Vertical Music is a new cassette label based in Milan, run by Ludwig Berger. A few words on their initial three releases below.
Rubén D'Hers - Bolero Transparente (Vertical Music)
Three pieces for solo acoustic guitar. The works are inspired by the "Bolero" song movement of the 70s, something I'm (blessedly?) unaware of but which, I gather, were very popular in D'Hers' native Venezuela among other places. I'm guessing they were quite the romantic/schmaltzy production numbers but D'Hers strips things down drastically, taking single notes and chords, playing them clearly, allowing them to suspend in space, quavering and bending gently, once in a while containing an echo of Hawaiian music. The first track, 'Romantic Chord Puzzle', outlines this approach. The chords and occasional arpeggios are independent, perhaps sourced from a sequence of otherwise unrelated songs. They hang, sometimes retuned, sometimes not, softly reverberating, their inherent richness tempered into a very attractive solemnity. The briefer 'Disipador de Tensión' moves things outside, the sounds of urban buzz and conversation forming a backdrop to guitar sounds that are similar to the first track, but more internally related, less disparate, almost a self-contained song--very lovely. Side B is taken up by the title track wherein the suspension is lengthened, allowing sections of silence between, and the timbre is roughened somewhat. This brings the music into significantly different and rewarding territory. The balance between the clear sustains and the sizzle and distortion around the edges is wonderful. Excellent work all around, check it out.
Jen Reimer/Max Stein - Sounding the City (Vertical Music)
Reimer and Stein do site-specific sound installations, generally urban, wherein the add to the existing soundscape with electronics of a drone-like nature. I was most often reminded if Max Neuhaus installations, like the one in Times Square, New York City. The seventeen tracks here are titled by their locations and seem to be simply recorded extracts of the environment. These recordings are quite clear and full. Usually, one can pick out the additions from Reimer and Stein, relatively unobtrusive hums and tones, though sometimes these are (apparently) masked to a great extent--or you're hearing them without being able to distinguish between sources. This makes it difficult to determine whether the pair is operating along the lines of, say, Michael Pisaro's 'Transparent Cities' series, where sine tones were chosen to, as much as possible, align up with the environmental sounds, or like Neuhaus and others where the additions were meant to subtly enhance or tinge the surroundings, whether consciously perceived or otherwise. In a recorded format, the listener is, of course, at a necessary disadvantage and I can easily imagine, in situ, an entirely different experience, probably a vastly more rewarding one. As is, the pieces make for engaging listening, not a problem at all, just a nagging sense that one is missing something.
Ludwig Berger - Inumaki, Esuzaki (Vertical Music)
The inumaki tree is a variety of small pine native to southern Japan and China; its miniature version is popular as a kind of bonsai tree. For this very obscure recording, Berger used a contact mic on such a tree (on Esuzaki Island) during a strong wind. I said "obscure" above as the resultant sounds bear no obvious relationship with either trees or wind. Instead, we have a series of consistent but irregularly spaced "cries", a sound I might have guessed was from some exotic bird, a kind of howler monkey or a single-string bowed instrument like an erhu, or even a slightly hoarse shakuhachi. The sounds are short, clear, a little mournful with something of a descending line, somewhere between a whistle and a resonant scraping. In the background, you can just discern the sound of wind. I'm guessing one is hearing the same wind pass through the tree, the recording having been pared down to just the sound we hear here, though I'm not sure. There are occasional variations during the hour duration of the work, small clicks, rumblings and hollow taps, even the odd flatulent eruption. It's a challenging piece but one I found strangely absorbing. Little occurs but something about what I take to be the natural rhythm of the interaction between wind and tree, I found compelling.
Vertical Music at bandcamp
Friday, April 26, 2019
Mazen Kerbaj - Walls Will Fall (Bohemian Drips)
A site-specific work by Kerbaj, scored for 49 trumpets (seven groups of seven) to be performed in the Großer Wasserspeicher (Big Reservoir) of Berlin-Pankow. Not that it matters, but only a handful of the trumpeters (Axel Dörner, Sabine Ercklentz, Tom Arthurs, Nikolaus Neuser) on this LP were familiar to me--but the music is entirely a group effort. Kerbaj takes as his initial inspiration the biblical story of the Walls of Jericho and their subsequent tumbling, mapping it onto current or near-pst situations such as the Berlin Wall, Israel's wall of separation or Trump's proposed border wall, with the goal of hoping that music can help eliminate these barriers. The work is in several sections, beginning with a host of clicking sounds, moving on to sweeping breath tones (49 trumpets can create quite a wind storm), gradually introducing shofar-like calls and then purer brass notes and finally shouts of "Walls will fall!". The Großer Wasserspeicher is quite a unique space, structurally and sonically, so the home listener necessarily loses a good deal of the experience (though the video excerpt below gives you something more of the idea) but still, the massive reverberation of the buzzing of the horns is very impressive.
