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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: 

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Two From Sabine Vogel

By Keith Prosk

Since discovering Berlin’s echtzeitmusik scene just a few years ago and building a partiality to much of the music it produces, I’ve eagerly awaited recordings from a few musicians that particularly peak my interest yet release things sparsely. Flautist Sabine Vogel is one such musician. So I was ecstatic to find these two releases from this year, both of which provide excellent showcases for her musicianship.

Sabine Vogel, Michael Thieke, Kaffe Matthews, Audrey Chen, ld M Theft Able - isolated . connected (self-released, 2020) ****

Musicians have reacted to the isolating conditions of a world in pandemic through various means, from releasing sat-on archival recordings, to wrapping up and releasing recent recordings more quickly than expected, to recording and releasing new -usually solo- projects during the pandemic. isolated . connected falls in the latter group, but with a process to simulate the communal improvisation that is vital to this music and so difficult to achieve recently.

That process is a game of sonic telephone, where a musician records a solo, sends it to another musician, that musician records a solo in communication to the first, and the two solos are overdubbed for a duo. The second musician then sends their solo to a third, who records a solo in communication to that, their solos are overdubbed for a duo, and all three musicians’ solos are overdubbed for a trio. This process builds to a quintet on isolated . connected, resulting in five solos, four duos, and a trio, quartet, and quintet for twelve tracks lasting a little less than two hours.

The five musicians here are Vogel (bass flute, preparations), Michael Thieke (clarinet), Kaffe Matthews (digital oscillators, samplers), Audrey Chen (voice), and Id M Theft Able (voice). Beyond Splitter Orchester, Vogel and Thieke have recorded together on SCHWIMMER’s 7x4x7, to which this is a spiritual successor, and Rutger Zuydervelt’s Stay Tuned. And Chen and Able have recorded together on On Teufelsberg. I don’t believe any of the other musicians have previously recorded together, but it’s worth mentioning that Matthews released the acclaimed Foreigner this year.

Vogel’s and Thieke’s solos come first, both accenting silence with mostly clicks, breath, and spit, but whereas Vogel’s piece seems to focus on breath velocity and volume, Thieke’s piece seems to focus on embouchure, with parting lips, swallowing, and tongue and cheek movement closely recorded. Their timbrally diverse duo is a highlight of the release, with Thieke’s response almost creating small rhythms with Vogel’s pulses, but at this time it sinks in that you’ll hear them five times each, which is a positive because you can hear the process but might be too much repetition in one sitting. Matthews’ response to Thieke stands in almost abrasively stark contrast to the previous two solos, with sustained electric tones undulating, throbbing, swelling, and occasionally glitching out. Her volume control and pitch transitions match nicely with Thieke but, having not heard Vogel’s solo, don’t mesh well and often drown out the best of the acoustic duo in the trio track. Chen’s solo is an exposition of extended vocal techniques, with breathing, stuttering, sucking, gurgling, yawning, clicking, modulated vocalizing, and more, which overlay with Matthews’ track unexpectedly well, complimenting the pulse of her drones and glitched clicks and cuts. Able’s solo is more extended vocal technique, but whereas Chen seems more lungs and lips, Able seems more throat and cheek, and whereas Chen might be considered somber, Able is definitely comedic. As a result, their duo is another highlight of the release, displaying disparate outcomes through similar approaches, almost like Vogel and Thieke’s duo. The final quintet is impressively cohesive, despite the musicians not necessarily communicating directly with most others, and characterized by chance cycles of rhythm and resonance the close listener can piece together. Matthews’ drones seem to get progressively lower in the mix with the quartet and quintet, and, rather than drowning out the two acoustic duos for the final piece, provides a springboard from which the other musicians interact with each other.

There’s some cognitive pleasure that comes from hearing this process of musical telephone, but there’s also a sense of hearing the same thing too often, despite approaching it in a different context. And while the final quintet might be my favorite track I’ve heard this year thus far, especially because of the simultaneously similar and dissimilar approaches in the wind and voice duos, there’s a sense that the digital oscillator occupies so much space as to be distracting. Still, isolated . connected is an exemplar of the process-based, near-scientific sonic exploration that characterizes the best of the Berlin scene. Vogel states this is an ongoing project, so look forward to new exciting directions from this very solid foundation.

isolated . connected is a digital-only release.

