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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Matthew Shipp - The Data (RogueArt, 2024)

 

By João Esteves da Silva

Matthew Shipp has been such a prolific recording artist that it is not always easy to keep track of everything he puts out, let alone determine which albums are the real gems - the ones deserving to go down in history as essential. In fact, we are bound to wonder whether a work-based approach is at all appropriate to assess his creative output: shouldn’t we rather adopt, as Brian Morton has suggested regarding Ivo Perelman’s enormous discography, a process -based one? (That is, to look at Shipp’s output not as a collection of individual works, but as an organically evolving whole.) I’d say yes and no. For, as I see it, music criticism should seek to integrate both approaches: on the one hand, even in the case of someone like Craig Taborn, of whom I can confidently pick Avenging Angel as a definitive masterpiece, a process-based approach is nonetheless required; and, on the other, Perelman himself has made records which ought to stand out somehow - take, for instance, all-time classics such as Seeds, Vision and Counterpoint or Suite For Helen F.

Anyway, I’m happy to report that, like his recent New Concepts in Piano Trio Jazz and Magical Incantation, this new solo album is among the real gems. A couple of years ago, The Piano Equation struck me as being possibly the ultimate Matthew Shipp solo piano statement, but I’m now inclined to think The Data might even surpass it.

First of all, for a rather straightforward reason: the album’s sheer sound, vastly different from - and, in my mind, superior to - the majority of Shipp’s recordings. Instead of the usual studio recording, with the piano very closely miked, this one was done at Merkin Concert Hall, in New York City, with its beautiful Steinway grand being given considerably more breathing space: while Randy Thaler’s engineering still sounds relatively close, seldom have I heard Shipp’s quirky chords resonate so naturally, and his starker dynamic contrasts are very nicely rendered (“The Data #11” is a case in point). Thanks to this factor, I think I’m yet to hear a more authentic document of Shipp’s sonority, that unmistakable blend of the kind of full-bodied percussiveness we associate with Black Mystery School pianism and the crystallinity of a classical touch - almost as if Mal Waldron and Michelangeli had been merged into a single pianist.

The second reason, somewhat harder to pin down, has to do with what this album, recorded back in mid 2021, represents in terms of the evolution of Shipp’s equally unmistakable language. He has been a radically original voice for a long time, but here I feel he has taken yet another step in terms of carving out a niche for himself within the music universe - so much so that the tracing of any supposed influences has become an increasingly nuanced (and elusive) affair, hardly helped by generalities such as, say, “Black Mystery School pianism meets French impressionism.” (I even hear echoes of Janáček in the haunting “The Data #12”.) While this review is not the place to pursue such exercise in any meaningful way, I’d like at least to point out that, although Monk’s ghost is likely to keep hovering over Shipp’s playing, this struck me, overall, as one of his least Monkish performances. And, as paradoxical as it may sound, that places him even higher in the gallery of Monk’s heirs: for being a worthy heir of Monk is far from merely being stylistically influenced by him in relevant ways; it is also, and above all, to be a radical iconoclast.

Perhaps for that reason, I found this album harder to rate than most, which is why I have refrained from doing so, at least for the time being. For, in a way, Shipp now only competes with himself (or his former and future selves). I also found it hard to single out particular tracks: like the little squares of a Jack Whitten painting, each has its own character and might thus be contemplated individually, but they all belong to a larger - largely abstract - whole.

Now, is this an album of jazz piano? Again, yes and no. The jazz language is, of course, among the key components of planet Shipp, but it is far from the only one. And, crucially, such components - the data he collects while immersed in his (fully spontaneous) creative process - are not merely added to each other, qua building blocks. Rather, they interact organically so as to end up being transformed by each other, amounting to a singular type of avant-garde music, at once Black and universal.

Friday, July 19, 2024

Monheim Triennale II: The Prequel - July 2024

 

Facing the large screen behind the stage, where typically the festival logo was projected, their backs to the audience, Shazad Ishmaly, on piano, and singer Ganavya Doraiswamy, were providing music and live commentary to the European Football Championship playoff game between Germany and Spain. It was do-or-die for the teams (Just in case: this is happening in Germany) and excitement for the game was palpable. 
 
Shazad Ishmaly and Ganavya Doraiswamy. ©Niclas Weber

"Oh, is red Germany," asked Ishmaly (who at the moment had adopted the stage-name Willy) with an apparent innocence. 
 
"Shh, shut up," shushed Doraiswamy (who was going for the moment by the name Nelsson), "you're going to get us killed!" 
 
"Hmm. This isn't looking so good," observed Willy, "play sadder." 
 
Willy then decided to pivot to a more populist approach and exclaimed "Fuck you Spain!" Then, sensing that perhaps there was another way, offered: "Why can't the people in red just help the people in white? You want the ball, here you can have the ball." 
 