Hannes Lingens - Pieces for Percussion (Umlaut)
I've always enjoyed, on recording and in live performance, Lingens' sense of restraint as a percussionist, his willingness to concentrate on single aspects of his kit and investigate them with care and patience. This LP continues that practice. The opening, 'Cymbal I', is ninety seconds of "simple" dulled taps on a cymbal (or gong), irregularly spaced and vaguely connotative of ritual; quite moving. 'Goofy Footer' involves dense washes of cymbals (for four players, it's overdubbed by Lingens here) that accumulate and disperse in waves throughout the piece. The next, the first of two versions of 'Arhythmic Perfection' is for bells, exhibiting a similar quasi-rhythm as was heard in the first work, extremely natural and engaging. 'Etwas Runder IV', closing the first side, is an extended snare roll within which Lingens constructs all manner of pulses and ripples, really fascinating, with more colors than you could possibly anticipate. Much of Side Two is given over to 'Four Cymbals'. an exercise in everyone's least favorite avant-percussionist technique, cymbal bowing. But Lingens pulls it off quite well, layering the tones, which range from high (but not shrilly piercing) to very low, creating a taffy-like flow. The final piece, 'Early Spring', is a lovely outlier, consisting of a field recording (or two), outdoors, with children, birds and others in the distance. The only contribution from Lingens that I can discern (I think) is a periodic low, woody tone. Wonderful work all around.
Tomaso Corbetta - wakes in emptiness (self-released)
Doing a post-AMM soundscape and doing it right. Corbetta, a new name to me, combines thin layers of disparate sounds, many lightly percussive in nature, into an engaging, somewhat bleak, uncluttered essay, a fairly quiet, somberly industrial, nocturnal plain. There are many elements, including captures from short wave radios of Russian (?) speech and vague, distant snatches of music, some ritual chanting, embedded in an environment that's electronic at heart but not overwhelmingly so, a very nice balance. The percussive sounds, lightly abutting metals, skitters of wood on metal, etc. emerge and recede, often layered but, again, never cloying, always transparent and set within the space, not atop it. Corbetta's choices made along the way feel natural and unforced, resulting in an engaging, immersive amble, driven by a subtle, hard to explicate sense of narrative. Excellent work, give a listen.
Corbetta on bandcamp
Monday, April 22, 2019
Yan Jun/Jason Kahn - None of Us (Herbal International)
Five tracks from a vocal duo of Yan Jun and Jason Kahn during 2016, four short ones (one to three minutes) and one lengthy one running over 36 minutes, except...their vocals have been erased, leaving only the sounds that occurred in either Yan Jun's flat as they rehearsed (racks 1-3) or in the concert venue (4-5). For the shorter tracks this means, largely, the shuffling of feet, the gentle bumping together of unknown objects, etc. The longer cut was pieced together from five events, so one hears differences of general ambience and hushed conversations (presumably from audience members) in addition to the dull clicks and thuds. There are sections of near-silence, occasionally followed by a brief, startling in context, burst of applause and perhaps some post-concert, blurred general discussion. It's kind of an interesting idea--though the sort of thing that can and should only be done once (which is fine)--and even works a little if put on at low volume and not paid strict attention to, allowing it to blend in with one's environment.
Burkhard Beins/Mazen Kerbaj/Michael Vorfeld - Sawt Out (Herbal International)
An improv set with two percussionists (Beins and Vorfeld) and a trumpeter (Kerbaj). I'm attracted to that instrumental combination for some reason and the range of sounds created here, the thick matrix constructed between struck and stroked objects and the panoply of breath-derived brass sounds is quite impressive and enjoyable. The aural field is full, active and churning with little regard for silence--in this sense, it's a kind of extension of jazz-derived free improv, though of a thicker aspect, less scurrying, more grinding. 'Solid Water' features an intense, swirling sound the source of which I can't guess--it seems to be electronic, though nothing such is credited, but could be from the trumpet. In any case, it's pretty riveting and when it becomes increasingly embedded in the emergence of multiple cymbals/gongs, the effect is quite strong, made more so by its eventual abrupt cessation. 'Crossfeed" contains some searing bow-on-metal work through which one can just discern pop music from a radio buried in the mix, again developing a rich, unusual tone-world. The finely titled, 'Sore Toad' closes the disc with an engaging clatter of bells and thudding noises. While part of me would have liked to hear more space, more reticence, this set works quite well on its own terms and will certainly be enjoyed by listeners with a taste for active, visceral improv.
