Monday, December 31, 2007

Favorite musical stuff from 2007

2007 Releases:

The more things change...."The Room" and "sight" are my two favorites of the year and couldn't choose between 'em if I tried. Very different, of course, the first claustrophobically intense, the latter wonderfully ephemeral. Both the brainchildren of Rowe so the prejudice couldn't be more apparent but, that's the way it goes. I can't help it if the guy keeps churning out deeper ideas than anyone else around. The two discs are fine, disparate bookends.

Anyway, the 20 new releases that brought me the most pleasure this past year:

1. Keith Rowe - The Room (Erstwhile)
1. MIMEO - sight (Cathnor)
3. Sachiko M - Salon de Sachiko (ftarri)
4. Ferran Fages - Cançons pour un lent retard (Étude)
5. Looper/John Tilbury - Mass (Esquilo) (not the video! just the music)
6. Mouths/Haptic - IV2E/Danjon Scale (Entr'acte)
7. Mitsuhiro Yoshimura - and so on ((h)earrings)
8. The Sealed Knot - Live at the Red Hedgehog (Confront)
9. Mersault - Raymond & Marie (Formed)
10. Julien Ottavi - Le Poulpe (fibrr)
11. James Saunders - #[unassigned] Confront
12. Noid - "You're not here" (hibari)
13. Toshimaru Nakamura/Lucio Capece - Ij (Formed)
14. Axel Dorner/Lucio Capece - s/t (l'Innomable)
15. Hal Rammel - Like Water Tightly Wound (Crouton)
16. Chip Shop Music - s/t (homefront)
17. Matthie Saladin - Intervalles (l'Innomable)
18. Martin Kuchen - Homo Sacer (Sillon)
19. Flore de Cataclysmo - s/t (Sedimental)
20. Asher - The depths, the colors, the objects (Mystery Sea)

In fact, the music I most enjoyed during the year was contained in #1 below, originally issued in 1998, I believe. Things released in previous years that I greatly enjoyed included:

1. Dmitri Shostakovich - The Complete String Quartets (Emerson Quartet) (DG)
2. John Tilbury - Plays Samuel Beckett (Matchless)*
3. Ensemble Nipponia - Kabuki & other Traditional Music (Nonesuch)
4. Keith Rowe/Cor Fuhler - s/t (Conundrom)
5. David Tudor - Music for Piano (Editions RZ)
6. Chukp'a/Tong Jun Kim - Korean Kayagum Music: Sanjo (King World Music Library)
7. Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Z=78 (pt:195.09) (Audiobot)
8. Dropp Ensemble - The Empire Builders (Longbox)
9. Djemal Saparova/Rustan Bairamov - Songs of Turkmenistan (King WML)
10. Tsui-Yuen Lui - Chinese Classical Masterpieces (Lyrichord)
11. Ferran Fages - A cavall entre dos cavalls (Creative Sources)
12. Kim Suk Chul - Shamans of the Eastern Seaboard (Alula)
13. Phill Niblock - Touch Food (touch)
14. Bade Ghulum Ali Khan - Gunkali-Malkauns (HMV)
15. (Various) Rembetika (JSF)

*Had Tilbury's live recording of "For Bunita Marcus" been released, it may well
have taken top honors overall.

[edit: Arggh...left out the Tudor Editions RZ compilation. Should go near the top of the prior list.]

Other new releases from 2007 I greatly enjoyed:

(Various) - On Isolation (Room40)
Tim Albro -s/t (White Flag)
Asher - Untitled Composition (for b) (Leerraum)
Marc Behrens - Architectural Commentaries 4 & 5 (Entr'acte)
Benito Cereno - Benito Cereno (sg)
Tim Blechmann - Re-Reading (Free Software)
Lucio Capece - bb (a question of re_entry)
Lucio Capece/Axel Dorner/Robin Hayward - Kammerlarm (Azul Discografica)
Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Allotropie (Bourbaki)
Rhodri Davies - over shadows (Confront)
Axel Dorner/Toshimaru Nakamura - Vorhernach (ftarri)
Dropp Ensemble - Ingen Tid (Tonschact)
Kevin Drumm/Daniel Menche - Gauntlet (Mego)
Tim Feeney/Vic Rawlings - In Six Parts (Sedimental)
Feigner - Laughter only feigned response (Scrapple)
Fessenden - V 1.1 (Other Electricities)
Klaus Filip/Toshimaru Nakamura - Aluk (IMJ)
Flounder - Propped Fulgurations (self-released)
Cor Fuhler - Slee (Conundrom)
Cor Fuhler - Stengam (Potlatch)
Ellen Fullman/Sean Meehan s/t (Cut)
Helena Gough - With What Remains (Entr'acte)
Anthony Guerra/Matthew Nidek, Matthew - White Eagle (Foxglove)
Ryu Hankil/Jin Sangtae/Choi Joonyang - 5 Modules I (Manual)
Ryu Hankil/Jin Sangtae/Taku Unami/Mattin - 5 Modules III (Manual)
Robin Hayward/Annette Krebs - sgrafitto (CDR-3)
Ilios - Love Is My Motor (Antifrost)
Choi Joonyong, Choi - White Disc Ver. 2 (Balloon and Needle)
Grundik Kasyansky - Floating Point (Topheth Prophet)
Grundik Kasyansky/Slava Smelovsky - XAPMC (Rruido)
Tomas Korber/Bernd Schurer, Bernd - 250904 (Balloon and Needle)
Tomas Korber/Christian Weber/Katsura Yamauchi - Signal to Noise, vol. 2 (For4Ears)
Annette Krebs/David Lacey/Keith Rowe/Paul Vogel - s/t (Homefront)
Alvin Lucier - Ever Present (Mode)
Christopher McFall - Four Feels for Fire (Entr'acte)
Daniel Menche - Animality (
Matt Mitchell - vapor squint, antique chromatic (Scrapple)
Moljebka Pvlse/Seventeen Migs of Spring Ravha/Electricity Garden (Topheth Prophet)
Gunter Muller - Reframed (Cut)
Brendan Murray - Wonders Never Cease (Intransitive)
Brendan Murray/Seth Nihil - Sillage (Sedimental)
Seth Nehil - Amnemonic Site (Alluvial)
Neumatica - Alud (Creative Sources)
Inge Olmheim/Anthony Guerra s/t (Document)
phono_phono - phono_phono (Absinth)
Eliane Radigue - Geelriandre - Arthesis (fringes)
Peter Rehberg/Marcus Schmickler - One (Snow Mud Rain) (Erstwhile)
Jin Sangtae/Park Seungjun - 5 Modules IV (Manual)
Seht/Howard Stelzer - Exactly What You Lost (Intransitive)
Tamio Shiraishi/Sean Meehan - Annual Summer Concerts (GD/Old Gold)
Signal Quintet - Yamaguchi (Cut)
Graham Stephenson/Dave Barnes - s/t (self-released)
Taku Sugimoto - Doremilogy (Skiti)
Toshiya Tsunoda - Low Frequencies Observed at Miguchi (Hibari)
Vodka Sparrows - Death a Thousand Times Over (Black Petal)
Mitsuhiro Yoshimura/Taku Sugimoto - Not BGM and so on ((h)earrings)

