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Sunday, July 31, 2022

Mind Fiber - Ya Cha Ban 丫杈坂 (Dusty Ballz, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Li Jianhong and Wei Wei (AKA VAVABOND) improvise with the eponymous environment using acoustic guitar, laptop, and natural objects on the 61’ Ya Cha Ban 丫杈坂.

This archival recording from 2010 captures the duo towards the beginning this environmental improvisation project, which would go on to release One Year and Hello Balcony on Li’s C.F.I. label. Li and Wei also play together as the noisier VagusNerve, which most recently contributed to the compilation 返场七十二小时实录 Encore 72 Hours from the vital Chinese venue and label Old Heaven Books. Recently released recordings apart, like Li’s Ferns and Wei’s 散步 | take a walk, also signal tendencies toward natural contingencies.

Its five tracks lend a sense of impressionism: night’s teeming ecology of chirps, chitters, and croaks present throughout though sometimes so loud and dense as to assume a character of a white noise wall or pulsing power electronics; warm afternoon wind appearing as a significant increase in the hiss of silence; and birdsong as markers of the hours, disappearing into the evening. Instrumental interplay might mimic density - more guitar tones for more birdsong, more glitched clicks and cuts for more night bugs - and texture, bionic electronics’ stridulations and purrs and guitar’s howling gliss and buzzing fly from scratching string’s corrugations blending with the other animal sounds. Or a sine tone might complement a natural resonance. Or subtle sounds from sticks and stones, cracking and grinding, place the performers more overtly in the environment. But just as often laptop and guitar sing their own songs. Spacestation bridge soundtracks and EVP intonations evoking the mysticism of the coming night. Languorous pickings allowed to ring and twangy chords strummed - one note held in vibrato and amplified through repetition - like guzheng. A reminder of the mutualism of natural environments, shown through sound that takes shape from it and in turn shapes it too.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Saturday, July 30, 2022

N.O. Moore - Lunar Sync (Orbit 577 Records, 2022)

By Ron Coulter

Lunar Sync is the first album of purely electronic compositions by the UK-based electric guitarist, N.O. Moore. It was recorded in Cambridge, UK from 2019 to 2020 and released November 26, 2021 on Orbit577, the “offshoot” of 577 records (Brooklyn, NY) that focuses on “digital albums”.

Lunar Sync is a 10-track album where each track is created from a relatively short ostinato, i.e. a repeated/looping musical phrase, using a “modular synth system”. The ostinati range from very rhythmic (tacks 4 & 6 for example) to drone-like (tracks 2 & 10). The development in each track is either the manipulation of the ostinato and/or the addition of secondary melodic material, like a solo over a vamp.

The album notes state that “Moore draws from Sun Ra’s contributions to electronic sound, as well as his theories and philosophies,” and one can hear similarities in some tracks to Ra’s album Space Probe from 1974. Moore cites Eddie Prévost’s writings and weekly improvisation workshops as significant influences, as well.

Track 10, 'Final for now,' is the highlight of the album; it is the longest track at 8:01, and has an elegant pacing and a balanced richness of materials, primarily in timbre and pitch range.

Overall, the album has a trance-like quality due to the repetitious nature of the musical material, but there is enough variety of style and expression from track to track to pique the listener’s interest and engage them throughout the album.

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Friday, July 29, 2022

Taxi Consilium – Spiritual Car Wash (PMGJazz, 2022)

By Matty Bannond

Happiness and heartache share a very thin border. Sometimes, they overlap. The new album from Macedonian group Taxi Consilium is a case in point. The record vibrates with charm, irony and foot-waggling grooviness. But it stirs dark and fever-dreamy introspection too. With every listen, the line between humor and hurt is redrawn.

Taxi Consilium brings together Filip Bukrshliev on guitar, Andrea Mircheska on double bass, Dragan Teodosiev on percussion and Blagojche Tomevski on clarinets. They describe themselves as a “Macedonian jazz super-group of sleazy musical outcasts”. Spiritual Car Wash is their second album. How is it different to the previous record? “We wanted it to be slightly shorter,” Bukrshliev says.

Folky and funky

This tongue-in-cheek attitude surfaces often in the six-track album. The band is out to have fun, and they’re dead serious about it. The opening track, 'Mildly Felonious,' sets up an ice-cool bassline and rock-solid drumbeat as the platform for a dark, folky, funky riff. Solos leave wide-open gaps. Tomevski shouts garbled syllables through his bass clarinet.

“Most of it is improvised,” says composer Bukrshliev. “None of us lives in the same town, so we usually start by selecting compositions, then we have one or two rehearsals to establish a minimal guideline or gameplan... and we record.”

Sad and self-ironic 

'Nocturnal Flights and Exposed Flesh' grabs the border between humor and hurt, then swings it around like a lasso. Gorgeous guitar chords ring. A sparse bassline and stripped-down cymbals tease the track forward. The bass clarinet sounds a suave and seductive melody, then slips into a solo with low notes ridged and rumbling. The track is almost painfully pretty, but subtly sassy too. 

The group’s emotions feel a little closer to the surface on 'Beyond the Map of Language,' the final track. Another enchanting guitar opening meets shivering percussion. Another dreamy clarinet phrase carries the listener toward solos that unfold slowly over a bobbing rhythmic tide. The guitar takes a bluesy turn. The bass breathes warmth into the listener’s wide-open ear. It’s a beautiful and playful, sad and self-ironic track that feels lost and alone – just as everybody does, sometimes.

Universal sentiments

Spiritual Car Wash explores conflicting ideas and emotions, and finds sensitive ways to make them fit together. It’s an album with a glowing sense of fun and an exhilarating spirit of honesty. Taxi Consilium may be musical outcasts, but they have created a record that expresses universal sentiments. And it’s shorter than the previous album too.

“It’s a fun experience being in this quartet,” says Bukrshliev. “So we will have more of it. Concerts. Albums. Everything that we can manage.”

The album is available via streaming and as a digital download here.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

James Singleton – Malabar (Sinking City Records, 2022)

By Nick Ostrum

James Singleton is the go-to bassist for the New Orleans free music scene. Actually, he is a go-to for many other corners of this strange musical enclave, as well, which speaks to the far-ranging influences strewn throughout Malabar, his recent release with a sextet comprised of Mike Dillon on vibes and percussion (who, with Singleton, opened for the Messthetics when they passed through town a few years ago), Justin Peake on drums and electronics, Rex Gregory on clarinet, flute, and saxophone, Brad Walker on saxophone, and Jonathan Freilich (New Orleans Klezmer All Stars, et al.) on guitar.

