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Héléne Breschand (harp), Elliott Sharp (g)

12/2019; W71, Weikersheim photo by Bernd Scholkemper

Chicago Plan - Fred Lonberg-Holm (c), Gebhard Ullmann (b-cl), Michael Zerang (dr), Steve Swell (tb)

12/2019; Manufaktur Schorndorf

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Jerome Cooper and Kresten Osgood – As of Not (ILK Music, 2020) ****½

By Nick Ostrum

Something about this album grabbed me right from the beginning. Maybe it was the fact that this is an album by two percussionists that is not percussion heavy. Maybe it is because this is seven-part suite is one of Jerome Cooper’s final works and recordings. Maybe it just sits right.

As of Not consists of Jerome Cooper – formerly of the epic Revolutionary Ensemble and sundry projects since - on drums, chirimia, balafon, and electronic tonal activator and Kresten Osgood – Dutch percussionist extraordinaire - on drums and piano. The percussion is there and sometimes layered but hardly consumes the pieces. For example, it takes almost seven minutes for the ambient electronics and piano to give way to a piano-balafon duet – performed in frenetic unison - in the As of Not Part 1. Part 2 is a flood of sound –chirimia, piano, and synthesized winds – opening for a steady drum beat only half-way through, then a spirited, broken-funk free-for-all led by Cooper’s chirimia and Osgood’s keys that take the track home. These pieces have so much variation in sound, mood, and color. They have so much energy – potential and realized – and always over a gathering storm of soft but churning synthetic sound. Part 3 begins a soulful chirimia and a sparingly deployed thud of a drum-set and, even with a gradual intensification and the addition of the tonal activator, keeps up the 70’s rooted meditation on a simple but deeply moving theme. Part 4 is a whirlwind of gusty chimes lain over a steady back beat, which evolves into a steady into a military cadence. Part 5 offers a mucky and disjointed take blues-plagued drum-and-bass. (The blues comes in the last few minutes of multiphonic euphony). The last two parts are shorter briefer meditations on similar, though somewhat spacier (Part 6) and jazzier (Part 7) themes.

Among the comments of a recent post on FJB , there was a brief but interesting discussion about what is “new” amidst all of this music that seems to be looking back to the paradigms of the 1970s. (That, of course, was when Cooper cut his chops with Leroy Jenkins and Sirone.) Including As of Not might complicate that discussion, not just because of the personal continuity Cooper embodies, but because of how firmly it is simultaneously rooted in spiritual jazz (think Sanders, Coltrane, and the more Egyptesque Sun Ra) rhythms and ritualism, the Revolutionary Ensemble’s dedication to genre-blending (though in a decidedly different form), and contemporary tendencies toward deconstruction. I am not sure I can put my finger on what exactly is new in all of this. But I can attest that, regardless of novelty, As of Not is some genuinely powerful music.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Ronny Graupes SPOOM - Bridge Ices Before Road (Shoebill, 2020) ****

By Martin Schray

In 2004 the then 25-year old German guitarist Ronny Graupe started his project SPOOM, a trio with drummer Christian Lillinger (20) and bassist Jonas Westergaard (28). Looking back, the band represented something like a new wave of European jazz. In the beginning they focused mainly on the Great American Songbook, but as time passed more and more original compositions were added to their repertoire. The result was their first release As They Are (Shoebill, 2012), followed by two albums on Pirouet - SPOOM in 2013 and The White Belt in 2016.

Now, 16 years after the founding of the band and following a three-year break of not releasing any new material, Bridge Ices Before Road is like a re-start for them, because after such a long time playing in a trio format, Graupe decided to extend the band to a quartet. Since August 2018, alto saxophonist Christian Weidner has augmented the combo, which adds new variations to SPOOM’s musical colour palette.

