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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Colin Stetson, Billy Martin, Elliott Sharp & Payton MacDonald - Void Patrol (Infrequent Seams, 2022)

Many years ago I discovered a recording that rewired parts of my musical listening brain, the dark and lugubriously melodic Octave Of The Holy Innocents (Day Eight Music, 1993) from bassist Jonas Hellborg along with guitarist Buckethead and drummer Michael Shrieve. After many listens, my infatuation cooled but the album had buried itself deep in my brain. When I heard percussionist and marimba player (and credited here with keyboard percussion) Payton MacDonald's latest creation Void Patrol with guitarist Elliot Sharp, saxophonist Colin Stetson and percussionist Billy Martin, those old long buried musical memories re-surfaced, reminding me about just how good this dark, layered,  and rhythmically intense music felt.

Void Patrol was born under pandemic circumstances, like much of what is being released at the moment. MacDonald, also a composer and teacher in the music department at William Patterson University in New Jersey, took advantage of some grant funding and extra available time from time not gigging, and constructed this powerful group. Their work was done remotely, constructed from a series of tracks that MacDonald recorded and then shared. As he explained, “through emails, Zooms, and many phone calls we agreed on a basic set of parameters for pitch, form, and groove, and then just got to work making music.”

From the moment the music begins to trickle through the Bluetooth speakers - or ear buds, bookshelf Bose, or maybe even IKEA lamp (I just know I am going to break down and get one one of those someday) - the results of their parameter tweaking is riveting. 'Antares' kicks off with an atmospheric electric slide guitar figure from Sharp that interpolates Morricone-accented lines with an insistent percussive/melodic pattern from MacDonald's marimba. The sound of the instrument is unique, its woodsy timbre lends a certain lightness to the track that grows denser with Martin's groove oriented drumming and added layers of electronics. Towards the end, Stetson's sax add to the unhurried drama. His circular patterns pull the listener in one direction while the electronic oscillations pull in another. Take a few deep breaths after listening to that one because the next, 'Rigel' pick ups with the same intensity.

The settings are tweaked from track to track, resulting in a variety of appraoachs. The second track, 'Sirius,' has much more space, beginning with what sounds like a backwards saxophone underlaid with light percussion. Soon, Sharp tosses fractalized chord tones across the playfield and the keyboard percussion also adds quite a splash towards the end. 'Hadar' employs the resonant tonality of hand drums along with fragmented melodic statements from the marimba. Ghostly moans add a touch of darkness to the vibrating intensity of the track. The closing track, 'Acrux,' opens with an atmospheric melody from MacDonald and gently expanding melody from Stetson. Martin's scattered percussion and Sharp's electronic textures simulate dry-ice smoke and spooky spotlights, situating the bubbling layers of sound perfectly.

Void Patrol album is captivating and effective. I am reasonably sure that it will be settling down next to Octaves in the comings weeks, sharing the creative space where shadowy tones mix with strong rhythmic figures and wispy moments of hope.

Payton MacDonald's Exploration's Project

In October 2020, MacDonald started an ambitious recording project, recording on marimba one full-length recording a week for over a year. As of this writing, it looks like he is on number 61. The recordings all have unique foci and are combination of solo works as well as collaborations. Just a quick sample of a couple reveals the depth and expertise that MacDonald brings to the instrument...

Explorations 21: The Music of Elliot Sharp

Explorations 21 finds MacDonald performing a score from Elliot Sharp, a polymath whose own work goes far beyond his guitar, and in this case, to his classical and new music compositional pieces. The composition, 'Foliage,' is actually a 116 page graphically notated score, and MacDonald approaches it solo via marimba and additional electronics. The tracks unfold in different ways, for example, the first is thick with distortion and ephemeral melodic statements and the second is rhythmically dense, with a push and pull of polyrhythms and tempos that are both soothing and a bit disturbing. Each one has something new to discover, like the spaciousness on the third track or the insistant percussive rain in the next one.

Explorations 16: the Music of Anthony Braxton

Explorations 16 is MacDonald's interpretation of Anthony Braxton’s music for marimba. The work was created in consultation with Braxton's Tricentric foundation and the result is an intimate exploration of the angles and logic of his compositions. Each track is compelling in its own way. For example. 'Number 136' sounds like more than two hands are at work, as melodies and counter melodies contrast and collide, while 'Number 142' is at first carried by a strong a rhythmic figure with the melodic ideas eventually pulling further and further away. 'Number 304' has suspended feeling, lifted by thick asymmetric runs, and 'Number 305' closes the recording with a tightly winding musical ball. MacDonald's ability to embrace all of the complexity of Braxton's music and express it with a single instrument is captivating.

There are many more Explorations to discover on MacDonald's bandcamp site

Monday, May 30, 2022

Kyle Bruckmann - Mesmerics/Hindsight A & B (Infrequent Streams, 2021)

By Ron Coulter

San Francisco Bay Area musician, Kyle Bruckmann is an accomplished oboist in contemporary classical and improvised musics. Here in Mesmerics/Hindsight A & B, Bruckmann has applied his creative practice to electronics during the “quarantined conditions of 2020-21.” Often, practicing musicians (i.e. performers of acoustic instruments) bring a vitality and immediacy to the use of electronics, both compositionally and performatively, that escapes those without that experiential knowledge; Mesmerics/Hindsight A is an excellent example of this facility.

In a way this music doesn’t require a review, as the album notes are thoroughly descriptive, lengthy, and colorful. However, those notes lean heavily on association and comparison of Bruckmann’s compositions to already established electronic musics, history, and influences. Even though this music utilizes certain iconic synthesizers and was created in a geographic area with a deep history of electronic music, this music isn’t derivative; it stands firmly on its own.

Mesmerics/Hindsight A is especially strong, abstract electronic music dripping with fat, juicy analog synth sounds. The four tracks comprising Mesmerics/Hindsight A are through-composed, in constant development, and have a lively feeling of pliancy not often heard in electronic music; organic might be the commonly used descriptor. The music has a fluidity like that of an improvising musician using an acoustic instrument—a singular union of the performer and the technology. Mesmerics is an apt title, because this is mesmerizing music of oddly distorted pitch/melody, rhythm, and texture that draws a listener into its idiosyncratic sound world; see track A2, Hindsight II: Occam’s Blunderbuss, in particular.

Mesmerics/Hindsight B is, as the album notes describe, prioritizing periodicity. Its ten tracks appear like studies that each explore a certain aspect of the involved technology. Many of the tracks are built from an ostinato as obvious as track B1, Blindside, or track B6, Mesmeric (metaphoric), and as abstract and elusive as track B3, Mind Blight. Track B8,Fight Flight, may be the strongest piece on Mesmerics/Hindsight B with its writhing, squelching, noisey textures that treat periodicity in the broadest, loosest sense.