If you want an entry point to the free jazz scene in New Orleans today, this might just be it. It does not quite reach the grit of the NY-downtown and Chicago scenes. It does not approach the new sounds bent of Berlin, Lisbon, and Tokyo. There is no noise here. Instead, this is free jazz peppered with country inflection flavored with a healthy dose of funk jamboree. And it works.

Singleton is from Chicago, and some of that origin shows through here. The influences are varied, from musical song structures – frequently changing tempos and moods – to post-bop horns to steady but heavy rock drumming to a thicker lather of New Orleans groove. Singleton’s vamping and bass runs form the background to these pieces more than anything else, though all participants get their space to shine. Dillon shows some chops especially as he races around the vibraphone on the spirited title track, which, pars pro totem, is very much a composition of various stylings and elements. It starts as a contemporary progressive jazz piece and ends with an expansive passage of neoclassical ambling. The next piece, Where Where Is, picks up with that thread of openness, but avoids the protean rhythm-melody structure that characterizes most other pieces on the album. Instead, Where Where Is doubles down on the textured soundscape. Other tracks, such as the wistful So Long Tall Rex, the spirited opener Black Sheep Squared, the playfully sinister Bluebelly and others rely much more on curious harmonies and phrasings on reeds and guitar and a persistent driving bass coupled with some evenhanded percussion and vigorous vibes.

The liner notes bring up commonalities with some classics of free jazz composition: Conference of the Birds, Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and the Liberation Music Orchestra. I hear the influence in the complex and entangled compositions. That said, Malabar hits on different aesthetic points, and the fact that it works so convincingly is testament to the musicians as well as the vision of Singleton. Something different is going on in New Orleans free(er) music. More effectively than I have heard before, Malabar balances the whimsy of the city’s musical history (and the funk that flavors much of the music here, for better or worse) with broader trends in the avant-garde.

Malabar is available as a record and download and is available here

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

ELMA- Licentia Poetica (Hevhetia, 2022)

By Sammy Stein

Polish vocalist Elma Kais, with Knox Chandler on electric guitar and electronics, Klaus Kugel on drums and percussion, and Daigo Nakai on bass guitar, has released an album of wordless musical poetry titled Licentia Poetica. The work is an improvised suite recorded live in 2020 in Gdansk, Poland, during Gdanskie Noce Jazsowe Festival. The tracks represent a collection of pieces inspired by verses of ancient poetry by Ovid.

The cover of the CD also attracts attention with Ola Leśnik’s drawings. Ola is an artist on the autism spectrum who does not speak but expresses herself and communicates with the world through her art. These drawings were also brought to life in the animation accompanying the album.

Elma Kais has released two earlier albums, Hic Et Nunc 2014 and Ad Rem 2016), which gained her critical acclaim. She studied classical music, has a doctorate in the psychological aspects of improvisation, and works as a music therapist. Knox Chandler is known for his work with 1990s electronic, alt-rock, post-punk, groups such as Depeche Mode, R.E.M., and Psychedelic Furs. He toured with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cyndi Lauper, and Lou Reed and was part of Mars Williams’ Ayler Christmas project in 2018. Klaus Krugel has appeared on over 50 recordings with the international Improvising elite, including Charles Gayle, Joe McPhee, John Edwards, Theo Jörgensmann, and Ken Vandermark. Daigo Nakai is a member of the Australian ade ish trio, born in Japan and based in Berlin.

The recording was made live, uninterrupted, and on the release, just the applause and other extraneous noise were removed. The album is an extraordinary piece of improvised music, and while divided into ‘numbers,’ it really forms a continuum of an improvised suite.

‘Sponte’ opens the album and is atmospheric, with spoken, half-whispered, and sung vocals over electronic sounds, which forge a unique relationship. There are sections when the trained voice sounds over intricately layered percussion, making for an immersive listen. The music pulls you in, crowds everything out of your mind, and paints for the listener a musical landscape through which the vocal lines flit and fly, carrying the willing follower in its wake. From delicate babbling to intricately woven passages, the sound is immense and drifts from one revelation to another, the whole entwining into an extraordinary soundscape of powerful force.

‘Sua’ is delicate, contemplative, and transcendental, the voice finding different musical levels from which to launch to the ethereal heights emphasised by the accompanying instruments. From nasal whispered comments to operatic utterances, time seems immaterial as this music unfolds, enfolds the listener, and invites them to submerge into its intricate depths.

‘Carmen’ is nuanced with malevolence. Searing descents fall from the voice, tempered with repeated utterances of short, repeated sounds over tight percussion. There is a sense of rising, enraged with emotion, and floating back to earth in the second half.

‘Numeros’ begins with a solo from Kugel’s timpanic percussion over which Kais’s vocals drop Hagen-esque interludes, voice and drums forming a conversation of sorts, neither dominating.

‘Vaniebat’ is delightfully bonkers – scorching guitar, rivulets of vocal sounds, and sheets of soundwaves that combine to create an intense musical experience. On this track, the guitar is as explorative as the vocals and comes into its own over the equally explorative percussion.

‘A.D.’ sees a different approach to the improvised music the album is composed of. There is a gentleness and an exploration of curvy waves of sound, first by voice, then by the accompaniment, which tempers down to reflect the contemplative emotion of the voice. In the second half, a beautiful balance is struck between the voice and percussion, demonstrating that improvised music involves intense listening. The delivery is exceptional.

‘Aptos’ is playful with the vocalist in child-like mode, almost chanting before developing into semi-spoken motifs, while ‘E.T.’ is introduced by the bass note before the vocals pour across the top line in whispering, rapid-fire lines which sound unhinged in some places, yet incredibly intimately woven to the accompaniment in others. Kais uses repeated vocal notes to set up musical lines and suggestions that the others follow, adding their own improvised directions to the signposted ways.

‘Quod’ is contemplative, gentle, and questioning in its conceptual outlines. The vocals slide into a relaxed chest voice momentarily before sweeping up to create a broken line over the similarly spaced and gapped electronics. As the chaotic ensemble fades, one feels discomfited and, at the same time, deeply satisfied. At times, Kais sounds like one of the people you might pass, muttering to themselves but listening you realise that there is purpose and direction to her reflective phrases as the electronics and percussion pick up the proffered ideas and run with them.

‘Temtabam’ is a thing of beauty, with the breath-like pulse of electronica, over which the voice warps, wails, and sighs. The voice seems to find the spaces the music allows and fill them with wonder.

‘Scribere’ is unsettling, as the uneven electronics give way to vocals which rise and fall over increasingly voluminous accompaniment, while ‘Versus’ explores countering rhythms and ascents, bass and guitar string warps and electronic sounds, over which the vocals sing ‘nyah nyah nyah nyah’ in varying lengths, combinations, and timings. Strangely engaging but it is a relief when the vying for melody ceases. Kais’s voice has qualities that allow her to express opera-like explosions and nursery school-like chimes with equal effect.

