Monday, March 18, 2019

Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Not Knowing (Moving Furniture)

Two improvisations on accordion (possibly with other enhancements) by Costa Monteiro. He mentions in his notes that, while this is his fifth solo accordion recording, it's the first to treat the instrument "as an object in space". I take it this has to do with the physical location in which he's playing--perhaps moving?--though admittedly, it's tough to tell. The first track features more extreme techniques, often high-pitched to the point of squeals, less overtly bellows-driven than (again, guessing) bowed or otherwise attacked. It's pretty strong. The second work, however, takes more more recognizably accordion-esque sounds, but extends and layers them, somehow embedding them in a vaguely "other" surrounding aura (maybe this is the space...), producing a really rich, somewhat eerie effect--you want to place it within a traditional framework of some kind but you can't quite do so. I've heard and enjoyed Costa Monteiro's work since 2001's 'Paper'--this is one of my favorites.

NbN - Trios (no label) 

NbN is a new trio with Nora Barton on cello, Billie Howard on violin and Nomi Epstein, with whose work with the ensemble a•pe•ri•od•ic I'm familiar, on piano (they also each perform on "auxiliary instruments). It's an improvising trio and music on their first release is very promising. On the one hand, there's a dryness to the general sound but not of any academic sort--sereness might be a better term, but with a strong underlying sense of melody, of water running deep beneath sandy soil. Maybe think of an improvised variant on George Crumb. I enjoyed the two longest pieces, 'path' and 'ash' the most, feeling the the trio was really able to stretch out and investigate each interesting byway, generating a lovely atmosphere, though the final work, 'bonus', with it's bumpy, jangly tangle of sounds points at further avenues ot explore. Looking forward to hearing more. 

Tim Olive/Yan Jun - Brother of Divinity (845 Audio)

Tim Olive/Cal Lyall - Lowering (845 Audio)

Olive can always be depended on for an aggressive and imaginative improvisatory use of electronics and in Yan Jun, he's found an excellent collaborator. 'Brother of Divinity' is a single, 26-minute track of high intensity, bristling and sizzling electronic mayhem with a huge range from spiky highs to molten lows, managing to create a fine sense of elasticity between. A kind of kitchen sink approach except without any sense of crowding, more a funneling of a vast stream of sound into a (semi) coherent flow, bumpy and sharp, acidic and likely painful to the touch, but very alive. Even when it quiets down some, the splintered, muted guitar and radio grabs carry substantial sting. Excellent work.

I think I'd only heard Lyall a tiny bit on one of those Improvised Music from Japan collections a long while back. Here, he's credited with hydrophone and electronics and the resulting collaboration, while just as aggressive as the above, does seem to contain a more liquid aspect, a friction-filled, granular flow, viscous. There's a great grind in play during the first half of the piece, though the interplay grows somewhat disjointed later on, even somewhat spacey. By the work's end, it's evolved into a wonderful, rich, swampy stew, entirely immersive. More fine work.

IKB - Chelonoidis Nigra (Creative Sources)

IKB (Ives Klein Blue) is a large improvising ensemble based in Lisbon that has released seven albums, all on Creative Sources, of which I've heard four. The creature in the title, as one might guess from it silhouette, is the Galápagos tortoise and I guess it's not too far a stretch to relate it to the music which is comfortably soft and quiet. An issue with larger groups (there are sixteen members for this recording including Ernesto Rodrigues, Miguel Mira, Eduardo Chagas, and Abdul Moimême, just to name several I'm very familiar with) is the tendency towards loudness and muddiness, a problem that IKB skirts very efficiently, somewhat int he manner of another sizable group, The Splitter Orchestra. The single, 47-minute track is both subdued and active throughout, the musicians skittering and burbling, maybe more like sand crabs than tortoises, contributing modestly but tactfully, withdrawing for a bit while someone else comes forward. Perhaps one of those ventures that's more rewarding to perform than to experience as a listener, though it's fine in that regard as well, no particular false steps but treading a fairly well-worn path. A nice introduction to the general area for a curious listener.

Creative Sources

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Gil Sansón/Lance Austin Olsen - Works on Paper (elsewhere)

Last year, Another Timbre released a superb collection of pieces from Olsen, 'Dark Heart', which included an amazing work based on a graphic score of Sansón's called, ' Meditation on the History of Painting'. This two-disc set is a kind of extention of the process begun there and it's just as rewarding.

To get the technical details out of the way, Sansón and Olsen prepared graphic scores. Olsen is an accomplished painter and, to some extent, treats his visual work as a kind of potential musical score so in his case, it was "simply" (nothing simple about it) one of his works. I think--I could be wrong--Sansón's was constructed with the idea of aural realization in mind. In any case, the scores were sent to each other, Sansón residing in the troubled city of Caracas, Venezuela, Olsen in Victoria, British Columbia, and they each produced the two renderings we have here.

Where to begin to describe these complex, dense but transparent works? One thing that struck me over the course of both of these disc is each musician's astounding sense of sound, of how crisp, lucid and three-dimensional everything sounded. There were times when I felt one could almost disregard the context and simply wallow in the gorgeousity of the sound world. The sets were mastered by Taku Unami; I imagine he deserves some credit here. Each offers two interpretations of the other's score. Sansón's 'Pra Mim #2 - Works on Paper', begins with a fine example of the sonic vividness I was referring to, a range of prickly raindrops (?) over a background hum, great separation, before we hear text read by Al Jones. This text is curious. No reference is given and it sounds somewhat fragmented (it resurfaces throughout the piece, with iterations of the odd phrase, "sailing on concrete"). I get the sense of a son's remembrances of his veteran dad, a difficult person, whose prejudices and life-views have been to some extent transmitted to his son (the section on "Rhodesia, or whatever the fuck it's called now that the Mau Mau have taken over") It's spoken deadpan, largely uninflected, a counterweight to the vibrant soundscape surrounding it, which also includes other works by Sansón, for instance a lovely piano piece played by Dante Boon. The music just flows past, the text eventually lapping itself. The music maintains consistency while constantly expanding and exploring new byways. The second version has some threads attached back to the first, including "sailing on concrete", this time sung, as it were, in ghostly fashion. Sansón limits his resources here, concentrating on guitar, melodica and field recordings, creating a slightly less dense, though still rich and active sound-world. I should mention how much of an affinity I find between the music in both of these pieces and the Olsen painting, which is reproduced inside the CD sleeve; impossible to pinpoint, but the feeling is there. 'Pra Mim #1 - Fail Better' is dreamier, still gritty but wafting more than flowing, smoky, a perfect offset to its companion piece.