Nelsson, unconvinced, offered the German team a different solution, singing what she said was an Indian war prayer over Willy's now droning flute. 
 
The moment was somewhat special. A certain bonding between the two friends on stage, who were improvising with cultural differences and musical ideas, and with an audience ready for new musical experiences as well as on tenterhooks about the game. 
 
Amazingly, the war prayer seemed to work as Germany tied the game in the final seconds, sending the teams into overtime.

Anushka Chkheidza and Ronjin Sharafi.©Niclas Weber

The following sets were much heavier with electronics and no soccer talk what-so-ever. Anushka Chkheidza and Ronjin Sharafi are both sound artists whose main medium is electronics. Chkheidza seemed to work with textures and underlying tones while Sharafi wove danceable melodies into her soundscapes. For their duo improvisation, crinkly sounding electronics, small explosions and pulsating chords rolled along with modulating waves giving the sound roots. Irregular beats and laser wielding robots segued into an upbeat melody as the two were obviously enjoying the moment - so too was the audience, with many heads bopping along. Following them, a quartet comprised of guitarist and sound-explorer Oren Armbarchi, singer Julia Ulehla, drummer/electronics player Ludwig Wandinger and trombonist/vibraphonist Selendis Sebastian Alexander Johnson took the stage with a spooky, slowly developing welling of sound. Johnson punctured the mood with a blast from the trombone, and as the swell peaked, Wandinger began pushing the rhythm and Armbarchi made the sonic bed with organ-like tones from his guitar. The crashing of the wave sent Johnson leaping to the vibraphone and Ulehla's rhythmic chatter and short syllabic sounds morphed into a whispered monologue about what seemed to be a flood.
 
As the 7 p.m. concert came to a close, Spain, in the extended overtime, made their fateful play. From a monitor set up in the bridge of the river cruise ship, many watched in seeming slow motion as they set up the play and with a sudden kick into the goal, ended Germany's chance at the championship.
 
Oh, right, did I mention that this was all happening on a boat?

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Yes There No Where by Robert Wilson



The Monheim Triennale festival is, in a sense, a Gesamkunstwerk(a total work of art) for the small city located in western Germany on the Rhein river. Situated between Köln and Dusseldorf, Monheim spent many years as a sleepy bed-room community, however, how many sleepy towns can now boast a public sculpture conceived of by American playwright Robert Wilson that incorporates a giant goose trapped in a tiny house with sound wells nearby containing readings by Monheim born author Ulla Hahn, or a Marcus Luppertz sculpture along the river front dedicated to the goose theme (which is local mythology woven into the city's culture)? The circa 45,000 resident city began reinventing itself over a decade ago through the initiative of the then 27-year old mayor Daniel Zimmerman, who, armed with a combination of low taxes for businesses and desire to reinvest back into the community, kicked off a civic transformation. For example, almost empty shopping centers in the downtown were purchased by the city for redevelopment; a focus on the arts has led to free music lessons and instruments for the students, orchestras in each school; and quality of life perks for the residents like free public transportation and city bicycles. From the looks of it, Monheim's revitalization seems to be quite a success story, and it is now even supporting a world-class international music festival.
 
Leda by Markus Lüpertz
To this point, in 2016, after his work with the somewhat nearby Moers Jazz Festival, director Reiner Michalke was asked by Zimmerman to help develop a new festival for the city. Feeling that perhaps another Jazz festival was not the right direction, Michalke noted "we recognized the need for a contemporary music festival of the 21st century, one that would showcase all current trends on an equitable platform within a unified context. We also concurred that the objective wasn’t to attract big names to Monheim, but rather to showcase exceptional artistry."
 
What has now solidified as the festival's three year cycle began in 2020, pushing through the turbulence of the pandemic, and was brought full circle in 2022. The stages are: first a city focused The Sound, which combines public art and installations; followed by The Prequel, a workshop oriented event dedicated to bringing in musicians from outside the city and encouraging all sorts of collaborations -- not only with each other but with musicians from the schools and community; and ending with The Festival, where the invited artists showcase their signature and commissioned projects.
 
Now, in the second year of the second cycle, The Prequel's workshop aesthetic extended from the stages to the program, which itself was changing every day. Collaborations were developed between the musicians and the multiple curators, which included Yuko Asanuma, Jessica Hallock, Louis Rastig, Rainbow Robert and Thomas Venker. These collaborations were then presented in short 20-minute sets, while solo sets were performed in an intimate 15th-century church located directly across from the boat dock.

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For the majority of the festival's performances, the RheinFantasie river cruise ship, built to host about 1000 people, was moored along the city's riverfront. Here, in the different rooms of the ship were the artist talks and performances. On the top deck, one could mingle and buy drinks between the shows and have their hat blown off by the winds that came and went with some frequency.
 