Mesmerics/Hindsight A & B is a double release contained on a single 90-minute cassette and available as separate digital downloads. Mesmerics/Hindsight A and Mesmerics/Hindsight B may likely appeal to different audiences of electronic music, but they are both well worth the time to investigate. One looks forward to future developments and releases from Bruckmann in the electronic realm.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: Ultraman vs. Alien Metron (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2022)

By Martin Schray

Anyone who was able to experience Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet live won’t forget the brute energy that this band was able to unleash. At the end of their incredible 15-year existence they played with almost no pre-conceived material or scores (partly because they had known each other for so long). However, when they started their project, this was completely different - the members could contribute compositions to the band’s repertoire. On their first release, the triple album 1 / 2 / 3 (Okka Disk, 1998), there are pieces by almost all members. After a US tour in the early 2000s, the band then went into the studio and the result from the sessions were two CDs for Okka Disk, A Short Visit to Nowhere and Broken English. On the first one, you can also find a piece by Mars Williams, the only one who didn’t have a composition on 1 / 2 / 3. In addition to “Hold That Thought“ (the name of the track), another Williams composition was recorded - though never released. Williams has rediscovered it in his archives recently and the Chicago label Corbett vs. Dempsey is now thankfully publishing it.

In case anyone has forgotten what the band was like, here are the hard facts: gathered around Peter Brötzmann (saxophones, tárogató and clarinets - here on tenor only) there were parts of the crème de la crème of the Chicago free jazz scene - Mars Williams and Ken Vandermark (saxophones), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Kent Kessler (bass), Michael Zerang and Hamid Drake (drums) - plus Mats Gustafsson (saxophones, here on alto only) and Joe McPhee (trumpet and saxophone, here on valve trombone).

Ultraman vs. Alien Metron is a perfect example of the band’s music in its early days. The improvisations are grouped around four themes, in which you are usually confronted with the full monty before everything comes to a halt and then new attempts are made again and again. In the process, the heads vary widely - from the brutal, almost heavy-metal-like riff remotely reminiscent of the theme of the first Godzilla movie, to Lonberg-Holm’s No Wave break everyone jumps on, to the unison melody of the saxophones (a reference to the Sonoré Trio that would later emerge from the band). In between, there is wild improvisation, the saxophones snap, chamber music phases are interspersed, the two percussionists battle, etc. At the end the Tentet blows up to full size and once again tunes in to the theme of the beginning. The whole thing is like a showcase of circus performers, with everyone getting a chance to show off their skills. It’s all completely organic, though, and fits into the overall concept of the composition.

Remixed by original sound engineer John McCortney, Ultraman vs. Alien Metron is a lost classic of improvised music from one of the best large-scale free jazz formats of all time. For fans of Brötzmann and the other musicians the record is certainly a must have, but it’s also great for newcomers to immerse themselves in the music of this band.

This year there have already been great previously unreleased masterpieces to discover ( Ayler and Mingus , for example). This album is another one.

Ultraman vs. Alien Metron is available on vinyl only. It’s limited to 1000 copies. You better be quick.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Dave Tucker, Pat Thomas, Thurston Moore, Mark Sanders - Educated Guess(es)

Dave Tucker, Pat Thomas, Thurston Moore, Mark Sanders - Educated Guess, Vol. 1 (577 Records, 2021)

Dave Tucker, Pat Thomas, Thurston Moore & Mark Sanders - Educated Guess, Vol. 2 (577 Records, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

“I assume that he was shut up in that oval shaped studio and subjected to weird electronic music, which caused psychological confusion. Then, when he started to feel sick, he was given intermittent barrages of ultrasonic waves. I think that Waga knew that Miyata had a weak heart. In order to seal Miyata’s lips, Waga killed him by using electronic music and ultrasonic waves to cause a heart attack. I would like to stress that this is a method of murder that has not existed before.”

Seicho Matsumoto,

Inspector Imanishi Investigates (1961)
English translation: Beth Cary (1989)

Dave Tucker is a long-standing member of England’s free improvising community, including membership in the London Improvising Orchestra and numerous small ensembles. His notable small group recordings include Homework (Grob, 2001) by School of Velocity (a quartet with Evan Parker, John Edwards, and Steve Noble) and Scatter (FMR, 2007) with Phil Minton, Pat Thomas and Roger Turner. By free improvisers’ standards, Tucker doesn’t record often, but when he does, it counts. That certainly holds true for Educated Guess, a title based on Tucker’s positive expectations when forming this quartet, in which he plays guitar and electronics with Pat Thomas on piano and keyboards, Thurston Moore on guitar and Mark Sanders on drums and percussion. Recorded at Café Oto on March 4, 2020 (immediately prior to the lockdown), the first and second sets as two separate volumes, the first in April of 2021, the second in May 2022.

There’s a certain shift in character between the sets. The first emphasizes electronics, often with Tucker and Thomas both exploring the electronic ends of their palettes. There’s an initial passage of tweaks, brrrs, twitters and blips, sufficient to suggest that the astronauts have arrived at the electronic heart of the alien planet; however, it’s anything but unpleasant; rather, it’s a playful celebration of possibilities, friendly oscillators and slightly self-conscious sirens. The two tracks feel, as the titles declare them, like 'The New Normal Part 1' and 'Part 2'. A drill-like fusillade might suggest a potential-press roll from Sanders, whose own role in this is at times a metallic animation of other materials. The more one listens to this, the less one cares about the dialogue between acoustic and electronic elements: it’s the collective creation that matters, and once divorced from the original space of its creation, the music wholly assumes a life of its own, the electronics as consciously crafted and as subtle as acoustic materials, even feeling familiar and melodic, almost autonomous. There’s an early extended passage in which Thomas concentrates on the lowest range of the piano, creating a near-funeral ambience. A certain compulsion to listen to the paths of individual voices is gradually overridden; if Thomas’s keyboards and Tucker’s electronics blur, or Moore and Tucker’s guitars overlap, it’s entirely the point, and even the propulsive role of Sanders’ drums can slip into a collective animation. Individual agency disappears into the collective experience, one of the most “natural” fusions of noise, electronica and acoustic instruments you’re apt to hear.

The second set changes those associations. Thomas’s emphasis turns to the piano, and it’s an immediate focal point. 'Everything Is Something Part 1' begins in sustained dissonant chords around which muffled guitar sounds and light metallic percussion assemble. The music becomes increasingly spacious, shaped by the contrasting electric guitars, one altered, the other initially clean, the two gradually converging with varying timbral mutations, a dialogue as alien and “normal” as the electronics of Vol. 1. Then a kind of light dance figure emerges, sounding almost like a music box, with a degree of eeriness. It gradually turns into a guitar and a kind of dreamscape that’s distinct from the playfulness. As the ensemble grows, marked by Sanders and the distorted guitars, there’s again the suggestion of a hive mind as well as a hive, as if the music does not arise as a process of exchange but as a continuous collective development in which parts literally emerge continuously rather than as “individual” contributions, including a theremin-like melody that, though utterly unpredicted, sounds inevitable. Thomas’s piano is even more central to the brief 'Part 2', strikingly fleet, simultaneously precise and evanescent, but again a natural continuum, the stream-like flow of the group’s imagination defining it, a conversational flow brought to material and associations that are also somehow alien, a kind of collective automatic writing.

