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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

2 Zorns (Tzadik)

By Gary Chapin

What is the common thread running through and connecting all of the many many John Zorn projects that sit in my listening world? From Spillane (my first) to Naked City to the strategy pieces to Masada to Masada and to the other Masada, and now all the Ribot based projects and EVERY OTHER DAMN THING. When I say, “I like Zorn” (which I do say) what is the Zorn-ness that I am liking.

It’s a fool’s inquiry, especially when inquiring about the guy for whom the phrase more-eclectic-than-thou was coined. But I am convinced of the cohesion of his oeuvre, even if it is a sort of pell mell cohesion similar (in concept, not sound) to Zappa’s project object. Even if I can’t articulate it, I can feel it, and I feel it in these two recent Tzadik Zorn discs.

John Zorn - Les Maudits (Tzadic, ) ****

These records fall into the chamber music space. Zorn’s improv games feel like chamber music to me. I used to think of it as energy music — and there was a lot of energy! — but now it hits me as far more contemplative. It sounds the same, I am sure, but I am 30 years older, so I hear differently.

Les Maudits features three pieces. The first is a trio of Zorn, Ches Smith, and Simon Hanes playing around a dozen instruments between them. I haven’t discerned the exact improv strategy going on (and I don’t need to), but I’m sure it involves wild waving hand gestures and three by five cards. It begins with the guys yelling “Shit!” a few times, like they mean it, and … y’know what … in August 2021, I mean it , too. (I know. The piece was recorded more than five years ago.) It’s 20 minutes of noisy joy and exuberance and “Shit!” Zorn’s alto makes an appearance in its duck calling, register spanning role. Ches Smith has got me wondering what he can’t do. Anything that can make a sound does. Instruments are incidental, with mouth noises, squawks, baby cries, insectoid sonics etc. becoming the content.

The two other tracks are played by “The International Contemporary Ensemble,” but they quixotically have entirely different personnel. The pieces — dedicated to Gaugin and Baudelaire, respectively — are through-composed, and they do feel more intentionally random than a pure improv would feel. Free improv has waves to it of dynamics or timbral clusters. These two pieces — even with their abrupt turns and wrecks, long tones followed by skittish passages and slurred violins — feel more constructed. They’re each called a concerto grosso in the notes, and it feels like an apt description. In the end it feels like an unnatural-seeming natural phenomenon, like the microwave background noise of the universe. Order and peace expressed as chaos. It’s like a sound track for a Man Ray short.

John Zorn - Azoth (Tzadic, 2020) **** 

Zorn’s cello recital. It features comprovisations for Ches Smith (drums etc), Jay Campbell, cello, Michael Nicholas, cello, and Jorge Roeder, bass. We’ve got two pieces for solo cello, and two for two cellos plus bass plus drums. Well programmed.

Zorn has a history of great work with strings and “this kind of thing” has always been woven into his Masada String Trio work and his pieces for Marc Feldman, but this disc, with its thoroughgoing concentration on the cello, its extremes, and its indifference to the very idea of genre is somewhat breathtaking. Cello, in fact, was there at the inception of Zorn-ness, in the non-idiomatic cello free improv of the great Tom Cora — who, for me, defined free string playing and who I still miss after his passing twenty-three years ago. Azoth continues that tradition. I’m pleased to be reminded how great it is to visit a world without swing or groove.

Monday, August 30, 2021

gabby fluke-mogul, Jacob Felix Heule, Kanoko Nishi-Smith - non-dweller (Humbler Records, 2021) ****

By Keith Prosk

gabby fluke-mogul, Jacob Felix Heule, and Konoko Nishi-Smith freely play frictional, tensive though understated environments for violin, bass drum, and koto on the two half-hour tracks of non-dweller.

Heule and Nishi-Smith have been a working group for over a decade now, most recently releasing "brittle feebling" with Kyle Bruckmann and Tom Djll some months before non-dweller. The duo began working with fluke-mogul in 2019, recording non-dweller the same year. fluke-mogul has experienced a bit of a breakout year in 2021 with the solo "threshold" and at least one more collaboration - a kind of string quartet - scheduled for later this year.

The sound is more textural than tonal. Bass drum skin and rim massaged with fingers, brushes, and other objects in often charybdian motion to emit dull whirrs, howling resonances, and other circular sounds between - almost always played parallel to the drum head rather than struck perpendicularly. Koto bowed and plucked, sawed and muted, its traditional tonalities and characteristic decay masked to make an instrument closer to pure pulse. The violin likewise sawed, flayed, sighing from the soft tickle of the bow, creaking and cracking from its weight, whistling like a kettle under more even pressure, with some classic romantic gestures. While some sounds are hard to source, like pizzicato that could be mistaken for flute pops, this is not acousmatic, the instrumental identities nearly always apparent. And though the trio often operates in a tight timbral range, the densities and dynamics through which they communicate are diverse and fleet footed. Despite a paucity of discrete overt percussion, the trio often locks into a groove, the cyclical cadences of drum swash and string bowing returns and other recurring textures phasing into sequence for a time, some pure plodding rhythm like cavedweller work song. 

For its measured maelstrom of noise, these are quiet techniques, and demonstrate the volatility of navigating the thresholds between sound and silence and the peculiar distortions that occur when sounding and listening at a smaller scale.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

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Saturday, August 28, 2021

Solo Cello

By Stef Gijssels

In our series of solo string instrument recordings, today brings an update on recent solo cello albums, an overview as a heads-up to readers rather than an analysis. 

Judith Hamann - Days Collapse (Another Timbre, 2020)

"Days Collapse" is a suite of four pieces for cello and electronics. The music was recorded in spring 2020 on the island of Suomenlinna in Finland during lockdown. 

Last year, Fotis Nikolakopoulos interviewed the cellist about her approach to music. I repeat this significant response, and I can recommend readers to read the whole interview for further insights: "I think that the mythology of the solo artist, the independent creator, the self made genius has not been a very helpful idea, and is very much a European settler-colonial kind of thinking about the making of creative work. We love the myth of our lack of dependence on things, but we’re much more interwoven than most people might like to believe. I think this is also part of why I call so much of my work ‘studies,’ that was kind of a way to try to resist that sense of composer as author. I don’t think any of the work I’ve made comes from a place of having some kind of singular idea or vision and working to realise that, it’s much more about working with the material from the inside out, and being porous, receptive to the kinds of trajectories and gestures and shapes and shadows which appear when you are open to them."

