. Less is more seems to be the way they deal with their need to express themselves.

Raw Tonk’s catalogue is growing not so fast, but that’s not the issue. There’s not even one release below a certain standard (always considering our personal tastes), which makes it one of the leading labels in the free jazz and improvised world at the moment.







Sunday, March 17, 2019

Anthony Braxton - GTM (Syntax) 2017 (New Braxton House, 2019) ***** (Part III)

Part III of III - Third Species: Accelerator Class 

By Keith Prosk

To quickly reiterate, the accelerator class of the third species sees the primary melody disintegrating and reforming. To use Kitamura’s words from the liner notes, “Eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second, and sixty-fourth notes are combined and subdivided into ratios such as 9:2, 11:2, and 13:2.” The effect is a complex polyrhythm. The last three compositions of GTM (Syntax) 2017 are accelerator class.

Composition No. 339 (+171) (dedicated to The Pennsylvania Railroad Corporation (before the merger)) 
 


Previously recorded on GTM (Syntax) 2003 and 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012*.
The increased notational complexity of this species is immediately apparent to the ear. Pitches are sung just out of phase to create a multiphonic effect and slightly shifted by each group to create polyrhythms. It sounds like a rapid ebb and flow, like a wormhole. Space is significantly more filled out. The tertiary material chosen for this performance is one of Braxton’s early mapping pieces (171), which sees investigative reporters questioning forest ranger Crumpton on ethical inconsistencies in his parks department. As if to mimic the pretzel-twisted time and space of the composition, certain sections of the narrative see multiple questions from reporters and multiple answers from Crumpton overlapping. Splotches of color include angry Daffy Duck sounds, blood-curdling screams, hissing as if in morse code, and exaggerated tongue rolling (“rrr”).

Composition No. 340 (+6c, 142, 364a, 364g, 365f, 365g, 366b, 366d, 367b, 367d, 367g, 367h, 368d) (dedicated to the contrabassist/improvisor Joelle Leandre)



Previously recorded on Quartet (GTM) 2006, Duets (Pittsburgh) 2008, GTM (Syntax) 2003, Sextet (Philadelphia) 2005, and 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012*.
On the last day of recording, the twelve members of the Tri-Centric Vocal Ensemble no longer divided into four groups of three, and there were no sections or section leaders. Each member was free to conduct, follow, or be on one’s own. The tertiary material chosen for this performance is all instrumental and includes the graphic scores of Falling River Music along with the two older pieces. Like 339, there’s a great blurring or phasing effect. Space is so filled and time so fast here that the ensemble cannot use complex syllables or words, and instead sing letters, numbers, oohs, and ahhs. There’s not enough time to physically perform more complex extended techniques, and most odd effects are created by the group rather than individuals. A primary melody is completely indistinguishable. If you don’t feel the wormhole-like ebb and flow in 339 or 340, I suggest you listen to 119 and then come back. The physiological and/or psychological effect of rapidly ramping up the action makes ten minutes in 340 feel like three times that. I suggested this was the most musical starting point for listeners, but I suppose I meant it’s the best starting point for those with a bias against voice, because it’s non-narrative and the performance is so fast and complex that you might forget you’re hearing singing.

Composition No. 341 (+76, 40F, 237, 380) (dedicated to the journalist/scholar Francesco Martinelli)



Previously recorded on Quartet (GTM) 2006, Sextet (Piacenza) 2007, and 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012*.

Again, no designated sections or section leaders. Choruses that phase into polyrhythms - different voices might begin a syllable at the same time but modulate at different times. The tertiary material includes the instrumental 76 and 40 (a favorite of the Crispell/Dresser/Hemingway quartet) and the narrative 237 (Trillium E) and 380 (Trillium J, which we’ve visited before in 219). The extreme effect of 340 is applied to the narrative, creating the personification of Babel. The phrases “hear our words and hear it now” (or, “here are words and hear it now”) and “it could be you” are sung with some performers starting on the same syllable or words and modulating differently while other performers begin on a different word or syllable, with not more than two or three performers landing on the same syllable at the same time while pitches from different syllables might match up for a brief moment. It’s like the cacophony of the “bike tour” in 221 except taken to the extreme because the performers have a full sentence to work with rather than two words. This Babel is eventually met with the heartbeat of an “mm mm, mm mm” before all performers simultaneously sing a short melody before ending the performance.

