Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mike Bullock - Mild Disappearances (Songs from Under the Floorboards)

As fine a bassist as he is, the few times I've heard Bullock dealing with electronics, I've also been very impressed. To some extent, he combines the two here though it's the electronics that are to the fore, though precisely what he's using is not listed and I'd be reluctant to even guess about it. Quasi-basslike sounds filter through the mix seeming to be possibly sourced from some unexpected meeting of bow and resonant wood but, again, who knows? Field recordings are present as well, birds and water sounds well represented. But the unexpected spine of the first track is a ping and descending glissando (again, the later possibly bass-derived?) that form a kind of melodic reference point around which the remainder of the sounds cluster and from which they disperse. It's a nice gambit and if it hangs around a minute or two longer than I might like, it's still refreshing enough to make the piece stand out and infuse it with an unusual richness. Though not nearly so overt, a subtle sense of tonality continues throughout the disc, even when it's fragmented into scattered clawings at the bass or fractured sine tones. Bullock keeps the mix deliciously viscous, balancing the shrill with the rumbling, evoking landscape while remaining abstract (I thought of Kiefer more than once). The last cut brings the bass more into play and is substantially sparser but still manages to retain the earlier depth, just pushing it into a different area, and a really interesting one, dark sounds existing in a large, even darker space. A fine recording--don't miss it.

Kiyoharu Kuwayama/Masayoshi Urabe - Heteroptics (Songs from Under the Floorboards)

A 2002 date with Kuwayama (cello, viola, percussiona) and Urabe (alto, percussion). For me, it lies on an uncomfortable divide wherein musicians are aware of and attempting to enter into the (then) newish territory of post-AMM improvisation but still retain a good bit of the emotional trappings of post-Ayler jazz. Urabe's playing, indeed, reminds me most of Joe McPhee with a similar balance of abstraction and a deep, almost spiritual color. Somehow, with McPhee I find that a more natural quality; with others, as well as it may be handled, there always seems to be something of a remove. Which isn't to say that the music here doesn't succeed on its own; it's pretty effective, the ghostly alto lamenting over parched string scrapings or the ghostly rattle of metal. There are moments of near-silence but, interestingly, even then, the sounds that appear carry some sentimental weight--curious how that happens. It's soon enough back to the haunted wailing though. There's a moment, some 38 minutes in, when one of the pair appears to toss a large metal pipe or two onto the hard floor with refreshingly raucous results--would that this abandon was followed throughout. As is, while not entirely up this listener's alley, I can easily see this being highly appreciated by, say, fans of Kaoru Abe.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ben Owen - 05012009FP (cdr)

I love hearing field-recording based work that still manages to confound my expectations of the are. It's still fascinating to me why some work and others don't; wish I could pinpoint the whys and wherefores, but maybe not. Ben Owen's collection of four pieces begins with a set of sounds more complex than initially sensed: water, yes, some owl-like hoots (not sure of the source--perhaps the "two pipes" of the title), a pervasive, grainy hum, large but more distant thrums (boat engines?), the sound of heavy wooden furniture being pushed across a resistant floor--it's rich, mysterious and evocative and immediately plunges one into this presumably fictional construct. A very strong sense of place, even if it's difficult to discern the boundaries or to entirely plant one's feet on the ground. With the odd, somewhat violent interruption, the first piece establishes itself and then just sits there, breathing. Very lovely. The brief "walk wind rain", despite its title, is more truculent, the elements buffeting the mic. Again, it's quite rich, thick juicy sounds zooming through the frame, evaporating, replaced by rainwater gurgling through a gutter. Those burbles segue right into "ceiling mid level", where the dynamic level is reduced to a bit more than a simmer but, again, with periodic eruptions. That tension between agitated calm and outright violence explodes again on the final track, "in hull", the soft water drips dispersed by the odd, shuddering moan, as though the hull in question has run up against some unforgiving wood pilings. It's disquieting, uncomfortable.

