Sunday, April 25, 2010

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Kim Myhr - stems and cages (MNR)

A commissioned work for the above ensemble composed by ex-pat Myhr who brought in a couple of Australian friends, Jim Denley (reeds) and Clare Cooper (guzheng) to round out the group. Its eleven sections range widely in approach and, to a degree, in quality; you might place it stylistically somewhere to the left of Barry Guy, retaining a healthy dollop of free jazz while clearly aware of post-efi music. I enjoy it most when it broods, as it does on several of the longer tracks, evincing a fine haze of shifting colors and textures, flowing by on a slightly inclined plane, meandering unpredictably. The orchestra, which is entirely acoustic, seems predisposed toward the dark and forested (or am I reading too much into my own concept of things Norwegian) and generate some very rich, breathing pulses even, in the final section, verging on the Feldman-esque. Really good. My main complaint, and it's at least partly a personal bias, is with vocalist Sidsel Endresen. She's first encountered on the second cut, "aeolian bloom" and is fine, submerged and moody. After that, however, each appearance (three or four) falls into that Hirsch-ian, post Galas area of growls, cackles and near-histrionics that simply rubs me wrong. It's better on that last track, more immersed in the ensemble but I'd still rather be without.

So, a mixed bag for me. Fans of Guy's LJCO and other like-minded groups should enjoy it very much.

If MNJ has a page, I can't locate it. Here's the orchestra's myspace page and that of Kim Myhr

Olaf Hochherz - "hé, vous, là-bas!" (Free Software)

In a series of Mattin-esque questions on the back of the sleeve, one is asked, "Does this cd talk with your other cds about you?" Maybe so, but it doesn't strike me as this cd would be too talkative, perhaps expostulating in brief spasms of invective or ennui. Well, that's too harsh, but we are presented with some 51 minutes of sporadic electronics which, for all the space between sounds, has a very claustrophobic feel, very interior to the machines generating the sputters and creaks, with little evidence of the room in which it's being created (perhaps because there was no room). One hopes if it engages in conversation with Hoahio on its left or Johnny Hodges on its right, one of them suggests taking a walk outside.

But see for yourself

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Moniek Darge - Crete Soundies (Kye)

What an odd recording. Three pieces, each right about 20 minutes long, each apparently recorded in Crete though the liner notes impart scarce little information on specifics. For example, the first work, "Magnesia", seems to have been done in "Levka Ori, [where] the white mountains of Crete are made audible". Well, you do hear crickets, goat bells 'n' bleats and perhaps other ambient sounds, but predominantly, there's the singing/chanting of (again, presumably) Darge and several friends softly accompanied by (again guessing) electronics or a reed organ-type device. In this instance, I found said vocalizing excessively woozy and not so much in the spirit, so far as one could tell, of the place. It overrode rather than integrated with the area sounds. The notes to the second piece, "Anemos" inform us that "Magnesia" was a name given to the site by Darge and company. OK. They also reference wind and, yes, rushing air is the major element heard. Voices appear here as well but, unlike the first track, there's a decided air of mystery. I take it they're speaking, and sometimes singing, in Cretan and perhaps if I understood the language there would be far less mystery, but as is, you receive a fine sense of place and ritual, the howling wind serving to isolate and somehow darken the proceedings. Nice.

But the final cut, "East Crete", created by Darge in collaboration with Francoise Vanhecke, trumps them all. The cloistered nature of the prior works opens up into true space and life. Crickets again, in waves, engines, voices of old and young, recorded pop, air, water, everything. One assumes a good deal of construction went into the piece but it sounds entirely convincing as a particularly alive and fascinating environment; the listener resides there. Absolutely wonderful and worth the price of entry.

I don't believe Kye has a site, but the recording is available from erstdist

Max Eastley - Installation Recordings (1973-2008) (Paradigm)

Normally, I tend to have an issue with CD recordings of installations--one automatically loses the experience of the sounds in situ which, more often than not, is an essential aspect of the work. I suppose that might apply on this 2-disc set but, if so, damned if the sounds aren't still pretty great. If I do have a problem it's one that could only have been overcome by releasing 25-30 discs and that is the brevity of the 35 tracks here, from one to seven minutes. In many a case, I'd have gladly languished in the company of a given sonic environment for far longer.