Volume 1 is available as yellow or black vinyl, CD or download; Volume 2 as CD or download.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Marteau Rouge & Haino Keiji - Concert 2009 (Fou Records, 2022)

I'm sure we've all been in the situation of being asked who our favourite artist or band is and the answer is always complicated. With so many great artists you could name in every possible musical style and genre even in making a top 10, 20, 100 or hell, 1000 you're never sure of your picks, always afraid of leaving out someone whose music you love; so you don't bother, you say you like all kinds of music and artists and you hope the answer is satisfactory to whoever asked it. This is what I almost always do and it gets me by most times.

There is however one artist who has had a profound influence on me, both as a listener and a musician, with his hundreds of hours of recorded material spanning his free jazz beginnings, solo guitar explorations, innumerable collaborations, noise, drone, percussion and much more, and this person is of course Keiji Haino. This is why I'm honored to be able to write my thoughts on a release he participated in, a collaborative album recorded live with french trio Marteau Rouge, comprised of Jean-Marc Foussat on synthesizer, toys and vocals, Makoto Sato on drums and Jean-François Pauvros on guitar.

With the introductions out of the way we need to discuss how to approach this review. Even before listening to the album I knew I would have lots to talk about but after a few attempts at writing a piece I would consider decent I noticed all I could really do was regurgitate the same compliments for a few paragraphs without communicating anything besides the fact that I think it's very good.

Since this is a live album and what it does best, in my opinion, is make you feel like you're in the room as the band plays (also thanks to the fact that while it by no means sounds bad this is clearly not a soundboard recording and has a lot of rawness to it) I thought I could try and walk you through it, almost like this is a review of a concert we're all attending together.

The album consists of one long improvised set split into 12 tracks: Annonce, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J and Fin. Let's go through it.

'Annonce' lives up to its name: it introduces the band and the palpable and gritty room recording quickly and it's over with.

We then go to 'A', Foussat's synth chirrs and pulsates as Sato starts hitting his toms and cymbals. If you didn't know the lineup you might think someone was playing a saxophone but what you're hearing is actually just Pauvros' expertly processed guitar. Then some slow, deliberate notes come in, with their signature reverb attached: Haino has joined the band. The group builds to a steady rumble, the synth and drums keeping the two guitarists from straying too far from the rest.

On 'B' what was once a sax has now been transformed into a violin. I have to admit I was fooled for a moment by Pauvros' treatment of his instrument and had to go double check the liner notes to see if there really wasn't a violin. As tension builds Foussat starts singing through a heavily distorted microphone, like a message sent back through time from a not too distant dystopian future.

'C' showcases Haino's use of atonality, it has a particular rhythm and note choice to it that's utterly unique to him; it's not any specific scale or mode but it almost sounds like it is, as there's clearly a method to the madness. If I had to say what the signature Haino sound is I'd say it's this. Ideas and motifs that Pauvros introduced earlier are alluded to by the synthesizer, something that's prevalent throughout the album and that is emblematic of the group's chemistry and experience working together.

'D' is a continuation of 'C', a moment of calm and a dialogue between Haino's guitar and what appears to be a sample of a dog barking.

'E' gets more intense and physical. Sato's playing isn't snare-heavy but when he decides to hit it it really shakes the room. As Pauvros' guitar transforms back into a violin Haino leaves his for a moment, hooking a microphone to his pedalboard (another Haino staple) in what appears to be a deliberate nod to Foussat's vocals earlier.

'F' is the turning point of the evening (and album): the physicality that has been with the band since the first note was played starts to fade and everything gets progressively more abstracted. The synth is foreboding and menacing, Sato's playing is more atmospheric than rhythmic and the guitars are under so many layers of effects that are now a thick wall of sound.

On 'G', Haino starts singing in his high pitched shamanistic style. It's just a short section, and idea, but it influences Pauvros' playing and the tone of his guitar for the next few minutes, in which he embraces the ritualistic mood Haino set. Foussat and Sato follow the two guitarists in stride, introducing more and more tension as the music gets more psychedelic and feels like leaving your body and starting to float ever up, an ascension that appears like it will never end.

'H' is the place this ascension takes you to, a barren (not in a bad way) and uncanny place shepherded by Haino's ghostly vocals once more.

The sparseness is wrested away from the listener on 'I' as the whole band comes back in a whirlwind of distortions and busy and intense drumming that segues into 'J', still relentless at first but as it eventually dies down Haino sings one last note, the last sound you hear in this delicate balance of tension and release that has been listening to the album.

The journey is over and the group is done. On Fin Pauvros presents the band one last time and they leave as the audience cheers.

This is probably my favourite release of the year so far. A fantastic document of a trio at the top of their game, not only in perfect synergy with each other but also able to accommodate the inclusion of a giant like Haino without even batting an eye. It's available on CD from Fou Records in Europe, Squidco in the US, and of course in digital format on Bandcamp. I know this was an unorthodox review but I felt it was the best way to show my enthusiasm for this album and I hope that if anything I mentioned sounds interesting you'll give this great piece of live music a listen. I've been listening to it regularly and I keep finding new things to be excited about under the countless layers of sound and I hope you'll find it as rewarding as I do.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Lao Dan - Self-destruct Machine (self-released, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Lao Dan presents a live solo set from 2019 with alto saxophone and dizi (a transverse bamboo flute) on the four-track, 47’ Self-destruct Machine.

Previous solo recordings occurred in pairs, separately developing saxophone and dizi, with Functioning Anomie and Going After Clouds and Dreams in 2018 and Chinese Medicine and The song of the Uninhabited Island in 2020. While it’s saxophone-forward, Self-destruct Machine joins the two instruments, though they still seem to serve as a kind of foil to each other in the context both appear, the sidelong “Clown.” In 2022 so far, Lao Dan has also appeared on two compilations from Old Heaven Books, the vital Chinese venue and label, Encore 72 Hours and Region, Music, and Practice Vol. 1 .

Three of four tracks are all alto, alternately excavating high-register sounds with a singular ferocity to disentomb the squealing soul of a piercing overtone from any warmth in its entourage of harmonics and crooning soulful melodies in gravel-throated growls and swaggering vibrato with a propensity to spiral into slurred free freakouts. If saxophones could scream. It is impassioned. Doubly so during intervals of agonized vocals babbling in tongues that bleed into saxophone’s tortuous fits. “Clown” is perhaps a little lighter. In part because the first half featuring dizi is comparatively spacious, its breathy play given room to breathe, tender melodies quavering gently. And while its sound sometimes stabs at higher registers, its material makes it mellower than metal. The second half is a switch to saxophone, now more raspberries, duck, and kazoo than victim, though like the flute moved towards sharp tones so too the saxophone drifts towards screech and skronk. There’s a sense of dualism at play, the two instruments’ two parts alternate humor and gravity like lifting the laughing mask.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Kobe Van Cauwenberghe's Ghost Trance Septet Plays Anthony Braxton (El Negocito, 2022)

By Sammy Stein

Ghent-based el Negocito records will release Kobe Van Cauwenberghe's Ghost Trance Septet plays Anthony Braxton on June 2, combined with a performance at the Contemporary Arts Museum of S.M.A.K. In Ghent, showcasing the results of Kobe Van Cauwenberghe's research on Anthony Braxton and his spectacular Ghost Trance Music.

