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Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach (p)

Wabe Theater (by Ausland). Berlin. October 2020

Helmut "Joe" Sachse (g)

Au Topsi Pohl. Berlin. October 2020

Guilherme Rodrigues (c), Matthias Müller (t), Eric Wong (g)

Wabe Theater (by Ausland). Berlin. October 2020

Urs Leimgruber (ss), Jacques Demierre (spinet)

9/4/2020. Manufaktur, Schorndorf

Punkt.Vrt.Plastik: Christian Lillinger (d), Petter Eldh (b), Kaja Draksler (p)

9/2/2020. Au Topsi Pohl, Berlin

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Lafayette Gilchrist Trio – Now (Morphius Records, 2020) ****½


By Nick Ostrum

I first came across Baltimore’s Lafayette Gilchrist on the schedule of my first Vision Festival in 2006. I had actually missed his act, but, intrigued by the description, I soon picked up his live duo with Hamid Drake (the recording of the Vision performance) and his septet release Toward the Shining Path. I liked his work with Hamid Drake and found his full ensemble recordings interesting enough, but the latter had a feel that was more funky-sleek than my tastes trended. I finally caught him at a Winter Jazzfest a couple years later in a trio setting and was more impressed. However, after that, he fell off my radar. Therefore, when I came across this trio release with Herman Burney (bass) and Eric Kennedy (drums), I was intrigued. It turns out, when someone such as Gilchrist ducks out of one scene, he might just be in another, working away and refining his craft.

The first of Now’s two-discs begins with a dark bass vamp and piano lines that soon fall into Gilchrist’s punctuated funk melodies. Yes, the blues and New Orleans stride is there. So is hip-hop’s predilection for churning repetition and grandiose bridges and breakdowns. Sans saxophone, this brings to mind some of Archie Shepp’s protest music in the 1970s. Gilchrist rarely falls into the sheer force whirlwinds that characterized a lot of fire music, but he nevertheless captures much of that potential energy itching for release. The more spirited moments also call to mind the soul-jazz pioneer Bobby Timmons were he to expand beyond the 4-minute statement and have the benefit of another half-century of musical developments.

Many of the pieces on Now have an aggression and clear urgency that might point to a stormy marriage between Shepp and Timmons, combined with the wounded but righteous force of Nina Simone. Indeed, the inspiration for tracks such as Assume the Position and Bmore Careful lie in contemporary social and racial strife, including the death of fellow Baltimore-native Freddy Gray. Such inspiration might not be surprising in itself, but the way the trio integrates these pieces into an album that also includes dramatic new-school ballads such as Old Shoes Come to Life and Purple Blues, and more glistening pieces such as Can You Speak My Language, Specials Revealed, and Newly Arrived (for the latter think a bluesier Charlie Haden Quartet West minus Ernie Watts), make those statements stand out that much more.

Since I first heard his work on Toward the Shining Path, it was clear that, even when the larger ensemble just seemed too formulaic and polished for the music, Gilchrist as pianist and composer had a unique sense of melody informed by everything from blues and gospel to bop to hip hop to fin de siecle classical. On Now, Gilchrist showcases these influences even more confidently and seamlessly than before. The melodies and beats are unapologetically simple, but catchy. And, Gilchrist and co. use them as a basis from which to launch into churning, extended variations. The tracks are invariably piano-forward, as in a classic piano trio, and inevitably fall back to the funk of the rhythm section before the solos burn out or stray too far afield. Normally, I would consider the final restraint a criticism. That said, it works here. Burney and Kennedy provide a welcome grounding and, thought the pieces follow a clear compositional formula, they rarely sound formulaic.

Gilchrist, Burney, and Kennedy clearly have their own thing going here. And, I, for one, am into it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Weston Olencki - Solo Works (Creative Sources, 2020) ****


By Keith Prosk

Weston Olencki violates the identities of trumpet, trombone, and euphonium, transforming them into harsh, pulsing noise machines, on Solo Works. Olencki achieves this through preparations, amplification, and introducing objects like unconventional mutes. But also through loud, long durations emphasizing textural strokes created by pressure changes and harmonic synthesis. This record is abrasive. Not so much for the noise itself but for the interfaces between noise and silence, which shellshock the ear. These imposing, visceral, textural, confrontational sonic swaths are the closest music might come to standing in front of a big, dark Rothko.

“seven stones (parallax)” begins with a breath. And then jolts with a wall of noise. A bass trumpet with deconstructed and augmented parts blown into a snare drum head sounds like a television test tone with static white noise like bees swarming and a distant jackhammer. It alternates with other sonic fields of corporeal, electric deep bass throbbings and absolute silences. The metal clamp lamp shade mute on “for trumpet” produces a similar static noise, with scraping, sucking, and squealing, and also employs the jarring juxtaposition of silence and high-volume sound. It sounds electronic, like feedback and distorted signals, but the intermittent close-mic’d breath reminds the ear of the acoustic, human source. The sidelong “capacity” offers a reprieve from the assault, with recognizable movement and farty timbres that retain the comic persona of the trombone, amplified here. Though this quickly moves to sustained durations with textural movement emphasizing varied pressures, with some resonant purrs and big foghorn blows. And “bisected mass” is an extended duration of breathy, airy tones shifting to screeching noise drone for euphonium with reeds and unconventional mutes. Like much of the music that preceded it, it begins to sound inhuman, electronic, if not for the short gasps for circular breathing.

With Solo Works, Olencki places himself in the lineages of pioneering horn players Nate Wooley, Greg Kelley, and George Lewis and their noisiest works. The unsettling, confrontational use of silence and noise recalls Polly Bradfield’s Solo Violin Improvisations, though this is much more noise than silence. This is one of the most challenging listens I’ve come across in some time. But the richly textural subversion of instrumental identities through novel preparations and simple but bold compositions keeps me coming back.