Happily, these turn out to be quibbles. In fact the discs are arranged so that the installations, varying chronologically and quantitatively in nature, bleed into one another. What they have in common is processes set in motion then rarely if at all interfered with by human hand. Nature's hand is another matter as wind, motors, water, etc. all contribute their motive power. Sometimes the results sound wonderfully random, sometimes iterative, akin to minimalist music, streamlined here, chaotic there, interior or on mountainsides. Always with a strong sense of atmosphere, of air. When objects bang and clang in the Serpentine Gallery installation, they truly inhabit a full, breathing space. Oh, there are the odd moments when the wind interacts with Eastley's metal to create a woozy, chime-y effect, but even those are more pleasant than annoying, maybe reminiscent of Laraaji on zither, though when the same gusts play the aeolian flutes, it's divine.

I'd still like to hear these works in situ and at greater length but, as is, it's a very enjoyable, rewarding sampler.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Michael Pisaro - a wave and waves (Cathnor)

A simple structure made up of incredibly complex molecules, much like the natural phenomenon it seeks to emulate, consequently, in many ways as difficult to write about as it is to accurately replicate a stone. A wave (the first piece) and a series of waves (the second), inspired by sea waves, water molecules replaced by percussive figures (played with extraordinary grace and touch by Greg Stuart), "percussion" allowed a very wide definition.

Two pieces, each 35 minutes in length, each beginning with a minute of silence, the pair separated by an additional four silent minutes on disc, each scored for 100 instances of percussion.

As with much of Pisaro's work, it's quite possible to hear them as single, breathing entities and to be entirely unaware as to the intricacy of their construction. Like his inspiration, the scores are both complicated and disarmingly simple--essentially matrices of percussive elements (numbered) with their durations (often allowing the performer leeway in this regard), whether the given section has a crescendo or not and more or less how the element is to be deployed (for example, dropped items such as grains of rice or pebbles should be able to be heard singly). For the recording--one can only imagine a live performance--Stuart recorded all parts and assembled them.

Part I, "a world is an integer", is a single, cresting wave, comprised of 100 20-second modules, starting with ten percussive units (to give an example of the range, these ten happen to be: piano with scraper, seeds falling on glass plate, bowed temple block, two stones clicking, bowed vibraphone, bowed brake drum, bowed gong, seeds falling into a wooden bowl, dry leaves in a metal bowl and seeds falling on a metal plate. Here, as elsewhere, one can see that Pisaro groups sets of sounds in a non-random manner). Each unit is assigned a number of 20-second phases in which to sound, ranging from 1 to 6, by virtue of which overlapping Pisaro can mold the waveform; at its densest there are 50 sounds heard simultaneously. The performer's intuition on exact duration makes for a quasi-random element and imparts, I think, a certain shimmer to the piece. No crescendos are used here, as they are on the second work, so instead one hears a gradual, phased massing of sounds--there's a kind of self-similarity on the whole despite the constant variation of actual elements. This is one of the most fascinating things about the piece to me, one that truly replicates a core aspect of nature vis a vis, at least, the conceptual extent of humans' pattern recognition: it takes extreme concentration and probing to discern the amazing differences that make up something that we insist on mentally simplifying as a wave, a rock, a leaf. The music lends itself to either approach (ideally at the same time but, dammit, that's hard!)--being listened to as a gorgeous, rich whole, or parsed as an enormous collection of tightly woven bits, each different from the other, yet cohering. I imagine sitting in some large space, hearing a live performance, feeling the tide surge over me.

Part II, "a haven of serenity and unreachable", was inspired by Pisaro's observance of the waves at Big Sur, that they arrived with a periodicity of 15-20 seconds and that "every seventh wave would be a 'big one'". I think it's easier if I simply quote Pisaro's description of the process:

This section consists of 100 waves of sound. Sounds occur in the indicated groups of 10 (six in a row) and 40 (every seventh "wave") and begin every twenty seconds (according to the times given). Thirty seconds is allotted to each "wave". All (sustained) sounds begin very softly (same level as in Part I), sustain for a period of about fifteen seconds, have a slight crescendo (in any sound which can crescendo) for five seconds (cresting at the 20 second point), and then either fade slowly away or are allowed to ring (for up to ten seconds. Decaying or non-sustained sounds simply begin after 20 seconds of the wave have elapsed.

