Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Six releases on another timbre

My very first exposure to European free improv came about when, around 1973, I picked up the Music Improvisation Company's recording on ECM. I'm quite sure my main impetus for doing so was the presence of Jame Muir on percussion, with whom I was familiar from King Crimson's "Lark's Tongue in Aspic". So that was my initial hearing of Derek Bailey, Evan Parker...and Hugh Davies. I think it was the last time I heard Davies for a number of years, into the mid 90s. Firstly, after my dalliance, I'd given up on EFI in the late 70s, trading in the handful of vinyl I owned along with all my rock whilst in my all-black-avant, all the time phase (quelle erreur!--the trade-ins, not the AACM etc. appreciation). Secondly, his work wasn't easy to come by.

Even so, when encountered, it's given me some amount of trouble. I'm all for rawness, but Davies' brand of same, at least in my limited exposure to it, never quite convinced me. Still, as he was held in high esteem by a number of musicians I admire (Keith once mentioned that, of all the improvisers who had never been asked to play with AMM, the one he most regretted was Davies), I was interested to experience a sampling of his work which is what's provided on this another timbre release.

Frankly, his music still gives me some problems, though I ascribe that more to me than him. Part of me still likes to hear a given instrument transcend its inherent form--when you hear Sonny Rollins, you (or, at least, I) hear less a saxophone than Rollins himself) and with many a homemade, I tend to hear the springs, egg slicers, etc. rather than the musician. I realize this shouldn't really be a concern, that the sounds should be appreciated for what they are and, I get the feeling that if I didn't derive a kind of "improv-y" sense from Davies' music, ie, if it was more purely sonic exploration, that would be the case here. But to my ears, he straddles the two fields and a little uncomfortably. Like I say, my mishigas. That said, I can sort of tell this is a strong collection for those into Davies, heavy on the rough and brutal. Of the tracks here, 'salad' (1977) makes the greatest impression, probably due in part to its relative quietness and subtlety. I should work at enjoying this music more (!)

Hugh Davies + Adam Bohman/Lee Patterson/Mark Wastell - for Hugh Davies

Now here's the strange thing. The companion release to the above, which uses several of its tracks as a basis for improvisations on five of the six cuts, I find totally fantastic. With Davies' voice as one part in four (or three or two on two tracks), his ratchetiness is subsumed within a lovely blanket of work from Bohman (prepared balalaika/amplified objects), Patterson (amplified objects) and Wastell (unpacking his cello for the occasion). Each piece is something of a gem, including the final one, which is sans Davies, though dedicated to him. Beautiful recording.

Frédéric Blondy/Thomas Lehn - obdo

Another fine one. I've only heard Blondy sparingly in the past and was never entirely taken with his work and the louder side of Lehn has often left me cold. On the first of two tracks the tendency is quiet (though often quite sharp), with Blondy vaguely evoking Tilbury in Cage/gamelan mode and Lehn contributing lovely mists, hammers and chirps. Much of the second piece is bumpier, more rambunctious, but sounds just as carefully considered. Wonderful, spatial clattering and dense, insane chittering in the second portion of the "suite". Excellent job.

Clive Bell/Bechir Saade - \an account of my hut

I'm anything but an expert on the shakuhachi--I have several recordings that I like a great deal and what else I've heard I've also tended to enjoy. This duo of Bell on the shakuhachi and Saade on the ney, an end-blown flute of Arabic origin perform seven improvisations that strike my ears as having more in common with the Japanese form than not. They're fine, but nothing about them particularly moves me. There's a kind of shapelessness here which may be precisely what the pair were aiming for and devotees of the wider improvising flute arena may have a ball with it, but it left me unsatisfied.

Esteban Algora/Alessandra Rombola/Ingar Zach - las piedras

At the beginning, Algora's accordion is often a bit up front for my taste but when things are turned down a notch or two, as on the ghostly "Alabastro", the trio shines. The ensuing "Galena", rife with ringing tones, is almost equally lovely for much of its length. The clatter mid-disc is quite effective (not sure if it's Rombola on "tiles installation" or the always enjoyable Zach) but the finale brings back the organ-y accordion to the fore. A mixed bag, but good enough at its best that I'm interested in hearing more from these three.

Matt Davis/Matt Milton/Bechir Saade - Dun

Finally comes "Dun", a very fine, expansive and at the same time bracingly spartan set by Davis (trumpet. field recordings), Milton (violin) and Saade (here on bass clarinet and flute). Three longish cuts, each carving out a wedge of space, sharply defined as to overall shape even as the elements making up the volume are sparely distributed. The latter half of the second track, all a-twitter, is especially beautiful. Really enjoyable, intelligent music.

Nice batch of releases overall from an excellent label.

another timbre

Available from erst dist


Robert K__ said...

huh Brian, really surprised to hear you can't get into Davies work. And even more so that you loved that Davies tribute album, I couldn't get into that at all. I agree with you on obdo which I like a lot. I assume that you already have Endspace which remains my favorite release on the label.

Brian Olewnick said...

Hey, we're all allowed our failings...

Yes, Endspace is a very good one.

Richard Pinnell said...

I'm with you Brian in that I prefer the new "quartet" recordings to the solo Davies pieces.

I do like Davies' playing though and enjoy the CDr recordings, though they aren't the strongest material of his I've heard. On the occasions I saw him play live he was always the catalyst for whatever group he was playing with to change direction mid-performance. He had a huge presence within a piece of music and was pretty much universally respected by other improvisers for that reason.

Back then the "instrument" he played was pretty unusual within improv circles that were still largely reliant on standard instruments, and I'd guess the nearest person to him as regarding experimenting in this way might have been Keith, at least in the UK. I can easily see why he had a lot of respect for Davies.

Brian Olewnick said...

I knew there was something I liked about this Pinnell character....

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with Richard that that isn't the best solo davies, though a couple of the tracks on it are really good. But it is it you like about that davies+ recordings? It is so lifeless which you certainly can't say about his solo stuff (whether you like the sounds involved or not).

Richard Pinnell said...

Well I wouldn't say that it is likely to end up that high in my end of year list, but I do enjoy the quartet recordings quite a bit, and I certainly wouldn't use the word lifeless to describe them.

All of the energy and eventfulness of the solo Davies is till there and I think the new musicians have been very sympathetic with the material, playing with the music rather than over it and adding plenty of new detail for me. I think the duo of Davies and Wastell in particular works well.

Its important I think that this can't be an easy way for musicians to work. The Davies tapes had to lead proceedings no matter what. Its not as if something the others could add would change the course of Davies' playing. So the challenge was to follow the lead and try and add something without just filling in the gaps. Personally I think they succeeded in producing something very nice to listen to.

Actually as I type Bowed Diaphragms +3 is playing and this particular passage is very strong.

Brian Olewnick said...

It likely won't be in my big favorites for the year either (I like 'obdo' more as well, maybe the Matt Davis one too) but it worked fine for me.

Typically, the first time I put on a disc like this, I'll half-listen, reading or something at the same time. Sometimes, the music will cut through and either really grip me or maybe really aggravate me. Most of the time, though, I'll get a general sense of it, a tinge. In this case, I thought, "That seems to have been very good." Subsequent, closer listens usually confirm my initial impression, though of course not always, for better or worse.

On the Davies tribute, I heard a steady kind of unhurried progression, a careful consideration of options followed by choices I found apt. Not sure what else to say....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the replies gents, I was genuinely curious so I do appreciate the thoughtful answers, even if I'm not hearing what you do. To each their own as always.

I should mention, I think, that though I have pursued this curiosity I meant it when I say I found this album lifeless. It was the blandness, which I think comes from a disconnect with the davies recordings, I didn't like. But I really didn't feel that strongly about it. I gave it two close listens and after the second I knew I probably wouldn't play it again. The lack of a real strong response (love or hate) I think rather reinforces the (or at least my) impression of this blandness.