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Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade – s/t (Nomad Eel, 2021) *** ½

By Nick Ostrum

It seems many of my punk rock idols have taken the plunge into fusion-based improvisational music. There are the obvious shifts of members of the Ex and Penny Rimbaud from Crass, who have shown longstanding interest in clangorous improvised music. More recently and more sonically in line with The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade, Brendan Canty and Joe Lally (Fugazi, et al.) joined guitarist Anthony Pirog in the Messthetics, a group that almost perfectly marries my continued affection for the Dischord of my youth with my later turn to free jazz. The Rollins Band, moreover, sported Melvin Gibbs on bass for a couple of albums (Weight, Come in and Burn), including the jam sessions with Charles Gayle and Rashied Ali that would only be released in 2003 as Weighting. OK, so maybe I should not be surprised that Mike Watt, celebrated bassist of the Minutemen, fIREHOSE, and the recent A Love Supreme Electric project, has been dipping his toes in these waters, as well.

Watt was my entry point. On The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade, he joins bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Joe Berardi. That is right. The Brigade consists of two electric bassist and a drummer. Berardi, it seems, has roots in folk and country, and Hoff has played everything from jazz to free jazz to indie to folk and country. I am sure some form of punk and its descendants should be thrown in there, too.

The result is a post-punk infused journey into a slowly churning jam-based avant-rock. I love the duo lead and rhythm bass, the lack of a six-string, the bare-bones nature of the project. Despite that DIY, play-with-what-you-got-and-make-it-weird aesthetic, the music has some steady progressive elements. The songs develop in a clear direction and frequently involve some staggered, heavy funk bass dancing atop active but spare drumming. When it works, as it does in 'No Dream No Life', the dual basses engage in a slithering and entrancing dialog. 'Healed Up' is another strong number, a straightforward heavy funk, wherein Watt, Hoff and Berardi not only click in fits and spurts, but follow the improvisation through a satisfying run. 'Inspired Minorities Chant for Maria Nikiforova' is likewise a standout and balances drive, earwig melodic repetition, meandering but compelling development, mantric chanting, and a convincing end. Frequently, however, the pieces rely on catchy hooks that do not quite come to fruition and an entanglement of basses that never fully detangle, merge, or combust. In other words, much of the pieces fell like interesting interludes or promising outtakes that stop short of their destinations. Then again, at its best, The Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade vines its way into the listeners ears and just refuses to let go. For that, and maybe even for 'Inspired Minorities', alone, this album is worth a few spins.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Yan Jun and Zhu Wenbo - twice (Erstwhile Records, 2021) ***½

By Ron Coulter

“twice” is a June 2021 release on Erstwhile Records by Beijing, China based musicians, Yan Jun and Zhu Wenbo.

The album consists of a single one-hour long track made from recordings created independently (time and location) by Jun and Wenbo. The audio material includes: field recordings, human voice (a few spoken words, breathing, mouth sounds, swallowing, and a recurring low humming), electro-mechanical devices (printer, cassette duplicator, scanner, etc.) and some traditional musical instruments (snare drum, digital piano, upright piano, clarinet, and mandolin). The traditional musical instruments are used sparsely and abstractly, most often they seem to emerge as part of the concurrent field recording or electro-mechanical humming.

This recording is definitely not jazz or free jazz related, nor is it improvised (although some of the material used in it’s creation likely was); this is electro-acoustic composition best described as musical surrealism, i.e. the intentional juxtaposition of disparate audio materials. It is a highly unpredictable listening experience and one best enjoyed with headphones, as the use of the left/right stereo field is integral, as is the use of depth, i.e. some things sounding far distant and others right in your face. This depth, created with differences in volume, separates the various audio elements into layers that approximate the traditional musical elements of melody (here, the thing that is loudest), counter melody (here, that which is of medium volume, or actively changing volumes), and accompaniment/background (that which is lowest volume).

On the surface, this recording presents itself as a random sound collage, however on multiple listenings and bits of information available at it is evident that there is a compositional process at work managing the making and combination of audio elements. For instance, “Yan Jun: time assignment for layer B” and “Zhu Wenbo:
time assignment for layer A” indicate that there were some durational controls at work in the independent recording of each composer’s material. However, these durational parameters, or any kind of patterning, are not immediately apparent in the listening experience; this would require a much deeper analysis of the work.

This is patient, challenging music. It is a slower paced, maybe even minimalist reminder of John Cage’s series of “Variations” compositions (I-VIII, 1958-1967) or some kind of Fluxus-inspired audio work. The duration of the work, the slow development, and the total abstraction of sounds has an affect of suspended time and reality for the listener, kind of like wandering through a Dalí landscape. If you are looking for a highly idiosyncratic and unpredictable listening experience “twice” is that album.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Gonçalo Almeida & Pierre Bastien - Room Sessions (Cylinder, 2020) ****

By Stef Gijssels

We're on principle open to listen to anything. This helps us to broaden our minds and to open our ears even more. Today, we have a wonderful duo with bassist Gonçalo Almeida, the Netherlands-based Portuguese musician with whom we're familiar through his solo work and his work with musically uncompromising bands such as Albatre, Spinifex, Bulliphant, The Selva, The Attic, Lama and many more. Despite this prolific activity, his collaboration with French musician and instrument builder Pierre Bastien, brings us into even more uncharted territory. 

Apart from being a trained trumpet player, Bastien is fascinated by musical mechanics, or automatons. He has created hundreds of machines that produce music, using anything that can be attached to something else for repetitive sound production: metronomes, cymbals, pulleys, kitchen utensils ... you name it. He even developed his own "Mecanium Orchestra", an ensemble of musical automatons constructed from meccano parts and activated by electro-motors, that are playing on acoustic instruments from all over the world. which includes the complete mechanical performance of Chinese Lute, Moroccon bendir, Javanese saron, koto and violin. I add a video below with some of his contraptions to explain all this a little clearer. 

Needless to say, the machines cannot but produce rhythmic sounds, but then very unusual and bizarre ones, as the result of the engines driving the different tools forward. At the same time Bastien also intervenes like a god in his creation, adding pipes, removing tools, switching on new levers ...

For Almeida, this rhythmic environment gives him the possibility to go beyond rhythm and to accentuate, colour and add his bass sounds, obviously without the possibility to influence the core set-up of the machine (I assume), but luckily Bastien picks up his trumpet once in a while which makes the music even richer. On the last three tracks of the album, the real instruments take over the dominance of the machines, and the sound becomes more open-ended. 