Here, the pattern, even though occurring over a fairly long stretch of time, becomes readily discernible, sinking into one's consciousness after several listens. Oddly, given the greater detail in the structure, I find it a bit more static in feel than the previous piece, as the seven-stage pattern goes through its iterations. This isn't a criticism at all; in fact, it more or less approximates what one experiences when watching waves, the surface uniformity of the activity. But, as with Part I, the details that go into the structure (and into waves of water) are in a constant state of flux, their elements always shifting. Each cresting, six minors and a major, are individual events, unlike any other if heard with enough care and consideration. Like many a great piece of music, that's in large part what these are about: coaxing the listener to really use his/her ears and mind, to integrate both the large and the small, to hear the patterns within patterns, to hear and see the world a bit differently when next one steps outside.

Two incredible pieces of music, of thought.


(btw, I'm not sure if this is actually available as of today, April 18. But it should be very soon. Keep a sharp eye out.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

John Butcher/Rhodri Davies - Carliol (ftarri)

A wonderful set. As has generally been the case in recent years, the nature of their respective instruments, saxophone and harp, is almost entirely disguised, replaced by electronic tones, shudders and pings. More to the point, they're paced beautifully, with great care assigned to timbre, volume and blending with each other. Butcher uses motors here a few times, presumably in his bell (?), heard to nice effect on "gallow gate", all rapid clicks, like a mouse wearing metal sneakers is scurrying around his horn. Some of Davies' more recent work has verged on the excessively ambient for my taste, but here there's precisely the right amount of sand in the mix, not a trace of wooziness. The lengthier of the seven tracks, around nine to ten minutes, are especially rich; could've gone on longer. Even the Parker-esque explosion of sputters that Butcher lets loose on the final cut (an asynchronously recorded one) are well-positioned against Davies' shimmers, the latter derived from an aeolian harp; here, two elements that might normally trouble me are juxtaposed so as to cancel out each others' potentially aggravating characteristics (aggravating to me, that is)--rather fascinating how that works. Excellent recording, listen.

ftarri, at IMJ

available from erstdist

Michael Rodgers - Twilight, Birds (Lost Lights)

A demure, lovely package by Rodgers, from whom I'd not heard in a while. A 3" disc arriving in a brown envelope with a postcard and seven photos of branches, with and without birds, taken at twilight. One hears the birds (and wind) and Rodgers' delicately played guitar. It's quite personal, dreamy and bucolic, the music coming and going amidst the field recordings, always tonal (think of an even more melodic Burkhard Stangl), always...deferential, as though he'd be perfectly okay with stopping if someone came along for a conversation. It gets a little more agitated on occasion--on the brief third track, the birds almost sound like tambourines accompanying the busier guitar and the fourth hints obscurely at funk--but it's by and large a calmly active (like birdsong), ruminative set, fitting for contemplating birds at twilight.

lost lights

Greg Malcolm/Eugene Chadbourne - Jazz School (Monotype)

I honestly never expected that Mr. Chadbourne would ever enter my collection again! Here he consorts with New Zealand guitarist for six tracks, two by Steve Lacy and four by Eric Dolphy. I did in the past tend to prefer Chadbourne when he was doing covers (I've never knowingly heard Malcolm before) and have an abiding love of both composers here, so...well, it's rather blandly competent. The pair pays close heed to the melodies, take them outside as one would expect, Chadbourne pretty much reining in his more flamboyant tendencies, but it's perhaps a bit too halfway about things, neither rigorous on the one hand nor wildly imaginative on the other. Fans of Chadbourne (and, I assume, Malcolm), will doubtless enjoy; I found the session rather blah.

btw, this and the following release, "The Ames Room" are issued on LP (though the review copies arrived on CD)

The Ames Room - In (Monotype)