Anthony Braxton is one of the most innovative composers, musicians, and music theorists. His work has been featured on around 60 albums by other musicians, and his number of compositions is over 700. Belgian guitarist Kobe Van Cauwenberghe (Zwerm, Ictus Ensemble, Nadar Ensemble) recognised the uniqueness of Braxton's Ghost Trance Music systems and made it a mission to come to a deeper understanding of it and its implications for the interpreter. After his acclaimed solo album (Ghost Trance Solos), Van Cauwenberghe invited a group of musicians to take a collective deep dive into Braxton's musical wonderland of the Ghost Trance Musics and explore its unique communal aspects. In the summer of 2021, this Ghost Trance Septet recorded four GTM-compositions, covering the entire spectrum of the four different' species' of the G.T.M. system. The result is this present double CD, which will be followed by a double vinyl issue later in the year.

Anthony Braxton reacted to the Ghost Trance Septet's performance at the Rainy Days Festival in Luxemburg in November 2021 with emotion, and this ensemble comes with the full approval of the grandmaster himself

On June 5, Braxton's Birthday, there will be a 2nd concert at the Singel in Antwerp, followed by a performance by Braxton himself. Other activities are planned, including an expo and lectures - more info here.

With Braxton playing fewer concerts these days, this is a rare opportunity to see the grandmaster perform. Braxton has over 500 compositions to his name and has been a visionary pioneer of music, regularly reinventing himself. During the 1970s, Braxton considered creating streamed (or beamed) live performances alongside 100 orchestras in 4 different cities and wanted to mark the year 2000 by completing the music for multiple orchestras. The programme in the performances will feature his compositions from the 'Creative Orchestra' albums, where, in an 'Ellington meets Stockhuasen' manner, Braxton blends big band with contemporary classical ensemble. There will also be some pieces from the more recent 'Ghost Trance Music,' which balances music that is both notated and allows for improvisation. Braxton will perform himself with his new Saxophone Quartet, featuring James Fei ( Roscoe Mitchell, Alvin Lucier), Chris Jonas ( Cecil Taylor, William Parker, Del Sol String Quartet), Ingrid Laubrock( F-IRE Collective, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Polar Bear) and Andre Vida ( Brandon Evans, Sonny Simmons)

The opening track, 'Composition 255,' is a mesmerizing stream of music that begins with the ensemble delivering a punctuated stream of chords in union before, gradually, the percussion first; then the other instruments begin to shear off from the central theme, creating diverse and intricate side roads of improvised sounds. Follow any of these, and you end up eventually at a crossroads where the ensemble comes together, crosses, and then veers away on different pathways. Eerie vocalisation, underpinned by piano, then brass blats and percussive rhythms thundered out underneath. The subtle blueseyness of the central section of the number with the unsettling bass clarinet just audible beneath the intricate top lines reflects jazz roots, while the explosive, dissonant guitar reminds the listener that this is improvised jazz music in essence. The trance element comes from the palpitation of the rhythms and the endless stream of musical consciousness, which creates a link between the musicians, balancing the directed with the free. The piano rises to the fore playing chordal sequences, over which the rest add their responses - again, that link between the set and the unsettling—an incredibly diverse and creative opening sequence of music.

The following track,'Composition 358,' opens with the ensemble playing separate yet connected lines, each different yet creating a link to the rest, before snatches of melody rise like a nest of entwined cobras, entwining around the centrality of the number while maintaining their individuality. The glissandos, the responses, the interaction, the brief solos, the quiet moments, and the explosive end section before the fading all work to create another mesmeric number.

The next track, 'Composition 193,' continues the theme of collective creativity, the ensemble demonstrating how aggregation can be coupled with fractions of dissonance and subtle connectivity.

After the three-minute mark, the lines set by the piano are reflected and developed by the ensemble with the percussion adding rhythmic patterns that both fill space and create interesting modulations of the tempo. A violin rises in solo before playing spiccato, reflecting the percussive patterns. The bass weaves complex lines underneath. The ensemble then works together to create many hues, painting a colourful ribbon of sound that the listener can follow, leading to a tricky, intricate rhythmic middle section into which they are immersed. The sound curve becomes more complex before it simplifies, allowing individual instruments to be heard. The finish feels orchestral and fulsome.

The final track, 'Composition 264,' brings more of the same - a seemingly bottomless pool of sounds, from which individual instruments rise to the surface before diving back to the depths of sound created by the ensemble. This music exemplifies the ensemble style of blended notated and improvised sound and is a delight to both those with an ear for classical and those preferring a freer form of playing.

Braxton proves that comparisons to other composers are pointless, and Braxton is a rare thing nowadays - a composer whose work is unique. The recording feels like an immersion; the music washes over the listener in waves, cleansing and pure. It is a stream of consciousness that emanates from the musicians, serving as a guide between that which is known and the unknown. Clear guidance to form is tempered beautifully with an allowance for freedom that this kind of music gives. There is a sense of connection to the past, a sense of being very much in the present and with the future. Listening to this music is an experience, not an act, and Braxton creates a sense of endless potential.

Kobe Van Cauwenberghe - electric guitar, nylon string guitar, electric bass, synths, voice
Frederik Sakham - double bass, electric bass, voice
Elisa Medinilla - piano
Niels Van Heertum - euphonium, trumpet
Steven Delannoye - tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
Anna Jalving - violin
Teun Verbruggen - drums, percussion

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Keefe Jackson’s Likely So—April 16, 2022 at Constellation, Chicago

(From left to right) Sarah Clausen, Molly Jones, Keefe Jackson, Jason Stein, Adam Zanolini, Aram Shelton.

By Gary Chapin

One of the reasons I love the way the pandemic has boosted streaming concerts across the land is because it solves the “reviewing live performances” conundrum. “Why review live performances?” I would say to my copy of The New Yorker or The New York Times,”It’s not like I can go see it?” But with streaming concerts—which are often posted on the venue’s YouTube channel—you can go see the performance. And if I see a streaming concert, like Keefe Jackson’s Likely So at Constellation Chicago, and it sticks under my craw and I keep revisiting it and it keeps bringing joy, I can write a review even a full month later to draw everyone’s attention.

Likely So is a woodwind sextet featuring Sarah Clausen, Molly Jones, Keefe Jackson, Jason Stein, Adam Zanolini and Aram Shelton on all kinds of flutes, saxes, and clarinets. There’s at least one instance of a number of the group playing clear plastic tubes with mouth pieces on, and a harmonium (a free reed instrument) also shows up.