Christian Kobi/Christian Müller - A Second Day (Herbal International)
Five tracks of improvisation from Kobi (soprano saxophone) and Müller (sampled bass clarinet and electronics). As opposed to the album reviewed above, this combination, at least as realized here, doesn't sit as well with me. The soprano is generally strained (intentionally, no doubt) and the sampled electronics possess a kind of Ina GRM-y sheen that has never appealed to me. That said, there's a kind of delicate fragmentation at work here that's well-formed, spiky and colorful. The fourth track (cuts are numbered #1 - #5) ameliorates this, resulting in a very fine flow, a stream interrupted by chirps, buzzes, pops and other welcome detritus, very absorbing. The final track almost seems to be a reconciliation of these two approaches and works as well, combining the harsh spikiness with a sandpapery, staggered kind of flow. As a whole, the recording is hit and miss to these ears but ably accomplished and should appeal, among others, to admirers of Noetinger, eRikm and similar musicians striding the border between improv and contemporary electronics.
Thursday, April 18, 2019
Eric La Casa/Eamon Sprod - Friche: Transition (Swarming)
This release has special resonance for me as the sounds were recorded in and around the neighborhood in Paris where I lived for two years (and where La Casa resides). We spent many a day walking and biking along the Canal Ourcq, both inside the city proper (within the Périphérique) and out into the banlieues of Pantin, Bobigny and beyond. La Casa and Sprod (perhaps better known by his nom de musique, Tarab), wandered along the canal as well as the abandoned railway, known as La Petite Ceinture, which circles Paris, largely underground but exposed at several points including in the northeast section of the Parc Buttes-Chaumont and at several other points in the XIX and XX arrondissements, including a bridge over the canal. The recordings were made in 2015 and processed over the last couple of years.
As is generally the case with La Casa's work (Sprod's as well, to the extent I'm aware of it, mostly from work done ten to fifteen years ago, although there's a new one from him as well that I'll get to soon), the sounds captured and presented walk a line between the mundane and the mysterious. That is to say, the sources are everyday, grimy, urban--things that occur routinely all around us, but are morphed into precision sound worlds that isolate, combine, make transparent, add vast depth to the ordinary, making them alien and wonderful. Here, they apparently dwelled in waste areas, the cover image showing garbage behind a scrim of dried branches. Bumps, rustles, gurgles, metallic bangs, wires zinging, clicks, obscure screeches--the world is rich in noise, clear deep and not a little troubling. The way the four tracks have been structured also strikes a fine balance between seeming randomness and implied narrative, the final track closing the expedition with an explosive, dynamic flourish.
Fine work indeed.
Cristián Alvear - Seis Pequeñas Para Guitarra (Zoomin' Night)
Known primarily as an interpreter of others' music, including composers associate with the Wandelweiser group, Alvear creates a good deal of music on his own. This cassette collection of six pieces for solo guitar is an excellent example. The music is easy enough to describe but another matter to describe the effect and experience. Alvear is exceedingly clear--he plays single notes, tonal and warm, in a slow but regular cadence, sometimes leaving them hanging, sometimes accompanying them with a second tone, sometimes playing arpeggios, letting them shimmer for several seconds, as in 'III' here, elsewhere cycles of four notes with additional, irregular accents. The pitches chosen will usually generate gentle overtones and pulses and while one sequence will be repeated quite often, when Alvear shifts the pitch, the difference is both striking and, oddly, emotional, as though the listener's sympathies have been discreetly constructed all along, without one's noticing. While contemplativeness is present throughout, the mood changes from brighter to more somber ('V'). The final track, 'VI', one of the cyclic pieces, bears a trace of a Chinese scale, perhaps a nod to the label, which stems from Beijing. As with all the works here, one might indeed make some kind of analogy to classic Chinese ink brush drawing--I can think of worse comparisons. A very beautiful release, highly recommended.
Zoomin' Night (bandcamp)
Masayuki Imanishi/Marco Serrato - Caura (tsss tapes)
Imanishi uses field recordings as well but unlike, say La Casa above, I think (no details provided on this cassette release) that they're deployed in a realtime improvisatory manner, here accompanied by bassist Serrato. This creates an atmosphere that, going from what I can discern of Serrato's attack (I don't believe I've encountered him--or Imanishi--prior), has tinges of free improvisation, or even free jazz. Serrato uses plenty of extended techniques, sawing and agitating his bass in a manner that wouldn't be out of place in a duo with, say, Han Bennink or Jack Wright. But embedded in the swirling, thick swarms of noise generated by Imanishi (from sources difficult to identify), the bass can possibly be heard as an anguished soloist in front of and within this quasi-orchestral morass, especially on '#1'. On the second side of the tape, the bass is more out front and Serrato evinces some impressive ideas, harsh and abstract. Imanishi's contributions are lighter, more ethereal, even a tad spacey for my taste. But as the track progresses, this aspect dissipates and smoother, grainy and complex flow emerges, the bass settling in to scratch and paw behind and beside, and the music achieves a satisfying level of fluttery tastiness.