On the one hand, Bridge Ices Before Road is full of tradition (like its predecessors), but on the other hand, it bursts of experimentation that spans the musical generations - it lives at the vanguard of new jazz music. The compositions present less through-composed parts, and thus imply more open space for individual improvisation of the interpreting players, like on “Ped Xing“, which is reminiscent of early 1960s cool jazz à la Jimmy Giuffre. Characteristic are the melodic entanglements, saxophone and guitar often act in unison, while the bass counters these attacks with separate hook lines, like for example at the beginning of the opener “Launching ad 39b“. SPOOM’s sound is defined by the dense compositional structure of Graupe’s music and the interpretation of the intricate written material. At the same time the forms that emerge from the pieces are used for extensive improvisation. This approach is emblematic on this album, for example on the short “Sic Erat Scriptum“ or on the title track, on which Weidner’s rough contributions meet with Graupe’s catchy guitar lines at just the right, unexpected moment. The improvisations are always as smooth and elegant as calligraphy; yet it sounds like Graupe is literally signing these new ideas with his instrument, which can be heard on the melodic riffling of “Merge“, which explores some of the same dusky film noir allusions that SPOOM displayed on previous albums.

Bridge Ices Before Road is very recommendable, especially for listeners who like music at the intersection of modern jazz and freely improvised music.

The album is available as a CD and as a download. You can buy it here:

Watch them in the studio here:

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Pinkish Black & Yells At Eels - Vanishing Light In The Tunnel Of Dreams (Ayler Records, 2020) ****

By Stef Gijssels

I am not familiar with Pinkish Black, the "art rock" band that consists of Daron Beck on keyboards, and synth and Jon Teague on drums and synth. In contrast, I am very familiar with the great trio "Yells At Eels" with father Dennis González on trumpet, and sons Aaron González on bass and Stefan González on drums. We hadn't heard from this family trio for quite some time and it's great to hear them back. Both brothers are active in experimental rock music in bands of their own, and also appeared recently as members of guitarist Luis Lopes Humanization 4tet.

The combination of both bands is stellar. Heard of psychedelic jazz? Well, this is it. Heavy synth orchestration with steady rhythms and rolling sound waves over which eery trumpet tones sing their sad melodies. Other psychedelic jazz references could be "Elephant9", "Sun of Goldfinger", "Giovanni Di Domenico & Abschattungen", or "The Godforgottens". Check them out and enjoy this rare breed of music.

The González family and the Pinkish Black duo collaborate to perfection. The atmosphere is dark, hypnotic, relentless, epic and full of inherent drama. The rock-solid rhythm section, the wall of sound created by the synths and the beautiful trumpet playing by Dennis González make this very infectious and compelling music. The musicianship is exceptionally good, coherent and the ensemble playing as tight as you can expect from family members.

I have always been a great fan of Dennis González, and I even think I have all his albums. He is a musician (and visual artist) with a unique and deeply emotional and lyrical approach to music, open to many influences without ever losing his own warm voice on trumpet. From the generosity of his playing, you sense the joy he feels of collaborating in this setting.

Fans of psychedelic jazz will absolutely relish this album.

Special kudos to Stéphane Berland of Ayler Records for his perseverance and obstinacy. He made this album a reality.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

No Base Trio - s/t/ (Setola di Maiale, 2020) ****

Who isn't up for a pleasant surprise from time to time? Especially these days when the surprises tend to be the less welcoming kind, The No Base Trio from Puerto Rico is definitely of the better type, and their eponymous debut is most certainly a welcome one.

The group, formed in San Juan 10 years ago, is Jonathan Suazo on alto saxophone and EWI, Gabriel Vicéns on electric guitar, and Leonardo Osuna on drums. They began as a straight ahead trio, playing throughout Puerto Rico, but their sound has matured into an amalgam of ambient rock and layered electronic foundations, with blasts of free improvisation.

They begin the album with the strum of an expectant chord and the wail of a slightly processed saxophone. The track 'EXT-I' could, in the first moments, go down a slick slide into easy listening prog-rock (is that an actual genre?) but there is something about the hints of dissonance and the rock-oriented bass figure (played on the guitar) that suggest otherwise. Indeed, for the patient listener, the increasingly dominant EWI and the deepening grit of the guitar places a Pat Metheny-like layer over a thickening groove. 'EXT-II' follows a somewhat similar pattern, though a bit darker in tone and growing rougher towards the end. 'EXT-III' begins much differently, a free interplay between the guitar and EWI that fuses into an awkward but alluring groove. 