We add another of her quotes specifically about this album: "Since I started the project I have been thinking a lot about collapse as an idea, and it’s become a really important means of thinking with and through certain ideas and experiences. Collapse in the sense of this album refers to a buckling of structure, of multiple layers suddenly without division, and points to the overall experience of redrawing of inside/outside public/private/social spaces and perception of time in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Perhaps I’m being overly utopian here, but I now think collapse is not synonymous with disaster, it can instead be generative, creative, a way of making a new story or experience, a way of revealing, or retelling our perception of the world."

Her music has a very deep sense of gravitas. It is slow, well-paced and mixes ambient bird song with primarily bowed cello, electronics and humming. In reference to her quote, her music truly merges with its environment, reflects it, adds to it. There are no story-lines or narratives, just in the moment emotional and aesthetic creation. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Valentin Ceccaldi - Ossos (Cipsela, 2020)

Readers will know French cellist Valentin Ceccaldi from his collaborations with Chamber 4, with his brother Théo on violin, and with the Portuguese Luis Vicente and Marcelo Dos Reis. He is one of France's most prolific and versatile cellists, performing in a few dozen ensembles.

On "Ossos" (bones), his first solo album, he not only shows his instrumental skills, but also how to delve deep into emotional territory. ‘Enclume’ (anvil) is characterised by offering extremes from subdued to violent, with moments of drone-like intensity. ‘Marteau’(hammer) starts by touching raw nerves, with at times piercing sounds and repetitive single bowed notes, then moves into a quieter pizzi middle part, and ends in high tone bowed whispers, which sets the tone for the last track - ‘Étrier’(stirrup) - which is entirely built around these bowed whispers, played directly or through overtones, flutelike, with little development in the piece itself.  The entire album offers a fascinating listen, presenting a suite-like sequence that moves from dark and heavy sounds to featherlike lightness. 

The album was recorded in May 2017.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Paul de Jong - Spiral (Self, 2020)

Dutch cellist Paul de Jong is a sonic explorer, with great attention to the quality of his instruments and recording equipment, if we rely on his detailed description of it all. His cello was builte by Joannes Gagliano in Naples in 1800 and his bow by Eugène Nicolas Sartory in Paris in 1910. I think neither his cello nor his bow could have imagined the sounds they could produce in the hands of De Jong. There are barely any sounds on this album that could come from the cello as expected, but what does that even mean? Is there an expected sound from any instrument? 

De Jong is relentless in his search for sounds that hit hard and go deep. His song titles reflect his anger and frustration ("Rotzooi", "Troep", "Prul", "Geknoei", "Geklooi" ... could all be translated by "rubbish") with himself or the world or whatever. De Jong's musical universe will not be to everyone's taste, but it is coherent in its relentlessness. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Hannah Marshall - Clouds (Takuroku, 2020)

This Hannah Marshall's second solo album, after "Tulse Hill" from 2012.  The cellist is best known from her work with the London free improv scene, including collaborations with Veryan Weston, Trevor Watts, Alexander Hawkins, Alison Blunt, Dominic Lash, ... She is also a member of the Shoreditch Trio with Gianni Mimmo and Nicola Guazzaloca who were once so sweet to give me a private performance when it turned out I was the only member of the audience. 

On "Clouds", she offers us a very intimate expression of a lockdown situation, watching the world go by through the window, watching the clouds, or rather the clearings in the sky. As she mentions in the liner notes: "In some of the gaps you will hear the chair creak, the rain fall, the children at near by child-minders house. The slap and fall of strings, on fingers on wood".

Her playing is gentle, always pizzi and with a strong dynamic pulse, moving the music forward while still giving a sense of contemplative calm. 

The album is short, warm, relatively accessible and . 

Listen and purchase from the label

Lucy Railton - Lament In Three Parts (Takuroku, 2020) 

Lucy Railton is a classically trained cellist, educated at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She resides in Berlin for the moment. She is active in both the contemporary and experimental music scenes. In 2018 she released her first album, also for solo cello and electronics. Last year she released a composition by Olivier Messiaen for cello and organ. She also performs as a guest musician in Christian Lillinger's Open For For SocietyThomas Strønen's "Lucus" and on Kit Downes' ‎"Dreamlife Of Debris", the last two both on ECM. She also performed at the A L'Arme Festival in Berlin last week. 

Like Hannah Marshall's release, this one is short two, clocking around twenty minutes, but in contrast to Marshall, Railton's music is all bowed, with overdubs and electronic changes, slowly building the three laments that the title refers to. The laments are completely improvised pieces, with the processing done afterwards. No need to mention that the tone is inherently sad, drenched in grief. This album is fairly accessible, and departs from the more violent noise of her previous albums. The quality of the playing and the sound is excellent, and the music captivating and moving throughout. 

Listen and purchase from the label.  

Ulrich Mitzlaff - Transparent – Fluorescent Sound Fibres (Creative Sources, 2020) & Soliloque Sonore (Self, 2021)

Ulrich Mitzlaff is a German cellist who also resides in Portugal, and has been part of several Portuguese ensembles, such as the "Lisbon Improvisation Players", "Nuovo Camerata", and mostly "String Theory". 

The cellist performs on the crossroads of compositional concepts and improvisation, using a whole array of objects next to his cello. On "Transparent" he tries to perform the same piece twice, once on cello, once with a piano, and both with objects. The linear structure and the ominous atmosphere are perfectly captured in both pieces, although my preference would go to the more solemn and touching cello performance. 

The "Soliloque Sonore" also brings two improvisations, performed and inspired by the corona lockdown, in an effort to re-create ensemble interaction on his own: "all the sound sources that are used such as the violoncello, the voice, the sounds of shoes and the china type cymbal, substitute other absent but imaginary players". A lot is happening on these two pieces. They are more nervous and agitated, with a higher sense of urgency and immediacy, as if he lacks the time to say it all. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Fred Lonberg-Holm - Lisbon Solo (Notice Recordings, 2020)

It is still an honour that Fred Lonberg-Holm is the petrified subject of the last review of the Dutch version of this blog which I abandoned in 2007, and he will probably stay there until internet itself disappears (to be rediscovered by digital archaeologists centuries from now). 