The Sansón score with which Olsen works, reproduced on the cover and interior, looks to be a collage with multi-colored plastic material text and ink marks. On 'Meditations #3', we first hear a distorted recording of a Baroque (?) choral work, possibly a mass? This segues into a haze of electronics in which we encounter what will be a repeated refrain, a man saying, "Hold me. Don't hit me.", imparting a tragic air--one immediately thinks of current church-related scandals, especially given the opening sounds. Olsen creates a swirling vortex around this poor creature, with echoes of the chorus, harsh shards of guitar, shruti box and any number of amplified objects, again an example of the enormous, transparent/granular depth achieved. There's an ebb and flow here, the sounds attenuating into icy slivers, a lone, ambivalent guitar chord like an alarm, then a complete cessation. When the music returns, we're still in a church atmosphere, but more warped, even subtly nightmarish, with twisted voices, errant bells and sinister, crunches like footsteps on gravel. The sense of foreboding continues, siren-like wails and dire hums coursing through the grimy clatter and wraith-like voices. 'Meditations #2' is chillier still, with odd ray-gun, zapping effects scattered over a low, ominous throb. The drone of either the sampled organ (played by Debora Alanna from another of Olsen's works, 'Craig's Stroke') or the shruti box becomes prominent, creating a huge space between it and a series of sharp clicks, as of glass marbles against a ceramic surface. The piece kind of splays out from here, as though released out of the confines of the crypt into the town outside, rustling separating from hyper-low thrums, bell-tones from soft pops from guitar strums, each meandering off, the zaps heard behind, still menacing but slightly less so.

A marvelous set, four extremely strong, well-conceived and imaginative works. Highly recommended.


Monday, March 11, 2019

Eva-Maria Houben/Ernesto Rodrigues - Layering Time (Creative Sources)

Eva-Maria Houben/Ernesto Rodrigues/Guilherme Rodrigues - The Haecceity of Things  (Creative Sources)

These two very fine recordings form a pair, each constructed (as far as I can tell) in somewhat similar fashion: Houben creating music in one place, Ernesto Rodrigues (and his son Guilherme on the second disc) adding to it at another and mixing the results. On 'The Haecceity of Things', the dates indicate Houben provided the seed while on 'Layering Time', the music was more simultaneously created. "Haecceity", by the way, means "the property of being a unique and individual thing" though Jesse Goin, in his liner notes, defines it more succinctly as "thisness". No matter, really, how they were put together, the results are quite wonderful.

On 'Layering Time', an excerpt of Houben's work 'gestures' (for piano) is played by the composer; she also contributes recordings of ravens. Rodrigues adds his viola. In fact, one first hears what sounds like a family in a park, traffic and sirens in the distance, interrupted by high, clear, widely separated piano chords, soon growing thicker and deeper, with intervening, simple lines, weaving among pigeons and, I take it, ravens. Extremely beautiful, very "Houben". Some five minutes in, a sandy kind of wash appears briefly, presumably Rodrigues drawing something across his viola. It re-emerges with slightly greater force and variety, gaining equal footing with the piano and the ravens (who have now taken over the external soundscape). This is pretty much the tack taken for the piece's 48-minute duration. Other sounds, like church bells, enter in, Rodrigues occasionally strokes some richer string tones, but essentially we're in this wonderful stasis, a floating environment of consistent careful and imaginative placement of notes and sounds, just this side of regularity, circulating amidst the unanticipated noises from outside, all elements equal. Just a gorgeous work.

For 'The Haecceity of Things', Houben is on a church organ, recorded some three months prior to Rodrigues' viola as well as his son Guilherme's viola d'amore and field recordings. Houben does amazing things with organs and here begins with a grainy, quiet tone (an interesting beat in the background), offset with subtle ambient recordings bearing a hiss and faint passing traffic along with distant plane engines. Again, it's near the five-minute mark that one of the strings (I can't tell which) enters, paralleling the organ line but richer, soon occupying the piece on its own, calmly sawing back and forth. A cricket appears, then is heard solo. :-) Perhaps in accordance with the title, there's more of a sequencing of sounds, with some overlap to be sure, rather than the steady-state heard in the prior release (the younger Rodrigues did the mix; I assume that's responsible). Though when both strings are present, undergirded by some hyper-deep organ, the effect is magnificent. An extended silence more than halfway through the hour or so, then astringent strings, soon buttressed by dim, low organ. It's a different feel; the first section seemed, dark and damp as well as episodic. Now things open up into a dry, hot realm, more consistently of a piece. It's a more complex structure than 'Layering Time' and equally as beguiling.

Houben's body of work is among the strongest of which I'm aware and these two items, enormously assisted by the contributions of Rodrigues father and son, extend that legacy. Deep music.

Creative Sources

Friday, March 08, 2019

Joseph Clayton Mills - The Widow (Suppedaneum)

The widow in question is Mary Todd Lincoln and for this recording, Mills visited the site of her tomb, which also houses the remains of her noted husband and three of her sons. He recorded sounds in the tomb and surrounding area--tour guides, everyday conversations, the general ambiance, all low-key--and added to it contributions of his own from various sources, again rather discreet, including recordings of a song from the period, "Old Rosin the Beau", played on piano by Michael Burns.

Suppedaneum releases are as much about the score as the resultant music. Here, Mills' score is presented on a large card enclosed in a gold-trimmed, black folder that reminded me of the kind of brochure one might see at a memorial service. It's in text, in brief lines that take the shape of a poem and which, I imagine, could be realized in any manner of ways. Mills has created four tracks, 'Summer', 'Autumn', 'Winter' and 'Spring'. The first thing we hear is a tour guide saying, "How are you folks today? Welcome to the tomb." Visitors shuffle around, speak to each other quietly. If Mills is adding anything here, he's quite prudent. One hears faint hums, possibly sine tones, but it's tough to say for sure. The group (or the recordist) moves outside and we hear footsteps on gravel, a woolier sonic texture, possibly of vehicular engines--a wonderful sense if volume. 'Autumn' remains out of doors, in a denser more active environment, many sound layers overlapping. This is where the piano first appears, emerging from the heady ambiance, the slammed car doors and birds, distant and wraithlike, gradually coalescing into the song, alongside what seems to be a fife and drum recording of another piece. The piano song acquires greater form and presence, the ambiance taking on more of an accompanying role, swathing and buffeting it--it's an entirely wonderful moment. 'Winter' returns us inside, the crowd still making its way through the exhibits. The salient feature on this track is a fine, billowy hum, as from a heating unit or other air handling device--fitting for the season, if so. With the onset of 'Spring', the piano returns, buried and only barely discernible beneath rain (?), birds, footsteps and engines but remaining steady and stalwart. Train whistles appear, muffled and slowed down (I think), a fantastic and ghostly effect, as the disc closes.

A great piece--subtly eerie, moving and beautifully restrained throughout.

Carol Genetti/Gwyneth Zeleny Anderson - Chyme (Suppedaneum)

Let it be stated and understood herewith that your humble scribe has a genetic predisposition that tends to engender some degree of difficulty in appreciating "free" vocalists. Exceptions abound, of course, though I find myself more drawn to those who inhabit one of two extremes: either those who are (often) ultra-restrained (say, Ami Yoshida or Christian Kesten) or those who give free rein to a more traditionally emotive aspect, even at the risk of some corniness (say, Diamanda Galás or...maybe Phil Minton singing "The Cutty Wren"). Just to give an idea where I'm coming from.

Again, this is a Suppedaneum release, so music is just one part, here especially so. The release arrives in an off-white vinyl pouch and, apart from the CD with Genetti's music, contains four pieces of artwork/text from Anderson, "listening scores". These are printed on accordioned paper, each bearing abstract visual patterns, text and clock timings that match with the disc tracks so one can, if so inclined, "follow along", appreciating the artwork and considering, or acting upon, the text which largely involves things one might do with their body or parts thereof. These begin innocently enough ("Can you open your mouth?", "Can you create saliva?") but progress to instructions that, speaking personally, I'd have a hard time obeying, even if they're fun to think about ("Contract your liver into the shape of a diamond", "Lengthen your pancreas into your bladder"). The level of difficulty eases in the fourth series.