Thanks, everyone!

(statistical note: Recordings acquired during 2007 - 223. Yikes. This will presumably tail off in the coming year.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

"Summer Music", recorded in February 1978 and originally issued on the French Marge label, is certainly one of my top 5 Breukers. It balances between the rawness of the mid 70's sessions and the seductive perfection of execution found in the two excellent albums from the next couple of years, "In Holland" and "Driebergen-Zeist". From the wonderful, herky-jerky, quasi-Arabic romp "Parabasis", to the lovely Anabelle (as romantic a theme as you'll find in Breuker's oeuvre) to the boiling "Condizione Niente", a rare (only?) piece by Raaymakers to the hyper-lush and heartfelt-while-bathing-in-schmaltz and hilarious rendition of "Let's Fall in Love". That's Side One. The second side features the title piece which points the way toward some of his more monumental (and, to be sure, increasingly tiresome) work of the following decade though the slogging ponderousness has yet to set in. Really fine recording, this one. I believe it's available on disc.

The following month, Breuker and Cuypers recorded the duo album, "...Superstars" for SAJ, live at the FMP festival workshop. Listening now, I'm struck by how much more beautiful the pianist's contributions are than Breuker's. Cuypers kind of comes out of Jarrett to an extent, but more liquid and with an almost unfailing sense of melodicism. More's the pity he was so inactive for such a long time. This disc is much more raw than WBK material from around the same time and sounds rather refreshing now. Features an amusing version of "There's No Business" and concludes with a fine tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

WBK '79 was a big favorite of mine when it appeared though on more recent listens it strikes me as a bit cold, again presaging subsequent work. Nice enough tunes including, I think, the first examples of Breuker covering other composers, in this case Weill's "Song of Mandalay" and Grieg's "Ases Death". The concluding long piece by Willem van Manen, "Big Busy Band", is rather flat, similar to his music for his own Contraband, which I've never enjoyed.

I file "The Busy Drone" under Breuker for no particular reason except that he has two pieces here. It's a fairly odd recording: works written for a portable, mechanical organ by Breuker, Misha Mengelberg, Louis Andriessen, Cor Kee, Gilius van Bergeijk, Nico Schuyt and Gus Janssen. The original vinyl release came "plus extra sincle [sic] record!", that is with a 45rpm disc which contains some classical pieces (CPE Bach, Haydn, Leopold Mozart, Prokofiev, de Severac and others). Can't say I've ever found the album to be more than a curiosity. Still don't ! Maybe the instrumental possibilities of the contraption are limited--though why that should be, I've no idea--but the music here just isn't that rewarding.

Breuker did a lot of soundtrack and theatrical score work, things that BVHaast began to issue in the late 70s. They tend to be pretty good, in some ways more listenable today than much of the WBK stuff if only because of the relative lack of bombast.

Getrommel in de Nacht, music for a play by Bertold Brecht, is quite engaging, mixing horns, strings, percussion and piano in a suite that seems to work very well as a soundtrack, that is it doesn't call too much attention to itself. The concluding waltz is really lovely.

Wish I could find a cover image for "Doodzonde", Breuker's soundtrack to a film by Rene van Nie. It's a rather enticing shot of a largely exposed woman's torso, her necked draped by an ornate crucifix, the Christ figurine's right arm having been severed so that his body is swung off to the other side , still pinned by his left hand. The movie, from what can be gathered from the stills included on the back of the album, looks like a pretty silly affair mixing "scandalous" anti-religious themes with bargain basement surrealism and worker's rights. I see Renee Soutendijk ("Spetters", among many others) appeared in it. Music is OK, heavy on the strings; the main theme is very attractive.

The image at the top of the post is, I take it, the original cover of the book by Harry Mulisch on which George Sluizer's film is based; the central "square" of it is also the cover of the BVHaast LP. The CD reissue, I note, shows quite a bit less than the album.... The movie seems to have been a fairly big deal, starring Anthony Perkins and Bibi Andersson and featuring the debut of a gorgeous looking Sandrine Dumas (listed as Sandra Dumas on the LP). I don't see it as being available on DVD today, perhaps as a result of Dumas being all of about 16 at the time and the purportedly intense lesbian scenes contained therein? (Rechecking, I see it came out on VHS in '85 and large portions have been uploaded on You Tube). Recorded in 1979, I think it's the first occasion of Henk de Jonge on record with Breuker and he contributes some fine accordeon work. There's more of a jazzy, bluesy (sometimes poppy) tone to the pieces, but again smooth and attractive.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The first Breuker in the vinyl shelf spans music from 1967-1978, the oddly titled, "Music for His Films" the "his" being Johan van der Keuken who, if the movies sound-tracked here are any indication, specialized in what might be called politically oriented surrealist documentaries. No real cover image available though the above photo is essentially it. imdb lists a couple of the films featured here, "De Platte Jungle" (Flat Jungle) and "De Nieuwe Ijstijd" (The New Ice Age). Hmmm, I see there are two volumes of his complete works available from Netflix (he died in 2001); might have to check them out. For some reason, the music is arranged in reverse chronological order, 1978's Flat Jungle coming first, performed by the Kollektief, pieces that were also recorded on "WBK '79". Kollektief members are also on hand for two selections from "The Palestinians", both very effective, a mournful duo with Breuker and Bob Driessen on altos and a march with those two plus Louis Andriessen on piano and Verdurmen on drums from 1975. The New Ice Age (1974) has more good quasi-Kollektief work (again with Andriessen). An intriguing track from "Beauty" (1970) mixes some gorgeous writing for string orchestra with gull and beach sound. The great John Tchicai makes a powerful appearance on two cuts from "Velocity: 40-70" (1970), a beautiful minute-long, solo alto piece then a duo with Breuker (on bass clarinet) which sandwich a agitated, brooding number for viola, bass and bass clarinet; a real nice trio of compositions. The album concludes with a zany, off-kilter drinking song/march from "A Film for Lucebert" (1967), performed by a quartet of Breuker, Gilius van Bergeyk (oboe), Viktor Kaihatu (bass) and the redoubtable Han Bennink on drums. Actually recorded 41 years ago today as I type this. A good record with a lot of life and variety.

