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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Floating Points/Pharoah Sanders/The London Symphony Orchestra - Promises (Luaka Bop, 2021) *****

By Martin Schray

After one minute and 23 seconds, it’s there for the first time. That squeezed, yearning, inimitable tone. No one can elicit such a sound from a saxophone but Pharoah Sanders, the grand old man of free jazz. And - to be honest - one would not necessarily have suspected of the 80-year old legend that he would soar to such musical heights once again. The main reason for this career highlight is the British electronic musician Sam Shepherd, who goes under the moniker Floating Points. For Promises he recruited not only Sanders but also the London Symphony Orchestra, which underpins his 47-minute composition, divided into nine “Movements“, with bright woodwind and string patches (to me the movements are more like meditations).

What we first hear is a short chord of seven notes that will accompany us throughout the piece, as if angel harps and wind chimes were at work. However, it’s actually a harpsichord, which grumbles very prominently, joined by a piano lid that rumbles open and closed, scraping like a percussion instrument. In between, Shepherd keeps packing cautious little loops, chirps and sphere music speckles that sound as if they were created by analog synthesizers, giving the floating Promises' corpus a fragile, gently swaying framework held together by the aforementioned chord.

“Movement 3“ and “Movement 4“ are undoubtedly the center of the composition. In the first one the orchestra appears, at first almost delicate and restrained, but then firm and shrill. Sanders counters in “Movement 4“ with his warm but powerful tone, and here he is indeed reminiscent of his great albums from the 1960s and - of course - John Coltrane. The atmosphere created is so deeply human that it almost makes you cry.

On the one hand, the attitude of Promises is a highly emotional one, slowly and meditatively unfolding like a spiritual jazz album reaching for transcendence, but translated into the present with modern production tools. On the other hand, it’s great drama - reminiscent of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s Symphony Nr. 3, especially in “Movement 6“, when Sanders drops out and the orchestra completely takes over. If there was a remake of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows this could be the soundtrack. In contrast to these very obvious elements, though, there’s the way the album deals with silence. Sometimes the pieces are so quiet you might check your volume setting to see if it’s still on, for example at the very ends of “Movement 8“ and “9“.

Shepherd recorded the album over a five-year period, it seems to have matured like an excellent wine. Therefore, the music wants to be heard as a whole (there are no breaks between the single tracks), a good stereo system is helpful and you shouldn’t listen to it on the side. On the contrary, you should surrender completely to the music. Let yourself be carried away by the emotions presented. Enjoy every single tone of Sanders tenor, they are like drops of liquid gold. It’s nice to hear his voice so beautifully once again.

Promises is available on vinyl and as a CD.

Catch a glimpse of the album here:

And more here:

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Conversation With Alexander Hawkins

Alexander Hawkins. Cafe OTO, April 2018. (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

By Lee Rice Epstein

Almost immediately after listening to the album, I reached out to Alexander Hawkins to discuss some of what was behind the making of Togetherness Music, both pragmatically and philosophically. We communicated by email over several weeks, and what follows is slightly edited for clarity.

First, regarding the logistics of the recording. Given the state of things with COVID-19, what was the process for arranging the recording session [July 30, 2020, at Challow Park Studios, Oxfordshire, UK]?

Remarkably, there was a window over here in the UK when something of this scale was safe, and legal. Where I was fortunate was in the floorplan of the studio near Oxford I wanted to use: it actually has an extremely large live room, and this meant that we could lay everything out with the appropriate social distancing, but also without compromising either sight lines between players and conductor, or indeed an optimal layout from a sonic point of view. I would never have dreamt of inviting musicians into a situation where they might feel uneasy (especially given that with the dearth of work over the pandemic period, there were very real pressures to accept work); this would never be the right thing to do ethically, or simply from the perspective of teasing out the best playing possible. But thankfully, due to the amazing work of the studio, and the patience and good humour of everyone involved, the session itself was very relaxed; and actually, more than that—a very real thrill for all of us, given that it had been many months since most had played with other people.

There are threads of multiple motifs and concepts from previous compositions throughout. James Fei discusses this in the liner notes, but how long have you been working on Togetherness Music as a complete suite?

Three of the movements here originated in a commission from Aaron Holloway-Nahum and the Riot Ensemble, and we performed these in a couple of concerts in early 2019. These concerts were really wonderful, and especially during the second, the music was really beginning to 'breathe'. Almost immediately afterwards, I began to think about how I could develop things to reflect some of the potential directions I was hearing during the concerts. I had some kind of intuition that the Riot commission music could sit alongside a couple of other ideas I had lying around; and so around the time the first lockdown began, I began to look at the music in more detail to see if there was any more concrete basis to this intuition.

Essentially, what I noticed was that each of these units of material I was looking to work with was organised around some basic transformations of a simple motif. Once I had that, the rest more or less fell into place. In its final form, the piece can be thought of in two halves (the third and fourth movements segue from one another, so as to not to make anything too obvious): a solo feature (in movement I, for Evan; in movement IV, for me), followed by a contrast (movement II is the most open, movement V is the most through-composed); followed by a tutti (movement III and VI share a technique for harmonisation the melody line, and numerous cells of this line are shared between the two movements).

And then there is the addition of another "Baobabs" composition. At this point, there have been solo, trio, quartet, and ensemble recordings (on Song Singular , Alexander Hawkins Trio, the Alexander Hawkins Ensemble albums No Now Is So and Step Wide, Step Deep , the piece “Sun[g]” from the ensemble album Unit[e], and the Convergence Quartet album Song/Dance). I know of at least two others, “Unequal Baobabs (Goal by Garrincha)” and the site-specific LSO performance of “Unknown Baobabs.” And in this recording, I hear threads of the original, some of which sound like they're moving almost in reverse? Could you talk a bit more about“Ecstatic Baobabs” and its change in structure from the more formally additive versions?

As you say, the 'Baobabs' series are all variations on an additive structure: cell A, then cell A+B, A+B+C, and so on. My big inspiration for these pieces was Braxton's composition 23C, although of course, there are other wonderful incarnations of the idea, such as Rzewski's 'Coming Together'. Various pieces in the series simply change the melody, although there are certain melodic cells which are common to many of them (a certain group of three trills appears in most, for example). Others change the rules of repetition in some way—so for example, in the trio and sextet versions, one group of instruments plays the material additively, at the same time as another deals with it subtractively.

'Ecstatic Baobabs' has its own melody, and a slightly different take on the structure too. Usually the scores for these pieces are presented as a simple melody line, with strategically placed repeat bars marking out the geography for the performer. For this version, I started by producing a score like this; but then improvised a separate realisation of this score for each instrumentalist, and transcribed these realisations—which I then reworked so as to be more idiomatic for the strings (the harmonics, and so on). So the actual parts for this movement actually appear to be more or less through-composed, and without repeat bars (I say 'more or less', because there are also short windows for guided improvisation embedded in the line).

There is one other element here, and you are absolutely correct: two of the string players (Hannah Marshall and Benedict Taylor) are not playing a part for 'Ecstatic Baobabs', but instead for the original 'Baobabs' composition, so that we have this sense of a ghost of something familiar within the texture. At some stage, I would like to perform all of the Baobabs series simultaneously, and this is a small step towards how that might work.