The group next explores varying sonic textures through a couple shorter tracks. 'EXT-V' is notably freely improvised, starting as a solo guitar piece with what sounds like a walking bass, but may in fact be the EWI! 'EXT-VII' offers some extreme ambient textures, while twisting deeper like a corkscrew opening a finely aged bottle of post-rock wine. The final two tracks continue to offer new ideas, but it is 'EXT-IX', which is denoted as a bonus track, that really goes deep into exploration and minimalist drones (it also clocks in at nearly a half-hour, for the hard-core listener). 

No Base Trio is not a hasty album by any means, the group takes its time to make its musical statements. The album is certainly worth a listen, and mostly like, it will pleasantly surprise you with its mix of melody and exploration.   

Friday, July 10, 2020

Bonjintan (梵人譚) - Dental Kafka (Trost, 2020) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Dental Kafka is already the sophomore album of Japanese sax hero Akira Sakata international quartet Bonjintan, following a self-titled release on Sakata’s label Daphinia in 2017. Bonjintan features Sakata on alto sax, clarinet, and voice, American, Tokyo-based Jim O’Rourke, of Gastr del Sol and Sonic Youth fame, on double bass, Italian pianist Giovanni Di Domenico and Japanese drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto.

All four musicians have collaborated before in many formats and outfits during the last decade. O’Rourke initiated recordings of Sakata, did the recording and mixing and produced some of his albums with the Chikamorachi trio (with double bass player Darin Grey and drummer Chris Corsano); Di Domenico took part in few of Sakata’s other international quartets and recorded with him a duo album (Iruman, Mbari, 2014). He also recorded with O’Rourke before, including with the Delivery Health trio with drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto; Yamamoto played in a one-off recording of the trio Kafka’s Ibiki with O’Rourke and his partner, pianist Eiko Ishibashi and in other trios with Di Domenico, including one with Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen. Dental Kafka was recorded at Hoshi to Niji studio, Kobuchizawa in June 2018.

Sakata sounds as taking a back seat in this quartet, although his voice - literally - is still the most dominant one in this collective. Dental Kafka opens with “Ape Huci Kamuy (God of Fire by Ainu people), a lament to the marginalized ethnic group in Japan, Ainu, where Sakata recites an angry text to the minimalist, tense music of Di Domenico, O’Rourke and Yamamoto. The title-piece alternates between a fiery, free jazz piece here with Sakata playing the alto sax and leading with a charismatic, organic flow and with a telepathic interplay with Di Domenico, pushed by the massive rhythm section of O’Rourke and Yamamoto, and a simple rhythmic conversation by Di Domenico, O’Rourke and Yamamato.

The other two extended pieces stress a more intimate, reserved, and poetic voice of Sakata, playing the clarinet. His singing solo introduces “Koro Koro Donguri”, setting the searching tone for a quiet free-improvisation that highlights the inventive colors of Yamamoto, but mid-piece he lets Di Domenico, who plays the Hohner pianet, to take the lead as he did on the title-piece, before Sakata concludes with a short, complaining speech. The last “Bonjin” is even more introspective. The quartet plays here like a four-headed organism, with great conviction, flowing elegance, and poetic beauty.

That’s the beauty of Sakata’s music and his bands. At his age, 75, he does not need to prove anything, but he will always will explore new territories surprise even the keen listener. When you go to some wild sonic trips with such an observant marine biologist you know that that there is a chance that you may encounter some engaging beasts and Bonjintan is one of the most fascinating ones.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Luís Lopes Humanization 4tet – Believe, Believe (Clean Feed, 2020) ****

By Nick Ostrum

Now a unit for 12 years, this is the fourth release of the Lisbon-Dallas quartet of Luís Lopes (electric guitar), Rodrigo Amado (tenor saxophone), Aaron González (bass), and Stefan González (drums). Two years ago for their tenth anniversary, they embarked on a tour of the United States, during which they found their way to the Marigny Studios in New Orleans. OK. So, I am not sure that the location itself had any unique effect on these recordings, but the liner notes make a big deal out of it and this session took place just one month before I moved down here. To my chagrin.