Peter Evans Workshop Ensemble ©Niclas Weber
 
Thursday's concerts began with trumpeter Peter Evans leading a workshop ensemble. Working with a set of local musicians organized by bassist Achim Tang, they performed a piece that Evans had created for the event. Beginning with an insistent electric bass and drums, Evans played a scintillating solo and then opened the space up for the other musicians. The piece ran for about 45 minutes and traversed through a number of styles, from quietly searching to confidently rocking with a violinist even adding a hint of Mahavishnu Orchestra.
 
Darius Jones ©Niclas Weber

This was followed by a solo set from saxophonist Darius Jones at the intimate Marienkapelle, whose acoustics were miraculously suited to all the musicians who played solo sets there throughout the week. Dry, but not dead, reverberant, but not booming, the arched space seemed to split kaleidoscopically as Jones played with repetitive and slowly morphing phrases and tones. After 30 minutes or so, Jones asked the wholly willing audience, "do you mind if I play just one more?" He then let loose with a skronking and crying meditation of extended technique.
 
Round Robin set, yuniya edi kwon and Darius Jones ©Niclas Weber

Later in the evening, and back on the boat, a 'round-robin' duo set provided introductions to most of the musicians. Each of the 14 participating musicians emerged individually from the side of the stage and picked-up wherever the current set of improvisers were, as the one who had been playing the longest slowly left the stage. The set began with Evans playing solo, then joined by pianist and composer Heiner Goebbels, who entered by pulling a thread through the strings of the piano while hitting chords on the left side of the keyboard. It created a dazzling mix of delicate tones and sustained bombast. As Evans left, Armbarchi segued in, followed by bag-piper Bríghde Chaimbeul. The three played for a charming moment before Goebbels exited, and so on. The format exemplified the promise of three-minute sets in free-improvisation: with no time to waste getting to know each other, there was a beauty in the severe brevity.

The Voices: Shazad Ishmaly, Julia Ulehla,
Ganavya Doraiswamy, Darius Jones
©Niclas Weber
 
The last set of programmed concerts for the evening began at 9 p.m.. Here, the curated groups met and played for the first time. Peter Evans returned with electronic artists Sharafi and Muqata'a and drummer/electronics player Ludwig Wandinger for a beeping, whirring and buzzing set. Wandinger incorporated his drums into the electric atmosphere while Evans nimbly crafted the inorganic sounds into melodies and textural lines. Next, Goebbels and Chaimbeul tried several ideas, at one point clashing classical melodies and droning bag pipe tones before settling into a grabbing mix of inside-the-piano playing harmonizing with the reedy cyclical sound of the small bag pipes. The last group of the evening was called "The Voices" and brought vocalists Julia Ulehla and Ganavya Doraiswamy together with Jones on saxophone and Ishmaly on piano. The mellifluous voices melded gently, as Jones added accents and Ishmaly minimalist accompaniment. The music wandered a bit at first but then the energy focused and led to a climatic end.
 
Musikmachine at Sojus 7
 
The evening ended in a pop-up music-maker space in the newly renovated community center Sojus 7, just a few meters away on the main road running along the waterfront. Many electronic music tools and toys were arrayed in a room with live projections on the walls. There were a lot of dials and wires and the people were doing their best to create.
 
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Armbarchi & Selendis S. A. Johnson
©Vanessa Stratmann

One thing that is easy to say is that the Monheim Triennale is full of discovery. An air of unexpectedness permeated the evolving program as well as each individual set. Artist talks, moderated by journalist Thomas Venker, introduced artists both well-known and soon-to-be known. Fun facts abounded, from Ludwig Wandinger sharing that he was inspired to become a musician from the Jack Black movie School of Rock to Johnson revealing that she has been playing the trombone for a mere two years. There were deeper ruminations as well, for example from Jones on the perception of race and audience expectations and the thoughts on sound and identity from Ulehla. 
 
It should also be stressed that the musicians were not presenting their own projects, developed meticulously over time, but rather interacting with each other essentially for the first time. For the audience, these interactions could make one rethink the instruments, the musicians, and even how music is made. Perhaps something you would not have considerd 'your thing' could get recast in a new perspective. This seemed to extend to the musicians themselves.
   