Now, here's a pleasant surprise! A raging, unabashedly free jazz trio that works. Jean-Luc Guionnet (he of the excellent organ disc, "Non-Organic Bias") on alto, Clayton Thomas on bass and Will Guthrie on drums. Two non-stop live onslaughts of intense jazz-based improv that manages to avoid almost all the self-indulgence and gabbiness of the huge majority of such attempts in recent decades. How? I'm not sure, though Guthrie's amazingly solid and imaginatively propulsive drumming certainly helps and Guionnet, for his part, somehow manages, though he virtually never takes horn from mouth and is generally in screaming mode, not to place himself at the center of attention. One automatically thinks of comparisons; somewhere between Lyons/Sirone/Cyrille and Mitchell/Favors/Moye? These sets have all the great energy that those trios may have had in the 70s. Even so, is it an open question as to the viability of such an approach in 2010? Most assuredly, but The Ames Room makes a strong case. btw, I'd forgotten the association until I looked it up, though I'd seen it many a time, but the original "Ames Room" is that 3D optical illusion as seen here:

Hard to define, but I like that allusion vis a vis this trio's relationship to classic free jazz. Check it out, in any case, especially you die-hard jazz fans....


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I was intrigued to arrive home a while back to the sight of an LP-sized box, over an inch thick and heavy. It was found to contain eight slabs of 200g vinyl (six albums, two of them doubles) from the Minneapolis-based label, Taiga....

Giuseppe Ielasi - (another) stunt (Taiga/Schoolmap)

I guess it's been a few years since I've heard any work from Ielasi but still this was rather surprising, though it's apparently the second in a proposed trilogy, the first ("stunt") having appeared earlier on Schoolmap. It's turntablism, purely so as far as I can determine, replete with fractured, if fairly steady, beats. Not my field obviously and the referents I hit on tend toward the ancient--Bush of Ghosts, for one--and what sounds like an extract from Fripp and Eno's "Evening Star" on the third track on Side One. The pieces are well-layered and varied, the number of plies shifting occasionally to allow others to be heard in different light. Sometimes, the cuts are smooth and grooving, sometimes abrupt à la Nicolas Collins sample-based work, full of off-kilter rhythmic kernels. Pleasant and enjoyable enough, though not nearly as gripping as much of Ielasi's previous music, whether abstract or more melodically oriented.

MAP - Fever Dream (Taiga)

MAP is Mary Halvorson (guitar), Tatsuya Nakatani (percussion) and Reuben Radding (bass), performing a set of post-Bailey, free-jazz improvisations on this 3-sided double LP (shades of Rahsaan!). I've only heard Halvorson sporadically in the past and a mere five or six recordings from Nakatani and Radding, so I'm not quite sure if this is representative, though I imagine so. While Bailey's shadow is clearly discerned, Halvorson ranges widely and one eventually hears a distinctive voice. The trio spends a good amount of time playing quietly and in a relatively tonal manner; that's where I find things work best. When they get rowdy, the standard, crowded gabbiness sets in and the music becomes indistinguishable from many a well-played but idea-free improv set. There's much here to please many an improv fan, I just wish they'd taken more time, listened a bit more, opted for greater open space--you know, the usual!

Rafael Toral

Space Solo 1
Space Elements Vol. I
Space Elements Vol. II

The bulk of the package was made up of these four releases from Rafael Toral. The first, "Space", I'd heard on disc (issued by Staubgold) and written about at Bagatellen. I think I feel about the same today, but it was interesting revisiting it, especially in the context of the ensuing three recordings. As with much of the music here, Toral uses sonic elements that might sound "spacey" on their own, but arrays them in an irregular, often jarring manner, widely separated, isolated, somewhere between a very acerbic Sun Ra and Rowe/Sachiko's "contact" (with more spatial awareness than the former, perhaps, but without the incision of the latter). Sometimes (on "Space Solo 1"), the sounds are spare and almost trumpet-y, lending a harsh, slightly plaintive feel. But then it will swiftly turn loopy and echoey for a few moments, reinforcing the spacey connotations. There's also something of a vocal quality in the inflections which causes me some discomfort as I tend to impart goofy emotional qualities to them.

The Space Elements sets use an expanded ensemble and the music is very much enhanced as a result. Volume one includes Rute Praça (cello), César Burago (percussion), David Toop (flute), Seí Miguel (pocket trumpet), Fala Mariam (alto trombone) and Margarida Garcia (electric double bass), most appearing on single cuts in duo with Toral. The concept feels largely the same, but merely by doubling or trebling the participants, some real breathing room is achieved and the isolated sounds are suspended in a more oxygenated atmosphere. The track with Garcia is especially choice. Even the single solo piece sounds fuller.