The Humanization 4tet is known for its singular blending of free bop, funeral cool jazz, heavy funk, punk and postpunk, metal and, I imagine, pretty much any other musical influence you could associate with the fringes of early 2000s youth culture in the US and, apparently, in Portugal as well. In a way, they are the Iberian/American counterpart to projects like Fire!, The Thing, and even Angles, who have one foot firmly planted in a Holy Ghost fire-breathing folkish melodicism and the other in rock’s fringes. Indeed, these musicians experiment with boundaries, odd juxtapositions and juncture. Apart from Humanization, Lopes and Amado have appeared on countless releases often with the deeply variegated Lisbon scene. Lopes in particular has released some absolutely wild noise balladeering most recently through his Love Songs project and his duo with Julien Desprez. Aaron and Stefan have meanwhile been plumbing the pipelines linking grind, heavy angular fusion, and even stranger experimental music separately (especially Stefan in his percussion/vocals project Orgulla Primitivo, the experimental hip-hop group The Young Mothers, and the more classically crust Imperial Slaughter) and together (the blackened free-psychedelia combo Unconscious Collective and the S.O.D./Naked City love-child Akkolyte). That is, while still maintaining their two-decades-and-running free jazz trio Yells at Eels with their father Dennis González.

Surprise, surprise, Believe, Believe is a wonderous melting pot. It leans towards free jazz but has unmistakably contemporary shadings. Lopes plays his now characteristic jagged and deconstructed guitar lines, but he converges them with jazzier runs and rhythms. Synchronic themes piece together out of rough fragments of hard-bop melodies, which are then shredded into scraps that the band slowly pieces back together. Amado can play sultry. Just listen to the first minute of Ed Harris/Tranquilidad Alborotadora, the first section a Bill-Lee-penned tribute to the great eponymous saxophonist, the second a take on an Unconscious Collective composition. But, as anyone who has heard This is Our Language or A History of Nothing already knows, he can really open up and spiral into some mesmerizingly outre territory. The González brothers meanwhile hold clattery and off-time but steady rhythms, like Haden and Blackwell but even less predisposed to tradition and more interested in the heavy vamping and flailing percussion that have found an equally fitting home in their spazzier and more metallic undertakings.

Themes are catchy and may be ultimately rooted in bop, but the most noteworthy elements come when the musicians avail themselves of the melodic constraints and play on a feeling or simply on stored energy. These are the places where the punk-rock inspiration, the just-short-of-reckless abandon take over. And when they do, it is something to behold, even if it only lasts for a quick half hour.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Ken Vandermark on Catalytic Sound, a Virtual Festival, and Making Music in a Pandemic

Interview with Ken Vandermark. Photo (C) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

By Paul Acquaro and Stef Gijssels

There is hardly a more hardworking musician as Chicago-based, and world renowned, woodwind player and composer Ken Vandermark. Just in the past few months he has released a large band recording, ENTR'ACTS' Soigne Ta Droite, as well as one with a new quartet, Open Border with percussionist Hamid Drake and two European colleagues,  Luigi Ceccarelli on electronics and Gianni Trovalusci on flutes (review to come). In addition, he has begin releasing individual recordings that will add up to a new Consequent Duos collection (see the review of vol 1). He is also a leading figure in the music consortium Catalytic Sound, which acts as a distributor, organizer, fund raiser, label, and club house with nice benefits for its members. 

Catalytic Sound Festival

The Catalytic Sound Festival 2020 is a virtual festival hosted in conjunction with Chicago's Experimental Sound Studio. The festival is this coming weekend, Friday, July 10th, through Sunday, July 12th, with sets featuring an tantalizing roster of collective artists with both US and European time-zone friendly sets.