The result is absolutely unique and mesmerising. The seven improvised pieces offer completely alien beats and sounds, a weird and fascinating sonic environment that defies categorisation. Since you cannot see Bastien's machines, you wonder how the music is produced (and that thought process risks to detract from the music itself), but I can only recommend the interested reader to listen to the album many times, until the sound becomes familiar and 'natural' if that word can be used. 

It's a little bit of a gimmick, but the production is solid enough to stand on its own. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

The video below gives a good picture of Pierre Bastien's mechanical instruments and music. It is not related to this album directly. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

Jazz em Agosto 2021 - Day 3

Today, I took a walk to one of Lisbon's botanical gardens -- there are actually a number of places that could serve as such, but this one is the Jardim Botânico de Lisboa, a part of the University of Lisbon -- perched on the hillside near the old, winding streets of Bario Alto. The entrance was unexpectedly free, and as I began descending into the gardens, I was immediately struck with the desperate feeling of wanting to go three places at once: the bridge over a small fern festooned ravine, the winding path up to a small sitting area, and barrel on straight ahead to see what was next. What a delightful problem to hang onto for a moment while letting all the others go for a moment.

Winding through the paths, communing with heavy fronds, climbing up stairs past palms, oogling old trees with multihued bark, and passkng an early 20th century observatory, I finally ended up at the entrance to the University's National Museum of History. The museum is a whimsical mix of 21st century immersive pedagogically-arranged multimedia exhibits and classical 19th-century display cases with a human and an ape skeleton, and colorful long ago embalmed birds. There is also a pristinely preserved set of rooms from the 19th century, including a gorgeous lecture hall and lab classroom, complete with casts of medical oddities and all sorts of curious and somewhat concerning medical instruments.  I don't have a tie in here to the music, this was just a very pleasant, unplanned discovery. If you're in town, take time to visit.


João Pedro Brandão

João Pedro Brandão's Trama no Navio. Photo by Vera Marmelo – Gulbenkian Música.

Porto, Portugal's João Pedro Brandão's Trama no Navio is the woodwindist joined by Ricardo Moreira on Piano and synthesizer, Hugo Carvalhais on bass, and Marcos Cavaleiro on drums. For this piece, motion video, projected behind the band as they played, was provided by Alexandra Corte-Real. The combination made for a sublime 45 minute multi-channel experience.

The impetus for this project came from a soundtrack commission that Brandão contributed to for a screening of the 1925 film Battleship Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein, more specifically the second part of the film, Drama on the Deck. Taking the emotion and poetic imagery from the film, Brandão refitted the music to this quartet of musicians, along with Corte-Real's evocative imagery. 

Leaving the auditorium, I was struck by the depth of the piece. While frantically taking notes in the dark during the concert, I had been searching for adjectives and mnemonics to remember the moments of the music by, and one that I jotted the most seemed to be the word emotional. However, it was now not entirely clear to me whose, or what, emotions I was thinking about. It was a cheap short cut trying to capture the mix of gentle, but insistent, melodies, the rich counterpoint between the four musicians, and the abstract, yet grounded, images in motion behind them. It also had something to do with Carvalhais' riveting bass solo about half-way though the piece that elicited audience applause (that's a no-no during a serious piece, right?). But I could not get away from the word, emotion. It was even in the opening two bar figure that jumped from the sax to the bass and then to the piano. The sensitivity of the players was an important aspect of the piece, felt in the changes in dynamics and changes in timbre as Brandão switch woodwinds, or Moreira added a little synthesizer to the mix.

Another pseudo-adjective I jotted down was ECMish. Honestly, that one is an even dicier proposition. I wanted to acknowledge the sensitivity and balance between the instruments - like when the band slowly built to an intense state, a storm on the screen, a storm on the stage. It was not forced, rather it billowed from within, centrifugal forces swirling from sax to piano to bass to drums, slowly drawing in the clouds and roiling the ocean waves. At the end, we were washed ashore, an ECMish and emotional journey.


Fire! Photo by Vera Marmelo – Gulbenkian Música.

"Good evening," exclaimed saxophonist Mats Gustaffson from the stage of the Gulbenkian's large concert hall. "We're going to play some Fire music, very predictable, but we're looking forward to it like hell!"

He then pulled out his flute and blew a few wispy lines. The lines grew stronger, laced with a folksy whimsy. Then, there were heaving breaths, emphatic pushes of air through the instrument, it was delicate and tough at the same time. A prelude for what was to come.

Now, the bass. A solid, simple few note figure rooted in a natural groove, the type that may make your shoulders twitch and head bop a bit. The lilting beat took on a slight world music feel. The trumpet soon added a new tonal dimension, playing long, flowing lines that danced around the flute work. As the trumpet took over, Gustaffson stepped back and switched to the baritone sax -- kind of the opposite to the flute in terms of, well, everything but the player -- and started physically rocking back and forth, something was brewing. 

Cue the percussion. Under the trumpet's Arabic scales and dedicated, looping bass line, the bass drum and high-hat grew aggressively prominent. Finally, the trombone entered with a simple omping figure, but soon linked with the trumpet and suddenly there was brass band on the stage riffing off a simple repetitive and high infectiou musical figur
If this is what Gustaffson referred as 'predictable stuff,' then maybe I completely misunderstood him, as I had not yet heard Fire!'s latest, Defeat (Rune Grammofone, 2021), and was expecting something more, umm, gruff. The core group of Gustaffson, electric bassist Johan Berthling, and drummer Andreas Werlin, have done something new and exciting, in both adding the passionate trumpet playing of Goran Kajfeš and the expressive trombone work of Mats Äleklint, as well as embracing a more varied approach. It is not total defeat for the nosier aspects of the group, the music still contains fiery elements, noisy electronic passages, and the deep cry of Gustaffson's baritone sax, there is however the amplification of the already existing funkier moments, established by the minimalist looping bass figures and deep pocketed patterns from the drums. It sets a different foundation for Gustaffson to explore the sweeter - and sometimes more laser focused -- sounds of flute, and compliments the rich harmonies from the horns perfectly.

Perhaps what was most impressive was the contrast that the new approach provided. After a mounting groove helped segue from an electronics based section to a primal bari-sax scream, Gustaffson switched quickly to the flute and a sinuous melody rose from the snake charmer basket that the bass and drums had woven. The music was not rushed, each musician had time to develop a solo passage, the others dropping out. A stand out moment was Äleklint's trombone solo about two-thirds of the way through the set, where he was able to capture and focus the entire attention of the generous room on the soft, metallic bite of the horn's round sound.