We find the fierce Chicagoan on his fourth solo album in decades. His first solo album, "Personal Scratch" already dates from 1996. His second solo album, "Anagram Solos" was released in 2007 but with recordings from 1999. "Variance" dates from 2015. He is a small ensemble man in nature, preferring duets and trios with like-minded musicians. 

His style of playing is raw, direct and physical, and often, because the instrument is plugged in, also with feedback and pedals, adding unusual sonic possibilities to his playing. "Visceral" is possibly the word that best describes his approach. It touches you like a hard punch or striking a deep nerve. Lonberg-Holm describes the music on this album as "I like to think that my solo cello improvisations are a kind of non-denominational devotional music", and even if his solo performance is somewhat more gentle than other of his recordings, the sound is be far from what most people would consider 'devotional'. 

Next to his cello, he also performs on "unprepared" piano, to know the broken pianos that happened to be in the recording studio in Lisbon where the performance was made. It also leads to variety and surprises in the music. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Jakub Gucik - Vastitas Borealis (IPT, 2020)

Jakub Gucik is a young Polish cellist, member of the IPT Trio who released several interesting albums over the past years. This is Gucik's second solo cello album, and even better than "In Silva", his debut album. On "Vastitas Borealis", he brings us ten composed/improvised pieces inspired by the "northern waste" region on Mars, which is at the same time the deepest depression in our solar system housing the highest mountain too. 

Gucik's cello sounds distant, resonating in a larger space. His technical skills on the instrument are spectacularly good, briding all genres from classical to jazz and modern music, styles which he cleverly integrates almost seamlessly in his music, often used with different loops, creating multi-layered ensemble improvisations. Despite the uniqueness of his sound and approach, his music is still accessible and authentic. To his credit, he does not use his skills for showmanship but to deliver fascinating music, often organised around repetitive patterns that gradually shift and change in a Bach-like fashion. At times, as in the title track, this repetition of the core phrase may become a little too repetitive, but that's only a minor comment on an otherwise highly recommended album. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Helena Espvall & Fred Lonberg-Holm - FA #11 Borboletas Andarilhas (Flying Aspidistra, 2021)

"Borboletas Andarilhas" may mean wandering butterflies in Portuguese. Swedish cellist Helena Espvall now resides in Lisbon. Chicagoan cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm now lives in New York. Both cellists met 20 years ago in Stockholm before Espvall moved to Philadelphia. They have met each other across continents, at festivals. This is their first collaboration on record. 

"Bematistes Aganice" is an African butterfly, and a 20-minute long improvisation on this album. "Danaus Plexippus" is the scientific name of the monarch butterfly, and a 35-minute long improvisation on this album. Despite their different backgrounds, both musicians find each other on these two long exploratory improvisations, primarily because they give themselves fully, without restraint, but respectfully to each other. Espvall's solo music can be very 'noisy' and Lonberg-Holm can be raw and violent at times, but here their music is relatively accessible (even if this 'relatively' is still very relative) and relentlessly dynamic. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Guilherme Rodrigues – Cascata (Creative Sources, 2020)

Despite his appearance on 204 albums, this is only the first solo album by Guilherme Rodrigues, 

Surprisingly accessible at times, both when performed in pizzi or bowed; Rodrigues himself describes in the liner notes: "The album "Cascata" came from the need to share the total freedom of my person as a cellist. With nothing programmed, I arrived at the studio and played for almost two hours. It was fluid as a waterfall." The 23 improvisations range from 45 seconds to 4 minutes, each with a unique voice and technique, expressive and exploratory at the same time. 

The music was recorded in 2019, so not related to confinement. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Friday, August 27, 2021

Jean-Luc Guionnet - l'épaisseur de l'air (Thin Wrist, 2021) ****

By Keith Prosk

Jean-Luc Guionnet performs nine solo alto saxophone improvisations illuminating thresholds of sound and silence, pattern and variation, tone and noise on the 75’ "l'épaisseur de l'air".

While Guionnet has released solos previously, often for organ, this is their first for alto sax. Guionnet’s work often draws attention towards the relationship of sound to a certain space but, while the notes somewhat specifically reveal this was recorded in a semi-open barn in Brittany in 2018, the particular effects of the room on the sound are not so apparent to the blind listener of this recording. At the time of writing, Guionnet has also released the gargantuan four-hour collage featuring voices of 80+ friends across geographies, Totality, in 2021.

Perhaps as expected from a debut solo - though Guionnet is a veteran of the music - "l'épaisseur de l'air" showcases a broad range of technique. But polar behaviors and materials are juxtaposed as if to reveal the threshold between them or maybe its non-existence. Generous silence interrupted by breath notes interrupted by fragile sounding interrupted by strong honking. Punctuating, percussive pops cut to buzzing fly or shawm-like sustain. Sonorous melodies side by side raucous squeaks. A music of obvious rhythm together with a music of subtle pulse. Sequences of tonal cells tripping up the mind’s perception of whether they might be repetitions, variations, or some combination. The frequent contrast of sound and silence, sustained and discrete sounding, soft and loud, high and low pitch. Sometimes at once, multiphonically.

But more than some technical flex, its broad range means there’s perhaps a little something for everyone here. I particularly enjoyed the sounds of microtonal chitterings, warm organesque lullabies, harmonic beating patterns, hand-cupped bird calls, and a kind of psychoacoustic effect like digital distortion.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Thursday, August 26, 2021

Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt Made Out of Sound (Palilalia, 2021) ****½


On their latest tweeter roasting blues-punk-improv fricassee the venerable duo of Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt prove that they don't even have to get together to make a great album. As it were, Corsano laid down the primer and passed the material to Orcutt who then applied multiple coats of his proprietary 4-string ultragloss. The resulting album is phenomenal in ways I wasn't at all expecting. For our purposes I think nitroglycerin is a useful metaphor. First consider the versatility of glycerol, which is used in food, medicine, soap, fuel, coolants, etc. Corsano is one of, if not the most versatile drummer on the scene. He makes everything he's a part of better. When glycerol is treated with nitric and sulphuric acid you get a highly exothermic reaction. Orcutt's playing, even with the edges softened as he's recently been prone to doing, can be the very definition of caustic. 

