Sunday, August 29, 2010

Axel Dörner/Diego Chamy - What Matters to Ali (C3R)

Another wonderfully disconcerting disc cover...

Recorded in 2006 but sent on my Chamy after the more recent collaboration between the two, this set is "straighter", less conceptual, Chamy augmenting his spare percussion with mumbled vocals but no T-shirt tearing that I can discern. It's quite relaxed and very enjoyable, Chamy often meting out slow, regular stabs at muffled metal and drum skin, Dörner calmly investigating some of the more "normal" areas of his horn, though phrasing them in questioning aspects, almost swabbing at them. The breath tone forays are also serene enough, again tempered by Chamy's zen-like percussion. Nice recording, very peaceful and rich in its own way, worth seeking out if you can find it.

Perhaps contact Diego

David Grundy, I believe out of Cambridge, England, has begun a web-based label, Woe Betide, with three releases.

His own "Unbidden" has some unnecessarily defensive accompanying notes, perhaps aimed at listeners unaware of developments in the field in the last several decades. Grundy's work, at least as represented here, certainly falls well within parameters established by Nakamura and any number of other electronicists. Two tracks, the first of which, "unbidden", is a kind of harsh, layered drone which, to my ears, lacks the subtlety and richness necessary to fascinate; it fluctuates but not in a manner that surprises or excites. It does, oddly, wear rather well on repeated listens, one's ears accommodating to a degree, searching out hidden strands, which are there, if faintly heard. The second, longer (44 minutes) track, the unfortunately titled "Borne on the 4th of July", fares much better. It unspools quite naturally, the drones having thinned and spread apart, acquiring their own character (sometimes insectile) more as quivering tendrils than slabs. "Quivery", in fact, is a decent descriptor of much of the piece, as it sounds a-tingle with spiky energy while retaining something of a calm demeanor, no mean feat, like some one walking slowly yet about to explode. He does explode a bit, at least begin to effervesce...Nice work, makes me eager to hear more from Grundy.

Mark Anthony Whiteford is a 52-year old saxophonist, offering three solo pieces on "Zariba". The first is a brief but lovely sliver, breathy, somewhat reminiscent of that quiet Braxton track on "For Alto" (a piece that resonates still, lo these 42 years later). The other two cuts are far lengthier and incorporate radios, voice and electronics. "Radio Breath" is pretty much that, sputtering alto and subtle integration of radio (static and faint voices). It works well enough, filling up the space capably, one of those pieces that would benefit greatly from being heard in situ, I think, as opposed to on disc where the sound has room to spread out, but it's fine and reasonably engrossing here as well. "Blood" is perhaps a little busier overall (though with long quite periods as well) and somehow holds together less well for me, the sounds interjected carrying more of a random aspect. But not bad at all--seriously intended, generally well constructed.

OK, calling a disc, "The Cambridge Free Improvisation Society In Hell" is just begging for trouble. And the opening track, "hell", delivers--a pretty awful smear of instrumental whines and vocal groans, presumably illustrating the torments therefrom, something that should not have seen the light of day. Or hell. The group is actually just a quartet, though they make enough noise for many more--Grundy (laptop, recorder, piano), David Curington (oboe, piano), Nathan Bettany (oboe, xaphoon [?--ah! a bamboo saxophone, cool]) and Daniel Larwood (electric guitar). The second track fares better, a loose improv with wavering guitar and those oboes, relatively nice and dreamy with enough grit to get by; nice, quasi-gospel-y piano at the close. The brief duo with Grundy and Larwood is the highlight of the disc for me, a delicate piece hovering near "Moonchild" territory...The final cut sprawls somewhat, meanders, but not so unpleasantly.