‘Erat’ closes the album and sees the ensemble again working their ways along different musical paths, which converge, part, and recombine in unique ways, creating choices for both the ears and the mind to follow.

This ensemble seems to have found a way of revealing perfect alignment while retaining a strong sense of the cohort being made up of individuals with unique takes on the music. Elma Kais, Knox Chandler, Daigo Nakai, and Klaus Kugel are a collective, not a collection of musicians.

At this point, you would do well to refer to the liner notes written by Howard Mandel, where he says:

"A suite by a unique ensemble comprising a stellar vocalist and unconventional electric guitarist (both also using electronics), an exploratory bassist and masterful drummer who as one address the pulse of time loosely, as open and atmospheric rather than a rigid frame.....Elma’s syllabic fluidity, her propulsive rush of all manner of utterances which her colleagues feed and around which they swirl, informs a coherent, cohesive, story-like audio experience."

The album is the perfect mix of individuals with their distinctive ways of playing, coming together to create something magical, ethereal, atmospheric, and glorious in its concept and delivery. The intensity of the listening, the reacting, and the blending of these unique individuals into a cohesive whole is palpable – and potentially as fulfilling to the listeners as it must be to the players. This album is primal, mysterious, and an absolute joy. Listening to this, it feels like you are part of it, at one with the music because elements of it speak to us all.

Kais, Chandler, Nakai, and Kugel plan to continue as an ensemble, and this would be to the benefit not just of them as musicians but the listening audiences too.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Torf Records (Poland)

By Nick Ostrum

Torf is a download-only label founded just this year in Poznań, a city that lies along the Warta River in western Poland. So far, the label has three releases, which generally revolve around a core of reedist Michał Giżycki and percussionist Michał Joniec. The music is understanded but buzzing with figurative, acoustic electricity. It is exciting. For a hint of what each recording entails, just view the cover art of ink stains by by Weronika Lutkiewicz. Like the music, they are simple (shades of white and gray) and unpretentious but on, closer look, are also finely hued, roughly textured and curiously evocative.

Here are reviews of Torf’s first three releases.

Matthias Müller, Michał Giżycki - +Q (Torf, 2022)

Matthias Müller is a versatile trombonist. If you have heard much of his work you have likely also noticed his proclivities toward patient extended techniques and a breathy, buzzing minimalism. On +Q, Müller joins bass clarinetist Michał Giżycki for an exploration of gurgling swamps, irregular drones and almost sterile acoustic landscapes. The subtlety of tones, the faint on-and-off underlying drones and the crackling textures on these two tracks - + and Q – evoke some underlying electronics, but all sounds are coming straight from Müller and Giżycki’s horns. 

These pieces have some direction, or at least a gradual crescendo in volume and sound density, and they explore similar terrain as Nate Wooley has in his solo work, albeit with less hush and more pulse. Aesthetically, +Q is a wonderful pair of quizzical duets. It does not hurt, however, to listen closely a few times to tease out the finer notes and, above all, some crumbled but tender circular breathing, especially on the part of Müller. At 30 minutes, this is a short one, but one that also yields new striations and other small surprises with each new listen.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Michał Joniec, Michał Giżycki – S#0 (Torf, 2022)

S#0 is the latest recording by the duo of Michał Joniec and Michał Giżycki. Giżycki expands his toolbox to include a tenor saxophone in addition to the bass clarinet he tangled around Müller’s brass on +Q. Joniec deploys what is simply called his “metal rubbish universe,” an apt term for the understated clatter that strings throughout these four pieces. The result is terribly abstract and, as far as I understand, wholly improvised, but lively. 

Giżycki leans towards clucks, short strings of sixteenth notes, and other fractured phrasings, though he remains intent on playing with and within silence, as well. He even turns toward extended sections of gnarled circular breathing whose affinities with Evan Parker are unmistakeable. It is this balance that makes Giżycki’s performance on this release truly noteworthy. 

Joniec meanwhile busies himself with whatever metallic array of lost, discard, found, and repurposed implements he has in front of him. I am not sure what if any of this rubbish is traditionally considered percussion, but that just adds to the mystery and the soft dynamics cause the listener to really squint to hear isolated and muffled clanks, or maybe just implied sounds, and to disentangle the percussive objects from the instruments, which is as false a distinction as that between atonal, nonmelodic yet intentional noise and music. Another fine release. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Vasco Trilla, Ostap Mańko, Michał Joniec & Michał Giżycki - Live at SMF #4 (Torf, 2022)

Live at SMF #4 was recorded at the 4th Spontaneous Musical Festival at the Dragon Social Club in Poznań. On this recording, Ostap Mańko wields the violin, Michał Giżycki plays the bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, Michał Joniec dives deeper into his metal rubbish universe and Vasco Trilla - likely familiar to some through his releases on MultiKulti, Fundacja Słuchaj!, Creative Sources, Clean Feed and others - helms the drums. 

This is the fullest sounding of the releases here. Joniec and Giżycki approach this single 36-minute performance starts with more oomph than the other, pared down releases. That said, much of it is still somewhat understated and open, despite the larger ensemble and charged energy. And maybe that is part of its aesthetic: this is about generating, rather than unleashing energy. Much of the track is devoted to pulses and fluctuations. Mańko flutters at times, echoing Giżycki’s own quaver. Joniec, as before, and Trilla rummage through their pile of objects making odd nervous clatter and seem of like mind in the pursuit. 

All four, however, frequently opt for hushed, intimate sounds, wherein the listener can really hear the complementary tones and timbres, a steely rattle here, a tightly plucked violin melody there, an extended breathy bass clarinet trill and who know what ligneous scrapes elsewhere. In a way, this is sound-painting, with disparate slashes and strokes slowly revealing more coherent curvatures and lines, then shapes, then some sort of a landscape just clear enough to make out the hills but hazy enough to question whether the image is actually figurative at all. 

If Live at SMF - or any of these releases for that matter - is at all representative of what is going on the scene today, I (or we) have been missing out on yet another exception to the now rather threadbare rule that good experimental music inevitably gravitates around a few free music capitals. Or, maybe we just need to broaden our search, expand the list, and add Poznań to it.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Monday, July 25, 2022

Zoh Amba Arrives

O, Sun with Micah Thomas, Thomas Morgan, Joey Baron, and John Zorn (Tzadik, 2022)

O Life, O Light Vol. 1 with William Parker and Francisco Mela (577 Records, 2022) 

Causa y Efecto Vol. 1 with Francisco Mela (577 Records, 2022)

It’s impossible to avoid a certain level of hype or expectation when an artist debuts with three albums in one year. To find a corollary to saxophonist Zoh Amba’s arrival on the scene, look to her mentor David Murray, who in 1976 released the quartet album Flowers For Albert, followed by the trio albums Low Class Conspiracy and Live At Peace Church. In the span of those albums, Murray showed audiences exactly how he was and was not like his predecessor Albert Ayler. 1976 was also a landmark year for Oliver Lake, who released both Holding Together and the classic NTU: Point From Which Creation Begins. In recommending Amba’s albums elsewhere, I’ve mentioned Murray and Lake as much as I’ve mentioned Ayler, because she taps into the same fiery spirit that fueled all three. All this is to say Amba both is and is not part of a lineage—she is undoubtedly a keen student, but what makes her such a remarkably exciting player is how much she already sounds most like herself.