Ignaz Schick & Sabine Vogel - Inner Mongolia (Zarek, 2020) ****

Ignaz Schick recently started his label, Zarek, as a means to release some stellar archival recordings with musicians including Paul Lovens & Clayton Thomas, Toshimaru Nakamura, and others. Inner Mongolia documents his collaborations with Vogel from 2008 to 2011, with nine tracks across 54 minutes. Drawing from a long period of what sounds like studio environments, it allows for a grand variety of instrumentation, with Schick on turntables, motor, objects, gongs, cymbals, bows, and electronics and Vogel on flute, bass flute, piccolo flute, pedals, and samplers.

Schick and Vogel previously recorded a track for the Echtzeitmusik Berlin compilation, “Inner Mongolia,” from which this release takes its name and which appears as the first track (under a different name). As expected from these musicians with this amount of instrumentation, the music is a diverse ecosystem of sonic color. And, as is often the case when this kind of music is more freely played, the sound can assume cinematic or picturesque qualities. The twinkling chimes, bells, and gongs become the stars over the windy, foggy bay of whistling flute static with a sonorous foghorn overlayed on “Hohot.” A kind of sucking and harsh air notes with tape static, pop, and warp feels like a desiccated, decayed apocalyptic landscape on “Baotou.” Or a flute buzzing like a fly, creaking like grasshopper legs, or fluttering like moth wings creates a world of insects “Hulun Buir.” The amount of sounds here is simply impressive, with purring motors, vocal multiphonics, string-like strained sustain, flute like didgeridoo, and a rubbery ping-pong bounce recalling Autechre being just some of them.

Compared to similar recordings, there’s a bit more movement, volume, and action here. It’s still not exactly sing along music, but you can listen to it in the car without the ambient whirr drowning it out. And the communication through textures, pulses, volume, and density are so aptly reactive and complimentary as to seem unimprovised at times. Here’s to hoping the collaboration is ongoing.

Inner Mongolia is a digital-only release.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

BROM - Dance with an Idiot (Trost, 2020) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Mats Gustafsson's enthusiastic endorsement for the Russian band Brom - Бром eight album and first international release, Sunstroke (Trost, 2018), exposed this fine band to international audiences, calling it a band that breaks and fucks the frames. And, indeed, Brom sounded then as feeding on the same gene-pool of Gustafsson’s bands, particularly The Thing, but also like-minded seminal bands as Peter Brötzmann’s Last Exit, John Zorn’s Naked City and the Zu. The new album from Brom, recorded at DTH Studios in Moscow in March 2019, varies this list of influences with a surprising yet iconoclast jazz musician, the great trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.

The new album, Dance with an Idiot, suggests a new incarnation of Brom, savage, raw, rapid, and manic Brom. The heavy, dirty and distorted bass guitar of Dmitry Lapshin is in the center, much like Zu’s Massimo Pupillo, dominating the grinding pulse, the volition, and the level of brutal onslaughts. Alto sax player Anton Ponomarev can compress a series of tortured screams and cries within a fraction of a second but he is also the only one in Brom who injects some melodic sense into their pieces. Electronics player Felix Mikensky, who joined Brom on Sunstroke, adds guitar to his arsenal and his inventive and often ironic noises intensify the commotion, always with a perfect sense of timing (check his contribution on the last “This Is A Good Club Though Some Bad Music Is Played Here”). The drummer Yaroslav Kurilo, on the other side, opts to contrast the furious, anarchistic attacks of his comrades with light but precise swinging hits on his drum-set.

There are few detours from this heavy grind approach, especially on “Goodbye, White Rhino!” where Lapshin surprises with a warm, lyrical tone. Brom is still addicted to John Zorn compositional tricks, mainly the sudden, fast turns and stops à la Naked City or sketching tense postmodern, film-noir-like texture. The cover of Gillespie’s bebop chestnut from the early forties “Salt Peanuts” (titled here “Salty Peanuts”) misses all the playfulness and fun of the classic piece. Brom’s punkish version focuses on the simple rhythmic riff, committing it to the demolishing grind and deconstructs it and reconstructs it again and again with a brief, minimalist articulation of the melody by Ponomarev later on.