Some ok work contained on these three releases, not nearly so difficult as they'd seem to like one to believe, more the work of younger (and not so young) improvisers finding their way. To be continued...

woe betide

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I was 13 in 1967 and might have just been coming to the realization that there was more to music than the Top 40 as broadcast by WABC in New York. I was the eldest of five, so had no older sibling to, early on, educate me in the ways of more erudite fare. All this by way of saying that I didn't know about Hendrix when "Are You Experienced?" appeared. But my best friend Mike, a year and a half older, did.

I have distinct memories of going over to his house, on Croft Road in the Spackenkill section of Poughkeepsie, to listen to this album, to marvel at these utterly new--to me--sounds. I've no doubt that I latched onto the more overt, strongly structured songs therein, things like "Purple Haze", "Foxy Lady" and "Fire", though I do recall being entranced (still am) by the bass line in "Manic Depression". Other tracks were just strange--"I Don't Live Today", the title cut. But what stands out most of all from that time is how utterly baffled we both were by "Third Stone from the Sun". We simply couldn't recognize it as music! No real lyrics. Plus, at 6:40, it was entirely too long! I often wondered, years later, long after it was clear that it was merely pretty much a jazz-based piece (Mitchell being very Elvin Jones-influenced), if my reaction was similar to those who hear a bit of avant jazz or classical--that they just can't fit it into their existing mental framework of what music is.

Something that still sounds especially outstanding: the title track, the backwards guitar and that, so good.

Another reason Hendrix was so pivotal for me was the beautiful casualness of his vocals, the "ums" and "ahs", the laid back phrasing, the conversational quality they had, so much in contrast to the strutting, manicured vocals of 99% or pop and rock at the time (and now). As one who, early on, couldn't abide most rock singing and lyrics, this was rather refreshing.

So, when "Axis: Bold As Love" came out (early '68?), I was ready and dove right in, the title cut, with all its mystical warrior overtones fitting right in with my contemporaneous devouring of Marvel comics and Conan novels, swiftly becoming my favorite piece of music at the time. Though I think, within a short period, both "Little Wing" and "If 6 Was 9" superseded that. The latter's lyrics made a huge impression on me and still resonate:

I've got my own life to live
I'm the one that's gonna have to die
When it's time for me to die
So let me live my life the way I want to.

That a rock musician dealt so starkly, not so romantically, with death struck me.

Listening these days, I'm surprised how much of the album holds up, even the Noel Redding songs and despite all the bizarro stereo panning. The jazzy lilt of "Up from the Skies" still charms and "Castles Made of Sand" remains heartbreaking, with one of the loveliest, briefest (backward) guitar breaks around.

Mike and I had tickets to Woodstock. I should explain...As originally planned, the festival was to take place on two days, Saturday and Sunday, the 16th and 17th of August. We bought tickets for those two days, the idea being that my dad would drive us to the site (which vacillated from Woodstock proper to one or two other places before settling on Bethel, NY, some 50 miles due west from Poughkeepsie), drop us off and pick us up on the Monday. Festival organizers belatedly added a third day, the preceding Friday (my 15th birthday). Well, not having tickets for that day, we figured we'd simply go to the 2nd and 3rd day, no big deal. Right. By the time the dates rolled around, Dad wasn't about to go anywhere near the place so that opportunity passed us by.

Oddly, when we bought the tickets, sometime in May I think, the act I was most anxious to see was Richie Havens. A recent album of his was getting substantial play on the newly-discovered-by-me radio station, WNEW-FM and I loved it (and Havens' Woodstock appearance is, in fact pretty fantastic). But by August, it was Hendrix I was dying to see and hear. "Electric Ladyland" was released in September, 1968, but I have a feeling it took a while for it to utterly flatten me, probably midway through the next year. I'm guessing it was the combination of sf spaciness ("1983", etc.) and the, to me, new sound of psychedelic blues that killed. To this day, I'm not sure there's a finer 60 or so seconds in rock than the opening minute of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)".

"Band of Gypsys" came out in mid '70, I guess, "Machine Gun" being the cut that had the most telling effect. I think I was a bit disconcerted then at the drift toward soul on a few tracks, but chalk that up to the prog I was otherwise into at the time. I was working my first after-school job in September of that year, janitoring at a local church, when word came that Hendrix had died. Like an infatuated schoolgirl, I carved his name into a desk there, with the date.