When Corsano and Orcutt collaborate live, the reaction is similarly exothermic. The two feed off of each other's energy, manically filling all of the available sound space with their glorious squall. In order to stabilize the reaction that produces nitroglycerin (i.e. to prevent an instant explosion) it must be cooled. Since the pair laid their parts separately you could surmise that the high energy feedback loop that drives their live sets was severed, and so on Made of Sound we're left with a more stable and refined product that is every bit as explosive.

Orcutt’s approach to the electric guitar here plays like a punk Bill Frisell suffering with restless leg syndrome, i.e. an amorphous and strangely familiar blooming of folksy colors with a notably persistent, compulsive twitch. Corsano plays in an expansive yet suggestive way that yields a lot of space in which to maneuver but also leaves an evocative trail of breadcrumbs for his buddy. The first piece "Some Tennessee Jar" is an easy-flowing river of turbulent telecaster jangle that spills amidst the loosely stitched stretches of Corsano’s suppel dynamics. The duo tense up on "Man Carrying Thing", hurrying the tempo and intricacies of their playing into big, wiry tangles. This quality is further amplified by Orcutt's use of overdubbing, in which his barbed licks overlap and cluster within Corsano's surges of rhythm. "How to Cook a Wolf" comes close to conjuring the wild energy of their live sets in a two minute dirge of prickly guitar and drums that gets more spasmodic as it plays out. "Thirteen Ways of Looking" has a dense, almost pastoral feel that hangs in the air like humidity looking for a cold surface on which to condense. The brooding "Distance of Sleep" is probably the best single cut on the album. It's high drama that plays out over a meager three-plus minutes (video below). On "The Thing Itself" Corsano roils amidst Orcutt's chiming chords and pointy runs in an extended feud against a persistent hammer-on. And finally, the album closes out with the shimmering "A Port in Air", which returns to the billowing drift of the first track and finds Orcutt slicing lines of worried notes amongst the swarth and thicket of Corsano's tumultuous circumscription. 

"Made of Sound" is one of the duo's best albums yet and stands out as unique in their discography. I've been sitting on this review for quite a while now and upon last check physical copies of this record are long sold out, but it's still available as a digital download from Bandcamp.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Konus Quartett & Klaus Lang - Drei Allmenden (Cubus, 2021) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

"Drei Allmenden" is a composition by  Austrian contemporary music composer-organist-improviser Klaus Lang for the experimental Swiss Konus Quartett - soprano sax player Fabio Oehrli, alto and soprano saxes player Jonas Tschanz, tenor and soprano saxes player Christian Kobi and baritone and soprano saxes player Stefan Rolli. Lang often collaborates with improvising ensembles like the German-Austrian Polwechsel (Unseen, HatHut Ezz-Thetics, 2019). The Konus Quartett dedicated its work to contemporary music and commissioned compositions by Jürg Frey, Barry Guy and Tomas Korber and performed compositions by John Cage, Iannis Xenakis and György Ligeti.

Lang explains in his liner notes that he wanted in this collaboration with Konus Quartett and the performance Drei Allmenden to reflect the scores of the 16th and 17th centuries, where the natural collaborative unity of musician and composer was essential to the music and the performance. This approach strips the scores from its so-called canonized status but also strips the performing musicians from their roles as priests and theologians who interpret the detailed prescriptions of ego-driven composers. “Music arises at the moment of its sounding as a fine mixture of determination and freedom through an amalgam of the prefabricated and the spontaneous. It's about creating a balance that ultimately serves a purpose: the revelation of concealed qualities and the beauty of sound”, Lang concludes.

Drei Allmenden was recorded in August 2020 with Lang playing the harmonium. It is a three-movement, 43-minute minimalist and meditative composition, focused on the way the ethereal vibrations of the Konus Quartett’s saxes blend organically and gently with the ethereal vibrations of Lang’s harmonium. This unity of beautiful sounds creates a subtle, carefully layered and highly resonating sonic entity that enables the supposedly simple musical gestures to shine. Patiently and methodically, new elements are introduced into this elusive, almost reverent but poetic progression of this moving composition. The calm, introspective ambiance, the disciplined balance between the saxes and the harmonium, and the natural flow of this composition have an accumulative, almost spiritual effect. A powerfully emotional and physical effect, as if the listener was washed and purified by quiet waves of healing sounds. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Superimpose - With (Inexhaustible Editions, 2021) ****½

By Keith Prosk

Percussionist Christian Marien and trombonist Matthias Müller freely play three separate sets with John Butcher on soprano and tenor saxophone, vocalist Sofia Jernberg, and trumpeter Nate Wooley on the two-hour 3xCD With.

While their recordings since formation - including the recently digitally-reissued eponymous debut - have featured just the duo, the live performance practice of Superimpose frequently features collaborators. With finally reflects that aspect of their work, with three 2018 recordings accompanied by musicians with their own distinctive sound practices. While the duo had previously played with Jernberg and Wooley, With documents a first meeting with Butcher.

The music is perhaps more extended technique than not, communication occurring most often through pulse, dynamics, and timbre. The breath-based practices of the new collaborators more overtly compare to the trombone but what’s striking is the ease with which Marien coaxes colors from the kit to match them, parallel play on the skin summoning charybdian whirrs to compliment blustering air notes, type-writer stick clicks during high-bpm passages, resonant bowed cymbals trembling together with metallic vibrato, bombastic kick drum carpet bombings for freewheeling swing, and a menagerie of other sounds for any situation. Müller shifts comfortably from brass swells to step-pattern tonal movements to farty oompah to air notes including his characteristic flame-wicking sustain and valve-release breaths. The pair together maintains their individual and duo identities while adeptly adapting their catalogs of texture to their collaborators, combining well with: Butcher’s microtonal chirpings, airy explorations of the bore, high-frequency squeals, and dexterous interweaving lines; Jernberg’s multiphonics singing and chirping at once, bold swaths of color in register shifts via yodelesque action, yells like brass swells, tongue clicks like sticks; and Wooley’s muted morse, breath play, airy unsoundings illuminating the shape of the trumpet, balloons rubbing together, and expressive embouchures. Each also adapting their particular practices to this duo. It navigates the tension of adaptability and resiliency, bending but not breaking, each performer simultaneously within, aware of, and addressing solo, duo, and trio identities.