At the start, the group is assembling their instruments and form into a semi-circle, everyone still, with their hands at their sides. There’s something about it that is purposeful. Almost as if the score indicates “some silence before the sounds begin.” This is conjecture on my part. I have no way of knowing if that’s true, but it is the sort of theatrical or ritualistic element that shows up occasionally throughout.

For example, the opening sequence features each player playing an improvised sort of introduction to themselves. Another example, about ten minutes in, two of the flutists are circling the rest of the group slowly. Everyone is in their spot either crouching or sitting, the flutes draw a circle that marks the edge of darkness on the stage. In the second “act” trumpets play from the shadows (played by Josh Berman and Ben Lamar Gay).

The compositions are uncontrolling, as you would expect. They seem to create the conditions for improvisation, rather than carving out space. The most frequent compositional gambit is for a repeated figure (or two or three) to play while other improvisers wind around it, like the snakes around the staff of a caduceus. Rising long tones happen, unison playing, and then you hear the beats in the wave and know that they are drifting. The entrances to and exits from and settings of improvisation are very intriguing shared melodies. The improvisations live in an AACMish spaciousness, but the—what are they? heads? ostinatos?—have rhythmic weight and (dare I say it?) Hemphill-esque funk.

At one point four bass clarinets are playing with two alto flutes (I think, I couldn’t see one of the flutes clearly) and that amazing timbre had me thinking, “The world needs more of this kind of sound!” The infusion of minimalism and free jazz is one of my favorite things. This is music happening with a human dynamic, with a human density, between humans who listen to each other.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Oren Ambarchi / Johan Berthling / Andreas Werliin - Ghosted (Drag City , 2022)

By Martin Schray

Almost ten years ago, in one of my first reviews for this website, I reviewed Fire! feat. Oren Ambarchi: In the Mouth - a Hand . I had been completely blown away by this band’s music. Fire!’s brutal force, their way of combining prog rock with free jazz - incredible. Oren Ambarchi, the Australian drummer turned avant guitarist, acted as a kind of booster, amplifying everything in Fire!’s music. When I listen to this album today, it has lost none of its fascination, for me it’s one of the best recordings of this still young century.

Ambarchi has continued collaborating with Fire! in the following years, for example on the no less extraordinary She Sleeps, She Sleeps. But there were also cooperations with individual musicians of the trio, especially with bassist Johan Berthling, e.g. on My Days Are Parker Than Your Nights and Tongue Tied. What is more, all three were recently again part of his big project extraordinaire Live Hubris (Black Truffle, 2021). As one can see, they never lost track of each other.

So when Ghosted by Ambarchi and Fire!’s rhythm section was announced, my excitement was high, as one might imagine. Will the music of the trio sound as brute as it did ten years ago? Will it be more rhythm-orientated like Live Hubris? Or will it revive the drones of My Days Are Darker? To cut a long story short, it's a mixture of the last two. And that's absolutely great.

Ghosted's qualities lie in the way Ambarchi, Berthling and Werliin adopt Fire!’s basic concept: The bass, almost minimalistically, holds a simple groove and the drums prance around it relatively freely. With Amabarchi as the locomotive, however, they develop a newfound interest in stripping back and zooming in on their music. On the one hand, the tracks are reduced, they are not bulging or bloated, on the other hand they float away from their center into the spherical.

This is not so much free jazz as rather some kind of ecstatic cosmic drive, as if Bill Frisell had fallen under the influence of mind-expanding drugs during an ECM recording (sorry, Bill). The kaleidoscope-like repetition of small, luminous motifs - primarily by Ambarchi, but also by the others who leave the given paths here and there - open the tracks. Time and timelessness coexist in a relaxed way, everything happens slowly and quickly at the same time.

Sometimes, when I have difficulties to fall asleep, I need music that guides me through the night. Then I listen to this album and imagine Ambarchi, Berthling and Werliin playing in a dark Berlin techno club at 6 a.m., the people are exhausted, they hang around in their lounge suites, listening to the band’s organic sound of minimalist classical and relaxed Kraut Rock. This is music that builds and expands into meandering structures, eventually ending in the bright, nocturnal zones reminiscent of the brooding slow jazz landscapes of Bohren Und Der Club of Gore.

Ghosted is available on vinyl and as a download.

You can listen to two tracks and order it here: 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Kuhl/Ballou/Dierker/Stewart - KRAFT (Out of Your Head Records, 2022)

By Nick Metzger

This unassuming album with a funny looking cartoon cat on its cover is a real monster. From what I gathered, Baltimore drummer Mike Kuhl had a regular pre-pandemic Tuesday gig with his trio (with bassist Jeff Reed and guitarist John Lee though I’ve also seen Ballou listed as a member as well) at a spot called Bertha’s Mussels. He took the opportunity one Tuesday in 2018 to play there with this quartet (Dave Ballou on trumpet, Luke Stewart on bass, John Dierker on reeds), all local players Kuhl had wanted to get together in a group, which he dubbed KRAFT. They must have made an impression, as the group was subsequently invited to live stream from An Die Musik in February of 2021. The set ended up being so good that Stewart offered to master it and OOYH has released the results in-full as a part of its digital-only Untamed series, and holy cow (cat?!) I’m glad they did. KRAFT is heavy on chemistry and light on filler, and on their debut they deliver animated and commiserate formations of sound that span a wide range of dynamics and intensities.

The first piece “Ageless One” is a behemoth that, like many free improvisational efforts, kicks off the album with probing appendages of cross-talk as the quartet looks to establish some traction. Once the pieces really start falling into place, Dierker’s reeds and Ballou’s brass alternately serve up chatty dialogues and streaks of mad squawking ramble against the surging rumble and/or steady thud of Stewart and Kuhl’s rhythm section. On “Scoop the Moon” the horns get into a tussle of murmurs and slurred passages, the tangles of percussion coming from bells, traps, and peripherals as Stewart lurks in the background masterfully teasing mumbled creaks and groans from his bass. “Stick and Move” bristles from the outset with its churning percussion, aggressive low end, and agitated negotiations. The piece develops a steady cadence about the meridian and Dierker lays down a long, burly progression of bluesy sentiments before Ballou returns and the tempo goes prickly again. The quartet plays slightly understated on “A Real Mensch”, an inquisitive short (relatively) that shows just how betrothed these men are with their communal vibrations. On the closer “Underneath” the band is venturesome but deliberate, taking care in the materialisation of their final notions.

In my opinion the reasons that this release works so well are the remarkable chops of the musicians, their steadfast enthusiasm for the task at hand, and the aforementioned chemistry. This is a wonderful quartet and there are ample scenes within to prove my point, not once do you hear an individual going off on their own or being inattentive, rather they are continuously engaged and display an extraordinary level of musicianship and camaraderie. KRAFT delivers an embarrassment of controlled and tempered performances mixed with free sections and everything in-between. An excellent album of free improvisation from a quartet we hope to hear more from. Excellent.