When I traded in virtually my entire rock collection in '75, Hendrix went too. I don't recall if I had qualms about his inclusion or if, as far as I was concerned, he was "rock" and I wanted nothing to do with the genre (Beefheart didn't make the cut either, so you see I was being severe). Around 1982, we were on vacation in Block Island and I went into a small sandwich shop. "The Wind Cries Mary" was playing on the house system and I stood there, struck at how beautiful the song was, how elegant and simple (in the best sense) the guitar solo. I thought to myself, "I think you screwed up, getting rid of those records." and went out and repurchased them all, also getting the disc versions later on. Bought the Live at Winterland 2-LP set as well, a fine set, with as jazz-rocky a piece as he ever recorded, perhaps, "Tax Free".

Glad I did. I've listened to Hendrix non-stop since then, always deriving great joy.

Curious, of course, about what direction he would have taken. Jazz was a possibility (scheduled to record with Gil Evans the week after he died, Miles' interest in him, having shared the stage--which I'd kill to hear--with Rahsaan) though the album that was cobbled together to represent what his next releases would have been, "First Rays of the Rising Sun", is pretty weak. Cynically, I'm afraid he might have trod the fusion path.

Thank you, Mr. Hendrix.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What a record.

This was released by Arista/Freedom along with Oliver Lake's "Heavy Spirits" to a little bit of fanfare in the wake of their Braxton issues. I remember downbeat did a spread on them and mislabeled Hemphill's and Lake's photos, so for a while I pictured one as the other.

But..."'Coon Bid'ness". Has there ever been a greater, rawer, more in-your-face album title? from 1975, no less. I'm surprised it hasn't been expropriated by a rap group yet (maybe it has!) "'Coon magic!/'Coon Rhythm!/Buck dancing!" (from the Hemphill poem, "Reflections" on the back cover). When reissued, they lily-liveredly retitled it "Reflections".

Side 1, four tracks recorded in 1975, a sextet with Hemphill, Blythe, Bluiett, Wadud, Altschul and Daniel Ben Zebulon on congas (googled him--apparently been working with Richie Havens in recent years) all sinuous and riveting, punctuated by staccato blasts, funky and strutting while remaining abstract and difficult to fully grasp. They're all wonderful pieces but then you flip over the vinyl and arrive at...

"The Hard Blues". If there's a single piece of music that, for me, epitomizes the highest achievements of the post-Coltrane jazz avant-garde, it may well be this. Done in 1972, in St. Louis, with Hemphill, Baikida E. J. Carroll, Bluiett, Wadud and Philip Wilson. Back in Environ days, we referred to Philip as the "wettest" drummer out there (as opposed to overly dry ones like, often, Altschul, in fact) and he was never wetter than here. He and Wadud attain such a sublime, slow groove, right from the start, pure gold. Then the horns, sounding like far more than three, just strut and sing and bleed. That beautiful theme, so proud and sad. Hemphill solos first, marvelous enough, but Carroll simply kills, out-Bowie-ing Bowie, so plangent, so piercing. The horns mass again toward the end, anchored fathoms deep by Bluiett, and take it out with more of those machine gun strikes.

One of my absolute favorite jazz albums, ever.

Rarely see much mention on this one. Recorded in May, 1976 at La Mama. Must have been right near the time of my first visit to a NYC "loft" jazz concert which was also that month (have I written about that? Roscoe, Oliver Lake, Philip Wilson?). In any case, this is a good, fairly free duo (the four pieces actually written by Hemphill but played quite loosely). Wadud almost always had a melodic center to his playing and it serves as a nice anchor for the tendrils spun out by Hemphill, on alto throughout. Whatever happened to Wadud? Wiki yields no answers, though his son, Raheem DeVaughn, is apparently a fairly well known r&b singer. Some lovely playing by Wadud on the side-long "Echo 2 (Evening)". That entire cut is a good example of Hemphill at his lyrical best; really no one around then who sounded like him.

