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Shoji Hano (dr), Hans Peter Hiby (ts)

Manufaktur, Schorndorf, May 2022

Elisabeth Harnik (p), István Grencsó (s), Paul Lytton (d), Ken Vandermark (s)

KM28, Berlin. May 2022

Frank Gratkowski (bcl), Wilbert De Joode (b), Achim Kaufmann (p)

W71, Weikersheim. May 2022

اسم[ism]: Pat Thomas (p); Joel Grip(b), Antonin Gerbal (d)

Autopsi Pohl, Berlin. May 2022

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Pharoah Sanders (1941 - 2022)

Pharoah Sanders. Photo from his website

By Martin Schray

At the tender age of 25, Pharoah Sanders experienced the greatest honor that jazz had to offer in the 1960s: The great John Coltrane took him into his band and shaped him forever with his concept of a spiritual free jazz. In interviews, however, Sanders honestly did not want to be asked about the old mentor and did not shy away from looking through the journalists’ questionnaires for the irritant word “Coltrane“, only to break the rule himself and tell anecdotes like these: Coltrane was said to have asked him whether he could play an F on the tenor saxophone (which is extremely difficult). “Yes“, Sanders replied, “but only if I lift my left leg while doing it - and I don't want to do that!“ Now the great saxophonist, sound inventor and activist, one of the greatest angry young men of jazz at the time, has died.

Pharoah Sanders, whose real name was Ferell Sanders, was born October 13, 1940 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He moved to New York City in 1961 after playing with rhythm and blues bands. There, he was homeless a few times, but he knew Sun Ra, who found him an apartment and encouraged him to use the stage name “Pharoah“. In 1963, he formed his own band with pianist John Hicks, bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Billy Higgins. The group attracted the attention of John Coltrane. In 1965, Sanders began performing with Coltrane at live shows and in the studio regularly, playing on several of Coltrane’s albums, including Ascension, Meditations, Kulu Sé Mama, Live at the Village Vanguard Again! and many more. Simultaneously, Sanders started recording albums under his own name. In 1966, he signed a contract with Impulse! and released Tauhid in the same year. His most famous album, Karma, followed in 1969. In the 1970s, Sanders continued to produce his own recordings and also continued to work with Alice Coltrane, for example on Journey to Satchidananda.

He experimented with African rhythms on the 1971 album Black Unity and in general he became interested in all kinds of music, even R & B, modal jazz and hard bop. Throughout his life however, he retained the brute stylistic devices of free jazz such as overblowing, primal scream effects, and walls of sound, even when he returned to more conventional forms in the eighties. A perfect example of his wide musical universe is the fact that he traveled to Morocco in 1994 to record the album The Trance of Seven Colors with Gnawa musician Maleem Mahmoud Ghania, which was produced by Bill Laswell, and in the same year also he did a trip hop remix of “The Creator Has A Master Plan“, his signature song from Karma.

Finally, in 2021, together with London electro musician and DJ Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra, he had an unexpected late career hit. The meditative, nine-part suite Promises was exactly the kind of music with spiritual depth and emotional spark of hope that a beleaguered humanity needed in the second pandemic year.

Although the great saxophonist has recorded many excellent albums throughout his whole career, his work from the 1960s and 70s is considered to stand out from his rich and varied catalogue. Tauhid (1967, Impulse) with Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Dave Burrell on piano, Henry Grimes on bass, Roger Plank on drums and Nat Bettis on percussion was the blueprint for his most famous albums, which were about to follow, because it established the typical spiritual Sanders sound. Two years later, he released Karma (Impulse), possibly his greatest success, with a monstrous band consisting of Lonnie L. Smith jr. on piano, Julius Watkins on French horn, James Spaulding on flute, William Hart and Frederick Waits on drums, Richard Davis, Reggie Workman and Ron Carter on bass and the fabulous Leon Thomas on vocals and percussion. “The Creator has a Master Plan“ is the mother of all spiritual jazz tracks. In the years to follow, he released more wonderful albums on Impulse like Summon Bukmun Umyun (1970), Jewels of Thought (1970), Thembi (1971), and Black Unity (1972), all worth listening to. A personal favorite of mine is Izipho Zam (Strata-East, 1973), on which he again was joined by long time collaborators such as Leon Thomas (“Prince of Peace“ with him on vocals is my favorite Sanders track), Sonny Sharrock, Lonnie Liston Smith, Nat Bettis and Billy Hart plus Sonny Fortune on alto sax, Howard Johnson on tuba and Cecil McBee and Sirone on bass. Sanders was always at his best when he was backed by a band that had a great groove and expressed a lot of spirituality like on Africa (Timeless, 1987), where John Hicks (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass) and Idris Muhammad (drums) prepared a marvelous sound carpet on which Sanders could soar. “You’ve Got To have Some Freedom“ even works as a dance floor killer. Sanders was also especially great when he worked with musicians from Africa, for example with the aforementioned Maleem Mahmoud Ghania on The Trance of Seven Colors (Axiom, 1994). The music here is also of an outstanding spirituality, however very different from his albums in the late Sixties and early Seventies, it’s seems more ethereal and otherworldly. Promises with Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra (Luaka Bop, 2020), was praised by many critics (including myself), but also critized as being to kitschy. I liked its drama and comforting spirit a lot, though.