From the playful moments, like when Äleklint and Kajfeš traded back and forth with Gustaffson's electronics, to the moving moments from the tightly interlocking bass and drums, to the infectious repeating figures, Fire!'s hypnotizing performance connected with the sold-out audience. In fact, there are often moments in improvised sets where a group, after wandering the sonic landscape for a bit, congeals around a solid rhythm and the audience happily goes along. With this expanded version of Fire!, it seems like Gustaffson has bottled it.

End of the first half ...

Due to some scheduling difficulties on my end, I am not able to stick around for the second half of the Jazz em Agosto festival which starts on Thursday, August 5th with the compositions of the Pedro Moreira Sax Ensemble. The next night, percussionist Gabriel Ferrandini brings his multi-dimensional solo work to the smaller stage, followed in the main hall by the fantastic James Brandon Lewis Quartet. The next evening begin with another richly layered solo drums and electronics performance by Katherine Ernst, followed by the rock-influenced, but jazz rooted, Lisbon band Anthropic Neglect. The final night features the abstract power-trio from drummer João Lobo, and a closing performance from the Italian sextet Roots Magic whose explorations have blended the roots of jazz with accessible contemporary arrangements. Many of the shows are actually already sold out. I'm sorry to be missing these performances, as I suspect they will be as diverse as this weekend that had just drawn to a close. 

In these unpredictable times where planning, usually done well in advance, became a day-to-day feat, last minute cancellations due to pandemic uncertainties impacted the festival in different ways, which was highlighted in a brief conversation with Jazz em Agosto's musical director, Rui Neves. The festival was difficult to plan, explained Neves. It began with an European focus and was transformed when Norway's restrictions made it impossible for some previously scheduled musicians to travel, but American bands were actually able to perform. Neves explained "the pandemic restrictions obliged us to think in a different way." In the end, sharp ears and agile thinking (not to mention a lot of behind the scenes work) served Jazz em Agosto well. Neves, who is always listening and checking out musicians and groups, takes it in stride, adding "to me it's like making a movie, and I'm like a film director, trying to find the natural way of presenting each band." 

Impressions of A L'ARME! Vol. IX (updated)

Photo by Juliane Schütz 

The 9th A L'ARME! Festival kicked off Wednesday night at Zenner in Berlin's Treptower Park.  An open air event with DJs and drums, the event is a nod to normal, helping to welcome live events back, which tepidly have begun popping up throughout the city (and will hopefully continue... Daumen sind gedrückt.)

After the opening event, the festival heads back to its familiar stomping grounds, Radialsystem, an arts center build from a 19th century water pumping station, across the river in the Friedrichshain neighborhood.

The program for Vol. IX is an ever adventurous mix of experimental music, leaning towards electronics and avant-garde jazz. Including (in no special order or selection criteria) Lotte Anker, Stephen O'Malley, Lucy Railton and Kit Downes, among many others. The Free Jazz Blog cannot be there in person this time around, but we've made arrangements to give you an impression of the event through photos. We'll be updating the images here throughout the weekend, so check back! 

By the way, A L'ARME! 2020, postponed, moved, and finally rendered audience-less, took place as a series of professionally filmed performance videos, which have been popping up on social media and can be seen here.  

- Paul Acquaro

Wednesday, July 28th
Treptower Park, Berlin

Anika. Photo by Juliane Schütz

ARA. Photo by Juliane Schütz

Anika & ARA. Photo by Juliane Schütz

hÄK/Danzeisen, Bernd Norbert Würtz and Phillip Danzeisen. Photo by Juliane Schütz

Thursday, July 29th
Radialsystem, Berlin

A L'ARME curator Louis Rastig

Marcela Lucatelli. Photo by Juliane Schütz

Skultura: Nick Dunston, Ayse Cansu Tanrikulu, Eldar Tsalikov, and Liz Kosack. Photo by Juliane Schütz

Genevieve Murphy & Andy Moor. Photo by Juliane Schütz

Genevieve Murphy & Andy Moor. Photo by Juliane Schütz

Friday, July 30th

Lucy Railton & Kit Downes. Photo by Juliane Schütz

 Terrie Ex & Peter Zegveld. Photo by Juliane Schütz

Julien Desprez & Farida Amadou. Photo by Juliane Schütz

Lapsus Lumine Plays Moondog Project. Photo by Juliane Schütz

Lapsus Lumine Plays Moondog Project. Photo by Juliane Schütz

Lapsus Lumine Plays Moondog Project. Photo by Juliane Schütz

Marta Del Grandi  — Vocals
Sabrina Oggero Viale  — Vocals
Erika Sofia Sollo — Vocals
Stefano Risso — Double-bass, Comp., Arr.
Ernst Reijseger — Cello
Jim Black — Drums

Saturday, July 31

Zbigniew Chojnacki. Photo by Juliane Schütz.

Unstumm – Supercritical Fluid. Photo by Juliane Schütz.

Nicola L. Hein (De) — Guitar, Electronics
Claudia Schmitz (De) — Live Moving Image Onto Sculpture
Axel Dörner (De) — Trumpet, Electronics Viola
Yip (De/us/hk) — Lightbulbs, Electronics

Lotte Anker and Mattias Bauer. Photo by Juliane Schütz.
Karkhana. Photo by Juliane Schütz.

Mazen Kerbaj (De/lb) — Trumpet, Electronics
Sam Shalabi (Cn) — Electric Guitar, Oud
Sharif Sehnaoui (Lb) — Electric Guitar
Tony Elieh (De/lb) — Electric Bass
Maurice Louca (Eg) — Organ, Synth
Umut Çağlar (Tr) — Reeds, Flute, Percussion
Michael Zerang (Us) — Drums, Percussion, Cymbal

Kali Malone Presents "Does Spring Hide Its Joy" Featuring Lucy Railton And Stephen O’malley. Photo by Juliane Schütz.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Jazz em Agosto 2021 - Day 2

Photos by Vera Marmelo – Gulbenkian Música

By Paul Acquaro

How do you know on what sound you're dropping the needle? 

I've never understood this, being a long time LP enthusiast, but by no means a DJ, I shakily aim the stylus for the blank area before the starting groove, placing it anywhere else is simply random. So when the Berlin based electronic musician Ignaz Schick deftly switched out one record for another and seemingly knew where he was going with the needle, I drew an comparison to the practiced intonation of an upright bassist or violinist, it's a combination of muscle memory and a lot of practice. 