You have to take your chances when you dance with such wild ones.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

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Øyvind Skarbø | Fredrik Ljungkvist | Kris Davis | Ole Morten Vågan - Inland Empire (Clean Feed Records, 2020) ****

By Cam Scott

Inland Empire finds a top group of Scandinavian players in collaboration with Canadian pianist Kris Davis, a staple of the New York jazz scene. Bassist Ole Morten Vågan may be familiar to listeners as the leader of Motif; an acoustic fusion outfit devoted to Vågan’s own songbook. Fellow Norwegian Øyvind Skarbø is the force behind the clamorously eclectic Skarbø Skulekorps, in which he both drums and sings. Finally, Swedish reedist Fredrik Ljungkvist has been one of the most confident voices in European jazz for decades; closely associated with the supergroup Atomic since 1999.

Strikingly then, Inland Empire gathers four accomplished bandleaders in a flexible collective. This common calibre accounts for the consistent texture of this recording, to which each player contributes original music. This spirit of equality is formalized in the presentation, as these pieces appear melded in sequence; a continuous suite of multiple sources. Solos and duos function intelligently as bridges throughout, formalizing the ethos of collective improvisation at the level of the setlist.

Only the title track is credited to the entire group; an opening invocation that develops in free time with little trepidation. As the performance swells, Ljungkvist splits off from the group with a repetitive, ascending figure; colliding Vågan’s tune, ‘Truffle Pigs and Katmandu Stray Dogs.’ Somewhere between the mutant blues of Monk, thickened by dissonance, and the Scandinavian legacy of Coleman’s harmolodics, the undulating head is gratifyingly familiar in its strangeness. Davis’ staccato chords make a plane in the center of the group’s stuttering interplay, which parts before a patter of notes in the bass clef. Vågan’s transitional solo is woody and cantankerous, ascending the neck only to plummet in percussive punctuation.

‘Jag Vet Inte,’ composed by Ljungkvist, approaches the cerebral airiness and instrumental palette of Jimmy Giuffre’s iconic second trio; not least for its feature of the clarinet, and the initial absence of the rhythm section. After two minutes of rapid conversation between Davis and Ljungkvist, the duo settle onto a simple unison theme; a melody of wide intervals, stated in single notes on the piano. Nearly three and a half minutes into the recording, the rhythm section arrives—a patter of brushes beneath a heavy walking bassline, and the piece concludes with a gorgeously restrained drum solo by Skarbø, in which one hears virtual cicadas.

‘Surf Curl,’ Davis’ composition, begins in hesitancy, as a scattering of short notes. Davis hammers single keys with two hands, as though handling mallets, while Skarbø bustles ahead. At the apex, Ljungkvist unleashes a barrage of rapidly tongued single notes above Davis’ heavy-handed octaves, which continue through a terminal diminuendo. Skarbø’s ‘Hindsight Bias’ is the ballad, if that honour may be assigned to one track on an album of contrasts; though its melancholy theme mounts to an agitated breakaway by Ljungkvist, whose piece, ‘Fighter,’ closes the album on a declarative note.

As a demonstration of dynamic range and group identity, Inland Empire is a wholly foreseeable success; far more unified and tonally consistent than most groups with four distinct composers. One can only hope that they convene again, and soon.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Will Guthrie - Nist-Nah (Black Truffle, 2020) ****½

By Nick Ostrum

I came to Will Guthrie through a back channel. I was reading the liner-notes to Rene Aquarius’ (of Dead Neanderthals fame) 2016 solo percussion release, Blight, wherein he thanks Guthrie for “for showing me what a solo drum record can be.” OK, I thought. That is endorsement enough. Let’s find this Will Guthrie.

Nist-Nah is, according to its liner-notes, a departure for Guthrie. Rather than meditating on what he did before, he has turned to using “metallaphones, hand drums and gongs of the Gamelan ensembles of Indonesia.” I will admit, Gamelan is far out of my wheelhouse. It is a word I recognize and associate with a few bands like Senyawa, but I am not exactly sure how. So, consider me a rather blank slate in that sense, but one who has much greater exposure to free jazz, EAI, and some other styles in which Guthrie has immersed himself.

Nist-Nah is entrancing. Pieces such as Catlike and Moi Moi pull the listener in through a simple, steady, repetitive rhythm that slowly opens into a wonderous soundworld of imbricating percussion and electric atmospherics. Bells turn into chimes and jangles of metal. Rhythms lose their sense of time and, in that become potentially timeless. Repetition begins to sound like variation and variations sound as if they were programmed from the very beginning. Lit 1+2 opens more suddenly with a crash, followed by Guthrie seemingly searching for a rhythmic spine to hold the piece together. In this case, the search and trial and error join into the vertebrate that unite the piece as a collection of associated by uniquely articulated sections. Elders involves a calmer, more gradual aggregation of sounds that hum like Nakamura’s bowed gongs, though backed by welling staticky tension and overlain with a sparse metallaphone melody. The opener, Nist-Nah is an energetic foray into a variety of percussive techniques and instruments and alternately seems the perfect, concise introduction to the album and contrasts starkly with pieces such as Elders and, the concluding 17-minute track Kebogiro Glendeng.

