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Friday, July 31, 2020

Muhal Richard Abrams – Celestial Birds (Karl Records, 2020) ***½

By Troy Dostert

One of the great innovators in avant-garde jazz and an essential figure in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Muhal Richard Abrams established a formidable legacy during his almost five-decade recording career. A fearless, trailblazing pianist and composer who drew upon the full scope of African-American music yet ultimately pointed toward still-unexplored territory, Abrams’s influence can’t be overstated, and hence it’s inevitable that archival releases begin to consider specific facets of his oeuvre. In this instance, Karl Records has assembled four of Abrams’s pieces from across several landmark recordings, with the intent of focusing on his “widely unknown electronic compositions.”

Whether these pieces are “unknown,” at least to readers of this blog, is debatable, since all four have been previously issued, on albums most fans of Abrams will already be familiar with. But that’s not the only ambiguity here. The bigger question concerns the criteria for “electronic” music, and whether “Bird Song,” the first and most substantial cut on the album at over 22 minutes, qualifies. Taken from Abrams’ first record, Levels and Degrees of Light (Delmark, 1968), the music includes some of the pillars of the free jazz community in the late sixties, such as Anthony Braxton, Thurman Barker, (Kalaparusha) Maurice McIntyre, and Leroy Jenkins—and it’s quite a feat of music-making, with an intricate compositional logic that still accommodates a maelstrom of collective improvisation during the second segment of the piece, after a lengthy spoken-word section featuring David Moore. But where are the electronics? Unless the numerous bird sounds during the second half of the track count (and there’s no indication in the liner notes or credits that these were electronically produced), this is a head-scratcher. The liners do emphasize the presence of substantial reverb on this version that was for whatever reason removed from the Delmark CD reissue in 1991—and there is a lot of reverb here— but even though many listeners may not have heard this version, it’s hardly a pathbreaking use of electronics, especially compared with some of Abrams’s other efforts (see below). Moreover, from a listener’s point of view there is the additional question of whether this version actually suffers by comparison to the other one, especially as the reverb exacerbates the noisy, somewhat cluttered mix that is one of the record’s shortcomings. In any event, in terms of electronic innovation, the other three cuts arguably have a lot more to offer.

“Conversations with the Three of Me” is a solo piece taken from a much later album, The Hearinga Suite (Black Saint, 1989). It highlights the more reflective side of Abrams’s playing, at least at first, delving into his distinctive chromaticism with a series of patiently-developed chords before abruptly turning to the synthesizer, after which the piece becomes significantly stranger, almost wholly disconnected from what’s come before. Multiple voicings and effects are used, creating an unusual mix of sounds possibly requiring overdubbing. It’s a startling piece, particularly with the juxtaposition between the piano and synthesizers, and offers a glimpse of Abrams’s eagerness to unsettle his listeners, but the music does have a transfixing quality. Then we have “Think All, Focus One,” the title track of Abrams’s Black Saint album from 1994, and it’s another solo piece with a cornucopia of electronics, including something akin to an electronic harpsichord and even a drum machine. Anyone wondering where Abrams found the creative wherewithal to orchestrate some of his most memorable big-band charts should look no further, as the breadth of his vision is absolutely evident in a piece lasting just five and a half minutes.

The album concludes with “Spihumonesty,” perhaps the most fully realized use of synthesizers on the record, and the title track from Abrams’s 1980 album on Black Saint. This piece sees Abrams alongside George Lewis (also on synthesizer) and Yousef Yancey on theremin. Listeners familiar with Lewis’s (and Richard Teitelbaum’s) electronics on the iconic Homage to Charles Parker (Black Saint, 1979) will hear echoes of that here, but really the track is quite remarkable in fusing the playing of all three musicians, creating a hypnotic piece of music that is more than the sum of its parts, a devilishly clever use of synthesized sound in a cohesive, atmospheric musical statement, with enveloping waves and tones that possess an almost mystical power. It does leave one wondering about what Abrams might have been able to do with a sustained opportunity to develop his interests in synthesized music, instead of sprinkling his more experimental efforts piecemeal throughout other projects. Quibbles aside, Karl Records has gone in the right direction in opening up that question.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Jo David Meyer Lysne & Mats Eilertsen - Kroksjø (Hubro, 2020) ***½

By Kian Banihashemi 

Jo David Meyer Lysne and Mats Eilertsen are two Norwegian musicians who have come together once more, on the Hubro music label (also originating from Norway). This encounter seems to place focus on the textural environment and less so on the improvisation techniques of Lysne (on acoustic guitar) and Eilertsen (on bass). The title Kroksjø is the Norwegian word for an oxbow lake, in which a "U" shaped lake is formed after being cut off from a river. Lysne has stated that these geological formations helped inspire this endeavor and that he views them as a symbol of the artistic effort, being impermanent and forever changing. Hypnotic motifs are lost and found on this record, and with the help of a turntable, the comfort of physical home audio is brought forward. Sounds from the natural world and folk musings seep through to the heart of this record, providing points of focus that solidify the artists' intentions. The first three tracks appear fragile, adding a glimpse of a wild landscape that is only truly masterfully harnessed by the artists later.

The icy strings are brought alive by the crackle of the turntable and droplets of water turn into wooden rhythms as if it is intended by nature's will. The sustained flourishes on the guitar are a welcome blaze of warmth on "Forve" and tease what instrumental themes are to come. The record takes a turn on the fourth track, "Byakjela" which begins with that signature sound of a record run-off, which has finished its side. This recurring blip plays into the acoustic guitar which enters shortly thereafter. This is followed by "Snoensøya" which serves as a fairly simple guitar interlude, leading up to the more impressive "Ålykkja". The synthesizers here seem to whirl around the listener in a very fluid fashion, with strings popping up to guarantee that the sounds don’t drown. The bleeps and bloops are reminiscent of Morton Subotnick’s work and serve to contrast with the bass playing that shakes beneath the surface, sending ripples in every direction. This is one of the more impressive tracks I've heard from these two artists thus far and demonstrates the heights they can reach through their meshing of instrumentation and feel for the environment they create.

The last two pieces help serve as a total bookend to this aural landscape, mostly through the utilization of the techniques used prior, but done in a more condensed and easily digestible fashion. On "Finna", the bass and guitar improvisations are played in such a cooperative and warm fashion that I wish there was more of this style throughout the album. The beginning vinyl crackle and repetition of the piano at the end satisfies the itch for some alluring, recently discovered atmosphere. The closing track "Furumokjela", sees the return of those liquid and wooden drops that render such a gratifying rhythm alongside the squeaking synths and melodic guitar plucking. These drops increase in pitch and frequency, contrasting with the sustained echo of the guitar, culminating in an ending which had me begging for more. This finale is somewhat short, and I wish more time was given to explore the soundscapes introduced throughout this album.

This is an album to get lost in, with a short enough length that allows more intense listening each time. The distinct focus on sound quality and textures supplies a sense of contentment that is very gratifying to the listener. Lysne and Eilertsen bring the sounds of an ever-changing world into our dwellings, with the use of crackling records and intimate instrumentation. In a very claustrophobic and nervous time, this album can serve as a momentary, fresh escape into the natural sounds of summer.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Ornette lives ...