The first track is quite gripping, in fact, as Genetti whisper-sings into, I'm guessing, a flute or other metal tube, soon overdubbed and accompanied by resonant thuds and low growls, effectively evoking some of the texts ("Can you feel the separation of your teeth with your tongue?"). An electronic ambiance (possibly sourced from Genetti's voice?) is introduced on "Transference", again effectively handled, before a large boom announces her voice proper, operating in what I always think of as the "low ratchet zone". There's a Galás-like aura here near the beginning and it's fine enough though, to these ears, there's not either the remove I want to hear on the one hand or the leap into pathos on the other--listeners' mileage may vastly differ. The last couple of tracks include ferociously sputtered and plosive bursts into, I think, the body of a piano and an extended glottal croaking, all of which are handled very well (and excellently recorded), but it's simply a neck of the woods with which I have trouble connecting. The final several minutes, though, revisit the area explored at the start, combining it with other things found along the way and I found this massing to work quite well. I'm sure there are other aspects I'm simply missing. The recording did grow a bit on me over the course of a number of listens; others, no doubt, will find it more immediately appealing on all counts. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Mattin - Songbook #7 (Munster Records)

With Mattin, the political is always primary, sometimes overtly, sometimes implicit. How this "works" might well be of secondary importance to Mattin and, occasionally, with the audience but more often there's great tension in effect, an abiding interest in confrontation and the creation of (necessary) discomfort in complacent listeners. Unsurprisingly, this results in a full gamut of reactions from full immersion to repellence. Whatever one's previous reactions, 'Songbook #7' is, to these ears, the most successful and bracing example to date of Mattin's melding of the sonic and the political.

This is a live performance (on vinyl) from 2017, with a septet consisting of Lucio Capece (bass clarinet, sampler), Marcel Dickhage (voice, sampler, German texts), Colin Hacklander (drums), Farahanz Hatam (computer), Mattin (voice, English texts), Moor Mother (electronics) and Cathleen Schuster (voice, sampler, German texts). I pause to mention that, if nothing else, I'm very happy to have been introduced to the work of Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) whose own work is fantastic and highly recommended. The performance is organized into seven "songs", titled January through July. The text includes multiple historical allusions to the Russian Revolution and Germaine Berton's (pictured) assassination of the rightist Marius Plateau, mixing in contemporary references (including "Bannon the lenninist [sic]", Dick Cheney, audience targeting and a semi-satirical (?) re-imagining of Lenin's ten theses). These are most often voiced (mumbled, garbled, screamed) by Mattin with some amount of electronic distortion. All of this, however, is largely subsumed in a mightily impressive vortex of sound provided by all the electronics and, importantly, Capece's wonderful bass clarinet and Hacklander's throbbing drums. There's a great sense of chaos, briefly emerging order--or violence--and subsidence back into seething chaos; very hard to describe except to remark on its fascinating combination of density and clarity. On a purely aural level, portions of 'Songbook #7' are as exciting as anything I've ever heard from Mattin, a striking blend of text and sound, strident, paranoiac and explosive.

Mattin's performances have often been concerned with audience involvement, sometimes forcible, and an interesting thing occurs a bit into Side B--remember, this is a live show, though I have the impression that Mattin may have deconstructed and reconstructed the performance after the fact. The music ceases and the musicians begin to talk. Quietly, slowly, one at a time, discussing contemporary alienation, noise-making, the contradiction between art-making and civil disobedience, power and more. A female voice (audience member?) poses questions to which people--I recognize Mattin's voice, but others as well--offer hesitant responses. From here, we descend back into shuddering chaos.

A great recording, strong on its own and quite different from anything else out there.

Munster Records

Karl Fousek - In the Forest (Second Editions)

A 12" 45rpm electronic soundtrack to the film, five tracks. I'm unfamiliar with Fousek's prior work so I don't know if this fits in, but the music here is very clean, very pure layered drones. Fousek discusses the technical ins and outs of his process here. The film documents an abandoned housing project begun in Puerto Rico in 1967 that has long since been retaken by the encroaching jungle. As soundtrack, one can imagine the smooth, rather complex tones working very well, accompanying, say, the decaying structures now overrun by vines, being broken apart little by little. As music on its own, I think the appreciation will depend greatly on what the listener brings into it. As mentioned, the drones are deeply layered and swirling, though I have the sense of very discreet lines--there's little apparent chaotic interaction, though there's a nice play of interference patterns here and there. This makes for a reverberant "spaciness" and cleanliness of sound that I'm not so partial to but one that others will certainly dig. The purely sonic aspect is impressively deep and resonant. The fourth piece, opening Side B, gets somewhat grainier and more dense and the third and fifth tracks move to irregular electronic pings, clearly evoking dripping water, hazily approaching a melody, very effective. 

Second Editions

IQ+1 - Conversaphone Plus (Mappa Editions)

This LP is the third recording by this Prague-based ensemble, the second I've heard. The personnel for this excursion is Georg Bagdasarov (vintage turntable, FX, baritone sax), Veronika Hladká (violin), Jana Kneschke (violin), Jaroslav Tarnovski (synths, electronics, percussion, field recordings), Petr Vrba (clarinet, trumpet, electronics), Michal Zbořil (analog synths, electronics, Indian harmonium) and Kateřina Bilejová (body weather--which I take to be body percussion). The music is free-improvised but the results aren't post-AMM. As in the previous release I'd heard, they tend to coalesce around certain areas contingent with various jazz forms. On that prior release, I picked up Bitches Brew-era Miles, early Art Ensemble and others. Here, the referents aren't so clear, which is a good thing. On the first couple of tracks, perhaps one picks up some Don Cherry circa 'Relativity Suite' (the swirling violins) or some Jon Hassell (the rhythms and enhanced trumpet), but basically IQ+1 is out in its own space. The synths and electronics provide a consistent, undulating bed that throbs like a miasmic swamp, bubbling, lapping and bursting. On Side two, the ensemble almost settles into agitated drone territory, with loopy synth strands, stretched baritone and percolating electronics accompanied by texts, in English, listing times of the day and various everyday objects--the first five track titles are, 'House', 'Thermometer', 'Light Switch', 'Sofa' and 'Dustbin'. One does begin to pick up the sense of some strange household, some quasi-Lynchian vibe. The final cut, 'It's Twenty Minutes to Twelve', attains a fine, gritty, bubbly propulsiveness, sirening off into the echoey, pounding night.  A very enjoyable record from a band with a unique sound.>mappa editions

Friday, March 01, 2019

There used to be a feature in Cadence magazine called 'Hodgepodge and Shorties', iirc, where reviewers provided extremely brief synopses and opinions about new recordings. I always disliked that, thinking it gave overly short shrift to the music. I still dislike the idea but, dammit, there are simply too many things demanding attention here for me to give anywhere near the appropriate amount of time and space--if I want to have anything else of a life, that is, which I do--so I'm just going to give my own listing and short descriptors of items sent my way over the past couple of months, almost all via download. Apologies for the brevity.

Jakob Heinemann - Latticework (Scripts)

(Can't locate an image of the cover, sorry). Four solo acoustic bass improvisations, tough, blistery and imaginative, very much out of the free jazz tradition (I pick up strong--welcome--hints of Malachi Favors). The final track, 'Filaments', extends intriguingly into more abstract realms before settling into a thoughtful near-dirge and arco keening. Strong work, hoping to hear more.