Kebogiro Glenden is the culmination of the other statements and experiments on Nist-Nah. It deploys the widest array of percussion. It has a steady 4:4 beat and a catchy interweave of melodies that invoke a procession. The tinny clangor and metallaphone give the impression of a ritual or invocation. In a more dramatic and definitive way than the shorter pieces that precede it, this achieves the most disorienting warping of time. Like the best loops, as it repeats, one hears new characteristics of the sounds, some of which surely were not present just a few measures earlier. Resonances extend and collide. Melodies linger long after the sounds fade from perception. Rhythms embrace and float, uncovering and occluding woody claps and metallic shutters. It is difficult to discern what is actually going on in Kebogiro Glenden, and things are likely better that way. It is a cacophonous stew of joy, or the announcement of some ghostly image arriving in indiscernible form. It is a sound Dionysian revelry, or an ode to the vagaries of the wind and weather. Or, maybe it is a piece of abstract expressionist art, wherein one can read rage or calmness, randomness or factory-efficiency, the artist’s inner turmoil externalized or one’s own subjective order into the same canvass. Either way, it is confounding and, in that, transcendent.

Nist-Nah is available on CD and vinyl, and as a digital download.

Simon H. Fell (1959-2020) - rest in peace

Simon H. Fell
photo © Christophe Pean 2010
By Stef Gijssels

Today, British bassist and composer, Simon H. Fell passed away at the age of 61. He was a prolific and versatile musician, a musical adventurer, composing in modern classical music and active in free improvisation. He also set up his own music label, "Bruce's Fingers" in 1983. He played in several ensembles, bands and orchestras over the years, with credits on no less than 285 albums according to Discogs.

His work for modern composition I am not familiar with, so it's hard to comment on this apart from leaving it to the reader's initiative to check them out. For him, both were equally important, and the intellectual play with form and structure in modern classical he considered a real need for him, next to the more immediate in-the-moment discovery and creation of new sonic expressions in free improvisation.

His legacy in that genre is quite impressive. He performed with Simon Rose and Mark Sanders in Badlands, with Carlos Zingaro, Marcio Mattos and Mark Sanders in ZFP and in SFQ, his own quartet with Alex Ward on reeds. He released several albums with IST, a string trio with Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell. He was also a member of the London Improvisers Orchestra, and he played in numerous ad hoc ensembles with like-minded musicians.

His solo output is also worth mentioning: "Frank & Max" (2011) - which I'm listening to now - a brilliant and intimate homage to other contemporary bass players, "Le Bruit De La Musique" (2016) and even a solo album for bass guitar in his earlier years.

British free improvisation has its very specific sound and exploratory approaches, combining in the moment improvisation with great musical ideas and technical prowess. Simon H. Fell was one of its most important participants and theorists.

The last albums that were released with his participation were "Virtual Company", released earlier this year on Confront, and "Reconstructed Fragments", a duo recording with drummer Paul Hession.

He became a bass player by chance: "I became a double bass player through a situation which recurs time and time again in schools world-wide (probably). Our school orchestra needed a double bass; the school had a double bass, but no-one was playing it. I was studying music, but did not play an instrument, so it was decided that I should play the double bass, and that was that". We can thank that specific context for the great work and music that he left us.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

British saxophonist Alex Ward wrote the following piece on Facebook, and we want to share his personal reaction (with his permission):

"Hard for me to fully express the importance that Simon Fell had in my life as a friend, colleague, mentor and general inspiration. If I say that the first word that comes to mind when trying to describe Simon's most distinctive qualities is "rigour", I mean that not in any drily academic sense but rather to suggest a total commitment to doing whatever was necessary to make things absolutely all that they could be - whether that was pushing himself past the limit of physical comfort in performance if the musical circumstances demanded, or gritting his teeth through the administrative slog and bureaucratic hoop-jumping necessary to ensure that all participants in even his most ambitious projects were treated and remunerated as well as he believed they deserved. This was all part and parcel of a level of intellectual honesty which is rare enough in itself, and even rarer when suffused as Simon's was with humour, generosity and joy - to spend an evening with Simon sharing real talk and good drink was to bathe in the energy that explodes from full engagement with ideas and the sweeping aside of the hypocrisy endemic to so much discourse.