"Live in Berlin", jointly released by BVHaast and SAJ, is from November of '75 and finds the Kollektief not quite in the sharp form it would soon assume. The recording quality is a bit muffled as well, maybe adding to this impression. They run through several pieces from La Plagiata--a bit rocky and not so exciting. At this point, flutist Ronald Snijders was still with the band (he was out by the time they played Environ). The highlight might be the last number, a stirring rendition, complete with vocals, of...."Our Day Will Come".

The European Scene album which I referenced a couple days ago still kicks butt. It's a very well paced set of the type that would become the standard for WBK over the next few years: set themes with non-accompanied solos, laced with sly humor. A word about a few of the musicians....

I often wondered, and still do, why some of these guys almost only appear on record with Breuker. Among jazz musicians of the 70s and 80s, these are among the absolute strongest I've heard on their respective instruments: Boy Raaymakers (trumpet), Maarten van Norden (tenor), Arjen Gorter (bass), Rob Verdurmen (drums). Gorter played around a bit, though not nearly as much as you'd expect from such a monster talent. van Norden was injured in the same van crash that killed Harry Miller--I believe he had some serious harm done to his jaw that prevented him from playing for a number of years--but he's apparently been back with WBK for a while now (I gave up on them around 2000, more on that later). Raaymakers is just killer--I know he's a bit older and came up with various bop bands but, aside from an album with van Norden from around '77, I've never heard him outside of WBK. And Verdurmen, jeez he's just insane but again, does he ever play outside of WBK.

I get the impression this band does extremely well, it's tour schedule remains impressive and I think it receives a goodly amount of government funding so maybe it's simply a matter of it being a good gig. I wonder if Breuker is extremely protective of his talent, maybe restricting their outside activities? (Not an accusation, just a thought).

A note about Cuypers. For my bucks, the band lost a huge amount when he left, apparently for alcohol-related issues. As masterful a technician as Henk de Jonge is, to my ears he lacks the sheer musicality that Cuypers brought in. He does have a few discs under his own name that I'll get to eventually, including the very fine "Heavy Days Are Here Again" with Breuker, Gorter & Bennink.

Came across the photo of Cuypers at this blog

OK, one more for this post, "Willem Breuker Kollektief on Tour", recorded in Rouen, France 3/3/77. Not a very good record, imho, rather scattershot, though "Potsdamer Stomp", with its hoe-down character, is a lot of fun and I clearly recall the swaying horn section routine that accompanied it in performance. Most noteworthy for being, as far as I know, the first in a never ending series of albums featuring a photo of the band standing stiffly around with their instruments. No hanging penises to be discerned.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Might be old news to some, but I just found this relatively recent interview with Mr. Rowe (here) at Josh Ronsen's Monk Mink Pink Punk site. Done during the Voltage Spooks tour this past spring.

It includes the above illustration which seems to be a sequence of pages from Treatise overlaid on each other. Pretty cool image.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I've recounted this story before, elsewhere, but why not again?

I'm not sure of the date. I think it's December, 1978 though other sources have it as December, 1977. In any case, Environ had moved from its initial digs at 476 Broadway, going north a block and a half and across the street to 515 Broadway. Looking over the upcoming bookings, I noticed the the Willem Breuker Kollektief was scheduled to play three evenings. At this time, I had something of a strong antagonism toward European free improvisation, helped along by a few noodlesome shows at Environ and a couple of personally disagreeable purveyors of same. I was totally into the AACM and associated musicians and felt that, by and large, British and Euro improv was effete and anemic (though I made some exceptions, like Evan Parker, who had recently performed solo at Environ and was rather impressive). Took 'til the late 80s for this attitude to wither away. I'd not heard Breuker's music at this time but linked his name with other musicians in whom I had little interest. Looking at the listing, I thought, "Oy. Three nights of this nonsense I'll have to sit through."

Well, out they came that first evening, ten strong (Breuker, Bob Driessen, Maarten Van Norden, Boy Raaymakers, Jan Wolff, Willem van Manen, Bernard Hunnekink, Leo Cuypers, Arjen Gorter and Rob Verdurmen), and they fucking blew the roof off the place. They pretty much performed the set captured on "The European Scene" (MPS). Cuypers' began with a stately, somber solo piano statement and then the impossibly tight band launched in. Jaws dropped to floor.

Breuker's work filled a big gap for me at the time: Music that was highly structured and melodically rich but which left ample room for free improvising (though only in the solos, to be sure--it would be a few years before I realized how theatrically constrained WBK shows actually were). Mantler's "Communications" was likely the first such music to make a big impression on me andthat form would continue to afford fascination through Barry Guy's work with the LJCO, though I think I finally outgrew it. What's more, the Kollektief had humor.