Goebbels and Doraiswamy ©Niclas Weber 

Heiner Goebbels, who had requested to work exclusively in duo settings, seemed to be able to bring out something special in each situation. During Friday's sets, he and electronics player Muqata'a engaged in an absorbing duet that saw the pianist equally working on the keyboard as well as directly with the strings. Deliberately played melodic phrases and stabs of chords combined, clashed and cohered with the pulsating electronic and sampled chants, and the acoustic and electric vibrations exuded a nuanced sound, replete with small dissonances and welcome resolutions. Another connection that stood out was the set with Goebbels and Doraiswamy - and a surreptitious Ishmaly, camouflaged in a dark hoodie in the recesses of the stage, adding light electronic textures. For most of her appearances, Doraiswamy's singing flowed effortlessly in a sinuous stream, however for the first time during the Prequel, something about the interaction with Goebbels seemed to lead the lyrical singer into a more syncopated, even a little rougher, direction. A fascinating contrast.
 
yuniya edi kwon ©Niclas Weber 
 
The solo shows at the Marienkapelle, however, were a different thing altogether. In these showcases, the musicians were presenting their meticulously crafted art in its most fundamental. Jones, whose set was described earlier, created music that seemed to alter the shape of the space, while Chaimbeul's bag-pipes turned the air to crystal. Her interpretation of a Philip Glass piece had a hypnotic effect with its relentless drone and the traditional folks songs helped break the spell. Peter Evans, who often plays solo, lifted everyone in the church just a little closer to their god during his set. Most likely there simply had to be another trumpeter hidden behind the altar helping with the thrilling counter melodies and breathless runs. Finally, yuniya edi kwon filled the small chapel with an effusiveness that was hard to describe. She appeared from behind the altar, playing a lithe melody on violin, smiling beatifically. Then, the combination of her whistling, singing in multiple languages and reciting poetry in which she spoke - most likely - of her own journey of acceptance was touching and the dramatic flair of the 'conversation' between the feminine and masculine sides of her person was gripping.

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The next instance of the Triennale is the Festival, in which the artists are invited back with their own choices of projects. These may be groups that they work with outside of the Monheim groupings, or could very well be projects that emanated from the workshop atmosphere of the Prequel. One of Friday's concerts seemed to be leading to such a new signature project.
 
The Horns Trio: Evans, Jones and Shannon Barnett ©Niclas Weber 
 
The Horns Trio, Shannon Barnett on trombone, Darius Jones on saxophone and Peter Evans on trumpet, already held a bit of an all-star aura, and they did not disappoint. They began with a deconstructed arrangement of the Jimmy Dorsey standard "I'm Glad There is You," in which Evans and Jones outlining the tunes tonal center while Barnett sung the lyrics. The second piece saw Barnett on trombone and the trio in a more chaotic mood. The next song began with a defiant melody from Evans while the two others provided syncopated accompaniment. Both Jones and Barnett broke out with solo moments, Jones' following an arc from sweet to sour and Barnett improvising a catchy melodic solo.
 
kwon, Jones, Ishmaly, Wandinger, Chkheidze
 
If there is a criticism to be leveled, it could be that many of the plentiful, short sets tended to be a bit on the reserved side. Of course, considering that the musicians were just getting the feel of working together, there is a bit of politeness shaping the interactions to be expected. However, on the final day of the festival, one set seemed to shake this notion. The quintet featuring Chkheidze, Jones, yuniya edi kwon, Wandinger and Ishmaly (this time on electric bass) simply shook the poop-deck with an infernal blast of sound. Starting with an explosion of free-jazz noise, the group then lurched into its fiery set with Kwon and Jones providing a tonal edginess and Wandinger hitting the drums with animalistic fervor. Ishmaly introduced an urgent and pulsating bass line that provided a bit of structure, while Chkheidze's electronics provided a recessed sound-texture in the mayhem. So, while a whole festival at this decibel level would evoke other criticism, as a bit of spice, it was perfect.
 
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Kulturraffinerie K714 under construction

For the upcoming third rotation of the cycle, The Festival, the creative and physical landscape will be changing. The roster of artists will be larger, with the 16 musicians from this cycle bringing in their own projects. Apparently the concerts will extend into other locations and places in town, including, possibly, the now under construction "Culture Refinery," a 4500 audience capacity arts venue built into the facade of an oil refinery built in 1914. Interestingly, the contaminated soil from the refinery was turned into an artificial mountain with a promenade of palm trees leading up to it - certainly something to explore further (though maybe not dig deeper into) in 2025.


Thursday, July 18, 2024

Two from defkaz Records

Tyshawn Sorey/Adam Rudolph/Sae Hashimoto/Russel Greenberg/Levy Lorenzo –Archaisms II ***** (defkaz, 2024) 

 

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

I use the five star rating rarely, but sometimes there’s seem to be no other way to express your gratitude towards the music. As it is with Archaisms I, the duo of Tyshawn Sorey and Adam Rudolph from 2023, the second release under the same name, this is a small masterpiece on its own. Whether it is a duo or an expanded version of it…

This time the original duo is surely expanded by like minded artists Sae Hashimoto and Russel Greenberg of the experimental duo Yarn/Wire and Levy Lorenzo of the ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble). I got puzzled by Sorey’s comment that Archaisms II still, at least in parts, is a duo. On a first listen, I believe, the recording (two side long tracks on vinyl called Archaisms Γ and Archaisms Δ) seems more open just by the addition of the three artists. The hidden antithesis here is that Archaisms I was a totally open recording, but, again, why this comment?