* as tertiary material

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Anthony Braxton - GTM (Syntax) 2017 (New Braxton House, 2019) ***** (Part II)

Part II of III - 2nd Species

By Lee Rice Epstein
 
Composition No. 239 (+108b, 169) (dedicated to the multi-instrumentalist/composer Taylor Ho Bynum)

Previously recorded on 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 (as tertiary material).
As Keith described yesterday, Braxton’s musics encompass decades of evolution, with perhaps a dozen different musical languages spinning out from the big bang of 1968’s 3 Compositions of New Jazz. The early number 6 compositions are described as “circus piece,” “fast pulse relationships,” and “series of repetitive structures,” all phrases that could be used in 2019 to describe latter-day elements of Syntactical Ghost Trance Music, even as the musics themselves are remarkably different in intent. In the intervening 50 years, Braxton’s developed a philosophy of music as a trigger for dynamic, interpersonal experiences, and a means of creating various mind states to inhabit fantasy environments and process real-world conflicts.

Composition No. 254 (+126, 307) (dedicated to the vocalist/composer Kyoko Kitamura) 



Previously recorded on GTM (Iridium) 2007.
The seeming familiarity of Braxton’s eighth-note melodic sequences for GTM is completely upended in the voices of the Tri-Centric Vocal Ensemble, featuring Roland Burks, Tomas Cruz, Lucy Dhegrae, Chris DiMeglio, Kristin Fung, Nick Hallett, Michael Douglas Jones, Kyoko Kitamura, Adam Matlock, Anne Rhodes, Kamala Sankaram, and Elizabeth Saunders. Longtime listeners may know several of these performers from previous trio and duo projects. On GTM (Syntax) 2017, however, the layering of voices immediately calls to mind Trillium operas. Unlike the operas, SGTM isn’t necessarily organized by particular storylines or environments. Instead, Braxton uses SGTM to explore the human voice, above all things.

Composition No. 255 (+46, 134) (dedicated to pianist/composer Neely Bruce) 


Previously Recorded on GTM (Outpost) 2003, GTM (Iridium) 2007, 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 (as tertiary material), and Noël Akchoté’s Composition 255 (Plays Anthony Braxton).
Within SGTM, the signature eighth-note melody is typically represented by single-letter or number repetition, a ceremonial incantation opening the pathway further into the music. From there, vocalists begin using signal phrases to conduct changes and improvisations in the music. Typically, GTM ensembles split into small groups, trios, and duos that form clusters within the larger ensemble, and such is the case in SGTM, as well. At times, vocalists spin off into small groups singing familiar melodies and lyrics from popular culture or strings of words composed by Braxton, syllables echoing the impact of punchy trumpet and saxophone lines. And then there are the non-syllabic vocalized sounds, growls and snarls extend the range of the ensemble.

Composition No. 256 (+173) (dedicated to the Bulgarian Women’s Choir)


Previously recorded on Six Compositions (Ghost Trance Music) 2001 (as tertiary material), Ensemble (Pittsburgh) 2008, and Syntactical GTM Choir (NYC) 2011.
At a certain point, anyone confronting Braxton is forced to contend with his dense philosophic writings, which can appear arcane and esoteric on its surface. As with his music, however, when taken on word or phrase at a time, moving forward step by step, a listener can easily trace a pathway. The opening melody may require a bit of patience, but as I mentioned, in the context of SGTM it’s an entirely different experience. A listener can choose to let the melody itself take center stage in one’s mind or telescope into the words, numbers, and sounds performed by the vocalists. There’s obvious fun in identifying the scraps of known lyrics and sometimes hilarious interpolations of noises and utterances. The humor and joy invoked by the group brings out a humane side of Braxton that’s too often set aside when writing or speaking out him and his music. As he noted in a recent New York Times article , “It involves people suddenly coming together in communities. The art of the relationship. How to deal with each other.” And the empathy baked into the performance of SGTM, where vocalists need to be attuned to what each other vocalist is doing so they can react to signals and cues accordingly, or trigger others by performing their own signal or cue. In these ways, Braxton creates connections that transcend the music, reminding us that we are alive, living this life, hearing these breaths on an album recorded by other living people, struggling at times in their own lives, celebrating during others, and each one of us tenuously connects to every other one. It’s utopia thinking, sure, and Braxton asserts in the liner notes, “Tri-Centric is not a religion.” But it is a mode of generating empathy, much like Roger Ebert once said of film: “For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. If it’s a great movie, it lets you understand a little bit more about what it’s like to be a different gender, a different race, a different age, a different economic class, a different nationality, a different profession, different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.” This is true also of SGTM, especially upon a close listen, focusing in on the words and phrases turning over themselves. One may not understand why a particular phrase is being used, but one can think of the voice, the breath, the intonation, everything about the actual person performing. One can hum along while listening or repeat bits of lyrics, as I’ve started to do, letting the music become a part of one’s daily life.