That first piece was also somewhat in advance of the collage methods that would attain great popularity with Zorn et. al. in the coming years. The overture from an extended work aptly titled, "La Plagiata", it incorporated anthems and songs from numerous sources, all grafted into a complex whole. As the show proceeded, the band only became more amazing, twisting and turning on the proverbial dime, dissolving into chaos only to re-emerge more solid than ever. And the humor...You have to recall that this was at a time when overblown, self-important solos were part and parcel of much of the new music. During one piece, Breuker was soloing on soprano and as the band, music sheets spread in front of them, regrouped to forge ahead to the next section, he angrily waved them off in a clear "I'm not finished yet!" gesture. Put off, they gesticulated with annoyance at the music that indicated their re-entry but disgruntled, let him continue. A minute or two later, they attempted to come in once more only to be confronted by an increasingly infantile Breuker stomping his feet-- "I'm still playing!!"-- even as the music from his horn became more and more repetitive and simplistic. The band members flung up their arms in frustration and walked off stage, leaving Breuker on his own, where he eventually crumpled to the floor, refusing to stop playing, the strains of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" wheezing from his horn. Derisively self-referential jazz, gotta love it.

The first night at Environ, there were maybe 25 people in attendance. The second evening about 50 showed up, many clearly dragged there by visitors from the prior night raving about the band. I could hear people exclaiming over their tightness, the melodies, the rhythms, etc. As the lights dimmed, the members of the Kollektief began to drunkenly stumble toward the stage. They bumbled around the instruments, looking at them as though for the first time, holding them up to the light, banging them on the floor, mumbling and peering out into the audience. This went on for about 15 minutes. I could see furious guests chastising their friends, "You brought me all the way out here to see this crap?!?" Hunnekink picked up his tuba and tried to blow through the large end, Cuypers fell asleep under the piano. Finally, at some hidden cue from Breuker, the ensemble gripped their axes properly and, in a split second, catapulted into some fantastic arrangement or another. Very impressive.

Robert Palmer had reviewed the opening show for the Times and about 125 people arrived for the third night on the day the write-up appeared. The band added an additional performance at NYU as part of a Bartertown event, appearing in tuxedos at one point, engaging in some song and dance. They spent much of their time in NYC scouring the record shops, coming back to Environ with boxes of stuff (I recall Breuker had picked up every Rahsaan Roland Kirk album he could find). Had a lot of fun hanging out with Jan Wolff and Boy Raaymakers, both wonderful fellows.

Well, enough about this without even getting to the albums. More later (he said, to the chagrin of the eai crowd).

Oh, parting question to Cor or anyone else: What's the deal with those incredibly dorky group photos (with instruments) that adorn most WBK albums? I'm almost tempted to think it's some long-running joke.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Looking at the Large Glass, the thing that I like so much is that I can focus my attention wherever I wish. It helps me to blur the distinction between art and life and produces a kind of silence in the work itself. There is nothing in it that requires me to look in one place or another or, in fact, requires me to look at all. I can look through it to the world beyond. Well, this is, of course, the reverse of Etant Donnés. I can only see what Duchamp permits me to see. The Large Glass changes with the light and he was aware of this. So does a Mondrian. So does any painting. But Etant Donnés doesn't change because it is all prescribed. So he's telling us something that we perhaps haven't yet learned, when we speak as we do so glibly of the blurring of the distinction between art and life. Or keeping the distinction, he may be saying neither one is true. The only true answer is that which will let us have both of these."

John Cage, 1973

Monday, December 24, 2007

Review Sabbatical 2008

As I posted at Bagatellen, I've decided to take a break from writing reviews for 2008 in order to spend more time on the Rowe biography. I figure between there and here, most musicians/labels who otherwise might send things will be made aware and act accordingly.

It's purely a time-based decision, as I do greatly enjoy hearing new work and writing about it. But, especially over the last couple of years, the sheer amount of things I receive and subsequent work involved has seriously cut into the amount of time I've been able to spend on the book. So, aside from possibly an odd write up here or there on something I feel especially strongly about and apart from some work I'll do for Squid's Ear, that's it for the year. Anyone who still sends me things does so at the risk I'll just listen, enjoy and not comment (!)

As I said on Bags, I really, really hope someone will take up the slack. Or several someones. It'd be a shame if coverage lags.

Recent pelf:

Edgar Varese - Arcana, Ameriques, Ionisation, etc. (Sony). The Boulez recordings with the NY Phil. For some reason, I didn't have any Varese in my collection, though I'm pretty familiar with all the works here. He's never really connected with me, though I respect the music greatly.

Luigi Nono - Fragmente/Hay Que Caminar (Montaigne). Arditti Quartet. Been similarly on the fence about Nono's work, tending to enjoy the coloration but not so much the structure. Need more listens, though.

Ensemble Nipponia - Kabuki & other Traditional Music (Nonesuch). Fantastic, beautiful recording from 1980, just reissued on the Explorer series. Great stuff.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Only five more slabs of Braxton vinyl before everything changes over to disc. None of them feature the "classic" quartet as it turns out, though the first in the bunch comes close, substituting David Rosenboom for Crispell. It's a good recording, actually, probably underrated somewhat (at least I rarely see it cited). Compositions range from 88 to 131, so they're fairly contemporary with the session and largely in that more billowy, expansive vein. Braxton mentions in the notes having 230 "structures" with which to deal which I take it encompasses the 131 or so compositions and their alphabetic subgroups.

A couple years after this disc, I bought Rosenboom's "Systems of Judgment", on Centaur I believe, portions of which knocked me out. Really dense and lush--though somehow hard-edge--computer music. Had high hopes with him for a while but nothing else I ever heard hit me quite as hard, including his subsequent duo with Braxton, 'Two Lines'. Here, he's fine, entirely as proficient as Crispell, possibly more so at this date.

The Monk disc has never been a big favorite despite the presence of Mal Waldron, whose music I love and whose solo here on "Four in One" may be the album's highlight. Got to see him perform at Environ once, a very special evening. Here, it goes without saying that the tunes are lovely and they're adequately played but I don't get a real "reason for being". I've no doubt Braxton loves Monk's music but his own doesn't (to me) evince any special affinity for it (unlike his obvious warmth with regard the Tristano school). Buell Neidlinger's on hand as well. iirc, he may be the only person to have played with Stravinsky, Cecil Taylor and Zappa.