The relationship between composition and improvisation in the UK still bears the marks of the antagonisms that accompanied the emergence of free improvisation as a distinct movement in the 1960s, and while no-one was more sensitive to these issues in all their complexity than Simon - his PHD thesis "A More Attractive Way Of Getting Things Done" is absolutely required reading for anyone interested in the subject - the aspect of his work which was concerned with the interpenetration of the two has perhaps not unrelatedly never really garnered the degree of respect or attention here that in my opinion it merited. It was my great honour and good fortune to be a member of Simon's ensembles for much of this work over the past 20 years, and suffice to say everything I have done subsequently in the field of composing for improvisers is directly indebted to what I was able to learn through these experiences.

I will miss Simon immensely, and the increasingly sporadic (due to our living in different countries) chances that we had to see or play with each other in recent years (the last time being nearly two and a half years ago) will seem even more precious and the length of the gaps between them even more depressing in retrospect. 

My thoughts are with every musician who will be feeling similarly bereft from his passing, but above all of course with his wife Jo. RIP."

British cellist, sound artist and Confront label manager, Mark Wastell wrote the following: 

"My Dearest Simon. 
Too soon and far too quickly. I blinked and you are gone. Leaving far too many loose ends and you would not have liked that. You were not a man who appreciated loose ends. Thorough and detailed, that was you. Today my heart aches. I am empty. Cold and numb. I can’t quite absorb the news. In the mid-1990s you took me under your wing. We met at a Hession/Wilkinson/Fell gig at Colchester Arts Centre. I told you I’d started improvising with the cello and you said that when I was ready I was to give you a call and we could do some playing together. Really? I couldn’t quite believe it. You were an established performer, I was a bedroom musician. I eventually made the call. Time after time you selflessly drove the 70 mile round trip from Haverhill in Suffolk to come and play with me. You took me out of the bedroom and into the public arena. My debut concert was a duo with you at the Club Room in Islington in January 1996. Our last concert together was also a duo, in March 2018, in part celebrating my 50th birthday. You dedicated a piece of music to me to me that evening, to mark the occasion. Our original duo quickly morphed into a trio with Rhodri, another unknown invitee that you had met in Huddersfield. The newly named IST made its first outing at Club Orange in April 1996. In the summer of that year, you invited both of us to join the Simon Fell 10tet for a concert at the Purcell Room as part of the Leo Records Festival. You had taken me from the bedroom, onto the London club scene and to the concert stage within months. You enabled me, trusted me, gave me confidence. In early 1997 you were offered a deal by Siwa Records from the States to make an album. Generously, you suggested IST. I was now a recording artist on an international label, all thanks to you. It was all so exciting. As well as improvising, you pushed us to play compositions. But I didn’t know a crochet from a quaver. No problem you said, we can work around that. And we did. I was nervous, out of my depth but you helped me to understand music in its written form - notated, graphic, instructional - and also encouraged me to put together my own pieces. Under your guidance, I was now a composer. We recorded these compositions for our second album Ghost Notes and arranged a UK tour. With you, I was now a proper touring musician. Your initiatives with Bruces Fingers were a direct influence on me forming my own record label. You appear on nine releases on Confront, five with IST, three alongside Derek Bailey and your own beautiful solo disc. In 2016, IST played at Confront’s 20th anniversary concert at the Hundred Years Gallery. That was the last time all three of us were together and what a happy day it was. Just a few short weeks ago, we were busy arranging a date for the 25th anniversary concert of IST in April of 2021. It breaks me in two to have to accept the fact that this will not happen. Never again will we make music together. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to kiss you goodbye. You were a dear friend, loyal and committed. I hope you know how much you mean to me. I shall never forget how deep our time together was and if you will allow, I make a lifelong dedication to you, to conduct myself in a way that would make you proud of the investment you made in me. 

Forever yours, Mark".

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Whit Dickey - Morph (ESP-Disk’ Records, 2020) ****½

By Olle Lawson

Whit Dickey – Drums
Matthew Shipp – Piano
Nate Wooley – Trumpet.

Masterful free-drummer Whit Dickey appears to in the middle of a purple patch.