A very fine recording, issued in an edition of only 50 so, hop to it.

ben owen

mpld - lacunae (winds measure)

"lacunae" is a DVD release by Gill Arno, operating under the nom, mpld, two tracks, a brief one under 5 minutes and one of 33 minutes duration. The opener establishes the mood and frame: black and white flicker images, initially much more dark than light, allowing the viewer only glimpses of what eventually coheres into a landscape, low-horizoned, with the square silhouette of a building on the left. The sounds are percolations, clicks and a thin whistling whine. As track two commences (seamlessly as far as the sound goes), the image shifts to a brighter, but still flickering one, again a landscape, sea in the foreground, the scene bisected vertically, on a slant, by an artifact of the camera, I think, a thick black wedge, sharp on the left side, blurred on the right. The flicker-image necessarily brought to mind the fine Richard Garet/Asher collaboration, "Melting Ground", though the visuals here are darker, "older" looking. As well, they're still images, though the flicker imparts an odd sense of motion and it takes some amount of discernment to realize that nothing is, in fact, moving. The motor of the boat from which this has been shot (? I presume) gains prominence as does the intensity of the flicker as more light enters the frame. The water journey continues, the scenes slowly changing, the gurgling of the propeller in water surging and subsiding, shifting pitch an timbre. Some 23 minutes in, the dark outline of a man is seen in a still shot, against a craggy shoreline; views of other passengers ensue. At about 28 minutes, there's a startling close-up of a washed-out facial image, mannequin-like, blank. During the waning moments, the soundtrack reduces to a soft burble while the visuals become gently abstract, fold into negatives.

"lacunae" is a haunting, lovely piece, adrift in memories and their sensual associations. Excellent work.

Andrew Hayleck - weekend (winds measure)

I was also sent this cassette by Andrew Hayleck but, as my only cassette deck sits in my car, I was forced to listen to it whilst traversing the wilds of New Jersey, not the ideal situation (auditorily or olfactorily). I can only say that it sounded pretty good, full of sounds that ranged from the urban street to insectile (it's compiled largely, if not entirely, from field recordings) and that both pieces, lasting about 13 and 11 minutes, flowed along very well, seemingly infested with detail, as near as I could determine amid the sounds of speeding vehicles.

winds measure

Monday, June 20, 2011

Christian Munthe/Lee Noyes - Onliners (*for*sake)

When last I wrote about Munthe's music, in May of 2010, I remarked how difficult this "area" of improvisation is for me to evaluate, nestling as it does (to my ears) in what I think of as the post-Bailey tradition, an approach that still strikes me as a particularly forbidding tract to cultivate. As I wrote then, Bailey's shadow is so long that it's impossible not to hear him lurking around.

Munthe, now as then, negotiates the territory ably enough and, in fairness, seems to consciously leave the Bailey-esque boundaries as often as possible, but it's still a hard music for me to settle into comfortably.

That caveat aside, the duo with percussionist Lee Noyes is nicely spiky, Munthe seemingly scraping at his strings as much as plucking them, Noyes responding in kind (dare I say "post-Lovens?"). There is that efi conversational aspect which, again, isn't quite my cup of tea but I can easily imagine this appealing to differently attuned listeners. Unsurprisingly, I most enjoy the tracks, like the second one here, where the duo migrates the furthest away from the field.

Christian Munthe/Christian Jormin - Sedimentology (*for*sake)

From the same year (2009), another duo with a percussionist. It begins promisingly (again, from my point of view), sounding far more like an extension of Partch than Bailey, with ringing, bent guitar notes and spare percussion. But they quickly fall back into a not dissimilar territory than was the case with the Noyes recording--agitated, occasionally frantic, percussive playing with little space. The remainder skirts the borders between the verbose and the slightly more considered, always sounding better the nearer it is to the latter. Munthe does have a good sense of space and elastic pacing when he allows himself to recede a bit. As I said the last time around, I'd like to hear more of this facet of his work.

Anders Lindsjo/Christian Munthe - The Ping of the Pong (*for*sake)

Here, Munthe teams with another guitarist, Anders Lindsjo but, aside from the exchange of sound sources, the overall feel of the session is akin to the earlier duos (this one is from 2010). Scrabbling, slithery, scratchy, sibilant, sliding, scurrying....sustained, maybe even incessant. I take it for granted, I suppose, that the constant activity is something valued by the musicians, a burbling stew that hopes to yield a frothy richness, but I can't help but want to hear more consideration, more attentiveness to the room they're in, not so much to each other. Again, that's my mishigas, not necessarily that of those directly involved and, as with the other discs, they perform what they choose to perform pretty well.