By Stef Gijssels

It's been five years now since Ornette Coleman passed away, yet his musical legacy is still very much alive. In the last months several albums were released that perform his music or pay tribute to him.

The albums in question may receive a more indepth review later on, but I just wanted to point out how his compositions are still an inspiration today, from tribute bands like Broken Shadows, over some creative renditions of Coleman compositions, and ending with some albums that dedicate music to him.

In the early 60s Ornette Coleman's unique take on music was rejected by the music establishment, as it possibly should be with boundary-breaking art, then he was embraced near the end of his life by that same establishment. The most important thing is that his music is still alive today, vibrant, inspiring free jazz musicians, mainstream musicians and avant-garde ensembles.

We receive a lot of music, but all these album are from the last month or so. It struck me how present Ornette Coleman still was on so many albums. Ornette Coleman's music is very much alive.

Broken Shadows - Live (Screwgun, 2020)


The first album to be reviewed is the quartet of Chris Speed on tenor, Tim Berne on alto, Dave King on drums, and Reid Anderson on bass. They are an Ornette Coleman tribute band and the only tracks on this album are composed by Coleman, well not all, you also get nice renditions of Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." and "Body". The most known Coleman compositions are surely "Song For Che", and "Broken Shadows", two classics from the Coleman songbook.





Rudresh Mahanthappa - Hero Trio (Whirlwind, 2020) 

On "Hero Trio", altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa pays tribute to some of his heroes, with François Moutin on bass and Rudy Royston on drums.

The Coleman composition performed here is "Sadness" (Town Hall, 1962), originally also performed as a trio by Coleman, Charles Moffett and David Izenzon.




The Good Life - The Animals Took Over (Self, 2020)

"The Good Life" is an all-star band, with John Dieterich and Nels Cline on guitar, Ben Goldberg on clarinet, Trevor Dunn on electric bass and Scott Amendola on drums. The band's name refers to the Coleman song on "Skies of America" (Columbia, 1972), which gets a performance that lasts ten minutes longer than the short original. Also "Congeniality" - from "The Shape of Jazz To Come" (Atlantic, 1959) - gets a lengthy take. This is a guitarist-led band that also performs own material and one Giuffre piece. It is all very raw and energetic as you can expect from an occasional band performing live.



Roots Magic - Take Root Among The Stars (Clean Feed, 2020) 

Roots Magic is an Italian band with Alberto Popolla on clarinets, Enrico De Fabritiis on alto and baritone sax, Gianfranco Tedeschi on Double Bass and Frabrizio Spera on drums. The perform "A Girl Named Rainbow", possibly lesser known because it was first released by Jocque & Le Scott on "The Ornette Coleman Songbook" in 1978. It's a respectful and warm piece that fits well within the overall tone of the rest of the album.





Patty Waters - An Evening In Houston (Clean Feed, 2020)

This album was already reviewed by Cam Scott in May of this year, so I won't go into much more detail. She sings her version of "Lonely Woman". There are many vocal covers of this composition, making this almost a mainstream standard. Waters goes beyond expectations, but vocal jazz is beyond my taste levels, so the reader better sticks to Cam Scott's appreciation.





Raphaël Pannier - Faune  (French Paradox, 2020)

French drummer Raphaël Pannier brings a tribute to Ornette Coleman on his debut album "Faune", by performing "Lonely Woman" with Miguel Zenón on alto, Aaron Goldberg on piano, François Moutin (again) on bass. The musicianship is very strong but the musical vision is unfortunately relatively bland and mainstream. You would have expected more creativity from a young musician with the skills of Pannier.




Jorge Roeder - El Suelo Mio (Self, 2020)

Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder brings his version of "Lonely Woman" on his latest solo album - about which more in the future. The track is not long, but his take is quite good, with arco playing both the tune's melody and the background chords too, with an improvisation that well captures the inherent drama of the composition.







The last four albums in this series do not perform Coleman compositions but are/contain tributes to him.


Chris Pitsiokos - Speak In Tongues (Relative Pitch, 2020)

On his first live solo saxophone album, Chris Pitsiokos pays tributes to his musical inspirations and heroes: Charlie Parker, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Eric Dolphy, John Zorn and of course Ornette Coleman. The track "To Ornette Coleman" is a long monotonous and fierce lament with little variation, lots of energy and power.









Stefan Karl Schmid - Pyjama (Tangible Music, 2020)
German saxophonist Stefan Karl Schmid pays tribute to "Ornette" by improvising on an arrangement that holds the middle between medieval polyphonic sounds and jazz. The other musicians on this track are all horns, with Shannon Barnett on trombone, Heidi Bayer and Bastian Stein on trumpet, and Mattis Cederberg on bass trombone and cimbasso. The piece is subdued, reverent and has its own beautiful aesthetic.







Zeitkratzer and Mariam Wallentin ‎– The Shape Of Jazz To Come (Zeitkratzer, 2020)

The German avant ensemble Zeitkratzer "plays jazz" on this album, using one of Coleman's seminal early albums for its title.

The choice of their jazz material is more traditional, with tracks such as "My Funny Valentine", "Cry Me A River" and "Jelly Roll Blues", but at least they turn these compositions into something new, unexpected and fun. The vocals are by special guest Mariam Wallentin.

Zeitkratzer is directed by Reinhold Friedl
Frank Gratkowski alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Hayden Chisholm alto saxophone, clarinet
Hild Sofie Tafjord french horn
Hilary Jeffery trombone
Reinhold Friedl piano, celesta
Maurice de Martin drums, percussion 
Lisa Marie Landgraf violin
Ulrich Phillipp double bass
Martin Heinze double bass


Thomas Hass & Thomas Agergaard - Double Drums, Vol. 1 (Gateway, 2020)

Danish saxophonists Thomas Hass and Thomas Agergaard bring their own tribute on the track "Night Drive With Ornette", a nervous and boppy harmolodic composition performed with skill.









In sum, it's amazing how Ornette Coleman's music is still a strong influence on today's jazz scene, and this in all stylistic subgenres. Somehow it beats me that mainstream jazz musicians incorporate tributes to Ornette Coleman without really understanding his true legacy of getting out of the mainstream into musically uncharted territories. True, his compositions have strong themes and are possibly easier to recognise and cover than Ayler, Coltrane or Taylor. Regardless, I think it's great that  Coleman still has this presence.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Peter Brötzmann & Paul G. Smyth - Tongue In a Bell (Weekertoft, 2020) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

From the jump, Paul G. Smyth’s newest duo album, this time featuring Peter Brötzmann, is a rumbling, growling affair. Opening with Brötzmann in a haunted cousin of a middle register, Smyth’s early playing is equally haunted. “Tongue In a Bell” progress as a moving meditation, a deeply emotional pairing of the great saxophonist with one his rarer partners, a piano. It’s something easily forgotten, considering how vital Fred Van Hove is to Brötzmann’s catalog, but he seems to prefer guitars as an improvising partner. With Smyth, of course, the pairing results in a curious treasure, by which I mean a recording that wears its players’ curiosity on its sleeve. On “Falling Out of All the Towers of Space,” Brötzmann switches to tarogato, as he and Smyth head into a new soundscape. There are no assumptions presented here. Both players seem to be alternately asking and discovering, in equal measure. In that way, Tongue In a Bell is another in an increasingly long line of late-career Brötzmann albums that show him daringly vulnerable, as in his duo with Heather Leigh and his recent solo album.