More music/information/interviews with KRAFT:


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

PUG LiFE –L ‘Annee Perrotique (akti records, 2021)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

The reason why this review is written right now, almost a year after this edition of one hundred copies cd came out, is that only now was I able to purchase it. PUG LiFE is the duo of Taneli Viitahuhta on alto and baritone saxes, flutephone, mouth harp and effect pedals and Lauri Hyvarinen on electric guitar, fuzz box and laptop. Mastered by Ilia Belorukov, the careful listener (plus those who want to put labels on the music) will find resemblances with the anarchic sounds of another Scandinavian duo, SKRONK GBG.

This cd was recorded during quarantine time, which means that all of the tracks for it were recorded separately. L ‘Annee Perrotique blurs the boundaries between free jazz, improvisation (even though the distance between the two musicians forced them to include compositional elements for the very first time) and free rock. Above all the aforementioned, L ‘Annee Perrotique evolves around a “any sound is possible” approach.

The feeling that some of the thirteen tracks of the cd are unfinished snippets of something new to come, puzzled me and, actually, never got a clear answer for it. Approaching all the tracks through a different scope, maybe this was the approach from the beginning. The vast majority of the tracks are aggressive and edgy, making the listener feel quite uncomfortable in understanding the music as a by-product of any jazz based music.

I’m not even sure that the free jazz listener will be pleased from their mostly electric and less acoustic approach- plus their chosen instruments for it.

But that shouldn’t matter at all. L ‘Annee Perrotique is an adventurous listen, a recording that grabs you and demands attention. You can’t make a relaxed in the background approach from it. Its punkish feel is made for ears attached to the anything goes ethos of improvisation without any additional labeling. I will be listening more closely for their next try.


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Jacob Garchik - Assembly (Yestereve, 2022)

By Paul Acquaro

It's probably safe to say that everyone went at least a little stir-crazy during the first two years of COVID. Between shut-downs, bountiful misinformation, and most importantly, no live music, we were all knocked off-kilter. There was either too much time or not enough of it in the right places, but for some folks, the time was put to quite creative use, like for instance, in the case of Brooklyn based trombonist Jacob Garchik.

Garchik seems to have no trouble keeping busy, recently composing music for the Kronos Quartet Festival, in addition to playing in the bands of peers and legends like Mary Halvorson and Henry Threadgill, as well as forging his own unique way with gospel music (The Heavens: The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album, 2012), heavy metal (Ye Olde, 2015), and a rhythm section-less big band (Clear Line, 2020). However, out of mid-Pandemic frustrations, Garchik gathered associates at a studio with enough isolation booths to record a series of essentially straight ahead jazz jams. Afterwards, he took the music and spent several months cutting up and manipulating the tracks, adding, over dubbing, and forming Assembly - an aptly titled and surprisingly coherent album, considering all of that heretofore mentioned studio tomfoolery.

Along with Garchik is Sam Newsome on soprano saxophone, Jacob Sacks on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass and Dan Weiss playing drums. Like say Mostly Other People Do the Killing (who also have a recent new recording, Disasters Vol 1, out on HotCup records), the music on Assembly is both a homage to the beloved classic jazz vernacular and a reimaging of these very same overworked and well-digested forms.

It's even in many of the track names. The first one is 'Collage', followed by 'Pastiche', which is then followed by 'Bricolage,' which is followed by 'Homage'. 'Collage' is just that, two tracks in two different tempos overlaid simultaneously, but strangely enough, not vertigo inducing. The interlaced tracks accentuate each other at the right times, throwing the listener curve-balls, but not off their feet. 'Pastiche' begins with a Charlie Parker like head, a fierce and fast arpeggiated riff that seems to speed up, until releasing a melodic trombone solo over a straight ahead swing from Morgan and Weiss. 'Bricolage' is a duo of Morgan's bass and Sam Newsome - Garchik looped snippets of Morgan's playing to which the saxophonist contributed an evolving, blues-tinged, solo. 'Homage' begins with a serious slow groove, and according to the track notes, it is based somewhat on McCoy Tyner’s composition 'Contemplation'. What evolves here is a dense overlaying of instruments and melodies that, if to intently listened to, may indeed cause that vertigo after all. There are many other moments to mention in the remaining tracks, but at this point, let us let the exploration be self-guided.

The overall result is a studio-constructed album that will likely not be performed live (wouldn't that be the most MOPDTK outcome though?), and that is fine. This music needs repeated listening, ears and brains allowing the expectations of the straightforward playing and its confounding reconstructions to be fully appreciated. It doesn't take long either.

*6/20/2022 update: I updated a word in the first sentence to 'stir-crazy', which is what I had meant.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Ches Smith - Interpret it Well (Pyroclastic Records, 2022)

Drummers in jazz are like catchers in baseball. Have I said that before? If so, I just said it again. The catcher is the on-field manager because he is the only player who can see the entire field. In concert drummers tend to be positioned like catchers and because of the digital nature of the sound they are in a good position to watch the play of the other instruments. At any rate, I enjoy a lot of music directed by the percussionist. It’s even better when the guy with the mallets does vibes.

Ches Smith has a wider range of games to play than any baseball catcher. I reviewed his wonderful album Path of Seven Colors here. Interpret it well is something very different. Bill Frisell (guitar), Mat Manieri (viola) and Craig Taborn (piano) make for a powerful team.

The album is an interpretation of a drawing by Raymond Pettibon. It is the cover, naturally. Here is what the notes say:

“Interpret it well,” reads the script text in Raymond Pettibon’s mysteriously evocative drawing. A few thick black ink strokes describe an enigmatic landscape – the telephone poles, the railroad track and the building in the distance seem obvious enough as markers of desolation, but the swirl of lines on the horizon are more ambiguous. The steam from an approaching train? An oncoming tornado? Hope or dread, connection or destruction, all depend on interpretation”.

There’s some information for you. It helps. The first cut “Trapped,” begins with the piano sketching out and repeating a simple, five note theme. Just out of sight we get Smith’s vibraphone laying down more emotional depth. Strings put a right channel buzz to shape up the mood at the end. I need music like this.

The title cut is a masterpiece. I get the impression of slow-moving layers of vibrating, pulsing plates moving over one another. Little solos, especially the piano, carve out their space and then are surrounded by gentle splashes of color from the guitar and strings that grow into compelling grunts. Drums. And then a rock guitar crashes the party. All rides on pulsing theme that never relaxes. The music grows more intense and angry as the line split and recombine. The beat of the drum cuts the top of the music like a scalpel, but never the muscle.

Frisell’s guitar opens “Mixed metaphor” with a story-telling solo. Then we get a graphic lines of keyboard and viola plumbing the depths of the story. Listen to this, and try to figure out where the bottom is.

This album should be linked to any dictionary definition of the word “ring”. Or you could use it as the soundtrack for a travel video through some exotic landscape that reminds you of… something, you aren’t quite sure what.

This music is modestly minimalist, in the best possible way. I am going on a cruise soon. This is what I will listen to on a deck chair during one of our days at sea.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Gordoa / Malfon / Edwards / Narvesen - Substantial Myths (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Emilio Gordoa, Don Malfon, John Edwards, and Dag Magnus Narvesen freely play a 48’ set for vibraphone, alto and baritone saxophones, contrabass, and drum kit from the 2019 Artacts Festival on Substantial Myths. 