Solo Works is available digitally and on CD.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Bergisch-Brandenburgisches Quartett - Free Postmodernism, BBQ with Fred Frith - USA 1982 (SÅJ, 2020) *****

By Nick Metzger

I just about fell out of my chair when I saw this recording pop up in my Bandcamp feed this Fall, what an unexpected surprise! For the uninitiated, this is an archival recording made on the sole US tour of the Bergisch-Brandenburgisches Quartett (BBQ), a divinely pungent concoction stemming from the enlightened minds of Rüdiger Carl, Hans Reichel, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, and Sven-Åke Johansson. These gentlemen had worked together in various groups previously, most notably in bands of the Globe Unity Orchestra microverse, but the BBQ configuration first performed in Rostock in 1980. At that time Petrowsky lived in East Berlin and Johansson in West Berlin while Carl and Reichel lived in Wuppertal (Berlin is in the county of Brandenburg and Wuppertal in the region of Bergisch Land, hence the name of the group). In 1982 the band embarked on an East Coast tour of the US which required overcoming some fairly non-trivial obstacles. Firstly, Petrowsky had to obtain a West German passport, which he was able to do under the guise of going on tour there. Secondly, no one in the group had a credit card, so a friend in New York had to rent them a car for the tour. Fred Frith (who lives in New York and appears on the back half of this recording) helped arrange some of the dates along with various other unnamed (but never unappreciated, men and women of the cloth so to speak) East Coast organizers.

This release documents a stop in the city of Allentown, Pennsylvania with the aforementioned Fred Frith joining in on the back half of the set. The first piece is the longest and begins heatedly, the frenzied saxs running amok against a throttling rhythm. Reichel's thin and wiry guitar is sympathetic and controlled. It feels both a part of, and separate from the rest of the maelstrom, like an elegant gold leaf design framing a barn fire. The intensity wanes, the sax maelstrom softens to chatter, the rhythms turn to understated pattering and bowed metal, the gold leaf dissolves to a confetti of jangling strums, plucked harmonics, and behind the bridge tapping. Reichel unfurls bewildering plumes of delicate, hinted melodies. It's a shimmering undercurrent for the lamentive reeds and disintegrating percussion. The accordion introduces itself meekly as accompaniment for Sven-Åke who pontificates his screeds to a grateful and sympathetic audience before the piece dissolves into fragmented ambience. The second improvisation spits, and hiccups to life via Reichel and Johansson's jerky and spastic interplay. Around the midpoint their bizarre vehicle becomes mired in the viscous soup of hallucinatory Germanic free folk poured on by Carl and Petrowsky.

The third piece begins in a blast of wobbly Reichelian guitar before segueing once again into Sven-Åke's theatrical crooning and exploratory avant-polka. A stray lick from Moon River and the simmering grog boils over in a flurry of explosive percussion and Petrowsky's spit and splinters clarinet expressions. The cheerful laughter and scattered applause of the crowd during the fourth track hint at some unheard comedic gestures during the subdued beginnings. Reichel alternates rapidly slashed chords with a muted, lurching arpeggio and double bridge guitar techniques whilst the percussion and reeds slowly build up intensity. It's hard to pinpoint where the wave finally crests, but once it does the latter half of the track is a proper blow out lead by Carl and Petrowsky who put on a bit of the old shriek-and-wail for the delight of an appreciative audience.

From the fifth track onward the group is joined by Mr. Frith on violin, guitar, and electronics. Really great stuff. There is a wonderful joviality imparted to the music (which I'd kind of hoped for/expected given the parties involved) that manifests in both a spirited performance and a heavy re-stirring of the creative pot. Bouncing horns shuffle amongst a din of accordion debris, irregularly strummed guitar, and Frith's snaking Michel Sampson inflected bow work. At 7 minutes Reichel strums out a jarring, 4/4 riff that stands in stark contrast to everything else that's happening. He sustains it just long enough to remain peripheral then promptly lets it fall apart. The final piece initially pairs an accordion/guitar rendered-faux-tango with Sven-Åke's earnest stream-of-consciousness dialogue when the piece abruptly explodes in ecstatic communal chaos. The come down is a slow aftershower of flute, whistles, bird calls, and woozy guitar shimmer.

Free Postmodernism, BBQ with Fred Frith - USA 1982 is a rich sülze of performance art, mutant guitar, volksmusik, and free jazz from a group whose sound is about as unique as they come. This is only the 2nd official BBQ release after their eponymous debut on Amiga back in 1984, though there are a couple of live dates floating around on the web for those who are interested. And if this single set of unearthed, classic European free jazz isn't enough to get you excited, Sven-Åke hinted at more BBQ archival releases to come!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Aki Takase - Aki Takase Plays Fats Waller at Babylon Berlin 2009 (Jazzwerkstatt, 2020) ***(*)


By Stephen Griffith

It seems like fate dictated that this digital only release be made. While her husband, Alexander von Schlippenbach, has doggedly explored the Thelonious Monk catalogue through both solo piano and the Monk’s Casino quartet recordings, Aki Takase has likewise put her stamp on Fats Waller’s music with slight variations of this core group of drummer Paul Lovens, Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet (also a Monk’s Casino member), trombonist Nils Wogram and Eugene Chadbourne on guitar/banjo and vocals. While the Monk’s Casino group specialized in performances of all Monk compositions, innovatively rearranged and mashed together over the course of an evening, this recording is more closely related to the first generation AACM group Air, consisting of Henry Threadgill and the late Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall, and their penchant for playing ragtime favorites in concerts and documented in all of Air Lore and “Chicago Breakdown” on 80° Below ‘82. And to put this live date in a more specific context, most of these songs are available in a 2003 studio recording on Enja under Takase’s name, Plays “Fats” Waller, adding Thomas Heberer on trumpet to the current group, and a 2004 JazzFest Berlin performance on Jazzwerkstatt including Heberer but no Wogram trombone. Only the current set ending brief “Two Sleepy People” isn't on the previous recordings.

Having established all that, you're probably wondering how the music is. Pretty good and a lot of fun. Waller’s music has been an integral part of the 20th century American songbook (I remember being confused as a teen hearing “Hold Tight” and “Your Feet's Too Big” on a Chubby Checker twist album) and always had a comic component producing the perfect setting for Chadbourne’s zany vocals (at one point in “Ain't Misbehaving” channeling Blonde on Blonde era Bob Dylan) as well as his excellent string work. Takase’s stride work is predictably excellent and Wogram’s blaring trombone adds a suitably brash element missing from the earlier live date. “Handful of Keys” is a piano/bass clarinet duet romp in all three settings with each being sufficiently different to not make comparing them side by side tedious. At times it seems that Lovens’ talents are being underutilized into a straight timekeeping function until “Way Down South Where the Blues Began” allows him to provide some creatively disruptive coloration and the shared intro with Takase on “Viper’s Drag" likewise loosens things up.