Biggest cover image I could find! Too bad--always liked that cover. Really as much a ROVA album as a Braxton one, side one features compositions by Ochs and Raskin, side two AB's #129. I was always hot and cold on ROVA, generally preferring the grit and soul of WSQ but I never delved so deeply into the ROVA catalog to say definitively. (And won't now, to be sure). Ochs' "The Shopper" is a good, propulsive piece, the kind of largely unison number that chugs along well, an antecedent of the more exciting Brotz Tentet pieces of 15 years hence. Raskin's title cut is more obviously in WSQ territory, not bad but lacking the strength that band had at their peak. Braxton's piece is structurally more interesting than the others, more ambitious anyway, though the actual execution leaves me a little cold. Curious how it would fare with other musicians or different instrumentation. Should also mention that it would be nice to have the Sound Aspects catalog available on disc someday.

Speaking of unreleased to disc items, we come to "Solo (London) 1988", on Impetus (no cover image available, dammit), probably my favorite solo Brax this side of "For Alto". Really fine recording as well as the one where his cataloging inclinations are perhaps most clearly seen, each (non-standard) track isolating one particular sonic component upon which he elaborates. The first track, Comp 106C, is particularly strong, a whirlwind that seems to refer obliquely to Riley-esque minimalism (the good kind!). Lotta extreme sounds here as well. Three standards, including a lovely and impassioned rendition of "Invitation", a Dinah Washington fave that hearkens back to some of his earliest work like the Cecil Taylor dedication on For Alto.

And finally, at the right hand end of the Braxton LP collection, is "Ensemble (Victoriaville) 1988". An impressive enough line-up with Evan Parker, Bobby Naughton (interesting to hear vibes with AB), Joelle Leandre, Hemingway, Paul Smoker and George Lewis performing Comps 141 + 142, both with additional collaged pieces. The titles have by now taken on the aspect of cityscapes; pretty neat, wish I could find images on-line. It drifts a bit, getting overly formless for my taste, or maybe I should say less rigorous than I want to hear.

OK, that's it for the Brax! Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Earlier this year, my friend Pete Cherches put together a mini-history of downtown NYC music from about 1971-87 for NYU's Fales Library toward which I contributed some minimal amount of references. This evening, Pete led a panel discussion on the period with Jon Gibson, Don Christenson (who I didn't think I knew--he drummed with the Raybeats and Contortions among others, but I actually do have him on an album or two), Butch Morris and Elliott Sharp. Pete's work can be found here.

Each of the musicians gave a brief personal history (sometimes not so brief) followed by some discussion and Q&A. It was fairly interesting even if much was stuff I already knew. Sharp and Morris were wryly amusing. But Gibson said something early on in his talk that made my ears perk up a bit. He was describing his years as a student at San Francisco University and mentioned coming into contact with contemporary classical scores around 1960, including some by Cardew. I was interested in learning about the fact that the work of a young, obscure British composer had managed to become known on the West Coast that early.

At the reception, I was lucky enough to have a long conversation with Gibson about his encounters with such music in the 60s, including hanging out with Cardew and Tilbury, etc. I monopolized him for about 45 minutes, I'm afraid, but he was entirely gracious about it. And not a single mention of Philip Glass! I spent long enough there that it was too late to walk down to the Knit to catch the English set, which I regret but, that's the way it goes. Last time they were here, my wedding anniversary got in the way, now this. I'll catch them one of these years.

Oh, and my apologies to the fellow who came over and said hello and about whom I totally blanked for a minute. I think we met at the ErstQuake over on Church St a few years back? But it took my a while to place you and I still can't remember your name, really sorry about that. If you're reading this, please drop in and ID yourself to save me future embarrassment. Sorry!

Newly arrived and not yet listened to:

Jed Speare - Sound Works 1982-1987 (Family Vineyard)
Nils Henrik Asheim/Paal Nilssen-Love - Late Play (PNL)
Lasse Marhaug/Paal Nilssen-Love - Stalk (PNL)

and six, count'em, six things from our good friend Cor:

DJ Cor Blimey and his pigeon
Fuhler/Bennink/de Goode
WhistleLight (solo Fuhler)
Slee (solo Fuhler, piano)
Tcod (solo Fuhler)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

There's this little place, iris records, not ten minutes walk from our apartment, that deals in used vinyl. I knew of its existence a while ago, strolled by a couple of times, but it's the sort of joint that keeps irregular hours. Like not opening for a few months in a row, that sort of thing. So I'd never been in.

This week, the owner posted on a neighborhood list that there would be a sale this weekend, so I figured it worth the amble over. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming bulk of merchandise is rock and disco, the latter probably being the prime source of what income they make. Boxes of stuff all over, categorized in the general sort of way that allows the World Saxophone Quartet's "Zürich Concert" to nestle in a box labeled "Soul". I was hoping to find a forlorn crate with a tag that indicated something along the line of contemporary classical, electronic, "weird" or anything other term that might lead me toward possible goodies. No such luck, though the proprietor acknowledged that he should have such and promised he would for the next sale. A paltry "world" selection as well.

But I did manage to rescue a few odds and ends:

Charles Tolliver - The Ringer (1969), released by Arista/Freedom in 1975. The early incarnation of Music Inc., I think, with Cowell, Steve Novosel and Jimmy Hopps. I used to have the Strata East releases from the early 70s, stupidly traded them in (too mainstream, I imagine I thought at the time). This one's on now and sounds real nice. Good to hear Tolliver's "On the Nile" again, a lovely theme.

Betty Carter - Social Call, the Columbia reissue of the 1955 and '56 dates.

Paul Bley - Copenhagen and Haarlem, 1975 Arista/Freedom reiussue of the 1965-66 Freedom dates, with Kent Carter, Mark Levenson and Barry Altschul.

Ravi Shankar/Ali Akbar Khan - The Exotic Sitar and Sarod, Capitol. Not sure of the date, but looks like the late 60s.

Lui Tsun-Yuen - Chinese Classical Masterpieces for the Pipa and Chin, Lyrichord. Looks to be late 50s, early 60s (pre-Zip Code--I love seeing addresses at the bottom of the back of the sleeve like, "141 Perry Street, New York 14, N.Y."!)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Karlheinz Stockahausen is dead at 79.

I admit to never being able to entirely relate to his music. I first heard him while in college, buying the recording of "Mikrophonie I & II" on Columbia that was released in 1966. I probably got it in '73 or '74. I remember being very fascinated with "I", not so much with "II". Much to my embarrassment, I traded it in later in the decade in a ongoing fit of pique at European elitism (!); traded in a bunch of stuff like that, idiot that I was.