After repeated listening I realized what was obvious from the beginning but my preconceived ideas about the music made me fail to understand. All the different voices in this recording, on both tracks, serve the same purpose of interaction and playing in unison. Even though the first side of it is mostly Sorey and Rudolph, while the second track is conducted more collaboratively, there is a strong cohesion between the artists and the music. The main focus is the expansion of the initial vision about the music.

The music on Archaisms II definitely engulfs the word free but, certainly, is not free jazz, if you want to label it. Apart from a certain amount of skill involved (not only in producing the music but also in the way to interact and play collectively), the music involves a lot of listening, connecting and understanding each other’s language. Experimental it is, but not in the way of this genre needs to typify, in order to sell, music. Quite the contrary, experimental in the way we experiment and improvise every step in our way to live each day.

Listen here:

 

 

Michalis Siganidis – Dead Slow (defkaz, 2024)

I must state right from the start that this album had a transcendence affect on me after repeated listening. I, still, can’t be sure if its Siganidis’ organic and aggressive (reminding me, for some personal and incomprehensible reason, Fred Hopkins) approach towards the double bass (he also plays electric bass on Dead Slow) or the conjunction with the fx and loops by Jannis Anastasakis. To be honest, from some point on, I just wondered around in my head with the music, not trying to differentiate, or cut into smaller parts, the final result.

Dead Slow is a great achievement for defkaz as it is, along with what goes on abroad, documenting the current stream of music coming from Greece. Siganidis is one of the important figures in Greek modern music –call it free jazz, improvisation, experimental or whatever else.

Putting the double bass totally into the foreground is not an easy task. Both mentally and physically. I so much enjoy its so many qualities (especially its percussive nature), so I must comment that I prefer the parts where the electric bass is not present…The organic playing of both musicians, the way they create cinematic atmospheres of aggression and relaxation at the same time cancel the boundaries of “two” musicians playing, creating a sole entity of music. Siganidis’ clusters of rhythm might be the core of Dead Slow, but the surrounding ambience never fails to remind that this is a duo.

I’m talking about ambience here, a word that usually describes environments, but the music on Dead Slow is mostly esoteric, sounds, chords and electronic vignettes that struggle, and certainly need, to be heard. By us, who exist outside of their minds. And they do. Dead Slow is great and, again, is on vinyl.

Listen here:

 

@koultouranafigo

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Anthony Braxton - Lorraine Music [Part 3/3]

10 Comp (Lorraine) 2022 (Tri-Centric/New Braxton House, 2024)—Discs 7–10 

Sax QT (Lorraine) 2022 (i dischi di angelica, 2024) 

Duet (Other Minds) 2021 (Other Minds Records, 2022) 

By Lee Rice Epstein

After fall 2021’s European tour with the Santos Silva/Matlock trio, Braxton settled in for four focused days of Lorraine music practice and recording with long-time collaborators saxophonist James Fei and bassist Carl Testa, along with bassist Zach Rowden (making his recorded debut with Braxton). Unlike some other music system prototypes, this box demonstrates the malleability of Lorraine in its early development. Where the trio recordings lean into an expanded pallet, discs 7–10 uses doubled voices to emphasize the depth of Lorraine, in contrast to some of the better known and oft-recorded music, including quartet, solo, creative orchestra, marching band, Ghost Trance, and Falling River Music.

Roughly six months after the performance of “Composition No. 428,” the quartet opens “Composition No. 432” in a delicate, tentative unison—the slight tension and threadlike weaving of lines is somewhat reminiscent of Bill Dixon’s late period compositions, heard on 17 Musicians In Search of a Sound: Darfur , Tapestries for Small Orchestra, and Envoi; there may be something in that worth exploring further, for interested listeners, that’s related to Lorraine being a late-stage prototype, where synthesis of sound seems to take precedence over the literally breathtaking runs of earlier performances. There is, of course, plenty of dazzling saxophone artistry, as Braxton and Fei chase and taunt each other with the care of two old friends egging on one another, while, like panes of reflective glass rotating and sliding through the music, Diamond Curtain Wall electronics provide a contra-harmonic through-line. But something deeper and more emotionally raw seems to come to the surface throughout Composition Nos. 432–435; Testa and Rowden’s arco playing adds a spotlight-like intensity that emphasizes the gradations in each composition. In short, I haven’t been this deeply and personally moved by Braxton in quite a while. The ZIM set was a tour-de-force of ideas and instrumental artistry, but Lorraine feels more exposed, raw and tense in some areas, yearning and even sad in others.