Evan Parker seems so thoroughly stitched to the performance, even as his part is improvised. Did you, Parker, and Aaron Holloway-Nahum discuss a plan for his improvisation?

Throughout most of the score, and for all of the musicians, the directions as to when to start and stop improvising are indicated (for the most part, these windows are buried within notation; and in various passages, there is 'guided' improvisation—perhaps as to a language in which to begin, or how to relate to the ensemble). However, once we had established this rough organisation, the instruction was very much not to feel constrained by these indications if that felt like an interesting musical choice in the context: in other words, we were always looking to play music first, and the composition second. Evan's part was slightly different, in that apart from one very small set of gestures within the ensemble in movement IV, he never had any notation to play explicitly, or any guidance as to language (although he did have the same guidance as others as to when to come to the fore, etc.).

However, for example in movements III and VI, he did have the principal melodic voice in front of him, so that he always had the option to follow or deliberately avoid contours, pitch sets, and so on, in his improvising. The other way in which he is stitched-in is through instructions in the ensemble parts. So, for instance, the way the all-interval chord (with which the ensemble enters at the opening of the piece) collapses into the octave unison is flexible, and behaves differently depending on how Evan approaches his opening improvisation.

But perhaps how I should have tackled this question is initially not to have talked about the composition, but to have focused on Evan and stated the obvious: he is such a master that I'm not sure I could write anything which would be anywhere near as interesting as what he would do himself. At the same time as being such a powerful individual voice, he is also peerless as an ensemble musician: part of his magic is how he is able to tailor such a deeply personal language to the musical 'moment'—in other words, I feel that knitting himself of his own accord into a context in a fascinating way is simply part of his brilliancy.

Bimhuis, Amsterdam, December 2, 2018.  (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix

[At some point in listening to Togetherness Music, I began to think about Bill Dixon's late albums, like 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur , Tapestries for Small Orchestra , and Envoi . To me, a strength of Hawkins's compositions are the bidirectionality of the ensemble's movement. And I find some overlaps with the depth and lushness of Dixon's approach; thinking about Dixon led me to some questions I had about the titling of the pieces here, specifically ones that could work as either political or autobiographical gestures. So, I asked about this.]

Titles are a really interesting one for me. I'm one of those people who don't experience music visually, or in a narrative sense. So the things I write (or indeed play) are never 'depictions of', or 'impressions of', or indeed really 'about' anything.(I should say that I of course love much music which is explicitly programmatic—whether that's the Berlioz 'Symphonie Fantastique,' “Circus '68 '69” from Liberation Music Orchestra, or whatever—it's just that those aren't the terms on which I can personally engage with it). I suppose in this sense, I'd align myself more with a 'music about music' aesthetic. But actually, I think this can potentially be quite liberating when it comes to the title of the piece, which can then do a number of things… perhaps express some commentary on matters internal or external to the piece; perhaps provide a playground for technical play (little word games or something. Evan is fond of this idea, I sense: he was delighted with his 'Leaps in Leicester' concept for our duo CD some years back); and so on. Actually, I once read some really interesting comments from Muhal Richard Abrams, in which he said something essentially very similar to this with respect to titles.

[To understand more about Abrams and his approach towards composition titles, as well as directing improvisation within ensemble settings, I recommend reading Frank Oteri's wonderful and lengthy interview with Abrams from 2016 .]

Titling can actually be fairly laborious for me—the ideas very rarely 'flow' (the one exception being the concept for Unit[e] , where CD one's titles consist of two words, with the addition of a bracketed letter before those which follow, where those on CD two are formed by the addition of a bracketed letter afterwards). So as a result, a few years ago, I started keeping lists of interesting phrases/ideas in a notebook, which seemed to have some kind of resonance. These phrases were often from things I was reading—hence 'Iron Into Wind' and the subtitle 'Pears From An Elm' (both from Eduardo Galeano, whom I love). To the extent I can, these appear without context in my notebook, so that I can 'forget' what they're about, and paraphrase/repurpose/manipulate them etc., much as I do various musical jottings I have.

So as to the titles on Togetherness Music:

1) Indistinguishable from Magic: I don't actually know where I got this from. Clearly the phrase comes from Arthur C. Clarke, but I have to admit, I've never read Clarke—and I didn't realise the attribution when I found the title! At any rate, it seems to be a nice reflection on music itself, and also what Evan has pioneered with his circular breathed soprano language.

2) Sea No Shore: there's a little more to this one. I have a background in playing the organ, and this is a hymn tune/harmonisation I've always loved [“How Shall I Sing That Majesty”]. I'm firmly agnostic, but nonetheless, these hymns often have wonderful poetry in them. The final verse of this one is as follows:

How great a being, Lord, is Thine,

Which doth all beings keep!

Thy knowledge is the only line

To sound so vast a deep.

Thou art a sea without a shore,

A sun without a sphere;

Thy time is now and evermore,

Thy place is everywhere.

Well, those first four lines I can do without… but what amazing imagery in the next two! Then one day I was listening to the radio with my partner, when this came on, and she remarked how she had always loved these lines too. At that point, I was beginning work on this commission for the Berlin Jazz Festival , and so a manipulation of that 'A sun without a sphere' (= 'Sun No Sphere' = 'Sunnosphere') felt like an intriguing title. I was also in the process of looking for titles for this album (that's something else I should have mentioned above, 99% of the time, the repertoire gets recorded long before it has a name!), and so the sister title also felt very interesting: 'a sea without a shore' = 'Sea No Shore'.

3) Ensemble Equals Together: this was actually very nearly the title for the Unit[e] album. Absolutely—this is, as you say, one with a definite political thought behind it: I believe the perfect state of being for a musical ensemble (and therefore by extension…) is one where a group of 'equals' (a starting point which so many macho narratives of the heroic jazz soloist ignore—echoes here too of 'the reality of the sweating brow' from Braxton's Tri-Axium Writings) do something 'together'(hence ideas of solidarity, collective action, common enterprise etc.). Then there is the more playful reading of this as a straight fact from e.g. a french language textbook: 'Ensemble = Together' as in 'this means that'.

4) Leaving the Classroom of a Beloved Teacher: I can't for the life of me find the reference, but bizarrely, I can visualise the series of books from which I'm pretty sure the phrase originated! (Penguin recently published a series of excerpts from larger works—usually 50-60 page 'pamphlets'—which they sold for £1; and I found these a really interesting way to sample some authors, to find a 'way in' for further reading). But I think your observation about something potentially autobiographical is spot on. It's not a 'concrete' gesture, but I guess maybe it potentially just invites interesting questions… who is doing the 'leaving'? who is the teacher? Or is the teacher a 'genre' (jazz? classical music?)? Etc. I guess what's significant for me here is not that a listener would think about how these questions apply to me as the person doing the 'leaving'—I think that would be far too self-important! More that these layers of questions are there if anyone wants to sit and reflect on the titles. I'm also perfectly happy if someone listens to the music and never notices the title, just in the same way that I'm perfectly happy if people aren't concerned about some of the technical musical details which are buried in the composition.