I saw "Mikrophonie I" performed at a Bang On A Can affair some ten or twelve years back. Seeing it played, it lost some of the mystery that was in my memory, from back when I didn't know from contact mics or how all those sounds arose.

Soon thereafter (around '75), I bought "Ceylon; Bird of Passage" which I guess was getting a reasonable publicity push as a quasi rock/jazz album out on Chrysalis. Still have that one, for some reason. Should give it a spin this evening.

Heard various things over the years, some on compilation albums, but little really moved me. A few years ago, I borrowed a passel of Stockhausen discs from Jon and,with an exception or two, remained not terribly intrigued, perhaps my loss or lack of ears. Just something about the music usually rubbed me wrong.

Still, without Stockhausen, Cardew as such wouldn't have existed, hence AMM would've been different. So a grateful tip of the brim is certainly in order. And, of course, that guy in the picture below learned a thing or two from him.

Thanks, Mr. Stockhausen.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I've maintained before and I don't see any particular reason to change my opinion now, that the last great idea in jazz was Braxton's collage music, specifically his strategy of allowing members of his groups (initially the "classic" quartet with Crispell, Dresser and Hemingway) to introduce any of his compositions, at any time during a performance. Improvisation using compositions themselves as the elements, rather than phrases. You obviously need a few pieces to be in place before you can consider a strategy like this--one, a group thats pretty well attuned to your music and to each other and second, a "book" both extensive and known to the ensemble like the proverbial back of the hand. In addition, maybe most importantly, you need to have the confidence to allow whatever happens to happen.

I'm actually curious--maybe someone knows--exactly how much freedom in this regard Braxton allowed. Was it unlimited? If so, the other members would seem to have reined themselves in pretty well, usually integrating only one to three other pieces into the primary one. Could the introduction of "external" material only occur during the improv section? I don't think I ever heard a thematic portion interrupted. (The double disc by Splatter/Debris may have gone further here). Whatever, it's a wonderful idea, one that I'm sorry to see not used by very many others (at all!) Just think how much more interesting, say, Masada would be if the Zornian straitjacket was loosened.

Anyway, my first exposure to this was the 3-record set on Leo, "London (1985)". It's the only one of the three I own (Coventry and Birmingham are the others, I think?), probably because at the time, I admit to not being entirely taken with it. It took a few years to grow on me. Listening now, it does indeed sound markedly different from his prior work, far less streamlined in the themes, more billowing and amorphous in the improvs. Even those themes carried over from earlier recordings sound less regimented, more expansive.

I saw this quartet two or three times, once at a short-lived place on Canal Street--was it called New Music Cafe? That night, they did a remarkably difficult and diffuse set, offering little in the way of themes, nothing remotely catchy. It was severe and abstract all the way through, one of those concerts where you don't realize quite how good it was 'til you leave and are walking up a cold street thinking, "Wow".

A little surprised how good this sounds tonight, to tell the truth. But it does.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Just placeholders because I was getting tired of seeing Zappa on the toilet. Plus I liked the packaging of these two, though musically I only really like the "without cartridge" portion of the double 3" Hong Chulki release. Working on a Bags review now. Interesting to get these two and two others by Choi Joonyang at the same time and to have to wade through some three hours of semi-severe noise, trying to determine what I liked and why. "Well, this screech over here is cool but that one--boring."

OK, back to work.....

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Me and Zappa

It's apparently a law of the universe that, at any music-oriented discussion board, the Zappa question is obliged to rear its head followed by boisterous defenses and sneering dismissals of same. Not sure if IHM had one before, but they do now. As is increasingly the case over the years, much of it (to me) revolves around the age of the individuals in question and when they encountered the music. (This is a basic issue for most contemporary music criticism--not just music either, but other arts) I'm probably one of the graybeards there, along with Herb, Jesse, maybe one or two others, so have a different perspective than many of the young 'uns who I gather first heard Zappa in the late 70s or early 80s when his music was (imho) godawful, tingeing their perceptions ineradicably.

Some background. My initial exposure was in 1970, 10th grade, when I bought "Weasels Ripped My Flesh". I don't remember why, exactly. I think I was searching for "new" stuff, the cover was pretty cool (to a 16-year old) and I'd heard of the band. Actually, I specifically recall an article in Circus magazine (now there's a nostalgia kick) about "ugly music". I think the author was befuddled why some bands (Mothers, Beefheart, MC5, Alice Cooper) were intentionally producing willfully ugly sounds. It turned out the "Weasels" was a hodgepodge of stuff from '67-'69, but I liked a lot of it and was baffled by some of it. The titles were weird (why would someone make up a name as bizarre as "Eric Dolphy"?!?!), much of the music seemed like pure noise but was interspersed with entirely catchy numbers like "Oh No" and rockers like "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama". Anyway I was intrigued.

I think "Hot Rats" was next and it blew me away. Now, clearly, I was ready for this sort of step at the time. I'd been listening to King Crimson, probably Soft Machine by then and, though I hadn't heard any real jazz yet, was obviously moving in that direction. I'd always had an affinity for instrumental music so this album, with only a single vocal track (and that one fairly limited) and much jazz-based melody, harmony and improvisation, was just what the doctor ordered. At the time, unlike today, I was most taken by the less bluesy pieces, particularly the closer, "It Must Be a Camel" (with Jean-Luc Ponty). That (apparently, though not in actuality) loose structure, the total lack of AABA formula (which I still hate), the quasi-movie soundtrack moodiness--all of it was immensely appealing.