Among other projects, Gordoa and Narvesen have previously recorded together as part of the M0VE quintet, with Achim Kaufmann, Adam Pultz Melbye, and Harri Sjöström, which most recently released in Moers, as well as part of the Tutti Orchestra and its modular performances on the recent SoundScapes # 3 FESTIVAL MUNICH - 2021 SchwereReiter, both released by Fundacja Słuchaj too. And Malfon and Narvesen have released another set together from the same festival as this recording, with John Dikeman and Matthias Bauer, in live at artacts ‘19. But this is the first recording shared by Gordoa and Malfon or by Edwards and any of the other players. 

They flow together through tempo, texture, and dynamics, stippling space together, trilling together, often one increasingly contrapuntal parameter ebbing the quartet towards the next movement, through the swells of louder faster frenzies and quiet textural intervals that these kinds of sets might tend towards. Though generally there is a driving momentum. Perhaps as anticipated from the instrumentation, when the quartet converges they can be a powerful rhythmic unit. Running basslines, sax duck honks, hundred-handed rolling thunder, and effervescent vibes; malleted celestial twinkle, spiderlike tightrope dances, and skittering shimmering cymbals and kick drum bombardments; wind chimes in tornado time and big bass bumps. But they implement the malleability of their instruments, and when the quartet converges they can conjure arresting harmonies. Stridulating saxophone squalls and overtone glints out of tremolos, plucked harmonics and sonorous big bass body bowed resonance, fluted metal and frictional skin, and oscillations ringing between long decay and bowed bars’ bells combine for revelatory euphony, sometimes sounding so pure as to have shed their timbral husks for a unified singing beating. Together they cultivate moments of shared clarity in what can seem otherwise an arcane chaos akin to an action painting. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

John Butcher - 5 LPs from Berlin (and Leipzig) on NI VU NI CONNU

John Butcher at Ausland, November 2019. (c) Cristina Marx

By Paul Acquaro

British saxophonist John Butcher is no stranger to Berlin. Linked to the Echtzeit scene that emerged during the heady days of post re-unification Germany in the abundant derelict spaces that served as breeding grounds for creativity, Butcher, on the occasion of this 65th birthday, held a short residency in November 2019 at one of the original and still existent Echtzeit venues, the experimental music hub Ausland, located in the now tamed and expensive Prenzlauer Berg. Presented as a set of 5 LPs, the music captures both new and old music acquaintances, the music and information within showcases Butcher's continuing ability to push listeners and musicians alike in new directions. On the albums, he collaborates in combinations with Sophie Agnel, Gino Robair, Thomas Lehn, Marta Zapparoli, Liz Allbee, Ignaz Schick, Magda Mayas, Tony Buck, Werner Dafeldecker and Burkhard Beins. The LPs in the the collection contain liner notes from Stuart Broomer, photos by Cristina Marx, and gatefold sleeves design by Yaqin Si.

Sophie Agnel & John Butcher - la pierre tachée

Stuart Broomer's generous and excellent liner notes are essential in placing the music on these albums into meaningful historical context, and the quote that he chooses to begin with is key to framing the whole event. According to Butcher:
"Ausland was unique in my own experience. I was working with four different groups in two nights and had chosen the musicians to form specific units with unique identities and possibilities. I didn’t want it to be a Company-type event (which, by the way, I also love) where the grouping is more ad-hoc and the accumulative results more evolutionary. I was interested in the potential distinctiveness of each set, given that I was the constant factor, but without major aesthetic leaps and without me having to pretend to be a chameleon.”
So the set of changing constellations begins with Butcher and French pianist Sophie Agnel.  It begins with Agnel approaching the piano in a percussive manner, a scraping and striking of the piano's strings, while Butcher plays legato tones, before he interrupts with a splutter of sounds. The track, 'chemin creux' then evolves into series of woodwind multiphonics over austere, prepared tones from the piano. The music builds at a measured pace: a quickening of textured tones from Agnel, a thickening of tonal textures from Butcher. The sounds connect, they resist as much as they exist co-exist in the shared musical space, introducing tension and drama as the music continues. It sounds like a dance, a fight, resolution, and finally agreement. A highlight of the set is in the opening minutes of 'shrieks in cups of gold,' in which both Agnel and Butcher reach a fevered pitch and then wander for a tense span of time exploring small sounds, before launching into a second intense passage. The ending track 'sillonner' wraps up the recording on a high note with a rich summary of the intensity and space throughout the album.

John Butcher / Thomas Lehn / Gino Robair - shaped & chased

The next recording seems to following Butcher's stated plans "to form specific units with unique identities". The sounds from saxophone undoubtable belongs to Butcher - the tones waver, flutter with the air, chirp with confidence, and at times explode into strong melodic statements. However, the setting has greatly changed with the work of Butcher's long time associates analog synthesizer player Thomas Lehn and percussionist Gino Robair.

The opening track, 'dorrying,' finds the trio quickly diving deep into a collective soundscape. Butcher sets the energy bar high in the opening minutes, which the other two respond to in kind, leading to an avalanche of sounds that quickly collapse into a long, tension filled exchange. The next track, 'tempren,' takes a different approach, with episodic build-ups of electronic tones, buzzing saxophone, and cascading percussion.  On the last track, Lehn's analog synthesizer (or is it Robair's Blippo box? - a fascinating custom machine that Broomer tantalizingly describes as being constructed based on chaos theory) shadows Butcher. When the plops of liquid sound appear, the synthesizer is much more likely the culprit. As the three come together, the atmosphere becomes spacey and rich with possibility. The track 'halouen' is almost straight-ahead jazz, sort of. Butcher plays rather melodic-free and aggressively spars with Lehn's otherworldly sounds. Finally, 'swough' fills with a fluid momentum, carried by mallet heavy percussion and unrelenting drips and splatters of electronic tonic.

Liz Allbee / John Butcher / Ignaz Schick / Marta Zapparoli - lamenti dall’infinito

Here is a true Echtzeit collaboration: trumpeter Liz Allbee, electronics/turntablist Ignaz Schick, and tapes and electronics artist Marta Zapparoli, all long time contributors to the Berlin scene. They are also the largest of the groups in this set, a quartet, or a double duo of acoustic horns and assorted electronic. The opening track 'Sea of Distortions' begins slowly, a drone of sorts, as the group begins filling the room with a stream of sound. At first, one may be wondering where Butcher is, between the whoosh and chatter of electronics and Allbee's unusual tones, but then you hear him, rapid blips leading to overblown legato notes. The momentum of the track builds, carried by Bucher at times, and the static nervousness of the electronics at other times. The opening track is a full album side, but by the half-way mark, you will likely be drawn into the unseeming sound world, losing track of time and place. Side B is split into a short 'Dialogues in a Shell', a piece just shy of four minutes, starting with a bricolage of samples that eventual yield to narrow drone. 'Molecular Memories,' at 17 minutes, begins with what may suggest a dentist's drill sounding out over a thumb piano. Electronics? Acoustic horns? They're in there, mixing together into unexpected combinations. Possibly the most in-accessible of the albums, but like most challenging things, it may be the one whose affects grow the most, the more you listen.