On technical musical details, there's another one to go into here, and which is relevant (more obliquely) to 'leaving the classroom of a beloved teacher'. It's a bit of a strange one to go into, but it's to do with being able to let go of certain obsessive-compulsive behaviours which from time to time I struggle with/have struggled with (it's much, much less prevalent than it used to be!). So those walking bass parts in the two cellos and two basses: this is a form of notation which I first used in the composition 'Sarah Teaches Kirsty to Read' . In these earlier forms, I used a (very simple!) cipher I devised to translate texts into notation, and I did this pretty obsessively and exactingly in various incarnations of the idea. Pitches and rhythms were specifically worked out etc. More recently, I've been able to be less concerned with these precise transcriptions of texts—so this is the 'leaving'. The 'beloved teacher' bit on this reading: obviously one of the very beneficial aspects of obsessive compulsive behaviour when working on the technical aspects of the instrument is the hangup with repetition. So when I was at University in particular (between the ages of 18–24), I had these obsessions with practising technical exercises in multiples of 3 (actually, in my case, only 3 and 9 were the 'significant' numbers). For all this could be debilitating/embarrassing in various respects, it is nonetheless true that repetition is incredibly beneficial when it comes to developing technical strength. So it was 'beloved' in helping me shore up my technical foundations!

Anyway, in this piece, and actually, this pattern was beginning in the last couple of versions of the notation, I was able to be much less precise about this encoding. Somehow, I'd got over the hangup about doing it all very precisely, realising that actually, there was a more elegant, simpler way to notate the sound I was after.

5) Ecstatic Baobabs: we talked about the Baobabs thing. The other word in these titles is usually much more impressionistic. E.g. 'Imperfect Baobabs'—this appeared in a commission from the BBC for their baroque season. One theory of the etymology of the word 'baroque' is that it comes from the word 'barocco', meaning 'strange' or, in the case of a pearl, 'irregular' or 'imperfect'—hence 'Imperfect Baobabs'. Here, the 'Ecstatic' was tied into that idea of a really quiet ecstasy, e.g. that astonishing final note Sonny Rollins plays in 'Loverman', from the album with Coleman Hawkins.

6) Optimism of the Will: The reference is to Gramsci (I'm no kind of expert whatsoever on his work, but when I was doing my PhD, I did also teach undergraduates a course about the criminal justice system, and Gramsci is hugely influential obviously in the sociology here). Gramsci's dictum was to do with 'Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will' (I think it was originally from his 'Prison Notebooks'). I think his pessimism in this context (1930s) was about the growth of authoritarianism; but the 'optimism' was about the possibilities for certain forms of socialism to counter this trend. I think that these ideas are almost alarmingly relevant these days!

Hence too, the sentiments from titles 3) and 6) in particular, the title, 'Togetherness Music'… and just the music itself hopefully bearing out the possibility of radical individualism, but within a framework of mutual respect and solidarity, ideas which I think have in fact always been borne out by the very greatest big bands, with my hero in this respect being Ellington. I always feel that no band was ever so stacked with immediately identifiable individuals, but also, no other ensemble ever felt so much like a band.

[From here, we went down a number of paths, from Luciano Berio's “Points On the Curve To Find” and Anthony Braxton's Ghost Trance Music, to the malleability and portability of Togetherness Music. One thing in particular that I was (and still am) curious about is whether Braxton's influence will be felt more as a mentor, or are his musics laying the groundwork for further evolutions of his conceptual framework. Hawkins dug into this fairly deeply and shared the scores to illustrate how the notation works on paper.]

I recently had a commission for a piece of solo music, and I did consider using one of the string parts from 'EcstaticBaobabs' as a starting point for transformations, but in the end, took another path. (Some of my pieces do have things deliberately built into them which are devices for recontextualising/moving between them—e.g., the trills in the 'Baobabs' pieces are there as 'portals' from jumping between comparable points in the compositions—but this isn't an idea I've had the chance to play with in performance/on recording yet.) In Braxton, the system has evolved to the point now where essentially, there are a lot of different ways to move between compositions. There are scenarios where a conductor can cue things, but more usual is either that the musicians cue amongst themselves, or indeed that an individual musician without the grouping makes their own choice. I sense that one of the crucial aspects for Braxton is creating something which is in many senses egalitarian and 'decentralised'. I've been lucky enough to participate in two of the Sonic Genomes now, and this in some ways is the fullest expression of this idea, a durational performance, which activates an entire space (in Italy, 8 hours in a huge museum; in Germany, 6 hours in a similar space) with subgroupings—which themselves are mutable—of musicians, creating a giant 3D collage, like a huge sound playground.

At this point, my own experiments in this direction are much less fully developed than Anthony's: in part because I'm trying to figure out whether what he is providing amounts to a generalisable methodology which any ensemble can use with any pool of material (which I think is how increasingly I lean), or whether it's something very specific to his language, meaning that other composers really ought to try to find their own way to address these issues of non-linear composition and delegation of compositional 'authority'.

So a very modest example of how it might work in something of mine is the basic score for 'Baobabs': in measure 6 a series of trills correspond to measure 7 of 'Imperfect Baobabs'. The idea being that each time in the structure that these trills occur, the performer could hop between the two compositions, or alternatively, jump off into an improvisation initially based on the trilling language. A lot of the activities of groupings of players are determined by them rather than necessarily determined by the structure of a conductor within some of these pieces.

Read the review of Togetherness Music here.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Alexander Hawkins - Togetherness Music (Intakt, 2021) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

Kicking off 2021 with a major work for small orchestra, Riot Ensemble, and Evan Parker, pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins brings this epic new work straight out of a brief reprieve from the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns. Set aside, for a moment, anything you may have recently read or heard regarding Parker's thoughts on the pandemic, Togetherness Music is a remarkable assembly of many of the UK's best players. Like his previous magnum opus, Unit[e], this latest showcases Hawkins channeling the lessons of Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams, and forging his own, clear path forward with a unique lexicon.

In what's quickly becoming a typical Hawkins pattern, the polymathic lineup reflects his multi-perspective view of composition and performance. Sound groupings and melodic patterns intersect with the ensemble as light through a prism, with orchestral instrumentation inclusive of electronics and doubled-voicings. The album features Hawkins on piano, Parker on soprano sax, Percy Pursglove on trumpet, Rachel Musson and James Arben on flutes, Musson on tenor, Arben on bass clarinet, Hannah Marshall on cello, Benedict Taylor on viola, Neil Charles on double bass, Mark Sanders on drums, and Matthew Wright on electronics. In addition, the members of the Riot Ensemble appearing here include Mandhira de Saram and Marie Schreer on violin, Stephen Upshaw on viola, Louise McMonagle on cello, and Marianne Schofield on double bass. The doubling of viola, cello, and double bass across the Hawkins and Riot ensembles provides the recording with a sonic heft that balances out the winds and brass.

Structurally, the album is a mirror twin of itself, opening with a ten-minute solo from Parker, in which the ensemble rises to meet him with an almost Lygeti-esque progression. Parker's technique is simply unmatched, and his choices do expertly converge with the rest of the group. But it's as Parker's line wends its way to Pursglove's, which moves to the fore on the second track, “Sea No Shore,” that the structure of the whole suite begins to reveal its form. At this point, as well, the music takes on tones of Toshiyuki Miyama's New Herd Orchestra. The structure and form feel commingled in a way that Hawkins has been moving towards for several albums, and the tonal warmth of “Ensemble Equals Together” is another point along his trajectory exploring community, organized improvisation, and a kind of social harmonics. Towards the end, as strings fall away into a tense, minor space, Parker's sax attempts to keep the group aloft. The tension is expert, Marshall and Taylor dashing forwards towards a suspense-laden finale.