Lake and Hemphill always were intertwined for me, from that first downbeat article to the WSQ. I think WSQ was already in existence by this recording date, March, 1978, though I don't think the first record was out. I have a postcard somewhere, from 1977, announcing the debut of the "New York Saxophone Quartet", the original name of the group before they found out some other folk from the classical world were already using it. I guess a few people had done sax duo records already--I'm sure the Braxton/Mitchell one?--but for some reason this stands out as my initial exposure to the form. In the wake of things like "'Coon Bid'ness", and Lake's "Heavy Spirits" (as well as other releases from BAG members) I think, at the time, I was looking for more structure, more overt references to blues and found this a little too loose and meandering, but I must say it sounds pretty nice today, the pair twining quite tastily, with more than enough grit and non-overt blues nods to salt things nicely. Just goes to show.

Certainly, one of the great album covers of the 70s. Good record as well, a trio with Wadud and Famoudou Don Moye, relatively straight ahead and lyrical. "G Song", which closes the albums, is one of the loveliest country/funk/jazz tunes I know, Wadud just singing on cello.

Sort of a mini-concept album I guess an ok one, a quartet with Olu Dara, Wadud and Warren Smith, performing four pieces, Ear, Mind, Heart and Body that grow from quiet and lyrical (Hemphill on flute) to hard and funky. Still, there's something routine about it. It's 1980 and already you can hear some retrenching, some lack of resolve. It's sounding tired by this point, the funk on the last cut entirely unconvincing. Something of a portent, unfortunately.

Could this be the worst album cover in history? Could anything better symbolize the shallowness of the decade in the US, both in subject and in technique? Man, is that bad. Claus Peter Bauerle, that's the culprit. And the music isn't all that much better. The ensemble includes the then nubile Cline brothers, Jumma Santos (he who played with Hendrix at Woodstock) and, as if not knowing when to stop in spreading the awfulness, a bassist who goes by the single name, Steubig. Steubig. Just, Steubig. I have not the words. (Apparently, the nom de musique of one Steuart Liebig). Oh, and then they do needlessly rockish and bland renditions of both "The Hard Blues" and "Dogon AD" (I never saw the Dogon LP around; I remember looking for it but to no avail, dammit). I recall being quite excited seeing that they were both present here. Feh.

My last vinyl Hemphill, from 1988. Got his own disc, presumably via the WSQ involvement with Nonesuch, a 16-piece big band and, not surprisingly, the results are ungainly. Successful post-AACM big bands are few and far between in my estimation, the arrangements often muddy, rarely able to really take off on any kind of sustained, collective rhythmic drive. There are exceptions I guess (I mean in the sense, like this one, of being more or less in the Ellington tradition) but I always came at projects like this with a skeptical ear (mid-sized groups, say 8 - 10 members, fared far better, imho). The long track, "Drunk on God", with the words and voice of K. Curtis Lyle, works fairly well, recalling a beefed up version of Marion Brown's early 70s music with Bill Hassan. `

Followed Hemphill for a while into the 90s, as his health deteriorated. I remember when he had one of his lower legs amputated (diabetes, I think?) and Arthur Blythe used to substitute for him with the WSQ on occasion. Died far too young.

Thanks for some incredible music, Mr, Hemphill. 'Coon Bid'ness indeed!
Four duos recently released on Another Timbre, each involving a brass instrument.