Composition No. 265 (+10, 16) (dedicated to the Reverend C.L. Franklin) 


Previously recorded on GTM (Outpost) 2003 and 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 (as tertiary material).
One could easily spend hours, days, even weeks teasing out the notated and improvised references within Braxton musics, especially a language as highly interdependent as SGTM. In this category, I think about the work of academics annotating and uncovering references in books like William Gaddis’s The Recognitions and J R, James Joyce’sUlysses and Finnegans Wake, or Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and The Waves. There does seem to be a similar strain of modernism woven through Braxton’s aesthetic, with his encyclopedic wit and interest in cultures high, low, and in-between. Of course, the undeniably baroque taxonomies and interrelationships invite a certain kind of experience, one that not every listener is interested in. This is where the “friendly experiencer” moniker enters, one I’ve mentioned elsewhere and that I happily and openly embrace. One has to be ready for a music that’s larger than you, that does in fact ask you to actively engage, and most importantly that asks you to take it seriously, but not too seriously. That would mean missing the liveliness of the music and the spirit in which it’s performed. Take works like Morton Feldman’s String Quartet II” or Tyshawn Sorey’s recent Pillars , music that invites listeners in and submerges them into a deeply thoughtful listening experience. SGTM, like GTM, is superb music for reflection, allowing Braxton to work his magic on you.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Anthony Braxton - GTM (Syntax) 2017 (New Braxton House, 2019) ***** (Part I)

Part I of III  -  First Species
By Keith Prosk

Approaching Braxton is difficult for some listeners. Not only is the volume of his discography daunting but the volume of some releases (such as this one) are too and a feeling of misunderstanding is only exacerbated by his idiosyncratic interconnected compositional system and his complex, sometimes enigmatic descriptions of the system. I hope to convey the accessibility of this enriching music that is as broad and deep as reality itself by providing some context - as I understand it - and listening patterns that I enjoyed, followed by brief notes on each composition. Lee Rice Epstein and I decided to split the release by species; he’ll cover the second species along with his relationship with the release.

GTM (Syntax) 2017 is twelve hour-long Braxton compositions performed by the twelve members of the Tri-Centric Vocal Ensemble: Roland Burks, Tomas Cruz, Lucy Dhegrae, Chris DiMeglio, Kristin Fung, Nick Hallett, Michael Douglas Jones, Kyoko Kitamura, Adam Matlock, Anne Rhodes, Kamala Sankaram, and Elizabeth Saunders. Michael Douglas Jones passed away between the recording and release, and the entire release is dedicated to him. It’s available digitally as well as a 12-CD boxset and both versions come with liner notes from Braxton and Kitamura and composition diagrams. It is the first recording of Braxton’s syntactical ghost trance music, i.e. these twelve non-narrative compositions catered to the human voice, in its entirety and in studio. Like 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, which at the time Braxton claimed as the point of definition in his career thus far, it is a linchpin in appreciating his complex compositional system but, because it spans all three species of ghost trance music (GTM), it provides a more intuitive and tangible experience in the three dimensional (or multi-dimensional) world his oeuvre creates.

Braxton has almost always been concerned with space, evidenced by his composition schematics appearing even in his early works (For Trio feels like an especially apt example, creating an analog of three dimensions through stereo channels as well as utilizing the voice). And a similar interconnectivity was present at least as early as the collage music of the Crispell/Dresser/Hemingway quartet, with Dresser and Hemingway playing with pulse tracks that Braxton and Crispell could fall back to and utilize as jump points to play any composition in Braxton’s oeuvre. Explicitly inspired by at least the seemingly infinite interconnectivity of the world wide web and the virtual reality of new media like 3D videogames, Braxton strove to transition his dream-like collages to a more concrete experience and create his own virtual reality through music.