Now, Pharoah Sanders has died on September 24 at the age of 81. But we will be comforted by the music he gave us all. Not only the jazz community will miss him.

Watch “The Creator Has a Master Plan“ with Pharoah Sanders - tenor sax, William Henderson on piano, Miles Danso on bass and Antoine Banville and drums live in London, 2011: 

Daunik Lazro, Jouk Minor, Thierry Madiot, David Chiesa, Louis-Michel Marion - Sonoris Causa (NoBusiness, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

Extremely low frequencies are less a range than a realm. Below 30 cps they’re largely inaudible to the human ear, felt as vibration rather than sound, at high amplitude sometimes felt internally. 5 cps is less a tone than a tempo marking, 300 beats per minute, as pitch turns, ineluctably, into time. Bass vibrations have inspired Szilárd Mezei to form a band of four string basses and a tuba (see Szilárd Mezei Tubass Ensemble – Rested Turquoise (No Business, 2021)), while Anthony Braxton’s adventures in the lowest registers are numerous (read more here.)

Given a suspension between silence, power and terror, low frequencies exercise a special fascination for musicians, suggesting chthonic realms with low-pitched instruments in hyper-resonant spaces that are often vast, dark and enclosed. In 1993, in a prototypical gesture, Swiss saxophonist Werner Lüdi entered the Lucendro dam, taking along his baritone as well as his alto (Lüdi Solo: Lucendro, Unit Records, 1996). In 2000, Evan Parker and a Swiss wind quartet explored the sonics of an empty cistern above Zurich (September Winds, Creative Works). On their next meeting, Parker and band-member Peter A. Schmid were exploring the tubax, a form of contrabass saxophone, though they didn’t take the low-pitched horns to the cistern (Alder Brook, Leo Records, 2003).

That chthonic element is strong in Sonoris Causa (a pun on “honoris causa” but a hint, too, of what sound might bring into being. The quintet, recorded in 2003 at Festival Musique Action in Vandoeuvre, France, includes nothing but low pitches. Jouk Minor is playing a contrabass sarrusophone, certainly the most unusual instrument here. Similar in range to a contrabass saxophone (the bell appears at the top of the instrument and there are far more bends than in a saxophone—the recent tubax is similar in appearance), the instrument appears on one highly memorable 1924 recording, “Mandy Make Up Your Mind” by Clarence Williams’s Blue 5, where much of the track is devoted to a novelty solo by Sidney Bechet on the instrument (Louis Armstrong is also a member of the Williams band). David Chiésa and Louis-Michel Marion are both playing five-string double basses which allow a bassist to play a fourth lower than a conventional instrument. Thierry Madiot plays bass trombone and “telescopic tubes”, the name of which suggests something like a trombone in its function. That leaves Daunik Lazro, whose gruff, roaring baritone saxophone is the highest-pitched instrument in the band.

The basses are often bowed, emphasizing their resonance and a certain pitch variance. The harmonics of the basses and Lazro’s baritone emphasizing an echoing sub-pitch. Every instrument emphasizes fundamentals, while the bass reeds can render echoing wails that resemble winds blowing through canyons. Each wind instrument will repeat low-register plosives at one time or another, suggesting speech pitched below speech. What high pitches are here are always resonating in large-diameter columns. The music will thin, but the presence of three tracks is an illusion, there only to make the uninterrupted 66-minute performance easier to negotiate.