Roberto Fabbriciani/Robin Hayward - Nella Basilica

Fabbriciani (bass, contrabass and hyperbass flutes) is a new name to me, someone from whom I hope to hear much more. Here we have five pieces with Robin Hayward and the combination of flutes (albeit low ones) and tuba is delicious. As with most of the music of Hayward's that I've experienced, this is serious stuff but it's never, ever dry. Instead, the setting inside the Basilica di San Domenico in Arezzo imparts a contemplative, even reverent (in a good way!) aura. It's almost all very quiet and, though extended techniques are used by both musicians, the listener hardly notices as it's the music that comes to the forefront. I want to say "European shakuhachi"; there's something of that here. Some ruffles in the air appear on the fourth track, a not unwelcome change of pace, but by and large this is as lovely a recording of paired winds as I've heard in quite some time. Strongly recommended.

Angharad Davies/Axel Dörner - A.D.

Interesting to compare this one to the above. While both are improvised, "Nella Basilica" has a more considered, thought-out feel; perhaps due to Fabbriciani's history in contemporary music. "A.D." carries, for me, more the sensation of a "standard" (not meant in a demeaning way) eai collaboration, a bit less centered on a given area, more spur of the moment. That doesn't mean better or worse, of course, just intriguingly different when heard side by side. Texturally, it's also raspier, sandier, more plosive. Three pieces, each between 13 and 15 minutes long, quiet with the occasional slightly less quiet interruption, much space, sustained passages mixing with pointillistic ones. Dörner is largely in "breath sounds" mode though not always; similarly Davies lingers on the softly bowed, whether strings or, one suspects, other parts of the violin. While, on the whole, the set is pretty much along the lines of what I would have expected going in and while nothing I heard startled me (in a good way), I enjoyed it pretty well, would have liked to have seen them perform.

Carl Ludwig Hübsch/Christoph Schiller - Giles U.

Tuba and spinet, from two musicians new to me [I take that back; Schiller is involved with Millefleurs on Creative Sources, which I'd heard]. I confess to having had only a vague idea exactly what a spinet is. While it can refer to any of several smaller keyboard, it seems to most commonly describe a mini-harpsichord, which is the case here. Not surprisingly, Schiller avails himself of extended techniques, but the tingly nature of the beast yet emerges. When, as on about half the disc, they get more active, the spinet janglier, I lose interest. When the maintain a calmer course, stretching things out, it's fairly attractive music, the unusual combination tickling the ears (Hübsch tending toward the higher reaches of the tuba). Even so, those portions don't really excite me, are only mildly satisfying. I needed more in the way of ideas here.

Mathias Forge/Olivier Toulemonde - Pie 'n' Mash

Finally, trombone and "acoustic objects", a single live track, and a very rewarding one. Forge sticks largely to breath tones and other non-trombonely sounds while Toulemonde excites objects in a largely unquantifiable manner, though one guess at some things like rolled marbles. It all works wonderfully. It's interesting, listening to four releases like these that have a certain amount in common, which ones work better (for different reasons) and trying to quantify why this is so. As ever, it comes back to the sensitivity of the musicians involved and how that matches up to the listener's own. In the case of "Pie 'n' Mash", the unusual thing for this listener's proclivities is that the music is at once quite active, even intensely so, yet never feels busy or rushed, as though that particular level of percolation fits perfectly and naturally. It's fairly quiet and not at all strident, which helps. There's also, as I find to be the case with much music in this general area that I end up enjoying, a real sense of air around the sounds, a depth to them, as when Forge's airy blasts whoosh through the aural space, from back to front while Toulemonde's skitterings weave on a diagonal between them. Well, that's the best I can do, anyway. Strong recording.

Another Timbre is available through Squidco

Friday, August 13, 2010

Not that I keep rigorous track of such things, but if asked, "What was the quietest concert you've ever experienced?" I probably would have gone with Sean Meehhan/Toshi Nakamura a few years back at ABCNoRio, and event in fact made somewhat less quiet by the contributions of my intestinal tract, which were salient (I recall Steve Smith's immortal post-concert comment, "I thought this was a duo show not a trio."). All that is by the boards after last evening's performance, however. As an extra bonus, it was also very, very good.