This virtual reality is at least composed of the twelve states of Trillium land explored in his twelve narrative Trillium operas, which I imagine are more representative of a human aspect (e.g. the character Shala), and all instrumental Braxton compositions, which I imagine are more representative of non-human aspects (e.g. a mountain or a room). A GTM piece is a primary melody, often several pages long notation in those (in)famous repetitive eighth notes, that serves as a transportation route between the portions of this virtual reality that Braxton has fleshed out. Like a train track, the melody might have a stop to: (○) get out and stretch, revel in the present, and improvise; (□) explore a pre-constructed area, the past, and tertiary material (those (often) previously-recorded compositions that appear in parentheses); or (△) synthesize the two, mold the future (?), and play secondary material (small compositions that accompany many compositions). I imagine the increasing complexity of GTM species as the increasing complexity of transportation modes. The first species is usually a steady pulse primary melody in eighth notes with no specific dynamics, little articulation, and few invitations to depart from the primary melody, like a long cross-country train ride. The second species cuts up the primary melody with rhythmic breaks, subdividing beats into ratios, and there are more dynamics and more invitations to depart the page, like a highway system with interchanges. The third species is almost continuous polyrhythmic breaks with even greater subdivisions of beats into ratios, dynamics, articulation, and now color-coded graphic notation, like the planes, trains, and automobiles in a complex intercity transportation system. Finally, a subset of the third species - the accelerator class - sees each beat wildly subdivided or completely obscured by polyrhythms with extreme dynamics, more graphic notation, and now less invitations to depart, like a wormhole. I am no doubt omitting theoretical and compositional nuances, but I hope I conveyed the gist. Practically, rather than providing a kind of performance safety net like the pulse tracks of his collage music, GTM compositions provide explicit pathways in the world of Braxton.

I suspect these pathways running through his work contribute to the reason Braxton calls this GTM set the Rosetta Stone of his music systems but the primary reason is likely the human voice (syntax). The ability of the voice to explore any combination of sound > syllable > word > narrative readily allows Braxton to construct all aspects of his complex world with one instrument and quickly. The many moving parts of the respiratory system and the diversity of human bodies make the voice perhaps the most complex instrument but its emotivity is instantly recognizable because it’s an instrument listeners hear every day of their lives, again allowing Braxton the simultaneous complexity and immediacy required to construct a real-time three dimensional experience.

However, though Braxton might think of GTM somewhere along these lines, he does not require the listener to do so. A listener can connect the number twelve through his music, as in the twelve personalities represented in the twelve Trillium operas across twelve Trillium states based upon his twelve language types performed by his 12(+1)tet or the twelve-strong Tri-Centric Vocal Ensemble. Or the number three, as in the past, present, and future/the composition, improvisation, and synthesis/the tertiary, primary, and secondary materials in the Tri-Centric model, or the three species of GTM, or the 3x12 Trillium units in his operas, or the four groups of three found in many of these recordings. A listener can dwell on the details, knowing each secondary and tertiary compositions history and meaning, every notational nuance, and the syntactical activation codes for dances in Pine Top Aerial Music. A listener can feel like they’re walking through a Tri-Centric Theme Park real-time experience. Or a listener can just listen, like it’s any other music. Braxton only requires open ears and an open mind. Though he strives to create a music as complex as reality. You can stop to smell the roses without knowing the clades, range, and genetic intricacies of the rose, or even seeing or feeling the rose (smile).

I hope by providing some context that I’ve eliminated some of the mysteries frustrating the pure enjoyment of this music. But there’s still the matter of listening to twelve hours of music in a digestible manner. For listeners new to GTM, I suggest beginning with 192 and then 340 to provide two well-contrasted reference points to work from. For listeners dreading the eighth notes of the mid ‘90s, I suggest going straight to the more musical 340. It’s useful to contrast the guts of the three species by picking examples with non-narrative tertiary material such as 192, 239, and 340. And it’s fun to contrast examples with narrative tertiary material across species like 219, 254, and 341. Once you get your bearings, the real payoff comes from listening to the compositions sequentially, because the ensemble recorded them sequentially and you can hear the growing comfort of the performers with both the compositions and each other through the release.

Nate Wooley’s Sound American 16: The Braxton Issue [hotlink:http://soundamerican.org/sa_archive/sa16/sa16-index.html], particularly contributions from Erica Dicker, Kyoko Kitamura, Anne Rhodes, and Graham Lock, was especially helpful in beginning to understand the thought behind this music.


First Species
To briefly recap, first species GTM is characterized by the prevalence of the primary melody, a steady pulse built from a long string of eighth notes. The first four compositions of GTM (Syntax) 2017 are first species.