Space Elements, vol. II includes some of the same participants as well as Manuel Mota and Evan Parker, among others. There's also a bit more overlap with as many as six players on a track. There's a bit more of a jazz feel here, a looseness not often in effect earlier (these tracks are the most recent of the bunch, from 2006--2009). Both of these last releases are quite intriguing. I'm not sure if Toral's vision has been achieved here or if these will turn out to be wayposts, but they certainly comprise a unique approach, one that may take a while to settle in. I'll be curious both to revisit these and to hear future investigations along these lines.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Jean-Luc Guionnet - Non-Organic Bias (Herbal)

A two-disc set with three fantastic pieces, released (I think) early 2009, more or less for organ (I've no idea how much processing or overdubbing may have occurred), apparently from 1995 - 2005. The works are massive, with enormous depth and richness, undulating with their own logic, somewhere between or beyond Sun Ra at his densest and Xenakis. They're like huge clouds of gas and dust, throbbing here, dispersing there, huge electrical charges arcing in the voids at unpredictable interludes. The title cut (all cut assignations subject to error, btw, as there's some mislabeling) broods and swirls in an utterly alien manner for some 50 minutes--remember Arthur C. Clarke's brilliant (if tritely titled) "Rendezvous with Rama" where the alien ship simply glides through the Solar System, ignoring any attempts at contact, offering not a clue as to its whys or wherefores, then proceeding back out into deep space? This is kinda like that. Obsessive and wonderful. "Estuaire" (the single cut on the second disc) gets into the deep territory some listeners may recall having been approached by Sun Ra on work like "Atlantis" or "The Magic City", except the Guionnet has pierced downward into the earth's crust a few hundred miles deeper, down to where sound's travel-speed is reduced by mantle density. That estuary becomes lava-filled eventually, splitting seams, cresting, seeping into rock before cooling down. A fantastic set, get it.

Roel Meelkop - Oude Koeien (Herbal)

More Meerkop! Old cow, indeed. A compilation of sorts of largely previously issued pieces, culled from Korm Plastics (called "Korg" on the disc, for some reason) and other sources. Wide ranging, from "serious" to slightly goofy, it's never un-fun, never a chore to listen. I prefer the former, like the dark, throbbing and scratchy "Echt Dood", a recent (2009) piece, the equally mysterious "1 (Riktigt Dod)" from 1999 and the low, liquid hums of "1 (Veramente Morto")" Very nice stuff. It can get a little goofy--I admit that the first time I played it, the thumpy seventh track began skipping mid-thump and, after several minutes of not-full attention I said to myself, "Damn! This is pretty annoying!" Enjoyable work, overall.

Goh Lee Kwang - Hands (Herbal)

I'm not very familiar with Kwang's work, having only heard a smattering of previous tracks here and there, but from Richard's write-ups in the past, I was expecting more of a down 'n' dirty, near-noise fest than the oddly bloopy electronics encountered herein. That choice of sounds, knowingly (I take it) working with certain synth-y tones that, by their nature (to me, at any rate), connote various sf and prog-rock scenarios is a daring tactic; Rafael Toral does something similar on a spate of new LPs I'll be writing about soon. Sometimes it works, the distracting characteristics of the tones being transcended (as on "Hands III" here), sometimes it doesn't. In fact, all three "Hands" pieces are intriguing, with more meat than the trio of "Tape" tracks, or the three that wrap around these mini-suites, which combine those bleeps and gloops with vaguely rockish rhythms. Half and half overall, for me; would love to hear more work in line with the "Hands" pieces.