ILOG2: Ignaz Schick & Oliver Steidle

Oliver Steidle and Ignaz Schick. Photos by Vera Marmelo – Gulbenkian Música

Schick is a body in motion on the stage, behind an elaborate rig of electronics, at least one turntable, mixers, and possibly a laptop? I cannot see it all, but there is a lot of stuff. Stage right sits drummer Oliver Steidle, behind a regular drum kit that he's morphing into something entirely different through hard, precise beats and uncountable (at least to me!) time signatures. He is seeing and feeling patterns and pulses in ways that are as jarring as they are intriguing. 

Schick is conducting a quartet of R2D2s (sorry, this is as evolved as my language around electronic music at the moment). With complete mastery over the seemingly endless array of sounds from his rig,  these are not random sounds, rather a composition in snippets and dabs of sonic color. There a method to these manipulations and Steidle is reflecting them, just as much as his playing is influencing Schick's next move.  

Through their rhythmic deconstructions, they build something unique. Not an obvious musical structure, this is not four-on-the-floor techno, it is much more frenetic and gripping, even during a 'calm' moment of 11/8-on-the-floor. They are building things anew from fractalized bits of beats and sound. 

However, I find I could also use a bit of a digestif - the brain tries to find patterns in this deliberate chaos, listening for parts, trying to making 'sense', and it can get a bit tired. The musicians know this, hell, they're professionals, both based in Berlin, Steidle is an in demand jazz drummer and Schick is a saxophonist in addition to his work with electronics, and so they know to lower the temperature and simplify the output just before too many heads overheat. This is also where it gets really interesting: the sonic range tightens as both musicians hone in on a particular vibration. A kid, maybe 10 years old, across the aisle is dancing in her seat, so is some young dude a couple rows up. They are bopping to that subconscious something that the duo has tapped into. 

One complaint? I could have done without the ear piercing frequencies that crept up in the later part of the set, otherwise, it was an fascinating experience. It also speaks volumes about the vision of Jazz em Agosto's musical curator Rui Neves. I've spoken to Neves before about his role, documented here, but it is becoming clearer how important it is that he takes such chances on groups like ILOG2, who are are a far cry from traditional jazz and even from free-jazz.  

Ikizukuri + Susana Santos Silva

Ikizukuri + Susana Santos Silva. Photos by Vera Marmelo – Gulbenkian Música

What a name, Ikizukuri, a Japanese word for the practice of preparing sushi from living seafood. In the grand auditorium of the Gulbenkian Foundation's large concert hall, were we the diners or the ones being prepared? From the opening onslaught of the music, it was not quite clear!

Surviving the opening moments of drums and bass, what was clear was that Ikizukuri (Julius Gabriel on soprano sax, Gonçalo Almeida on bass, and Gustavo Costa on drums) with trumpeter Susana Santos Silva are fearless in their fierce blend of free improvisation and heavy, heavy rock. However, the rock is slippery, the beats do not necessarily align, and the sound of the rhythm section is much larger than just the two on the stage. Cutting through the stormy rumblings, the sax and trumpet climb ever higher, in a daring interweaving and juxtaposition of pointy melodic shards. 

This continues for a breathtaking numbers of minutes. Then, following a brief lull, the band starts up again, the bass now even heavier, the drums also louder, and Silva spits fiery notes over the already well-stoked blaze. The group reaches an apex and then the rhythm drops out, leaving the two horns to continue their dance, unchaperoned.

Here seems like a good enough moment to introduce the players - the trio Ikizukuri united with Silva at the Sonoscopia Cultural Association festival in Porto, Portugal in 2020. The organization, which has existed since 2011, produces and promotes experimental music, and seems like a fertile meeting ground for like minded artists (note: review coming soon of two box sets documenting earlier year's events). Silva is nearly a household name, in certain households. Her musical vision is rich and ever evolving. Last year, she appeared at the Jazz 2020 festival with her group Impermanence, dazzling the audience with a blend of atmospheric jazz, rock, and other. German saxophonist Gabriel treads similar ground with a mix of styles and openness to extended techniques and electronics. He's also a part of Barry Guy's The Blue Shroud Band. Almeida is a very active bassist, likewise attracted to extending his sounds with electronics and experimental jazz. His group The Selva also played a memorable set at Jazz 2020. Drummer Costa has a long, impressive CV as a musician and educator, and is a co-founder the Sonoscopia association.

So, this is all to say, these folks know what they are doing, and what they were just doing was shifting the energy down a few notches. Now, they're picking it back up as Gabriel launches into a Evan Parker-like fit of circular breathing and rapid spins of notes. It's an arresting moment, which Silva jumps into then reflecting and refracting Gabriel's playing. 

The first suite of songs end and the band begins the next with an ear-catching heavy, syncopated pulse. Gabriel plays the most 'jazz' like solo of the evening - it even sort of swings. Not to be outdone however, Silva picks up on the feel and turn the heat up it a notch or two higher, as the band slides into a deep seated stoner-metal groove. I bang my head. 

Then the relief finally comes. The dark clouds part and the two horns show us to a place where butterflies flutter through abandoned industrial parks, natural beauty amongst the post-apocalyptic landscape. The group, employing wood-block percussion, a double-jointed walking bassline, and liquid-filled breaths though the horns, show us how the butterflies turn into caterpillars - crawling, chewing.

Towards the end, there is return to the heavier but enigmatic rhythmic style, and to a moment where they come to a symphonic climax. The musical vision is dark and noisy, In the grand auditorium the drums and bass may have been a bit too overpowering, but the music is affecting, edgy, and writhingly alive. 

Again, a nod to Neves for the programming. Jazz em Agosto, you surprised me today!

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Jazz em Agosto 2021 - Day 1

By Paul Acquaro

Last year, Jazz 2020, a scaled back and localized version replaced the venerable Jazz em Agosto for its traditional two weekends at the end of July and start of August. It was supposed to be the Covid-19 version of festival, but as we all know, 2021 hasn't been the light at the end of the tunnel that we all hoped for, however at least Jazz em Agosto is back in an international form - even if the café and patio outside the concert halls are closed, there is no merchandise table, and health rules are firmly in place.

But, you ask, what about that merch? Every rabid collector scans for the table with that special one of a kind artifact. Well, this time around it required a hike to find it. I spent the day following the GPS on my phone, until I killed the battery, traversing the hills of Lisbon from the lush Gulbenkian Foundation grounds to the LXFactory, an 19th century textile factory, left to then molder, and now home to co-working, tapas, and tattoos. Tucked under the impressive 25 de Abril Bridge in Belem (a part of Lisbon a few kilometers out, along the river front), the former factory buildings are now home to galleries, restaurants, performance spaces, and to the fabulous Jazz Messengers record shop. This little gem, tucked into the upper level the building and accessed by gang walks, is surrounded by impressively obsolete printing presses and thousands of books belonging to the store through which you enter. The bookstore also houses a nice café that serves a cold beer to bedraggled city walkers like myself.