With is available on 3xCD and digitally.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Elisabeth Coudoux – Emißatett: Earis (Impakt 2021) *****

By Nick Ostrum

EARIS - The ear behind the iris - the idea of seeing without words, of forming a musical poem from the inner emotional landscape, which needs no words.” – from the album notes on Bandcamp

It seems exciting things are going on in Cologne and Impakt is at the fore. Founded in 2014 as a means of promoting the scene through a series of concerts, the collective redirected some of its efforts to establish a music label to document the excitement of a scene of which many people, including myself, had been largely ignorant. (NB: As I was writing this review, Eyal posted an excellent rundown of some of Philip Zoubek’s recent work, which gave some overdue coverage to the scene in Cologne and, briefly, the Impakt label itself.)

I had also been completely unaware of the composer and leader of this effort (and co-founder of the collective) Elisabeth Coudoux. A brief look at her bio reveals training and influences that range from modern composition to free jazz to less-jazz-moored experimentalism, and a fast glance at her discography shows that she has been quite active over the years, recording with Scott Fields, Zeitkratzer, Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Steve Swell, Michael Vatcher, Willem de Joode, Christian Lillinger, Pierre Borel… The list goes on. On Earis, Coudoux is joined by Pegelia Gold (voice) and frequent collaborators Matthias Muche (trombone), Robert Lanfermann (basses), Philip Zoubek (prepared piano and synth), and Etienne Nillesen (extended snare drum). Now that I list them, many of these names are familiar. I had known little about the Cologne scene, but apparently not quite as little as I had thought.

Earis is the second release of Coudoux’s Emißatett project, this time incorporating the seraphic vocals of Gold. What an album! It has elements of Boulez-styled freneticism, scratchy free jazz, new music moodiness (Space of Heva), and, at least in the title track’s disorienting melodic spirals, Danny Elfmann’s weirdness. Electronic glitches run through, augmenting the trombone howls, string glissades, and floating incantations of Gold, who then stretches her vocals into searing sirens and laments. Complementing those kinetics are periods of potential energy, wherein vast sonic expanses waft without direction, until the unit congeals once again and erupts in a controlled burst. Earis ebbs and flows in such a fashion, exploring the boundaries between tension and release.

In the process, Coudoux and company produce a truly wholistic and well-balanced recording. Gold stands out most as the vocalist. Apart from her, however, rarely does one musician rise above others for too long, and even then it seems for the sake of the composition rather than to showcase one’s talents. The brief track Peculiar is a partial exception in its energy, bordering on aggression, and in its underlying bass (v)amped on speed and gonzo percussion and the keys, muted trombone and violincello nervously vying to break out in front. But, as the title implies, this is the oddity in this sense. The rest of the album treads different terrain that pays homage to its classical precedents by dragging them into the twenty-first century avant-garde. This is a group effort, and, indeed, Emißatett sounds like a working ensemble rather than a collection of individual, or individualistic, voices. And, Earis is a genuine album, complete with direction, coherence, and vision. I am honestly not sure how well each cut stands on its own. But, together, they cohere into something unerringly engaging and strangely radiant.

Coudoux is a musician, composer, and organizer who seems to be going places, both around greater Köln and beyond. And, having worked through some of the catalog, it seems Impakt is quickly making itself a label to be reckoned with, documenting an exciting group of young musicians that is showing itself a fitting rival/companion to the more established beacons of new music in Europe. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.     

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Matthew Shipp & William Parker - Re-Union (RogueArt, 2021) ****½

 By Sammy Stein

Matthew Shipp and William Parker are amongst the greatest musicians today and Re-Union is one of the best duo albums I have heard. Not that I was expecting anything less than high quality improvisation but the entire album is a discovery and even at the fifth listen, there was still much more to find.

My knowledge of Shipp is, I am ashamed to say, limited. Of course, I have heard some of his many recordings with master saxophone player Ivo Perelman but the only time I have seen him live, was at Cafe Oto and I had to leave because agreed to do to see Evan Parker, John Edwards and John Russell at The Vortex which is very close to Oto. William Parker I knew of as a Cecil Taylor sidesman of legend , and I had seen him with Peter Brötzmann. This album is a chance to really hear him and Shipp allows him plenty of room too.

'Re-Union' starts the album and at once there is that intelligence which is part of both players' intrinsic nature. Shipp interspersing pretty rivulets of sound among Parker's evocative rhythms. There are random passages ( seemingly random, yet at the third listen a pattern emerges) where the bass walks its own line, the piano flows over the top and then seems so sidle up to the bass like an interested observer as if to say, 'come play this way'. The bass responds, dropping its own ideas and following the piano for a while. Shipp is masterful in his delivery, from trickles to stepped chords and knows just when to encourage the bass - like when he repeats the same chord several times and the bass responds in kind on the strings. What strikes is the similarity in tone at times from the two strung instruments. The percussive subtleties are used as effectively as the melody lines. The joy of this track is the length of it, at just over 22 minutes, which allows themes and ideas to be fully and clearly developed. Shipp at one time prowls the length of the keys in a frenetic flurry of dissonant chords which the bass echoes with melodic and sighing phrases - turning the previous conversation on its head. Even in the closing phrases we get jazzed out top lines from Shipp, softer, gentler lines and a sensual final fade.