Although this covers familiar territory it's certainly worth hearing, both for unfamiliar listeners and existing aficionados.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Two From Sarah Hennies

By Keith Prosk

Composer and percussionist Sarah Hennies builds steam with each passing year. I cover three commissioned works for small ensembles across two releases here but 2020 also saw the release of the commissioned Primers from piano/percussion quartet Yarn/Wire, percussionist Andy Meyerson’s performance of a few pieces on Extra Time , cellist Judith Hamann’s performance of Loss , solo percussion pieces performed by Hennies in Habitat , Waylaid , and Bed of Nails (the latter of which was commissioned for AMPLIFY 2020 ), a duo of the composer with Meridian bandmate Tim Feeney on Foragers , and a new performance of Fleas on Live Fleas, April 19, 201 9 with Hennies accompanied by a small bell choir. And I’m probably missing something. It would not be an exaggeration to call Hennies one of the most rousing composers in music right now, and her work released in 2020 is proof enough. The pieces here explore two concepts the composer frequently addresses, strain or failure and intimacy.

Spectral Malsconcities (New World Records, 2020) ****½

Spectral Malsconcities collects two pieces performed by two different ensembles. I think both pieces play with failure. On Hennies’ Loss, the performer is instructed to hum beyond their vocal range. On Falsetto, extended durations of repetitive soundings induce performance exhaustion. “Kisses” from Extra Time pushes a percussionist’s limb independence to the limit with four varying tempos, and they also have to toss objects into a bucket at increasing distances . This forced failure crumbles traditional virtuosity which, especially for a percussionist, might equate to dismantling normative ways of playing and part of the masculine identity of the drums . The liners of Music for Cello and Humming cast the transformative nature of failure, in which a performer must adapt to a new normal of incorporating their failures, as queer identity, because there is no longer right or wrong, binary sound, just sound. And the realism of Hennies’ more dramatic pieces might be made more real by the small frustrations and failures of the instrumental personae. Hennies composes for failure, and some of her explicit concerns in music - of queer & trans identity, intimacy, love, and psychoacoustics - are stronger for it. But what happens when something expected to fail doesn’t? The two half-hour pieces on Spectral Malsconcities explore failed failure.

“Spectral Malsconcities” is six diverse sections of contrapuntal polyrhythms performed by Bearthoven, which is Karl Larson on piano, Pat Swoboda on contrabass, and Matt Evans on percussion. The complexity of the composition implicitly intends the musicians to falter, but Bearthoven doesn’t. The result is an angular, off-kilter music that is surprisingly tight and steady. The first five minutes is simply the best music I’ve heard in a long time. The tenderly woven lyricism of it sounds like a rhythm Marion Brown might have composed, with a slight swing from the phasing bass and piano phrases (bass - piano - piano - bass - bass - piano - piano - bass - bass....). Each section lasts about five minutes, though some facet of the music from the previous section often lingers. Beyond evolving timbral and rhythmic material, sections are separated by silences or quieter, textural playing or nothing at all, with abrupt transitions. Almost as heavenly as the first section is the third, in which the piano plays a destabilized circus tune that transmogrifies into a nearly familiar lullaby before gradually disintegrating to a single hammered note, backed by quacking strings and four-on-the-floor bass drum. With some other particularly memorable moments in a rewinded contrabass growl in the fourth, or the single piano notes left to hang in the air, vibrating its neighboring strings in the last minutes of the last section. Beyond the conceptual, “Spectral Malsconcities” flexes the rhythmic and timbral skills of the composer and performers to create an addictively listenable experimental music.

In music, tension often breaks. The tempo slows back down, the density decreases again, volume returns to a baseline, cacophony relinquishes to melody. “Unsettle,” performed by pianist David Friend and percussionist Bill Solomon - or Bent Duo, doesn’t really allow that to happen. It is a slow build of single, gentle piano notes first left to hang in the air, with chromatic vibrations of adjacent piano strings suspended in the gossamer ectoplasm of metallophone resonance. To a hammered note, whose residuals clash with percussive overtones like chaotic splashing in the corner of a pool, to the point that it sounds like digital distortion to the brain. Abruptly shifting to a one note piano march towards a din of bells close to the end of the track. There should be tension release, as the tempo, density, and volume decreases and the ears are surely relieved of the simultaneously wondrous and absolutely tortuous noise between minutes 19 and 23, but there’s a recognition that it just begins again.

Spectral Malsconcities is available digitally and on CD.

The Reinvention of Romance
(Astral Spirits, 2020) ****

One strain I perceive in Hennies’ work is dramatic pieces, coaxing narratives from a non-narrative music in which the listener perceives the timbral and spatial relationships of instrumentation as action between the dramatis personae of the instruments. This is achieved through providing textual context around the piece. In Reservoir 1 , the traumatized unconscious of a percussion trio quite literally beats small behavioral manifestations into the conscious of the piano. In The Reinvention of Romance, performed by Ashlee Booth and Adam Lion - or Two-Way Street, cello and percussion “[examine] the care and empathy that emerge when two lives share space.”

The single hour and a half performance is spacious. Diverse in techniques and timbres but deliberate in time, giving the sense that it takes time to develop whatever intimacy the instruments do display. Sometimes they play together; sometimes they do not. Sometimes one timbre mimics the other; sometimes they are dissonant. One might play something new while the other continues on the same course. Percussive pizzicato cello might seem sympathetic to the other instrument, and sustained bowed metallophone too. They are more often in phase with each other but just as comfortable out, giving a very human sense that sometimes a mark of intimacy is being just as comfortable doing your own thing, knowing that the other person will always be there when you return. Within the last fifteen minutes, the silence between the two decreases, their pulses speed up, and they eventually resonate together in a throbbing climax. It could be interpreted as erotic love, but also the ecstatic resonance of two platonic souls. Beyond the dramatic personification of intimacy, the sound itself is intimate, recorded closely, with the spacious composition allowing you to spend time with and in each sound.