(Various) - Free Percussion (tsss tapes)

A cassette release containing twelve short solo pieces by twelve percussionists, with the exception of a handful (Will Guthrie, Rie Nakajima, Tim Daisy, Chris Dadge) previously unknown to me. The works are largely out of a free-jazz, kitchen sink approach, generally skillfully deployed. While I would often have preferred a less frenetic attack, what they do they do quite imaginatively, with clarity and precision, Nakajima's careful work is a welcome exception to this more active approach as is the delicate dance of cymbals bells and bowed metals by João Lobo that concludes the album. An interesting array, overall.

tsss  tapes on bandcamp

Eli Wallace - Barriers (Eschatology)

An invigorating, wide-ranging solo piano performance, mostly involving preparations and inside-the-piano work. The playing is active and abstract, but with a good sense of spatial volume--active but not over-busy, leavened with fine, darker ruminations in the lower registers. There are traces of Cecil Taylor in play, especially in the "unprepared" portions, but that's pretty much unavoidable in this neck of the improv woods and Wallace does a really interesting job of extending matters in rewarding directions. Good work.


Bent Duo/Casey Anderson - ghostses (a wave press)

A fascinating suite of short pieces by Anderson using extracts of text from W.R. Sewald ('The Rings of Saturn') performed by Bent Duo (David Friend and Bill Solomon). In addition to each reading portions of the text, the pair play (simultaneously, I think) largely on percussion--mostly bell-like items, light and bright, and fluttering wood-based devices, in addition to radio. The instrumental passages reflect the sounds of the text to a degree, loosely echoing the rhythms. The words, though fractured from their original mooring, are spoken clearly and just flat enough to meld finely with the accompanying sounds, not standing out too much, not being subsumed. Really excellent, one of the finest text/sound works I've heard in a good while.

a wave press

Gonçalo Almeida/Yedo Gibson/Vasco Furtado - Multiverse (Multikulti Project)

Powerful, driving acoustic jazz from Almeida (bass), Gibson (soprano saxophone) and Furtado (drums). Gibson is sometimes somewhere between Coltrane and Kirk, other times adjacent to Evan Parker or Sam Rivers, but always hyper-focussed and intense. Almeida's sound is deep, rich and expansive, perhaps on the Haden/Favors axis, while Furtado is light and wonderfully propulsive. Solid, enjoyable work--jazz fans should take note.

Multikulti Project

Axel Dörner/Augustí Fernández/Ramon Prats - Venusik (Multikulti)

Anoher trio from the same label as above, here with Dörner (trumpet), Fernández (piano) and Prats (percussion), but much more on the Euro free improv rather than jazz side of things. Five cuts, from quiet to raucous, Dörner having a great deal of swaggering fun on the latter. There are several exciting moments, including Prats' playing on 'Suparco' and Dörner and Fernández on much of the final track but, overall, the session feels a little routine, with too few meaty ideas. Not bad, not so necessary.

Multikulti Project

The Robadors Quartet  - 19:30 (Multikulti Project)

The third item from Multikulti is about midway between the prior two re: jazziness vs. free improv, maybe a bit closer to jazz. The quartet consists of Tom Chant (saxophones), Marco Mezquida (piano), Johannes Nästesjö (bass) and, once again, Ramon Prats (drums). Prats stands out once again and, indeed, the quartet plays well as a whole, integrated and cohesive. Once again, though, to these ears the general conception feels too obvious, following too well-trodden a path (FMP, Incus, etc.). Oddly, of the three Multikulti releases here, the more overtly jazzish one, the Almeida, works the best for me, feels the most vibrant. But the Robadors will certainly satisfy may listeners, very ably handled.

Multikulti Project

Friday, February 22, 2019

Lori Goldston/Judith Hamann - alloys (Marginal Frequency)

Two extended duos for cellists Goldston and Hamann. I'm guessing the pieces have some degree of compositional structure but allow for significant improvisation. The shapes they limn are difficult to describe. Not for any abstruse reason, more due to the relatively "traditional" sound-world they create that's applied to an amorphous, shifting framework. They tend to stick to arco, more often than not inhabiting the low to mid-ranges of the instrument. What extended techniques are employed are kept to a minimum. Indeed, a given 10-second extract might well sound rather romantic. Dynamics vary section by section--each 26+ minute "suite" is at least nominally divided into five episodes--and the activity level also ebbs and flows, sometimes offering long, droning stretches, other times much more agitated, though the overall sensation I have is one of calm, thoughtful pondering. While there's contrast between the instruments, the pair really seem to act as one, each line entwined with the other, an oddly moving aspect of the music in and of itself. The music grows exceptionally intense and stirring over the last few minutes of the second track. I'm at somewhat of a loss to offer any other descriptors except to say that I enjoyed it greatly and have returned to it often.

Skylark Quartet - Live in Tokyo (Marginal Frequency)

Back in my youth, one of the dozen or so first jazz recordings I bought was Sonny Rollins' 'Next Album' (Milestone, 1972). That record closed with a rendition of 'Skylark' which began with several minutes of unaccompanied tenor from Rollins. It may still be my single favorite tenor saxophone performance ever. This has little to do with the recording in question here, but...

The Skylark Quartet is shrouded in a bit of mystery. They've had two prior releases that I'm aware of, though I've heard neither: a 2014 cassette on Bánh Mì Verlag and a 2016 12" vinyl on Tonkatsu. On the first, there are, apparently, two versions of the standard, 'Skylark', on the latter, ten. For 'Live in Tokyo', they've switched to a label whose name bears no gastronomic connections but have retained their repertoire, this time offering eleven takes on, yes, 'Skylark'. To further confound matters, the personnel listed--Orlando Lewis, clarinet; Franz-Ludwig Austenmeiser; Hayden Pennyfeather, bass; Roland Spindler, drums--are fictitious. Enumerated on the interior of the sleeve as "observers" are Kanji Nakao, Sam Sfirri, Taku Unami and Reiji Hattori, who I assume are the musicians responsible, though I guess I could be wrong.

In any case, we have eleven tracks based (usually very loosely based) on 'Skylark', a tack I imagine was taken on the previous releases. An interesting idea, to be sure. And it works just fine. Vestiges of the Mercer/Carmichael song percolate up now and then, as does at least one other standard, 'Star Eyes', maybe 'Tenderly', quite possibly others I'm not picking up, though the general atmosphere is one of gentle abstraction. Indeed, it fits in rather well, if more overtly musical, with the kind of performances Unami has been constructing over at least the past decade: informal, mundane, yet infused with an almost impossible to quantify poetic aspect. The first piece begins with shuffling about, things falling over (shades of Unami's cardboard boxes), low grunts, etc. until, almost reluctantly, vague dollops of bass guitar emerge. There's a ghostly disassociatedness, a drifting that recalls, just a little, Bryars' '1,2-1,2,3,4', as though the quartet members are in different parts of a building, slowly making their way towards one another, using their instruments as sonic feelers. The first glimpse of the 'Skylark' melody (at least, that I can detect), peeks through on the second track via clarinet, lingers, mutates a good bit, slips away. It's kind of like this throughout--quiet, relaxed, almost heedless of affect, coalescing now and then as though by whim, stumbling onward. For all the seeming looseness, the are audible expressions of relief, of breaks in tension, at the end of several tracks, causing me to guess at heightened levels of control being in play. The disc ends with a cough.