Amba’s debut proper is the crystalline O, Sun, which came out earlier this year on Tzadik, with John Zorn himself guesting on one track. It’s a blazing free jazz album, boosted by drummer Joey Baron and bassist Thomas Morgan’s superb playing. Amba also brought on Micah Thomas (another relative newcomer who I first heard on Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens’s In Common 2), who plays with an appropriately Donald Smith-esque dexterity. O Life, O Light is a trio album, with Amba playing alongside William Parker and drummer Francisco Mela. On this session, the compositions get slightly more room to breathe, and perhaps most intriguingly, Amba switches over to flute for “Mountains in the Predawn Light.” Clearly, Amba and Mela discovered a deep connection while collaborating, which carries over to their duo album Causa y Efecto, where Mela’s melodic, airy style pairs extremely well with Amba’s heavy improv.

From the quartet to the trio album, a few songs get revisited: “Hymn to the Divine Mother” shows up as “Mother’s Hymn,” while “O, Sun” is retitled “O Life, O Light.” Whether there is a canonically true title will undoubtedly vex some listeners, but it’s as unimportant as the dozens of mistitled Ayler releases are to the quality of his music. Both albums kick off with this one-two, almost a tip of the hat to Murray’s “Extremininity / Dewey’s Circle” opening on Low Class Conspiracy—Amba’s rich, muscular tone on the opener switches beautifully to the joyful, bouncy melody on its follow-up. Baron and Morgan bring delight and spontaneity to the entire album. The mid-album highlight “Holy Din” features Zorn, who also seems to be having a great time playing alongside Amba; the two of them circle each other for a brief intro, then set the house on fire. I would love to hear this group round out into a sextet with, say, Adam O'Farrill on trumpet. On O Life, O Light, Amba, Parker, and Mela kick off with a brilliant restatement of the opening themes. “Mother’s Hymn” runs almost twice as long as its predecessor, as Parker and Amba go way out. “O Life, O Light” retains its sprightly punch and pushes the track further into Ayler-influenced free jazz. Mela is a brilliant drummer, with a fluid, free style. Amba’s improvisations often feature percussive runs, with Mela playing a kind of counter-melody on cymbals and toms. That these albums deliver on their promise and leave listeners wanting more is an all-around triumph.

There’s already more to hear: Amba appears on Chad Anderson’s newest, Mellifluous Excursions Vol. 1, Where You Been and has been performing with Henry Fraser and Marc Edwards, Tashi Dorji and Thom Nguyen, and in a few different groups with gabby fluke-mogul. In the meantime, you have these albums to choose from. Recommended: All three.

All albums available for purchase direct from labels.

O, Sun

O Life, O Light Vol. 1

Causa y Efecto Vol. 1

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Ali / Foster / Lopez / Wallace - The Inflatable Leviathan (Tripticks Tapes, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Sean Ali, Michael Foster, Cecilia Lopez, and Eli Wallace play four environments for contrabass, tenor & soprano saxophones, synthesizer, and upright piano on the 47’ The Inflatable Leviathan.

Ali and Foster have previously recorded together with Flin Van Hemmen and Ben Gerstein on While We Still Have Bodies, but otherwise this is the first document of the others together and the debut recording of this working group.

Each track is titled after a layer of earth’s atmosphere above the troposphere and, while I doubt it drives the music, I found the feel of sounds in some aspects of those concepts. Syncopated writhing attacks on saxophone evoke choking as if from a lack of available air and saliva-laden techniques express a stormy turbulence. Synthesizer’s biomorphic abstractions, electric woops, and phaser fire spaceward bound in its sci-fi soundtracks. The bigger-bodied reverberations of upright piano and contrabass emit glowing auroras and the latter’s large strings sometimes vibrate slower for periodic wobbles while the former progressively colors tones like light diffracted through air. Pointillistic shifts in density lend a sense of dispersion and laminations of long soundings overlay like atmosphere strata. Bent notes and singing resonances arc as if by gravity. And parameters like dynamics and speed can develop linearly and then inversely quickly. While I’ve been trying to describe the atmosphere, I hope I’ve also described a group of manifold and energetic methods with an extraordinary depth of texture.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Art of Turntablism

By Eyal Hareuveni

Three different albums that explore the art of experimental, free-improvised playing on turntables by three wizards of this unique art - Viennese dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovačič), Swiss and Berlin-based Joke Lanz and Barcelona-based Ferran Fages.

dieb13 - synkleptie № 1044 [vor publikum] (Smallforms, 2022)

This 10’’ vinyl-only solo album was recorded live at the SmallForms series at Château Rouge in Vienna in August 2020 under the title interlockdown kleptosonics, as a reference to hacking essence of turntablism. It was the 1044th live set of dieb13, and apparently a rare opportunity to play live between the Covid-19 lockdowns. The cover art of Italian visual artist Esther Stocker captures the spirit of the stressful times and this enigmatic, cinematic (and dieb13 is also an experimental filmmaker) and quite a claustrophobic piece. This 22-minute piece begins with ars-poetic, crackling sounds of old vinyl. But slowly it adds more unsettling layers of seductive sounds that imagine the pulse of noisy and vivid urban sceneries that suddenly became disturbingly silent. But this piece is nuanced with strange, poetic beauty and suggestive, nervous voices - including the voice of Phil Minton, a close collaborator of dieb13, and noises.

Distributed by Trost Records.

Joke Lanz & dieb13 - Musical Education (Klanggalerie, 2021)

Musical Education is one of the rare albums of dieb13, known as a conscientious copyright objector, that is available in a digital form, and not only in a limited-edition vinyl-only format. Joke Lanz (of the dada-punkish trio Sudden Instant) and dieb13 have performed before with another Viennese turntables wizard Leo Riegler, but this duo plays on three turntables and was recorded live at GrillX in Vienna in autumn 2020. The 38-minute piece is a hyperactive, detailed yet twisted chat between two dubious but adventurous sonic explorers-nomads, most likely in the most dubious hours of the night. This stunning texture is full of dadaist humor and blends sensual voices of pixie-like aliens with urban, metro anchorperson and harsher, obnoxious characters, eccentric songs and fragmented jazz tunes. All is wrapped with wild and reckless imagination and fascinating rhythmic sensibility. This piece unfolds like a mysterious story that visits and rolls in its own leisured and chaotic pace into even more mysterious, infamous and noisier places, as it accumulates its extensive musical education.