The concerts can be enjoyed by all, with suggested donations. For more information check out Catalytic Sound's website or Experimental Sound Studio's page.

Making Music in a Pandemic 

Vandermark also discusses the ways that he and his colleagues are trying to make the virtual experience more than a 'standard' webcast, and then gets into life as a working artist before, during, and after the pandemic. In fact, after getting onto the topic of streaming, we talk about Catalytic Sounds' next venture - which is indeed a streaming service. Vandermark is thoughtful not only about music, but about the state of the world and what can be done about it. He discusses the consortium's efforts to make it possible to earn a living as an experimental musician, and how they try to actively support the change they want to see. 

All this and more ... enjoy the interview and be sure to check out the Catalytic Sound website and festival.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The hypnotic universe of Pak Yan Lau

By Stef Gijssels

Last year, I came across Belgian pianist Pak Yan Lau, who released the phenomenal "Duo Pour 454 Chordes". Despite the fact that we're living in the same city, I never actually met her, nor did I ever see any of her performances, and the current context is not really helpful either. 

Pak Yan Lau was born in Belgium, after her parents moved here from Hong Kong. She began playing the piano at the age of six ("A girl from my neighborhood was playing, and I just wanted to do the same. My mom was convinced that it was not for me as in the Chinese culture the concept of playing the piano means “sitting still like a lady and being very disciplined". Contrary to that, I was constantly running around and sitting still was something I really couldn't do. I cried for 2 days before she gave in" (Kraak, 2019). She started a formal piano education at the age of nine and obtained her degree of classical piano at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp, Belgium and at the 'Escola Superior de Música e Artes do Espectáculo' in Porto, Portugal. After her studies she expanded into jazz following workshops by Marilyn Crispell, Stefano Battaglia, Christoph Erbstösser and others. 

Like other pianists such as Magda Mayas and Eve Risser, she has left the traditional notion of her instrument as a keyboard. In her hands it has become a total instrument, with many hidden sounds and percussive possibilities. You couldn't call her music 'jazz', because it lacks the typical chord progressions or scales that are typical in the genre. Her approach is minimal in its inputs - a few notes, a few beats - that then get expanded and amplified both acoustically or electronically. 

"Improvisation is like a whole world of 'possibilities'. Depending on when, where, and with who you’re doing it, it shapes the music. So, I see it as a moment of possible things. All kind of possible things, from positive and beautiful to negative and ugly or just simply blank. However, what I love about improvisation is that it's very much always the moment. So it's a very present thing, it is alive, it follows the energy and, in a certain way, focus is required. Flexibility and open ears. Always very open ears. All my music making is very much into improvisation and experimentation. I am sure I will go on to another phase of composing one day but I really love to improvise. I love this intense being when you have to let go of yourself and connect to a bigger stream", she says in an interview in Kraak in April 2019.

She has released several albums since last year, of which I will review two duo performances who of an equally high level. 

Pak Yan Lau & Lionel Malric - TIOT - Live At Lastours (Self, 2020) ****

On TIOT she performs again a duo with Lionel Malric, also on piano. TIOT stands for "the impermanence of things", a philosophical concept that is found around the world and is possibly most  relevant to the nature of music, it is gone before you realise it. 

This album is a live recording from a concert at the Domaine de Lastours in Coursan, France in September 2017. Next to their pianos, the duo have a whole range of other instruments and materials that they use to perform their art: clavichords, cimbalom, toy pianos, synthesizers, casio keyboards, woks, old irons and electronic effects. Like on the previous album, their art gets organically structured, growing out of some initial ideas, and anchored around repeated rhythms. 

The performance consists of one long improvisation of close to one hour, and it offers a kaleidoscopic use of sound, changing into a myriad of sonic elements that alter and move, hypnotic and persistent at moments, calm and plaintive at others, resonating and intimate, but always captivating and surprising, including the use of ambient sounds (such as birds singing).     