This sustained improvisation seeks mystery, power and a kind of occultation, even immuration, in sound, which the musicians seem to achieve. There are moments when they seem to be echo-locating, bouncing off one another’s sounds to achieve distance, stretching the stage to accommodate the sound, seeming to grow further apart, making and measuring a vast imaginary space. As it progresses, the music becomes more spacious, but also more meditative, the musicians more exploratory of this world of their own making. At the conclusion, however, the music returns to the suggestion of some ultimate trembling in the firmament.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Ü - Ü (s/r, 2022)

By Guido Montegrandi

Ü quartet was born in 2021 and this is their first work. The name comes from the 16th hexagram of the I Ching whose translation in Italian sounds like Ü il Fervore – hence also the title of the closing track

In stating their aesthetic Alessandro Luppi (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax), Giovanni Falascone (piano, kalimba, live electronics), Filippo Abrate (percussion), Thomas Canna (percussion) tell us that "the group is oriented toward a rhythm and timbre research which has its foundation in jazz, electroacoustic, ethnic, contemporary and experimental music. The aim of this research is to investigate a ritual and evocative dimension where a performance can be built, a space for a search in balance between composition and improvisation."

In all of the tracks the listener can find references to jazz, to electroacoustic music, to ethnic music but all these references are incorporated into a personal project. It’s a quartet with no leading role, all of the four musicians bring their contribution to a sound that flows between freedom and structure. The interplay reminds me remarkably of the European free music of the 70 with a very well balanced poise among all of the instruments. Musical ideas are introduced as fragments of sound, as traces leading to places that dissolve into silence.

A deep sense of space characterizes the sound - Giovanni Falascone, responsible of the mixing process, told me that in order to avoid the two drums to fuse into a single sound, one of them has been placed on the left in the mix and the other on the right with piano slightly on the right and clarinet slightly on the left. This has created a precise static definition for the acoustic sound in the mix while the processed sounds and the electronics exploit the whole space expanding in a free and randomic way. A foreign sound that surfaces and take possession of the acoustic space.

Below, are my impressions of the pieces, just to give a personal hint of their attitude, given the fact that Ü appears like a continuous work and the various pieces interact and respond to each other creating some kind of path.

The opening track Dense 4 starts with sparse atmospheric percussion, slowly joined by reeds and piano, to build a nice free improvisation where the rhythm flows from the drums to the piano.

In Specchi, the sounds are isolated electronics and cymbals and drums with a reed singing a broken melody doubled in the end by an expressive drumming.

The clarinet introduces the theme of Ghana Blues again doubled by the percussions as if the statements of “Specchi” have to be continued, then it all fades into a stream of electronic sounds creating a change into the landscape and leaving in the end a very distant reed playing.

Suite for Milan has an almost canonical free jazz intro fading into silence which prepares for the central piece of the suite in tempo lento. Here the piano creates the environment for the other players to build their structures. Again, the collective creation of sound emerges. The sound get thinner and rarer until the reed leads to a fast free ending which seems to close the circle.

In Rumble, bass clarinet and percussions play seemingly in the distance, structured metallic noises fill the foreground until the percussion makes its statement, just a moment before silence.

Searching for Consciousness is marked by percussion, a lamenting reed, electronic noises and sounds that gradually take the lead followed and then surrounded by a constant drumming and long reed sounds, then silence (almost). From this cracked land, a rhythmic drumming, piano and reed emerge as if a path has been found but then again the melody slowly dissolves into silence.

Stripes is characterized by a ground of percussions in conversation with a meandering reed.

Il Fervore closes the album with the drums interacting with the piano and then with the reed weaving intricate patterns. When the sax is left alone it is like a cusp reabsorbed by the final notes of piano and drums again.

In conclusion, I consider Ü an intriguing piece of work that discloses sound and ideas that deserve further developments, certainly a good contribution to the search for a contemporary musical expression.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Bad Plus - The Bad Plus (Edition Records, 2022)

By Sammy Stein

American quartet, The Bad Plus comprises bass player Reid Anderson , drummer David King , guitarist Ben Monder and tenor saxophonist Chris Speed. Relaunching as a quartet (previously a trio with several changes in personnel around the founders Anderson and King), The Bad Plus is still delivering dynamic, ever-evolving music.