Composition No. 192 (dedicated to the composer Maryanne Amacher)



Previously recorded on Composition 192 (For Two Musicians and Constructed Environment).
The primary melody starts out as oohs and ahhs, quickly moves to letters and eventually incorporates single numbers. When recording the first two species, the ensemble was divided into four groups of three with group conductors to promote cohesion as the performers became more familiar with the material, performance, and other performers. This recording is “simple” enough to hear those four distinct groups. Groups will depart the primary melody to perform secondary material from Composition 192, but they usually return quickly and there seems to always be at least one group on the primary melody. Some words are introduced, mostly colors, as well as some syllables like “som” and “ead.” There’s brief operatic singing and whispering and some extended technique like skittering, scatting, or beatboxing. “Slow it down, man!” is heard towards the middle of the performance - a startling, humorous break in the string of numbers and letters - and the track closes out with the allusory phrases
“slow down, turn left, for new connections”
“in the early model of the system”
“never hesitate” 

Composition No. 219 (+380) (dedicated to the vocalist/composer Sister Rosetta Thorpe)




Previously recorded on Three Orchestras (GTM) 1998, 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012*, Trio (Knoxville) 2016*, and James Ilgenfritz’ Compositions (Braxton) 2011. 
 
219 immediately ups the ante. The primary melody is mostly composed of syllables like “bok” and “zim” and the syllables seem to mutate into each other like zim > zoom > zoop > soup. Contributing to this blurring effect, the primary melody is sung so slightly out of phase at some points that it creates a kind of multiphonic effect rather than a polyrhythm. There are more diversions from the primary melody. And this performance is very colorful, with whistles, wails, hums, sucking in, breathing out, panting, skitting, scatting, beatboxing, bird-like chirps and warbles, wookie trills, and the kind of lip flapping that Hannibal Lector does after mentioning fava beans. And amongst all this color is diversions to the utterly amusing narrative of Trillium J (380), in which Mrs. Walton is on trial for the destruction of her husband and counters such cross-examinations as “Am I to believe the 700 hatchet marks found on his body were an accident,” “What about the stash of bazookas,” and “What about the 400 lbs of napalm found on the body” with “It’s one thing to be dead, it’s another to have bad taste!”

Composition No. 220 (+67, 83, 85) (dedicated to the composer Florence Price)



Previously recorded on Duets (Pittsburgh) 2008, Alumni Orchestra (Wesleyan) 2005*, Quartet/Quintet (NYC) 2011, and Noël Akchoté’s Composition 220 (Plays Anthony Braxton).

Like 219, 220 is another colorful performance but it trades in narrative tertiary material for non-narrative, orchestral and improvisation pieces. Despite the increasing complexity from diversions to secondary and tertiary material, more complex syllables, and more extended techniques, it’s still easy to hear the primary melody throughout the performance and to hear the four clusters of performers. Syllables are now as complex as “fifth” and words like “baku” and “zakay” are prevalent. Extended techniques include ululating like a howler monkey, groaning, harried gurgling, screeching, muted yells, and sighs sounding like pigeon wings. A key development in this performance is the ensemble’s growing comfort with silence; certain portions are more sparse than even 192 and there are two moments of silence lasting several seconds, often to come back in impactfully.

Composition No. 221 (+71, 90, 91) (dedicated to the composer Pauline Oliveros)


Previously recorded on Three Orchestras (GTM) 1998 and Syntactical GTM Choir (NYC) 2011*.
221 can be viewed as the culmination of first species techniques explored in the previous compositions. It opts for non-narrative tertiary material. The ensemble continues to use long rests. And some more extended techniques include voice-cracking wails, rapid bubbling (like drowning), tongue clicking, and lip smacking. But the emphasis here appears to be on the blurring effect from 219. When words and syllables aren’t travel-related (west, train, north, tour, bike, traffic, ride, bus) they blur, like ran > run > red > rev, rest > west, hill > heal, fuss > fuzz, riev > reiv > rev > riv. And the performers begin really playing with time and space, like a chorus singing “lake” slower and lower until it sounds like a tape at half speed, or everyone saying “bike tour” out of phase and at different tempos and volumes to create polyrhythm. After the bike tour polyrhythm, there’s a kind of Beach Boys unified chorus, a quick diversion to something like the stabbing music from Psycho, and then every group is doing something different at different tempos before all coming back to an impactful, unified “ooooh” at the last second. It provides an exciting glimpse into the possibilities of the next two species.

* as tertiary material


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Meet the Experimental Vocalists #3

By Eyal Hareuveni

Three vocal artists, three distinct extended vocal techniques and improvisation strategies, and three different atmospheres. The voices of these vocal artists - Audrey Chen, Danishta Rivero and Esti Kenan Ofri - are often used as an intelligible instrument, even an alien one, but still one of the most potent instrument in their challenging releases.