Ferran Fages & Pedro Chambel - Os passos seguem como um espelho (Fractal Sources, 2022)

Os passos seguem como um espelho offers very little information about the meeting of autodidact, prolific multi-instrumentalist Ferran Fages (of Tàlveg and Ràdium Trio), who plays her on acoustic turntables and Portuguese Pedro Chambel, who is also a medieval history scholar and close collaborator of French composer Bruno Duplant, He began his musical career as a guitarist but now plays on electronics, alto sax and employs his voice and released the album on his own label.

The album offers three distinct pieces. “Tema 1” is a quiet and fragile drone and relies on the mechanical crackling sounds of Fages’ turntables and the almost silent extended breathing techniques of Chambel that eventually become one ambiguous sonic entity. “Tema 2” revolves around an enigmatic and hypnotic electronic pulse like an otherworldly meditative ritual. “Tema 3” interweaves again, but in a more tangible manner, the extended breathing techniques of Chambel and the fragmented and sudden, noisy blasts of Fages into a puzzling texture. Somehow, these weird collisions of sounds make perfect sense.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Three from Sound-Artist Pedro Chambel

By Nick Ostrum

Ferran Fages and Pedro Chambel – Os passos sequem como um espelho (Self-released, 2022)

Os passos sequem como um espelho is a collaboration between guitarist and, on this release, acoustic turntablist Ferran Fages and sound-sculptor Pedro Chambel, who appears on electronics, alto sax and voice. The title translates to “the paths follow as a mirror,” which is gives the listener some insight into the reflexivity and interiority that this album evokes in its strange sonic scenery, which, in good postmodern transcendentalist fashion, reflects the state of mind of the listener as much as any fixed meaning or mood that might exist out there, in the album.

In short, Os passos, is an eerily shimmering study in electro-acoustic minimalism. Tema 1 is united by ringing, some extended hums and arced scrapes, some jittering. Three minutes in, the fuller tones drop to a soft but rough crackle that wavers between left and right speakers. Fages and Chambel explore this terrain for the remainder of the piece. Tema 2 is based around a repeating pair of tones, one after the other. Around these shimmer other hums and squeaks that give the impression of a slowly and irregularly turning metal mobile propelled by the gentle gusts of a synthetic wind. In that sense, it is like sitting outside on a humid day watching the clouds and the birds go by. (Virtually, of course.) Who knows how much time has passed? Tema 3 takes a different approach rooting the track in crackles and what sounds like field recordings of rain and wind, the latter of which might be Chambel’s breath through the saxophone. It is hard to tell, but that is the point. This is about the finished product, the aggregate of sounds, rather than traceable individual elements. By the end of the track, the sounds bubble and erupt as if one is walking a path through some alien mechanical swamp. (Is this activity sterile or vibrant, or does that binary not quite capture it?) We (myself included) describe too much as dystopic these days, and I am honestly not sure that this goes quite that far. That said, this is strange and it is unsettling, in the ways that its paths do not necessary lead anywhere in particular, do not answer any questions, and meld into the landscape in such a way that one has trouble determining where these sounds, this music, is really coming from.

Os passos sequem como um espelho is available as a CD and download here.

Pedro Chambel – Another View From Another Place (Self-released, 2021)

Featuring Pedro Chambel on electronics, alto saxophone and tape, Another View From Another Place is quite different from Os passos. The minimalist tendencies are still there, but Another View has a lot more nervous energy. The pulses are quicker and glitched. Many of the sounds, especially in the opener, elect + ste 000 + ste 002 – 2, are muddy. The saxophone is more discernible from the other elements. It sounds urgent, even. Indeed, this other view and other place capture a very different feeling, as the second track’s ringing sine-wave opening and the gurgles and growls that back it suggest. If Os Passos offers some sort of relief in the act of carving sonic pathways and reflection – is the message really in the self or, to bastardize Marshal Macluhan, is the message really the mirror which contains the reflection? – Another View offers more energy, but also more literally and figuratively static. There is simply less motion in these four pieces that fluctuate and change, sometimes drastically over the course of each track, but that are tethered by a single underlying tone, whether a sine-wave or oscillating soft locust buzz or fluttering synthesized tones. The saxophone fills out each of these tracks and they are all the richer and more nuanced because of that acoustic and human element. Still, this is somewhat more entrenched, at least until the final cut, elect + w v + 002+001-4, when Chambel uses his sax to rise above the electric chain, which nevertheless outlasts Chambel’s agitated flusters.

Another View from Another Place is available as a CD and download here.

Pedro Chambel, Bruno Duplant, Ferran Fages - la dimension cachée (Verz, 2022) 

"La dimension cachée" is a release by the trio of Pedro Chambel (again on alto saxophone and electronics), Ferran Fages (again on acoustic turntable) and Bruno Duplant (on instruments, electronics, and photographs). And, it is the best of the bunch. Chambel’s sax returns to huffs and wind, only here it is layered with field or synthesized sounds that blur the boundary between the acoustic and the electronic. A soft drone enters, which sounds like a single organ chord extended. A persistent ring emerges as do other ambient tones, which add warmer tone colors to the emerging piece, which suddenly sounds full but not cluttered. Crackling and alloyed textures are still discernible and pop in and out of perception. Fragments of sounds, like distorted voices and engines, fill some of the space. Scrapes turn into whispers which fade into buzzing and rumbling and rummaging. If the listener let’s their mind drift, this sounds like a beautiful piece of ambient music that simply bobs on a calm sea of sound. If one listen’s closely, however, the elements almost form a narrative, however inscrutable and fragmented it may be.

With the obvious caveat that the gap between the intentions of the artist and the perception of the listener might be vast, la dimension cachée seems less a mirror of the listener’s inner mind. There seems to be more there out there. The shades – alternately ominous and bright – seem clearer even if this all exists in a huge gully of shadows, mire and ambiguity. Moreso than Os passos and Another View, la dimension evokes an expedition through somewhere disorienting and disconcerting (especially in the cavernous second cut) but through which the music, the artists and the listener pass to cathartic effect once the final sounds decrescendo and evanesce.

La dimension cachée is available as a CD and download here

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Spacepilot – Hycean Worlds (Orbit 577, 2022)

Scientists recently defined a new class of exoplanet with watery surfaces and hydrogen-heavy atmospheres. These hycean worlds have rich potential for life. And they have inspired the trio Spacepilot to create an album teeming with strange forms and trans-galactic temperaments. Even the band was surprised by what they discovered. 