Sabine Ercklentz/Andrea Neumann - LAlientation (Herbal)

Helluva cover. The first two letters are capitalized on the Herbal site which, combined with the clear visual reference of the hillside sign and the less clear nod to...well, something, maybe Grade D-movies, one might have expected some commentary on entertainment culture but, if so, it's pretty oblique. Fine by me, as these six trumpet/inside piano duets are more than strong enough to stand on their own. The liner notes by Marion Saxer foreground notions of texture and that's certainly one of the standout qualities here--much of the music simply sounds gorgeous, the timbres of the brass and excited piano wire melding beautifully. It's also, in part, far more approachable than one would suspect, pieces like "Bialetti" having a firm rhythmic base, Ercklentz' horn echoing Bowie's bluesy romanticism. There are beats in play elsewhere, never too intrusive, always tempered with digressions into arrhythmia (!) and a good bit of quasi-melodic content. But the rigor with which the music is assembled precludes any too-easy digestion. Rather, the pair strikes a juicy, slightly itchy balance between the accessible and abstract, amply rewarding both aspects. The disc includes an MPEG4 file which, in my ignorance of all things ipodistic, I was unable to open. Don't let that dissuade you, though--a fine recording.

herbal international

looks as though the Guionnet and Ercklentz/Neumann are also available from erstdist

Friday, April 09, 2010

(drawing of Toshi Nakamura done last evening at Issue Project Room in virtual darkness)

A fine solo set, not sure I can say much about it, except how wide-ranging and tough it was. Sometimes shaky, sometimes brimming with confidence, a huge panoply of frequencies from ultrahigh, just within the range of hearing to phlebitis-threatening subsonics. Toshi sitting motionless, as always. When he hit a groove (in a sense), as he did three or four times during the performance, time stood still.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Monday, April 05, 2010

Birgit Ulher/Gregory Büttner - Tehricks (1000füssler)

A very attractive 3", containing three tracks. wherein Büttner channels computer-generated sounds through miniature speaker which Ulher uses as kinds of mutes for her horn, so the the electronic sounds reverberate in the bell and body while the actual trumpet sounds mingle with them, forming a nice little knot of sound. The music tends toward the quiet and active, Ulher gurgling and chirping, spacing her contributions aptly, aggressing where appropriate/ Similarly for Büttner, casting smallish sounds into the works like seeds or rice grains. The last cut in particular acquires a fascinating mix of soft crunches, taps and burbles, very savory.


Roel Meelkop - Grey Mass/Grey Matter (1000füssler)

A double-3" with six tracks, apparently assembled over some stretch of time. My experience with Meelkop's music isn't so extensive but I didn't really expect to hear "The Girl from Ipanema" show up. That's one element in this collection of sounds which ranges widely enough that it's bit bit tough to describe. Ont he one hand, they sound quite loose and natural, fluctuating between concrète and field recordings in a relaxed manner though I suspect there's much more "composition" in play. Whatever, they succeed in avoiding entirely the clunky sterility that besets (to my ears) much concrète music. The first "grey matter" piece (which are quieter than the "grey mass" ones) is an especially lovely merging of near-subsonic rumbles, bell and sine tones. Enjoyable, rich work; recommended.


Pascal Battus/Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour - ichnites (Potlatch)

Battus plays small rotating surfaces, as from the inside of an old Walkman, using them to excite various materials; he does this pretty much non-stop. Sehnaoui Abdelnour plays alto and you might say is generally in a John Butcher-ish area. I find the pieces to busy and reactive in nature, the pair creating many an interesting texture but, once in the"busy" vein, not being obsessive enough about it to really absorb me, though this problem improves as the discs progresses. There are a few intense moments on the third track, "estocade & coulees" and next piece also gets into some juicy, deep-buzzing territory but even there, not enough purpose for my money. The final track, relatively brief at under five minutes, hints at what the pair is capable of. Here a real unity is achieved, an unforced singularity of purpose. Richard enjoyed it a great deal more, so take my view with a toss of salt; not bad, but only really satisfying in parts.


Tim Green/Massimo Magee/John Porter - Of an Evening (Array)

Green (drums/phone), Magee (Sopranino, clarinet, field recordings, multiple electronics, Porter (soprano). In which our friend Massimo and cohorts continue to just play, along the way perhaps looking to reconcile free jazz with at least a taste of eai? Not sure, though this fits far more comfortably in the former, sounding (given the instrumentation), much like an extension of the most outside work of Steve Lacy and sometimes Evan Parker. Though not my cuppa, they do a credible job though, as I often find to be the case, the music is stronger the "straighter" the musicians play, as in the last five or six minutes of the first cut with some very poignant soprano work from Porter. Much of the third track falls into this area as well--reminds me a little bit of early Joe McPhee. Nice sax duet to close out the disc as well.