At the same venue as his 6/30 show, a chapel room behind St. Marks Church on 2nd Ave. and 10th St., Barry was joined by Ben Owen and Dominic Lash for the realization of two works by Antoine Beuger, "un lieu pour être deux" and "calme étendue". The room is quite nice with about twelve foot ceilings, perhaps 30 feet square. There are three large windows behind the area where the performers set up; they were open, allowing the sounds of the city ready access. Upstairs, there is apparently a dance studio.

The first pieces was in several (six or seven?) sections, the musicians using slightly differing attacks for each. This was visibly the case with Chabala, who went from ebow to, pick and other means (including rolling something--a marble?--inside the body of his guitar, always very quietly but usually clearly enough heard. The volume with the ebow was actually low enough that the pure tones it generated jostled for prominence with the physical crackles made by its surface being in touch with the guitar strings. It was far more difficult to discern with regard to Owen. Occasionally, I could detect sounds--low hums, mostly--that I was fairly sure derived from his Mac but ore often than not I couldn't swear that the faint sound I was hearing wasn't generated a block away. This was quite lovely. About midway through the performance, denizens of that upstairs dance studio decided they required a large ladder that rested outside the windows. Two of them ambled down the metal staircase outside, fetched the ladder, brought it back up with remarkably little clatter; one soon brought it back down. It was a very delightful swatch of "action" behind Chabala and Owen, a small playlet. The piece took those sic or seven long breaths, each section lasting several minutes, then quietly evanesced.

Lash then took to the front of the room, picked up his double bass and positioned himself in front of a music stand, bearing two sets of scores, two pages each. Holding his bow in his right hand and gripping the neck of the bass with his left, he studied the scores intently, only his eyes moving. You had the sense he was absorbing a good deal of information and deciding what to do with it, which I later found out was more or less the case as Beuger's score requires the performer to make certain decisions before beginning. Lash took some nine to ten minutes to decide. It was rather wonderful; I wasn't quite sure if the performance would, in its entirety, consist of him studying the score. It didn't seem likely, but as the minutes ticked by, I wasn't so sure. Of course, in the meantime, one paid more attention to the ambient sounds of exterior traffic, car horns, talk and, most prominently, the thudding impact of stockinged feet from above, where the dance class had begun in earnest. And in the sort of miracle of serendipity that can happen when you open yourself up to this way of hearing, as we were trying to gauge the goings on, through the window, blurred as though emanating from some distant TV speakers, came that song from Willy Wonka, bearing the lyric, "What you see will defy explanation." Marvelous.

Eventually, Lash took bow to strings for several minutes, though more often than not the resultant sound was virtually inaudible from ten feet away. Otherwise, the merest wisps of sound were heard, short or longer strokes, atonal but not overly harsh. There were silences between these sections, several minutes long; at one point the volume may have risen to ppp. It was all sublimely calm. Even when the school above seemed to be intent on practicing much of the score for "Riverdance", this listener had long since accepted the general environment, content to allow the snippets of arco bass their place in it. Very satisfying.

Talking with Dominic afterward and examining the score, I found out that the piece's minimum length was 45 minutes (which is what we heard) but it could last up to nine hours. Additionally, each bow stroke had several determinants, including aside from duration and pitch, the length of bow allowed to touch the string. So, for example, one portion may have used three inches of bow for ten seconds, playing a given pitch with a certain attack at a specific volume level. Apparently, these bow divisions used golden section ratios.

The "almost-not-thereness", something that, to my ears, can be a slippery thing to achieve, was beautifully present for me. My stomach even cooperated.

A fine, fine evening.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Time for some LPs? Why not...

Except next in line on the shelf is The Harmonic Choir's first album, "Hearing Solar Winds" (Ocora, 1983) which I just can't quite bring myself to play. There was a time, I suppose, when the mere fact of overtone singing was enough to engender fascination but that's long since gone and the overtly New Age aspects of this particular recording, at least in my memory, argue against its time on the turntable now.