Jazz Messengers is a trove of (obviously) jazz and classical LPs and CDs, from mainstream (think Ella Fitzgerald, ECM) to the outer edges (think Relative Pitch, Trost) and many constellations between. They hold events - in fact, I was hipped to it by a social media mention of a gig by Lisbon saxophonist Rodrigo Amado and cellist Guilherme Rodrigues which happened earlier that week. (The concert, for those that are curious was given a rave review by the store's owner - pointing to the high ceilings, she said it sounded like a cathedral.) Well, back to the point here, Jazz Messengers is the official shop for Jazz em Agosto, but because of Covid regulations, they cannot sell at the event. However, they have all the goods, from the LPs and CDs of groups playing (see the program here) and Jazz em Agosto branded T-shirt and LP tote bags. If you are in town for the concert, make the trek - you can do it by public transport, stupid little e-scooter, Uber (like the kids are doing it), or just walk it. I had the absolute pleasure of wandering through neighborhoods that I had not seen before, and chancing on places like the botanically exquisite Jardim Guerra Junqueiro.

Jazz em Agosto runs July 29th to August 8th, Thursday through Sunday, for two weekends. Sadly, the opening concert by Alexander von Schlippenbach, Peter Bröztmann and Hans Bennink - a free jazz super group if there ever was - was cancelled. So the first set of concerts started on Friday, with the 6 p.m. solo show from Lisbon based trumpeter Luis Vicente (see some reviews of Vicentes' work). This was followed by a show from Broken Shadows, the brilliant alliance of the Bad Plus' bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King and the woodwind firepower of saxophonists Tim Berne and Chris Speed. The American group was a late replacement for the scheduled European group The End, which could not perform due to travel restrictions. Crazy times.

Luis Vicente

Luis Vicente. Photo by Vera Marmelo – Gulbenkian Música

Luis Vicente's solo performance opened the set of concerts and, I would assume, some ears. Walking out on to the stage of the Gulbenkian Foundations smaller recital hall, it was simply Vicente and his instrument, no pedals, no effects, just some room reverb. He began playing with a slight fuzziness to his tone, creating a melody with a classical feel. Notes blended with other, sometimes tripping over each other, other times bursting into quick passages, sturdy tones sweeping gently, until splitting apart into polyphonics. Bifurcated and elongated tones then lead to a garden of extended techniques. It was a clever way to lead the us, the audience, into a personal universe of sound.

The trumpet has a particular set of sound properties, like any instrument of course, but the trumpet in particular has the sounds made by the embouchure, the valves, the air pressure, and the moisture. If you isolate these elements, they become like a bunch of parameters - add a little pressure, push the valves, change the lips' position - that open up many possibilities. Sitting in the dark hall, looking at the musician on the stage, and immersed in this world, I imagined a multidimensional shape, a visualization of the data points, in the space between Vicente and us. Assured at the controls, the trumpeter formed beautiful and unusual figures in the air around him.

Of course, a large part of the art is in the arc of the performance: the sweeter sounds that drew us into his inner world, then the disassembly where the sounds were explored like the long moments of air, burbles of notes, and other ghostly tones. Then, piece by piece, they were reassembled in new forms, a more acerbic tone, the click of valves accentuating newly forming passages, a howl that bended with a human voice. Really, a magician at work. 

Broken Shadows

Broken Shadows. Photo by Vera Marmelo – Gulbenkian Música

"It's really nice to be here, it was very last minute," said Tim Berne, taking a moment to engage the capacity audience. Then he deadpanned, "I just started playing  the saxophone 3 days ago ... I practiced a lot"

The four musicians, huddled in the middle of the expansive stage in Gulbenkians' grand auditorium, had a lot of space to fill, and they did not shirk from their responsibilities. Indeed from the fierce opener, bespectacled white haired older gentlemen were exclaiming ecstatically in the rows before me, respectable citizens were bopping their heads, ready to explode into enthusiastic applause after the somewhat frequent bar-raising solos.  Broken Shadows plays the music of Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Dewey Redman, and Julius Hemphill, and thank god they are doing it. One song after another, each one a classic in its own way, erupted from the stage.

Song after song, the feeling hit "I know this song, what the hell is it called again?" Arrangement by arrangement, the commonalities of the songs, their structures and sounds connected in new ways.  Perhaps that is the strongest component too, each song was recognizable, whether it was "Street Woman" or "Ecars" from Coleman, or "Body" from Hemphill, they feel like they are connected more than by this band that is lovingly taking these songs and imbuing them with new-found energy. Or could it, somehow, be the other way around?

Anyway, as the band began, the curtain parted behind the group revealing the lit-up tree-lined pond behind them. Themselves bathed in red and blue-green lights, wasted no time - a quick hit of that familiar melody and direct into explosive solos, while Anderson and King happily provided a tough but agile foundation. Berne's alto climbed up and down the octaves effortlessly while Speed's unfolding tenor playing provided a foil to the hard charging alto. The solos were often followed by a quick pivot back to the tune's head and sharp bass slap and then done, onto the next.

The music was up-tempo to say the least, lithe, precise, playfully rambunctious, and above all infectiously enjoyable. Speed has a generally softer tone and seems to enjoy leaning into the enveloping bass lines, sometimes pouring out a stream of notes, other times letting a phrase linger in the air. Berne is pushier, his playing pulls slightly ahead of the beat, any number of ideas jostling each other for prominence. By the time you catch up with him, he's sprinted ahead. Their contrast is fantastic.

When they launched into Hemphill's 'Dogon A.D.', a new level of enlightenment was attained. The bass-line, originally a cello-line, is thrilling, as are the incisive snippets of melody interspersed between the lurching rhythm. The tune is a trek into a foreboding land: visceral, throbbing, and serious, it's an intense work of art and in the able hands of Broken Shadows, none of the original dark energy is lost.

The work of this quartet is necessary. When Anderson performs the long introduction to Charlie Haden's 'Song for Che,' we are hearing this 'standard' anew. When they play Julius Hemphill's 'Body' or Ornette Colemans' 'Una Muy Bonita', the melodies are strong, memorable, and the places they can lead the musicians to are stunning. Hopefully, Broken Shadows is laying down the foundation for others.