It's really marvelous work, quite unique, playfully serious and well worth checking out. I'm curious to see its lifespan--hopefully for a while yet.

Marginal Frequency

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Cecilia Lopez - Red | Machinic Fantasies (XI)

A 2-disc set of largely electronic-oriented work from Lopez, the first recorded in studio in 2017, the second live at Roulette in Brooklyn in May, 2018. The five pieces from the studio ('Red') are drone-based, ringing and metallic, with an underlying (welcome) sense of grime, of the machinery having been around long enough to accrete some amount of grit, enough to cause the occasional stutter or abrasive rubbing. Sometimes, as on 'PP', they fragment into flutters, dissolve into dry rattles ('Larga Distancia') or chirps and sputters ('Sin Batteria'). In all instances, Lopez shows great patience and restraint, evincing no interest in going full-throttle overboard, something I half-expected given the back-of-the-garage aesthetic that pervades the atmosphere. Impressive and uncompromising. On 'Machinic Fantasies', she augments her electronics with contributions from Jean Carla Rodea and Julia Santoli (performers, spinners) as well as Christopher McIntyre (trombone) and Joe Moffatt (trumpet). We hear about ten minutes of wonderfully vast, hollow tones, like a distant turbine in an immense underground cavern, before muted and buzzing trumpet peeks in. Lopez is content to wallow in this rich atmosphere for quite some time--one can imagine the effect in situ, of this reverberant mass. Various elements are added and subtracted along the way, the "spinning" possibly among them, but in general, 'Machinic Fantasies' is of a piece, a darkly idling engine throwing off liquid sparks, settling into a kind of rotating throb, never smooth, often hitting the sides of its barrel, at one point emitting lupine wails, very gradually slowing down. Could its 72 minutes have been truncated by a third? Arguably so, though I'm guessing the thought wouldn't have occurred had I been at the performance.

This is Lopez' first recording under her own name as far as I'm aware; she was a part of Vigilante Margarita which  released a self-titled disc in 2013. Here's looking forward to more.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Morgan Evans-Weiler/Michael Pisaro - lines and strings (Another Timbre)

Two very fine works here. Pisaro's 'Helligkeit, die Tiefe hatte, nicht keine Fläche (Grey Series No. 6) is performed by Ordinary Affects (Evans-Weiler, violin; Luke Martin, sine tones; Michael Rosenstein, electronics; Vic Rawlings, amplified/prepared cello; Katie Porter, bass clarinet; J.P.A. Falzone, vibraphone; Laura Cetilia, cello) while Evans-Weiler's title composition is played by a quintet consisting of the composer on violin, Kyle Adam Blair on piano, Justin Murphy-Mancini on harpsichord, Madison Greenstone on clarinet and Tyler J Borden on cello.

The Pisaro composition triggers two immediate responses in these ears. One is the tinge of Messiaen that hovers, especially in the poignant, thin violin lines that weave in and out like breaths hanging in frigid air. The other, no doubt influenced by the work's subtitle, is a sense of shifting grays, overlapping and meshing with the feeling of substances that were once liquid but have dried, like old washes of thin paint. In fact, some black and white paintings by Agnes Martin that I saw a few years ago came to mind, ones that aren't often reproduced. Searching just now, I didn't locate them but did see some pieces that looked remarkably like the cover image here. Checking further, I didn't see any credit listed for the image; I wouldn't be surprised if it is, indeed, a Martin. In any case, Pisaro's work maintains a certain kind of steady state throughout, soft lines, sometimes achingly melodic, emerging from the grainy mist formed by the electronics and other strings, as well as wonderfully deep respirations from the bass clarinet, in patterns that vary quite a bit though always retaining an overall character--more goes on than is apparent at first blush, an aspect I've always encountered with his best music. It's one of my favorite pieces in recent years from Pisaro.

While Evans-Weiler's title composition occupies a similar countryside, there are more than enough contrasts to make it an excellent companion piece. Perhaps enhanced by the presence of a harpsichord, the work possesses a stately mien, a really nice combination of stasis with a sense of forward motion, kind of like watching repeated film, from various angles, of the same group of people walking forward. Calm, soft tones, held for while with the exception of those from the harpsichord, gently overlap and ensue one another, generally tonal but with a dash of astringency, different instruments emerging to the fore, briefly, then receding, the whole in a delicate, thoughtful flux. Every so often the piano lays down a slow, deep pulse, providing vestiges of a spine, keeping matters from growing too diffuse. In fact, Evans-Weiler notes in the interview at the Another Timbre website that various written duo passages seep in and out of the hazier ones and that the players are given a fair amount of freedom--much credit to them. As in the Pisaro, the music succeeds in maintaining a kind of equilibrium while still preserving the sense of shifting change. A fine, absorbing piece.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Mark R. Taylor - Aftermaths (Another Timbre)

I might normally start off this review by noting that it's the first time I've encountered Taylor's music. This is, in fact, true but I'm guessing it's pretty much the case for everyone who hasn't personally encountered him as, to the extent one can rely on Discogs, this is his first recorded appearance in any guise, despite not being a newcomer (b. 1961). We have here a selection of 21 tracks--three "suites" of three, three and eight pieces and seven individual works, all performed by pianist Teodora Stepančić.

In the interview with Taylor on the label's website, he mentions the early influence of Howard Skempton and Hugh Shrapnel. I have to say that when I first heard 'For Alex Schady I', which opens the album, my only thought was, "Skempton!". Its slow, lovely, cautious chords, steadily played in the manner of a processional, strongly evoked certain piano works of the older composer. Now, this is no bad thing as far as I'm concerned, as I love Skempton's work. But it set the stage for the remainder of the program, which doesn't stray too far away from this model, mostly doing so with regard to variations in tempi from extremely slow (e.g., 'Lijn') to relatively spritely ('Aftermath Set Two'). As with other composers navigating this general area, I hear strong references to Satie's more "medieval" pieces, the Ogives and others, that sense of calmly walking inside an ancient church or other old structure, soft light entering, dust motes gently falling. It's, for me, a very attractive and alluring image and Taylor expands on it very ably, played with great touch and sensitivity by Stepančić. Each work is jewel-like, warm, somber but approachable and beguiling. If I have a quibble, it's that there's kind of too much of a good thing, too little variety in approach for so many pieces. Perhaps that's simply Taylor's comfort zone, though the interview hints at different tacks taken in the past. Perhaps Another Timbre will explore these in the future, providing a more rounded view of this composer. For now, this set is here to enjoy and it's eminently delectable.

Another Timbre

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Ferran Fages - Un lloc entre dos records (Another Timbre)

I've been listening to Fage's work pretty much since his first recordings (as part of Cremaster with Alfredo Costa Monteiro in 2002). His output ranges widely; I'm often surprised but have generally enjoyed the results. This piece, whose title translates to "a place between two memories", was conceived as part of a trilogy of works, one of which, 'Detuning series for guitar' was recently issued on Edition Wandelweiser. The third, 'What Might Occur' is based on re-readings of Feldman's 'Triadic Memories' and has not, to the best of my knowledge, been recorded. I had ambiguous feelings about the Wandelweiser, but will revisit it in light of this release and with reference to the fascinating interview with Fages on the Another Timbre site.