Oddly, I feel the same, of course for different reasons, with regard to the four Craig Harris albums I own: "Aboriginal Affairs" (India Navigation, 1983), "Tributes" (OTC, @1985), "Shelter" (JMT, 1987) and "Black Out in the Square Root of Soul" (JMT, 1988). I think I first saw/heard Harris with Abdullah Ibrahim, then Don Byron and David Murray, and was pretty floored by his playing, as were most NYC jazz fans in the early 80s. Saw him do a workshop with Benny Powell in East Harlem, as well, around '85. He was a fine sideman in a given context but as a leader/composer, I was never convinced, though I gave him four albums to do so. I pretty much know what's going to appear here were I to put them on and, eh, it will be tedious/sad.

But Lou Harrison, that's another matter!!

I was long past Jarrett when this appeared, in 1988, but had always meant to listen to more Harrison (still do, in fact; I've been recalcitrant). Two pieces, the Piano Concerto and the Suite for Violin, Piano and Small Orchestra, the former with the New Japan Philharmonic (Naoto Otomo conducting), the latter with a chamber ensemble under the direction of Robert Hughes. I have no basis for comparison, but Jarrett strikes me as doing a good job here. The violin and piano piece is especially beautiful, utilizing very Chinese-sounding harmonies and lovely melodies. My sense is that the recording itself is a little muddy; be curious to hear other versions.

I have a major soft spot for this one. I've heard a bit more Hassell over the years but nothing strikes me as being as strong as this one. (Interesting--Jerome Harris plays bass on one cut, hadn't noticed that before). There are several portions, like that central, three note pulsing riff on "Charm" that resurface all the time in my head.

Wonderful cover. Good music too, though not as strong as the prior release, possibly due to the presence of Daniel Lanois?

Not sure how I came across this--Coleman Hawkins, Emmett Buzzy (trumpet), Billy Taylor, Eddie Bert, Jo Jones, Milt Hinton. Recorded in 1954, totally fine. You can hear more than a bit of one of the places Mingus sprang from. Not much more to say...nice stuff.

Have a Mark Helias LP as well, "The Current Set", don't think I can summon the will to hear it.

Next time, Hemphill!!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Thomas Ankersmit - Live in Utrecht (Ash International)

It's been a while since I've heard from Ankersmit. I recall, maybe 9 - 10 years ago, when I was writing for All Music, that he sent me a 3-inch of solo alto that I reviewed for the site (still there!). I think he may have printed only 100 or so copies and I like very much the notion that I could place it on such a site, on equal footing with the latest major pop release. According to the accompanying insert, this is his first full-length CD and it's a damned good one. Recorded in November 2007--I'm not sure if he was actively engaged in collaborating with Phill Niblock but it seems to me one can clearly hear an influence. Working with electronics and tapes as well as his alto (some of the tapes including pre-recorded saxophone by Valerio Tricoli), he constructs a dense swarming drone in some ways not unlike various aspects of Niblock's work. But with the drone, there's a ton of dirtiness, of sand in the mix, of harshness. Indeed, the electronic sputters that weave alongside the electronic hums and saxophone squeals have such a physical, visceral presence that I several times looked anxiously at my speakers fearing some loose connection or other damage. But those sounds play a crucial role in the first half of the 39 minute performance, removing the music from a simple, if dense, drone, causing a real discomfort in the listener, like sharp jabs to the chin. Riveting stuff.

Almost halfway through, it subsides into somewhat less grainy territory, full of keening and flutter, with some strong subsonics. It's less aggressive, but perhaps more alien-sounding; one can imagine a live situation with the various sounds engulfing the listener from multiple speakers. Within ten minutes, it's surging mightily, only to be lopped off once again. But back it comes, this time the drone is richer, more strident, retaining some grain but really concentrating on the "loud hum", sounding like bass vuvuzelas processed to remove some of the burr.

It's a powerful performance--glad to have Ankersmit back.