The final song (not including the quick encore of Dewey Redman's 'Walls-Bridges') is pretty much a standard, as it's been performed by many with varying levels of success. Yes, it's Coleman's 'Lonely Woman'. The crying saxes captured  both the allure of the music - simple when you hear it, intricate when analyzed, and stunningly beautiful when done right. Broken Shadows did it right.

Fortunately, you can hear a damn good recording of the band playing the tunes described here on their recent eponymous Intakt Records release.

Ok Jazz em Agosto, looking forward to the next set of shows!

Friday, July 30, 2021

Three Duos: saxophones, keyboards, percussion

The improvised duet is a form with its own particular risks, liable to fall into the traditional pattern of melodic lead and accompaniment or, worse still, the instruments parroting one another in a kind of virtuoso mimicry. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen with these three distinct combinations. Each consists of two closely related instruments, and each strives for both a pointed layering and a detailed exploration of a special sonic combination, whether it’s a matter of locale or pitch range. Operating in different zones of free improvisation, each possesses a profound acuity to sound.

Liudas Mockūnas/ Arvydas Kazlauskas - Purvs (Jersika, 2021) ****1/2


The most dramatic packaging and locales undoubtedly belong to the Lithuanians Mockūnas (playing sopranino, soprano, tenor, bass and keyless overtone saxophones) and Kazlauskas (on soprano, alto and baritone). The two LPs are presented in a gatefold jacket of stunning heft and a rich brown tone suggesting the earth itself dictated the presentation.

The first LP, The Bog Sessions, was recorded in a Latvian peat bog, the second, with audience, in a Peat Amphitheatre, constructed by artist Jānis Gutāns-Grasis and oriented to the path of the sun. The two sites serve as environmental and cultural stimulation, the peat bog both site of human sacrifice and preserver of human bodies and source of heat. The spongy material also emphasizes bass frequencies, giving special weight to the lower horns.

The journey into the peat bog may be considered a speculative study of resonance and material, but there’s also a lot more going on. “Taka” is a squall of alternating honks, sounding like a combative robotic dance (flesh into metal into flesh) in which the inhabitants of Doctor Moreau’s island and Metropolis ‒ animals, humans, robots or various interspecies and changelings ‒ have gotten together for doomsday. “Madla” sounds like Albert Ayler delivering a tenor sermon with Charles Tyler providing a baritone refrain.

Moving to the Peat Amphitheatre, the duo again explores multiple voices: “Turbs” is an extended duet that includes free lines in propulsive rhythmic unison; “Šmekla” emphasizes low-pitched plosives; “Zilās Sūnas” is intense, blues-driven free jazz. “Strāuwa” begins in the light metallic percussion of tapping on a saxophone or rapid fingering, likely without blowing through it; eventually becoming dense two-part music, one saxophone sounding like a flute recording played backwards. “Gyvatyne” begins as a kind of mad barnyard pecking at the edge of meaning, gradually evolving into a kind of strange trio, likely Kazlauskas playing baritone while Mockūnas plays soprano and sopranino simultaneously.

Rodrigo Pinheiro / Pedro Carneiro Kinetic Études (Phonogram Unit, 2021) ****1/2

This Portuguese duo seems to explore landscape in a similar way, though the scale of their instruments ‒ Pinheiro’s grand piano and Carneiro’s marimba with quarter-tone extension ‒ confines them to a concert stage. Pinheiro may be best known for his role in Red Trio, the Lisbon-based group with a 13-year history that has recorded memorable collaborations with John Butcher and Nate Wooley, though his expressive range extends to noise-edged electric piano in Luis Lopes’ Lisbon Berlin Quartet. If Carneiro sounds like a classical virtuoso, it’s because he is, a distinguished performer and conductor who has been engaged with improvised music for at least a decade, performing in small groups with violinist Carlos Zingaro. Pinheiro’s grand piano is a wonder of resonance, but so too is Carneiro’s marimba, producing echoing pedal tones that reverberate around a room, and sometimes suggest the music of Harry Partch. Each musician improvises with a heightened precision, a refinement that might even suggest that they are reading, though no scores are apparent nor are there individual composition credits. Instead, the two move with a kind of natural fluency, ears wide open to the exchange, one’s phrase launching the other’s in music that often possesses an ecstatic flight and drift.

“Étude 4: On Impact and Orbit” (the titling emphasizes classical roots) might suggest Debussy and Scriabin, a wondrous marriage of the vague and the precise, an ideally blurred clarity in which the complexity of the flight is perfectly delineated, blurred only in the listener’s reception. “Étude 5: On Resistance and Mass” explores and contrasts the instruments’ sounds, Pinheiro’s almost arch clarity seemingly leading, while Carneiro’s liquid, low-pitched, reverberant sounds seem to burble up from oceanic depths until the two converge in near unison patterns, sounding like a single vast instrument occupying multiple elements.

Sergio Armaroli/ Roger Turner - Dance Steps (Leo Records, 2021) ****1/2

What Pinheiro and Carneiro do for low frequency wood and strings, Armaroli (prepared xylophone) and Turner (drums & percussion) do for high-pitched metal, their sounds often suggesting a metal that shatters like glass…continuously and of its own free will. If the previous recordings reference “free jazz” and “classical” music respectively, Armaroli and Turner may insist on the elusive “non-idiomatic improvisation”, somehow a category without analogues. However, their work, here and elsewhere, is rich in analogies. Armaroli’s recent recordings include the brilliant Deconstructing Monk in Africa (Dodicilune) with trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini, on which Armaroli plays a broad range of African percussion. Here his xylophone manages to sound both whimsical and random. Turner, who brings a brilliant 50-year career in free improvisation to bear here, simultaneously emphasizes early jazz techniques, a narrow pitch spectrum emphasizing bright high sounds and astonishing rates of sonic event: he’s very fast, reminding one that the more profoundly engaged a music is in its instantaneous present, the harder it is to describe its passage through time.

The music begins with a sufficiently light fleetness to suggest the possibility of the Red Norvo trio (the one with Tal Farlow and Charles Mingus) playing a John Cage chance composition on 52nd Street 70 years ago. The analogy may seem extreme, but there‘s a kind of simultaneous attentiveness to the nanosecond and a special relationship to historical time, a rapid invocation and a quick erasure, reminding one that, in the 1940s, avant-garde dancer Merce Cunningham engaged New Orleans drum pioneer Baby Dodds for a duet performance. It’s all music of light (as if the sound of that breaking glass percussion came from light bulbs) from the brilliant play of “Rhumba Valley” to the underwater nocturne of “Charlotte’s Underwear Dance” and the distinctive mysteries of “Breath-In”.