It’s not like he’s been short of work over the last few years (check out his tenure with Ivo Perelman, alone, for visceral evidence of that) but since 2016’s tremendous Vessel In Orbit project it appears a switch has been thrown.

His trio with Rob Brown and Brandon Lopez (on Dickey’s new label Tao Forms) dropped just weeks ago and this release on ESP-Disk’ – released with minimal fanfare – is the second double album within a year.

Working here, first in duo then trio, we have the opportunity to really hear the distillation of an evolving art form reaching a heightened level of self-awareness. There have been rumours of repeated returns to the studio to achieve this, but it is clear that this was in no way due to lackluster performance or lack of focus – but in hearing a deeply personal, spiritual inner-sound and attaining its manifestation to be captured on record.

Dickey and Matt Shipp have a near 30 year history between them, going right back to the David S. Ware Quartet and to my knowledge this is the first time we get to hear them at length, on record as a duo. There is a formal perfection here. Before one even presses play, we know the level of experience brought to this stripped-back project. What I hadn’t anticipated was the depth of subtlety and vast openness created here. From elliptical semi-song form to free abstractions that sound as though they are painted in mist, this is an album that requires meditative listening to be really heard.

Blue Threads opens events with deceptive accessibility and surprises with its quiet joyful dance, full of revolving circular movement; a pastoral dance of sorts.

Reckoning takes us into moodier, sparser territory, plucked piano innards creating chambers of space filled with suspended notes as Dickey propels the sound with bass drum and intricate ride cymbal.

Dice which carries the same name as a Right Hemisphere tune – and may in fact be a distant cousin – has Shipp playing high-end spider steps on the keys, as Dickey rolls an oblique swing.

Thick is the first disc’s heaviest piece, with Shipp appearing to lead the charge of huge weighty chords, really drawing out the intensity of this concentrated set up. At one point we even get to hear piano and drums hit in time, actually hammering together on the beat.

The heart of the album goes to Helix, the longest piece. Opening into a melody of mournful simplicity, Whit shuffles and props amongst the plaintive piano before subtly shifting the underlying mosaic – the tonal placement and intermeshing here is extraordinary. Even at its most stripped back and concise, this masterly duo demonstrates how this music permeates and fills every part – in every direction – of one’s consciousness and intellect, simultaneously. Not out of synch, but out of time: where is that time-space? Because it is a place – that we are transported to. This is Freemusic at its most subtle and refined.

The wonderfully titled Steps winds up with a piano bass-line of a kind. A collection of ascending notes build and subside, differing in form and intensity before revealing a deserted beach of stacked-stone towers.

The title-track Morph feature’s Dickey’s signature floating high-hat, displacing time – suspending movement, holding it in an idiosyncratic holding space – that draws in, stealthily evolving, whilst transporting the listener.

Closing this first disc is Firmament, a slow build replete with type writer rhythm and a dark, bluesy low end piano.

On the second disk the duo becomes trio as they are augmented by Pacific Northwest-born trumpeter Nate Wooley, which utterly changes the dynamic. Morph’s second chapter is capped by a connected suite: Noir (1-4). Alternately tempestuous, turbulent, sparsely atmospheric, urban and yes, noirish.

Wooley has an impressive array of extended technique: spitting split tones, vocalisations, scratched alien noises and drone that colour and shade every piece here in unexpected directions; Take The Wild Train is particularly nodal and expressive. At other moments the trio shift into more narrative led sounds and things grow hugely filmic in their evocation of space and event (To Planet Earth).

For me the key piece here is Space Trance. Extremes of light/dark, peace and intensity, all conducted – stoked and tempered – from the drums, providing the perfect example of Whit Dickey’s art, circa 2020.

Morph is a significant statement, with two albums worth of diverse material to delve into, ranging from diaphanous detailed sound spaces to darkly epic monuments, providing hours of listening. Intrigued to know where he’ll explore next.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Susana Santos Silva

By Lee Rice Epstein

Susana Santos Silva Impermanence - The Ocean Inside a Stone (Carimbo Porta-Jazz , 2020) *****

Susana Santos Silva - The Same Is Always Different (Self, 2020) *****

Of the many releases either teased or promised for 2020, very high on my list was Susana Santos Silva’s second album with her quintet Impermanence, featuring saxophonist João Pedro Brandão, pianist Hugo Raro, bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg, and drummer Marcos Cavaleiro. A glance at the lineup in the credits gives you a sense of some of the changes contained herein. The first album included trumpet, flugelhorn, alto sax, flute, piano double bass, and drums. On the new album, Santos Silva has added tin whistle and voice, Brandão adds piccolo and choir, Raro synthesizer and choir, and Zetterberg switches to electric bass and adds Moroccon qraqebs. In a manner of speaking, Impermanence has evolved its sound both vertically and horizontally. In a more straightforward reference to itself, the quintet has embraced its name and moved on. Where they’ve gone to, however, is quite a bit trickier to put into words. Santos Silva’s syntax is as varied and robust as any trumpeter on the scene.