Ash International

Available from Forced Exposure

Axel Dörner/Diego Chamy - Super Axel Dörner (absinth)

I can say nothing more about the awesome cover and album title.

I've only heard Chamy here and there, notably on a DVD sent to me by Lucio Capece in which his performance, rather humorous, involved a video projection that wouldn't function properly, producing only a text screen on which Chamy typed his apologies and sought help for the "problem". There's performance here as well, Chamy credited with dancing as well as percussion and spoken word and taking pains to point out "that the sound that you'll hear on [sic] 8'51" of this performance is me ripping off my T-shirt." Duly noted.

Two tracks, a 10-minute one recorded in Dörner's house and close to a half hour live in Berlin. The first has a nice concision to it, Chamy's bass drum prodding, his words, in Spanish (I think), remote, somewhat muffled, Dörner sputtering, injecting pure, quiet tones. It's very airy, flows very well, with a gorgeous bells/muted trumpet.voice passage toward the middle. The second is, not surprisingly, more expansive but equally effective in its own way, beginning with what sounds almost like an announcement (one imagines, perhaps, a dancing accompaniment--elsewhere, one can discern footpads) before Dörner wends his way in with insistent, same-note interjections. It's bumpy in parts, at one point Chamy loudly sounding the bass drum, reminding me a bit of Milford Graves on "The Soul is the Music" ("Dialogue of the Drums", with Andrew Cyrille), eliciting broad, bent tones from Dörner. It meanders, but in an amiable, unforced manner, like a quiet amble with occasional conversation, attaining several points of quiet beauty. A fine set, would have loved to have seen it in all its quirkiness.


Hal McGee/Chefkirk - Nimbus (HalTapes, CDR)

It's interesting to me, in a way, that there are "areas" of free improv, outside of efi and such, that just don't connect with me. Often music (like that of College Radio below) that I hear as deriving from rock sources, no matter how abstracted, falls into this category. Harder to quantify is the sort of noise-making occasioned by Hal McGee (in my limited exposure to his work), here with "Chefkirk" (Roger H. Smith). They're each wielding no-input mixers but that's neither here nor there. The issue, for me, revolves around both the unrelenting assault of the sound (not in harshness, necessarily, but in constant "in your face-ness") and the elements the choose to utilize. The first is easier to get a handle on: my preference is for a more considered approach, generally. I have nothing against going all out, balls to the walls but if you're going to do so, you'd better be pretty damn confident about it. I don't get that sense of confidence here (or, because things are never this simple, any sense of self-doubt either, which could similarly work in an assaultive piece, I imagine). Then there are the sounds themselves. It's probably my failing, but there are simply certain "types" of electronically generated sound that set my teeth on edge, my physical as well as mental teeth. Loopy, "ray gun" effects are one of these. There's a lot of that here. I also pick up a kind of flatness;m as active as the disc is--and it's nothing if not active--not much in the way of aural depth registers to me.

Curious if others hear this differently. Perhaps unfairly, I often found myself thinking of the loud track from Rowe/Nakamura's "between", which might be said to bear superficial similarity to much of the work contained herein, but thinking how different, fundamentally, that music is. Opposing opinions welcomed.

Hal McGee

College Radio - Six Degrees of Mini Wreck (CDR)

Two local Jersey City lads, Chris Landry (electronics) and Sean Kiely (square wave punch) doing thick, improvised walls of sound. Not entirely up my alley--the music, though without overt references, strikes me as a bit too rock-influenced generally, the pieces sometimes sounding like the more interesting portions of a noise or death metal piece, though within that sphere, it's solid and well crafted. The actual sounds chosen tend to be obvious ones (fuzz tones and other electronica we've heard often before) and they're thickly layered, constantly in play, so one has a desire to hear both a wider palette and one more thoughtfully deployed. But perhaps that's not what this pair is about and, listened to without eai-ish preconceptions, the work is enjoyable enough. You can hear for yourselves as free downloads are available from the link below.

college radio