More info here.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Dave Rempis with Reid/Abrams/Daisy/Damon – The COVID Tapes (Aerophonic, 2021) *****

By Tom Burris

2020 was a bad experience for everyone. And if you were a musician you pretty much lost your gig. Recordings don't pay enough to sustain any of our outcat heroes – and they couldn't get together in a studio to record anyway due to the unpredictable nature of a potentially fatal virus wreaking havoc on all of humanity. We know what happened next; and although it wasn't ideal it was still great. We got to see things we never would have seen otherwise, most likely. Highlights of the online streaming concert experience included watching chickens walk on processed sound sources in Aaron Dilloway's house and getting up close and personal with Dave Rempis in his practice closet in the Unity Lutheran Church in Chicago. A new and different world wields new and different experiences – and streaming concerts helped soothe and/or stimulate most of us in a time of need - players, promoters and listeners alike.

For his solo closet sessions, Rempis got back to playing standards quite a bit. It appears that going back to one's roots happened frequently for people during 2020. I logged more time listening to the Stones, Velvets, Dylan and old blues records than I probably had in the last 20 years. There's comfort in them there grooves. It's where I came from. It's home. So it's not surprising that Dave dug up the old standards to cope with the new and shitty world that was being heaped upon us and repeatedly made worse by a U.S. government that mismanaged literally everything in sight – and that also doubled down on the incompetence with red-faced belligerence whenever it was called out. Good times. My sincerest best wishes for the people of Brazil and India, who are still in the heat of it all. What can we do other than throw money at the problem? This could become an entire essay that would take away from the matter at hand – but we are all unfocused as the US and Europe slowly open back up to something resembling “normalcy”. Everyone I know is stressed and questioning almost every aspect of their lives. The one thing I think we can all agree on is that we should never go back to the way things were before. We should use this time as an opportunity for positive change. We could do worse than to use the model of the streaming concert as an example of how to cope – and move forward. Sound naive? Then you weren't there. Beauty counts. Kindness counts. Musicians and venues brought it and we paid for the experience in kind. It benefited everyone who participated. We got through (most of) the pandemic together via computer screens, which as I said before isn't ideal, but it's what we had & it did the fucking job. Now if we could figure out a way for some of these folks to make a decent living from their art... Onward!

Where was I? Oh yeah, Rempis and standards. These solo pieces are an absolute joy. Joe McPhee's “Knox” kicks off the first disc with a succinct introduction to the approach he'll take on most of them: long, soulful, sometimes mournful tones that alternate with perfectly timed blasts of inspired freedom. “Just A Gigolo” is played slowly and sweetly. Legato – not at all punchy like Monk's version(s) but just as effective. Rempis says it's an appropriate tune for his online performance hustle. Not sure I agree as it feels more like a gift than a business transaction. He flutters his way through “On Green Dolphin Street” like he was born to play it, constantly flowing between melodicism and free ecstatic lines of ornithology. The closer for the entire double-disc set is Duke and Strayhorn's “Isfahan,” which shows Dave's apparent love of the melancholy standard in blazing lights. It's a stunner. He could have easily compiled a solo disc of these, but I think I like it better in this format: solo tracks alternating with group collaborations. Breaks everything up nicely.

The collaborative tracks here were recorded at Margate Park in Chicago, with the exception of “Toron” with Tim Daisy, which was laid down at the Sugar Maple in Milwaukee. “Toron” is a standout, beginning quietly as a bicycle wheel's spokes are struck with playing cards (not literally) accompanied by a wheezing threat. Rusty squeaks and junkyard pounding follow, building tension until Jazzbo the Snake Charmer shows up for a slow musical poem before the snake dances its way out the hat. And what a dance! Daisy matches Rempis' loping, fast lines with precision and fire. Rempis gets a solo spot in the middle that is inventive as hell, free as the blazing sun – then Tim re-enters swinging like Klook, the snare accents so infectious you can't help but move your feet. They kick back and forth between swinging bop and unhinged freedom like it's nothing – and it's incredibly exhilarating. The remaining collaborative tracks have more of a bootleg feel to them, which works incredibly well aesthetically. The outdoor setting lends itself to a flat sound, but is perfectly rounded out by the environmental sonics that inevitably slip into the recordings. The trio that Rempis has with Joshua Abrams and Tyler Damon on “Skin and Bones” sounds like a modernized version of the classic Sonny Rollins Trio to me – and I'm not exaggerating. Tomeka Reid and Abrams form automatic chords effortlessly on “In The Wild,” which Rempis weaves swift lines above – perhaps an homage to the birds present that day. Cicadas attempt to take over by the end of the piece, and there is a natural response from the musicians. “Glitch” is probably my favorite of the collabs and features percussion wunderkind Tyler Damon. He takes a nice long stretch to feel his way toward an addictive groove before Rempis joins in, with Damon adding incredibly interesting variations on the groove. Clyde Stubblefield and ecstatic Trane. Then suddenly there is calm. Long notes from Dave and wind chimes from Tyler. Builds to an interstellar storm, but more BYG than Impulse. The last several minutes barrel out like absolute best of the freedom sixties. Superb.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Rempis Percussion Quartet – Sud Des Alpes (Aerophonic, 2021) *****

By Tom Burris

On their way to a gig in Geneva, the Rempis Percussion Quartet encountered issues with the train they were riding. Specifically, the train lost the use of its braking system and came to a dead stop on the tracks. After much difficulty and stress, the band thankfully made the gig which is lovingly preserved right here on the band's tenth official release. All of the titles here reference the railway hassle with the exception of “Odwalla” which is an Art Ensemble of Chicago cover that casually leads into an original composition called “Evacuation,” which is also this recording's centerpiece. But let's start at the beginning...

“There's a Jam on the Line” starts tentatively, like an engine sputtering through multiple starting attempts. When it gently fires the hum is barely noticeable. Movement happens trepidatiously but gathers steam and purpose after a couple of minutes. The twin engine percussionists Tim Daisy & Frank Rosaly, fifteen years in the chassis, spark bold melodic statements from reed man Dave Rempis and bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten as support steadily strengthens. A slow groove cushions Rempis' first swing for the fences easily and smoothly. Rosaly and Daisy now reveal why they've had a lock on this band for so long. They are perfect foils for each other, consistently filling in for one another and contrasting styles in a way that supports the music as a whole. Flaten becomes an extra catalyst, pushing the others forward until the entire unit is in full flight, unraveling and revealing new music rapidly and with precision.