I quickly went back and filled in the prior catalog with the exception of the first two records, "Freak Out" and "Absolutely Free". Friends had these, though, so I heard them as well. I think I was initially off-put by the amount of vocals and the generally song-oriented nature of albums like "We're Only In It for the Money", preferring "Lumpy Gravy", "Burnt Weenie" and the instrumental portions of "Uncle Meat" ("King Kong"!). In fact, I probably gave them too short shrift at the time. However, one thing did stand out: that Zappa was willing and able to puncture not only the obvious hypocrisy of the middle class, but also that of the hippies. I'm not sure that I can convey how transgressive this was. You just didn't do this in 1967. I was coming to it a few years later when the notion was beginning to take a more general foothold (early National Lampoon, for instance, some of Ramparts, etc.) but it was still thrilling to hear this no holds barred, nothing sacred attack. "Oh, my hair's getting good in the back" absolutely encapsulated the shallow, would-be hip attitudes of my contemporaries (and me, to be sure). I think this is one of the basic reasons he's so intensely disliked by some: that he saw through bullshit on the part of both the establishment and the counterculture and wasn't shy about explicating it. Arrogant, even.

I remained a fan up through "Chunga's Revenge" (1973?). In between, Zappa released albums like "Waka Jawaka" which, I confess, ranked as my favorite "all-time" (like that meant anything for an 18-year old) in early '72. That summer, while washing dishes out on Block Island, the two songs constantly being hummed or whistled by me were the title cut from this one and Ornette's "Law Years", having made the leap and purchased "Science Fiction" that spring. In a nice bit of synchronicity, my jazz obsession bloomed just as Zappa began his painful slide into a wretched combination of adolescent bad-boy lyrics and sterile fusionoid music. Unfortunately for an accurate representation of his career, I fear that this latter stage, when he achieved some marginal popularity with garbage like "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow", was the point at which many listeners a few years younger than I first heard his work so I can't really blame them for looking no farther. I've always felt that he should've stayed in New York after '68 and been forced to deal with musicians on or above his level instead of the much more meager set of talents available in LA. He coulda been a contender.

I traded in all my Zappa/Mothers albums in '76 when I divested my collection of virtually anything rock-oriented. It wasn't until about '89 that I picked up "Hot Rats" again on disc. As I mentioned above, my relative likes had flip-flopped. Though I still enjoy the more baroque tracks (although "Peaches..." grates on me a bit these days), it's "Willie the Pimp" and "The Gumbo Variations" that sound great today. Zappa's guitar work on the former is marvelously inventive and Sugar Cane Harris, as well as FZ and Underwood are mighty fine on the latter. I eventually filled in most of the commercially released material up through '71 (I declined to re-investigate "Ruben and the Jets") and find that it holds up extremely well. I don't care at all for "Absolutely Free" and would even posit that the difference between "Freak Out" and that one presages the problems he'd have later on. He wove some wonderful melodies in those years, a gift that, to my ears, completely evaporated by the early 70s along with his acute satirical sense.

I heard a handful of later things, including the much vaunted "Yellow Shark" and they inevitably left me cold. However, I think in fairness you have to differentiate between stages of his career. I get the strong impression that many make a summary judgment based on a limited (and, to be sure, awful) sample. But that's like judging Beefheart on "Unconditionally Guaranteed" and "Polka Dots and Laser Beams".

For others, I'm afraid it's an insoluble age-oriented issue, certainly tinged with a dollop or more of nostalgia. Richard mentioned his inability to get into Monty Python and, difficult as that is for me to understand on a subjective basis, I guess I can see it if you came into them after their innovations had been absorbed, commercialized and diluted in common fare. This works both ways, of course. For myself, who thinks that Woodstock rang the death knell for creative rock, it's difficult to take seriously 99% of what followed. To my ears, it largely reeks of corporate product while for someone 20 years younger, something like Nirvana is going to embody all their creative aspirations. Them's the breaks. Their kids will laugh at them for taking Nirvana seriously while they groove to something even more sterile...

Anyway, not really a rant, more a plea for a fair, comprehensive assessment of Zappa's oeuvre (which admittedly, I haven't done with about the last 20 years of his work--it's just that nothing I've heard from that period causes me to wonder further and, as well, I'm just no longer interested in that area of music period). Not, of course, that everyone's going to enjoy any part of it even so, but more that it's not appropriate to lump it all together under any single judgment, good or bad. As usual, it's more complicated than that.

Monday, December 03, 2007

My Eight Favorite Movies

A couple of years ago, bored at work (an occurrence roughly as common breathing, including at this moment), I was cruising around imdb and noticed the option to rate movies and compile a little database of same. Well, as Uli is my witness, it's hard to resist rating stuff, so I spent a few otherwise unproductive hours assigning stars (1-10) to various films. I pretty much stuck to either things I enjoyed to a greater or lesser degree or picked out certain directors and went through their oeuvre. For the sake of balance, I included some major stinkers I happened to have suffered through but, clearly, I could pad out the list on the low end if I felt like it. If for some reason you're interested in seeing the list in its current state, you may do so here

I was determined to be chary with my 10's, though. Many beautiful, great, important movies received 9's from yours truly. I wanted my 10's to be ultra-special. I only recently added an eighth to the list (out of almost 500 rated), Almodovar's "Habla con Ella" (Talk to Her) and noticed that it was, by far, the most recent inclusion, beating out the closest competition by about 30 years.

I'm curious about that, though one obvious reason could be that I simply have yet to see movies from that period which I'll end up deeming as excellent. I hope that's the case (my current Netflix queue stands at 488, so I have plenty to go). Plus, of course, you have to discount the subjective and gross nature of the ratings themselves. Why did "L'Avventura" not quite creep into the 10s? Or "Seppuku", "Au Hazard Balthazar" or "Stalker"? Only only the last is post-1973. The nearest miss of recent movies would be "Werckmeister Harmonies". Anyway, here they are, alpha order, though the first listed is also, push comes to shove, my absolute favorite.

Andrey Rublyov (1969)
Badlands (1973)
Giulietta degli Spiriti (1965)
Habla con Ella (2002)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Pather Panchali (1955)
Persona (1966)
Ukikusa Monogatari (1934)

I do like the fact that, thus far, they're distributed one per country.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"Hey!", I can hear the choruses of readers screaming, "What happened to all the Braxton posts?!?". Well, maybe two or three of you. Just haven't had time to go back into the vinyl lately, too much new stuff around to sift through.

But without re-listening, I'd been thinking about the post-Arista, pre-Dresser/Crispell/Hemingway quartet work. I get the feeling Braxton was, in some ways, treading water for a few years, re-examining things he developed in the preceding 10-15 years but not really coming up with anything conceptually new and solid until the collage music phase that pretty much began with that quartet around 1984-85.