'Un lloc...' is a single piece, running almost 54 minutes. It begins with a plucked, six-note pattern on acoustic guitar, resonant and pensive, slightly reminiscent of a given stretch of Feldman piano music. Fages takes it through several subtle variations but after only a couple of minutes, the music begins to fragment and dissolve, reforming for a while, disintegrating again, reappearing in more isolated, fragmented form, splintered into high, muted pings now and then--all quite thoughtful, attractive and finely placed. Some twelve minutes in, all overt guitarisms evaporate and we're in a world of sine tones, soft, high-pitched, overlaid and quietly vibrant. This state of affairs lasts about twelve minutes more and is enchanting, otherworldly. For a bit over the final half of the work, Fages reverts to the guitar, at first overlapping with the sine tones, but occupying a somewhat less quasi-tonal area than was the case at the beginning. The notes, sometimes chords, sometimes single tones, are allowed to suspend and resonate, to float freely. One of the mental images I have, in fact, is of...things--dust motes, leaves, insects--floating in random fashion. Some passages again seem to refer to Feldman. The first time I listened, my sense was that this section went on too long, that it established what it wanted to do within the first few minutes and didn't elaborate enough on those findings to warrant the extra 20-25 minutes. Having listened several times more and having read Fages' thoughts on this release, I'm gradually mitigating that response; not entirely, perhaps, but little by little. I go back and forth. I hate to fall back on any kind of "mood" qualification, but can only honestly say that there are times when the music works fine, flows with its own logic and doesn't overstay its welcome and there are other times when I grow impatient. Maybe that's ok. In any event, I love hearing Fages' explorations, am heartened at the ideas he's tackling and look forward to following with him further down that odd path.

Another Timbre

Monday, February 11, 2019

Catherine Lamb/Johnny Chang - Viola Torros (Another Timbre)

When I first glanced at this 2-disc set, I thought, "Ah, excellent! A composer of whom I've never heard, Viola Torros." A second look told me this was the title of the recording, not a composer. Ok, fine, especially considering how much I've enjoyed the work of both Lamb and Chang (who, let it be noted, play violas). The interview with the pair on the Another Timbre website, however, indicated that there was indeed such a composer as Torros and that fragments of her work were the seeds for the two pieces on Disc One here. Intrigued, I googled Torros and found nothing but references to this album, even when discounting words like "timbre", "lamb" and "chang". So, I'm guessing this is something of a charade, a fiction serving as an idea generator, a very attractive idea (obviously, I could be wrong).

Whatever the case, the result is about 150 minutes of stunning, deep and intelligent music. It's possible I'm being overly influenced by the wonderful cover image, but I find myself hearing the two pieces on Disc One, 'V.T. Augmentations II' and 'V.T. Augmentations III', as related to alap, the slow, improvised introductory sections of North Indian ragas. In addition to the violas, Bryan Eubanks provides "resonances" and each includes a trio of voices: Antoine Beuger, Yannick Guedon and Deborah Walker in the first, Rebecca Lane, Annie Garlid and Margareth Kammerer in the second. In 'II', the viola lines are rich, entwining each other, deeply melodic in a microtonal manner and consistently present, though one will drop out briefly now and then. Often, one is playing a lengthy line, the other a thoughtful, perhaps slightly mournful melody around that stem. The voices become apparent around midway through, softly accompanying the violas, very much a tinge in the space at first, before the strings drop out entirely (?) for a short moment. When they resume, the music drifts further into microtonality, becomes hazier--a thick, complex haze that, towards the piece's final few minutes, solidifies into a deep meditative sound with echoes of early music--fantastic. 'III' has many things in common with 'II' but plenty of differences as well. The general tonality strikes me as more overtly Indian, for one thing and there are many brief stoppages along the way, during which one can hear ambient sounds, including birds. It's just ravishing. Again, the voices emerge a bit after the halfway point, and fulfill a similar role though this time they carry, to these ears, more of an "angelic" aspect, light and high. It concludes on a very moving, long-held, tremulous note...with birds.

This would be more than enough, but Disc Two offers up two additional works, one each by Chang and Lamb, both spectacular. Chang's 'Citaric Melodies III'  is performed by the Suidobashi Chamber Ensemble (Wakana Ikeda, flute; Yoko Ikeda, violin; Masahika Okura, clarinet; Taku Sugimoto, electric guitar; Aya Tanaka, bassoon; Chang, viola; Samuel Dunscombe, bass clarinet; Michiko Ogawa, clarinet). Its core is a six note sequence (later morphed into four), a wistful, melancholy one that vaguely reminds me of Anthony Braxton's 'HM 421 (RTS) 47 (Composition No. 36)' as heard on 'Trio and Duet' (Sackville, 1974). This melody is iterated over and over but in blurred fashion, the instruments approximating both pitch and point of entry (I'm sure there's more to it than that, but that's a start). It's always close but distinct enough to create a shifting aura around the ensemble. Additionally, a certain kind of drama emerges, especially when lower tones seep in. The variations are imaginative, extremely well considered and endlessly fascinating--a great work.

Lamb's 'Prima Interius VI (for v.t.) is played by Chang (viola), Andrea Neumann (secondary rainbow synthesizer), Lamb (viola) and Derek Shirley (cello). A secondary rainbow synthesizer, I discovered, is a device developed by Eubanks "that spectrally filters a live sound input of the outer atmosphere to the listening space within which the the performance piece is situated." I take it that this is responsible for imbuing atmosphere of the recording with such a solid, plastic sense of air and space, within which the strings unspool languid, low keens, bracing and heartfelt. It begins sparsely enough, the strings limning clear lines with slightly gritty timbre, pausing now and then to appreciate the initially low level of ambiance. Gradually, the exterior makes itself known, first via vehicle engines, footsteps and barely heard conversations. More elements are introduced: a wavy, organ-like layer, more intense engine and vocal (loudspeaker?) sounds, an echoey ringing; all the while, the strings continue, resolute, tinged with mourning, beautiful. There's an ebb and flow between sources, the swaying lines always embedded in the larger room, the exterior sounds always allowing room for the strings. Each of the works on the second disc establish a setting and parameters and engage with them for a healthy duration, maintaining a certain constancy but always able to conjure forth wave after wave of exciting and moving music. 

A wonderful way to conclude an extraordinary recording. Very highly recommended.

Another Timbre

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Joe Morris/Doyeon Kim - Macrocosm (Glacial Erratic)

A set of five improvisations with Morris on unamplified electric guitar and Kim on gayageum, a traditional Korean stringed instrument somewhat analogous to the Japanese koto or Chinese guzheng. Not to compare either Morris' style or to conflate Asian stringed instruments, but the almost inevitable point of reference one has coming in is the 'Viper' project of Derek Bailey and pipa player Min Xiao-Fen (Avant, 1998). There are certain broad similarities, but two essential differences: 1) Morris is far more willing than Bailey to bend toward the tendencies of his partner and 2) Kim seems to be (as near as I can tell from this recording which, at least per Discogs, is her only one thus far) somewhat less committed than Xiao-Fen to a traditionalist approach.