If that’s the case on the final set of recordings on 10 Comp (Lorraine) 2022, then the four-volume set Sax QT (Lorraine) 2022 featuring two new saxophone quartets on tour in Europe really foregrounds a lot of emotion through the addition of Chris Jonas, Ingrid Laubrock, and André Vida, all three of whom who, along with Fei, have years of experience playing with Braxton. And so of course, there’s a huge personal component to the music—the quartet is Braxton, Jonas, and Fei on all four performances, with Vida joining on the first, and Laubrock on the other three. The compositions here continue on from 10 Compwith Composition Nos. 436–439, underlining the ongoing development of the Lorraine prototype and the continued use of Diamond Curtain Wall as its secondary partner. The saxophone quartet presents Lorraine music as something in a state of more continuous movement; there’s a restless, unsettled energy that pervades the first two thirds of each quartet performance, which resolves towards the latter part into a plaintive group meditation. (A quintet recording with Braxton, Fei, Jonas, Laubrock, and Vida all together would be incredible, as would a sextet or octet setting with Matlock, Santos Silva, Testa, Rowden, and any of the two sax quartets.)

What’s particularly fascinating is, we’ve got both of these large sets out now, but the music was first heard on a 2022 album, which I don’t think we covered here: Duet (Other Minds) 2021, a performance from the 2021 Other Minds Festival featuring Braxton and Fei in a duo, performing “Composition No. 429,” performed just after the first two European concerts with Matlock and Santos Silva. In San Francisco, Braxton and Fei debuted what was then a new prototype, a new system of approaching composing, using what Braxton referred to as “‘sonic winds’ of breath,” as Fei writes in his illuminating liner notes. There are also photos of the score, with its time signature shifting every measure and seemingly “traditional” notation. As always, looks are deceiving, as Fei explains here the notated music is not always played, per se, although it is always represented. There is something in that for listeners, as well as players (of course), with the notation like a ghost in each composition, not haunting exactly but lingering in a secondary space, while the players expand on the work to open a tertiary space, a quaternary space, and so on.

There’s a temptation among listeners and critics to try and discern, however much value it brings us, when something is pre-composed, through composed, improvised, or (more often now) machine generated. When taking the time to listen to Lorraine, especially with Sax QT or 10 Comp, I think that would be a huge mistake. For one thing, the pre-composed moments signal themselves, more or less, with a crispness that advances the music narratively; however, even that description will mislead one into thinking the performer improvisations and aspects of DCW are in any way diversions—instead you might think of both as a response to the primary composed material, as a continuation of the narrative flow of each composition. And in that ebb and flow is clearly emerging something quite new and exciting. Whether the future holds for us more compositions in the Lorraine prototype, or whether a new prototype emerges and further sharpens the already crisp ideas at work here, this feels like a very special moment in time. And really, no matter what comes next, aren’t we always lucky to witness when it happens?

 

Read: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Irène Schweizer (1941 - 2024)

Photo by Peter Gannushkin

By Martin Schray

A man’s shirt and a pack of cigarettes - that was the prize for the 16-year-old winner of a Zurich amateur jazz festival in 1957. That a woman could win the competition was simply unthinkable for the organizers at the time. When Irène Schweizer entered the world’s jazz stages, times were still different - especially for women.

Irène Schweizer was born June 2, 1941 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. She grew up in a pub owner’s family in her home town and after her first attempts on the accordion she discovered the piano and the drums and joined the Crazy Stokers, a Dixieland band, at the age of 16. In 1957, that alone was a sensation. Shortly after that she landed in the top ranks at the aforementioned Zurich Amateur Jazz Festival playing soul jazz and hardbop. One might image how the jaws of many men in the audience dropped when they heard her play.

A little later, Schweizer attended a language school in Great Britain, where she immersed herself in the London jazz scene (mainly Ronnie Scott’s club), before returning to Zurich. At the “Africana“ jazz club she met drummer Mani Neumeier and bassist Uli Trepte, who also formed her first trio. When the two men converted to rock music in 1968, Schweizer’s long-time collaboration with drummer Pierre Favre began. Their music sounded increasingly wild and free, which earned the pianist invitations to the Total Music Meeting in Berlin - the annual pilgrimage site for free jazz fans, which was organized by the FMP people around Jost Gebers. As a woman, however, she was on her own and had to assert herself against the male alpha dogs, which resulted in her more playful, sensitive style. Nevertheless, she managed to prevail, an incredible personal and musical achievement that cannot be overstated in retrospect.

Since that time Schweizer was a regular guest on the avant-garde stages in Berlin, Willisau, Chicago and New York, she has played with Don Cherry, Louis Moholo, Hamid Drake, Andrew Cyrille and George Lewis, her solo performances show her as a leading pianist of European jazz. In the last years of her career, she was finally deemed worthy of playing in the temples of high culture, a late triumph.

Schweizer, unlike other jazz musicians, has not recorded for many different labels; almost her entire oeuvre is available on FMP and Intakt. However, her debut Santana with Pierre Favre on drums and Peter Kowald on bass was released on Pip in 1969 before Jost Gebers reissued it on FMP in 1979. More classics are her two FMP recordings with Rüdiger Carl (sax, clarinets) and Louis Moholo (drums): Messer (1976) and Tuned Boots (1978). Her solo recordings Wilde Senoritas (FMP, 1977) and Hexensabbat (FMP, 1978). Since the mid-1980s she has recorded almost exclusively for the Swiss label Intakt, and although these recordings no longer have the power and energy of the early recordings, her duo with Louis Moholo Irène Schweizer & Louis Moholo (1987) and Where's Africa with Omi Ziegel (saxophone, vocals) are truly excellent albums.

In the last years of her life Irène Schweizer lived in a retirement home, she could no longer perform. But anyone who saw her at her last performances, such as in 2017 at the Neumarkt Theater in Zurich with Louis Moholo-Moholo, and how much joy she exuded in playing even at an advanced age, and how she was celebrated by her - predominantly female - fans, can guess what a loss she is to the free jazz community.

Watch her solo at a festival in her hometown Schaffhausen in 2008:

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Anthony Braxton – 10 Comp (Lorraine) 2022 (New Braxton House, 2024) [part 2/3]

Review of Compositions 426, 427, and 428.

By Don Phipps

There is nothing about Compositions 426, 427 and 428 that speak the language of jazz. As Anthony Braxton argues, his music is not jazz. He strives to go beyond idioms. This is not modern classical either. Why? There is too much free playing and improvisation, that while structured, is not so structured as to create dogmatic expression. Braxton’s compositions instead fuse these two pillars (modern jazz and classical) into something new – a language that can best be described as Braxtonian. In these unique and wildly different compositions, the key driving force is not the musicians themselves, as amazingly precise and technical as they are. Instead, it’s the electronics, which filters through in every measure (phase, period – call it what you will). Like light in a dark theater, to which one’s eye is immediately drawn, electronics consistently provoke and stimulate.

How this is accomplished is a mystery. Braxton is elusive on the subject. While the liner notes do a good job of detailing the complex building process of Braxton’s historical achievements and demonstrate how these building blocks form the foundation for 10 Comp (Lorraine), they do not detail just how the electronics (developed using a program called SuperCollider) and the music are able to co-exist. From what is known, Braxton pre(?)programs the electronics and then one might presume that the score is provided to the musicians who then improvise around electronic “structures” as they exist. It’s difficult to imagine that since the electronics must be programmed, that it interacts with the musicians (as the future might allow with artificial intelligence – the electronics becoming, in this case, a fourth improviser). Instead, it is the musicians that must interact with the electronics. Electronics as a given – composed/developed by Braxton.

To this, the three artists, Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, Adam Matlock on accordion and vocals, and the maestro himself, Anthony Braxton, on an array of saxophones, layer sounds and improvisations that mirror the music’s atmospherics and at times follow a series of notes and at other times wander on their own path. All three, though, do so with great expertise.

Silva’s trumpet is piercing at time. At others, she flutters about like a hummingbird. But even as her playing runs to the extremes possible for the horn, her technique and control never falters or hesitates. She seems to approach her lines three dimensionally – progressing up and down while weaving back and forth. Suffice it to say, stunning is befitting.

Matlock, too, plays the accordion in a manner that I imagine a French street musician would respond to with mouth open- and wide-eyed stares. What’s fascinating about his technique is the dynamics he brings to the instrument, which can elevate from dissonant chords to squeezed out bursts in a moment’s notice. His vocals are both odd and interesting – at times, a guttural response to the music’s dynamics, and, at other times, a full-throated part of the composition.

Braxton rolls through the three compositions using what he describes in the notes as “slap tongue logics,” “double tongue techniques,” and hyper-runs up and down the necks of his various saxophones that feel like the old slapstick slipping on a banana peel – meaning that the experience is a continuum and not a series of notes. As Braxton himself says, the music is “a system for positive experiences and fun.” True dat. There is much fun in hearing him carve out sounds and tones while filling spaces or leaving it wide open.

What is realized here is a new language – a new systemic language – and this is where it deviates from free improvisation. There is clearly a system at work in these three compositions, one that is captivating and challenging, cerebral and yet connected, one that like a sunbeam, which at first look appears to be randomly floating yet is simply responding to the air currents around it, is both responsive and detailed. Anthony says it best – mutable logics, stable logics, and transpositional logics.

The most enticing aspect to this listener is the music’s eerie quality – a feeling like one has entered The Twilight Zone. Braxton speaks of “dream time and/or dream space.” He further writes that the music is about “stream compositional alignment.” One should keep these concepts in mind as one navigates Braxton’s odd and surreal world of sound and space. For those wishing to experience the frontier (not the final one – as Braxton’s sound/music seems as boundless as the universe), this set of diverse and commanding compositions, like an unknown world or one’s own subconscious, begs to be explored. Enjoy.

Anthony Braxton: saxophones, electronics
Adam Matlock: accordion, voice
Susana Santos Silva: trumpet

Read: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Monday, July 15, 2024

Anthony Braxton – 10 Comp (Lorraine) 2022 (New Braxton House, 2024) [part 1/3]

Gary Chapin, Don Phipps and Lee Rice Epstein will be looking at Anthony Braxton’s 10 Comp (Lorraine) 2022 over the next few days.

By Gary Chapin

I saw a birthday message to Anthony Braxton in his Facebook group, recently, and someone wished him a “creative” year. That’s a wish that I think will be granted. I’m all for celebrations and wishes of good fortune, but if there’s anyone who reliably has creative and productive years, especially in his late career, that person has been Anthony Braxton.

Witness the current release, 10 discs focused on the Lorraine compositions. Ten discs. Ten compositions. Ten performances. Ten concerts. Released as if this is just a normal thing a person does. It is not. It is a normal thing a Prometheus does, and Braxton has been bringing us fire since 3 Compositions of New Jazz in 1968 (with Muhal Richard Abrams, Leroy Jenkins, and Wadada Leo Smith).

The first six tracks of Lorraine feature Braxton on saxes and electronics, Adam Matlock on accordion and voice, and Susana Santos Silva. It’s an interesting chamber group, with the accordion and electronics supplying the miasma everyone swims in, while the sax, accordion, and trumpet do the swimming. It would be too much to call it synchronized swimming, but they are swimming in conversation. A lot of kinetic call and response going on.

Track one, 'Comp 423,' begins as Braxton means to go on. The structures are languid and move at a regular pace, while the melodic voices dart all over the place. The textures leave a lot of space and no one rushes in to fill a vacuum. Trying to think of how to understand this music, how to grok it, my first thought was that it was somewhat rhetorical—there are sections where it feels like the three voices are having an argument and making points. The second thought was that it was theater or dance. My mind generates a choreography for this without even being asked to, a plot expressed with bodies and not words. After about ten minutes, Matlock comes in with wordless utterance, which only makes all the rest of it sound more organic or biological. It immediately brought to mind Roscoe Mitchell’s work with vocalist Thomas Buckner.

Track two, 'Comp 424,' opens in a more playful space—although each track is a disc or around 45 minutes, and each traverses a number of “spaces”—and makes it a good time to mention that Braxton’s constant solo/obbligato is a wonderous unfolding of melodic ideas and inspirations. None of the musicians here explore the screeching edge of their timbres. They all play within the advertised parameters. But they play with a lightness and, much of the time, dry humor that is a trademark of Braxton’s recent chamber work.

Track three, 'Comp 425,' continues in the same multi-variant vein. I would be lying if I told you I entirely understood the shared qualities that make something a Lorraine composition. There is a space and a set of rules around “how to be in the world and how to be in relation with each other” that unifies the set and encourages each voice. There’s a sense of ease, also, which is very welcome. It’s a quieter kind of love. No one gets whipped into a frenzy. There’s enough of that going on in the world.

This review will continue tomorrow and the next day.

Read: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Ken Vandermark - Sunday Interview

Photo by Peter Gannushkin
  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    Creating new music in real time.

  2. What quality do you most admire in the musicians you perform with?

    Risk

  3. Which historical musician/composer do you admire the most?

    Duke Ellington

  4. If you could resurrect a musician to perform with, who would it be?

    Derek Bailey

  5. What would you still like to achieve musically in your life?

    To create something as good as Billie Holiday’s work with Lester Young.

  6. Are you interested in popular music and - if yes - what music/artist do you particularly like?

    Sly Stone and the Family Stone

  7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

    To be multilingual.

  8. Which of your albums are you most proud of?

    Haven’t made it yet.

  9. Once an album of yours is released, do you still listen to it? And how often?

    No and never.

  10. Which album (from any musician) have you listened to the most in your life?

    Anthony Braxton’s, Dortmund (Quartet) 1976 [hat ART]

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    Erik Satie

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    Chantal Akerman

Ken Vandermark on the Free Jazz Blog*:
*In the compilation process of this list, it was amazing how often Ken Vandermark was mentioned as a touchstone of some sort. From style of music, to have recorded with, to craft, the list was double what is presented here. Of course, there are likely many that have slipped through the filter still, thus some of the articles listed here may reference Ken Vandermark and not be a recording he was involved with making.