Spacepilot is a New York-based group featuring Elias Meister (guitar, effects), Leo Genovese (Rhodes, synth, Hammond) and Joe Hertenstein (drums). Hycean Worlds is their third release and explores a more experimental sound palette. “We’ve never talked about what we want to do, conceptually,” Meister said. “After a few years, we were like ‘Let’s not talk about it’. We decide in the moment when the music is going to change. That’s how we play. And it has taken us into this kind of groove-thing connected with very spacey effects, noise, and Avant Garde stuff.”

Synthetic and sincere

'Messier 87,' the album’s opening track, sets the direction of travel. Meister’s psychedelic-rock guitar is at the heart of the sound early – and stays there. Hertenstein’s drums concoct a head-bobby groove. Genovese’s keywork floods the gaps. It’s a starting point that reveals feverish excitement about where the music will take the trio this time.

The three musical stars shine brightly on 'Sagittarius A,' the second track. Meister is a master of putting melodramatic and matter-of-fact ideas into the same bowl, stirring up emotions that feel both synthetic and sincere. Genovese lets the Hammond stretch a flawless canvas for the musicians to splash with sonic color. The drums explode at the right moments. This open-hearted ballad, named after a black hole, swallows every sentiment. Then collapses. “Our rock-influenced stuff gets a little heavy and dark occasionally,” Meister said. “But that’s just how the music feels at the time.”

Irony and candor

The final twist in this eight-track odyssey, 'Hubble Deep Field,' is characteristically many-sided. Slipping and sliding guitar offers a series of false starts. Heavy drums shape a rhythm that could be reggae, or swing, or a ballad, or anything. The Hammond rings and wriggles. Towards the end, the piece delivers that typical mix of irony and candor. Things get dark and distorted. Then fade.

“We don’t usually do this kind of bluesy-rock,” Meister said. “The Hammond, which Leo Genovese was playing for the first time, pushed us into a different zone. We never set boundaries for where we can go.”

Layers and textures

This third Spacepilot record fuses rock, techno, gospel, noise, blues… and plenty more. The tracks were cut from entirely improvised live recordings at the iconic Red Horn District in Germany. Hycean Worlds probes a groove-driven and psychedelic corner of the sonic universe shaped by sudden shifts and alien accents. Its layers and textures create an out-of-this-world listening experience.

“I definitely sense our connection deepening over the years,” Meister said. “Our improvisations are more adventurous, but also more concise. I feel that in the music when I listen to it.”

The album is available as a digital download here. A limited release of 20 vinyl records, numbered and signed, is available by sending an email to Elias Meister here.

Check out this video excerpt of 'Sagittarius A':

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Rudi Mahall / Jan Roder / Olaf Rupp - Skyhook (Audiosemantics, 2022)

By Martin Schray

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Olaf Rupp’s music. His way of playing guitar (acoustic and electric), how he combines Flamenco, alternative rock and free jazz is simply unique. So, it’s no wonder that I was excited when I heard that he was going to release Skyhook, the second album of his outfit with bassist Jan Roder and clarinetist Rudi Mahall. The first one, JR3, was also well reviewed on our site.

Skyhook is in no way inferior to the trio’s debut, the music is a hodgepodge of stylistic elements that seem to be completely contradictory, but in the end they fit together very well. A perfect example of the trio’s music is the second track, “vernünftig“. It begins with Rupp’s guitar trills colliding with the emotional ebb and flow of bowed bass notes that seem to stream directly from Roder’s instrument, while Mahall intersperses his contributions very economically. When Roder puts away the bow and begins to pluck, the dynamics change. The bass sounds tumble, Rupp explodes as if Cecil Taylor was playing guitar and Mahall murmurs in the depths of his instrument, he groans, but also dares to make longer runs and sprinkles in a melody here and there. The whole thing is a zigzag run, you never know where it will go.

Skyhook consists of twelve tracks, the titles are cut up from the sentence Es ist ebenso vernünftig, eine Art Gefangenschaft durch eine andere darzustellen, wie irgendetwas, was wirklich existiert, durch etwas, was nicht existiert (It is as reasonable to represent one kind of captivity by another as it is to represent anything that really exists by something that does not). Albert Camus had borrowed it as the epigraph for his novel The Plague, it’s actually from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Oran, the city on the Algerian coast where Camus’s novel is set, soon becomes an island, an isolated space - like Robinson’s island. Apart from the fact that the music becomes a metaphor for what’s going on around us there is a also another connection: The album was recorded at Au Topsi Pohl, a venue of the Echtzeit network in Berlin, which unfortunately is soon closing down but which was itself has been an island for free improvisation.

The title of the album refers to a figure from freestyle snowboarding. Rupp says that it somehow makes sense because making music is often a kind of throwing stones into the sky. And it symbolizes optimism. And even if he mentioned that as to his standards the recording was not quite perfect in terms of sound, I must say that I can’t hear any shortcomings. Rupp said that he, Mahall and Roder wanted to release the album because they liked the music so much. Me too.

Skyhook is available as a CD. You can buy it from Olaf Rupp’s Bandcamp site. 

P.S.: The pigeon on the cover was sitting on Olaf Rupp’s kitchen shelf on the first day of the 2020 lockdown and was very tame and obviously used to people. She has been coming to visit the guitarist every day since then. He feeds her a few sunflower seeds and gives her some water and then she sits on the window ledge looking out into the yard. Since she is a competition pigeon, she has rings on her legs, so he was able to track her back to the neighboring town to where Rudi Mahall lives. Thus, she became the cover girl for the album.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Kaoru Abe No Future 阿部薰没有未来 - Another Wrong Way, Again 路又走错一条 (Presses Précaires, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Liu Lu, Zhao Cong, and Zhu Wenbo play eleven post punk songs for guitars, voices, and percussion with guest Dong Xing contributing trumpet on the 29’ Another Wrong Way, Again 路又走错一条.

The core trio collaborates often in different constellations, usually through Zhu’s Zoomin’ Night label, which is a significant publisher of experimental music from China and beyond and for which Liu frequently provides visual work. Their band, Kaoru Abe No Future 阿部薰没有未来, has previously released three live albums, Musik Los Concert, Cry in Public, and Vital 2021, across which most of the songs on this studio recording crop up, as well as a 7” split with Norwegian improv noise punk trio Moe. While firm song structures appear here, the kind of music these musicians might be most associated with is field recording and object-based ‘eai’ or electro-acoustic improvisation, like the recent REW from Zhao or twice from Zhu with Yan Jun.