Twenty-one years after their landmark debut as a genre-exploding piano-bass-drums trio, the Bad Plus have reinvented themselves with the addition of guitarist Ben Monder and saxophonist Chris Speed. The Bad Plus sees the group continuing to challenge convention and push their unique jazz toward boundary-breaking directions. The band is undertaking a tour, taking in North America, Indonesia, the UK, and Europe.

Though the lineup may have changed, The Bad Plus remains unique in delivery and sound, and the group's unique musical language and undeniable drive and intent remain.

Now the lineup has no pianist, which makes for a different sound. However, new additions Monder and Speed come with a wealth of experience. Monder is known for his work as leader and sideman with David Bowie (Blackstar), Theo Bleckmann, Guillermo Klein, and Paul Motian, to name but a few–and saxophonist Chris Speed, an award-winning leader/co-leader of numerous modern ensembles and long time musical running buddy of both King and Anderson.

Intense rehearsals in the summer of 2021 saw the quartet poring over compositions by Anderson and King, emerging with a singular group sound that retains all of The Bad Plus's vaunted adventurousness while simultaneously setting them on a new pathway of genre-agonistic musical exploration. Working with engineer Brett Bullion, the band has fully maximized the sonic and dynamic possibilities of the new lineup, showcasing the virtuosity and musicality of Speed and Monder while maintaining their trademark pursuit of relentless invention and excellence, blazing with the very same attitude that has defined the group for over two decades.

'Motivations' is a beautiful track with the tenor sax and bass in counterpointed harmony while the steady keys and drums develop a supportive backdrop. The percussion is outstanding. There is immediately in this track a sense of maturity, settlement, and comfort. The unhurried essence of the melodies alongside the occasional changes is somehow reassuring.

'Sun Wall' is delightfully bonkers. In a controlled manner, the musicians develop rhythms around a central seven-spot uneven rhythm pattern, which works devilment with the listening brain in a wonderful way. The guitar is allowed free rein, which it seems to delight in, and the bass line is interesting, so a lot is going on in this track.

'Not Even Close to Far Off' is powerful, darker than the previous track, concentrating on the lower notes in the bass line, contrasting with the tenor line, and permeating the track with intensity. Speed then does a little unleashing of his own as he powers down a truly mesmeric solo over the top. A great number with a lovely change of feel around the four-minute mark - be prepared.

'You Won't See Me Before I come Back' is lyrical, melodic, and features an almost tender guitar solo section, while 'Sick Fire' pulls out the stops and is a foray into free playing. The sax is delirious over drums that sway and lean into the tempo, slowing it, pushing it on, and the number feels like a collective exploration. The verging on the manic soloing of Speed is grin-making material.

'Stygian Pools' contrasts with that which has gone before and is a well-developed, progressively deeper layer number with changing tempos, rhythms, and interactive reflections from sax, guitar, and percussion. Once again, Speed picks up the free potential, and his sax wails itself into other realms at times, while the rest of the band feels decidedly grounded, and Speed returns to melodic formats by the finish.

'The Bright Future' is ethereal, atmospheric, and tempered throughout by the percussive effects, from shimmering cymbals to dynamic powered threads. This is the track on the album where the cohesiveness of the quartet is strongest, each musician intensely picking up cues, developing lines and working harmonics to cerate something extraordinary, worthy of the class of musican here. The sax picks lines to develop and takes them up and away, while the centering bass and percussion allow spaces into which the guitar works.

'The Dandy' closes out the album and is almost minimalistic at the outset, with simple lines and short phrases interwoven to create a belying complexity. However, the track develops as layers are added; each musician gives an ingredient until the fullness of the track can be heard.

This album is engaging and pulls the listener in, but it has a tentativeness throughout it, which I could not shake off. At times, there is a true sense of collectiveness, while at others, there is a sense of still gelling, working out who is going where, and that intrinsic intuition that makes a natural blend was not there in spades. However, given the class of musicians here and the fact we are emerging from a pandemic situation s they have not played often together, it will be interesting and potentially incredible when the intuitiveness kicks in, and the true blending happens. The Bad Plus has a different sound than they did in 2019 ( check out the impressive Boffadem live studio session of that time), but they are getting used to a different format - so it is quite right they are re-setting The Bad Plus are back.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Cameron/Horne/Flaten/Thomson - Place Is The Space (Personal Archives, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Lisa Cameron, Jonathan Horne, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and Joshua Thomson freely play six tracks with percussion, electric guitar, contrabass, and alto saxophone on the 53’ Place Is The Space.