The Ocean Inside a Stone wastes no time in going out there. “Expanded Life” opens the album with a dense Tortoise-y, post-rock feel, as Santos Silva and Brandão play the song’s angular melody, with octave-spiking long notes blown in precision parallel. On the follow-up, “Wanderhopes,” Santos Silva inverts this somewhat, with an echoing melody in the horns offset by a freely improvised rhythm section. Zetterberg’s electric bass may be most noticeable here, as its the likeliest song to have featured some of his fine arco. And yet, that’s barely missed, as he brings, I believe, qraqeb to the middle section, engaging in a dynamic conversation with Cavaleiro. The combined interlude “The Past Is Yet To Come” and Art Ensemble-like “The Drums Are Chanting, Or Is It the Trees? “ turn the album on its head, like Henry Threadgill sometimes does; it’s not too far off the last-minute left turn of “A Man Called Trinity Deliverance” from Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket. Although, there’s still one more track left on the album, “The Healer,” which strikes an appropriate hopeful chord in its voicing.

Meanwhile, just as the album was gaining traction, countries entered quarantine in response to the novel coronavirus. Santos Silva seemed to be quietly taking it in stride for a while, before a dramatic appearance online, as part of Experimental Sound Studio’s quarantine concerts.

Shortly after, she posted hints on Instagram that something new was coming soon, and The Same Is Always Different arrived on her Bandcamp account just a couple weeks later. (Interestingly, just like when I purchased The Ocean Inside a Stone, the full album arrived by email, and the Bandcamp download was only a partial album. I have some thoughts about why this might be, although I have not yet connected with her to follow up, so I’ll restrain from getting into them further. Suffice to say, I’ve had several conversations with musicians about some of the inherent structural weaknesses in Bandcamp.) And what, exactly, had arrived at that point? A radical alter-ego of her solo debut, All the Rivers, The Same Is Always Different reflects that first album from the vantage point of two very long years, and a global pandemic that’s barely let up. Where “All the Rivers” opened with majestic, echoy long tones, “The” is 20 minutes of extended brass drone, minutely shifting in subtle gradations, but meeting the listener with an almost confrontational tone, not unlike Roscoe Mitchell’s first solo version of “Nonaah,” from Willisau. But separating “The” from “Nonaah” is what feels like the intense strain of being alone. On the remaining tracks, “Same,” “Is,” “Always,” and “Different,” Santos Silva navigates pain, confusion, the infinite regression of isolation. What she produces, however, is an album full of wit and sustained reflection. Each track begins with an idea, which could easily fade or blossom into something new. But Santos Silva travels the path less taken, diving deeper into the explored sound, prodding it, manipulating it, like challenging herself with the question of, “What if this is all that remains?” The titles, derived of course from the album title, hint at a hopefulness that threads itself so delicately through the whole, it’s really only grasped with repeated listening, with the kind of immersive submission one rarely grants oneself. As the minutes stretch and bend, and time distorts with astonishing fluidity, she stitches together a narrative that reconstructs this moment for future audiences. It’s less of a snapshot, more of a wish. For, while I am merely a listener, used to hearing an album on my own terms, fairly commonly by myself, there is a lack in the life of a performing artist, a yawning gap where fellow musicians and audience members typically reside. What her isolation has loosed is a funneling of emotion into some of her most experimental, electro-acoustic work. I’m already jealous of anyone who gets to see her perform again, when the rest of the world figures out how to right itself and re-emerge properly.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Two From Emilio Gordoa & Michael Thieke

By Keith Prosk

Mexican-born, Berlin-based percussionist Emilio Gordoa, who readers might remember from The Balderin Sali Variations , kickstarted his label WildSonico this year. As of now, it’s a vessel to document his work with other musicians in and adjacent to the echtzeitmusik scene. It’s currently a digital-only label, though physical releases for some recordings seems likely in the future, based on comments from Gordoa. I review his two available recordings with clarinetist Michael Thieke but, at the time of this writing, he’s also released the promising Dislokal Harmonie with saxophonists Michel Doneda and Philippe Lemoine.