Tracks are short. Tempos don’t thrash but they’re punchy. There’s a rawness. In peaked-out highs, the rough-edged textures of lo-fi, articulation both apathetic and fervent. And that same quality that signals punk attitudes lends a spontaneity that feels akin to improvisation, if that could ever be identified in sound. Each takes turns singing, Liu’s cries recalling the urgent melodrama of Richard Hell, Zhao’s the sultry lethargy of Rosie Cuckston or Dawn Smithson, and Zhu’s a desperate but distant disenchantment, distorted and reverbed. Electric guitar and electric bass guitar frequently repeat contrapuntal melodies for the duration. Basslines often occupying a saurian space between the melancholy buoyancy of something like Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle” and the driving lurch of Red Krayola’s “Hurricane Fighter Plane,” guitar usually stressing the acidic bite of staccato stabs, the industrial chug of chords, and angular movements like Gang of Four, their contemporaries, and their afterbears. The other guitar plays unstable sounds, small movements surely difficult to control, fragile harmonic chimes, gestural attacks of chaotic character. All together it makes for off-kilter tunes that stick in the ear, like “damn song 活见鬼” or “make dog be as a dog 让狗成为狗.”

Why write words for what is ostensibly a post punk record here? Maybe it’s just that. But the context of the kind of music these musicians usually operate in along with that spontaneous sensation and seemingly aleatoric approaches of the textural guitar nudged me towards another perspective. Comparative listening across the live records doesn’t show much change beyond the small variations that a rock listener would expect, a little faster or slower, the relative timing of sounds shifts a bit, the space feels different, each shows shades of the instruments and especially the voice based on energy, mood, and other intangibles. At a granular level this occurs in a single track, melodic phrases recognized to repeat minutely varied in series. So not the wholesale moment-to-moment decision-making of, say, free play, but at the scale of performance, in consideration of its contingencies.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Monday, July 18, 2022

Luis Vicente, Seppe Gebruers & Onno Govaert - Room With No Name (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2022)

By Stef Gijssels

We already reviewed two excellent albums by Portuguese trumpeter Luis Vicente earlier this year: the brilliant "Dog Star" and the mysterious "Mata Mata" by Scolari.

Two more of his albums deserve attention: the recent "Room with No Name" and "Made of Mist" from last year.

Luis Vicente, Seppe Gebruers & Onno Govaert - Room With No Name (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2022)

In 2018, we already indicated our appreciation of the the trio consisting of Luis Vicente on trumpet, Seppe Gebruers on piano and Onno Govaert on drums for their "Live At Ljublijana". 

This album was recorded on July 10th 2019, live at the Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro in Coimbra, Portugal. The trio brings us two fully improvised pieces, their music a wonderful mix of abstract sound, emotional delivery, inventive interaction and truly collective creation. The music is rich and treats us to meandering and ever changing soundscapes of quiet intensity and disciplined power, without losing the coherence of the total sound, which is almost as much indebted to avant-garde classical music as it is to jazz, easily blending forms and harmonics into something uniquely their own, possibly also the consequence of the specific differences between the three musicians.

At times Gebruers sets the tone, with abstract chord changes, defying patterns, sometimes in long interplay with Govaert, whose percussive cleverness adds character but can also change the course of the improvisation. Vicente is his usual self in this context: virtuoso, listening, working on the total colour of the music, expressive and impressive. 

The overall sound is fresh and deep at the same time. 

Again an easy to recommend album. 

Available from Bandcamp

Watch a video by the trio, performed on April 15, 2022.

Luis Vicente & Vasco Trilla - Made Of Mist (577 Records, 2021)

A review of this album was also long due. On "Made of Mist" both artists - Vicente on trumpet and Trilla on percussion - create an ephemeral sonic universe that explains the title. Percussion does not sound like percussion, but rather by extended single tones extracted from cymbals, scraping on skin, shuffling noises and other timbral explorations. 

On the opening track, the texture is light, fragile, vulnerable even. Vicente's muted and moaning trumpet adds to the sense of serenity and beauty. But it does not stay that way "Esglai" - a Catalan word for fear, fright, a sudden danger - leads to a very agitated and intense interaction that somehow resolves into a certain calm near the end. 

I will not describe every track, which is also quite illusory considering the abstract nature of the pieces. The album is excellent: both artists feel each other blindly, managing to explore new sounds, elevating music to a higher level of abstraction without losing the human aspect of it, and both Vicente and Trilla are true masters of integrating emotion in the creation of new forms. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

And as an extra we give you another video with both musicians, recorded in the Netherlands in 2019. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Mary Halvorson - Amaryllis and Belladonna (Nonesuch, 2022)


By Gary Chapin

It’s hard for me not to think of these two as a set. They are released separately in CD format, with themed covers, on the same day, with overlapping personnel, and a vibe that travels from the beginning of one to the end of the other. I threw these into a playlist, just the two of them, and have been basking ever since. Both albums are also released as a double vinyl in a single sleeve. 

Mary Halvorson is someone I have marveled at a lot this year. I’m not sure why I wasn’t ready before then. Though I got in on the ground floor of her recording career (Anthony Braxton’s Quartet[Moscow], from 2008), it wasn’t until 2021 (yikes) that I was like, this Mary Halvorson is everywhere and she elevates every setting she is in.

Amaryllis has got a downtown vibe to it. It has the variety of voices, the easy switch between out and hip jazz, and the big group arrangements that bring all of it together in a jazz and cinematic way. I’ve used the word “vibe” twice, and the vibraphone on Amaryllis proves a point I asserted a few months ago, “Everything this music is, is more so on vibes.” If it’s dissonant, it’s more dissonant with vibes. If it swings, it swings harder with vibes. If it’s hip, it’s more hip with vibes. 

But great trumpet, great trombone, and great rhythm don’t change the fact that Halvorson herself is the center of the wizardry. For a while I was fixated on how—HOW?—she does what she does, and it is worth wondering about, just like Frisell in the early ‘80s. After a while, that fever calmed down because, really, does it matter? Even if you do know the answer—invariably, with guitars, it has something to do with pedals—it isn’t the answer that makes her voice so incredibly distinctive and ensorcelling. That little, addictive pitch-bend-thing (excuse the technical term) she does throughout isn’t great because of the pedal, but because of Halvorson’s way of using it.

A few tracks before the end of Amaryllis, the string quartet shows up and the vibe starts to drift. This is the overlapping region of the Venn Diagram between the two records. From such a large group, Halvorson’s sense of drama, lyricism, and harmony truly shine. Extended chords are an amazing thing when you have so many instruments to extend them for you.

Crossing into Belladonna, a set of five tunes, the space becomes something more transcendent. Early contender for my album of the year. The setup is a concerto like relationship between the composed string quartet and Halvorson’s improvisations. I see these two as a set, as I said, but if I had to pick one—I don’t though, and neither do you--it would be Belladonna (but the vinyl release solves the issue too). 