Occasionally, albums get referred to as slabs, thick and heavy. This slab, however, remains a bright and energizing object. If its edges appear ragged, that’s entirely by design: look closer, each is honed to a razor-sharp point. It’s a testament to both the performance and the production. A live album, Tongue In a Bell is, like others in the Weekertoft catalog, expertly produced. The depth and clarity of the recording is exceptional, something Weekertoft continues to excel at.

Available through Bandcamp.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Polwechsel & Klaus Lang - Unseen (HatHut ezz-thetics, 2019) *****

By Eyal Hareuveni

The current incarnation of the experimental Austrian-German quartet Polwechsel featuring founders cellist Michael Moser and double bass player Werner Dafeldecker, and the two percussionists who joined the quartet later on, Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr. The group teams up with Austrian contemporary music composer, concert organist, and improviser Klaus Lang (who recorded before with Dafeldecker, Lichtgeschwindigkeit, GROB, 2003) for Unseen, recorded at the Grosskirche of St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Austria, in November 2018.

Unseen plays with the old - the acoustic, resonant space of the centuries-old church with its built-in organ and its vast range of both frequency and tonal colors and the vintage, analog synthesizer sounds, played by Lang, together with the so-called classical instruments, and the new - sonic ambiguity, strange hybrids, illusory associations, and instruments that are rendered unfamiliar by the smoke and mirrors of ‘acoustic’ mixing, masking, and reverberation. Unseen is tuned into the boundless power of the acousmatic, the idea that when we can’t see the source of what we hear, the listening individual - or the musician - is given an opportunity, freedom even, to interpret that sound in any manner that they can possibly imagine. Polwechsel and Lang irreverent approach to genres, sounds, silence, and extended techniques, all blur the distinction between composition and real-time improvising, and realizing of the score and between free-improv and contemporary music.

The first composition, Lang’s “Easter Wings”, makes full use of the acoustic space qualities in order to create an elusive, illusory conception and to suggest an atmosphere of abrupt noises, sonic clusters, and natural harmonics. The church organ of Lang fills the resonating space and affects the instruments of Polwechsel, modifying their acoustic sounds to the point of being unrecognizable. All sounds seem to be lost in the resonating, low tones mechanical forest that the organ, or shaped by its low register, including the fascinating rustle of the metallic cymbals. But out of this ethereal, reductionist forest of sounds surfaces a delicate and enigmatic melodic vein then the bowed cello and the double bass and the percussion instruments sound more clearly.

Moser’s “No sai cora-m fui endormitz” (“I don’t know when I’m asleep” from a poem by the troubadour Guilhem de Poiteu) puts again the church organ and the acoustic space in the position of conspiring with the other instruments to produce a sound that is more than the sum of its parts. This kind of hybrid instrumentation plays in highly disciplined, rhythmic unison that slowly mutates, and rearranges its constituent parts into various combinations and layers of overlapping sonorities, and patiently builds a tension of sustained, resonating sounds.

Dafeldecker’s “Redeem” concludes this unique collaboration. This piece offers another elusive atmosphere as the low, saturated tones of the organ and the double bass are disturbed by ripples of mysterious noises but are determined to reach a desperate kind of musical stasis. Later on, the organ re-enters with brighter, lighter chords, together with bowed metal instruments, and this composition is concluded with layers of sustained, inventive organ and noisy percussive sounds, all seem to be liberated from the concrete realities of instrumentation by this distinct acousmatic context.

You may need few, intense listening to Unseen, but then there is no way back. You probably would acquire new sensitivities and perspectives about sound over all, acoustic vs. electronic, layers of sound, sound, and space, and most importantly, the ambiguous qualities of sound.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

85bears - s/t (Eyes and Ears Records, 2020) ****



By Paul Acquaro

A number of relatedly unrelated things come to mind each time that I listen to 85bears. First there is  how the winding lines of the windy instruments in the foreground bop and weave around each other with melodically free abandon, kind of like the early recordings of Ornette Coleman. Then of course, Chicago. Allusions to the Chicago Bears football team lineup from 1985 are scattered throughout the work, from the name of the group, to the titles of the songs, and Chicago is where saxophonist Greg Ward, bass clarinetist Jason Stein, bassist Matthew Lux, and dummer Marcus Evans are based (the only odd-man-out here is Philadelphia based drummer Chad Taylor, who adds overdubbing on three tracks). The final thing is the theme from BoJack Horseman, the acerbic cartoon series from Netflix.

The BoJack reference is the weakest one, but it comes to mind every time that I listen to the opening tracks of the album. 'Lament for Sweetness' begins with a gloopy electronics introduction with an improvised sax line that seems to recall 'Chattanooga Choo-choo'. This (imagined) one minute long mash-up grabs me each time. The following track 'Samurai Singletary', which is double the time at the opener, eschews the electronics for a slippery backbeat (so slippery it's sometimes in front), and a sympathetic rivalry between the two woodwinds. 

About those horns: Stein and Ward have both, over the course the past decade or so, released a bunch of progressively free as well as carefully composed recordings. Stein's Hearts and Minds and Locksmith Isodore groups are consistently engaging and enjoyable. Heart's and Minds debut (Astral Spirits, 2016) recalled Sun-Ra, while Electroradiance (Astral Spirits, 2018) took the listener down an early fusion path. Ward's Touch My Beloved's Thought (Greenleaf Music, 2016) was an ambitious and successful large-scale work based on Charles Mingus' music. The two have also worked together in other combinations, such as 2019's evocative Nature Work (Sunnyside Records), which all simply means this is music supported by deep mutual understanding.

Back to the album at hand. The following track, clocking in at 7-minutes, is 'Willie', which showcases each player in some manner. The opening takes a moment to pick up as Stein offers from breathy tones, and Ward shadows him. Evans and Lux provide some textural fills and support as the two woodwinds seem to be gently prodding each other. About two and half minutes in, Lux and Evan seem to agree on a reserved groove, and Stein and Ward begin layering on individual, complimentary ideas. 'Gault', which features Taylor's additional drumming, represents the more aggressive side of the group, at least rhythmically. While most of the songs are built on unusual grooves, or elements thereof, this track thrives on a solid pulse, but ends too soon. On the other side, 'The Butler' may be the free-est track, deeply exploratory with only a gentle cohesive development, but which leaves a lingering desire for more.