Cameron and Flaten have previously recorded together on Tau Ceti with Tom Carter. And Horne and Flaten have appeared together in The Young Mothers with Stefan González, Jason Jackson, Frank Rosaly, and Jawwaad Taylor, most recently on Morose , in Flaten’s Village Songs ensemble on Den Signede Dag , and with John Dikeman and Stefan González on Texas Butt Biters from 2022.

Loose elements coalesce into grooves smooth and peaceful. A plucked low end lyricism lends honeyed melodies as much as any rhythmic character. Catch small glimpses of guitar’s ecstatic attack as gestural as musical through its clean tones in snaking lines or its harmonic sustain for an organ-like haze. An interlude of music box lullabies from kalimba’s twinkling plucks. Saxophone sounds smoky and sultry, discrete notes smoothed to soft curves. And the kit sets the energy, skipping klang for cheery play, shimmering cymbals with bathing harmonies, hiccuping kicks and tapped snare and cymbal trance for meditative moments. Sometimes the group plays pointillistic dialogues and the closer “Welding An Inverted Flap” boils over the energy bubbling under the entire set, but more often the group approaches a space together and simmers, permutating there. In a calm mood that could be triangulated from In A Silent Way and the first half of Atlantis. Transporting the ear to other worlds in the outer and inner mind.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Butcher/ Davies/ Davis/ Lash/ Lazaridou-Chatzigoga – nodosus (Empty Birdcage Records. 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

Recorded at Café Oto in December 2017, this CD presents the quintet of saxophonist John Butcher, violinist Angharad Davies, trumpeter Matt Davis, bassist Dominic Lash and Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga on zither. The term “nodosus”, previously unknown to me, would seem, given the character of the music, to refer to potamogeton nodosus, “a species of aquatic plant known by the common names longleaf pondweed and Loddon pondweed…the inflorescence is a spike of many small flowers arising from the water on a peduncle” (wikipedia). The design of the jacket, an aquatic watercolour by Beverey Waller, enhances the theme as does an accompanying text by Helen Frosi in which phrases describing water, creatures, plants and trees seem to radiate on a square sheet of paper, at the centre of which is the phrase “symptoms of epiphany”.

Apart from the quality of the musicians, nodosus is immediately distinguished by the presence of three string instruments in the group, among them the unusual zither, lending the music a distinctive texture. More significant, of course, is the way the instruments are being played. Central elements include high harmonics from Davies’ violin and contrastingly gritty, almost industrial bowed textures from Lash. Butcher and Davis, as well, frequently contribute sustained tones, and Davis, it should be noted, contributes tones so subtle that trumpet might elude identification. Butcher occasionally suggests a quiet quorum of small woodland creatures.

While most of the band members are familiar figures in the English improvising community, Lazaridou-Chatzigoga’s name was new to me. She plays amplified zither, evidently with extended techniques because there is literally nothing here to make an enthusiast of traditional zither music suddenly exclaim, “Now that’s the zither I came to hear!” She previously recorded a duet CD with Martin Küchen, Bauchredner on Cathnor, and more recently a duet with Ferran Fages on Another Timbre, both of which I’ll be seeking out. Her contribution here must include much of a wealth of otherwise unattributable sounds -- rapid amplified, percussive strings, some bowing, some light rasping electronics, and some of the various bird-like sounds – all sounding perfectly apt.

The music is so rare and so calm, so deliberate and yet unpredictable in the evolution of its textures and events, including the organically arising passages of near-silence, that it might be the sacred music of an unknown creed, the state music of a eutopia, the dance music of an unknown species.

________________

A word on Empty Birdcage Records: The label is a project of the guitarist Daniel Thompson who launched it in 2020, situating its activity in the period since the Covid-19 pandemic. After arriving in London in 2006, he studied with John Russell for two years, absorbing much of Russell’s wisdom, dynamism and wit in developing his own voice, all apparent on a brief solo tribute called John available as a download on the label’s Bandcamp page. Thompson has played with a broad spectrum of the London improvising community, and the label includes his duo recordings with saxophonist Colin Webster and violist Benedict Taylor as well as a trio with violinist Philipp Wachsmann and analogue synthesist Martin Hackett. Other releases so far include a solo recording by percussionist Steve Noble and Crunch, a Mopomoso performance by the trio of Hutch Demouilpied, trumpet and flutes; Matt Hutchinson, piano; and Sue Lynch, tenor saxophone and clarinet. Thompson is a conscientious curator and all the releases reward close listening.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Power Nap Trio - djape mare coa (s/r, 2022)

By Ron Coulter

The Serbian free jazz group, Power Nap Trio is Predrag Okilljević (tenor saxophone), Marko Čurčić (bass guitar/FX), and Aleksandar Škorić (drum set). djape mare coa is their first album, a digital release from December 2021; its six tracks come in at 46’58” in total duration.