Michael Thieke & Emilio Gordoa - Warteland (WildSonico, 2020) ****

Warteland shares its title with the visual art installation of Lena Czerniawska, who provides the cover art for all three of WildSonico’s recordings (as well as The Balderin Sali Variations). The installation explicitly deals with the state and concept of waiting, including “the conducive feelings of confusion, repetition, reflection, focus, and introspection” that might occur while waiting. Gordoa and Thieke join Czerniawska for one evening of the installation in 2019 to record the music here, a 47-minute set divided into three tracks - labeled “start,” “middle,” and “end” - despite being sonically continuous.

As expected from this group of Berlin musicians, the music is a quiet, timbrally-rich soundscape created almost exclusively through extended techniques, with communication occurring less through rhythm, response, or counterpoint and more through volume, density, and pulse. The breathy beatings of a resonant clarinet might be met with an electronic oscillator, or an embouchure like a fluttering flame on a wood wick with a rolling and bouncing ball on the drumhead, or a howling wind with snare static, or percussive key clicks with drum and object accents. While similar sets flit around their sonic collage, this one does so at a quicker pace than usual, leading me to believe I’m hearing the music adapt to and communicate with the visual art occurring. A kind of dry-lipped, crackling smooching begins to sound like stippling, a harried tremolo like cross-hatching, a burst of bowed cymbal like drawing a bold curve, and stray snare hits and clarinet chirps like action painting. But maybe I’m only imposing this visualization on the music because I know visual art is present.

The audio-visual connection only gets stronger towards the end though, as Thieke drapes a nursery melody and train’s choo choo over Gordoa’s recording of pipe organ, creating a cinema-worthy cathartic moment by giving the listener something so familiar after so much unfamiliar. This fades to a field recording of birdsong, probably from a park, where you can also hear crunching leaves, car horns, and maybe the sound of running water, bringing to mind images of the riverlands that the title references. The tape warps away, and the clarinet ends with a sigh.

The audio of Warteland certainly creates a strong visual footprint; I can only imagine the visual art also creates an aural one. Maybe the imagination required to pull pictures from sound or sound from pictures is one of the very fruits of waiting that Czerniawska is getting at.

Wartleland is a digital-only release.

Dörner | Thieke | Vorfeld | Gordoa - Planos (WildSonico, 2020) ***½

Planos adds trumpeter Axel Dörner and percussionist Michael Vorfeld to the previous duo. This 2016 recording is the first release for the quartet, though Thieke has recorded with Dörner in Splitter Orchester and Vorfeld on Nashaz with Andrea Neumann and Sherif Sehnaoui. It’s one such WildSonico release that’s likely to get a physical copy in the future; the digital release is eight tracks across an hour, but the last two tracks are titled as bonus tracks, only visible when downloaded or in the bandcamp app after purchase, and removing them brings the runtime to a neat LP length of 44 minutes.

The music here is sonically not unlike Warteland but can be viewed as a double duo, with Dörner and Thieke’s approaches to their instruments often stripping away the usual delineations between horn and reed to simply become two breath-based players. However, Gordoa occasionally distinguishes himself from Vorfeld by incorporating some vibraphone. And perhaps there’s not the explicit audio-visual aspects of Warteland here, but there’s so many moments of striking clarity and cohesion that if they were repetitious they would surely rival the widespread acclaim of new film score laureates like Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow, Hans Zimmer, or Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Some such cinematic moments might come from the trumpet’s fever pitch wail undulating like a siren, with a squall of scalular air notes and Doppler effects from swinging the clarinet, and austere bass drum and gong, and vibraphone ringing like an alarm clock, all combining to create high-tension drama. Or staccato bowed metal with clarinet chirping, trumpet radio static, and percussion like inside-piano inducing suspense. Or each musician approaching resonance so that their individual waves come one after the other like swash on the beach. The first bonus track is at least as interesting as the rest, with purrs, spit play, jungle animal sounds, raspberries, and muted clarinet like sōzu that otherwise don’t appear in the record, and at one point it seems as if two instruments begin to resonate with each other before they’re interrupted by the other two.

I feel that Thieke gives a little too much space and volume to the other three musicians, but this is nitpicking. For fans of this kind of music, this is a recommended set showcasing a mastery of musical color.

Planos is a digital-only release.