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Magnus Granberg/Skogen - Nun, es wird nicht weit mehr gehn (Another Timbre)
The English translation I found most apt for the title of this disc (a line from 'Die Krähe', from Schubert's 'Winterreise') was, "Well, it will not go much further", though the composer uses, "Now, there won't be much more walking". Combined with a perusal of the lovely painting by Julius von Leypold, depicting a man walking through a blustery landscape, I found this helpful in discerning a way around and through Granberg's music, something that's given me a certain amount of difficulty in the past. Much of that "problem" (surely more my issue than a general one) was ascertaining a structure that I could grasp onto. By approaching the music as a kind of walk, with little or no expectation of points of particular interest, simply getting into the rhythm of certain quasi-regularities--the path, the growth along the sides, the odd stone of tree--I found it an engaging, rewarding experience.
For this recording, Skogen is essentially a nonet with strings and percussion, consisting of Anna Lindal (violin), Angharad Davies (violin), Leo Svensson Sander (cello), Erik Carlsson (percussion), John Eriksson (vibraphone, whistling), Henrik Olsson (percussion, objects, contact mics), Petter Wästberg (objects, contact mics, mixing board), d'incise (electronics, objects) and Granberg (prepared piano). I have no idea about the score or instructions therein, but in one sense--not a negative one--the music meanders for its 56 minutes, or perhaps it's better to say that it ambles, slowly. There are small quasi-rhythms scattered throughout, from a tapping right at the beginning to various vibraphone and piano sequences, patterns I equate with steps taken by the walker, going for a bit, pausing for a look at something, continuing. These sharper sounds weave their way through a haze of lines from the strings, maybe light, cold rainfall. There's an amount of stasis, the kind of sameness (though, of course not sameness) one might experience walking through a purportedly nondescript field. Soft gongs answer birdsong, the landscape drifts by, dulcet here, more acerbic there. Released steam, the rattle of branches in the oncoming wind. It's really like a closely observed, sensitively experienced stroll through space. In the last few minutes, there's a wonderful set of brief cadences on medium low percussion (tablas?), an entirely beguiling sound. I felt as though I'd found an especially beautiful stone or a centuries old coin.
Excellent work, attentively and sympathetically played by the ensemble.
Monday, April 15, 2019
Klaus Lang/Golden Fur - Beissel (Another Timbre)
Georg Conrad Beissel (1691 - 1768) was an odd bird. Born in Germany, he emigrated to the New World, settling in Pennsylvania with like-minded religious...extremists to await the Second Coming. During this inevitably disappointing period, he established a community at Ephrata, Pennsylvania which, while somewhat in line with other such ascetic groups, was modeled on proto-socialist principles and was an early adopter of vegetarianism. More to the point of this release, Beissel developed a unique form of musical composition, one he said was inspired by mystical experiences via angels, which relied on "predetermined sequences of 'master notes' and 'servant notes' to create harmony", a system that some say anticipated serialism.
Klaus Lang (organ) and Golden Fur (Samuel Dunscombe, clarinets; Judith Hamann, cello; James Rushford, viola and harmonium) have collaborated on a unique and ravishing work that takes aspects of Beissel's music as a starting point and expands outward from there. The organ used by Lang resides in the abbey at St. Lambrecht in Styria, Austria and its sound surfaces throughout the recording. For all its apparent structural differences, the underlying character of the Beissel hymn that the quartet elaborates on seems to share some tonal characteristics with those in the standard Protestant repertoire, works by Wesley and others. As mentioned by Dunscombe in the interview on the Another Timbre page, they took a hymn and elongated it, stretched it out over some 41 minutes. The abbey interior is apparent from the first moments, the soft, drifting notes floating like mist in a shadowed space. When the organ enters at full steam about four minutes in, it is indeed a transfigurative moment--one can almost imagine an angelic apparition. The hymn is embedded in this fog, stretched and pulled (gently). The strings swaddle it, prodding it along, defining its limits as best they can. There's something almost anamorphic about the piece, its fundamentally recognizable attributes (especially to those of us reared in that tradition) skewed and extended. Some of the sonorities achieved (from whence, I've little idea, though certainly the organ is involved) like the deep growl that emerges around the ten-minute mark, are in and of themselves astounding, so deeply rich. There are long sections of near stasis in the middle of the work filled with tiny fluctuations and gradual attenuation, including one with the surprising introduction of bell tones. Toward the piece's conclusion, the quartet returns to a clearer exposition of the hymn, still attractively warped but calmer, more "at home".
A brilliant idea and recording, one of the more striking pieces of music I've heard in recent months.
Saturday, April 13, 2019
Julius Eastman/Apartment House - Femenine (Another Timbre)
The last few years have seen a small but welcome surge in recordings of Julius Eastman's music, music that had been ignored or lost for decades. As there are a limited number of compositions available, some in fragmentary form, we can expect to hear multiple readings of a given work. In 2016, Frozen Reeds released a 1974 recording of 'Femenine' by the S.E.M. Ensemble (of which Eastman was a co-founding member). This recording, as near as I can determine, is the only one that's been realized since then.
