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Friday, November 3, 2023

The Tzadik Stream is a Flood (Part 2 of 2)

A selective deep dive into the newly streaming Tzadic Records catalog. See part 1 here.

By Gary Chapin, Nick Ostrum and Lee Rice Epstein

Maryann Amacher – Sound Characters (Composer Series) 1999

Maryann Amacher was a sound installation artist who was active in Europe and the US from the 1970s to the 2000s and collaborated with Merce Cunningham, John Cage and others. Sound Characterscaptures some choice recordings of her compositions from the course of her career up until that point. Unsurprisingly, this really is “sound art”. Although synths and some more traditionally musical elements pop through, these are mostly meandering, often droning sounds that beg one to turn up the volume to reveal all of the variation, the corners and nooks, the sonic blotches, the shambolic loops of beeps, the reconnoitered of industrial wastelands, the lurid waves of synth-ambience. This is very much a catalog rather than a traditional album. And, in that, it reveals the wide variety of textures and styles Amacher deployed in her work. The sounds are vast, the dynamics generally subtle early on (excluding a few parts such as the intro to Head Rhythm 1), though they pick up with tracks such as Synaptic Islands (excerpt Tower Meta1s, Feed 2, and Muse Orchestra 1), and the almost phased, telephone-dial Dense Boogie. As one might guess, this is meant to be felt rather than simply heard. (NO)

Shelly Hirsch - O Little Town of East New York (Radical Jewish Culture) 1995 

Poetry, storytelling, drama, sound. Hirsch is vocalist improviser acrobat with deep roots in the Downtown Scene. This extended piece is an extended, semi-autobiographical suite about growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s in Brooklyn. It was conceived as a radio play and, in a bizarre way, reminds me of Jean Shepherd’s work, with its mixture of genuine nostalgia, darkness, and scathing, passive-aggressive judgment. The mixture is Hirsch’s words, her character-evoking voice, electronic music, and sound design. Dozens of short pieces form one satisfying whole. (GC)

Ned Rothenberg - Solo Works: The Lumina Recordings (Key Series) 2006 

In the early '80s, iconic reeds player Ned Rothenberg released three albums on his own label, Lumina, Trials of the Argo (1981) , Portal (1983), and Trespass (1985). (Lumina also released the first two volumes of Zorn's The Classic Guide To Strategy before they were reissued on Tzadik.) All three albums showcase Rothernberg's tremendous creativity and wit on a series of solo performances, primarily on alto and bass clarinet with some overdubbing of assorted woodwinds. There are also duets with Gerry Hemingway and Zorn, as well as a previously unreleased duo with David Weinstein, for bass clarinet and electronics. (LRE)

Ahava Raba – Kete Kuf (Radical Jewish Culture) 1999

To attest to Tzadik’s wide reach, the same year the sound-art of Sound Characters dropped, so too did the curious Kete Kuf. At first, this sounds like the Radical Jewish Culture series. The first track, Jack Singt, leans into klezmer scales and exuberance. Although that grounding remains, it journeys much further from apparent Eastern European roots to pull from central and east Asian traditions in the eponymous Kete Kuf-Akatipana, contemporary solo vocal (also coming through in the Untitled track that concludes the album), free jazz and various other traditions quite compellingly. Howe Leg Na Rogle returns to Ashkenazi/European folk music and draws the listener into a magical jaunt into the past, with tempo changes, rolling drum interludes and other shifts that make this sound modern rather than a museum piece. Pieces such as Kurze Turkmenische Schnitte pull from other traditions (in this case, Turkmen). Even here, however, Raba balances a faithfulness to a cultural style, or maybe a folk melody or progression, with enough abrupt changes in mood and signature, along with a driving tuba, that make this a convincing fusion of tradition and fractured modernity. Indeed, it makes some of that fractured modernity –a unifying theme among Tzadik releases, if there is one - make sense. (NO)

Ikue Mori - Garden (Composer Series) 1996

Ikue Mori is hardly unsung, and probably not undersung, either, but this album, her first solo recording is a gem whose existence should be trumpeted to the world. Mori, as a drummer, electronicist, composer, and improviser, has contributed to dozens of ensembles in the avant world, many of them seminal. The solo albums, though, are something else, a distillation and concentration of her ideas and technique. I can’t decipher how she does what she does—I had the same problem with her solo album for Zorn’s Bagatelles series, and I’ve never seen her live—but it’s a mixture of drum machines, sampling, effects (and bamboo, according to the notes) that are simultaneously world-building and storytelling. Like Milford Graves, Ikue Mori feels like somewhat of a shaman. (GC)

Joseph Holbrooke Trio - The Moat Recordings (Key Series) 2006

Named for the English composer, this free trio with Derek Bailey, Gavin Bryars, and Tony Oxley was originally formed in the 1960s, then reunited in 1998 for a live performance and these studio sessions. For anyone unfamiliar with this trio, and I think they are still fairly underrepresented on lists, it's pretty remarkable how Bailey and Oxley recordings continue to reveal new sides to their artistry. And if you're only familiar with Bryars as a composer, this is a fine introduction to his excellent bass playing. (LRE)