Contrasting with Parker's solo, Hawkins takes the lead on “Leaving the Classroom of a Beloved Teacher” with a slightly relaxed opening. Within the space of about two minutes, however, he's toured stride, swing, and free alike, dipping into a century of Waller, Ellington, and Taylor. Charles, one of Hawkins's longtime musical partners, is so perfectly suited to duetting on this one, and the rest of the ensemble circles them both with sparkling, contrapuntal motion. For anyone who has followed Hawkins for some time, a title referencing baobabs promises something special. “Ecstatic Baobabs” marks the sixth recorded variation, following recordings by Hawkins solo, with trio and ensemble, and with the Convergence Quartet. The voicing in this version echoes previous variations, Easter eggs for a close listen, with Marshall and Taylor again taking the spotlight. This family of pieces often gives performers the chance to show their patient, meditative side, putting listeners into an impressionistic space, similar to the effect of a Joseph Jarman composition. Again, this is Hawkins drawing on a deep wellspring of inspiration, and it finds its apotheosis in “Optimism of the Will,” which reflects and builds upon “Ensemble Equals Together,” bringing the suite to its structural conclusion. As Hawkins explained elsewhere , the basic structure looks like this:

1: Solo feature — 2: Improvised contrast — 3: Tutti culmination

4: Solo feature — 5: Composed contrast — 6: Tutti culmination

And while it's admittedly useful to understand this, from a technical perspective, in fact the whole ensemble performs so successfully, one can easily glean the intention without much parsing. Gliding from movement to movement, Musson, Pursglove, Arben, and Parker give a series of striking performances, embracing the opportunity to perform in concert—even if not “in concert”—and giving themselves up to the goals of the music. If that sounds lofty, it's important to recall where we were at roughly a year ago, as Hawkins assembled the musicians in person to record the suite. Stormy, turbulent, unknown, 2020 was many things, memorable above all for the global COVID-19 outbreak. So much of last year's new music was performed in isolated solo, recorded at home by the artists themselves. And so, the fact of a large ensemble recording, wearing its utopic vision on its sleeve, seems improbable, at best. And yet, here we are, and everyone involved has done the near impossible and made what's already a highlight of the new year. Good on them.

Read an interview by Lee Rice Epstein with Alexander Hawkins here.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Frode Gjerstad / Fred Lonberg-Holm / William Parker / Steve Swell - Tales From (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2020) ****(*)

By Stephen Griffith

Prior to the pandemic disruptions, veteran Norwegian reedist Frode Gjerstad often seemed like the ultimate road warrior with his indefatigable international touring schedule.  Last year’s touring problems were partly offset by a massive Bandcamp digital data dump of recordings under his control, previously released or otherwise, as documented here.  In addition to that treasure trove he still had unreleased material from 2019 including this September date assembled in New York.  This group, by my research the first recording of it, came about by accident.  Frode traveled to play two gigs with Lonberg-Holm in upstate New York along with two in NYC with Fred and Matt Shipp.  A subsequent recording session was scheduled by Gjerstad with Swell and Parker.  Shipp had a scheduling conflict and the resolution for one of the concerts was for this quartet to perform along with this recording session.

Given the unplanned way this session arose, the familiarity of the players with each  other along with their ability to listen and react to each other assured a certain level of satisfying interplay.  With Parker bringing a tuba, cornet and flutes along with his bass and Lonberg-Holm’s electronics, additional tonal colors shook things up nicely.

Although it goes without saying that the pleasures of these types of improvised recordings make themselves known through repeated listenings, some require more than others.  These performances unfurl themselves at their own pace, with Swell and Lonberg-Holm paired up in one channel against Parker and Gjerstad.  What becomes evident is how well the participants use space fluidly.  Frode has a hard to categorize style which is often better for the uninitiated to experience in concert than through recordings.  He's very adept at filling available space with just the right sound, whether augmenting Parker’s blues based strumming or Lonberg-Holm’s bowing with a full bodied clarinet or joining a cacophony with his alto lines to lend direction.  Parker plays a lot of cornet and flutes here, so much so that when he picks up the bass or tuba it provides a welcome underpinning that the others had been providing by other means although William and Swell’s brass interactions often provide a solid foundation.  Lonberg-Holm’s cello likewise often provides the rock upon which these performances are built.  Swell’s trombone is the singular instrumental constant throughout it all, whether blaring rhythmic support for the others or soloing over Lonberg-Holm with the abandon that a seasoned improvisor can draw upon effortlessly.

Although all of these players have been well documented, I think they caught lightning in a bottle at this previously unplanned session.  The liners mention that two days later Frode on clarinet, Steve and William on tuba played an impromptu afternoon concert in a park on the Lower East Side in which they sounded like a band from the 20s.  I really wish that had been captured.  But lacking that we have this thoroughly satisfying recording.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Sunjae Lee / Junyoung Song - Claustrophobia (Mung Music, 2021)

By Keith Prosk

Saxophonist Sunjae Lee and drummer Junyoung Song play calm yet stirring, inside-outside original jazz compositions on Claustrophobia

Lee and Song have been frequent collaborators since the saxophonist moved to South Korea in 2014. A move that - after the success of Entropy in 2019 - culminated in a particularly productive 2020, seeing the releases of Pulse Theory with pianist Eunyoung Kim and drummer Dayeon Seok, the solo Channel, and the beginning of Lee’s Mung Music label, which documents the breadths of the free jazz scene in Seoul. While Lee largely adheres to melodicism in music, the label’s inclusivity of more abstract forms can be heard in cellist Ji Park and vocalist Pyo Jinho’s Black Cosmos, also from 2021.

The compositions, coming from each musician, generally follow a head structure. The pace is typically relaxed but subject to abrupt yet unharsh tempo shifts in the changes. Communication is oblique and, while sometimes serving as counterpoint, the drums mostly keep time. There’s a bright but restrained energy, like a spring in the step rather than a freakout. However, there are more modern sensibilities, like the circular wall of sound on “용기” or the whinnies and squeals of “Dance of Dawn”’s cries and, while the drums are most often metronomic, they are certainly not beholden to time, momentarily slurring into more textural phrasings. Not to mention that the melodies, like that of the anthemic title track, can be earworms. Perhaps not adventurous enough for many readers here but, at just over half an over across six tracks, the pacing helps keep ears fresh. If not for the at-the-time uncommercial so unheard of sax/drums format, the sensibilities here have the mood of early to mid ‘60s inside-outside Blue Note records, modest extensions of hard bop stylings with more personal expressions. I’ve used a lot of buts, yets, and binaries in describing this music and perhaps it’s that tension, which tends to tip towards a recognizable resolution, that made this such a comforting listen.

Claustrophobia is a digital-only release.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFunk – We’ve Had Enough! (ESP Disk, 2020) ****


By Daniel Böker

The second instalment of Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFunk We’ve had enough! is exactly that. It is Fay Victor with her artistic vocal capacity in the center of… yes, sound and noise and all that on a rather funky base.

I recommended the second song of the album “What’s gone wrong?” to a friend who is not into Free Jazz or improvised music or anything like it because I think this is a beautiful song and maybe a good way into free music with vocals. But let’s start at the beginning.

Over the last couple of years, I started to appreciate Free Jazz (I use this term here in lack of a better one in reference to the music probably interesting to the readers – and writers – of this blog) with vocals. This is a still rather new development, which started with the voices of Mariam Wallentin, Amirtha Kidambi and Sofia Jernberg, for example in the context of Fire! Orchestra and The End and so on. There are a lot more to name, Moor Mother in particular. (I know it is difficult to just name these four but for my way into vocal music they were very formative.)

And Fay Victor was another important voice on that way. Especially with her first album with the SoundNoiseFunk, Wet Robots.

(I have to admit I didn’t have the time yet to dig into all the music she did and does as well.)

So here we are with the second album of Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFunk.

It starts with “Ritual”. Already with this first track, it is all about her voice. Singing and dancing over some spare saxophone and percussion sounds. Though the title is ritual I have the strong association with a lament. Maybe because it is the most non-funk(y) piece on the album. A quiet but intense start with the album.

Then comes the track I recommended to my (slightly irritated, hopefully positively irritated) friend. The lyrics state the question of the title: What’s gone wrong with the world? The song develops on the basis of a simple guitar line a strong maelstrom sucking you in. In the sound, in the noise and funk and into the question stated in the lyrics.

With or without recognizable lyrics, the whole album states a great concern with the state of the (political) world we live in. It is a great lament in free form. So the focus might be the Sound this time in the SoundNoiseFunk.

The third track “I.M. Peach” (nice pun) starts with again some spare sounds (guitar, saxophone and some drum sounds) and in the center the impressive voicing of Fay Victor. Here the voice is another instrument used in an impressive manner. No lyrics needed to feel the pain, the pressure, the urge in the music. A music that leans on this track a lot more towards sound than funk or noise.

“Wereld Worn” starts with a flute line and builds again a moaning vibe. Fay Victor works with a few lines of lyrics, criticizing our handling of the climate and environment crisis.

“Momentary Mandatory Joy” is a rather short piece of vocal art accompanied by a rather prominent (compared to the other tracks) drum set. And though I already said that the album has a mournful vibe, it is on the other hand a great joy to hear her executing her vocal skills.

“Let the breeze in” changes the vibe. Here we have the full impact of sound and noise and funk. After all the moaning it feels like a cry to get up. To get into motion. At least that is what the music does.

I might read too much into the titles of the tracks (but that doesn’t matter, I hope). However: the next track “Te ara whakamua (The Way Forward)” seems to me a bit more light-hearted without losing any bit of intensity. Which leads to the last piece: “Fatal catalyst”. This continues the way of the more joyful expression.

It is common to quote the liner-notes upfront. Mostly to critic them. But here I want to end with a few words from them because they fit perfectly:

“It is a cry of frustration, but also determination and celebration. Frustration with the state of our country, determination to do something about it, and celebration of the power and joy of spontaneous creativity.”

Fay Victor: voice, texts, compositions
Sam Newsome: soprano saxophone
Joe Morris: electric guitar
Reggie Nicholson: drums

Buy the album via bandcamp (six out of the eight songs are there to listen to for free).

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Sana Nagano - Smashing Humans (577 Records, 2021) ****

New York based violinist Sana Nagano's Smashing Humans begins with a no-nonsense musical statement. 'Strings and Figures' starts off with a few strokes of Nagano's bow across the strings and then is joined by a lurching bass figure and straight ahead drum figure - but placed slightly akimbo against the bass' downbeat - and then a sand papery blast from the guitar. What we are about to hear from this self described "noise-jazz violinist" is fierce and fiery, sure, it scorches, but it is also exudes an welcoming warmth.

This sentiment is also carried by the album's cover image - a pixely image that seems to work the double entendre in the title. Just what is that ornery orange about to do? Smash the people in the Jello mold into little tasty pulpy bits? Or is that just a bunch of “smashing” good humans? Hardly matters, it is good fun added on top of the buzzing music.

To make the music, Nagano has rounded up a serious bunch. Joining the violinist is Peter Apfelbaum on tenor saxophone, Keisuke Matsuno on electric guitar, Ken Filiano contributing acoustic bass and Joe Hertenstein on drums. Long time readers of the blog and followers of the New York downtown music scene will know many of these players, but a newer name (at least to me) is Matsuno, whose intense approach and distorted tone adds texture, melody, and energy to mix. 'Loud Dinner Wanted' is a great example, his roll is both as agitator and a colorist, and his extended presence in tune adds quite a bit of thrust. 

At the same time, the smaller interlocking pieces help make the music ever engaging. The noisiness is important, but the intricate figures, like the violin/guitar moments in the beginning of the same track, makes the louder moments even better. During ‘Humans in Grey’ is another good example, in how the introductory phrase, a sinuous legato line from Nagano, wraps itself around defiant hits and forceful phrases. You can almost see where the tongue and groove joints are, but the music becomes so infectious, and seemingly complex, you can get lost in it. Then, half-way through the 10 minute track, the grooves give way … for a little while. Similar exploratory playing festoons 'Heavenly Evil Devil,' where is makes up the bulk of the tune.

Smashing Humans is an excellent debut album from the Nagano on the Brooklyn based 577 Records. Last year, the label released the debut from another group that Nagano is a part of "Asroturf Noise" - an avant bluegrass trio. Check 'em both out!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Daniel Thompson/Colin Webster –Okey Dokey (Raw Tonk, 2020) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Just by adding up the numbers, it seems that Raw Tonk has slowed down during this whole year of the covid pandemic. Nevertheless RT’s catalogue still makes the label as one of the most adventurous in free improv and free jazz right now. This cassette only release came out late in 2020 strengthening the bonds of the label with the cassette underground that still seems to be flourishing. Given the diy aesthetics of every release from Raw Tonk, this adds up to the homemade status of the label.

Colin Webster, the saxophonist behind the label, is quite prolific with releases on Raw Tonk but other labels as well. His playing is quite energetic, balancing between improvisational small gestures and more traditional a la “fire music” blow outs. On Okey Dokey he plays alto saxophone and his distinct voice has lowered the volume. Okey Dokey is a duo with Daniel Thompson who plays acoustic guitar, and both sides of the cassette were recorded live in two different venues clocking on almost fifty five minutes.

Even though most of Webster’s oeuvre comes from the fruitful and free spirited “tradition” of free jazz, Okey Dokey is far closer to the free improvisational margin of sound. In fact, it seems like it is continuing the improvisational trajectory of important labels like Incus, reminiscent of seminal releases like the Bailey/Parker duo's The London Concert. But apart from images of the past, this release stands on its own as a statement of today.

Their free playing is a constant dialogue of strings and breathing. The percussion qualities of the acoustic guitar give way to a more droney sound, while Thompson also utilizes a bow and actively forces the guitar to challenge the saxophone. Both sides of the cassette reveal two musicians in a constant flux of ideas and interactions pushing each other to the limits of their playing. There are no moments of silence but a linear, full of energy plucking, blowing, gargling, droning and what ever else their respectful instruments are able to produce. And hell, they push them to their limits as well. What I find really intriguing and exhilarating as a listener is when some music takes me by the moment, strengthening –minute by minute- my belief that music can produce wonderful results and feelings of solace and pathos. Okey Dokey is one of those recordings.


Friday, March 19, 2021

The Resonant Minimalism of Ferran Fages and Àlex Reviriego

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Catalan, Barcelona-based guitarist-sound artist-composer Ferran Fages and double bass player Àlex Reviriego have played together hundreds of times as a duo, trio or quartet and have spent uncountable times driving together between gigs. Both have developed a delicate, minimalist language, as reviewed in the following albums, but their sonic universes also encompass noisier and more brutal elements.

Phicus - Liquid (Tripticks Tapes, 2021) ****

The Phicus trio -guitarist Fages, double bass player Reviriego and drummer Vasco Trilla, proved already that it can make some brutal noise – literally – in its first albums, alone or with Swedish sax player Martin Küchen and Russian sax player Ilia Belorukov, with its very own recipe of guitar feedback, down-tuned double bass bowings and sulfurous drumming. But Liquid, recorded a day after the explosive Solid (Astral Spirits, 2020), and at the same studio, Rosazul Studio in Barcelona in April 2019, suggests another side of Phicus. The other side is as essential as the wild and the aggressive one, but totally different, meditative and static. Phicus was once described as “Keiji Haino meets AMM”, and accordingly, if Solid represented the Haino’s yin side, then Liquid is the AMM’s yang side in Phicus universe.

Liquid is the fifth album of Phicus and offers two pieces. The 38-minutes of “Hg” is a highly reserved and quiet but quite unsettling drone, corresponding with the opening pieces of Solid, “HgO”, and flirting with the sonic territory of SUNN O))). Phicus relies on this brooding, contemplative piece on the subtle distorted and resonant, long guitar lines of Fages, the ethereal multiphonics and gentle harmonics of Reviriego’s arco playing and the metallic growl of Trilla’s cymbals. Mid-piece, the tension intensifies methodically but never reaches a grandiose, meltdown peak as on previous efforts of Phicus, and subsides later on. The second, shorter “Br” suggests more bright colors and reserved playfulness within the quiet and subtle framework. Phicus emphasizes here different elements of its mission: to speculate with silence, pull the noise out of joint, rearrange the timbre, scrap the tradition to explore its very own harmonic universe forged of the energy of a blazing forest into flame, where solely simple, lanceolate, obverse-shining leaves remain alive. And does it brilliantly.

Ràdium / Ràdium Trio - Segment + Circumferens (Remote Resonator + Sirulita, 2020) ***½ / ****½


Ràdium began as the duo of Fages, focusing here only on an acoustic turntable and resonant and feedback objects, and Reviriego, still on the double bass. The duo recorded its debut album Segment at La Isla in Barcelona in December 2019. The eight “Segment” drones are sound-oriented and attempt to extend the sonic spectrum of the deep-toned and highly resonant arco playing of Reviriego, with his extended bowing techniques, with the hissing sounds and feedback noises of the mechanical turntables. The slow and methodical work of both Fages and Reviriego, as well as their inventive approaches, charge these minimalist and austere pieces with an aroma of mysterious ambiance. As these pieces continue you may find it difficult to know who of these sonic alchemists produced these elastic sounds and how they did it.

Ràdium’s second album, Circumferens, now a trio with master pianist Agustí Fernández, was recorded seven months later at Estudi Les Orenetes in Barcelona. Ràdium still commits to its minimalist approach of sonic ambiguity, and as Reviriego indicate in his poetic liner notes, the trio drew inspiration from minimalism pioneer La Monte Young words: drawing a straight line and following it. But with Ràdium Trio this straight line becomes a circle, as the title of this album suggests or, ellipses, an endless circle of ideas, or a circular trip as Reviriego notes. The addition of Fernández, who plays the piano keys as well as inside the piano, adds depth, fleeting veins of tenderness and lyricism and triggers subtle rhythmic patterns into the patient and highly resonant sonic explorations. The five “circumferens” and “élleipsis” pieces are longer and more spacious compared to the Segment pieces, but still enigmatic in spirit. But the careful and elusive sonic puzzles of Circumferens also color these pieces with imaginative and poetic sensibility and strange beauty. Just follow Reviriego’s advice and imagine yourself “falling asleep totally drunk on a bus seat. Close your eyes. Time passes. Open your eyes and realize you are on the very same station, but on your way back. Terrible hangover. Future chasing the past. A circle”.

Entre cérvols llauradors - trist desert en mans de febre (Self-produced, 2021) ****

Entre cérvols llauradors (Among the plower deer in Catalan) is Fages alone, playing the electric guitar and focusing here on developing a delicate synthesis of chamber rock, post-guitar minimalism and melodies hidden away in monolithic blocks. The debut album of this project, trist desert en mans de febre (sad desert in the hands of fever) was enhanced by subtle touches of keyboards player Clara Lai, Reviriego and drummer Oriol Roca (who plays with Fages in the Tàlveg trio), and recorded at V20 studios in Barcelona in May 2020.

The six short pieces offer layers of spacious and, again, resonant ambient soundscapes, with occasional glitch interference. The minimalist yet weird melodic guitar lines float into deep space and keep reverberating until the reverberating overtones become the very essence of these hypnotic and poetic pieces. trist desert en mans de febre suggests an alternative or parallel sonic reality, one that lurks and vibrates in the shadows of any musical activity.

Ferran Fages - From Grey To Blue (Inexhaustible Editions, 2020) ****½

From Grey To Blue was written by Fages for fellow-Catalan, contemporary experimental pianist Lluïsa Espigolé, known for her work with contemporary composers like Helmut Lachenmann and Peter Ablinger. This composition was inspired by a short quote by Catalan author Carles Camps Mundó: “Barely anything: deformities of silence”. This composition was conceived in a collaborative process between Fages and Espigolé between 2016 and 2018 and recorded at Rosazu in Barcelona in September 2019.

As on other works from Fages, the focus here is on the resonant qualities of sounds, including the silent spaces between sounds. The sounds in this minimalist and extremely slow composition are suspended in time and space, almost without any movement, and intentionally devoid of emotion or drama but reaching their most expressive statements in the third and last part. This composition challenges Espigolé to find meaning and even dialog with this kind of almost static sounds, in and within the single tones and in relation to the piano.

Espigolé does so brilliantly. The sonic and emotional emptiness becomes the very essence of this meditative journey. There is nothing more than the suchness of the resonant sounds. And Espigolé lets these sounds suggest elusive dimensions and courses of time, tricks our listening sensibilities into believing that these sounds can last forever, and weaves these sounds in the unknown, arresting spaces, with shifting, delicate angles of light and shadow.

Àlex Reviriego - Fred Astaire (Self Produced, 2021) ***½

Fred Astaire is the first of a series of solo EPs dedicated to Reviriego’s heroes and celebrates the actor-dancer Fred Astaire. Astaire’s super supernatural talent, moves and elegant phrases influenced Reviriego enormously during his formative years. Reviriego recorded on this EP his version of the jazz standard “Cheek to Cheek”, written by Irving Berlin for the Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie Top Hat (1935), but promises that most likely this is the last time that he would record a standard.

The six pieces were recorded at Reviriego’s home during the winter of 2020. I assume that Astaire, or his cinematic and real-life inheritors, would find it quite challenging to find the right dance moves for the four urgent and unsettling variations of “Fred Astaire”. Reviriego’s arco and pizzicato work probes methodically the dark, wooden tones and overtones of the bull fiddle and create compelling multiphonics. He deconstructs the jazz standard into stripped to its bare, rhythmic skeleton, first as a slow, meditative piece, and then again, at an even slower pace.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Jamie Drouin – Touch: Works for Solo Dancer (Infrequency Editions, 2020) ****


By Nick Ostrum

It is hard for me to listen to Jamie Drouin’sTouch: Works for Solo Dancer without thinking of Derek Bailey’s Music and Dance. From the fuzzy ambient noises and the clangs at the beginning, to the crumbling rain sounds and pulsing energy that infuses the pieces, to the meticulous spaciousness of the sounds and the movements. In ways, Touch seems reinterpretation and expansion of the Bailey-Tanaka collaboration, though performed twenty-five years later win a wholly different post-Bailey corner of the abstract music world. Naturally, I developed these thoughts before I asked Drouin, who is largely unfamiliar with Bailey’s work, let alone familiar enough that he derived deep inspiration from Music and Dance. Still, I cannot shake the feeling that there is some common thread of closeness and patience that runs between these two works: Music and Dance, improvised on the spot as an intimate conversation between two masters of sound and dance and Touch, carefully constructed in isolation at home during quarantine with only the vision of a lone dancer against which to throw ideas.

Touch consists of two electroacoustic compositions for solo dancers. Both tracks, the twenty-minute Part I and the ten-minute Part II, deploy Drouin’s familiar bag of unfamiliar found and synthesized sounds, often just one or two at a time. The layers, in other words, are fragile, lending (I imagine) clear threads for the dancer to follow and spaces to fill, even if those threads and spaces can provoke a variety of movements and positions. Part I begins as one might expect, with a slow roll-out of sounds that increases in density. Density, however, is a detour rather than a goal, and this compulsion towards heavy layers is soon interrupted by spare percussive sounds that evoke a soft and irregular precipitation. (These passages, especially the extended one in the begins 13 minutes, are particularly entrancing in their calm internal variation but lack of cumulative development.) Part II begins somewhat heavier, though the rain imagery remains in crackling electronics and a deep, distant thunderous pulse that propels the piece at irregular intervals. Though still open, Part II evokes a somewhat stronger storm than the soft pitter-patter of Part I. By the end, however, the storm shifts and Drouin opens the piece first to ethereal shining tones and mysterious clicks and buzzes, then more cryptic rumblings, clatter, and oscillations.

I have listened to a lot of Drouin’s work over the last year. He is an intriguing artist who produces work that invariably makes this listener squint and ponder. Sometimes, I find his work a little too sparse, like a sketch or study rather than a full-on piece. Interestingly, this release (for which half of the performance, the dancer, is notably absent) gives the impression of a project more completely realized. Despite the quiet, it has a fullness that hints at that of his experimental ambient Liquid Transmitter work (highly recommended) but remains more firmly rooted in his electro-acoustic collage projects. And, because of that, Touch is one of the most compelling solo works that I have heard from Drouin yet. Would love to see the project even more complete, dancer and all, when the conditions permit it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Magnus Granberg - Come Down to Earth Where Sorrow Dwelleth (Meenna, 2020) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

In Dutch we have the beautiful word 'onthaasten' which means to slow down, literally to 'de-speed', not to be pulled in all directions by obligations, appointments, tasks, chores, commtiments and assignments. It means that you get rid of all external pressure and enjoy the moment. 

You absolutely need that state of mind to fully appreciate Swedish modern composer Magnus Granberg's approach to music. We have reviewed his compositions for his Skogen ensemble before. Now he's treating us to one composition performed by two different ensembles. 

The original piece "Come Down To Earh Where Sorrow Dwelleth", was composed in the spring of 2019 for Ordinary Affects, a Boston-based experimental ensemble, consisting of Morgan Evans-Weiler on violin, Laura Cetilia on cello, Luke Martin on electric guitar and J.P.A. Falzone on vibraphone. 

As it's title suggests, this is not upbeat music. The composition is a calm, slow, carefully paced improvisation around structural and melodic concepts. In a way Granberg's composition creates a sonic space to inhabit. As a listener you do not only listen to it, it surrounds you, it engulfes you, it creates the sonic environment in which you can just 'be'. Little extended sonic elements appear and disappear, like smoke, and little percussive particles drip like rain across the ethereal space. Light and almost intangible patterns appear in slightly shifting forms and the pace is so calm and the sounds so minimal that each tone gets a special weight, almost paradoxically. Needless to say, that all instruments are played with a level of mastery that betrays the instrument's intended sounds. That by itself makes the album worth listening to. 

The original album gives a recording of one of the last performances of the tour, at the Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. 

Granberg was invited at the Ftarri Festival in Japan in November of the same year. He reworked his composition for a Japanese ensemble consisting of Miki Maruta on 20-string koto, Ko Ishikawa on sho, Toshimaru Nakamura on no-input mixing board, and Magnus Granberg himself on prepared piano. The performance is shorter, 52 minutes instead of the original's 75 minutes. 

Both performances are worth listening to, and obviously there are differences, if only by the instrumentation, with possibly a more piercing sound of Nakamura's no-input mixing board somewhere halfway the composition creating a sense of unease instead of calm. 

So take your time, and listen to two different versions of the same composition, relax and enjoy two hours of great music. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp: here and here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

L'Étau (Keith Tippett, Michel Pilz, Paul Rogers, Jean-Noël Cognard) – Script Original (Disques Bloc Thyristors / trAce Label, 2021) ****

By Colin Green

Releases on drummer Jean-Noël Cognard’s vinyl-only Disques Bloc Thyristors label have been of high quality, albeit sporadic. Over the last decade three substantial box sets have stood out featuring some notable groupings: two quartets – La Fièvre De L'Indépendance (2013) and Choses Clandestines (2013) – and a quintet, Aux Antipodes De La Froideur (2018). On each occasion the recording process consisted of two days spent in Studio Pierre Schaeffer at the Conservatory of Châtenay-Malabry, and a concert during the evening of the second day at Instants Chavirés. It’s an approach that’s been adopted from time to time by a number of musicians, including Evan Parker and Barry Guy, and documents the often-different facets of studio exploration – sometimes a getting-to-know-you exercise utilising subdivisions of the ensemble – together with the more embracing, collective creativity of a public performance which builds on the studio rapport to round-off the project. All three box sets can still be had on LP, but happily they’ve now also been made available as downloads through the trAce Label’s Bandcamp site. Each collection is strongly recommended.

In addition, there’s this new release consisting of studio material that didn’t make it onto Choses Clandestines, recorded by the quartet of Keith Tippett (piano, maracas), Michel Pilz (bass clarinet), Paul Rogers (7 string A.L.L. Bass), and Cognard (drums, percussion), going under the name “L'Étau”. Tippett remarked at the time that everything played must be recorded and released, which suggests the album is not merely an assortment of outtakes, and it provides a fitting memorial to the pianist who passed away last June and whose achievements are the subject of Philippe Renaud’s liner notes. These pieces are a reminder of Tippett’s artistry: his quicksilver virtuosity and prodigious colouristic resources, both at the keyboard and within the body of the piano. His playing ranged from diamantine precision to dreamy, radiant washes, balancing gesture and poetry, the impish with the rhapsodic, his shifts linked using a rich associative logic which encompassed an affinity for diverse genres, while remaining inimitably himself.

As is often the case in improvisation, this enterprise was a combination of elements familiar and new. Tippett and Rogers had played together regularly for more than two decades as one-half of Mujician, which disbanded after the death of drummer Tony Levin in 2011, and Pilz and Cognard had formed part of the Resuage group and played as a duo on Binôme, recorded in 1994 but not released until some years later. It would seem that the recordings from March 2013 were the first (and only) occasion each pair’s paths crossed. The album is made up of duos and trios as well as the full quartet and a short solo contribution from Pilz, displaying his fruity tone and characteristic voicings, at times as a dialogue between contrasting registers.

Over the course of these performances, we can hear the musicians probing idioms, fusing sonorities, and finding available spaces to collaborate. The opening ‘Premiers rôles’ features piano and bass clarinet and highlights what might be considered typically idiomatic music for each instrument – Tippett’s angular, Bartók-like phrasing and rhythmic patterns intersecting with Pilz’s wonderfully liquid lines, though both ultimately converge into a gentle flow to close. ‘Les châtiments corporels’ consists almost entirely of a commingled group texture, music as a force of nature, woven out of overlapping figurations, shivering bass, boisterous clarinet runs and clattering percussion, in which Tippett’s treated piano resembles a harpsichord, its repeating notes like flickering light. The trio of ‘Le sens du drame’ brings out similarities in the woody hue of thickly bowed bass strings and the lacquered undulations of the bass clarinet, illuminated here and there by bright flurries at the piano. ‘Une vie dissipée’ is a piano trio marked by a static four-note figure set against spectral refractions on arco bass.

By the time of the second quartet track, ‘Ne jamais gâcher l’espace’, all four are working with a broad mixture of components, gritty and diaphanous. There’s the sandy distortion of what sounds like maracas resonating on the piano strings, edgy plucking from Rogers and his constantly slithering bow, Pilz’s swirling reed over a motorised rhythm, and arpeggiated tendrils unfurled across the piano that eventually morph into the Township swagger of the melody with which the piece resolves: ‘You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me’, written by the Blue Notes’ Mongesi Feza. The album concludes with a duo, as it opened, this time Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ – a tune whose melancholic beauty never seems to fade – set in an ample acoustic and given a sonorous reading by Pilz and Cognard.

Script Original is a welcome release, whether considered as an addendum to the already impressive Choses Clandestines or in its own right. The album is available on vinyl and as a download.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Two Much: Reut Regev and Igal Foni - Never Enough (Relative Pitch, 2021) ****


By Eyal Hareuveni

Israeli-born, New York-based trombonist Reut Regev and drummer Igal Foni share life and musical careers for more than twenty years now. But, surprisingly, Never Enough, is their first duo album, recorded in intimate studio settings right before the Covis-19 pandemic, and then amended during the lockdown in their home studio. The nice cover art was given to Regev And Foni as a wedding present by late Israeli free-improvising pioneer, clarinetist and beat poet Harold Rubin.

Regev is known for her work with some of the most seminal composers, among them Anthony Braxton, Butch Morris and Elliot Sharp, but she says that a typical year for her includes some free improvisation, contemporary compositions, blues, klezmer, Latin music, straight-ahead jazz, and everything in between. Foni is known for his work with sax player Avram Ferer, double bass player Adam Lane and veteran pianist Burton Greene. Their shared project so far was the trio Reut Regev’s R*time, where they hosted free funk guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly, bassists Mark Peterson, Robert Jukic and Andrea Castelli, and tubist Jon Sass.

Two Much captures the essence of Never Enough. Regev and Foni sound like a much bigger outfit than only a trombonist (with occasional use of electronics) and drummer. The 20 short and sarcastic-tiled pieces cover many moods, compositional and improvisational strategies and dynamics of free-improvisation, and refuse to settle in familiar molds or clear narratives. The telepathic, intimate conversational interplay of these soulmates is, obviously, a central factor. But Regev and Foni succeed to charge even in the most adventurous (“A Wave Without A Shore”, “Temperamental Flow”), experimental (“Repent And Repair”, “Echoes of Infinity”) and eccentric pieces (“Gone Without The Wind”, “Short”, “Flea Bath”) , when both of them search for new timbral qualities of the trombone, the drum-set and percussive objects, with a strong focus on fun atmosphere and subversive doses of pathos and humor (“Rising Up”, “Mustard”, “The Art of the Grind”), and to radiate this feeling to the listener. At times, these colorful duets sound like secretive yet highly playful and twisted, song-like dialogs of romantic wife and a husband who are never tired of pushing the boundaries of each other’s - sonic as well as personal, and keep refreshing and coloring their daily experiences with plenty of imaginative ideas. It is clear that Regev and Foni enjoy living the moment without looking back, not even to their former homeland. The last piece on Never Enough is even called “Palestine”, an intense but still quite hopeful piece.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Ignaz Schick & Oliver Steidle - ILOG2 (Zarek, 2021) ****

By Keith Prosk

Ignaz Schick and Oliver Steidle freely play eccentric beat music for electronics and drums that’s closer to instrumental hip hop and rhythmic plunderphonics than jazz or classical on the unabashedly fun sound collage, ILOG2.

While Schick’s label, Zarek , has so far released digital-only archival recordings, ILOG2 and its 2xCD sister release, Altered Alchemy , mark a turn towards physical formats, and ILOG2 is the first non-archival entry, released just months, rather than years, after recording. The ILOG duo began performing around 2013, releasing their first record in 2015, and, while this isn’t a massive leap from the frenetic noise of their early music , it integrates recognizable nods to jungle, dub techno, and hip hop that reinvigorates the approach with head-bobbing energy. On this recording, Schick uses turntables, a voltage-controlled sampler, and looper/pitch shifter; Steidle uses drums, percussion, sampler, and kaosspad.

And Steidle’s beats are hyperactive, crashing and skittering across cymbals and snares with stuttering bass drum bumps. Cutting from theme to theme but briefly coalescing into jungle grooves, four on the floor, Bonhamesque bombast, or lumbering dub techno low end. Schick scratches, clicks cuts and crackles, thrums and throbs electric, and samples soul violin, spoken word and film, classical, and iconic radio rap snippets. Beats divide and subdivide in intricate polyrhythms. Electric fibrillations; palpitating drums; cocaine pulses. Darren Aronofsky’s hip hop montages fed back into sound to forge this frankenstein of outsider party music. Closer to the oddest tendencies of Madlib, FlyLo, DJ Shadow, and DJ Krush than anything else coming out of the Berlin improv scene. The saxless sonic companion to the melting R&B and IDM of Wobbly’s “saxgag” that I never knew I needed. And I don’t mean to sample snitch, but hearing a maelstrom of Jadakiss and Snoop Dogg topped off with Lil Jon yelling “sweat drop down my balls” in the middle of a blistering drum solo is sure to crack a smile on your face. There are a few slower, textural minutes, including the comedown of the last track, but the best are certainly the high-density, high-volume, sample-happy “There is no escaping” and “In your face.”

A lot of the music covered here is self-serious and any humor a little high-brow or attached to a punk aesthetic. ILOG2 refreshingly marries the spheres of noise and improv with dance and pop in a way that maintains both the intellectualism and fun of each.

ILOG2 is available on CD and digitally.