Listening to that 1974 performance, one gets something of the spirit of the 1968 recording of Terry Riley's masterwork, 'In C', the steady piano replaced by sleigh bells (also recalling the maracas in Reich's 'Four Organs'). Here, there are no cells of mini-passages to be read through in sequence, the number of repeats to be determined by each musician, but the iterated vibraphone line has something of the same utopian sensibility, a kind of joyous fanfare, echoed and accented by strings and the piano. There's a fine balance between the rigor maintained by the vibraphone line and the expansiveness generated by the other instruments as they, one gets the sense, feed off of it, but their growth patterns possess an attractive/ungainly almost vegetative complexity.
For this session, Apartment House consisted of Simon Limbrick (vibraphone), Kerry Yong (piano), Mark Knoop (keyboard), Mira Benjamin (violin), Anton Lukoszevieze (cello), Emma Williams (flute) and Gavin Morrison (flute). The first noticeable difference is that the vibraphone is somewhat more muted, less brash, sacrificing perhaps a bit of bravado for a more contemplative feeling, a move I quite like. When the piano enters with low tolls, they're also less dense, somehow more thoughtful, conveying a gradual sense of unfolding. There's a substantially greater clarity in the recording. For example, there are many piano lines that may well have occurred in the S.E.M. session but which I certainly couldn't pick up--they're perfectly clear here and add greatly to the depth of the work. At the small cost of, perhaps, doing away with a bit of the ecstatic component present in the initial recording (maybe due, in part, to the sheer newness of the work at the time), Apartment House has achieved a limpidity, delicacy and breadth that I find more rewarding, allowing multiple re-listens that expose new layers and relationships every time through. The more languid passages that start up around the 55-minute mark here are just luscious. The whole piece not only breathes but gets up and scampers.
A beautiful realization and a must for those who have become enamored of Eastman's work in recent years.
Friday, April 12, 2019
Vanessa Rossetto - you and i are earth (Tone Glow)
It's been ten years or more, I think, since I received a package in the mail from some hitherto unknown person in Texas, said package bearing three CDs in black sleeves, the discs sporting the odd titles, 'Imperial Brick', 'Whoreson in the Wilderness' and 'Misafridal'. I was pretty knocked out by these very fresh, dense works from Vanessa Rossetto combining viola, found sounds, tapes and much more. The intervening decade has yielded much more fantastic music from Rossetto and this one continues that fine lineage.
'you and i are earth' is the first release on Joshua Kim's new label, Tone Glow--an auspicious beginning. No extra information is provided as to sources and methods, leaving your hapless reviewer to make assumptions that will doubtless turn out wrong but I would often rather just go from my ears than ask questions, so...there are four works. 'the dirt' commences with the reminiscences of an elderly women, apparently recalling her experiences in London during the Blitz. This segues into a dense, wooly rumble, a typically (for Rossetto) complex stew made up of who knows how many elements; something very propulsive and surging about it despite the lack of anything resembling a beat. We hear faint echoes of sirens, muted string music, someone singing 'The White Cliffs of Dover' and much, much more, beautifully layered in. There's a wonderful breadth to the piece, a sense of scanning history, sometimes clearly, sometimes murkily. It ends with a male voice repeating, "All clear". 'a flower arrangement (pro eto 1)', is a fascinating, quasi-drone piece, subdued, made up of several layers of buzzing tones, more than several I think as you pick up strand upon strand when listening closely--some electronic hums, others like strings vibrating against resonant surfaces. Concise, eerie and compelling. The title cut stands apart a bit, and is my favorite of this excellent set. Starting with a hymn on church bells ("The Church's One Foundation"?), it melts into what sounds like multiple lines sourced from strings, some possibly Rossetto's own viola, some from elsewhere (?), the whole forming a very complex but graspable thread--or rope--, deep bass bowings coming in, seesawing underneath more anxious playing atop--a really marvelous and slightly unnerving concoction. 'a garden (pro eto 2)' closes the album softly, though nervously enough with dry, lightly touched viola over a more tonal bed of string chords, voices joining as if from some ethereal choir, eventually just a mix of strings, gorgeous and creamy, forming unusual and enticing tonalities as they overlap and ultimately fade.
Tremendous work, highly recommended.