The pieces range from fairly active and intense, as in the opening 'Animate', to more contemplative and connected, however tenuously, to traditional forms of Korean music. 'Animate' probably comes closest to that Bailey/Xiao Fen feel, with hard-scrabbled, spidery, rapidly played lines. Morris' choice to go with the unamplified electric, here and elsewhere, serves him extremely well, its semi-hollow sound meshing quite  nicely with the gayageum. 'Expanse' indeed expands the palette via bowing, the pair generating fine, grainy, rasping waves, combined with dully booming tones from the instruments struck with bowstrings. Later in the piece, there's some lovely rolling, cascading action, watery and engaging, and it ends with some wonderful, slightly astringent strums--a fine track. The following work, 'Parsec Story', is more scattered and pointillistic, though again very active. I'd sometimes liked to have heard more space, more pauses to consider where to drop a note, but that's not typically Morris' way and, I take it, not Kim's either. Still, the decisions made are generally apt and not overly busy or cloying. In this third piece, they arrive at a surprising and welcome placid area that evokes an idyllic and general (Asian and otherwise) sense of "folk music", very tasty. The relatively brief and spiky 'Crystallinity' is the only track here where I detect more busy activity than considered thought; bristling but lacking some substance. 'Orchard', which concludes the album and is its longest cut at almost 20 minutes, uses duration to create a large, varied landscape, jam-packed with detail, yes, but also with enough "air" to suggest a breathing, vibrant space. Again, the interwoven plucked sounds, their compatible though differing tonalities, are a delight, as is the way they fall into delicate, quasi-rhythmic patterns, as enjoyable as they are unexpected. Fine work and I'm hoping to hear more from this duo.

Glacial Erratic/bandcamp

As of this posting, 'Macrocosm has yet to be posted there, but you can find copies at Catalytic Sound and Squidco

Jacques Demierre/Axel Dörner/Jonas Kocher - Cone of Confusion (Bruit)

A thoughtful, enjoyable set of improvisations from Demierre (piano), Dörner (trumpet) and Kocher (accordion). My limited prior exposure to Demierre's work led me to expect something different, not sure in what way, maybe somewhat more frenetic. Not the case, happily. To an extent, the music here fits in comfortably with the improvisational lineage established by Dörner and many others, especially in Europe, over the last 20+ years: pensive, tending toward quiet, interested in superficially conflicting, overlapping and interacting textures and, here especially, some allusions to AMM, not so much in the actual sound-world portrayed, but in terms of general approach. Each musician spends about as much time in extended technique territory--Demierre inside the piano, Dörner sputtering, gurgling and gasping, Kocher drawing any number of non-accordion-like sounds from his squeezebox--as they do generating standard sounds. The tone of the music ranges from the dark, brooding and vaguely uncomfortable 'There are small observable differences', in which brief, sharp points splinter out of the (excellent) murk to the gravelly scatterings, skitterings and deep accordionic breaths of 'Position of the head'. Also, as in a piece like 'The errors introduced by such an exchange are within the errors', there's a really solid and gripping balance of smooth flow and fragmentation, as well as a bracing dynamic range. The trio returns to a contemplative darkness on the final track, Dörner evoking, to these ears, a smidgen of Leo Smith. A strong outing overall, worth investigating.


Saturday, February 02, 2019

Rutger Zuydervelt - sileen II (Edition Wandelweiser)

'sileen II' is essentially a long (50-minute), fluctuating drone sourced from Gareth Davis' bass clarinet with sculpting and other modifications made by Zuydervelt. One of the first things I noticed is that while some aspects of the sound--its range, hollowness, etc.--are bass clarinet-y, other characteristics, like any sense of woodiness, seem to have disappeared, so I'm left with a more organ-like impression, albeit enveloped in thin, by no means overbearing wisps of electronics. The sounds appear in slow, slow pulsating waves, structures that seem simple initially but reveal many layers of depth when listened to closely (headphones recommended). Slight variations in pulse frequency, pitch and tone combinations are introduced over the piece's course. Near the beginning, the waves are fairly continuous; little by little they become more discreet, almost to the point of admitting the briefest of silences between events. There's a somewhat more pronounced than usual pitch shift around the 42-minute mark but things flow apace from there. It's hard to say too much else about it, only that what at first might sound impenetrable and self-similar offers much more upon concentrated listening--very satisfying.

John McCowen - Mundanas  I - V (Edition Wandelweiser)

Five pieces for clarinets of various types performed by McCowen and Madison Greenstone. It's hard not to think of the pre-eminent contemporary clarinet duo (in this neck of the woods, at least), The International Nothing (Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke) but while there are similarities here and there, McCowen's mini-ensemble is a unique voice. The first three works, concise at five to six minutes in duration, are for b-flat clarinets and  deal with tones close enough in pitch to cause pulsations as well as overlapping and intermeshing  fingering patterns. Each is a fine document, engagingly straddling the line between acoustic experiment and deeply felt music, in addition providing the listener with a wonderful experience of the clarinet as such. The demi-clarinets in play on the fourth track are, I take their description at face value, clarinets which have had about half of their bodies removed. They sound rather like ocarinas, albeit with a woody tinge. The resultant whoops and watery gurgles are sometimes birdlike, sometimes far more guttural. The final piece, the longest is for paired contrabass clarinets, obviously fertile ground for sonic richness. It's kind of a revisiting of the first track for lower range, two fluctuating lines traveling more or less in parallel but with many small but important divergencies along the way. It seems like there's some electronic processing involved, some very regular, sine-like flutters, though none is indicated on the disc sleeve--maybe amazing technique? Whatever the case, the work is absorbing, beautifully controlled and entirely enjoyable to hear. Looking forward to much more.

Erik Satie - Socrate (Edition Wandelweiser)

In recent years, Wandelweiser has done an extra-commendable job in expanding their musical world beyond the kind of sounds that, for a while, typified the label. This, in a way, might be the most extreme example yet. Had I heard that Wandelweiser was issuing a recording of Satie's music, I would automatically assume it was from the piano repertoire. Well, only partially so with 'Socrate' for soprano and piano (though there is a version for voice and orchestra). It's extra interesting to this listener as, although I've known Satie's piano works inside and out since the early 70s, I think I'd only heard 'Socrate' a handful of times, not for a long while, and had no distinct impression of it. Well, the rendition here from Olalla Alemán (soprano) and Guy Vandromme (piano) goes the distance in remedying that and does so superbly. The wiki page on 'Socrate' can tell you far more about it than I can and I'm reluctant to assess very much given my unfamiliarity with the material, much less with evaluating the singing in any meaningful way. I will say that I find fascinating to hear snippets of almost intact music from the piano works popping up here and there (played with great sensitivity by Vandromme) and that, on the whole, the music fits in snugly with his better known repertoire. I find it entirely enchanting, love Alemán's voice, love listening to the disc and hope that it finds an audience beyond the normal Wandelweiser clientele. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

John Cage - number pieces (piano) (Edition Wandelweiser)