The settings Halvorson writes for the strings are masterpieces of evocation. The quartet functions almost as a Greek chorus, setting the scene, directing priorities, and even interacting with the lead (which, since she is improvising and they are not, is remarkable). This is a storytelling affair with dark stories. Sometimes dark humor. Sometimes dark dark.

The second track, Moonburn, has the quartet in a Samuel Barber place, slow lament, while Halvorson monologues over it. Telling her tale in way that Russian novelists would understand. It’s that kind of lyricism. The track breaks upon you like a wave.

Aside from Mary Halvorson (guitar), we’ve got Patricia Brennan (vibraphone), Nick Dunston (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Jacob Garchik (trombone), and Adam O’Farrill (trumpet).

The Mivos String Quartet is Olivia De Prato (violin), Maya Bennardo (violin), Victor Lowrie Tafoya (viola), and Tyler J. Borden (cello).

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Martin Küchen, Agusti Fernandez & Zlatko Kaucic - The Steps That Resonate (Not Two Records, 2022)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

If you are not familiar with Zlatko Kaucic’s work, even though he is prolific and, deservedly, he is often presented on this site, you should go back in 2011 and listen to Round About One O’ Clock (again on Not Two Records), his duo with Evan Parker. Parker there is on top form and Kaucic is equally brilliant. Not an easy task indeed. Having said that, let’s get back to the present and to The Steps that Resonate, a free jazz come improv trio that kicks ass.

Recorded in another periphery of free improv, the BCMF Festival in Slovenia, except from Kaucic on drums and objects, you will enjoy Marin Küchen (by the way do check out his sublime 2021 duo on Clean Feed with Slovakian percussionist Michaela Antalova) on soprano and sopranino saxes plus pianist -always vocal about what’s going on in this world- Agusti Fernandez. All three of them are highly skilled musicians totally committed to the ethos of improvisation, as you already know by now.

The cd is comprised by two tracks named after the title as parts one and two, with part one being the core of the recording. This is a stellar performance, one of those that if you are lucky enough to attend, resonate inside you for quite a long time. The path followed by the three is the usual of collective improvisation. Using the word usual is, though, both an understatement and a euphemism.

There’s nothing usual in their egoless - sometimes aggressive, other times subtle - playing. In fact the only “usual” connection you will find is that this cd follows the steps of any great improvisational recording. Their playing is non-linear and they don’t seem to be willing to know exactly where they are going. Fernandez is very aggressive on the keyboard of the piano, hitting notes as if he is really angry. Probably his most aggressive performance I’ve heard. Kuchen seems to be going back and forth between a totally energetic approach and a more subtle playing. Kaucic is the centripetal force that keeps the centrifugal attitudes of the other two together. But do not get me wrong, both Küchen and Fernandez dissolve into a path of their own only to reach a point of playing together again. They are not soloists but, different voices on a parallel, linear road.

This cd is too good to be missed and another strong candidate for 2022 best of. I’m quite lucky with what I review lately.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Baldrian Quartett - Frieda Bertelsohn Martholdy: Streichquartette - Entschlummern sollst du, sollst entschlummern (bRUit, 2022)

By Eyal Hareuveni

The cover of the album of Baldrian Quartett mocks the iconic covers of the esteemed classical music label Deutsche Grammophon. The Baldrian Quartett even claims to resurrect for the first time ever on records the forgotten four string quartets of the mysterious composer Frieda Bertelsohn Martholdy of the early avant-garde, “a composer yet unknown to most of us” (and the only details about her are found in the Bandcamp page of the bRUit, and apparently she lived quite a short life (1878-1907)). But the Baldrian Quartett is not a chamber string quartet as the cover art suggests. It matches two like-minded duos - the Swiss duo of electronics player Gaudenz Badrutt and accordion player Jonas Kocher, that has been working since 2009 and are the artistic directors of the bRUit label, together with the duo of German clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski, known from The International Nothing duo, and Viennese Christof Kurzmann who plays on the ppooll software, both released a duo album in 2006 under the moniker Kommando Raumschiff Zitrone (First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Quincunx Sound Recordings) and continued to collaborate in the Magic I.D. quartet.

But the music on Entschlummern sollst du, sollst entschlummern (roughly translated as Thou shalt fall asleep, thou shalt fall asleep), the debut album of the Baldrian Quartett, is chamber in its spirit and no doubt contemporary in the sense that it represents the art of the moment. The Baldrian Quartett takes its “unprecedented approach” as “true archaeologists of early avant-garde music” very seriously. The quartet suggests quiet and intricate, minimalist dynamics, and focuses on the enigmatic ways the electronics - with the distinct devices and approaches of Badrutt (using distortion devices, no-input-mixing and modular-synthesizer) and Kurzmann (using a laptop), corresponding and extending the acoustic timbral qualities and sonic spectrum of Kocher’s accordion and Fagaschinski’s clarinet, and vice versa. Quite often, the electronic sounds resonate with the acoustic sounds, and vice versa, until these carefully layered sounds become one, almost static, quite reverberating and sometimes even a bit noisy sonic entity. Add to this finely-tuned dynamics the fragile tension building and release and you can already imagine the subtle and transparent soundscapes. The album, true to the elusive history of Martholdy and the Baldrian Quartett, collects “highly praised live performance” at the Music Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria and studio recordings from the historical Huguenin Studios in Biel, Switzerland, both from November 2018.

The Baldrian Quartett declares that the four-string quartets of Martholdy were composed, supposedly, in 1895 and 1896, when she was only seventeen years old, and all pronouncing “romantic quality, completely innocent of any of the aesthetic conflicts that 20th-century music later challenged” (as the unheard-of musicologists Dr. Georgette Oberwies, Inge Salesianer and Franz von Brandenburg tell about her life that was “full of hardships and despair, which, in the end, turned out to be unbearable for this sensitive creative mind”, in the album’s booklet). But, eventually, it does not really matter if Martholdy was an actual figure, if her prophetic art was oppressed and ignored at her time, or if the Baldrian Quartett just offers an elaborate sonic game by four imaginative improvisers who adopt the colorful sarcasm of The International Nothing and some morbid approach of Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard. The four subtle soundscapes are, obviously, are devoid of sentimentalism or familiar “romantic quality”, but suggestive and puzzling enough even without the clever titles (“Schaurig empfundene Nähe” means Scary closeness; “Ode für den Tod” means Ode for Death; and “ Ich habe genug” means I had enough”, and demand future explorations of the hidden chapters of the early and oppressed history of avant-garde music.    

Listen and download from Bandcamp.