Saturday, April 06, 2019
Patrick Shiroishi - 烏の涙\ (American Damage)
My previous exposure to Shiroishi's work, very limited, was as a saxophonist but on this cassette release, he evinces substantial guitar skills, as well as vocals. The title seems to translate to 'Tears of the Rose' and the text, both spoken and gently sung in Japanese, is by label owner Jordan Reyes. Shiroishi's guitar playing ranges easily from the early koto-esque strums at the beginning of the first track, to "traditional" sounds that recall, perhaps, Robbie Basho, to post-Bailey explorations, smoothly flowing from one to another, always excellently played. The two pieces, each just over ten minutes long, stream along, fracture, coalesce again, fracture again. The second ends with a few minutes of simple, heartfelt singing and playing, pure and beautiful. A very fine set.
piv-ots - orangish (Nomad Exquisite)
piv-ots is Nicholas Burrage and I believe this is his first release in quite some time. Also, if my memory serves, the music presented here is in line with what I'd heard previously, which is to say electronic drones that are "simple" in one respect, but pared down with perfectly chosen elements, so "simple" in the sense that a fine bowl of soba noodles is simple, i.e., not really. 'the pond', the brief opening track, has a saw-like character, pulsing in place, rotating, bristling with energy. 'truss' begins with a set of deep, burred tones that recall the title track from 'Big Science'. They remain more or less in place as they're overlaid by the kind of loopy, spacey synth lines that should, by all rights, sound trite but manage to fit right in--baffling! :-) Near the end, Burrage adds some percussive sounds that dreamily evoke West African balafon playing--lovely. After a rather short--six seconds--respite of two muffled voices, we get to the last track, 'March 6, 2019'. The 23-minute piece is an excellent example of creating a basic ground--here a slowly pulsing, tonal hum--allowing it to vary moderately, almost unnoticeably, over its course, adding discreet but apposite flavorings along the way, not too many, just a handful, letting things simmer and flow. Excellent work, dronage the way it should be.
Michaël Attias - échos la nuit (Out of Your Head)
I was previously unfamiliar with Attias' work as an alto saxophonist who has recorded with, among others, Anthony Coleman, Anthony Braxton, Paul Motian and Jim Pugliese. If this solo recording is indicative, he's a very attractive player, with a calm approach that, of I had to make a comparison, sometimes reminds me of Braxton's quieter, more balladic, solo performances--but quieter and gentler still, only rarely venturing into flurries of overtones or extended techniques (some fine circular breathing on the aptly titled, 'Circles'). I said "solo", but on a number of the twelve tracks here, Attias overdubs himself on piano [correction: these aren't overdubs. Attias plays alto with one hand, piano with the other, in real time]. As with his alto, the piano is quiet and spare but always melodic, perhaps with a tinge of Paul Bley. When the piano is used, it's complementing the alto line, playing a written part, very delicate and touching, a ghostly echo, as it were. Very thoughtful, sensitive work from Attias, a pleasure to hear.
Out Of Your Head
Dušica Cajlan-Wissel/Etienne Nillesen/Georg Wissel - fourtyfour fiftythree (Creative Sources)
An improv session from Cajlan-Wissel (prepared piano), Nillesen (extended snare drum) and Wissel (prepared alto saxophone), all musicians new to me. Two suite-like sets, divided by time markings into sections. The trio's playing is active, skittery, tending toward the higher, thinner registers. The busy scurrying will on occasion coalesce into small explosions, subside back into--not silence, but a different form of quieter seething. They perform very well in a group sense, no pyrotechnics, no individual leaving the others behind. In fact, it's hard to get a real sense of the individuality of any of them, which isn't a bad thing (though Cajlan-Wissel has a few moments of deep melodicism that stand apart a little bit). As is often the case in this "area" of improvisation, the abundance of virtually non-stop sound-making turns out not to be entirely my thing; I still prefer more reticent listening and then--maybe--acting. But it's also a far cry from much in the jazz-based free improv world and listeners attuned to this subtler, more thoughtful side of things could find much to enjoy.
Thursday, April 04, 2019
The Pitch/Barbara Konrad & Klaus Lang - affinités sélectives volume 2 (Rhizome.s)
The second split release under the title, "affinités sélectives", with two sets of musicians performing pieces not necessarily related to each other, though here involving referrals to earlier musical works.
The first track finds The Pitch (Boris Baltschun, electric pump organ; Koen Nutters, contrabass; Morten J. Olsen, vibraphone; Michael Thieke, clarinet) playing the intriguingly titled, 'The Pitch translating Olivier Messiaen "Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus". This section of 'Quartet for the End of Time' is, in this listener's opinion, one of the most sublime passages in 20th century music, so I was curious to see what this ensemble, fine musicians all, would bring to the idea. Somehow just reproducing the music wouldn't make much sense and the quartet avoids that, though the extent to which they play around the themes creates substantial ambiguity between their creation and the original. We hear a long series of overlapping tones (I think the vibes are being bowed or very softly struck). It gradually becomes more expansive, containing more slowly fluctuating tones, creeping little by little toward the tonality of the Messiaen. Some 18 minutes in, the tones end and a doleful bell is heard tolling for two minutes. When the other instruments re-enter, the mood has changed, becoming more somber, with the sharp vibraphone strikes recalling the piano in the original piece. The voices enter one by one in a shorter, sourer, rising sequence, possibly referring to the ascending-into-the-ether conclusion of the Messiaen. Just a few minutes from the end, the clarinet quotes almost directly from the Louange, preceding a forceful and funereal sequence that concludes the piece quite movingly. A lovely work.