Vellum: Magda Mayas / John Butcher / Tony Buck - glints

Maybe this is the entry point for anyone still uninitiated in the sonic complexities of John Butcher's music. Not to suggest that the music on glints is in anyway easier to digest than on the other ones in this set, but there is something graspable in interactions of the three acoustic instruments in this long standing trio. Pianist Madga Mayas and percussionist Tony Buck, long time Berlin residents and  Butcher collaborators, surround the saxophonist with prepared piano and striking percussive textures, providing both a comfortable and stimulating environment.

Side A opens with a bang on the gong and high-end-of-perception squeaks from Butcher. There is a following clatter of percussion (maybe one of the those nets with shells attached?) and individually plucked notes from inside the piano. The flutters, the clacking, the plucking collectively lead the listener into a dense forest of sound, beautiful and strange, with possible danger lurking behind every turn. Going further, more formal sounds manifest like the truncated tinkle of prepared piano, brief smears of notes from the saxophone, and a roll from the drums. In Vellum's soundworld, it is hard not to be enrapt with the intricate and unexpected beauty in all the overlapping musical foliage. The group reaches an apex of intensity about 12 minutes into the slowly layering piece, which then mutates through a quiet percussion-led chrysalis to a cascade of notes from Mayas and Butchers, playing contours rather than scales, while Buck delivers some incisive drumming. Side B begins with the prepared piano attack that closes out Side A. The group then takes a spiritual detour, Butcher engaging in Evan Parker like circular breathing over an intense pulse from Buck. All this in 3 quick minutes, then it is over, as the group goes deeply introspective, slowly building back to a frenetic passage dominated by single note runs from the piano. The groups continues through this world, long winding passages through the forest leading to dramatic features and finally a serene clearing.

Burkhard Beins / John Butcher / Werner Dafeldecker - induction

This final set takes us out of Ausland. Side A was recorded at the experimental music room KM28 across the famous divide and into the former western neighborhood of Kreuzberg, and Side B was recorded a bit farther away at the KulTurnhalle in the city of Leipzig. The trio, percussionist Burkhard Beins, bassist Werner Dafeldecker and Butcher have worked together before for a while, most notably in the group Polwechsel. On 'induction' the music toggles between minimal to maximal, with all sorts of interactions between. Towards the end of the first track, 'circulation,' there is a tremendous amount of percussion and rumbling bass, while Bucher fires on all cylinders, playing notes far beyond the typical range of the saxophone. Prior to these final moments of the track, there is a long accumulation of intrumental ideas and approaches. Side 2 begins with 'Connection', starting with sounds drawn from the drums, then the sax, and finally the bass in succession. They then build to a ringing drone interrupted by eruptive sounds from Butcher and Dafeldecker. The music is tense, even somewhat aggressive. The following up 'conversion' is a short interlude that opens up the space a bit, leading to 'confluence', which is a denser piece that in a sense straddles the darkness of the first one with the chain interactions of the second. The piece is an impressionistic sound collage, with many colorful tones mixing into unexpected combinations.

Taken as a whole, these five albums represent a new artistic high-point for the ever productive and creative Butcher. All of the recordings offer something different, though to reference the earlier quote, Butcher's playing is consistent, and consistently excellent. While it is true that he is no 'chameleon', it is also noteworthy that he also is not a one-trick pony. The variety of the musical collaborations and the variability in each performance - each piece - is rich. The live experience, in the small subterranean Ausland, must have contributed significantly to the experience, but on its own, the music itself is evocative and demands close listening. Luckily, we can do just that.

All albums are available on the NI VU NI CONNU Bandcamp site, in both digital and LP format.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Torben Snekkestad / Søren Kjærgaard - Another Way of the Heart (Trost, 2022)

By Eyal Hareuveni

A few rare albums fit perfectly into your emotional state of mind and capture the fragility of our impermanent lives so beautifully as Another Way of the Heart by Norwegian reeds and trumpet player Torben Snekkestad and Danish pianist Søren Kjærgaard. Both Snekkestad and Kjærgaard were associated with the Danish label-musicians cooperative Ilk Music but, unfortunately, their discographies, especially in recent years, don’t match their great creative potential.

Snekkestad and Kjærgaard collaborated before in the trio The Living Room with Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen and in an ad-hoc quintet of Danish drummer Peter Bruun (Unintended Consequences, Ilk, 2013). Snekkestad is also known for his collaborations with Evan Parker, Nate Wooley, Lotte Anker as well as his ongoing work with Barry Guy, in a duo, trio with pianist Agustí Fernández and in Guy’s Blue Shroud Ensemble. Kjærgaard led a much-acclaimed trio with double bass player Ben Street and drummer Andrew Cyrille. He is also known for his experimental projects with Danish poet-musician Torben Ulrich (also a filmmaker, a former professional tennis player and the father of Metallica drummer, Lars Ulrich). The titles of the pieces of Another Way of the Heart are taken from the third and last collaboration of Kjærgaard with Ulrich, Meridiana: Lines Toward A Non-local Alchemy (Escho, 2014), which was inspired by the different meanings and usages of meridians in Eastern (Daoist-alchemical) and Western (geo-navigational) traditions.

Another Way of the Heart was recorded in August 2021 at Ocean Sound Recording, Giske, Norway, a studio describing itself as located at “the end of the world, on the edge of the sea with a clearness provided by the open horizon”. This isolated studio with lodging services is a perfect place for reflection, meditation and subtle and intimate experiments with acoustic sounds. Snekkestad plays on tenor and soprano saxes, clarinet and trumpet and Kjærgaard on a grand piano.

The poetic and enigmatic titles of the 12 concise pieces, all credited to Snekkestad and Kjærgaard, capture faithfully the reserved, patient and calm dynamics of Snekkestad and Kjærgaard. They need no more than a few delicate and minimalist strokes to cement a profound and evocative emotional territory, always in an organic-intuitive flow but never subscribing to a familiar course. Snekkestad’s whispering tone on the saxes, close in spirit to the Japanese Shakuhachi flute (an instrument traditionally associated with Zen Buddhism), alongside the less-is-more approach of Kjærgaard, intensify the spiritual-contemplative of the album (check the three parts of “Wind and Floating Lines” or “The always acting Nothing” and “Into Particles of Light”) and suggest elusive, kōan-like poetic textures, in a way that corresponds with the texts and poetry of Torben Ulrich. The sparse multiphonics and bird calls of Snekkestad with the precise, resonant touches of the piano strings and keys of Kjærgaard on the mysterious “Radiant recomposed” and “Holding Mountain, Holding Movement” further highlight the unique voices of Snekkestad and Kjærgaard and the immersive, healing effect of this majestic album. This music is definitely a healing force on our planet.