There's much less a sense of excitement on some of the recordings in between, though they're by no means bad. Ray Anderson, John Lindberg and Thurman Barker are all fine musicians but though I'd generally take Barker over Altschul, Anderson/Lindberg just isn't in the same creative league as Lewis/Holland. They play the charts well, they improvise OK but the sizzle's not really there at least on the Moers release from '78.

His non-jazz quartet music from this period tends to be more intriguing. One release that didn't grab me as much back then is making a better impression today: one of the first of his albums on Sound Aspects (SAS009), 8KN-(B-12)--R10 with the Robert Schumann String Quartet. Two versions of that piece, one with Braxton joining the ensemble. Falls into what I think of as "Romantic post-serialism", that is, all manner of modernist techniques but underlaid by some (nicely) old-fashioned dramatic concerns. Six brief solo tracks are included here, also pretty good.

The first encounter with Max Roach, "Birth and Rebirth" (Black Saint, BSR 0024) from September '78 was a fairly momentous event back then. I was never entirely taken with it as much as I love Roach's work (and who, with Blackwell, has always been my favorite jazz drummer). In fact, I find now as then that I tend to listen to Roach and tune out Braxton.

Speaking of Mr. Blackwell, he shows up on "Six Compositions: Quartet", a 1981 recording issued on Antilles of all places, the group filled out by Anthony Davis and Mark Helias. It's fine though again, not as classic as one might hope. Blackwell fits in ok, Davis brings an interesting sensibility to the music--I wish they did more work together.

Probably my favorite from this interim period is the most idiosyncratic, Braxton's "Composition 113" for solo Eb soprano saxophone (Sound Aspects, SAS 003) (It looks in the booklet photo and sorta sounds like a sopranino). I think it also was possibly his first ritual piece; when performed live (was it ever?) it included "a large photograph and prepared stage". In any case, it's a wonderfully concentrated work, the tiny horn doing yeoman's duty. I reviewed it for All Music here

Yet another interesting, partially very successful release is the duo with Richard Teitelbaum, "Open Aspects", originally issued as a double LP on Hat Art, currently available as a single disc, I think. (One of those double Hat releases in that superlatively awkward-to-open box!) These guys almost got into a rock-like, semi-Glassian mode once in a while. I saw them around this time on an odd double bill at an unlikely venue, SOB's, which for a short time in the early 80s was booking avant jazz musicians. On this night, AB and Teitelbaum shared the bill with Blood Ulmer's group, I think a quartet with Charles Burnham, Amin Ali and Cornell Rochester, though I'm not sure. The duo rocked out, though, really pretty strong. Wonder if there exist any recordings form that set or tour?

Gerry Hemingway makes his first (?) appearance with AB on "Four Compositions (Quartet) 1983" (Black Saint BSR 0066), along with George Lewis' return and Lindberg. Braxton's Composition 105A, after the them is stated, gets into a more extended, languorous group improv than he generally allowed earlier on, a nice change of pace.

Finally (at least in my vinyl collection prior to the Crispell/Dresser/Hemingway quartet), we have Vol. 1 of his standards group on Magenta, a subsidiary of (shudder) Windham Hill, my only release from that label, to be sure. Hank Jones, Rufus Reid And Victor Lewis, as fine a set of musicians as you could ask for. It's....ok, though I remain somewhat unconvinced of his traditional work when his comrades aren't otherwise in the same interest-set as AB. A bit too much oil and water. I'd prefer the trio on its own or AB solo, I think.

Enough for now.

Reading: (or planning to)

Hannah Arendt - The Human Condition
Haruki Murakami - Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
Richard Kostelanetz - Conversing with Cage

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I get a lot of discs sent my way, more than I can reasonably deal with as far as writing full reviews for Bags or elsewhere. It's not just that I'm not crazy about a given release but more that I can't think of much to say about it short of a blow by blow run through of sonic events, which is pretty boring. But I feel a bit guilty about not doing something with them. So I've come to a partial resolution. I'll differentiate between arrivals from people who mailed me in advance asking if they could send something; in those cases, it's on me as to whether or not I think the recording will fall somewhere in my areas of interest. Also, labels in whose releases I've historically been interested and with whom I have something of a relationship, no problem; in both cases, I'll write them up for Bags. But for items that show up out of the blue (something I quite like, actually) and which don't move me one way or the other, I think I'll just list them here with a brief summary.

Three such discs arrived in recent days that fall into this category.

First up is Tasuya Nakatani's "Primal Communication" (H&H) an hour-long solo percussion outing. I was into it for about the first ten minutes but then Nakatani began to gradually lose me, mostly because of an insistence on ceaseless activity that, to me, bore no sensitivity to sound placement, as though pure ardor and will was enough to carry the day. It may well be for some listeners, but not for me. Where's Jerome Cooper when you need him? Available from H&H

Then there's Extenz'O (Marmouzic), a trio led by Christophe Rocher (clarinet) with Olivier Benoit (guitar) and Edward Perraud (drums), on this disc augmented by Sylvain Thévenard (sound). It's something of a mystery how this and two prior discs by the large ensemble La Pieuvre (which also features Benoit) are getting to me. I wrote up the first La Pieuvre recording, unfavorably, at Bags but another arrived a couple months ago that was really just brutal. I just filed it away. This group is better, something of a avant jazz rock band, though well outside of my interests. At its best it gives a glimpse of what a John Carter/Sonny Sharrock band may have sounded like, but generally it's far too cluttered and anachronistic (it could have been recorded in the mid 80s, really) to generate much interest from me. marmouzic

Edorta Izarzugaza, a Basque musician out of Bilbao, provides three dark dronescapes on his "Autoerregistroa" (Hamaika). This is a case where the music's fine enough, fairly consistent and well-intentioned, but just doesn't really make an impression or enable me to say much more than, well, three dark drones. The tonalities, to me, imply a background in rock--there's a sense in which they resemble expanded versions of Fripp passages or even, for that matter, variations on Fripp/Eno work, scruffed up a bit. Some nice, atmospheric, Fenneszian guitar work on the second track and, as I said, not unenjoyable, just unremarkable. hamaika