The middle of the piece is quiet and minimal, with few notes and bass tones creating even more intensity and tension than the more voluminous moments. Minimal patterns grow with patient discipline and restraint, gradually building up their narrative with subtle sonic and rhythmic changes. And once you think you've understood their approach, they take the journey to an even stranger place, equally suprising and enjoyable. 

Like on the previous album, the question of 'how' they do it quickly disappears (because impossible to answer) and the joy of listening remains. It is strong, compelling, balanced, inviting and unusual. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Pak Yan Lau & Darin Gray - Trudge Lightly (By The Bluest Of Seas, 2020) ****½

Her second album this year is a duo with Darin Gray, who plays double bass, preparations, objects and electronics. Gray is an American bassist who may be known from his collaborations with Jim O'Rourke, Loren Mazzacane Connors or Chris Corsano. Pak Yan Lau plays prepared piano, toy pianos, synth, objects and electronics. 

This album is again something else, with six relatively short pieces, quite distinct in nature and atmosphere. The album was recorded in 2016 with little preconceptions and agreed ideas. Then Pak Yan Lau reworked the material, adding and subtracting as she saw fit. A long work of post-production, but the result is worth it. 

The album starts almost in "in medias res" as if you've entered too late into an already ongoing performance. The approach shocks, refreshens and creates a sense of urgency. It is dark, compelling, insistent and strange ... and it is over before you realise what's happening. 

The second track, "Callings" presents weird deep moaning bows accompanied by flute-like sounds, the third, "Suspended Thoughts" is an intense interaction between gamelan-like percussion, rhythmic plucked strings and a deep moaning/mooing sound from the bass. It conjures up a deep sense of sadness and despair, and has a surprisingly radical ending. "Way to Walk" is a short rhythmic piece, with ever changing structure and sounds, calmly slowing down near the end. 

"Lost" starts with light-textured eery resonating sounds, evolving in a meditative theme played on the keys of the piano (yes), gentle and spacious, and surrounded by the mystery of fragile accompanying sonic explorations. The longer title track, "Trudge Lightly" illustrates the light/darkness contrast of the music and the title itself: the moving forward through obstacles yet in an easy way. The piece develops around a simple rhythmic pattern, played on muted strings, which resonate at the same time through other devices, creating an unusual contrast of soundlessness and clarity, that develops into a hypnotic insistent and rotating repetitiveness. 

Like her other albums reviewed here, this one is equally mesmerising, fresh, inventive and intense. Her sense of spontaneous composition, the inherent intensity and musicality of it as well as the sonic arrangements are exceptional. 

Listen and downlad from Bandcamp It is also available as a vinyl production with booklet. 

I can only hope that the lockdown ends soon and that performances are allowed again. Pak Yan Lau will be high on my agenda.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Sarah Weaver - SYNCHRONY SERIES: Music of Sarah Weaver and Collaborations (SyncSource, 2019) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

New York-based experimental composer-conductor-researcher Sarah Weaver explores distinct concepts of synchrony in her new volume of compositions. Her fascinating, colorful sonic manifestations of the concept synchrony serve as a metaphor for inner realization and liberation of the self and are realized in a spectrum of modes, personal but also political ones. Weaver’s compositions incorporate distinct kinds of notation - musical, graphic and text notation, leave enough space for improvisation and introduce different sets conducting gestures, some are borrowed by Walter Thompson’s system of Soundpainting and original ones by Weaver. She is joined by an impressive cast of innovative musicians, among them drummer Gerry Hemingway, trumpeter Joe McPhee, sax players Jane Ira Bloom and Ned Rothenberg, flutist Robert Dick and double bass player Mark Dresser.