This tape/digital release is available through Bandcamp, which means there isn't much standing between you and your Paypal account to stop you from enjoying this excellent album.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Polyorchard - ink (Out & Gone Music, 2020) *****


A while back, I casually mentioned on Twitter that I was writing a 4 ½-star review of North Carolina bassist David Menestres’s newest Polyorchard release, a double-album of duets with trombonist Jeb Bishop, recorded live over three days in April 2019, in Bloomington, Nashville, and Columbus, Ohio. As you can see above, in the intervening time, I’ve re-scored this release, and it’s become one of my must-own recommendations for the year. To try and answer why, and to seek something of a design in my own experience with the album, it’s important to remember where we’re at in the history of now. At some point, years in the future, listening to this album will inspire reminisces, remembering its release predated the pandemic, but its audience was subsumed by it.

Now, then. First, how did I arrive at “must-own”? There are a few trombone and bass duo albums that I pulled out while writing this: Tristan Honsinger and Günter Christmann’s Earmeals, Paul Rogers and Paul Rutherford’s Rogues, and I also dipped into Maarten Altena’s discography to revisit his and Wolter Wierbos’s interactions, and played loads of Steve Swell albums, plus a few random curveballs. Easily, without hesitation, ink stands alongside the best of these, in the sense that it demonstrates the breadth of interaction between two talented musicians, each performer pushing themselves and their instruments to occasional extremes. Ink draws its inspiration from free improvisation, visual art, poetry, outsider art, and threads tenuous connections that continuously strengthen and rewrite themselves upon further listening. The performances play with the audience’s desire for more traditional improvisatory drama. Starting with “early blooming parentheses,” Bishop’s physicality is an invitation to deep listening (Emily Leon likewise notes his breath as “a third player” on the album). We, collectively, talk sometimes about music that transports a listener to faraway spaces. There is a similar effect listening to ink, although where one is transported to may be different for each listener. By the time I got to “written in water” and “the caesura between”—roughly the midpoint of the album—while listening on noise-canceling headphones, with Menestres’s bowing ringing deep, resonant echoes within, I found myself in a space of suspended reflection. The final two tracks, “a civil tongue in your mouth” and “genesis of the blue cell” are tremendous performances, 30 minutes worth the entire price of admission. Starting with Menestres’s strident bass, Bishop enters with a muted solo response, and the give-and-take gives way to a funky, swinglike duet. As the first morphs into the second, and final, song, the players temporarily displace themselves, sounds scattering to open the way for a lengthy solo from each player. “genesis of the blue cell” brilliantly showcases the duo’s use of silence. I was reminded of the great Joseph Jarman and Famadou Don Moye duo album Egwu-Anwu, one of the finest duo albums that likewise showcases silence as something of a shared instrument. In the current era of distancing, hearing two musicians connect so deeply and meaningfully evokes the transcendent power of human interactions. More than remembering or commemorating these moments—or, more often, gamely trying to recreate them in virtual space—there is great value in experiencing them, as ink magnificently allows.

Album is available for through Bandcamp:


Alternately, support a small business and order direct from SquidCo.


Friday, July 24, 2020

Nate Wooley - Three Studies for Future Uncertainties (Tisser Tissu, 2020) ****½

By Keith Prosk

Nate Wooley (trumpet, electronics, text) presents three sketches - two 18-minute solos and one piece of prose - that he might expand on at a later date on Three Studies for Future Uncertainties. This is the first release of the Tisser Tissu label, an imprint of Wooley’s Pleasure of the Text label, which intends to accompany each release with contextual information and media. For example, the two tracks here have accompanying explanations but also visual art to enrich listeners’ understanding of the works. To explain the context of the label, Wooley provides a brief etymological lesson on the name, explaining that these Old French words for weaving and fabric derive from the Latin that gives us the English word for text. And he goes on to explain the perspective of literature as a weaving of many threads, to be unraveled and rewoven by the reader into a tapestry of their own understanding, and unraveled and rewoven again with each revisit as the reader collects new experiences that change their interpretations. Presumably context provides an understanding closer to the creator’s intent (whether they’re an unreliable narrator or not), but the explicit purpose here is simply to provide more material to chew on, with the hope that it provides a more engaging, dynamic experience. Three Studies for Future Uncertainties certainly provides that.

The context for “Study for a Mass” includes: the music of Harry Partch, Chris Brown, James Tenney, and Catherine Lamb; David B. Doty’s three-dimensional lattices for just intonation in Just Intonation Primer; a “creative misunderstanding of Kant’s idea of form and content;” the grid drawings of Agnes Martin; the parts of a mass service, inspired by Wooley’s perceived quietism in Martin’s works; and the embroidered graphic scores of Jen Mesch’s Soft Red, Hard White, details of which are included in the physical booklet and on the cover. The compositional process involves drawing grids inspired by Martin within lattices from Doty to explore harmonic shifts in just intonation. While the intention is to use this compositional process within the framework of a mass (Kyrie, etc.), the track here is a proof of concept and not a mass movement. The music is all electronic sine waves, multitracked to produce a grand polyrhythm of undulations, oscillations, purrs, hums, throbs, ringing, and singing. You can hear synthesis. And a portion of these frequencies seems to replicate the warm whirr of an organ, contributing to the spirituality invoked by the subject matter. Most of the music I’m familiar with that explores elements of drone and just intonation are glacial compared to other music, but this is quite lively, dynamic, and almost hyperactive. I’m enthusiastic about Wooley exploring this aspect of music and looking forward to the full mass but, while the pacing is probably more engaging than similar musics, I feel it would need to be adjusted in some way to reflect the gravity and gnostic quietism presumably intended.

“Intermediate Wobble Study” is an expansion of a commissioned piece with the prompt, “what is the sound of creation?” Wooley’s concept of creation is less big bang and more planetesimal accretion, with changes in mass causing a gravitational wobble before the system tries to approach equilibrium, only to accrete more and wobble again. The music is tape-manipulated snippets of acoustic extended technique from trumpet, with air notes, ‘dead’ notes, whistles, close-mic’d embouchures, and more cut to collide in sonic space, seemingly mimicking accretion. Every few minutes, Wooley cuts in sine waves to create a stacked melody that then dissipates, signifying the wobble. For fans of the clicks and cuts of glitch and similar musics, you’ll find this sounds very similar to Vladislav Delay’s “Anima” with the melody from Autechre’s “IV VV IV VV VIII.” Though the sound itself seems derivative of another kind of music, I’m excited to see Wooley exploring tape manipulation and post-production of acoustic extended technique, which I believe opens promising doors to an already genius musician.

“A Story Based on Robert Graves’ The White Goddess” is a very short prose piece inspired by Wooley’s solo series, Coyote, as well as the work in the title, which he read during the composition and/or performance process of the series. I’m not aware of a recording of Coyote, but the process he describes recalls his Syllables music, in which he translates textual or linguistic elements to embouchures for new sonic possibilities. And while I’ve not read The White Goddess, I’m vaguely aware of its almost structuralist approach to myth and criticisms concerning its characterization of women and Judaism as well as its historical veracity. This story is broadly about a man ecstatically describing a mythical image of a woman and the boon he receives from her out loud while the woman sitting next to him is more realistically describing this man and the absurdity about him in an inner dialogue. The man’s description is mostly symbology, often recalling classical goddesses, to create a single liminal persona embodying life and death. I get the sense that Wooley is romanticizing himself as a rough, handsome sailor through the woman’s description, but it’s comparatively real. My general interpretation is that the story is directly related to and siding with the criticisms concerning the characterization of women in classical symbology. The story’s brevity and the very direct inspiration from The White Goddess make it difficult to showcase or even discern Wooley’s style in the piece but, given his work with translating linguistics to embouchures, poetic inspiration to music, and editorial duties with Sound American, it makes sense he would take a stab at stories. The emphasis of composition, process, and symbology in his music is here, but the tonal and timbral vocabulary of his music doesn’t quite seem reflected in his diction.

Despite some nitpicking, I consider this an addictively listenable (and readable) release demonstrating the groundbreaking depth we’ve come to expect from solo Wooley releases with new breadth never before recorded by the musician. There’s a thoroughness of concept in these studies not often seen in fully-developed pieces. If any one of these sketches were presented in completion, they would surely each be “five stars.” For now, support these endeavours - each robust listens and reads even in these germinal stages - in the hopes that we do get the full mass, the advanced wobble, and the first full publication of Wooley’s fiction.

The sound of Three Studies for Future Uncertainties is a digital-only release; the text is available digitally and physically.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Wonderbach - Lumière, eau et minéraux (Coax Records, 2020) ****½

By Nick Ostrum

Spending so much time at home, I have found that music has been affecting me different lately. Maybe I have been listening more (check) or more attentively (check) or maybe I simply cannot engage in the live activities that previously activated those parts of my brain (check). Still, more releases have seemed not just good, but genuinely exciting to me. Lumière, eau et minéraux (Light, Water and Minerals) is among those.

Wonderbach is a group of French improvisors consisting of Marie Takahashi on violin, Olivia Scemama on contrabass, Yann Joussein on drums, and Manuel Adnot on guitar. This is almost a chamber quartet and, indeed, sounds like a chamber quartet despite the modified instrumentation. The group evokes movements, waves, and colors. It sounds neo-impressionistic, which I am equally sure is a musical term and one which usually applies to musical forms altogether different than this. But, between the shading, the blurring, the exaggeration, and the uncertainty, the term still seems appropriate.

For all of its activity and clattering, Lumière, eau et minéraux is calm, even with the consistent presence of percussion. Rather than driving the music or filling the air with loud bangs and crashes, Joussein’s drums fill out the music. After several listens, I cannot shake the image that the drums assume the role of a consistently heavy drizzle pressing through leaves, ricocheting off branches, and bursting upon overturned buckets, tree stumps, and other artifacts of varying timbre. Takahashi, Scemama and Adnot, then, break through the screen of rain with foggy, resonant shapes that, over the course of each track, articulate themselves in unanticipated curves, angles, and blurs. The listener is caught in a storm, but safe and sheltered. What happens outside might be glanced through a window but is still just a different expression of that storm, on the other side of security and comfort. Strange forms appear and disappear, but do not necessarily disconcert as they remain at a distance. (This might seem counterintuitive as the recording sounds close, but with that closeness also comes a wooden hollowness that implies a protective boundary.) Nevertheless, they remain curious. The haze might just be light refracted at the entanglement of condensation and downpour, or figures coming into perception because they break the textured monotony of the rainfall. Or, these bodies - never staid, but always in the process of coming into or out of focus - might simply be mental projections. But, somehow, one gets the sense they are somewhere out there, even if their distinct forms and matter remain nebulous.

Clearly, this album got me thinking. It is provocative in an unassertive way. Meditative, without the pretense and hodge-podge spiritualism of less well-conceived neo-transcendentalist projects. Or, maybe Lumière, eau et minéraux really is just beautifully and mellifluously discordant rain, out of which the listener can make what s/he may.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Nick Dunston - Atlantic Extraction: In Studio & Live At Threes (Out of Your Head Records, 2019/2020) ****½ & ****

Bassist Nick Dunston’s debut, Atlantic Extraction, was a glorious bolt from the blue, the kind of exceptionally performed album you can turn over in your mind repeatedly, reflecting on its many angles and perspectives. Now, from Out of Your Head’s new imprint Untamed, Dunston has released a live recording, Live At Threes, providing a new and equally enthralling lens to view his compositions. Now, if someone handed these off without telling me whose albums they were, I might guess Tyshawn Sorey, even though the compositional language and drumming are markedly different from Sorey’s own. It’s the polymathness of the book that shares DNA with Sorey’s vision. Dunston plays on Sorey’s brilliant Unfiltered and the two seem to have a likeminded approach to composition and improvisation, as well as a keen talent for weaving layered performances.

Recorded roughly one year apart (Atlantic Extraction was recorded in March 2019, Live At Threes in February 2020), both albums feature the same quintet, with Dunston on bass, Louna Dekker-Vargas on flute, alto flute, and piccolo, Ledah Finck on violin and viola, Tal Yahalom on guitar, and Stephen Boegehold on drums. The studio album opens in media res with “Collage No. 2” before turning to the first major piece, “Tattle Snake.” An exceptional workout for the full quintet, “Tattle Snake” features Boegehold’s percussive drumming, matched with the group’s parallel movements.

In some very abstract ways, Dunston’s music also has echoes of Mary Halvorson’s Reverse Blue quartet, particularly with Dunston and Boegehold’s vibrant bass-drums pairing. Boegehold shares Tomas Fujiwara’s gift for an expressive ubiquity of rhythm. And Dunston, like Opsvik, effortlessly blends traditional genre motifs. Later, “Vicuña,” the centerpoint on which the album pivots, gives listeners a landing pad on which to breathe. Here, Dekker-Vargas plays a melody that, like a signal flare, marks a start and end to song proper. Her flute is playing throughout is phenomenal. Later, Yahalom plays a brightly toned solo, laid over a dramatic groove.

Of the sixteen tracks, there are a total of four collages (numbers 1, 3, 4, and 5) and three string solos (numbers 1, 2, and 3). On the surface, these act as curtains closing between acts. Having spent many more hours with the album, I’ve come to see these are serving a different kind of internal logic, one that instead draws back the curtain to show some of the machinery of through composition and improvisation fueling the bulk of the album. And if the album proper hinted at this conclusion, the live album scatters all previous conceptions to the wind. For one, the performance is much freer, at times guided by Dunston, Dekker-Vargas, or Yahalom. Each one picks at a thought from the composition book, signaling to the others one possible way to go. Finck seems a bit backgrounded by the mix, but considering the album was recorded on iPhone, there’s hardly anything to complain about. It’s a first-rate live album.

Atlantic Extraction is a fantastic album, one that made several year-end lists. With Live At Threes, readers have a chance to hear a stellar live version, as well. Both are recommended for readers, whether you’ve heard Atlantic Extraction or not, the two combined form a picture of the first act of what’s sure to be a grand career.

Buy direct on Bandcamp



Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Gabbro - Granular (Droppa, 2019) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

Ever heard of Gabbro? I didn't. Wikipedia offers some help: "Gabbro ( /ˈɡæbroʊ/) is a phaneritic (coarse-grained), mafic intrusive igneous rock formed from the slow cooling of magnesium-rich and iron-rich magma into a holocrystalline mass deep beneath the Earth's surface. Slow-cooling, coarse-grained gabbro is chemically equivalent to rapid-cooling, fine-grained basalt. Much of the Earth's oceanic crust is made of gabbro, formed at mid-ocean ridges. Gabbro is also found as plutons associated with continental volcanism. Due to its variant nature, the term "gabbro" may be applied loosely to a wide range of intrusive rocks, many of which are merely "gabbroic"." Get it?

Gabbro is also the name of a Belgian ensemble that derived its name from the definition above."As a child I had an obsession with stones and minerals and I had to think of that when we were making the first album. I thought it fitted the sounds of the baritone quite well", says leader Hanne De Backer who plays baritone saxophone and bass clarinet (interview in Psychedelic Baby Magazine). The ensemble's debut album was a duo performance with Marc De Maeseneer also on baritone saxophone. Their first album (El Negocito, 2017) was a raw sonic exploration by two baritone saxophones, violent and voluminous, oscillating between a locking of horns and the joint search for interesting harmonies. De Backer started playing alto at the age of nine, she switched to jazz quite late and to baritone even later, at the age of 25 because she liked the physicality of the instrument.

For their sophomore album, De Backer decided to expand to a quartet, with Agnes Hvizdalek on voice and Raphael Malfliet on electric bass. They were on the look-out for new sounds and resonances in places with a specific character, especially to work on the contrast between the freedom of improvisation and closed communities and spaces. Eventually they ended up in the prison of Antwerp in the wing where prisoners with mental problems are detained. The idea was to work with graphic scores and vocal readings by the inmates, together with other field recordings. Due to a prison strike, the whole thing was cancelled halfway and the core ideas were transferred to a more neutral venue.

In contrast to the first album, "Granular" is a very quiet yet intense exploration of sound and space. Notes vibrate in mid-air, floating, disappearing, to be succeeded and joined by fragile precious other sonic currents that are equally ephemeral, organised around a tonal center of maintained circular breathing.

De Backer explains the title "‘Granular’ refers to the details we we’re aiming for on this album. It was more about occurring ‘granulars’ of sound then harmonic movements or melodic lines. For me it also reflects to a certain ‘careful’ or ‘caring’ approach towards listening, something very fragile, both as a musician and human being. A very engaged way of listening without seeking fulfillment of certain expectations".

The tracks are titled as the days of the week. "Wednesday" has my preference, with its very dark undertones and Hvizdalek's unusual yet very effective repetitive vocal sounds, slowly surfacing above the tormented sonic gloom of the other instruments, which create an atmosphere of insistent and inevitable catastrophe.

"Thursday" is built around the plucking sounds of the electric bass with chords and flageolets underpinning eery and raw and angry baritone sounds.

"Saturday" starts quietly but evolves into the mad chattering of voice and saxes, chaotic and insistent, self-centred, pushed forward by the other noisy frenzy without actually interacting with it.

The album ends in deep darkness, with low sustained bass tones aligning with sparse monotonous baritone phrases woken up by the crystal-clear vocals piercing the silence and devolving into a massive sonic wall full of despair and desperation.

De Backer is an artist with vision. She is also active in literature, theater and performance. Her art is something deep and essential. This album sounds incredibly promising for future work.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.



Monday, July 20, 2020

Howard Riley - More Listening, More Hearing (Slam Productions, 2020) ****

By Stephen Griffith

Preconceived notions can be problematic when approaching new works of a familiar artist. Howard Riley is one of my touchstones to determine how hard core people really are about this type of music; anything less than slightly glazed unfocused eyes and a hushed “that guy's incredible” after mentioning him and it's time to change the subject. He's amassed an incredible body of work in a variety of settings: trios with Barry Guy and Tony Oxley; duets with Keith Tippett, Jaki Byard, Lol Coxhill and Elton Dean; quartet work with Tony Wren, Larry Stabbins and Mark Sanders; and the London Jazz Composers Orchestra. And that's just an executive summary. But where he really takes flight for me is in his solo recordings.

One of these days, surely after he shuffles off the mortal coil, someone will do a retrospective summary of Riley's not small body of work. When that happens it will be difficult to avoid repeating, if not subtly rewriting, items from Brian Morton’s liner notes from this where he points out, among many other things, that “chronology doesn't seem to matter much in Riley's work”. Nowhere was that illustrated more than by the subsequent release on No Business, Live in the USA, of concert performances from late in 1976 sounding just as advanced as anything released. He seems to have emerged on the music scene fully formed in terms of having an oddly precise logical mind of figuring out how to make motifs work together that others wouldn't think of juxtaposing, much less doing it. He employs a walking bass line frequently, a deceivingly simple way of drawing the listener into comfortably familiar territory while dissonant fireworks happen with the other hand, a tendency he shared with Byard. And his works never outstay their welcome. Listening to Riley might be mentally challenging and even draining but it's constantly stimulating and engaging while never tedious.

One useful way to discuss Riley's solo work is “short stories” versus “long form”. Although they share the same internal logic, recently the pianist has adhered to the shorter format including the present recording, a followup to the 2018 Listen to Hear, recorded in the same studio on the same piano.

“Sunflower” is a song that goes back to his initial 1968 recording, Discussions, a trio date with Barry Guy and John Hiseman that initially was available in 99 pressings before Dusk Fire Records flooded the market with an additional one thousand CDs in 2015. On that recording it was a brisk barely over two minutes trio workout. Here, stretched out to a more leisurely almost five minutes, you hear repeated hints of Monk without any direct quotes. Riley has done Monk tribute albums, shared with Ellington, and recorded a “T.S.M. (With Thanks)" homage on Constant Change 1976-2016 but the joy of realizing an unstated influence after all this time is a sublime treat.

There are two versions of Jerome Kern’s “Long Ago and Far Away" here, similar to how there were two versions of two different original compositions on Listen to Hear. In all cases they're different enough to merit inclusion and of a high enough quality to think “why not?”

After the death of Keith Tippett I thought it was very important to review this. Although it's a daunting task to write about a musical hero, sometimes you just have to jump in the deep end and see what happens. That said after the first couple listens I almost begged off doing it. It sounded less vital than what I was hoping for and I didn't want to damn it with faint praise of a lion in Winter commentary on a not young musician with Parkinson's disease. So I consulted a trusty colleague who gave me some valuable advice: “give it a few more listens”. It was on the next listen that the pleasures of “Sunflower” made themselves evident.

Likewise with the rest of the compositions; there's not a song here that doesn't sound perfectly thought out and executed from beginning to end. There are plenty of uses of a walking bass, maybe not as persistently percussive as in earlier times but still performing the same function. This is music to be savored as it's added to an already large book of work.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Solos from Relative Pitch (2/2)

Part II of a two day round-up of recent solo recordings from Relative Pitch records. See part I.

By Nick Metzger


Chris Pitsiokos -  Speak In Tongues and Hope for the Gift of Interpretation (Relative Pitch, 2020) ****½ 

This new solo release from Brooklyn alto saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos really smokes. Captured on a portable recorder at a show in New Haven in January 2019 the six tracks are a great run through of the improvisational impulses and exceptional skill commanded by the saxophonist. Heavily entangled in the Brooklyn scene, Pitsiokos has collaborated regularly with Tyshawn Sorey, Peter Evans, Brandon Seabrook, Nate Wooley, Joe Morris, Paul Lytton, Susana Santos Silva, and others. He’s also a member of several groups such as CP Unit and Protean Reality and was recently in another write up here as part of the CPS Units’ latest with Devin Gray and Luke Stewart. Speak in Tongues and Hope for the Gift of Interpretation is his first solo long player since 2015’s Oblivion/Ecstacy and again finds him giving his horn all it can handle.

Pitsiokos starts the album off with a dedication to the Bird. The piece is imbued with a steady flowing stream-of-consciousness lyricism, pocked with gnarly honks and high pitched cries. The second piece, addressed to Anthony Braxton, meanders initially but gathers a ferocious momentum, increasing in speed and intensity before mushrooming into bellowing torrents of molten brass and splintered reed. The third piece is in homage to the great Roscoe Mitchell. Pitsiokos is in turns playful, over-the-top, soulful, brittle. Of all the tracks I enjoyed this one the most, as the saxophonist gives himself a little extra space at the front end to elaborate on some really colorful motifs before releasing the hounds.

The second half of the record begins with a dedication to Ornette Coleman. Long, heavy vibrations crackle like black powder sparklers, folded with irregular silences and finished up in peels of shrieking machine gun caterwaul. On his piece for Eric Dolphy the altoist sets off a constant stream of rattling, high speed symmetry over most of the track before downshifting into an extended and melodic gloaming. The last piece is dedicated to John Zorn, and it's on this piece more than any of the others that Pitsiokos really channels the essence of the subject. In all honesty if I had a blind listen I would have said it was Zorn. Pitsiokos channels multiple "strategies" in this short and intense piece, closing out the collection with some serious teeth.


Joanna Mattrey -Veiled (Relative Pitch, 2020) ****

New York violist Joanna Mattrey was featured on two terrific releases in 2019, one with Sean Ali and Leila Bordreuil via their release I Used to Sing So Lyrical and another as a part of the J. Pavone String Ensemble on their album Brick and Mortar , so I when I saw that she’d released this collection of solo material I was anxious to have a listen. A regular improviser, Mattrey has collaborated with other downtown NYC heavies such as John Zorn, Marc Ribot, and Erik Friedlander and as a part of the Tredici Bacci ensemble. Veiled gives us a look at Mattrey alone and untethered, following her muses.

On "Ferver" Mattrey submerges the listener beneath a bed of undulating and wiry currents countered with a distinct, throbbing undertow. During the second half her pace slows and the resulting din she conjures serves as a portent for things to come. For "So close to the surface" Mattrey scrapes noisy, flowing, and effortlessly emotive lines from her instrument while a frayed drone glows against the dancing pitches. On "Stroh" she weaves an open-ended, melodically proportionate tone poem. The piece lingers somewhere in the fibrous layers that hold fruit to the rind, mainly structural but with intermittent hints of sweetness. Similarly "Waza" is a short, unapologetically wiry and frizzy construction of bow scrape and multiphonics. The abrupt pizzicato of "Shackles" permits an unexpected and slightly jarring shift in texture, where all at once the gauzy layers of the previous tracks condense to the sound of a popcorn night at the rubber band factory.

The second half starts with "A mouthful of dirt" which wails its lament from the start before briefly (suddenly) receding into a hushed micro-dialogue and a powerful reprise. I think the next piece, "Come to bury to exhume" is my favorite of the collection. Though there is constant motion I feel like so much more is hinted at than actually played. Almost like pieces are missing, but enough is given to discern their shapes. The short "Grey Eyes" cuts an icy figure against the previous piece, setting it's jarring pizzicato to a continuous, brittle scrape of rosined hair. "For the Thrall" starts out playfully percussive, gradually layering on warped abstractions that squeak, hiccup, and howl. The closer "Descant" is the final and longest piece of the collection. The first half of the dirge is mostly build-up, with Mattrey working momentum into her static arco before pushing into more uncertain territory where, similar to "Come to bury to exhume", she shades in darkness to elevate the light. Fantastic.


Tamio Shiraishi - Sora (Relative Pitch, 2020) ****½ 

Sora is the most recent solo release from alto saxophonist and Fushitsusha co-founder Tamio Shiraishi. Shiraishi was worked out of Queens, NY since the early 1990’s and regularly plays solo sets in the NYC subway system which have accumulated a small but dedicated following. Much of Tamios’ solo aesthetic is build off of interactions with a physical space with both of his prior solos releases contain site-specific recordings of Shiraishi. His 1996 solo album Live Performance: 1992-1994 is comprised of performances in various Japanese locales, while 2010’s 地下鉄 compiles recordings of his NYC subway performances. This latest solo release was recorded in two locations, a concert hall and a studio, and true to form they play as much a part in the recordings as Shiraish’s horn.

Sora (Sky) doesn't translate well into a blow-by-blow style of review. Shiraishi's minimalism is only such on a macro scale, like Richter's grey paintings rendered in altissimo, his playing forces you to listen more closely in terms of the qualities of the individual pieces and as they pertain to the collection as a whole. But unlike most music you hear the phrase "deep listening" tied to, Shiraishi doesn't make it easy. His voice on the alto is challenging and resides on the extreme high end, far beyond the instrument's general utility. This album is a raw masterclass in Shiraishi's personal language of microintervallic saxophone. The song titles are all single shodō-style figures, which I’ll leave it to the reader to translate (ultimately due to uncertainty on my part).

The set is bookended by a pair of tracks recorded in October 2019 at Issue Project Room's cavernous Boerum Place, where Shiraishi cuts sets of thin, piercing lines that echo and superimpose through the space. Tracks 2 & 6 were recorded at the Thousand Caves in Queens, NY in June 2019 and find Tamio utilizing complementary electronics that are rendered sparsely and in stark contrast to his saxophone playing. The 3 middle tracks (3-5) were also recorded at the Thousand Caves but during an earlier session in November 2018. These ‘center’ tracks are notably the most distilled examples of Tamio’s alto playing here, recorded simply in order to make all nuances plain. This is a terrific album.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Solos from Relative Pitch (Day 1/2)

By Nick Metzger

In general, but not as a rule, I seem to enjoy solo albums the most during winter (maybe to do with the isolation of the cold months) but for me that's extended into the spring and summer this year. I generally let my whims dictate the music I listen to from day-to-day, and so have been listening to solo recordings disproportionately, both free jazz and otherwise during this unusual period in time. I'd like to extend particular kudos to Relative Pitch, who have issued some really fantastic solo recordings lately that have colored these past several months for me with their contrasting personalities. We covered two of these releases in a couple of our recent round-ups (Virginia Genta's Amplified Sopranino Saxophone and Alex Ward's Frames ) and I put some thoughts down regarding the rest of them (so far) here.

Erin Rogers - Dawntreader (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****

Honestly, the Canadian-American composer, performer, and saxophonist Erin Rogers has flown completely under my (admittedly very weak) radar until now, but has been extremely active in the New York scene for some time. Her many projects focus on a convergence of classical, avant garde, and theatre with some of her main outlets being her groups thingNY, Hypercube, New Thread Quartet, and Popebama. Dawntreader is her first solo release and while I came into it cold, it won me over with its broad range of dynamics and timbre (not to mention its title reminding me of a favorite book).

On "Beacon" Rogers explores the tenor's upper register, twisting her piercing multiphonic yelps and whimpers against themselves in long segments of circular breathing intercut with well-timed and perfunctory silences. On several of the latter passages she vocalizes long glissandos as she plays, which result in powerful and sublime resonances that sound as though they might explosively flower the bell of her horn at any moment. The aptly titled "Surface Tension" bubbles with breathy swells and reed pops that create a palpable sense of anxiety, especially over the first half of the piece. One of the things I enjoy the most about the piece is that you can almost feel the vibrations from her horn. It becomes malleable in her hands, a medium as fluid as the air it wields. On the final piece "Breaking Waves" Rogers finds still untraversed sectors of timbre to explore. Her rough cut passages blister the soundscape with pugnacious bellows and knife edge peels of stabbing dirge.


Masayoshi Urabe - What Hasn't Come Here, COME! (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****

It'd been a while since I saw anything from the Japanese multi-instrumentalist Masayoshi Urabe. I think the first record I bought that featured him was his 2002 duo album with guitarist Gary Smith, which remains a favorite of mine. I also picked up his 2010 album with cellist Kiyoharu Kuwayama which caught my eye/ear via a write up from Stef, way before my time reviewing for the blog. Urabe draws a lot of comparisons to Kaoru Abe but other than sharing a very expressive style (they play nothing alike, IMO), perhaps due to his use of long silences, guitar and/or harmonica, and propensity for solo performance. On What Hasn't Come Here, COME! the listener encounters an extended solo alto saxophone improvisation (with a bit of tasteful harmonica), where Urabe is given ample room to spread out and experiment.

The single long track that makes up the recording begins with harmonica, vocalizations, blubbering, grunts. Captured in stereo you can hear the staggering clip-clop of the artist stalking the stage, allowing his performance to dictate his next move in real-time. The following snatches of breath are hissed across the reed of his alto, contrasted against the near-silent creak of the assembly. Gradually the hiss becomes a throaty shriek, like a bullfrog thrown into a pot of boiling water. Reverberations multiply, disseminate. The low rumble of exterior conveyance, the clearing of a throat, all engage within the amalgam. Paint-peeling sirens steeped in passages of clairvoyant blues, split into movements by dint of silences that trace the setting like a plaster cast. A photographic negative. Muttered monosyllabic pleas, scrapes, movement obscured by time and distance. Long removed from concrete existence, an incidental carbon transfer. It's the sound of a ghost dragging its chains.


Friday, July 17, 2020

Mike Majkowski – Mirage (Bandcamp self released, 2020) ****


By Paolo Casertano

What makes you decide to listen to a record for a second (maybe a third) time? Since home and perennial digital real-time recording have become so accessible and almost effortless (and this is true for at least the last two decades) this is one of the questions that haunt me the most. What is really worth recording? Gradually also “jazz” and impro related sub-scenes seem to have adopted the same approach, ideally replacing the uniqueness and non-repeatability of the live performances. My answer to the first point, a simple answer I admit it, it’s the tangible spontaneity of some of these outcomes. Not everything, instead, could be the second, visceral answer to the latter dilemma. Maybe it’s not always useful to read letters or drafts of great writers. However, sometimes, this helps to better understand some paths and developments that have moved an artist to a result. Dissection is a resource only if you know when to stop it.

“Mirage” probably falls into the category of “how to better understand the work of an artist” and it offers at the same time a very pleasurable listening experience.

Mike Majkowski has earned him a reputation in recent years with a consistent numbers of solo contrabass releases (for Avantwhatever, Bocian Records and Monofonus Press to name a few). Together with his distinctive and tireless slow bowing acoustic approach to the instrument, also the electronic presence has constantly grown in his musical research (the electronic compositions of his 2019 Between Seasons deserve close attention). Anyway, in my opinion, even when he prefers only the electronic output to embody his creative vision, the approach, the inner compositional structure of his music, the overall sound landscape he manages to build, underline once more how much he is deeply rooted and bounded to the sound territorial palette of the cavernous wood instrument.

“Mirage” appears as a 36-minute suite equally shared in two moments: “Morning” and “Afternoon”. In the first temporal frame, the inexhaustible bowing is far from being a monolithic slab of sound, it is not rigid and cold but alive, hiccup interrupted in an unpredictable way by percussive bowing, like whispered implosions, and scattered by weakening, soft vibrations. It’s like a river tumbling upon rocks or touching leafy branches swinging from its banks. In the second “moment of the day” the bowing is still ceaseless, but it seems to retreat from the forefront, slowly hiding itself behind the sustained tunnel of tone that occupy the sonic scene. There are some sudden, shorter surges of deep and middle undertones. Rapids in the river. The mood gets darker. The night is nigh.

You can listen to it on Bandcamp. No mask needed. Just breath.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Sippy Cup – On Independence, On Isolation (self-released, 2020) ****


This self-released, digital only, recording came out during the harsh days of the lockdown in Britain. Sippy Cup is the underground (but does this term even apply today?) duo of Kate Armitage and THF Drenching. Both of them utilize various sippy-silly sounds that I might not even recognize. Percussion and wind instruments, voices and various objects. Quite fascinating and unpredictable sounds. It’s improvisational music all right and one of those who prefer not to be defined by the good old mannerism that even in those parts of the musical spectrum lives.

On Indepedence, On Isolation consists of two tracks. The first comes from a live recording at Manchester in July of 2019 (oh, those good old days) and the second a live recording on Instagram from March 2020. Both of them are on the spot improvisations, with a, it seems, linear structure. They seem to know each other very well, their interaction never stopped to amaze throughout the forty five minutes of the two recordings.

I must admit that the second track, 'On Isolation', which is the newer of the two, has some dark energy flowing inside it. It might be my idea, could be the global feeling of isolation, mistrust towards authority and despair that makes it a document of this period. Both of them seem more focused and aggressive. They never resolve into loud outbursts though.

'On Indepedence' on the other hand has a more playful approach, one that could be deriving from the fact that there’s some audience there and, guess what (in case we forget it…), it’s always more thrilling to perform in front of real people. I believe that this non-verbal communication we call music, worked out really well here between musicians and people attending. This contradiction between the two tracks makes On Indepedence, On Isolation a unique recording. Both artists are too serious to take themselves seriously as they ponder each time and every second of both tracks, in what to do next. You can feel their quest, their disagreements maybe, their struggle to exercise the need to self expression.

I’ve written here before about a surprisingly big amount of people in Britain right now who work below the radar and produce fine music – be any genre you like. Armitage and Drenching make it easily on this list. They do need our support though; because, yes they are workers, call it art workers or whatever else. Before I start writing about class solidarity, do check their bandcamp page.

@koultouranafigo