The album can be summarized as alternating between rhythmic, Albert Ayler-esque melodicism (see track 1, djudja) and contemplative, melancholic soundscapes (see track 2, imam jednu zelju); in addition to the occasional combination of the two (see track 3, ceremonial shirts).

The trio really shines on the tracks featuring the more rhythmically active and folk-like melodicism (short, repetitive, singable melodic material) such as tracks 1 and 3. There is a sense of exuberance and joy in the playing, exemplified by the occasional vocal exclamation from one of the players (most likely Aleksandar Škorić on the drums). The interplay of the musicians is readily noticeable; they listen closely to each other and create accordingly, generating a smooth, coherent flow of ideas and sounds. This is a like-minded trio with a focused musical purpose. The result is an album with a cohesive musical statement.

Listeners will likely find themselves putting select tracks on repeat and enjoying them on many return listenings.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Matsumoto / Shiroishi / Watanabe - Yellow (Dinzu Artefacts, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Kozue Matsumoto, Patrick Shiroishi, and Shoshi Watanabe play five pieces for koto, alto & tenor saxophones, and shakuhachi on the 46’ Yellow.

This is the first time these three have released a recording together. And it is the most recent point in a line through Shiroishi’s work that grapples with racism against Asian-Americans, including Descension for solo tenor saxophone, effects, and voice, No​-​No / のの for alto and tenor saxophones with percussionist Dylan Fujioka, i shouldn’t have to worry when my parents go outside for multi-instrumental arrangements, and Hidemi for solo multi-tracked saxophones, the last of which was accompanied by a chapbook titled Tangled that featured perspectives on the Asian-American experience from Tashi Dorji, Jason Kao Hwang, Susie Ibarra, Amirtha Kidambi, and many others.

The titles of Yellow convey racist concepts - “Skin,” “Peril,” “Fever” - and while the notes imply a positive turn in “Gold” and “Dandelion” because the music never brightens my interpretation recalls California’s gold rush coincident with the abuse of Chinese immigrants and the weed’s use in Chinese medicine which despite a growing turn towards holistic wellness is dubiously still considered dubious in western corners. Of course, the players are not Chinese but racism doesn’t parse nuances. But rather than songs of despair or hope the notes - and I concur - guide towards a navigation of identity. Where instruments deeply rooted in folk musics like koto and shakuhachi can play with but are not shackled by the expectations around how they sound.

Shakuhachi’s hardblown shoots and ghostly vibrato appear but less often than sustained sinelike whistles and the textured pulse of breath mediated through the instrument. Koto’s characteristic clusters of strummed chords in increasing density appear too but not as much as the harmony of its reverberating decay as deep as a piano’s and textural rhythms in soundboard scratching. Maybe there can be an Asian identity draped over an approach to the saxophone too, with many Japanese players’ sometimes generalized to austere articulation and shrill registers, but again more time is in effervescent whorls of triadic spirals and a deflating moaning Maneri-like vocal multiphonic that respectively illuminate the harmonics between tones and confuse tone movement. Instrumental identities are not allowed to be leveraged against themselves and tradition is neither abandoned nor limiting but instead provides springboards for a profound excavation of the elements of sound.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Paul G. Smyth / John Wiese - The Outlier (Weekertoft, 2022)





Until now, John Wiese was known to me - even if his music is well documented - only from C-Section, a recording with Evan Parker, which presents him rather as a sound berserker who can really let it rip. I was all the more surprised that his new album with pianist Paul G. Smyth goes in a completely different direction. On the one hand, the music here is more related to avant-garde or industrial music bands (think 23 Skidoo or Current 93) than the noise workout of C-Section. On the other hand, Smyth and Wiese evoke memories of the minimalist improvisations of AMM during the almost hour-long acoustic narration.