Hemingway opens the first disc of this double album with “Node 111, Volumes 1-3 (2011-2016)” or solo drum-set, originally performed on Weavers’ Reality Axis for Solo Percussion (2016). Hemingway layers dense but highly detailed, resonating, rhythmic patterns with great control and imagination even when these patterns become quite chaotic, but, apparently, express the multiplicity of the self and inner synchronicity. “Symmetry of Presence (2018), for the duo of bass trombonist David Taylor and Weaver herself on electronics symbolizes metaphysical synchrony and suggests an open texture about torturing but quite tangible, noisy doubts blended with exotic Far-Eastern meditative ritual but also playful and uplifting observations.

The 40-minutes “Interhere (2017)” for the Weaver Ensemble, conducted by Waver and featuring, among others, vocalist Yoon Sun Choi, pipa player Min Xiao-Fen, Ira Bloom, Rothenberg, Taylor, pianist Denman Maroney, Dresser, and Hemingway, “conceives a larger concept of ‘here’ as asynchrony and interconnection”. Weaver carefully builds here an enigmatic tension and theatrical drama, stressed best by the charismatic Yoon Sun Choi and the inventive Min Xiao-Fen, throughout this complex, contemplative composition that leaves enough space for personal contributions between the intricate, collective orchestral segments.

The second album begins with the most engaging and emotional composition in this volume, “Sound in Peace (2016)”, dedicated to Weaver’s reacher, composer Pauline Oliveros, and performed by Joe McPhee, who also collaborated with Oliveros, on pocket trumpet and Weaver herself on spoken voice, electronics and chime. This composition-improvisation “synchronizes healings across lifetimes” and references Oliveros sonic meditations. Weaver chants the title as a powerful mantra while McPhee freely improvises his own imaginative incantations. A true calling for deep, proactive listening.

Closing this volume, the 53-minutes “Universal Synchrony Music: Kepler/K2 (2013-2019)” for the telematic NowNet Arts Ensemble, featuring in New York conductor Weaver, Ira Bloom, Dick, Min Xiao-Fen, Rothenberg, Maroney, and Dresser; In Chicago Stephan Moore and Kieran Maraj on electronics and in Toronto Doug Van Nort on electronics and sonifications. This delicate, chamber-electroacoustic-atmospheric - literally - composition was conceived with NASA and refers to the cosmic synchrony over an extreme geographic distance such as habitable planetary systems in deep space as explored by the NASA’s telescope Kepler/K2 Mission. This composition incorporates sonification of data from the Kepler’s mission on stars and planets 1000-3000 light-years away and harmonizes the cosmic sounds by creating the perception of synchrony across local and extreme distances. A strange but arresting journey through sounds and sonic universes.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Two new releases by guitarist Olaf Rupp

Olaf Rupp, photo by Marcel Meier

By Martin Schray

Olaf Rupp is possibly the most renowned guitarist in the German improvised music scene. His technique is unique, since he plays his electric guitar in an upright position, which is inspired by Chinese pipa players. Rupp has taught himself to play the guitar and has almost naturally included several elements like rasgueados, arpeggios, harmonics and tremolos from the very beginning, so his signature overtone and cluster effects come off very natural. He’s neither interested in the ecstatic effect of free jazz nor in creating mechanical idiosyncrasies. He has described his sounds as “analog granular synthesis“ or “sonic pointillism“. Especially the latter term describes his style very accurately since it refers to the idea of creating a complex flow of sound by mixing simple (and single) notes into one complex tonal structure. Rupp’s music weaves small electrically charged particles together and shoots them into the billowing darkness, as if he asked questions to the sounds he creates. Every note is of the utmost importance in this philosophy, without it the sonic texture wouldn’t be complete. He creates a moving sound, no melodies. In an interview he said: “To me music is only sound in motion. And this motion should be free, unrestricted and direct. That was my natural perception, right from the beginning. So my roots are in abstract, free improvisation. I started with that when I was twelve.“

Xenofox - Macondo (Farai Records, 2020) ****½

Macondo is a fictional town in the novels of Gabriel García Márquez and a real commune in Angola. It is also the name of an oil field close to the Gulf of Mexico, an accident there led to the devastating black tide in 2010. A refugee camp in Vienna carries the name as well.