Two versions of Cage's 'One' and one of his 'One5' performed by pianist Guy Vandromme. 'One' was written in 1987, a ten-minute long piece for solo piano. Per the Cage Works page, the commentary is: "This work comprises 10 systems of piano chords, varying in dynamics, selected by chance. Each system is roughly 1 minute long, and all but one is flexible. Each system contains 2 sets of chords. The order of each set is maintained, but the relationship between the two sets of chords is free." The two readings here are fascinating for, among other things, a kind of similarity/difference aspect, kind of like looking at two photographs of, say, adjacent patches of ground.  In the first, the notes and chords are more or less low-pitched, almost but not quite spaced regularly, patiently, allowed to hang. The second version is generally pitched somewhat higher, a different tinge, but otherwise paced similarly and bearing a decided structural relationship to the first--it's the same piece, after all, just examined from another angle. The notes for 'One5' are more complex: "As in Cage’s One4, the left and right hands here have separate time brackets: the left hand 21, and the right hand 24. The time span for the beginning and endings of systems is between 0'15" and 1'15"; thus, there are overlaps within and between time brackets. The number of notes contained within each time bracket is one, two, or three, with a total of 97 for the entire composition. Dynamics are free. The use of the sostenuto pedal is recommended (although not obligatory), in order to maintain the sonorities of the piano as long as possible." As fine as the two readings of 'One' are, it's 'One5' that really stands out for me, just a fabulous recording. As ever, it's about choices made, many, many of them in such a restrained, contemplative setting. Vandromme applied enormous consideration, really letting the notes speak, allowing them to acquire an identity removed from him, to slowly rotate in space. Somber, nocturnal, softly glowing, with finely calibrated silences. A fantastic recording, highly recommended.

Tom Johnson - spaces . an hour for piano (Edition Wandelweiser)

Pianist Keiko Shichijo offers \readings of two early compositions by Tom Johnson. The first, 'spaces' (1969) might in fact be Johnson's very first, at least the earliest one that begins his "mature" phase. He documents the work's genesis in a set of notes, written in 1994, included in the release. It's mildly humorous, accomplished while he was a student of Morton Feldman's, but the concentration on a handful of chords presages, in at least one way, the direction Johnson would come to take. As he puts it, "I could also say that this was the beginning of my life as a real composer." 

'spaces' begins with eight ringing chords, then settles into softer, lower ones, reminiscent of darkly tilling bells. He offsets these more somber chords with lightly skipping, almost nursery rhyme refrain-like patterns in an upper register, the two approaches creating subtle tension. There's a tinge of minimalism in the air, but also consistent variation, a quietly enchanting piece. My first exposure to Johnson's music was with what I believe to be the first recording of his work, "An Hour for Piano", issued on Lovely Music Ltd. in 1979, with Frederic Rzewski at the keyboard. It won me over quickly and has remained a favorite, so I was intrigued to hear a new take on it. The two are quite similar in fact. Each takes about the same time, some 55 minutes.  While Rzewski isn't known for his pianistic delicacy, he reins himself in somewhat on the now 40-year old version; Shichijo's touch seems more naturally graceful and also very precise and jewel-like which befits Johnson's writing here. As melodic and "catchy" as the piece is, it takes some concentration not to get bogged down in the rather sing-songy lines and the cute little trills that appear now and then. I find that listening to it as a kind of drone piece, oddly enough, helps a great deal, removes any lingering over-sweetness. Shichijo's very crystalline playing helps a great deal, balancing between the rigor and the prettiness. 

A fine recording and an excellent one for those seeking an "in" to Johnson's work before plunging into his more scientific and overtly pattern-oriented subsequent music.

Ferran Fages - detuning series for guitar (Edition Wandelweiser)

Five pieces by Fages performed by the composer and Didier Aschour on electric guitars. Single notes, clearly played and sustained, often with microtonal relationships and, I take it, subtly "detuned" during their duration. If the latter is the case, it's minimal enough to my ears that I can't honestly say whether it's happening or not. One interesting  thing  is that although the music is spare enough that, conceivably, one guitar might have handled the load, having two, even as their basic sound is quite similar, provides a subtle kind of shimmer, a shadowy sort of sensation, difficult to describe. The five pieces also vary only slightly--higher pitches here, lower there, more overlapping of tones on one than another, in unison (I think) on the last piece. While I tended to enjoy the structures, the relationship between the notes hanging there and the silences, something about the tones themselves, their "purity", kept me at a distance. An intriguing experiment even so, one worth contemplating

Edition Wandelweiser

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Alan Courtis - Buchla Gtr (Fireworks Edition Records)

Without getting all gear-wonky (which I'm incapable of anyway), suffice it to say that Courtis, perhaps still best known as a member of Reynols, channeled the sounds of his Spirit electric guitar into the Buchla 200 modular synthesizer that resides in the Elektronmusikstudion in Stockholm, then fiddled with the resultant output and constructed the four tracks that make up this 2-LP set. The sounds, drone-like and spacey (in a good sense) do bear the vestiges of guitar-sourced attacks but hyper-filtered into adjacent timbres and sonorities. Sometimes, as in the second track, you have the impression of an elaborated tambura part, the background of a raga that contains swirling worlds on its own, but that subsequently morphs into a harsh, buzzing landscape, stretched and rubbed in a dour (refreshing) manner. The third side continues this darker trend, layer after layer of sizzling drone, atonal mixed with a dash of tonal, forbidding and dystopian. The last piece gets smoothly icy, loopy in a distant way, impressively impersonal.

Solid work, a great time for Buchla-ista synth-heads.

Firework Edition Records

Czarny Latawiec - In a Wild Sanctuary of Imaginary Landscapes  (Mik Musik)

Czarny Latawiec (a nom de musique for Daniel Brożek, translating as Black Kite) constructs an intricate, precise web of unusual sounds, largely (if not entirely) sourced from recordings in the field, deploying them in surprisingly dramatic fashion including building to a clear, even emotional climax, followed by a brief period of exhalation and introspection. The initial sounds bespeak of the jungle--birds, insects, possibly small mammals--though clearly artificial. Matters become denser, more chaotic, perhaps an intrusion of industrialization, though there remains a fine separation in the mix, numerous easily discernible strands making up the matrix. The pace slows somewhat toward he middle of the half-hour work, but the density remains constant, perhaps bearing even more of a threatening, imposing aspect. Rain on pavement mixes into the dark, blurred scene, all wildlife eradicated. Theres a sequence of intense fuzziness, as though one is enveloped by a severe blizzard, out of which emerges a powerful and surprisingly tonal drone that has a plaintive, tortured quality. This then opens out into the air, a relief even as the atmosphere is urban and mundane, desolate with wind.

Excellent work, imaginative and engaging. And, oh yes, that cover.

Mik Musik

Reinhold Friedl - Music for Piano (Holotype Editions)

Four pieces by Friedl, largely using the interior of the piano augmented with numerous items as indicated in the works' titles, some "standard" (cymbals, springs, screws and other metal) some much less so (flowers, crackers, stream--not sure what the latter means...). The first tracks begins quite beautifully, like something out of AMM, single, spare notes played against small gong-like sounds from inside the piano. It turns more agitated with harsher plucked and bowed strings as well as an odd squeezebox-y sound--again, had I been presented with this piece with no prior knowledge, I may well have guessed AMM, Prévost bowing some metal, Rowe scrabbling intently at his guitar. The second track, the one incorporating a flower, is all high bowed drones, remote and complex, very lovely. The third (with crackers), following a delicate, koto-like introduction, alternates between that and an all-out assault on the piano's guts, a construct I found more perfunctory and obvious than rewarding. The final work, however, with e-bow as well as that elusive stream, is a fine meditation, softly buzzing, clearly arrayed layers drifting, settling, stirring again--extremely satisfying.

Holotype Editions