MOPCUT - Accelerated Frames of Reference (Trost, 2019) ****



The trio MOPCUT claims to be a medium-length noise-style that covers the head and ears with a vertical bang and a horizontal wave. MOPCUT also argues that its sonic output is a popular style for all ages, genders and generations, but adds that ts soundscapes should be trimmed evenly all around the circumference so that the noise at the front reaches the inner eye while the waves on the sides cover (or almost fully cover) the ears. 

You can trust this insightful advice. This trio - American vocal artist and analog electronics player Audrey Chen, known also as a cellist, a close collaborator of British vocal artist Phil Minton and half of the duo Beam Splitter with Norwegian trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø; French electric guitar player Julien Desprez, leader of his own ensembles and member of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire Orchestra and Eve Risser’s White Dessert Orchestra, and Austrian drummer-synthesizer player-vocalist Lukas König, member of Viennese groups Kompost 3 and 5K HD- are going to spin your heads and ears so thoroughly until your inner eyes will not only absorb their wild soundscapes, but most likely may beg for more from this rare stuff. Obviously, by then you may lose all connection with real human languages and earth’s gravity.

Accelerated Frames of Reference, the debut album of this trio, lasts only 32 minutes but you have to be in top shape - mental and physical one - in order to fully comprehend the series of ultra-accelerated sonic events that MOPCUT keeps creating. Chen rushes with her ultrasonic stream of consciousness, fragmented vocalizations as a shaman possessed by mysterious spells, and is always busy mutating and distorting her mad songs with vintage electronics. Desprez intensifies this troublesome and urgent atmosphere with imaginative, explosive noises and effects and König deepens these blistering attacks with disruptive, alien beats and noises of his own. MOPCUT chose to conclude with wild journey with the quiet and meditative “Soundspa”. A peaceful farewell or a promise for more insightful messages from the MOPCUT spaceship?

Listen and download from Bandcamp





Voicehandler - Light from another light (Humbler Records, 2018) ***½



Voicehandler is the American, Oakland-based duo of vocal artist and modular electronics player Danishta Rivero and percussionist Jacob Felix Heule. Voicehandler describes itself as playing “incantatory music grounded in the most primitive and somatic instruments -- the voice and percussion -- juxtaposed with contemporary, disembodied electronics”.  Light from another light is the second release of the duo, following Song Cycle (Humbler, 2015), and recorded during three live performances in May and June 2017 in n Berkeley, California. 

Each of three improvisations offers a distinct atmosphere and left-off-center song forms. “June 8” explores an immediate, psychedelic atmosphere where Rivero employs a stream of wild, hallucinogenic vocalizations, some are extended and processed by electronics. Heule envelops her associative vocalizations with intense percussive chaos of his own, but as a precise and highly nuanced acoustic mirror for her electronic-enhanced noises. “June 1” suggests an almost transparent and fragile drone where Rivero mysterious, processed vocals and fractured noises fly on a thin skies of sparse percussive sounds. “May 25” is the longest and most varied improvisation despite its relative, minimalist atmosphere. Rivero and Heule succeed to form a playful and very informative and sometimes even a seductive conversation between two proud ambassadors from totally different yet friendly sonic planets, eager to share their rare wisdom and hidden desires. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp





Esti Kenan Ofri / Oren Fried/ JC Jones - La Sprezzatura Ensemble (Kadima Collective, 2018) ***




Sprezzatura is an Italian word originating from count and diplomat Baldassare Castiglione's 16th century “The Book of the Courtier”, defined by the author as "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it".  La Sprezzatura Ensemble is also the Israeli trio of vocalist Esti-Kenan Ofri, percussionist Oren Fried and lap-style Spanish guitar player Jean Claude Jones. The Italian-born Kenan Ofri plays regularly with Fried in the Kol Oud Tof trio (in Hebrew: voice, oud, drum) with oud player Armand Sabah, exploring songs from the Jewish Sephardic-Moroccan tradition. She is also a close collaborator of Jones, since the days he was in-demand double bass player.

The five untitled pieces of the trio debut album were recorded in Jerusalem during 2017 and 2018 and are described as “abstract, formative discourse”. Only the first and fifth improvisations succeed as both Kenan Ofri and Fried flirt with twisted abstractions of a sensual Sephardic song form while Jones explores the sonorities of the lap-style Spanish guitar but pushes the interplay to more risk-taking extremes. But other pieces fail to keep that interplay and the whole of this trio sounds far less meaningful than its separate parts, and Kenan Ofri, Fried and Jones do their own things with no memorable sonic events.