The 'New Zo Re-Union' is more plink and plonk than melody for the first section. Then, the bass enters with a sweeping, deep, lustrous bow and its body reverberates over buzzy bowed strings, while Shipp issues forth incredible, linked phrases of enormity in sound and phrasing. There are times when the two instruments meld together so closely there is an innate sense of cohesion and oneness. The effective return to the gentle 16 note theme emphasises the harmonics of the rest of the number, particularly when Shipp thunders out the deep chords as the bass maintains its steady reply. Absolutely stand out from both players, this is a piece of epic proportions musically and emotively and contains such musical beauty, it is difficult to put into words.

'Further DNA Re-Union' is shorter at around fourteen and a half minutes, but still of a length which allows it to develop and evolve. There is a sense of Shipp deeply engrossed to an extent the exploration of the instrument at his disposal is more the controlling factor than any end point. The bass of Parker easily works to follow and sometimes lead the way, deftly avoiding some of the crevices into which both could fall and leading back to the key. The result is tuneful, with Shipp diverging into several styles, whilst the bass reflects, yet contains the boundaries. At times, the pair seem to be playing almost standards with wonderful references easily arising out of the freely improvised sections - the minds and ideas becoming a singular thing. An intriguing and compelling listen.

'Song Of Two Re-Union' is a gentler piece, at least initially. It is only 6 minutes or so long and has the sense of being a conversation on a different level. Shipp's tenderness with the keys is reflected by Parker's unerring responses and the subtle changes, like the times Parker glides across chords, works to emphasise the gentle character of the piece - even with Shipp rumbling in the lower notes. A change and the piano is singing a tune in upper registers across the top of harmonic bass lines and a gear shift happens. Suddenly both players are creating their own beautiful lines which meld and diverge , creating colours and textures.

This is a wonderful album with both players impressive. Both sense that precise moment when to come forward and when to allow the other more of the floor.

Parker says, "After thirty years the music connection between myself and Matthew Shipp is getting stronger and more beautiful. Everything has purpose and function all the sounds and silences are dancing in their own way. Excursions into myriad worlds of tone, texture and color. All anchored by the tradition of the blues and the cosmic church. Even as the world around us is dying this new CD “ReUnion” on RogueArt is a testimony of hope and light."

Shipp comments, "Playing duo with William Parker is a joy and a dream for me. It feels so natural like it is ordained by the gods that it had to happen. The dialogue between us is natural and unforced. It does feel to me that this duo had reached full maturation. There is not much I can say about the music except to say we just play the music. At times what is here seems to me to transcend the idea of music and enter some realm of pure language and vibration. I feel so blessed to be in a duo of this sort. The less I say the better. Open yourself up to the flow of the language."

The album is enjoyable start to finish. One thing is for certain. No matter how pressing engagements are I am never going to leave a Shipp performance part way through.

Interestingly, the album is produced by Michel Dorbon whose first production, twenty years ago, was Matthew Shipp’s trio with William Parker and Rob Brown, and, over fifteen years ago, his first recording for RogueArt (though not the first label reference) was Matthew Shipp’s quartet with William Parker, Sabir Mateen and Gerald Cleaver.

Re-Union is just four pieces but it evidences the art of communication in jazz - its necessity and the sheer brilliance when it happens.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Lucio Capece & Ben Vida - Umwelt (Bocian, 2020) ****½

By Ron Coulter

Umwelt” is a 2020 release by the Argentinian performer/composer, Lucio Capece (currently based in Berlin) and New York-based performer/composer, Ben Vida.

'Umwelt' is a German word meaning 'environment' and it has use in semiotics, ethology, and psychology, generalized as the relationship or perception of an individual to the world.

The album consists of four tracks totaling just over 38 minutes and it was recorded over a period of five years from 2016 to 2020 in Brussels, Berlin, and New York. Capece contributes bass clarinet, slide saxophone, cardboard tubes, analog synthesiser and filter, while Vida provides synthesis, sampling, and digital arranging.

This is music of gorgeous, rich textures built with delicate sounds. Development is slow-moving and careful, drawing the listener inside the sound world of each track, and the album as a whole, where they can get lost and lose their sense of time. The welcome use of repetition in many of the tracks is a key factor in this entrancing music.

Track one, “Umwelten” is built around a slippery microtonal melodic loop, accentuated with key clicks, breath sounds, and waves of long tones weaving in and around. The track has an acoustic sounding quality while the following track, “The Three Graces” has a noisier electronic quality, with glissandi (sliding pitches) being a focal point.

The final two tracks share the same title, “Asmodea”, and similar durations of 9:18 and 9:39 but are quite different in their sonic character. “Asmodea”, track three, presents a brittle, rhythmic, digital soundscape that still retains a richness of character. The second “Asmodea” is slow microtonal waves of sound that remind the listener of the opening track, “Umwelten” and give the album a circular, rather than linear quality.

Overall, the timbral and textural environment this duo creates has homogeneity and depth. What is acoustic and what is electronic is not always clear, with the two blending in a natural and nearly indiscernible way. This is one of those albums to put on repeat for hours. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Michel Doneda, Frédéric Blondy, Tetsu Saitoh - Spring Road 16 (Relative Pitch Records, 2021) ****

By Keith Prosk

Michel Doneda (soprano and sopranino saxophones), Frédéric Blondy (piano), and Tetsu Saitoh (contrabass) freely play a shifting soundscape of textural exchange across two tracks on the 39’ set Spring Road 16.

As the contrabassist’s first recording released after 2019, it carries the weight of Saitoh’s 
death, that twinge heightened by the presence of Doneda, one of his most frequent collaborators since the ‘90s and no doubt dear friend. While Saitoh uploaded a video just over a month before his death featuring a performance with Shun'ichiro Hisada on kotsuzumi and Doneda, his last recordings released so far - the solo Travessia and the duo Choros & Improvisations Live with saxophonist Taiichi Kamimura - are from 2016, as is this set. Blondy is no stranger to this familiar duo, the trio having at least recorded Carré Bleu: In Memory Of Bernard Prouteau together in 2007.