The beginning of the concert opens with circuitous textures of ambient sounds suspended in the vastness of a large concert hall and sparse, focused clatter of piano hammers, which deliver percussive accents. A rather dark atmosphere is created. Then, the sounds become more, louder and attack the listener from all sides, as if you were helplessly lost in an acoustic ambush. With closed eyes, one can definitely get scared here. The improvisation, however, is varied, rich in sounds and dramatic ideas. The musicians don’t present extreme highs and lows, they don’t look for reasons for escalation as far as loud/quiet passages are concerned, instead they concentrate on atmospheric, almost tender, acoustic soundscapes. To this end, they consistently build up an atmosphere of sensual electroacoustics. For this they often use subtle drones, hissing and creaking noises and small melodic explosions, for example when the piano is subtly dissonantly linked with electroacoustic noises. Here the somber and frightening atmosphere is also broken, especially when this minimalist phrasing approaches the realm of silence. Almost the entire section in the first third of the improvisation of the concerto is woven through with these dark details and dramatic undercurrents, but only to startle listeners again with purposefully placed clusters of noise. In this way, Smyth and Wiese succeed in condensing their sonic universe. The electronics then seek out more noise and post-industrial connotations, while the prepared piano counteracts this tension.

This ultimately creates multi-layered post-ambient music. The last eleven minutes in particular tear you back and forth between melancholic tones, post-industrial electronics, echo noises, synthetic stalactite cave sounds, and bumpy, atonal free jazz piano. You might cringe when the applause starts, it’s a sharp return to the reality of the concert and the real world.

The Outlier was recorded on 26 February, 2015 at Kevin Barry Room in the National Concert Hall in Dublin. It’s emphasis on free-form sound exploration and lack of a sturdy framework provides a subtle intense listening experience. Very recommended.

The Outlier is available as a CD and as a download. You can listen to it and buy it here:

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Kayu Nakada and Tim Olive – Kanpuu (845 Audio, 2022)

By Nick Ostrum

Tim Olive has as busy as ever. Just since October, he has released albums on Notice Records, MRM Recordings, Steep Gloss, Chocolate Monk, Verz Imprint and his own 845 Audio. Many of these have been solo efforts, which range from the barren (Okay Dependable) to his more characteristic blend of pick-ups, metallic noises and playback (Ribbon) to the strangely, smoothly ambient (Eye Hill, Arm River) to radio feed distortions (Chocolate Radio Band, The Golden Sceptre). Others have been duos, both Covid/distance efforts (Dissipatio with Matt Atkins) and, as reviewed here, live. Knapuu is a collaboration between Kayu Nakada on rhythm machine circuit boards and Olive on radios, magnetic pickups, and undokai.* I am tempted to say this one is a triumphant return to form, but I am not sure Olive really abandoned this style – just listen to Ribbon. Rather, it seems he has seized the pandemic moment to take detours, explore other tunnels he previously had just touched on and, as the solo output indicates, spend more time examining his own art in isolation, before reaching out again.

I am less familiar with Kayu Nakada’s work, though he and Olive had collaborated on 2021’sEntenka (Tsss Tapes), which is a strong recording in its own right and Olive’s first live collaboration release since the pandemic began. Kanpuu is his second.

Kanpuu runs just under 29 minutes. It begins with what muffled but festive undokai recordings over which Nakada and Olive project sizzles, buzzes and other mechanical whirrs. The festivities subside into the second minute as the industrial clatter and drones take over and take the listener through a relatively linear progression through the end. What matters, however, is not just the progression, but the textures, the distortions, the odd crackle and pop here, the odder modem-like proto-melodies there, and the fluttering in and out of those field recordings. It paints a picture, but a grainy one and a mysterious one. The dynamic range is minimal, but the depth seems almost endless. Likely because of the voices and smeared radio sounds, some of this does sound like a sound collage. However, it also sounds more interactive, improvised and alive than composed, as many of sound collages are. Nakada and Olive were likely unsure where exactly this session would take them. That curiosity, unpredictability and playfulness (especially on the second track) shines through.

Kanpuu is available as a download and CD. You can hear it and order it here:

* Undokai are recordings of Japanese school track meets that Olive has chopped up, stretched and woven throughout portions of this release. These mark Olive’s first use of “field recordings,” though, as he told me, that term seems too passive, whereas Olive conscientiously employs them as a malleable instrument rather than just a predetermined and rigid structural element.