I acknowledge that a lot of what we might evaluate music on is extramusical, but the success of this music can feel crutched by the narrative outside of the music. Maybe that’s more an indicator of how attractive a narrative is to our brains, given just a crumb of information. Particularly during a time in which the narrative of this music might appear similar to the narrative of quarantined couples suddenly sharing more time and space with each other in 2020, prodded to develop an intimacy which might not have been present previously (though this was recorded in 2019). But even without the narrative, The Reinvention of Romance is a series of timbrally rich duo impressions framed with enough silence to let the sounds really live. It is a celebration of sounds, and their relationships, worth getting intimate with.

The Reinvention of Romance is available digitally and on LP.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Catalytic Sound Stream: Q&A with Ken Vandermark and Sam Clapp

During our conversation this summer, player, composer, organizer, and Catalytic Sound co-founder, Ken Vandermark, who at the time was in the thick of planning the Catalytic Sound Festival, dropped some hints of a in-development streaming service. At the time it was an intriguing aside, but now the service is live. To talk about the service, Vandermark and Catalytic Sound's manager Sam Clapp took some time to answer a few questions about the service. 

As for a quick review of the service, let me start out by saying that I have always been skeptical about streaming. I still want to own, or rather collect, my music in some tangible (even if it is digital) manner. There is my bias. If I don't own it, I don't trust it. Maybe I'll use Spotify to check out the latest from say, umm, well never mind, but if I value it, I want more than a stream.

However, over the past few weeks of trying out the Catalytic Sound Stream service, I find my attitude changing - a little. I mean, I still want my mp3, but the Catalytic Sound Stream is not meant to be a typical streaming platform. It does not offer a replacement of a physical collection, rather it is more like walking into a record store. It's curated, it's not "complete", and most likely you will discover something. Sure, Spotify has its playlists and recommendation algorithms, but this type of music really doesn't seem to fit that approach, it needs to be discovered. It is album-oriented music and the smallest connections - a player whom played with this other player or label names - spark interest, and this service certainly recognizes this. After all, it is a part of their pitch:
"Each month, subscribers will enjoy a constantly rotating set of over 90 albums on the Soundstream. Catalytic Radio presents a shifting assortment of records chosen by Catalytic artists and staffLabel Radio showcases a revolving selection of albums curated by the core group of Corbett vs. Dempsey, NoBusiness Records, Relative Pitch Records, and Astral Spirits, as well as at least one guest label each month. "
In addition to the discovery factor, or really, at least as equally important, there is also the fact that you are directly supporting the artists. This isn't a platform company that is making the biggest chunk of change. For me, this approach is a sweet spot for streaming. Just enough of it to keep me discovering new things to then collect.

Ok, now let's let turn this over to some folks who actually know something...

Paul Acquaro: Can you tell us about the streaming platform? (i.e. when did you start thinking about it, what was the catalyst that made you decide to create a streaming platform? And did you build your own platform?) 

Ken Vandermark: We first started thinking about building a music streaming platform at Catalytic more than two years ago.  Some preliminary design ideas were developed before 2020 (such as using Soundcloud technology to house the music files), but the real development took place throughout last year.

The main driver for me was anger and frustration toward existing streaming platforms for their lack of compensation to musicians whose work these platforms profit from.

With the help of two brilliant and generous web designers, Santiago Quintana and Max Oppenheimer, and with the assistance of Catalytic's head designer, Fede Peñalva, we were able to construct a system that works like a streaming platform for listeners, but utilizes technology we could afford.  Out of necessity it is more "hands on" from the organizational standpoint, which allows us to curate the albums, and give listeners more information about the music.

Paul: What makes this streaming effort different than say individual artists or labels using Spotify? I think there are some obvious answers here but I think it will be interesting to hear your thoughts.

Ken: In addition to having access to a rotating selection of more than 90 albums every month, subscribers will be supporting this group of artists and labels directly, with the knowledge that 2/3rds of the money they spend will be going to the musicians and the work they love, not into the pockets of corporations that profit off of content they don't create and who don't compensate the artists fairly. (1/3 of the Soundstream profits go to Catalytic to cover overhead expenses.) Also, this is a group of musicians working together as a collective, pooling profits and sharing them, not single artists or bands being represented separately from each other, presented as part of an algorithm.

Sam Clapp: Like Ken said, the financial disparity between Soundstream and a conventional streaming service is stark. For example, Spotify pays an average of $.003 - $.005 per stream. With only about 40 users so far, we’re already able to pay each of our co-op artists about $10 in streaming revenue each month. To receive that same amount in Spotify royalties, each artist would need to receive over 3,000 plays per month on Spotify. And that’s the situation just two weeks after Soundstream was released! As subscribers continue to sign up for what we believe to be a unique streaming site curated for a specific musical community, our payouts will far outpace any conventional streaming platform in artist support.

On top of the financial difference, there’s the fact that when a new album appears each day on the service, you’ll know that it has been hand-selected by a human being knowledgeable about the music. Spotify and other streaming keep listeners plugged in with a never-ending sequence of machine-generated playlists, which is great for serving listeners ads, but maybe not so great for presenting works of art.

Paul: What is available on the service?  

Sam: There are currently four different playlists on the Soundstream. Catalytic Radio showcases thirty albums every day, with a new record being rotated in every night. This playlist presents material featuring members of the Catalytic Sound co-op, and all of the albums are available in the Catalytic Sound store. 

The Label Radio playlist was added thanks to Astral Spirits Records’ Nate Cross. Like Catalytic Radio, this playlist features a rotating selection of thirty albums per day, and features a core group of NoBusiness Records, Astral Spirits Records, Corbett vs. Dempsey, and Relative Pitch Records. Each month, we’ll also feature guest labels. This month and next, the guest labels are Astral Editions, Notice Recordings, and Family Vineyard.

The Catalytic Artist Album playlist features the whole series of Catalytic-exclusive records, which are released to members each month.

Finally, the History Is What’s Happening playlist (an homage to The Ex) features a handpicked set of ten albums released before the year 2000.

(In case it’s useful, here’s a list of artists who are partners in the Catalytic Sound co-op, whose albums will be featured in the Catalytic Radio playlist on Soundstream. Each artist's label is in parentheses next to their name: Luke Stewart, Ig Henneman & Ab Baars (Wig), Andy Moor (Unsounds Records), Joe McPhee, Joe Morris (Glacial Erratic, Riti), Mats Gustafsson, Nate Wooley (Pleasure of the Text Records), Paal Nilssen-Love (PNL Records), Terrie Hessels (Terp Records/The Ex Records), Ken Vandermark (Audiographic Records), Tim Daisy (Relay Recordings), Ikue Mori, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (Sonic Transmissions), Elisabeth Harnik, Dave Rempis (Aerophonic Records), Ben Hall, Sylvie Courvoisier, Bonnie Jones, claire rousay, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Jaap Blonk (Kontrans Records), Brandon Lopez, Chris Corsano (Hot Cars Warp Records).  Six musicians have just joined Catalytic in January, and their work will be added to the Soundstream shortly: Tashi Dorji, Christof Kurzmann, Damon Locks, Paul Lytton, Zeena Parkins, and Tomeka Reid.)

Paul: How do you choose what is available to stream?  

Ken: Because albums are added manually, we're able to have the musicians curate the programming, choosing albums from the Catalytic catalog that they find remarkable, and letting listeners know why.  The process of selecting albums by the Catalytic artists is limited to recordings we have access to in a digital format.  The labels on the independent label tier mentioned above curate their own programming.

Paul: What do you think subscribers will get from using the Soundstream? 

Sam: I’ve been using Soundstream for the last two weeks to get a sense of the listener’s experience. One of the best features of listening in this way is the flexibility—you can bounce around between wildly different artists, sampling whole albums that you might previously have had to mail-order. In some ways, Soundstream re-creates the loose, free-associative experience of hanging out in a record store, flipping through bins of records, but with the advantage of being able to hear each album as you go.

PA: How does the streaming platform support the Collective?  

Ken: It creates another revenue stream for the group, in addition to the physical and digital albums they sell through Catalytic, the Artifacts Membership, which offers monthly exclusive digital albums, and Full Membership,which combines the Artifacts Membership with Soundstream access.  Also, the Soundstream creates a new way for listeners to learn about the music, musicians, and independent record labels.  Through sharing musician-sourced information in addition to the music itself, the Soundstream helps to create another means of support for the collective- more understanding and knowledge, and possibly a deeper awareness of what's at hand and what's at stake for musicians everywhere.

Paul: What are your hopes and/or plans for the platform? Any “KPIs” so to speak?  

Ken: Primarily, we hope that the Soundstream's popularity will be another way to generate income for the musicians of the co-op.  In addition, we want to show that it is possible to pay musicians fairly for their work, and the content that they provide to streaming services.  And we hope that the creation of the Soundstream will motivate other musicians to organize and get more control of their work, how it's used, and how they can profit from it.

Paul: Did you ever think that you would be an internet entrepreneur?  

Ken: Ha, ha, ha- no!  But the way Catalytic has always worked was to be musician-forward, and to look at how we can be an added income driver for the musicians in the collective.  This leads to asking questions about what steps to take next, to look at the problems musicians are facing now, and to try and solve those problems.  It's an organic process, and we're fortunate to have some of the most creative minds in the world working with us to help create solutions.  So the Soundstream is an example of this group collaboration and problem solving.  We saw the problems with the existing streaming platforms and how they treated musicians unfairly, so the solution was to create musician-run alternative, and to show that it could be done.

Sam: Former Catalytic manager Brock Stuessi, who is now pursuing a master’s degree in ethnomusicology and writing about collectives like Catalytic, has the illuminating perspective that part of succeeding as an independent artist is engaging with the logistics of distribution. When vinyl records were the norm, musicians learned to engage with music publishing, record production, printing, and printing to get their work out in the world. Now, for better or worse, digital technology and the Web are the central mode by which most listeners consume music. Learning to work with platforms like Bandcamp and streaming services is one way to distribute music on the Internet. Here, we tried to go a layer deeper by working with some talented developers to create a site from scratch. As platforms continue to consolidate and monopolize the Web, it will become essential for musicians to develop technical skills and partner with technically skilled allies to maintain independence.

Paul: Regarding some of the technical/audiophile details that some of the Free Jazz collective have asked: 

Is it possible to listen offline?

Sam: As of this first release, you need an internet connection to access the Soundstream. 

What quality is the stream?

Sam: Since 2016, Soundcloud has streamed audio using 64 kilobit per second (kbps) Opus files. Opus, like mp3, is a "lossy" audio codec--basically, a piece of software that reduces the size of an audio file by removing non-essential sounds like ultra-high frequencies not audible to most people who are old enough to subscribe to a streaming service.

Some critics are skeptical of 64 kbps files because mp3s at that bitrate are regarded by some to sound thin or watery. Fortunately, Opus (finalized in 2012) is a significant improvement over mp3 (released in 1993), and most listeners would have a hard time distinguishing a Soundcloud stream from the original audio. For more information on Opus, mp3, and Soundcloud, be sure to check out this article on the subject..

Can you stream to smartphones? I.e. iPhone/Android apps?

Sam: The Soundstream is accessible on smartphones and tablets via a web browser like Safari or Chrome. As for an app: not yet. We'd love to create an iPhone/Android app, and are investigating the possibility of developing one.

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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Piano sax duo

 By Stef Gijssels

The sheer volume of music released last year forces us to write combined reviews, now on the topic of sax and piano duos. There are many, as you will see, and we leave it up to the reader to further explore them and appreciate them. Some of them require more indepth attention and reviews, for sure, and that may still come. In the meantime, the reader is alerted to their existence. 

Peter Brötzmann & Fred Van Hove - Front To Front (Dropa, 2020)

German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove go back a long way. In 1970 they already released "Balls" together with Dutch drummer Han Bennink. The three men have been instrumental in determining the continental European kind of free jazz, iconoclastic, loud and raw and deconstructivist, but without taking themselves too seriously, and very expressive, creating music in which even more options and directions became available, not only pushing boundaries but completely doing away with them. Brötzman was 78 when this duet was performed, and Van Hove 82. Despite their age, they still play their music with the enthusiasm and even the freshness of young boys. I am not sure whether they could have dreamed this up back in the late 60s or early 70s, as both came under severe attack from even the more progressive side of the music establishment. They have opened our collective ears and continue to do so. 

This live performance dates from the Summer Bummer Festival in Antwerp in 2019. Fans for both musicians should definitely look to get a copy of the vinyl version. 

Matthew Shipp & Rob Brown - Then Now (RogueArt, 2020)

The duo of Matt Shipp and Rob Brown is also highly recommended (and more extensively reviewed by Gregg Miller here). The warm and lyrical tone of Brown's alto matches well with Shipp's unpredictable and sensitive music. Both artists released their first duo album "Sonic Explorations" in 1988, and they have continued to perform and release albums in various bands over the years. Possibly the most fascinating aspect of this album is the seamless interaction between both musicians, co-creating their music as they improvise, creating tight and focused music. Shipp is a star at creating micro-structures in his improvisations which vanish and are replaced by new ideas. Brown navigates these changes brilliantly. On two of the eight tracks, each musician has an unaccompanied solo moment. 

Agusti Fernandez & Liudas Mockunas - Improdimensions (No Business, 2020)

Every year, the „Improdimensija” (Improdimension) concert series is organised in Vilnius, Lithuanua, and is dedicated to improvised music. This duo performance of Spanish pianist Agustí Fernández and Lithuanian reedist Liudas Mockunas was recorded in two consecutive years, the A-side of the LP from December, 2019 and the B-side in November 2018. Both sets are equally intense, sometimes raw, closer to free improv, with no patterns to be discerned at all and lots of timbral explorations, and at other times both artists find a rhythm, however implicit, to drive things forward full of energy and power. The second session starts with lots of silence and weird sounds coming from inside the piano and a like-minded saxophone, shifting into high forward moving tension on the second piece. An amazing album that will keep its power with many listens. 

Catherine Sikora​​-Culpo Duo - The Paris Sessions, Volume 1 Mimesis (Self, 2020)  & Catherine Sikora & Christopher Culpo Duo - The Paris Sessions Vol. 2, Speaking In Tongues (Self, 2020)

I read in the liner notes that "In February 2020, Christopher Culpo and Catherine Sikora reconvened in Paris, where their collaboration started five years before, and spent four days recording at l’Atelier de la Main d’Or". Their music is more intimate than the albums reviewed above, chamber music, to be listened to in a smaller space. It is not expansive, but disciplined, measured, controlled even if improvised. Sikora's soprano has a warm and velvety sound, singing like a bird through the breeze of Christopher Culpo's piano. The music is smart, gentle and performed with great skill. 

The second album is the continuation of the first. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Christian Rønn & Aram Shelton - Multiring (Astral Spirits, 2020)

"Multiring" is a fascinating collaboration between Danish composer Christian Rønn and American saxophonist Aram Shelton. The music is available on limited edition cassette. The music is beyond genres. The first track is quiet and slow. Rønn's electric piano and Shelton's alto create a very unique sonic universe, with interesting harmonies and quiet intensity. The second piece is more dynamic with some vague connection to Ethopian jazz. On the third, the piano sounds more like a slow percussive instrument over which Shelton's alto weaves his lamenting sounds. Only one track, "Crawl", is a little more uptempo. The duo manage to create their own voice and a strong musical coherence with variation. 

The title is a reference to chemical bonding by multiple rings of atoms. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Daniel Carter & Matt Lavelle - The Piano Album (Self, 2020)

True, Daniel Carter also plays trumpet, flute, clarinet and saxophone, and piano, and Matt Lavelle also plays trumpet and bass clarinet. On their first duo album in 2004, both musicians used their horns. On the second - "Blackwood - Live At Tower Records" (2006) - the piano made its entry on two tracks, once played by Lavelle, once by Carter. Here, the roles are even more precise. Lavelle only plays piano, hence the title of the album, while Carter doesn't. Both musicians have performed many times over the years, including in streets and subways. But this far from being 'street music'. This is really subdued chamber music. In the liner notes, Lavelle is humble about his skills on the piano. And he shouldn't. It's the music that counts, and both artists have this natural sense of lyricism, of interplay and of soulful delivery, that their ensemble playing, in all its gentle interaction is a real pleasure to listen to, again and again. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Cooper-Moore & Stephen Gauci - Conversations Vol. 1 (577 Records, 2020)

Let's stay in New York. The title "Volume 1" already indicates that more is to come, and that is great. This intense duet of two of New York's free jazz mainstays is worth listening to. They developed their collaboration while performing weekly during a seven-month residency at the HappyLucky No. 1 Gallery in Brooklyn. The improvisations vary between high energy and more sensitive moments, with each track having its own character. 

The music is also released as a vinyl LP. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Marina Džukljev & Mia Dyberg - Circumscription (Self, 2020)

Another lockdown success. A duo performance created over the internet, with Danish saxophonist Mia Dyberg based in Berlin, Germany and Serbian pianist Marina Džukljev based in Novi Sad, Serbia. The entire album is fully improvised, which seems surprising at moments because of the quality of the interaction and the almost simultaneous co-creation. Both musicians describe their music as a diary of the lockdown. Even if some pieces are sad, other ones are more joyful and positive. A good remedy of positive thinking. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Frank Gratkowski & Elisabeth Harnik - Burrum-Bah (Sound Out, 2020)

The album consists of two long improvisations by German saxophonist Frank Gratkowski and Austrian pianist Elisabeth Harnik. The first one is called "Macropus Giganteus" and the second is called "Cacatua Galerita", two animals who live in Australia where the album was recorded live in February of this year. The album title means "Where the kangaroo, the wallaby, bounces over the rocks". Both tracks are around 12 minutes long and are intense, nervous, agitated, with some moments of calm. It's difficult to make the link between the music and the titles (is it evocative of nature?), but that makes the music not less rewarding. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Alexandra Grimal & Giovanni Di Domenico - Down The Hill (Self, 2020)

French soprano saxophonist Alexandra Grimal and Italian pianist Giovanni Di Domenico have performed and released albums over the years, in different ensembles. This is their third duo album, after "Ghibli" (2011) and "Chergui" (2014). The two musicians continue their journey of rather accessible explorations of folk themes. The music is friendly and welcoming, yet it has character. Both musicians have a sensitive and even romantic approach to their music, but without being cheap. The music has a rare sense of innocence that is sincere, charming as well as convincing. Next to her excellent work on the soprano, Grimal also treats us to her worldless singing which even accentuates the overall atmosphere of clarity and sensitivity. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Jan Klare & Wolfgang Heisig  (Umland, 2019)

German artists Jan Klare on alto sax and Wolfgang Heisig on piano give us their rendition of the music by American composer Conlon Nancarrow, who "composed for player piano by progamming sound events via punched paper rolls. He was one of the first composers to use the technical possibilites of mechanical musical instruments making them play far beyond human performance ability", we read on Discogs. These compositions have strange structures and patterns, to the level of even sounding a little insane. Performing them is not a small feat, but the musicians go even a step further by composing their own pieces in the style of Nancorrow. They sound as mad, and they are equally mesmerising because of their insistent rhythmic patterns. Only "Study 4" gives us some breathing space and a jazzy tune. The last track, penned by Heisig, luckily drives us back into maddening rhythms and chords. A pleasure to listen to. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Renê Freire & Thelmo Cristovam - Lobo Temporal (Sirr, 2020) + Renê Freire & Thelmo Cristovam - C-Agardh (Sirr, 2020)

We receive two albums by Brazilian musicians Renê Freire on piano and Thelmo Cristovam on sax. Both live and work in Pernambuco, in the north eastern region of Brazil. Interestingly Cristovam has an academic background in physics and mathematics, and he is also a researcher in psychoacoustics. Unpredictability and uncertainty may define our physical universe at the deepest levels, and so is this music. The music is restrained and even intimate at moments. Freire's approach to the piano is anything but jazz, with classical references, and sometimes closer to the sound of harpsichord than a piano. Except for "Insania", there is almost no raising of volume or noise to detect.  The second album is an EP with two short pieces. 

Their music requires to be discovered. It's not often that we get avant-garde improvisation from Brazil, so we hope to hear more. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Matana Roberts & Pat Thomas - The Truth (Otoroku, 2020)

Pianist Pat Thomas is possibly best known from his collaborations in the London free improv scene, linked to the Cafe Oto, and reviewed on numerous occasions on this blog, but he has also a more jazzy side, as testified by his recent solo album of Duke Ellington compositions. On this album too, and possibly because of the presence of Matana Roberts on sax, the interaction is free in spirit, open-ended in their journey, but solidly anchored in jazz idioms, the rhythms, the phrases, the harmonies. Matana Roberts thrives by the interaction with Thomas, creating wonderful jubilant, playful, angry or moaning tunes, navigating with dexterity the sudden changes and new ideas in the pianist's approach, while managing to keep the continuity in her playing. The long last title track is a good example of this, and by itself already worth the purchase of the LP. 

Strong stuff. 

Tim Berne & Matt Mitchell Duo - Spiders (Out Of Your Head Records, 2020) & Tim Berne & Matt Mitchell - 1 (Screwgun, 2020)

The duo of Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell offers us abstract and often complex modern music, improvised around composed themes and structures, with many stylistic influences and variation in the tracks. The album was already reviewed by Gary Chapin. Interestingly enough, Tim Berne releases another album with a duo with Matt Mitchell, but then recorded in 2010, on his own Screwgun label. This is possibly their first recorded collaboration. Other duo albums include "Førage" (2017), "Angel Dusk" (2018). 

Both are worth checking out. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp and from Bandcamp

Ingrid Laubrock & Kris Davis - Blood Moon (Intakt, 2020) + Ingrid Laubrock & Aki Takase - Kasumi (Intakt, 2020)

Not to forget, Ingrid Laubrock released two duets with pianists this year, one with Kris Davis, the other one with Aki Takase, both on the Intakt label. Matthew Banash already reviewed both albums here. Just to remind you to listen to both albums, as they are a little special. Playful, light-hearted, with lots of ear candy. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp and Bandcamp

Hugo Read & Thomas Rückert - Sirius Variations (Kreuzberg Records, 2020)

Both Hugo Read on soprano and alto, and Thomas Rückert on piano present a very serious, austere and refined album. Their technical skills on the instrument are excellent, but it's all a little bit too polished to my taste. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Underflow - Instant Opaque Evening (Blue Chopsticks, 2021) ****½

By Eyal Haeruveni

The sophomore album of the über-trio The Underflow - Swedish sax titan Mats Gusataffson and American guitarist David Grubbs and trumpeter (and visual artist who created the cover artwork) Rob Mazurek, Instant Opaque Evening, was recorded live during January 2020 shows in France, Belgium, Italy, and Poland, seven months after the recording of the self-titled debut album (Corbett vs. Dempsey/Underflow Records, 2019). The almost ninety minutes of the new, epic album testify best about the great creative power of this trio, when it explores spontaneous improvisations or when it dives into and out of Grubbs’ poetic texts.

Gustafsson, Grubbs and Mazurek need no introduction. These masters of experimental, free-improvisation collaborated briefly already in the nineties when Gustafsson and Mazurek guested in Grubbs’ Gastr del Sol albums (Upgrade & Afterlife and Camoufleur, Drag City, 1996 and 1998). Shortly thereafter Gustafsson and Grubbs recorded two albums (Apertura and Off-Road, Blue Chopsticks, 1999 and 2003). The Underflow has already established a wide sonic palette on its debut album, ranging from free jazz and abstract electronics to noise and post-rock, and suggesting rare performances by Gustafsson on flute (his first instrument), in addition to the flutephone and the baritone sax. Mazurk adds to the trumpet, wooden flute, percussion. Grubbs sings some of his songs.

Instant Opaque Evening surprises with its lyrical, contemplating tone, in relation to the debut album of The Underflow and certainly in comparison to Gustafsson’s recent projects - Fire!, The End or Anguish. Gustafsson plays the baritone sax and electronics on the opening 17-minutes title-piece with great restraint and focuses on detail, echoing the effects-laden resonant guitar of Grubbs and the floating, elegiac trumpet of Mazurek. Even in its most abstract noisy parts, this piece keeps its reserved atmosphere does not seek to reach a cathartic climax. Gustafsson’s playing on the flute on “Planks” and “Purple Laquer Portal” is even more revelatory, introducing gentle, kind of chamber folk veins into these soundscapes, and taking the seminal influence of Don Cherry but drowning it on the latter piece in a stormy sea of electronics..

Mazurek’s wordless voice reverberates beautifully in Gustafsson’s flute playing on the sparse and intimate “A Thin Eternity”. The following “Not at My Funeral” relies on extended breathing techniques of Gustafsson, Mazurek’s natural gift to articulate instant melodies and Grubbs’ subtle, guitar lines, and deepens the restrained, dark and mysterious tone of the album so far. Mazurek’s effects-laden trumpet, and later his wooden flute, set the unsettling tone of “Sound of a Wet Leather Ball”, disturbed later on by raw noises. The 14-minutes “Self-Portrait as Interference Pattern” is the only piece where The Underflow goes into extreme, sonic terrains, with apocalyptic, raw and noisy layers of electronics that even the brief trumpet cries of Mazurek can not pierce, but eventually, even this piece settles on a lyrical, fragile mode.

Grubbs sings three songs. The previously recorded “An Optimist Declines” and “Gethsemani Night” (from An Optimist Notes The Dark, Drag City, 2008) and the moving, last piece on this album, “Cooler Side of the Pillow”. He recites-sings the poetic lyrics with a voice that is openly vulnerable, accompanied by his distorted guitar sounds, Gustafsson’s sax wails and Mazurek’s atmospheric trumpet, all serve brilliantly the suggestive, dramatic lyrics.

A beautiful gem. Each listening reveals more and more nuances of the unique free space that The Undeflow explored on stage.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

John Russell (1954 - 2021)

John Russell (photo by Peter Gannushkin)

By Martin Schray

It was German saxophonist Stefan Keune who told me in March 2020 that John Russell was dying of cancer and that he - depending on how well chemotherapy worked - didn’t know how long he would live. Now, the great British guitarist has passed away.

John Russell began to play in and around London from 1971 onwards. He soon connected with the emerging free improvisation scene and became a student of Derek Bailey's. Although he was obviously influenced by the legendary guitarist, Russell found his unique musical personality, he was highly abstract and unpredictable. Or, as my colleague Stuart Broomer once put it: “Where Bailey disrupted the idiomatic gesture, Russell sometimes invokes it; where Bailey practiced discontinuity, Russell can create alternative order“. Sometimes his improvisations seemed to resonate blues or swing patterns, but Russell used them extraordinarily freely, as if they had been carried by a gust of wind and moved on immediately. Another distinctive feature has to do with his instrument, a 1936 Zenith archtop acoustic guitar. It’s an unamplified but loud instrument, which was often used by swing band guitarists, who needed to compete with the brass section. This instrument allowed him to make use of harmonics in a genuinely significant way.

John Russell has played with almost everyone who’s important in the worldwide improv scene and his work can be heard on many albums. There’s a lot of his music which is really to be recommended, starting with his trio album Artless Sky (Caw Records, 1980) featuring Toshinori Kondo on trumpet and his longtime collaborator Roger Turner on drums. The album I became aware of him for the first time was News From The Shed (Acta, 1987) with John Butcher (sax), Phil Durant (violin, electronics), Radu Malfatti (trombone) and Paul Lovens (drums), a real masterpiece of improvised music, maybe the best FMP album which was never released on the seminal German label. London Air Lift (FMP, 1991) with Evan Parker (sax), John Edwards (bass) and Mark Sanders (drums) must be mentioned here, as well as his duos with Stefan Keune. Recently Stuart Broomer has reviewed Nothing Particularly Horrible (FMR, 2019) enthusiastically, another collaboration with Keune, Lovens and bassist Hans Schneider.

However, Russell was more than just a musician. In 1981, he founded Quaqua, a large bank of improvisers put together in different combinations for specific projects and in 1991 he started Mopomoso, which has become the UK’s longest running concert series featuring mainly improvised music.

A true gentleman, a master of subtlety, an excellent musician has left the stage. He will truly be missed.

Watch John Russell play solo: 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Keith Tippett - The Monk Watches the Eagle (Discus Music, 2020) ****


By Gary Chapin

The choral cantata tradition is one of my favorite things, especially baroque cantatas. There was a time when I seriously asserted that I could live the rest of my life with only Bach’s cantatas to listen to and I could be happy. I was wrong, but still, it happened. The British church music tradition is another one of my favorite things. Admittedly, the Venn diagram of those two has a prominent overlap, but they are different enough to scratch two different itches. Finally, Keith Tippett music — yeah, it’s a thing — is yet another of my favorite things. Can you see where this is going?

The Monk Watches the Eagle is a cantata written and conducted by Keith Tippett (with text by Julie Tippetts) in 2004 and had a single performance at a festival in Britain that year, as well as being (thank God) broadcast and recorded by the BBC. Tippett gives us the BBC Singers (as well as Julie Tippetts’s soprano) and two saxophone quartets. There are improvising soloists of both the saxophone and vocal type, as well as choral support for the soloists. It didn’t occur to me until a few listens in that the saxophones very often take on the continuo role of an organ or virginal. The blending of timbres is so well done, with such a thoughtful use of dynamics, that I caught myself thinking, “That there is some subtle organ playing.” There is, of course, no organ on this.

The Monk Watches the Eagle is one continuous 41 minute piece of music, but is divided into seven sections for the convenience of the listener. The notes say that these divisions “correspond with divisions marked in the score.” I’m not sure why that doesn’t equal, “this piece is in seven sections.” But there you go. The seven sections do correspond to what feel like story beats to me. I definitely feel a story here. An arc that moves from questioning and unease to emergence to elegy to awesome/awful ecstasy to a rest that’s as restful as any IV-I amen you ever wanted to hear (though it is not, in fact, IV-I), and that only gets us to section 4. An early reviewer referred to the piece’s “difficult contemporary idiom” and there is that Ligeti vibe at some points, but there’s also that point right at the beginning of section 2 where Julie Tippetts’s blues inflected solo evokes nothing so much as the moment when Porgy shifts out of the recitative and starts singing, “Bess, you is my woman, now.” It’s heartbreakingly good. Section 4 ends with a baritone solo from Chris Briscoe that just forces you to stop and pay attention in its quiet elegance.

A lot of relationships are happening in this piece: the two saxophone quartets play off each other, they play off the choir, each separately plays off the choir, the vocal soloists conspire with each other and saxophone soloists, etc. But the relationships and their communications merge organically into coherence. There’s also the relationship of the music to the text, which is, unfortunately, closed to us because the text is nowhere to be found (I’ve looked … if you find it somewhere, please pass it on). The reviewer in the notes calls it “rhapsodic, if rather difficult.” I can attest to the rhapsody, but not the difficulty. It’s all in English, but, except for a few sections, indecipherable by my ear. I can honestly say, I’ve never been so curious about a cantata text. When Kevin Figes plays his extraordinary, extended alto alarum in section 6, I really want to know what he’s alarmed about. Like the whole of this piece, it sounds like a jeremiad of substance.