A note from composer Oliver Thurley underlies the second track: 'a technical diagram for the abstraction of ockeghem's missa pro defuncis: kyrie, side elevation'. This refers to a requiem I don't know, so I've no idea about the relationship. It's performed by Barbara Konrad on viola d'amore and Klaus Lang on harmonium. Similar to the prior work, it revolves around long-held notes, here with the harmonium providing drone-like underpinnings (with a good deal of complication and shifting) and the viola d'amore adding sinuous, sometimes acerbic lines atop and through and they do convey a hard-to-pinpoint Renaissance aura of a sort. It's enchanting and dreamy in a nicely sour way. When the pair finishes playing, they comment on the weather where it was recorded, in blustery northern England. Perfect.
Andrea Borghi - 3discos (Rhizome.s)
Seven tracks from Borghi using prepared turntables playing discs made from marble, resin and text-engraved aluminum. There seem to be ancillary activities occurring as well, but the listener clearly perceives the basic rotational source of the sounds. Within this focus, Borghi, as usual, manages to create entire worlds, endlessly, unpredictably detailed. His work often reminds me of pieces from the Arte Povera movement, with gritty, everyday materials handled in such a way so as to reveal the immense complexity that lies beneath their surfaces. These pieces are active, bubbling and scurrying but never over-busy--one gets the sense that the aural emissions are somehow secondary to the opaquely functional processes going on--the sounds these machines happen to make, Of course, it's Borghi who is guiding the wheels here and his choices are exemplary throughout. Fans of Jeph Jerman will find much to enjoy here.
Tuesday, April 02, 2019
Terry Riley - In C (Bôłt)
A quick glance over at Discogs shows me 20 or so recordings of Riley's 'In C' which strikes me as eminently appropriate as, in my opinion, it's one of the major works of so-called minimalism if not the apotheosis of the genre. It has a bit of everything: some process music, some improvisation (with regard to choices made by the performers), an irresistible rhythmic drive, the possibility of being well-played by amateurs (as opposed to another masterwork, Reich's 'Drumming') and many other fine qualities. Additionally, while always retaining an essential character, the specific results of a realization will vary widely, including insofar as the instrumentation chosen. I've recently heard recordings by a Malian ensemble (African Express) on local instruments, one by Acid Mothers Temple and another by Brooklyn Raga Massive. At hand is a 2018 recording by a 15-piece Polish ensemble led by xylophonist Hubert Zemler which includes hurdy-gurdy, bass clarinet, voice/cello, two violins, two hammered dulcimers, voice, double bass, three-row accordion, viola, positive organ/celesta and alto clarinet.
There's a stated objective here to, among others things, impart some kind of Polish inflection to the work and, indeed, some 20-odd minutes in, the accordion, while presumably following the score, manages to inflect it in a way that suggests a mazurka. This is fine and even welcome, but there are several aspects that gnaw at me a bit: something of a leadenness in the underlying pulse, where I want to hear lightness; the over-emotiveness of the voices (both female); the apparent strategy of group decisions on crescendi and diminuendi at a number of points, reducing this down to one or two instruments, building back up--I prefer letting the instrumentalists "do their own thing" and whatever mirage-like structures emerge or don't, great. These quibbles aside, it's a very rewarding performance--one of the virtues of 'In C' is that this is a strong likelihood, if not a guarantee. The 53 short notated sequences, ranging from a single note to very brief melodic series are superbly chosen. One recognizes certain motifs, old friends popping up in slightly new environments while others seem entirely new (I wonder). When the ensemble gets cooking, a fine, thick stew is created, instruments plunging into and emerging cleanly from the mix, very juicy.
I imagine there are listeners who collect every new reading of 'In C', a not unreasonable obsession. While I always return first and foremost to the original 1968 recording, this one is certainly a worthwhile addition to the canon.
Andrzej Dobrowolski - Music for Orchestra (Bôłt)
Unlike Riley, above, Dobrowolski (1921 - 1990) is an entirely new name to me. He was a pioneer of electronic music in Poland and the teacher of, among others Bernhard Lang. This collection, however, includes only orchestral works, pieces dating from 1964 - 1982, played by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (four tracks, conducted by Wojciech Michniewski, Zdzisław Szostak and Stanisław Wisłocki), The Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Monika Wolińska) and The Kraków Polish Radio and Television Orchestra (conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk).
'Music for String Orchestra and Four Groups of Wind Instruments' (1964) has quavering string passages that remind me of Penderecki from around that time, but much of the rest of the writing is more traditional, the flutters and wavers balanced with (lovely) sequences that sound more out of Prokofiev; a charming piece, all-told. 'Music for Strings, Two Groups of Wind Instruments and Two Loudspeakers' (1966-67) is more contemplative, soft and dark with brief explosions from the winds. The tape sounds are very well integrated, the whole piece breathing and pulsating back and forth among the three sections, very impressive. The following work, 'Amar. Music for Orchestra No. 2' (1970), expands the palette further, muted trumpets skittering past low, growling strings and clusters of winds in quasi-syncopated patterns, almost hocketing with each other. Dobrowolski seems to like leap-frogging from one notion to the other, though he manages to avoid any sense of collage and somehow provide logical cohesion. Still some vestiges of Penderecki in the sudden outbursts of caterwauling strings (or maybe Penderecki borrowed from Dobrowolski?).
He pulled no punches with 'Music for Orchestra No. 3', accentuating the percussion amidst blusters of brass, conveying a sardonic martial aspect, though concluding with ghostly, very beautiful strings. The beginning of 'A-LA. Music for Orchestra No. 4' (1974) seems to nod toward minimalism, though of a fractured, chromatic sort and, while subsiding, kind of percolates throughout the work, offset by swarms of high pizzicato strings, upsurges of brass and delicate and dance-like woodwinds. Finally, 'Music for Orchestra No. 6' (1981-82) is thinner, wisps of strings, airy while retaining grain and even bitterness, until wooden percussion and tympani conclude with something of a flourish, but not quite dispelling the somber/ethereal mood.
A rewarding collection. I'm very glad to have had an opportunity to hear Dobrowolski's work and, as is often the case with releases from Bôłt, happy to continue to expand my knowledge of and appreciation for this vast amount of Polish 20th century music that was unknown to me and, I daresay, to many on this side of the world.
Bohdan Mazurek/Jacek Sienkiewicz - Drogi (Bôłt)
This recording is a kind of homage to Bohdan Mazurek (1937 - 2014) by the younger Sienkiewicz (b. 1976) as well as to the Polish Radio Experimental Studio where Mazurek produced much of his work. It consists of one piece by Mazurek, 'Little Electronic Symphony', followed by eight from Sienkiewicz.
The Mazurek piece dates from 1986 and, for my money, isn't as probing and deeply felt as earlier music by him, such as 'Bozzetti' from 1967, a favorite of mine. There's too much of a synthesized sound here, an odd "eeriness" that sounds, at times, like Sun Ra's space organ forays of the 60s. Sienkiewicz's tracks are clearly more technologically advanced, very dense and layered while maintaining a fine amount of sonic separation between elements, those elements containing great variety themselves, from the (mostly) abstract to those sourced from distorted captures of other music or field recordings. It's a bit too IRCAM-y for my tastes, too effects-driven, though listeners thusly inclined will find much to enjoy here as it's all accomplished super-professionally. I just prefer...less sheen.
Ewa Liebchen - Electric Sheep (Bôłt)
Liebchen is a flutist and for her debut recording, she's chosen to perform five compositions by Eastern European composers and one ringer (see below) that combine flute with electronics or percussion.
The initial work, 'Halny', by Sławomir Kupczak, is a propulsive piece of skittering rhythms and beats that rush along in various meters and timbres, buttressing flute playing that at first huffs and puffs alongside, then shifts to long, plangent sighs, then resonant pops and clicks and more--a show stopper. Artur Zagajewski's 'Composition arithmétique' is an odd one, maybe a little in Tom Johnson territory, a string of steady, mechanical pulses, varying in pitch, occasionally doubling up, exactingly accompanied by short, high bursts from the flute; it wears out its welcome to these ears well before its almost 17 minutes are up. 'DW 21...and we just keep on pretending...', by Bernhard Lang, with participation by percussionist Hubert Zemler, begins grimly with dark lines, then shifts to a kind of sprightly dance with light wood blocks and flute--I'm guessing sardonic intent, but hard to tell--nice piece. The ringer here is 'Ruckzuck', a song originally released by Tangerine Dream in 1970. Zemler again provides the drums over which a double-tracked Liebchen plays in a rhythmic manner. It feels a little bit tossed in as appeasement, sort of like the Kronos Quartet doing 'Purple Haze', but I suppose chugs along reasonably well on its own merits. László Sáry's 'Magnificat', with soprano vocals from Joanna Freszel, bears some resemblance to Reich's 'Tehillim', with a softly pulsing flute line weaving around the melodic arabesques of the voice--very pretty and engaging and just the right length. The disc concludes with 'Puja', by Rytis Mazulis, another piece in the minimalist tradition, here more a recollection of early Glass, with rapid three-note patterns repeated on end (and, I think, electronically enhanced--eventually the music sounds as much organ-generated as flute) with a sense of gradually rising. These patterns soon begin to overlap, creating a welter of interactions, verging on the chaotic, but always held in check by the consistent rhythm. A fun work.
And an interesting first effort from Liebchen. I'm curious to hear which composers she tackles next.