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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Evan Parker & Paul G. Smyth

Calenture and Light Leaks (Weekertoft, 2019) *****

The Dogs of Nile (Weekertoft, 2019) *****

First, of course, there’s Evan Parker. For some 50-odd years, Parker’s helped define the sound and shape of avant-garde/free jazz and improvised music. The great success of Parker’s music is how poetic his playing is; if free jazz began its life around 1960, then Parker was one of the early Homeric musicians to define and speak its language. His playing has evolved into bright, occasionally gnomic motifs, often strung together by flowing recursions blown in his effortless circular technique. Yet, if Homer’s long-puzzled-over “wine-dark sea” has given us no better understanding of the color of the Aegean, then Parker’s literal notes and techniques face the same challenge: does a line-by-line or note-by-note reading get us closer to the music?

And now here’s Paul G. Smyth, one of the great contemporary pianists—regular readers know me to be a champion of his music. There’s a category of pianists who play extremely well, and there’s a category I think of as pianists who speak in piano. For peers, think Alexander Hawkins, Angelica Sanchez, Aruán Ortiz, Kaja Draksler, Kris Davis, Matt Mitchell, et al., the Joycean modernists of free jazz. Smyth is both among these players, and slightly to the side of them, like David Virelles or Eve Risser. His recordings thus far on his Weekertoft label have been either solo or duos, and, like both Virelles and Risser, highly exploratory and experimental.

It’s a bit cheeky to put Smyth among a group of Joycean pianists, but I mean it like this: the group of players above and their many peers have taken a form—free jazz or free improvisation—that evolved over decades and are now playfully, delightfully, intellectually refining and subverting it, sometimes through radical interpretation. Where Joyce playfully relocated Homer’s wine-dark sea to Dublin Bay, transforming it into the snotgreen sea (or, more fittingly, the scrotumtightening sea), Smyth plays lovingly with Parker, as he alternately echoes, conducts, and even at times appears to ruminate on Parker’s music.

These two albums newly available from Weekertoft catch Parker and Smyth at two different venues, with two very different sound worlds. Calenture and Light Leaks was recorded in March 2015, at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland. It’s a beautiful album, with really fantastic production. Parker’s tenor sax sounds warm and full, and the details of Smyth’s playing are fully rendered. After opening with some dramatic duo recitations, the duo settles into a lengthy, patient improvisation. During the latter half of “Calenture and Light Leaks,” Parker and Smyth both perform solos, furious, spiraling solos that call back to earlier moments of dialogue with references and ellipses that constantly pull you back in. The full set takes its time, building and burning and crashing, when all is said and done, into a tremendous round of applause. I can only imagine what it felt like in person, though the thrill of the room feels duly captured here.

The Dogs of Nile was recorded 2 years later, in March 2017 back in in Dublin. Parker is on soprano this time, and the performance is packed more densely. In between both albums stood Brexit, which Parker surprisingly supported, explaining his vote was rooted in his suspicions of the EU more broadly. Thus, here he was in 2017, in Ireland, playing a ferocious set. The sound on The Dogs of Nile is slightly less rounded, but it’s not lacking in passion or technique. In this way, it’s almost the Odyssey to Calenture’s Iliad. Or, it’s Finnegans Wake to Calenture’s Ulysses. Or, I’m pushing these comparisons too far, and the two aren’t necessarily related, Janus-faced, but are nonetheless fantastic albums of top-notch free improvisation. Should I then heed my own words, let the music speak for itself, and end here? Yes I will yes, and exit under cover of night.

Available on Bandcamp and worth every pound, dollar, drachma, or whatever’s rattling around in your pockets.




Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Two from Chris Corsano - Featuring Mette Rasmussen, Okkyung Lee, and Ches Smith

Percussionist extraordinaire Chris Corsano had another busy year as usual, playing traps on multiple releases in 2018, one of which made it into our album of the year poll. His is one name on a short list of musicians that I actively search out new releases from. I have yet to hear him play on a record that I didn’t like, and I’ve raved about him extensively enough in prior reviews that I’ll keep my admiration in check here. These two releases find him in good company, the first in his long running duo with saxophonist Mette Rasmussen and the second in a trio with cellist Okkyung Lee and drummer Ches Smith.