Next up is “Odwalla / Evacuation,” which follows a similar performance model as the first track, but stretches and extends it in terms of both time and construct. The build from the beginning is nearly seven minutes long, which made me a bit impatient for the payoff to be honest – but good things come to those who wait, and if you skip over those first seven minutes it's just not going to have the same result. Trust me, I went back and listened to it that way later. You have to listen to all of the pencils, pots, squeaks and kettle taps. Out of that Rempis emerges playing circular patterns while Flaten rumbles (mainly) on a single note. Finally the slow build reaches an ecstatic plateau. This one is so much higher than the heights reached in “There's a Jam on the Line” - and this seems entirely impossible. If the first track takes you into the realm of rapture, this one is a complete out-of-body experience. It lasts for quite a while – but not nearly long enough. Extraordinary.

Rempis takes a solo at the beginning of “Late Arrival,” alternating free overblown insanity with more conventionally melodic runs. The trio arrives in a blast from underneath, with Flaten's bowing serving as a flapping magic carpet. By the 2:30 mark, the entire band is weightless and barely able to hang onto their own clatter – approximating the panic involved when one is hopelessly late for an appointment. Conversely, the last three minutes are an accurate interpretation of the exact moment of arrival, as they are as peaceful, relaxing, and extremely winded.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

More electro-acoustic alchemy from Tim Olive

By Nick Ostrum

Pickups and analog alchemist Tim Olive could easily fall into doldrums of repetition, or variations so subtle only the performer and the most well-honed ears could detect them. However, he somehow manages to create something distinct with each release, even if his recordings carry certain recognizable elements that fall into the Olive aesthetic. These releases are no exception.

Sergey Kostyrko and Tim Olive – Rasputitsa (845 Audio, 2021) ***½

Rasputitsa is Russian for “the season of bad roads,” an annual part of spring wherein the ground is not quite defrosted enough to absorb excess water but the ground temperature is not quite cold enough to maintain the sheets of snow and ice that had built up over the winter. Hence, a period wherein ice and water coexist but do not mix, wherein one might be best to stay inside when they can find respite and maybe even jam with a recent acquaintance.

Although this was recorded in Kobe, Japan, a locale that does not experience a Rasputitsa like electronicist Sergey Kostryrko’s native St. Petersburg, the title perfectly captures the sense of isolation, solitude, and detachment that Rasputitsa, the album, conjures. Culled from hours of recordings from just a couple of nights of collaboration, these four tracks are carefully constructed crossed frequencies in a soundworld of abandoned warehouses, corroding industrial complexes, and desolate snow, or rather that brief part of a verdant spring when one can see the end of winter’s quarantine but one cannot quite touch it. (NB: This was recording in March 2019, long before the pandemic.) Rasputitsa seems a narrative of human contact warped by electronic media. A distant radio mashes static, industrial ambience, and textured electronic crackles. Muffled engines churn and hollow tones agitate to rise above the underlying ambient susurrations. Detached hisses ride atop jangling metallics. The result sounds somewhat flat, but all electro-improv does not have to plumb the sonic depths or create wormholes of noise. Instead, Rasputitsa seems content to survey time and two-dimensional space, evoking radio transmission from an unknowable sender, intertwined with other ambient electronic fragments whose origins and meanings remain cryptic.

Joda Clément, Tim Olive, Mathieu Ruhlmann – Eidolon (845 Audio, 2021) ****

Eidolon , Greek for a figure, representation, or phantom, presents a wonderful contrast to Rasputitsa. I would like to attribute as much of this to the different musical setting and list of collaborators as to any particular vision Olive himself brings to the table. Stated differently, as much as he and Kostyrko are responsive to one another and adapt their playing in real time to the moods and sounds that surround them, Joda Clément, Mathieu Ruhlmann and Olive are, as well, and to quite different an effect.

With Clément on MS-20, harmonium, glockenspiel, field recordings, and feedback, Ruhlmann on ukelin, cymbal, tapes, and various objects and Olive on an assortment of deconstructed electronics, Eidolon sounds full, even crowded. Although many of the sonic scraps brought to the table are muted and sound distant, the overall effect has more auditory depth and direction (minus the linearity implied) than Rasputitsa. Some of this may come from the periodic surfacing of distorted voices which hint at a narrative that remains elusive to me. Some may come from the found sounds and field recordings, which are prevalent, and the acoustic instruments which serve to deepen the daze and abruptly break the spell, or at least switch the scene. Even the electronics adopt an acoustic timbre through much of this. The result is Eidolon, a finely crafted electro-acoustic session by three of the foremost practitioners of this type of spectral EAI minimalism. Another fine addition to the catalogs of Olive, Ruhlmann and Clément and very much in the vein of what those familiar with the Caduc and 845 Audio sound might expect: abrasive and deceptively static at times, but textured, meandering, and hauntingly beautiful, like an aural exploration of Jasper Johns’ phantasmic experiments with gray on gray.

Tim Olive – Spot of the Foul (total mass retain) (845 Audio, 2021) ****½

Despite his penchant for collaboration, Olive has, from time to time, embarked on recorded solo ventures. Spot of the Foul (total mass retain) is his second ever and first in 13 years.

Spot of the Foul is heavier than Rasputitsa and Eidolon and, for that, I would even say it is stronger. Olive’s music is always engaging and thoughtful. Here, however, it seems he was able to set aside his aptitude for responsivity and shaping his sound to that of his collaborators and pursue a project wherein he only needed to respond to himself.

Spot of the Foul is dark and dense. It leans more toward noise than most of his more variegated EAI collaborations have. As the listener allows themself to get lost in the thick morass of drone and pulsing mechanics that characterize the album, however, they might begin to notice the delicacy and intricacy of it all. This is not just a wall of sound, albeit one filtered through Olive’s unique array of tools (magnetic pickups, metal plates, springs, wire, tuning forks, electromagnets, bow, breath, dental floss, envelope generator, fuzz, spring reverb, preamplifier) and sensibilities. It is a textured and undulating interweaving of the subtle and the amplified. His characteristic creaks, radar beeps, and engine thrumps are there. Here, however, they are complemented with a heavy underlying bass, mechanical growls, grinding feedback and a density of gloomy and harsh atmospherics uncharacteristic of Olive’s other work. This creates a dense but variegated fabric of entangled, metallic threads. Together, they clash, rattle, and resonate in some very intriguing ways.

Spot of the Foul shows another side of Olive, one that apparently required solitude to coax out. It is gloomier than much of his other output, more doom and heavy, multihued drone than the EAI, wavering between patient minimalism and electro-clatter, that Olive frequently explores. I am not sure whether Olive intends to continue exploring these darker corners, but, if he does, Spot of the Foul bodes well for what he will find.