Guitarist Olaf Rupp and drummer Rudi Fischerlehner created the title for this track after the recordings, no attempt was made to conjure a certain mood in advance. One day during the mixing process Rupp wrote Fischerlehner an email which only consisted of the word “Macondo“. The word, with its various meanings in relation to literature, the world, political and natural disasters, appealed to both as an image, it sounded like the idea of an interweaving and interpenetration of art and reality.

At the beginning “Macondo“ literally bathes in a sea of stuttering drum clicks, shimmering harmonics and reverberations. When Fischerlehner lets the clicks fall out and concentrates on the toms, Rupp contributes dark drones that overlap with clanging tremolos and dub-like twangs. Fischerlehner’s percussive onslaught brings out linear qualities in Rupp's playing; he sends jagged, gurgling chords and gnarled knots of notes sailing over the drum clatter, sounding almost like Sonic Youth extemporizing over a riff, the somber dissonances being somewhat elegiac. Beyond Xenofox’s facility to create such gloomy soundscapes, there's also a tactility to their music - the scraped guitar strings and vigorously stabbed chords, these ghostly amplifier hums - that has a cinematic quality, especially when the piece sinks into a vortex of hell in the last five minutes.

“Macondo“ is also track which connects with “Zeitforschung“ from their last album Hundred Beginnings. Fischerlehner says that they are interested in examining “this crash of rock music reminiscences - riffs, loops and kick-snare hi-hat grooves - but at the same time to remain structurally flexible and multidirectional as to the improvisational communication“. “Macondo“ is their best attempt so far.

Macondo is an 18-minute piece, a mini album, available as a download only. You can listen to it and buy it here:

If you can afford it, please support the musicians.

Olaf Rupp / John Hughes - Plursathn ****

“The moon heard jackals howling through the deserts of thyme, - and the sabot-clad eclogues growling in the orchard. And, in the violet woods, Eucharis told me it was Spring.

Gush, pond; - Foam, roll on the bridge and over the woods; - black palls and organs, lightning and thunder, rise and roll; - waters and sorrows, rise and unleash the Floods.“

Olaf Rupp and John Hughes, an American bassist who’s been living in Hamburg since the 1990s and who teaches at Neumünster Conservatoire, have prefaced their album Plursathn with an excerpt from a text by French poet Arthur Rimbaud. While Xenofox's music still has a certain narrative and cinematic character and, despite all its structural flexibility, tends to be dramaturgically elaborated, Plursathn, like Rimbaud’s poems, tends to be abrupt and acausal. There are small episodes, but no longer is there anything consistently narrative, hardly any chronology or logic. The only red thread running through the fabric of the individual pieces is the erratic associative power of the musicians, who indulge in an errant fantasy.

In contrast to the guitar/drums outfit Xenofox, a guitar/bass collaboration naturally offers different possibilities. You can imitate each other directly or even more obviously counteract your fellow musician, arpeggios can be used by both at the same time or to contradict. Creating textures is more obvious, the interplay is even more fiddly. Unlike Xenofox, Plursathn has almost nothing to do with rock, which is mainly due to Hughes double bass, which rather pushes the music into a chamber music corner - say Joëlle Léandre meets Thurston Moore.

A prime example of their music is “dezenbar“, the central piece on Plursathn. Short runs are juxtaposed with drones, from both guitar and bass, the players easily change sides. The whole construct of the piece is constantly shifting in intensity and focus. We hear colliding surfaces of low notes set against glass overtones and an almost infinite range of surface topologies. They fade in lost bass runs and reverberant feedback. Sound conceives the form when Rupp and Hughes scratch and rattle, echo and drone, just to give shape to something latent - transience, instability and changeability. They radiate energy in a surge of bowed resonance and sparkling string work, gradually revealing finer nuances and gradations. Rupp and Hughes use this for 17 minutes with amazing variety in a process of constant communication - they exchange, encourage and challenge each other.

Plursathn is available as a download only. You can buy it here, where you can also listen to parts of the album:

Watch them live: