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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Luigi Archetti - Null II / III (Die Schachtel, 2012) ****½

By Paolo Casertano

Some scattered thoughts from the upper deck of the “Stef Free Jazz Blog Summer 2012 Cruise”

As with every summer, the entire Review Team is sailing the seven seas on a ghost vessel. The hold is full of albums to review, everyone is in his narrow cabin listening to a pile of records, sharpening his sabre and waiting for the pirate boarding - one of our favourite activities - the captain has fixed at 6.00 p.m. The following are some consideration I have collected in the wait. Please forgive their incoherence, I was pondering whether to worthily support Martin, Troy, Dan, Philip, Tom, Steve, John and Joe along the gangway on the prow or instead pounce from the hawsers of the mainmast as Stef and Paul are used to do…


Luigi Archetti - Null II / III [Die Schachtel 2012] **** ½

First preamble

Before writing something about it, I’ve been listening several times to the whole and rich two parts opus by the Swiss avant-garde guitarist Luigi Archetti on the excellent Italian label Die Schachtel (yes, the artist is Swiss with an Italian name while the label is Italian with a German name, for the pleasure of chiasmus lovers and obscure meanings searchers). The musician is also known for his duo with cellist Bo Wiget (that is Swiss with a German name … the mystery is growing) and their several acclaimed releases on Rune Grammofon (that as you know is Norwegian, and ok, I quit). Together with a wide activity as visual artist that you can follow and admire on his personal site . The release completes the “Null” trilogy - the second of his career if you consider the “Low Tide Digitals” series on the abovementioned Scandinavian label (and three is certainly a complex and cryptic number … does this mean something? I’m sorry I can’t help).

My first thought has been: how many similar works are released every month? The “processed guitar style” has become itself a flourishing subgenre of electronic music and sound manipulation. In great measure, various of these releases are tagged with the unfathomable and “then always valid” definition of drone music. And in any case, many of its representatives have gained justified appreciation beyond the electronic etiquette’s boundaries. Christian Fennesz and his ubiquitous collaborations, Aidan Baker and his profuse production, the long and powerful Japanese adrift with Chihei Hatakeyama and Hakobune, the interesting - at least to me - Stefano Pilia, or again Ferran Fages who shares his production between guitars and turntables. This is just to name few of them. It may happen that some of these performers are also identified as player of “resonant objects” - another largely abused formula. Shouldn’t we consider already every musical instrument as a resonant object itself?

I want to be clear. I appreciate many outputs of this music with no reserve and despite the lack of originality that can affect sometimes the genre. But this is may be true for a large part of standard jazz as well, I believe.

Second preamble

It seems to me there’s lately a recurring issue on the blog. Many of us, me included, feel like justifying and describing what they consider as jazz before reviewing a work with no evident standard jazz elements or structures. Here you have my point of view.

Jazz is a human language, we could start from here and agree at least on this. As all human idioms, whether they are natural or artificial and after they are hence born or created, they act as living things. To put it in a quite short way, as Ferdinand de Saussure (also Swiss, but with a French name - oh my god!) would say, their grammars are subject to the forces of time and people making use of them. That means they’re going to change unpredictably and unstoppably.

During a recent live set of a “Swing-Dixieland-Manouche” quartet (for those who believe in definitions) I’ve heard the leader declaring, as an explanation of their musical approach, that jazz production between the 20’s and the 30’s of the former century had been the highest and purest expression of this genre. And that was exactly the reason why the group had chosen to play covers of the abovementioned epoch or at least a sound-a-like production. Let’s not debate on the first half of such a way of thinking, being that personal and anyway a matter of taste. It is the following conclusion to have my attention. You could, I admit it, believe that Shakespearian English or Ciceronian Latin are linguistically superb, but would you ever conclude that for this reason you should speak in such a style?

Third preamble and conclusions or the real review (if you want to skip the first two steps)

What I meant with the previous thoughts is that often, according to a maybe unintentional cultural elitism, many crummy jazz releases are preserved from severe judgments that would not be spared to stigmatize a pop, rock or electronic album. And this is because usually a jazz musician is at least a decent instrumentalist and because the tradition and the music field he has chosen should let us believe he has something interesting to express. While using an electronic device or a computer is often considered as an easy way to hide or mystify a lack of preparation and musical culture. I admit it, the advent and the accessibility of digital tools has resulted in an overproduction of music, mainly forgettable (was it really different in a 18th century royal court?), but at the same time, when mastery in rotating knobs or using a software is levelled, when every one has collected the same amount of RAM, ideas still make the difference. Exactly as with a good instrumentalist, maybe fast and accurate, but possibly boring and without anything to say musically.

It’s tempting to conclude that I consider jazz, and moreover free jazz, not anymore as genre but as an approach, a development model to organize sound structures, often giving the chance to test and overstep the boundaries of an instrument’s conventional technique (but not necessarily) and to surprise the listener with a personal choice or through a path he would hardly had gone for. This may result in considering sometimes even a pop, rock or funk work as a jazz album. I cannot find a proper solution to such a contradiction, but I can’t see as well a concrete problem in it.

Luigi Archetti, that is in any case even a gifted guitar player with a solid background in microtonal music, delivers a great work. The twenty untitled pieces of the double album explore all the possible range of sounds and effects you may produce through a wise and refined reprocessing of a sound source. The guitar is mostly unrecognizable.

Deep bass texture acting as rhythmic structures, remote buzzes growing as blasts of wind to reach the intensity of a suffocated storm. There are distant chords starting as drills and then vanishing in trembling whistles. Sometimes strings are pinched creating arrhythmic and dissonant loops. Archetti uses a really large palette of effects and sounds. A ghostly note dripping out of a can; a percussive clatter sustained by brief eruptions of sound magma, chaotic at first but then pouring and flowing along riverbed the artist has dug for them, and then again distorted gongs and shades overwhelming fragile beats. Every sound appears to be refracted to different surrounding surfaces. Vibrato, tremolo, delays, reverbs and echoes. Each effect contributes to build a dense music grammar.

Fine, this is maybe far from a Django Reinhardt solo, but I can’t stop thinking the approach must be comparable. Because soon after a first listening, you may notice that the composition often follows rigid and rigorous counterpoint rules. A wave of raw sound may act as a classical opening, strengthened by a bass base, suddenly interrupted by a far grating chord performing as the composition refrain. Elements are interchangeable, but their role in the structure, once that is given, works exactly as their - let’s call them - orthodox counterparts (a strings choir, a drum tempo, an ensemble crescendo, an encore and so on).

So, as others - more reputed than me - reviewers have already stated: “yes, this is - once for all - jazz!”

I should have said it maybe 5O lines ago but the schooner we should predate is still far on the horizon … tonight our coffers will be even more full of records!

Listen to some excerpts here
Buy from the label mailorder Soundhom.


Martin Schray said...

Again I am really flabbergasted, Paolo. Being one of those who often ponder over (and sometimes justify) the question what jazz is I really appreciate especially your second preamble, there is a lot of truth in it. Besides, it is a wonderful review, both as to content and style.
But I think I will go on pondering, if you don't mind :-).

ananthakrishnan said...

Paolo, this is truly a well written and truly introspective piece of review. What is even more gratifying is that fact that after you listen to the music and then read the review again, you have an overflowing sense of relief that such a review exists for this music.

My two pence - it is this ever present fuzzy boundaries and blurred lines that makes us ponder over what jazz is that makes is truly an unpredictable and enjoyable joyride - I for one am glad to wallow in this cesspool :)


Paolo said...

After two weeks of great vacation and before returning to work on Monday,I hope this will always be such a great place for sharing ideas and opinions and to think about what we love the most! Thanks