While the set is divided into two tracks, it’s difficult to discern a significant difference in approach, perhaps indicating just a natural pause in performance. The music is quiet and textural, communicating through pulse, dynamics, and timbre more than overt rhythm, harmony, or traditional structures. Mousy environments, creaking and tapping and sighing, sounded forays into silence. But unafraid of noise, Doneda’s characteristic chirps and screeches met with rumbling low end and heavy lumbering grooves from Saitoh. The pair appears to play contrapuntally, one judiciously operating in the space and volume left by the other, or shifting towards a higher bpm while the other drones. Blondy’s regular inside-piano chimes seem to keep some long drawn beat, and the sequence of the trio might iterate a rhythm on an unrecognizably slow timescale. But more than the meat of the sounds the shared spaces in their attack and decay illuminate deeper connections among the musicians, Doneda’s doppler whirr and arced cries extended by the taught twinkling of inside-piano pluckings appearing and disappearing into the silence as quickly as a shooting star in the dark, the big bodies of contrabass and piano allowed to vibrate and resonate together. The tension that drives their music surfaces along the fractures of their materials, the shear of air through metal bore, the friction of bow on string, the prick of plucked string on skin.

Spring Road 16 is available on CD and digitally.


Thursday, August 19, 2021

Anthony Braxton - Quartet (Standards) 2020 (New Braxton House, 2021) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Just the notion of Anthony Braxton playing quote-unquote standards gets writers and listeners riled up, to say nothing of what happens when they listen. This seems equally true of Braxtonites, Braxtonistes, and Braxtonostics alike, as if there’s simply no context, or not enough of one, to parse what he’s doing playing “The Song Is You” anyway. Yet, Braxton’s been recording dedicated standards albums for 35 years—although the first two, from 1985, aren’t quite in the same lineage as the others, they contain the blueprint for what has become one of Braxton’s major projects. 

“Standard” is such a mischievously loaded term, especially as it applies to the latest recorded set, Quartet (Standards) 2020, featuring Alexander Hawkins on piano, Neil Charles on bass, and Stephen Davis on drums. Standards, now more than ever, comprise a broad swath of the Great American Songbook, pulling in chapters from Tin Pan Alley, Brill Building, film scores, and the dance bands of the 20th Century. There’s no Bird proper, but the set has Bing, Brubeck, Duke, Hill, Miles, Mingus, Monk, Rodgers (no Hart or Hammerstein), and plenty of Trane. Also, at least a dozen composers better known by two names, including Paul Desmond, John Lewis, Ruth Lowe, Cole Porter, and Paul Simon. If the latter surprises you, that’s great: the set is full of constant surprises and delights, like the spiky, collage-inspired performance of “Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin’,” the Oscar-winning theme from the opening credits of High Noon. Composed by a Russian emigre who worked with Frank Capra in the 1930s and sung by a Texan turned cowboy actor, the song’s path sounds downright postmodern. And with this quartet’s take, the angst of Gary Cooper’s character complicates the otherwise hummable melody. Braxton turns dissonance into a vessel for the dangerous entanglements of the hero’s journey (or else, he’s turning the film inside out and grappling with some of the themes of heroic posturing and blacklisting that John Wayne found distasteful). Hawkins’s restatements of the main theme ring like echoes of the way the same theme recurs throughout the film’s score, now it haunts, now it chimes. Charles and Davis perform, not for the first time, a tricky bit of rhythmic compression that folds sax and piano over each other, somewhat origamically. “Do Not Forsake Me” is the closing track on disc four, about halfway through the entire box set, and yet like many of the performances, it’s also a microcosm that proves absolutely captivating.

It’s not merely the set’s size (13 discs) that invite a bit of shuffling around, the recordings, taken from a 10-day tour through London, Warsaw, and Wels in January 2020, are themselves shuffled about. Quartet (Standards) 2020 is not a straight-through recording of all the nights in order. Only discs 12 and 13 present unbroken sets, from January 23rd and 25th, respectively. And, that’s fine. This isn’t about recreating the in-person experience (several songs appear to be omitted). It’s this journey through the Great American Songbook that’s the key, it’s about melodies as invitations rather than instructions. 

For example, the quartet plays an epic 20+ minute “I Get a Kick Out of You” that could be released as a stand-alone EP. It’s full of so many gorgeously delicious moments. Now, listen to Bird or Paul Desmond play the same composition. Each one makes it theirs, not just stylistically but artistically. Each player’s take is twice as long as the previous, Bird has Walter Bishop, Jr., and Jerome Darr where Desmond has Jim Hall and Braxton has Hawkins. Who’s to say which is standard? Why even settle for only one? When Braxton, Hawkins, Charles, and Davis play, I want the whole of them, not a summary in 4/4 swing time. 

Cafe OTO YouTube playlist 

Previous Braxton Standards Quartet reviews:

Available digitally and in a limited-edition box 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Solo Violin

 By Stef Gijssels

As usual we present an overview of solo albums, this time on violin. Again, there's a variety of approaches to the instrument and to music, from the 'pure' classical sounds over raw explorations to multilayered electronically processed music. Regardless of the approach, all albums are worth mentioning, especially because of the strong musical characters of the artists, who, each with their own vision of what the instrument may deliver, show us unexpected aural vistas. 

Mark Feldman - Sounding Point (Intakt, 2020)

Mark Feldman is possibly best known for his collaborations with John Zorn's Bar Kokhba ensemble or the Masada String Trio, or from his collaborations with Chris Potter. On our blog we have especially reviewed his many collaborations with his partner pianist Sylvie Courvoisier. It was also on Tzadik that he released his first solo album in 1995, called "Music For Violin Alone", and we had to wait a long time indeed for his sophomore solo album. "Sounding Point" is excellent by any measure. Feldman's compositions are closer to modern classical music than to jazz, and his technique is often astonishing. 

Despite the gravitas, austerity and intensity of many of the pieces, he is also a master at not taking himself too seriously, as he can interject some moments of fun too. He uses overdubs on some tracks, such as the Ornette Coleman composition "Peace Warriors", on which he sounds like an ensemble all by himself when playing the theme. "Maniac" and "The New Normal" are my favourite tracks, the former characterised by a repetitive theme, the latter by the highly unusual extended flageolet sounds. 

Fans of violin and of Feldman, should listen to this. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Yasmine Azaiez - Everyday Things (Sirulita, 2019)

Tunesian violinist Yasmine Azaiez is the surprise in this list. This is her second solo album, next to two performences with Agustí Fernández. It is no surprise her second solo album is also released on the Spanish pianist's label. 

She describes herself as a Classical musician, a Middle Eastern improvisor and a Free Jazz improvisor: "Each note I play exhibits my love of extended techniques I have worked on over the years, my respect I have for the musicians who have inspired me, and my unique {perhaps bizarre} style of playing. As a person, I am dark, glamorous, curious, and quirky. And thats exactly how I intend my music to be. Enjoy my nonsense".

On "Everyday Things" she presents her music as very adventurous and eclectic, indeed bringing together sounds and approaches from various genres and times, in a very intense and uncompromising way. That last part is really to her credit. She will not be a crowd-pleaser, but the character of her music will hopefully give her wider exposure to fans with open ears. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Frantz Loriot - While Whirling (Thin Wrist, 2021)

French-Japanese violist Frantz Loriot is a third-generation classically-trained musician, who has tried to "unlearn" his schooling to find his own creative voice. "While Whirling" is Loriot’s second solo album after "Reflections On An Introspective Path".  

As we have mentioned in earlier reviews, this voice is radical and uncompromising in its timbral and musical explorations, bringing listeners into uncomfortable territory, requiring from them the same approach of letting go of the known to experience entirely novel sounds coming out of his viola. Despite the unusual sound, his improvisations are measured, well-paced, skill-fully navigating silence and coherent in their intent. Wether the howling foghorn on "On The Lawns Of Insomnia", the skittering scratching on "A Throbbing Whisper" or the high-pitched whistling on "Smiling With Unseen Weight", the listener moves from one sonic surprise to the next, participating in a kaleidoscopic change of emotional colour. 

The liner notes mention his indebtedness to Barre Philips, Joëlle Léandre and David S. Ware for their approach to music and sound. From what I understand it actually means to give yourself fully, both physically, emotionally and intellectually. As the liner notes mention "Loriot supplemented his understanding of music’s force with realizations of vitality, awareness, and danger". Clearly, these three qualifiers are present here. 

The eight tracks of the album are titled by the lines of an Eliot Cardinaux poem: 

The world lifts the heart
while whirling
through westless rains
on the lawns of insomnia
a throbbing whisper
smiling with unseen weight
those exiled belongings
of many others whirling

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Sarah Bernstein - Exolinger (577 Records, 2020)

We reviewed American violinist, vocalist and poet before, with her quartet and her collaborations with Kid Millions. With "Exolinger" - which is also her moniker for solo performances - she releases her first solo album. Bernstein's sound is heavily processed through live electronics, resulting in layers of music that cannot always be perceived as coming from a violin, but that is the last of her worries. Her focus is on the music, on its uncanny, eery and sometimes dark ominous voice. The music speaks of despair and loneliness, in a loud, extravert way. She gives a total musical performance that is rich and compelling. Purists of the violin may not find much to their liking here, but fans of uncompromising and infectious music will find a lot to savour. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Stanisław Słowiński – Solo Violin Avantgarde (Infra Art, 2020)

Polish violinist Stanisław Słowiński demonstrates his skills on his second solo album. I am not sure what happened with the production of the album, but I would recommend interested listeners to skip the first track "Soul" (or is the third? there are apparently other versions circulating), and go directly to the second and folllowing pieces. It may be a question of taste, but the opening track with all its overdubs, its sentimental sense of drama and cheap crescendos is not something to my liking, and it may put many "avant-garde" listeners off. The other tracks demonstrate why Słowiński  received so many awards during his young career. You can hear that he may effortlessly play Bach's partitas as well as jazz and avant-garde. 

His compositions are interesting and wonderful to listen to, because it all comes so naturally and lyrical to him. At times he uses overdubs as on "Reflection". 

Fascinating music by a true virtuoso. 

Gabby Fluke-Mogul - Threshold (Relative Pitch, 2021)

Gabby Fluke-Mogul is a young American violinist who has so far released three solo albums in the past two years. Their sound is very special and unique: raw and abrasive, unpredictable and inventive. It is in-the-moment improvisation without compromising for audience expectations. Their improvisations are all musical narratives, following their own logic and story-line, with often unexpected turns and twists but coherent overall.  

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Phil Wachsmann - Writing In The Water (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2020) 

The first name coming up when thinking of violin in free improvisation is without a doubt Phil Wachsmann, whose first album already dates from 1973, and who is credited on no less than 270 releases (according to Discogs). We can thank Corbett vs. Dempsey to have re-issued this album, originally dating from 1985. 

It shows us Wachsmann in great shape and creativity, using his instrument and electronics in their widest array possible, moving easily from classical to noise as if genres and agreed musical notions did not exist, demonstrating that he is one of the true masters of the instrument in improvised settings. The original album mentions "solo violin coupled variously with live electronics and pre-recorded tape to provide a panoply of sounds, including, towards the end of the long title piece, suggestions of the ghost in the machine."

To my knowledge this is his one of his two solo albums, together with Chathuna from 1996. 

The music was recorded live during a performance at the Actual Festival, London on 7 September 1984.

A must-have for fans of freely improvised violin. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Biliana Voutchkova - Seeds Of Songs (Takuroku, 2021) 

Bulgarian violinist Biliana Voutchkova was also inspired/encouraged/forced by the pandemic to release another solo album. 

Her words say it all: "Seeds of Songs is a kind of aural chronological retrospective of the year of Corona. For the first lockdown months which started back in March 2020, my creativity literally froze. When all my concerts and activities got canceled, faced with these shocking at the time situation, I lost motivation to work or produce anything and lured myself into the pleasure of sudden free time, connecting daily to the beauty of spring. I slowed down, observed, and I listened - to the world within and outside, to my thoughts, my heart, my mood, my close and distant surroundings, to the sounds heard each day and night at my home, in the presence of no one besides my children… my listening became deeper, undisturbed, conscious, lovable. And before I even knew it, it connected strongly to the process of creation of this album."

The long single track on the album is actually a collage of snippets of sound, vocal pieces, violin, ambient sounds and objects, put together into one narrative or musical suite. Some moments are gut-wrenching, some closer to noise, others more intimate and subdued. 

Only digital version available from the label