Christian Munthe/Christine Sehnaoui - Yardangs (Mandorla)

My limited knowledge of Sehnaoui's work had also led me to place her, more or less, in the Bailey/Parker lineage and "Yardangs" (a tip of the hat to whoever chose the title for alerting me to such a wonderful word) does little to dispel that notion. She's very good, quite adept in covering a huge range of sounds though almost all are clearly within the saxophonic tradition, even when dealing in breath tones and spittle. The same might be said of John Butcher but he, often enough, has a conception that removes his instrument from being squarely in that tradition whereas Sehnaoui extends the existing one. Again, to this listener, things work better the sparer it gets, less well when things become agitated.

Again, I don't mean at all to disparage Munthe's work, it simply exists in a space that I don't find so conducive, that's aurally aggressive in a manner that I find too much "in your face", leaving the audience fewer listening options than I like having. Fans of the efi/Emanem persuasion will doubtless find the goings-on here very much to their taste and, to the extent I can honestly hear the music as such, it does a fine job at elaborating on that tradition.



Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A few words on George Lewis.

Like many outside of Chicago, I first heard Lewis in the context of Anthony Braxton's "Creative Orchestra Music, 1976", particularly his solo feature on the infamous march piece. In the summer of '77, as I've written many a time, I first saw him live at the Tin Palace with an incredible Braxton quartet that otherwise included Muhal, Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall. Lewis, I guess 23 at the time, brought the house down on several occasions that day, once causing Brax to step to the side and deliver an exaggerated bow in his young trombonist's direction.

I don't have a distinct recollection of catching him around otherwise in those days though doubtless I'm forgetting some events (maybe with Anthony Davis?). I *do* remember him up at Environ, not a little pissed off at an interview with Albert Mangelsdorff that had been run somewhere, wherein the German had maintained that he was the only trombonist able to play overtones, Lewis wanting desperately to walk up to him, 'bone in hand, and proffer a rich, multi-layered blaat.

His first recording, from November 1976, is already remarkably self-assured and experimental, mightily impressive for a 23 year-old. The sidelong piece for three trombones is a fine mix of approaches, pointillistic alongside trad-referring chorales, bluesy wails amongst strangled squawks, etc., all cohering amazingly well, not sounding like a mere grab bag of effects, but as a considered walk through a catalog of available sounds and structures. Side two has three pieces more "in the tradition" and beautifully played, especially the closing "Lush Life", as pretty and imaginative a version as you're ever likely to hear.

I'm not precisely certain of the chronology of these four albums as the remaining three don't include recording dates, but they're all from 1977-79.

Lewis began using electronics (at least on record) around '77, a fairly unusual move (in the way he was using them) among AACM-affiliated musicians, presumably deriving from his knowledge of and working with people like Ashley and Behrman in conjunction with his increased activity at and eventual directing of The Kitchen. Ewart always struck me as an interesting player--often fantastic as part of an ensemble, a bit tending toward new-agey things on his own. Here, he's fine on flute, alto and bass clarinet, as well as percussion. There's a typically rambunctious first piece, well played but fairly standard for the time followed by a more fascinating piece, the pair dealing more in pure, extended tones, rubbing them up against each other. Lewis also contact mics his instrument. Lewis' "The Imaginary Suite", which takes up side two, is marvelous and a clear antecedent (if, in fact, it preceded!) the following recording; indeed, part two of this piece is virtually the same. Using low horns, percussion and a bed of electronics, Lewis fashions a music that was leagues away from what any of his AACM cohorts (with, perhaps, the partial exception of Anthony Davis) were doing while at the same time injecting enough grit and blues to easily distinguish it from the white, post-minimalist music of the period.