Rasmussen/Corsano Duo – A View of the Moon (from the Sun) (Clean Feed, 2018) ****


The latest from the Rasmussen/Corsano duo, dubbed A View of the Moon (From the Sun) is their first recorded as a twosome since 2015’s excellent All the Ghosts at Once. Now as then the playing is first-rate and the communication is exceptional. As you would expect the duo has really polished their language, and there are certainly some intriguing moments on this disc. You won’t find anything shockingly new here, but it’s a snapshot-in-time and a continuation of their long running collaboration. That’s a long-winded way of saying that if you enjoyed their first release you’ll most certainly enjoy this one. The album begins with “Many People Were Scandalized – Some Still Are”, where the first half or so is defined by some very inventive, lyrical saxophone from Rasmussen supported with exceedingly busy, colorful percussion from Corsano. The second half is more probing but still lively, presenting some spectacularly subtle clatter from the drums, over which the saxophone spins ideas and multiplicity, ending on a breathy note. The next piece “Folding in on itself” starts with bluesy saxophone licks over fairly subdued percussion that builds in intensity over several minutes and then goes quiet, leaving Rasmussen room for tangled solo runs and pungent honking before reappearing and capping off the piece in a churning interchange.

The following track, “Let's Have a Rain Check on the Franchise”, is a more sparse and probing improvisation. Rasmussen utilizes flutter tonguing through the first have before going in a more percussive, staccato direction which she breaks up with lamented phrases and gentle growl. Corsano is a distant storm of percussion, all snare roll and cymbal chatter with highlights of bell-like ride. “Today's White Blood Cell” is another understated piece of restrained saxophone over a drone of bowed cymbal. It’s not so much about building dynamics as maintaining stasis. “Well Now, There, Then” is full of soulful saxophone passages interspersed with resonant long tones, quick runs, and reed squeals. Corsano provides a varied percussive foil for Rasmussen’s creativity, again coaxing the best from his collaborator with his impressionable playing. “You're Breaking Up, the House is Going through a Tunnel” involves more muted flutter tonguing and multiphonics from the saxophone, accented with lightly bowed cymbal and snare rolls. Passages of rhythmic reed popping are offered over light percussive accents before a build-up in intensity towards the end of the piece. “A Detail” is an interesting texture based invention, Rasmussen this time utilizing preparations to induce some interesting vibrations in her instrument. Corsano adds a bit of slide clarinet (an interesting homemade-looking instrument that he plays from time to time) to the mix which adds some color to the limited sax/drums palette. The album closes with “Another Detail” which is probably the most sonically varied track on the album. From softly played exchanges to full on skronk, it covers the highs and lows of the duo's dynamics along with a bit of everything in between.

Available from Clean Feed.

Corsano/Lee/Smith – Libra Rising (Self, 2018) ****


Libra Rising captures a performance at New York’s The Stone (presumably at the New School location) in October of 2018, finding the trio of Corsano, drummer Ches Smith, and cellist/composer Okkyung Lee engaged in a busy and colorful free improvisation pitting intensity vs. moderation. The piece starts off busily and builds from there, the stirring percussion being counterbalanced by Lee’s growling, screeching cello, each building off the other until around the six minute mark where things slow down and become more textural and introspective. This precedes a build-up in intensity that increases linearly from seven to around nine minutes, at which point the trio is almost back up to their full gait. Lee’s elegant glissandos are supported by the shaky junkyard/found-object percussion, which deflates into near silence with Lee lightly bowing along with an almost transparent snare roll. The cello/percussion combination takes on the timbre of a burning balloon factory shortly thereafter, building into a rumble of friction squeaks and crackling rhythm before the spectral pendulum once more signals a return to quiescence. Amid the persistent but sparse percussion, Lee plays her cello as a metamorph, wringing a variety of sounds and musical shapes from the instrument and leading the two percussionists into a final crescendo, reaching a roiling apogee before falling back to rest again.
I’ll admit that when I saw two drummers I was expecting a bit more explosiveness from their end, but neither Corsano nor Smith is keen to dominate the proceedings and instead they provide a platform for Lee’s cello to dance. The improvisation is very well recorded and exhibits the excellent communication and character that master improvisers exude. The playing is confident and sharp, and there are several moments where they teeter on the edge of a full-on blowout, yet every trip to the threshold results in a return to orbit which I quite like. Not every improvisation needs to shred the skin from your face. And although we know this cat has claws, in this instance it’s happy to sit on your lap and purr.
Listen and download from Bandcamp