In years past, this was always on my Desert Island Discs list. Not certain if it would be today, but it's still damn great. Lewis, Davis, Ewart and Teitelbaum. Two sidelong tracks, the first, "Blues" a bit more raucous for a while before mellowing, the title track all rich, deep smoothness. For sheer sonic gorgeousity, this is tough to beat. But more, as said above, this simply not only stood out, but stood very much apart from the work of any jazz-based musician from the period that I can think of. The title track, following a wonderful, billowy beginning, settles into such a beautiful electronic bed, something that might be akin to the Eno of the period, but far deeper, from which Ewart's alto emerges like some wondrous fern, unfurling leisurely but inevitably, splintering, coalescing. And Lewis--well, there's no more beautiful trombone solo in jazz--if this is jazz--to my ears. Everything is in there. And, the piece just ceases with the trombone dangling out there. Soooo good. Hmmm, maybe still Desert Island....

It might just be that Lewis didn't release much more through the 80s, but this is the last recording of his I have on vinyl. On Lovely, no doubt having to do with his tenure as Director of the Kitchen. A quartet, as above with J.D. Parran replacing Davis. Very different from the Charles Parker disc, beginning with a swarm of percussion and double reeds (Ewart on musette, Parran on nagaswaram), an intriguing variation on minimalism. Low horns and electronics don't appear until about halfway through the first side, foghorn-like, buoys in the clatter. There's actually a brief snatch of what sounds like some very Rowe-ian guitar in there, presumably Teitelbaum-generated. It's a fascinating step, on the whole and, if I don't love it as much as the Parker homage, it indicated some intriguing branching out.

But...I'm not sure what happened. I think the next thing I have under his own name is the "Voyager" disc on Avant ("Changing with the Times", which I liked even less, was approximately co-synchronous--I see "Berlin Tango" listed at AMG, but I'm unfamiliar with that). Somewhere in those 10-15 years, his use of electronics had become, to my ears, overly academic and bland. Subsequent releases ("Shadowgraph" and others) didn't rectify the situation to these ears. I saw a performance of a work of his in Nancy in 2002, a quartet wielding light sabers that triggered sounds--not very good. (Although I relish the memory of hanging out in the wee hours at a table including George and Teitelbaum, the former proving to be a voluble storyteller and exceedingly friendly person). However, I did have the good fortune to witness a duo with the late Bill Dixon at Vision Fest in 2006 that was extraordinarily beautiful, thoughtful and sensitive. I've no doubt that I've missed things along the way from Lewis that I should have heard--I don't think I've encountered anything emerging from his professorship at Columbia, for instance. I was hoping for more from his book on the AACM as well.

Still, one of my favorite musicians, all things told, from this period and I'm extremely grateful for any number of musical memories, live and on record.

Friday, June 03, 2011

I've sort of gotten in the habit of posting any semi-decent watercolors or drawings on facebook and letting them just slide down the page, something I find rather attractive, truth to tell. But since I have a rare grace period here (no discs to write up!) and I don't feel like talking overmuch about the three Kronos vinyls I've played recently, I thought I'd post a couple of groups of paintings, and a drawing, that seemed to work out well enough.

Last year, I did a set of a dozen t-shirt paintings, four each in red, indigo and light grey, which I enjoyed a bunch and which yielded maybe six decent pieces. So I decided to do a few of black cloth and found the batting average to remain the same: two I like very much, two with some redeeming qualities but some awkwardnesses as well. It also allowed me to deal with the problem of Payne's Gray, a color that absolutely beguiles one while wet but tends to dry in a cakey fashion, much to the painter's chagrin. The first three dealt with that by layering on indigo (mixed here and there with other blues and red) in a kind of oil-painting manner, as glazes. On the last, by working wet into semi-wet, I somehow managed to avoid the harsh dryness--one shot, no return--very happy with that one, the fourth as well as the second.

In any case, in order:

Last month, our dear friend Carol gave us an old scoop of some kind--perhaps a flour scoop?--she'd found in a shop in France. It's a lovely object, old white enamel with wonderful rust stains, and I quickly set about getting it down on paper. First a fairly simply drawing:

Then a fairly simple, if ill-drawn watercolor:

For some reason, I had an urge to work at it in, more or less, a monotone of some kind, and to concentrate on just parts of it. I kind of like the way these turned out:

All for now, thanks for looking.